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accompanying her. '* I shall be delighted to Fee you safe."

"There is not the least occasion for that, thank you,'' an-
swered Letty. '* I have an old servant of my aunt's with me
— somewhere a))out the i)lace. The storm is (piite over now : I
will go and find her.''

Tom made no objection, but helped her down the dark stair,
ho})ing, however, the servant might not be found.

As they went, Ijctty seemed to herself to be walking in some
old dream of change and desertion. The tower was empty as
a monument, not a trace of the crowd left, which a few min-
ntes before had thronged it. The wind had risen in earnest
now, and was rushing about, like a cold wild ghost, through
every cranny of the desolate place. Had Letty, when she
reached the bottom of the stairs, found herself on the rocks of
the seashore, witli the waves dashing up against them, she
would only have said to herself, " I knew I was in a dream ! "
But the wind having blown away the hail-cloud, the stars were
again shining down into the hall. One or two forlorn-looking



62 MAHY MARSTOK

searchers were still there ; the rest had scattered like the gnats.
A few were already at home ; some were harnessing their horses
to go, nor would wait for the man in the moon to light his
lantern ; some were already trudging on foot through the
dark. Hesper and Miss Yolland were talking to two or three
friends in the drawing-room ; Lady Margaret was in her bou-
doir, and Mr. Mortimer smoking a cigar in his study.

Nowhere could Letty find Susan. She was in the farmer's
kitchen behind. Tom suspected as much, but was far from
hinting the possibility. Letty found her cloak, which she had
left in the hall, soaked vath rain, and thought it prudent to go
home at once, nor prosecute her search for Susan further. She
accepted, therefore, Tom's renewed offer of his company.

They were just leaving the hall, when a thought came to
Letty : the moon suddenly appearing above the horizon had
jout it in her head.

*' Oh," she cried, " I know quite a short way home ! " and,
without waiting any response from her companion, she turned,
and led him in an opposite direction, round, namel}^ by the
back of the court, into a field. There she made for a huge oak,
which gloomed in the moonlight by the sunk fence parting the
grounds. In the slow strength of its growth, by the rounding
of its bole, and the spreading of its roots, it had so rent and
crumbled the wall as to make through it a little ravine, lead-
ing to the top of the ha-ha. When they reached it, before even
Tom saw it, Letty turned from him, and was up in a moment.
At the top she turned to bid him good night, but there he was,
close behind her, insisting on seeing her safe to the house.

" Is this the way you always come ? " asked Tom.

**I never was on Durnmelling land before," answered Letty.

*^How did you find the short-cut, then ?" he asked. "It
certainly does not look as if it were much used."

"Of course not," replied Letty. "There is no communi-
cation between Durnmelling and Thorn wick now. It was all
ours once, though, Cousin Godfrey says. Did you notice how
the great oak sends its biggest arm over oar field ?"

"Yes."

" Well, I often sit there under it, when I want to learn my



I
1



THE OAK. 63

lesson, and can't rest in the house ; and that's how I know of
the crack in the ha-ha."

She said it in absohite innocence, but Tom hiid it up in his
mind.

*' Are you at lessons still? "he said. '*nave you a g^ov-
emess ? "

** No," she answered, in a tone of amusement. ** But Cousin
Godfrey teaches me many tliin,ir.>.''

This made Tom tliouglitful ; and little mure had boon said,
when they reached the gate of the yard behind tlio liouso, and
she Avould not lot him go a sto]) farthor.



ClIArTKK \1II.
Tin: OAK.

In the mornin;:, as slic narrated the events of the evening,
slio t(jhl lior aunt of the aoJiuaintance she had made, and that
he luul soon hci- liomo. This information did not please the
old lady, as, indeed, without knowing any reason, Lctty liad
expected. Mrs. Wardour know all about Tom's mother, or
thought she did, and know little good ; she knew also that,
although her Fon was a general favorite, lier own son had a
very poor opinion of him. On these grounds, and without a
thought of injustice to Lctty, she sharply rebuked the poor
girl for allowing such a fellow to pay her any attention, and
declared that, if ever she permitted him so much as to sj>eak
to her again, she would do something which she left in a cloud
of vaguest suggestion.

Letty made no reply. She was hurt. Xor was it any won-
der if slie judged this judgment of Tom by the injustice of
the judge to herself. It was of no consequence to her, slie
said to herself, whether she spoke to him again or not ; but
had any one the right to compel another to behave rudely ?
Only what did it matter, since there was so little chance of
her ever seeing him again ! All day she felt weary and dis-



64 MARY MARSTON.

appointed, and, after the merrymaking of the night before,
the household work was irksome. But she would soon have
got oyer both weariness and tedium had her aunt been kind.
It is true, she did not again refer to Tom, taking it for granted
that he was done with ; but all day she kept driving Letty
from one thing to another, nor was once satisfied with any-
thing she did, called her eyen an ungrateful girl, and, before
eyening, had rendered her more tired, mortified, and dispirited,
than she had ever been in her life.

But the tormentor was no demon ; she was only doing
what all of us haye often done, and ought to be heartily
ashamed of : she was only emiDtying her fountain of bitter
water. Oppressed with the dregs of her headache, wretched
because of her son's absence, who had not been a night from
home for years, annoyed that she had spent time and money in
preparation for nothing, she had allowed the said cistern to fill
to oyerflowing, and upon Letty it overflowed like a small del-
uge. Like some of the rest of us, she never reflected how
balefully her evil mood might operate ; and that all things
work for good in the end, will not cover those by whom come
the offenses. Another night's rest, it is true, sent the evil
mood to sleep again for a time, but did not exorcise it ; for
there are demons that go not out without jorayer, and a bad
temper is one of them — a demon as contemptible, mean-
sj)irited, and unjust, as any in the peerage of hell — much
petted, nevertheless, and excused, by us poor lunatics who are
possessed by him. Mrs. Wardour was a lad}^, as the ladies of
this world go, but a poor lady for the kingdom of heaven : I
should wonder much if she ranked as more than a very com-
mon woman there.

The next day all was quiet ; and a visit paid Mrs. Wardour
by a favorite sister whom she had not seen for months, set
Letty at such liberty as she seldom had. In the afternoon she
took the book Godfrey had given her, in which he liad set
her one of Milton's smaller poems to study, and sought the
shadow of the Durnmelling oak.

It was a lovely autumn day, the sun glorious as ever in
the memory of Abraham, or the author of Job, or the builder



THE OAK. 65

of the scaled pyramid at Sakkara. But there was a keen-
ness in the air notwithstanding, which made Letty feel a
little sad without knowing why, as she seated herself to the
task Cousin Godfrey had set her. She, as well as his mother,
heartily wished he were home. She was afraid of him, it is
true ; hut in how different a way from that in which she
was afraid of liis UKjtlier I His absence did not make lier feel
free, and to escape from his niotlier was sometimes tlie wliole
desire of her day.

Slie was trying hard, nut aliugutlier successfully, to fix lier
attention on lier task, wlien a yellow leaf dropped on the very
line she was poring over. Thinking how soon the trees would
be bare once more, she brushed the leaf away, and resumed her
lesson.

'* Tu till tliy odorous lamp with dccJs of light,"

she had just read once more, when down fell a second tree-leaf
on the book-leaf. Again Aw \)v\\A\kh\ it away, and read (o the
end of the sonnet :

'' lhi.-.t gained thy cntran.o, virj^in wise and pure."

What Tjctty's thoughts about the sunnet worr. 1 can not
tell : how lix thought indelinite in words delined ? But her
angel might well have thought what a weary road she had to
walk before she gained that entrance. But for all of us the
road has, to be walked, every step, and the uttermost farthing
I)aid. The gate will open wide to welcome us, but it will not
come to meet us. Neither is it any use to turn aside ; it only
makes the road longer and harder.

Down on the same spot fell the third leaf. Letty lo(jked
np. There was a man in the tree over her head. She started
to her feet. At the same moment, he dropped on the ground
beside her, lifting his hat as coolly as if he had met her on the
road. Her heart seemed to stand still with fright. She stood
silent, with white lips parted.

*' I hope I haven't frightened you," said Tom. ''Do for-
give me,'' he added, becoming more aware of the perturbation
he had caused her. ''You were so kind to me the other



QQ MARY MAESTOK

niglit, I could not help wanting to see you again. I had no
idea the sight of me would terrify you so."

^^ You gave me such a start ! " gasped Letty, with her hand
pressed on her heart.

*^I was afraid of it/' answered Tom; ''but what could I
do ? I was certain, if you saiv me coming, you would run
away."

''Why should you think that ?" asked Letty, a faint color
rising in her cheek.

"Because," answered Tom, "I was sure they would be
telling you all manner of things against me. But there is no
harm in me — really, Miss Lovel — nothing, that is, worth men-
tioning."

"I am sure there isn't," said Letty ; and then there was a
pause.

" What book are you reading, may I ask ?" said Tom.

Letty had now remembered her aunt's injunctions and
threats ; but, partly from a kind of paralysis caused by his
coolness, partly from its being impossible to her nature to be
curt with any one with whom she was not angry, partly from
mere lack of presence of mind, not knowing what to do, yet
feeling she ought to run to the house, what should she do but
drop down again on the very spot whence she had been scared !
Instantly Tom threw himself on the grass at her feet, and
there lay, looking up at her with eyes of liumble admiration.

Confused and troubled, she began to turn over the leaves
of her book. She supposed afterward she must have asked
him why he stared at her so, for the next thing she remem-
bered was hearing him say :

" I can't help it. You are so lovely ! "

"Please don't talk such nonsense to me," she rejoined.
"I am not lovely, and I know it. What is not true can not
please anybody."

She spoke a little angrily now.

"I speak the truth," said Tom, quietly and earnestly.
" Why should you think I do not ? "

"Because nobody ever said so before."

"Then it is quite time somebody sliould say so," returned



TEE OAK. 67

Tom, changing his tone. ^'' It may be a painful fact, but even
ladies ought to be told the truth, and learn to bear it. To say
you are not lovely would be a downriglit lie.''

*' I wish you wouldn't talk to me about myself I " said
Letty, feeling confused and improper, but not altogether dis-
})leased that it was possible for such a mistake io be made.
'' I don't want to hear about myself. It makes me so uncom-
fortable ! I am sure it isn't right : is it, now, Mr. Ilelmer ?''

As she ended, the tears rose in her eyes, partly from unana-
lyzed uneasiness at tlie i)Osition in whicli she found lierself and
tlie turn tlie talk had taken, partly from the discomfort of con-
scious disobedience. But still she did not move.

*'I am very sorry if I have vexed you," said Tom, seeing
her evident trouble. " I can't think how I've done it. I know
I didn't mean to ; and I promise you not to say u word of tho
kind again — if 1 can help it. Hut tell me, Ix^tty," he went on
again, changing in tune and look and manner, and calling her
by her name with such simplicity that slic never even noticed
it, '*do tell me what you are reading, and that will keep me
from tallciufj about you — not from — the other thing, you
know."

"There!" said Letty, almost crossly, bantling him her
book, and j>ointing to the sonnet, jus she rose to go.

Tom took the book, and si)rang to his feet, lie had never
read the poem, for Milton had not been one of his masters.
He stood devouring it. lie wa.s doing his best to lay hold of
it ((uickly, for there Ix^tty stood, with her hand lield out to
take tlie book again, ready u^mn its restoration to go at once.
Silent and motionless, to all api)earance unhasting, he read and
reread. Letty was restless, and growing (piite impatient ; but
still Tom read, a smile slow-spreading from his eyes over his
face ; he was taking possession of the poem, ho would have
said. But the shades and kinds and degrees of possession are
innumerable ; and not until we downright love a thing, can we
Icnow we understand it, or rightly call it our own ; Tom only
admired this one ; it was all he was capable of in regard to such
at present. Had the whim for acquainting himself with it
seized him in his own study, he would have .satisfied it with a



QS MAEY MARSTOK

far more superficial interyiew ; but the presence of the girl,

with those eyes fixed on him as he read — his mind's eye saw

them — was for the moment an enlargement of his being, whose

phase to himself was a consciousness of ignorance.

/ "It is a beautiful poem," he said at last, quite honestly ; "1

I and, raising his eyes, he looked straight in hers. There is [

J hardly a limit to the knowledge and sympathy a man may have \

\ in respect of the finest things, and yet be a fool. Sympathy is [

I not harmony. A man may be a poet even, and speak with thej

I tongue of an angel, and yet be a very bad fool.

" I am sure it must be a beautiful poem," said Letty ; "but
I have hardly got a hold of it yet." And she stretched her
hand a little farther, as if to proceed with its appropriation.

But Tom was not yet prepared to part with the book. He
proceeded instead, in fluent speech and not inappropriate lan-
guage, to set forth, not the power of the poem — that he both
took and left as a matter of course — but the beauty of those
phrases, and the turns of those expressions, Avhich particularly
pleased him — nor failing to remark that, according to the strict
laws of English verse, there was in it one bad rhyme.

That point Letty begged him to explain, thus leading Tom
to an exposition of the laws of rhyme, in which, as far as Eng-
lish was concerned, he happened to be something of an expert,
partly from an early habit of scribbling in ladies' albums.
About these surface affairs, Godfrey, understanding them bet-
ter and valuing them more than Tom, had yet taught Letty no-
thing, judging it premature to teach polishing before carving ;
and hence this little display of knowledge on the part of Tom
impressed Letty more than was adequate — so much, indeed,
that she began to regard him as a sage, and a compeer of her
cousin Godfrey. Question followed question, and answer fol-
lowed answer, Letty feeling all the time she must go, yet
standing and standing, like one in a dream, who thinks he can
not, and certainly does not break its spell — for in the act only
is the ability and the deed born. Besides, was she to go away
and leave her beautiful book in his hand ? What would God-
frey think if she did ? Again and again she stretched out her
own to take it, but, although he saw the motion, he held on to



I

A



THE OAK. 69

the book as to his best anchor, humcdly turned its leaves by
fits, and searching for something more to his mind than any-
thing of Milton's. Suddenly his face brightened.

"Ah!" he said — and remained a moment silent, readinor.
• I don't wonder," he resumed, "at your admiration of Milton.
He's very grand, of course, and very musical, too ; but one can't
be listening to an organ always. Xot that I jirefer merry mu-
sic ; that must be inferior, for the tone of all the beauty in
the world is sad." Much Tom Ilelmer knew of beauty or sad-
ness either I but ignorance is no reason with a foul for holding
his tongue. '' But there is the violin, now I — that can be as
sad as any organ, without being so ponderous. Hear this, now !
This is the violin after the organ — played as only a master can I "

With this })reamble, he read a song of Shelley's, and read it
well, for he had a good ear for rhythm and cadence, and prided
himself on his reading of poetry.

Now the path to Letty's heart through her intellect was
neither open nor well trodden ; but the song in (piestion was a
winged one, and flew straight thitlier ; there was something in
(he tone of it that suited the pitcli of her sj)irit-chamber.
And, if Letty's heart was not easily found, it was the readier to
confess itself when found. Her eyes filled with tears, and
tlirough those tears Tom looked large and injured. *• lie must
))e a poet himself to read jmetry like that !"she said to herself,
and felt thorouglily assured that her aunt had wronged him
greatly. ''Some people scorn poetry like sin," she said again.
"I used myself to think it was only for children, until Cousin
CJodfrey taught me dilTerently."

As thus her thoughts went on interu'caving themselves with
tlie music, all at once the song came to an end. Tom closed
the book, handed it to her, said, "Good morning. Miss Lovel,"
and ran down the rent in the ha-ha ; and, before Letty could
come to herself, she heard the soft thunder of hoofs on the
grass. She ran to the edge, and, looking over, saw Tom on his
bay mare, at full gallop across the field. She watched him as
he neared the hedge and ditch that bounded it, saw him go
flying over, and lost sight of him behind a hazel-copse. Slowly,
then, she turned, and slowly she went back to the house and



70 MAIiY MARSTOK

up to her room, vaguely aware that a wind had begun to blow
in her atmosphere, although only the sound of it had yet
reached her.



I



% CHAPTER IX.

^ CONFUSIOK.

TSEK first, and from that moment, Letty's troubles began.
^* Up to this point neither she herself nor another could array
troublous accusation or uneasy thought against her ; and now
she began to feel like a very target, which exists but to receive
the piercing of arrows. At first sight, and if we do not look a
long way ahead of what people stupidly regard as the end when
it is only an horizon, it seems hard that so much we call evil,
and so much that is evil, should result from that unavoidable,
blameless, foreordained, preconstituted, and essential attraction
which is the law of nature, that is tlie will of God, between
man and woman. Even if Letty had fallen in love witli Tom
at first sight, who dares have the assurance to blame her ? who
will dare to say that Tom was blameworthy in seeking the
society and friendship, even the love, of a woman whom in all
sincerity he admired, or for using his wits to get into her pres-
ence, and detain her a little in his company ? Reasons there )
are, infinitely deeper than any philosopher has yet fathomed, ,

, or is likely to fathom, Avhy a youth such as he — foolish, indeed, \^
but not foolish in this — and a sweet and blameless girl such as\
Letty, should exchange regards of admiration and wonder, j

[That which thus moves them, and goes on to draw them closer^
and closer, comes with them from the very source of their
being, and is as reverend as it is lovely, rooted in all the gentle
potencies and sweet glories of creation, and not unwortliily
watered with all the tears of agony and ecstasy shed by lovers
since the creation of the world. What it is, I can not tell ; I
only know it is not that which the young fool calls it, still less
that which the old sinner thinks it.



COXFUSION. 71

As to Letty's disobedience of her aunt's extravagant orders
concerning Tom, I must leave that to the judgment of the just,
reminding them that she was taken by surprise, and that, be-
sides, it was next to impossible to obey them. But Letty found
herself very uncomfortable, because there now was that to be
known of her, the knowledge of which would highly displease
her aunt — for which very reason, if for no other, ought she
not to tell her all ? On the other hand, when she recalled how
unkindly, how unjustly her aunt had spoken, when she con-
fessed her new acquaintance, it became to her a question
whether in very deed she mu.



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMary Marston. A novel → online text (page 6 of 40)