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Chapter 9

A Confirmed Spinster

I am in danger, I see, of being included among the whimsical
fellows, which I so little desire that I have got me into my
writing-chair to combat the charge, but, having sat for an
unconscionable time with pen poised, I am come agitatedly to the
fear that there may be something in it.

So long a time has elapsed, you must know, since I abated of the
ardours of self-inquiry that I revert in vain (through many rusty
doors) for the beginning of this change in me, if changed I am; I
seem ever to see this same man until I am back in those wonderful
months which were half of my life, when, indeed, I know that I
was otherwise than I am now; no whimsical fellow then, for that
was one of the possibilities I put to myself while seeking for
the explanation of things, and found to be inadmissible. Having
failed in those days to discover why I was driven from the
garden, I suppose I ceased to be enamoured of myself, as of some
dull puzzle, and then perhaps the whimsicalities began to collect
unnoticed.

It is a painful thought to me to-night, that he could wake up
glorious once, this man in the elbow-chair by the fire, who is
humorously known at the club as a "confirmed spinster." I
remember him well when his years told four and twenty; on my soul
the proudest subaltern of my acquaintance, and with the most
reason to be proud. There was nothing he might not do in the
future, having already done the biggest thing, this toddler up
club-steps to-day.

Not, indeed, that I am a knave; I am tolerably kind, I believe,
and most inoffensive, a gentleman, I trust, even in the eyes of
the ladies who smile at me as we converse; they are an ever-
increasing number, or so it seems to me to-night. Ah, ladies, I
forget when I first began to notice that smile and to be made
uneasy by it. I think I understand it now, and in some vague way
it hurts me. I find that I watch for it nowadays, but I hope I
am still your loyal, obedient servant.

You will scarcely credit it, but I have just remembered that I
once had a fascinating smile of my own. What has become of my
smile? I swear I have not noticed that it was gone till now; I
am like one who revisiting his school feels suddenly for his old
knife. I first heard of my smile from another boy, whose sisters
had considered all the smiles they knew and placed mine on top.
My friend was scornful, and I bribed him to mention the
plebiscite to no one, but secretly I was elated and amazed. I
feel lost to- night without my smiles. I rose a moment ago to
look for it in my mirror.

I like to believe that she has it now. I think she may have some
other forgotten trifles of mine with it that make the difference
between that man and this. I remember her speaking of my smile,
telling me it was my one adornment, and taking it from me, so to
speak, for a moment to let me see how she looked in it; she
delighted to make sport of me when she was in a wayward mood, and
to show me all my ungainly tricks of voice and gesture,
exaggerated and glorified in her entrancing self, like a star
calling to the earth: "See, I will show you how you hobble
round," and always there was a challenge to me in her eyes to
stop her if I dared, and upon them, when she was most audacious,
lay a sweet mist.

They all came to her court, as is the business of young fellows,
to tell her what love is, and she listened with a noble
frankness, having, indeed, the friendliest face for all engaged
in this pursuit that can ever have sat on woman. I have heard
ladies call her coquette, not understanding that she shone softly
upon all who entered the lists because, with the rarest
intuition, she foresaw that they must go away broken men and
already sympathised with their dear wounds. All wounds incurred
for love were dear to her; at every true utterance about love she
exulted with grave approval, or it might be a with a little "ah!"
or "oh!" like one drinking deliciously. Nothing could have been
more fair, for she was for the first comer who could hit the
target, which was her heart.

She adored all beautiful things in their every curve and
fragrance, so that they became part of her. Day by day, she
gathered beauty; had she had no heart (she who was the bosom of
womanhood) her thoughts would still have been as lilies, because
the good is the beautiful.

And they all forgave her; I never knew of one who did not forgive
her; I think had there been one it would have proved that there
was a flaw in her. Perhaps, when good-bye came she was weeping
because all the pretty things were said and done with, or she was
making doleful confessions about herself, so impulsive and
generous and confidential, and so devoid of humour, that they
compelled even a tragic swain to laugh. She made a looking-glass
of his face to seek wofully in it whether she was at all to
blame, and when his arms went out for her, and she stepped back
so that they fell empty, she mourned, with dear sympathy, his
lack of skill to seize her. For what her soft eyes said was that
she was always waiting tremulously to be won. They all forgave
her, because there was nothing to forgive, or very little, just
the little that makes a dear girl dearer, and often afterward, I
believe, they have laughed fondly when thinking of her, like boys
brought back. You ladies who are everything to your husbands
save a girl from the dream of youth, have you never known that
double- chinned industrious man laugh suddenly in a reverie and
start up, as if he fancied he were being hailed from far-away?

I hear her hailing me now. She was so light-hearted that her
laugh is what comes first across the years; so high-spirited that
she would have wept like Mary of Scots because she could not lie
on the bare plains like the men. I hear her, but it is only as
an echo; I see her, but it is as a light among distant trees, and
the middle-aged man can draw no nearer; she was only for the
boys. There was a month when I could have shown her to you in all
her bravery, but then the veil fell, and from that moment I
understood her not. For long I watched her, but she was never
clear to me again, and for long she hovered round me, like a dear
heart willing to give me a thousand chances to regain her love.
She was so picturesque that she was the last word of art, but she
was as young as if she were the first woman. The world must have
rung with gallant deeds and grown lovely thoughts for numberless
centuries before she could be; she was the child of all the brave
and wistful imaginings of men. She was as mysterious as night
when it fell for the first time upon the earth. She was the
thing we call romance, which lives in the little hut beyond the
blue haze of the pine-woods.

No one could have looked less elfish. She was all on a noble
scale, her attributes were so generous, her manner unconquerably
gracious, her movements indolently active, her face so candid
that you must swear her every thought lived always in the open.
Yet, with it all, she was a wild thing, alert, suspicious of the
lasso, nosing it in every man's hand, more curious about it than
about aught else in the world; her quivering delight was to see
it cast for her, her game to elude it; so mettlesome was she that
she loved it to be cast fair that she might escape as it was
closing round her; she scorned, however her heart might be
beating, to run from her pursuers; she took only the one step
backward, which still left her near them but always out of reach;
her head on high now, but her face as friendly, her manner as
gracious as before, she is yours for the catching. That was ever
the unspoken compact between her and the huntsmen.

It may be but an old trick come back to me with these memories,
but again I clasp my hands to my brows in amaze at the thought
that all this was for me could I retain her love. For I won it,
wonder of the gods, but I won it. I found myself with one foot
across the magic circle wherein she moved, and which none but I
had entered; and so, I think, I saw her in revelation, not as the
wild thing they had all conceived her, but as she really was. I
saw no tameless creature, nothing wild or strange. I saw my
sweet love placid as a young cow browsing. As I brushed aside
the haze and she was truly seen for the first time, she raised
her head, like one caught, and gazed at me with meek affrighted
eyes. I told her what had been revealed to me as I looked upon
her, and she trembled, knowing she was at last found, and fain
would she have fled away, but that her fear was less than her
gladness. She came to me slowly; no incomprehensible thing to me
now, but transparent as a pool, and so restful to look upon that
she was a bath to the eyes, like banks of moss.

Because I knew the maid, she was mine. Every maid, I say, is for
him who can know her. The others had but followed the glamour in
which she walked, but I had pierced it and found the woman. I
could anticipate her every thought and gesture, I could have
flashed and rippled and mocked for her, and melted for her and
been dear disdain for her. She would forget this and be suddenly
conscious of it as she began to speak, when she gave me a look
with a shy smile in it which meant that she knew I was already
waiting at the end of what she had to say. I call this the blush
of the eye. She had a look and a voice that were for me alone;
her very finger-tips were charged with caresses for me. And I
loved even her naughtinesses, as when she stamped her foot at me,
which she could not do without also gnashing her teeth, like a
child trying to look fearsome. How pretty was that gnashing of
her teeth! All her tormentings of me turned suddenly into
sweetnesses, and who could torment like this exquisite fury,
wondering in sudden flame why she could give herself to anyone,
while I wondered only why she could give herself to me. It may
be that I wondered over-much. Perhaps that was why I lost her.

It was in the full of the moon that she was most restive, but I
brought her back, and at first she could have bit my hand, but
then she came willingly. Never, I thought, shall she be wholly
tamed, but he who knows her will always be able to bring her
back.

I am not that man, for mystery of mysteries, I lost her. I know
not how it was, though in the twilight of my life that then began
I groped for reasons until I wearied of myself; all I know is
that she had ceased to love me; I had won her love, but I could
not keep it. The discovery came to me slowly, as if I were a
most dull-witted man; at first I knew only that I no longer
understood her as of old. I found myself wondering what she had
meant by this and that; I did not see that when she began to
puzzle me she was already lost to me. It was as if, unknowing, I
had strayed outside the magic circle.

When I did understand I tried to cheat myself into the belief
that there was no change, and the dear heart bleeding for me
assisted in that poor pretence. She sought to glide to me with
swimming eyes as before, but it showed only that this caressing
movement was still within her compass, but never again for me.
With the hands she had pressed to her breast she touched mine,
but no longer could they convey the message. The current was
broken, and soon we had to desist miserably from our pretences.
She could tell no more than I why she had ceased to love me; she
was scarcely less anxious than I that I should make her love me
again, and, as I have said, she waited with a wonderful tolerance
while I strove futilely to discover in what I was lacking and to
remedy it. And when, at last, she had to leave me, it was with
compassionate cries and little backward flights.

The failure was mine alone, but I think I should not have been so
altered by it had I known what was the defect in me through which
I let her love escape. This puzzle has done me more harm than
the loss of her. Nevertheless, you must know (if I am to speak
honestly to you) that I do not repent me those dallyings in
enchanted fields. It may not have been so always, for I remember
a black night when a poor lieutenant lay down in an oarless boat
and let it drift toward the weir. But his distant moans do not
greatly pain me now; rather am I elated to find (as the waters
bring him nearer) that this boy is I, for it is something to know
that, once upon a time, a woman could draw blood from me as from
another.

I saw her again, years afterward, when she was a married woman
playing with her children. She stamped her foot at a naughty
one, and I saw the gleam of her teeth as she gnashed them in the
dear pretty way I can't forget; and then a boy and girl, fighting
for her shoulders, brought the whole group joyously to the
ground. She picked herself up in the old leisurely manner, lazily
active, and looked around her benignantly, like a cow: our dear
wild one safely tethered at last with a rope of children. I
meant to make her my devoirs, but, as I stepped forward, the old
wound broke out afresh, and I had to turn away. They were but a
few poor drops, which fell because I found that she was even a
little sweeter than I had thought.

James M. Barrie

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