Marie Corelli.

Innocent, her fancy and his fact; a novel online

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Copyright, 1914





THE old by-road went rambling down into a dell
of deep green shadow. It was a reprobate of a
road, a vagrant of the land, having long ago wan-
dered out of straight and even courses and taken to
meandering aimlessly into many ruts and furrows
under arching trees, which in wet weather poured
their w r eight of dripping rain upon it and made it
little more than a mud pool. Between straggling
bushes of elder and hazel, blackberry and thorn, it
made its solitary shambling way, so sunken into it-
self with long disuse that neither to the right nor to
the left of it could anything be seen of the surround-
ing country. Hidden behind the intervening foli-
age on either hand were rich pastures and ploughed
fields, but with these the old road had nothing in
common. There were many things better suited to
its nature, such as the_ melodious notes of the birds
which made their homes year after year amid its
bordering thickets, or the gathering together in
springtime of thousands of primroses, whose pale,
small, elfin faces peeped out from every mossy cor-
ner, or the scent of secret violets in the grass, fill-
ing the air with the delicate sweetness of a breathing
made warm by the April sun. Or when the thrill of
summer drew the wild roses running quickly from
the earth skyward, twining their stems together in



fantastic arches and tufts of deep pink and flush-
white blossom, and the briony wreaths with their
small bright green stars swung pendent from over-
shadowing boughs like garlands for a sylvan festi-
val. Or the thousands of tiny unassuming herbs
which grew up with the growing speargrass, bring-
ing with them pungent odours from the soil as from
some deep-laid storehouse of precious spices. These
choice delights were the old by-road's peculiar pos-
session, and through a wild maze of beauty and
fragrance it strayed on with a careless awkwardness,
getting more and more involved in tangles of green,
till at last, recoiling abruptly as it were upon its
own steps, it stopped short at the entrance to a
cleared space in front of a farmyard. With this the
old by-road had evidently no sort of business what-
ever, and ended altogether, as it were, with a rough
shock of surprise at finding itself in such open quar-
ters. No arching trees or twining brambles were
here, it was a wide, clean brick-paved place chiefly
possessed by a goodly company of promising fowls,
and a huge cart-horse. The horse was tied to his
manger in an open shed, and munched and munched
with all the steadiness and goodwill of the sailor's
wife who offended Macbeth's first witch. Beyond
the farmyard was the farmhouse itself, a long, low,
timbered building with a broad tiled roof supported
by huge oaken rafters and crowned with many ga-
bles, a building proudly declaring itself as of the
days of Elizabeth's yeomen, and bearing about it
the honourable marks of age and long stress of
weather. No such farmhouses are built nowadays,
for life has become with us less than a temporary
thing, a coin to be spent rapidly as soon as gained,
too valueless for any interest upon it to be sought or
desired. In olden times it was apparently not con-
sidered such cheap currency. Men built their homes


to last not only for their own lifetime, but for the
lifetime of their children and their children's chil-
dren; and the idea that their children's children
might possibly fail to appreciate the strenuousness
and worth of their labours never entered their sim-
ple brains.

The farmyard was terminated at its other end by
a broad stone archway, which showed as in a semi-
circular frame the glint of scarlet geraniums in the
distance, and in the shadow cast by this embrasure
was the small unobtrusive figure of a girl. She
stood idly watching the hens pecking at their food
and driving away their offspring from every chance
of sharing bit or sup with them, and as she noted
the greedy triumph of the strong over the weak, the
great over the small, her brows drew together in a
slight frown of something like scorn. Yet hers was
not a face that naturally expressed any of the un-
kind or harsh emotions. It was soft and delicately
featured, and its rose-white tints were illumined by
grave, deeply-set grey eyes that were full of wistful
and questioning pathos. In stature she was below
the middle height and slight of build, so that she
seemed a mere child at first sight, with nothing par-
ticularly attractive about her except, perhaps, her
hands. These were daintily shaped and character-
istic of inbred refinement, and as they hung list-
lessly at her sides looked scarcely less white than the
white cotton frock she wore. She turned presently
with a movement of impatience away from the sight
of the fussy and quarrelsome fowls, and looking up
at the quaint gables of the farmhouse uttered a low,
caressing call. A white dove flew down to her in-
stantly, followed by another and yet another. She
smiled and extended her arms, and a whole flock of
the birds came fluttering about her in a whirl of
wings, perching on her shoulders and alighting at


her feet. One that seemed to enjoy a position of
special favouritism, flew straight against her breast,
she caught it and held it there. It remained with
her quite contentedly, while she stroked its velvety

"Poor Cupid!" she murmured. "You love me,
don't you? Oh yes, ever so much! Only you can't
tell me so! I'm glad! You wouldn't be half so
sweet if you could!"

She kissed the bird's soft head, and still stroking
it scattered all the others around her by a slight
gesture, and went, followed by a snowy cloud of
them, through the archway into the garden beyond.
Here there were flower-beds formally cut and ar-
ranged in the old-fashioned Dutch manner, full of
sweet-smelling old-fashioned things, such as stocks
and lupins, verbena and mignonette, there were
box-borders and clumps of saxifrage, fuchsias, and
geraniums, and roses that grew in every possible
way that roses have ever grown, or can ever grow.
The farmhouse fronted fully on this garden, and a
magnificent "Glory" rose covered it from its deep
black oaken porch to its highest gable, wreathing it
with hundreds of pale golden balls of perfume. A
real "old" rose it was, without any doubt of its own
intrinsic worth and sweetness, a rose before which
the most highly trained hybrids might hang their
heads for shame or wither away with envy, "for the
air around it was wholly perfumed with its honey-
scented nectar, distilled from peaceful years upon
years of sunbeams and stainless dew. The girl, still
carrying her pet dove, walked slowly along the nar-
row gravelled paths that encircled the flower-beds
and box-borders, till, reaching a low green door at
the further end of the garden, she opened it and
passed through into a newly mown field, where sev-
eral lads and men were about busily employed in


raking together the last swaths of a full crop of hay
and adding them to the last waggon which stood in
the centre of the ground, horseless, and piled to an
almost toppling height. One young fellow, with a
crimson silk tie knotted about his open shirt-collar,
stood on top of the lofty fragrant load, fork in hand,
tossing the additional heaps together as they were
thrown up to him. The afternoon sun blazed burn-
ingly down on his uncovered head and bare brown
arms, and as he shook and turned the hay with un-
tiring energy, his movements were full of the easy
grace and picturesqueness which are often the un-
conscious endowment of those whose labour keeps
them daily in the fresh air. Occasional bursts of
laughter and scraps of rough song came from the
others at work, and there was only one absolutely
quiet figure among them, that of an old man sitting
on an upturned barrel which had been but recently
emptied of its home-brewed beer, meditatively
smoking a long clay pipe. He wore a smock frock
and straw hat, and under the brim of the straw hat,
which was well pulled down over his forehead, his
filmy eyes gleamed with an alert watchfulness. He
seemed to be counting every morsel of hay that was
being added to the load and pricing it in his mind,
but there was no actual expression of either pleasure
or interest on his features. As the girl entered the
field, and her gown made a gleam of white on the
grass, he turned his head and looked at her, puffing
hard at his pipe and watching her approach only
a little less narrowly than he watched the piling up
of the hay. When she drew sufficiently near him he

"Coming to ride home on last load?"

She hesitated.

"I don't know. I'm not sure," she answered.

"It'll please Robin if you do," he said.


A little smile trembled on her lips. She bent her
head over the dove she held against her bosom.

"Why should I please Robin?" she asked.

His dull eyes sparkled with a gleam of anger.

"Please Robin, please me," he said, sharply
"Please yourself, please nobody."

"I do my best to please you, Dad!" she said,
gently, yet with emphasis.

He was silent, sucking at his pipe-stem. Just
then a whistle struck the air like the near note of a
thrush. It came from the man on top of the hay-
waggon. He had paused in his labour, and his face
was turned towards the old man and the girl. It
was a handsome face, lighted by a smile which
seemed to have caught a reflex of the sun.

"All ready, Uncle!" he shouted "Ready and

The old man drew his pipe from his mouth.

"There you are!" he said, addressing the girl in
a softer tone, "He's wanting you."

She moved away at once. As she went, the men
who were raking in the last sweepings of the hay
stood aside for her to pass. One of them put a lad-
der against the wheel of the waggon.

"Going up, miss?" he asked, with a cheerful

She smiled a response, but said nothing.

The young fellow on top of the load looked down.
His blue eyes sparkled merrily as he saw her.

"Are you coming?" he called.

She glanced up.

"If you like," she answered.

"If I like!" he echoed, half-mockingly, half- ten-
derly; "You know I like! Why, you've got that
wretched bird with you!"

"He's not a wretched bird," she said, "He's a


"Well, you can't climb up here hugging him like
that! Let him go, and then I'll help you."

For all answer she ascended the ladder lightly
without assistance, still holding the dove, and in
another minute was seated beside him.

"There!" she said, as she settled herself com-
fortably down in the soft, sweet-smelling hay.
"Now you've got your wish, and I hope Dad is

"Did he tell you to come, or did you come of your
own accord?" asked the young man, with a touch of

"He told me, of course," she answered; "I should
never have come of my own accord."

He bit his lip vexedly. Turning away from her
he called to the haymakers:

"That'll do, boys! Fetch Roger, and haul in!"

The sun was nearing the western horizon and a
deep apricot glow warmed the mown field and the
undulating foliage in the far distance. The men
began to scatter here and there, putting aside their
long wooden rakes, and two of them went off to
bring Roger, the cart-horse, from his shed.

"Uncle Hugo!"

The old man, who still sat impassively on the
beer-barrel, looked up.

"Ay! What is it?"

"Are you coming along with us?"

Uncle Hugo shook his head despondently.

"Why not? It's the last load this year!"

"Ay!" He lifted his straw hat and waved it in a
kind of farewell salute towards the waggon, repeating
mechanically : "The last load ! The very last ! "

Then there came a cessation of movement every-
where for the moment. It was a kind of breathing
pause in Nature's everlasting chorus, a sudden


rest, as it seemed, in the very spaces of the air. The
young man threw himself down on the hay-load so
that he faced the girl, who sat quiet, caressing the
dove she held. He was undeniably good-looking,
with an open nobility of feature which is uncommon
enough among well-born and carefully-nurtured
specimens of the human race, and is perhaps still
more rarely to be found among those whose lot in
life is one of continuous hard manual labour. Just
now he looked singularly attractive, the more so,
perhaps, because he was unconscious of it. He
stretched out one hand towards the girl and touched
the hem of her white frock.

"Are you feeling kind?"

Her eyes lightened with a gleam of merriment.

"I am always kind."

"Not to me! Not as kind as you are to that

"Oh, poor Cupid! You're jealous of him!"

He moved a little nearer to her.

"Perhaps I am!" And he spoke in a lower tone.
"Perhaps I am, Innocent! I grudge him the privi-
lege of lying there on your dear little white breast!
I am envious when you kiss him! I want you to
kiss me!"

His voice was tremulous, he turned up his face

She looked at him with a smile.

"I will if you like!" she said. "I should think no
more of kissing you than of kissing Cupid!"

He drew back with a gesture of annoyance.

"I wouldn't be kissed at all that way," he said,

"Why not?"

"Because it's not the right way. A bird is not
a man!"

She laughed merrily.


"Nor a man a bird, though he may have a bird's
name!" she said. "Oh, Robin, how clever you

He leaned closer.

"Let Cupid go!" he pleaded, "I want to ride
home on the last load with you alone."

Another little peal of laughter escaped her.

"I declare you think Cupid an actual person!"
she said. "If he'll go, he shaU. But I think he'll

She loosened her hold of the dove, which, released,
gravely hopped up to her shoulder and sat there
pruning its wing. She glanced round at it.

"I told you so!" she said, "He's a fixture."

"I don't mind him so much up there," said Robin,
and he ventured to take one of her hands in his
own, "but he always has so much of you; he
nestles under your chin and is caressed by your
sweet lips, he has all, and I have, nothing!"

"You have one hand," said Innocent, with demure

"But no heart with it!" he said, wistfully. "In-
nocent, can you never love me?"

She was silent, looking at him critically, then she
gave a little sigh.

"I'm afraid not! But I have often thought
about it."

"You have?" and his eyes grew very tender.

"Oh yes, often ! You see, it isn't your fault at all.
You are well!" here she surveyed him with a
whimsical air of admiration, "you are quite a
beautiful man! You have a splendid figure and a
good face, and kind eyes and well-shaped feet and
hands, and I like the look of you just now with
that open collar and that gleam of sunlight in your
curly hair and your throat is almost white, except
for a touch of sunburn, which is rather becoming!


especially with that crimson silk tie ! I suppose you
put that tie on for effect, didn't you?"

He flushed, and laughed lightly.

"Naturally! To please you!"

"Really? How thoughtful of you! Well, you
are charming, and I shouldn't mind kissing you at
all. But it wouldn't be for love."

"Wouldn't it? What would it be for, then?"

Her face lightened up with the illumination of an
inward mirth and mischief.

"Only because you look pretty!" she answered.

He threw aside her hand with an angry gesture of

"You want to make a fool of me!" he said, petu-

"I'm sure I don't! You are just lovely, and I tell
you so. That is not making a fool of you!"

"Yes, it is! A man is never lovely. A woman
may be."

"Well, I'm not," said Innocent, placidly. "That's
why I admire the loveliness of others."

"You are lovely to me," he declared, passionately.

She smiled. There was a touch of compassion in
the smile.

"Poor Robin!" she said.

At that moment the hidden goddess in her soul
arose and asserted her claim to beauty. A rare in-
definable charm of exquisite tenderness and fasci-
nation seemed to environ her small and delicate
personality with an atmosphere of resistless attrac-
tion. The man beside her felt it, and his heart beat
quickly with a thrilling hope of conquest.

"So you pity me!" he said, "Pity is akin to
love." '

"But kinsfolk seldom agree," she replied. "I
only pity you because you are foolish. No one but
a very foolish fellow would think me lovely."

He raised himself a little and peered over the edge
of the hay-load to see if there was any sign of the
men returning with Roger, but there was no one
in the field now except the venerable personage he
called Uncle Hugo, who was still smoking away his
thoughts, as it were, in a dream of tobacco. And
he once more caught the hand he had just let go
and covered it with kisses.

"There!" he said, lifting his head and showing
an eager face lit by amorous eyes. "Now you know
how lovely you are to me! I should like to kiss
your mouth like that, for you have the sweetest
mouth in the world! And you have the pret-
tiest hair, not raw gold which I hate, but soft
brown, with delicious little sunbeams lost in it,
and such a lot of it! I've seen it all down, re-
member! And your eyes would draw the heart
out of any man and send him anywhere,
yes, Innocent! anywhere, to Heaven or to

She coloured a little.

"That's beautiful talk!" she said, "It's like poe-
try, but it isn't true!"

"It is true!" he said, with fond insistence. "And
I'll make you love me!"

"Ah, no!" A look of the coldest scorn suddenly
passed over her features "that's not possible. You
could never make me do anything! And it's rude
of you to speak in such a way. Please let go my

He dropped it instantly, and sprang erect.

"All right! I'll leave you to yourself, and Cu-
pid!" Here he laughed rather bitterly. "What
made you give that bird such a name?"

"I found it in a book," she answered, "It's a
name that was given to the god of Love when he was
a little boy."


"I know that! Please don't teach me my A.B.C.,"
said Robin, half-sulkily.
She leaned back laughing, and singing softly:

<f Love was once a little boy,

Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho!
Then 'twas sweet with him to toy,
Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho!"

Her eyes sparkled in the sun, a tress of her hair,
ruffled by the hay, escaped and flew like a little web
of sunbeams against her cheek. He looked at her

"You might go on with the song," he said,
" 'Love is now a little man ' "

" 'And a very naughty one!' " she hummed, with
a mischievous upward glance.

Despite his inward vexation, he smiled.

"Say what you like, Cupid is a ridiculous name
for a dove," he said.

"It rhymes to stupid," she replied, demurely,
"And the rhyme expresses the nature of the bird
and the god!"

"Pooh! You think that clever!"

"I don't! I never said a clever thing in my life.
I shouldn't know how. Everything clever has been
written over and over again by people in books."

"Hang books!" he exclaimed. "It's always books
with you ! I wish we had never found that old chest
of musty volumes in the panelled room."

"Do you? Then you are sillier than I thought
you were. The books taught me all I know, about

"About love ! You don't know what love means ! "
he declared, trampling the hay he stood upon with
impatience. "You read and read, and you get the
queerest ideas into your head, and all the tune the
world goes on in ways that are quite different from


what you are thinking about, and lovers walk
through the fields and lanes everywhere near us
every year, and you never appear to see them or to
envy them "

"Envy them!" The girl opened her eyes wide.
"Envy them! Oh, Cupid, hear! Envy them!
Why should I envy them? Who could envy Mr.
and Mrs. Pettigrew?"

"What nonsense you talk!" he exclaimed, "Mr.
and Mrs. Pettigrew are married folk, not lovers!"

"But they were lovers once," she said, "and
only three years ago. I remember them, walking
through the lanes and fields as you say, with arms
round each other, and Mrs. Pettigrew's hands were
always dreadfully red, and Mr. Pettigrew's fingers
were always dirty, and they married very quickly,
and now they've got two dreadful babies that
scream all day and all night, and Mrs. Pettigrew's
hair is never tidy and Pettigrew himself well, you
know what he does! "

"Gets drunk every night," interrupted Robin,
crossly, "I know! And I suppose you think I'm
another Pettigrew?"

"Oh dear, no!" And she laughed with the hearti-
est merriment. "You never could, you never would
be a Pettigrew ! But it all comes to the same thing
love ends in marriage, doesn't it?"

"It ought to," said Robin, sententiously.

"And marriage ends in Pettigrews!"


"Don't say 'Innocent' in that reproachful way!
It makes me feel quite guilty! Now, if you talk
of names, there's a name to give a poor girl, In-
nocent! Nobody ever heard of such a name "

"You're wrong. There were thirteen Popes named
Innocent between the years 402 and 1724," said
Robin, promptly, "and one of them, Innocent the


Eleventh, is a character in Browning's 'Ring and the
Book.' '

"Dear me!" And her eyes flashed provocatively.
"You astound me with your wisdom, Robin! But
all the same, I don't believe any girl ever had such
a name as Innocent, in spite of thirteen Popes.
And perhaps the Thirteen had other names?"

"They had other baptismal names," he explained,
with a learned air. "For instance, Pope Innocent
the Third was Cardinal Lothario before he became
Pope, and he wrote a book called 'De Contemptu
Mundi sive de Miseria Humanae Conditionis ! ' '

She looked at him as he uttered the sonorous
sounding Latin, with a comically respectful air of
attention, and then laughed like a child, laughed
till the tears came into her eyes.

"Oh Robin, Robin!" she cried "You are simply
delicious! The most enchanting boy! That crim-
son tie and that Latin ! No wonder the village girls
adore you ! 'De,' what is it? 'Contemptu Mundi/
and Misery Human Conditions! Poor Pope! He
never sat on top of a hay-load in his life I'm sure!
But you see his name was Lothario, not Inno-

"His baptismal name was Lothario," said Robin,

She was suddenly silent.

"Well! I suppose / was baptised?" she queried,
after a pause.

"I suppose so."

"I wonder if I have any other name? I must
ask Dad."

Robin looked at her curiously; then his thoughts
were diverted by the sight of a squat stout woman in
a brown spotted print gown and white sunbonnet,
who just then trotted briskly into the hay-field, call-
ing at the top of her voice:

"Mister Jocelyn! Mister Jocelyn! You're

"There's Priscilla calling Uncle in," he said, and
making a hollow of his hands he shouted :

"Hullo, Priscilla! What is it?"

The sunbonnet gave an upward jerk in his direc-
tion and the wearer shrilled out:

"Doctor's come! Wan tin' yer Uncle!"

The old man, who had been so long quietly seated
on the upturned barrel, now rose stiffly, and knock-
ing out the ashes of his pipe turned towards the
farmhouse. But before he went he raised his straw
hat again and stood for a moment bareheaded in
the roseate glory of the sinking sun. Innocent
sprang upright on the load of hay, and standing al-
most at the very edge of it, shaded her eyes with
one hand from the strong light, and looked at him.

"Dad!" she called "Dad, shall I come?"

He turned his head towards her.

"No, lass, no! Stay where you are, with Robin."

He walked slowly, and with evident feebleness,
across the length of the field which divided him from
the farmhouse garden, and opening the green gate
leading thereto, disappeared. The sunbonneted
individual called Priscilla walked or rather waddled
towards the hay-waggon, and setting her arms akim-
bo on her broad hips, looked up with a grin at the
young people on top.

"Well! Ye're a fine couple up there! What are
ye a-doin' of?"

"Never mind what we're doing," said Robin, im-
patiently. "I say, Priscilla, do you think Uncle
Hugo is really ill?"

Priscilla's face, which was the colour of an ancient
nutmeg, and almost as deeply marked with con-
trasting lines of brown and yellow, showed no emo-


"He ain't hisself," she said, bluntly.

"No," said Innocent, seriously, "I'm sure he

Online LibraryMarie CorelliInnocent, her fancy and his fact; a novel → online text (page 1 of 29)