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Barbara rode home with strange things in her mind. Here was a romance brought to her very door! She was nowise hungry after romance, being of the essence of romance her own lovely self, in the simplicity which carried her direct to the heart of things. She was life in such relation to life, that her very existence was natural romance. How should there be any romance to equal that of pure being, of existence regarded and encountered face to face, of the voyage forth from the heart of life, and the toilsome journey, peril-beset, back to the home of that same heart of hearts! Here was one wrapt in a strange cloud: why should she not pass through the cloud, and join her fellow-traveller within?
Naturally then, from this time, the thoughts of Barbara rested not a little upon the person and undeveloped history of the man with whose being she was before linked by a greater indebtedness than any but herself could understand. Any enlargement of relation to the unseen world--the world, I mean, of thought and reality, region of recognizable relation, or force--is an immeasurably more precious gift than any costliest thing that a mortal may call his own until death, but must then pass on to another; and Richard had thrown open to Barbara the wealthiest regions of the literature of her race! She, on her part, had so much influenced him, that he had at least become far less overbearing in the presentment of his unbelief. For Barbara's idea, call it, if you will, her imagination of a God, was one with which none of those things for the hate's sake of which he had become the champion of a negation, held fellowship; and he carried himself toward it with so much courtesy that she had begun to hope he was slowly following her out of the desert places, where, little as she yet knew about God, she felt life impossible. The strongest bonds were thus in process of binding them; and Barbara's feeling toward Richard might very naturally develop into one or other of the million forms to which we give the common name of love.
As for Richard, he was already aware that his feeling toward Barbara could be no other than love; but he knew love as only the few know it who give themselves, who cherish no hope, look for no response, dream of no claim. To expect any return of his devotion would have seemed to Richard the simplest absurdity. He did not even say to himself that the thing could not be. Not therefore, however, was he to escape suffering; the seeds of it were already sown in him plentifully, though its first leaves are not to be distinguished from those of other plants, and it sometimes takes long for the flower to appear. Barbara was lovely to Richard as the Luna of a heavenly sky, descending and talking with him, the Diana of a lower world, bound by her destiny, and without a choice, to return to her heaven, and be once more the far, unapproachable Luna. She shone in his eyes like a lovely mysterious gem which he might wear for an hour, but which must presently, with its hundred-fold shadow and shine, pass from his keeping. He knew that love was his, but he did not know that he was Love's. He knew he loved Barbara, but he did not know that her exquisiteness was permeating his whole being with an endless possession. In truth no man good and free could have kept her soul out of his. She was so delicate, yet so strong; so steady, yet so ready; so original, yet so infinitely responsive--what could he do but throw his doors wide to her! what could he do but love her!
And now that Barbara believed she knew more about him than he did himself; now that the road appeared to lie open between them, would she escape falling in love with such a man whose hands of labour were mastered with a head full of understanding, and whose head was quickened by a heart in which dwelt an imagination at once receptive and productive? Could any true woman despise the love of such a workman?
From this time, for some weeks, they saw less of each other. Without knowing it, Barbara had, since the revelation of Alice, grown a little shy of Richard. It came of her truthfulness, mainly. As Dante felt ashamed of the discourteous advantage of alone possessing eyesight in the presence of the poor souls upon the second cornice of the purgatorial mountain, just so Barbara, without altogether defining to herself her feeling, regarded it as unfair to Richard, as indeed taking an advantage of him, to seek his company knowing about him more than she seemed to know. She felt even deceitful in appearing to know of him only what he chose to tell her, while in truth she more than suspected she knew of him what he did not know himself. She not only knew more than she seemed to know, but she knew more than Richard himself knew! At the same time she felt that she had no right to tell him what she almost believed; she ought first to be certain of it! If the conjecture were untrue, what harm might it not, believed by him, occasion both to him and his parents! Supposing it true, if those who had cherished him all his life did not tell him the fact, could it be right in her, coming by accident upon it, to acquaint him with it? Whether true or not, it must, if believed by him, change the whole tenor of his way--might perhaps, seeing he had no faith in God, destroy the very tone of his life; certainly, if untrue, it would cause endless grief to the parents whom to believe it would be to repudiate! Richard was indeed, she allowed, in less danger of being injured by the suggestion than any other young man she had known; but the risk, a great one, was there.
She did not now, therefore, go so often to Mortgrange. Every day she went out for her gallop--unattended, for, accustomed to the freedom of hundreds of leagues of wild country, the very notion of a groom behind her was hateful--and would often find herself making for some point whence she could see the chimneys of the house when the resolve of the day was one of abstinence, but that resolve she never broke. If it was not the drawing-room and Theodora, but the library and Richard; not the hideous flowers that happily never came alive from lady Ann's needle, but the old books reviving to autumnal beauty under the patient, healing touch of the craftsman, that ever drew her all the way, who can wonder! Or who will blame her but such as lady Ann, whose kind, though slowly, yet surely vanishes--melting, like the grimy snow of our streets, before the sun of righteousness, and the coming kingdom.
Lady Ann and she were now on the same footing as before their misunderstanding, if indeed their whole relation was anything better than a misunderstanding; for what lady Ann knew of Barbara she misunderstood, and what she did not know of Barbara was the best of her; while what Barbara knew of lady Ann, she also misunderstood, and what she did not know of lady Ann was the worse of her. But Barbara had told lady Ann that she was sorry she had spoken to her as she had, and lady Ann had received the statement as an expected apology. Their quarrel had indeed given lady Ann no uneasiness. Daughter of one ancient house, and mother in another, a pillar of society, a live dignity with matronly back flat as any coffin-lid, she was of course in the right, and could afford to await the acknowledgment of wrong due and certain from an ill bred and ill educated chit of the colonies! For how could any one continue indifferent to the favour of lady Ann! She was incapable of perceiving the merit of Barbara's apology, or appreciating the sweetness from which it came. For the genial Barbara could not bear dissension. She had seen enough of it to hate it. In just defence of a friend she would fight to the last, but in any matter of her own, she was ready to see, or even imagine herself in the wrong. Anger in its reaction always made her feel ill, which feeling she was apt to take for a reminder from conscience, when she would make haste to apologize.
Lady Ann's relations with Barbara were therefore not so much restored as unchanged. The elder lady neither sought nor avoided the younger, gave her always the same cold welcome and farewell, yet was as much pleased to see her as ever to see anybody. She regarded her as the merest of butterflies, with pretty flutter and no stay--a creature of wings and nonsense, carried hither and thither by slightest puff of inclination: it was the judgment of a caterpillar upon a humming bird. There was more stuff in Barbara, with all her seeming volatility, than in a wilderness of lady Anns. The friendship between such a twain could hardly consist in more than the absence of active disapproval.
When Barbara went into the library, she would always greet Richard as if she had seen him but the day before, asking what piece of work he was at now, and showing an interest in it as genuine as her interest in himself. If there was anything in it she did not quite understand, he must there and then explain it. So eager was she to know, that he had not seldom to remind her that his minutes were not his own. But now and then he would lay aside his work for a time, never forgetting to make up for the interval afterward, and show her some process from beginning to end. For Barbara, finding now more time on her hands, had begun to try her repairing faculty on some of the old books in the house, hoping one day to surprise Richard with what she had done, and this led to her asking many and far-reaching questions in the art.
But Richard continued to give her his more important aid: he was still her master in literature, directing her what to read and what to meditate, and instructing her how to get her mind to rest on things. He was the most capable of teachers, for he followed simply the results of his own experience. Having prepared for her, with his father's help, a manuscript-book of hand-made paper, bound in levant morocco, the edges gilded in the rough, he made her copy certain poems into it, attending carefully to every point, and each minutest formality. He would not have her copy whatever she might choose; she could not yet, he said, choose to advantage; for she was of such a "keen clear joyance," that, happy over what was not the best, she would waste her love. But neither would he altogether choose for her: from among the poems he had already brought before her, she must take those she liked best! This, he said, would make her choice a real one, for it would take place between poems already known to her, with regard to which therefore she was in a position to determine her own preference. Then the unavoidable brooding over it caused in the copying of the one chosen, would make it grow in her mind, and assume something of the shape it had in the author's.
To Arthur Lestrange, who, notwithstanding the unlikeness between him and Barbara, and notwithstanding the frequent shocks his conventional propriety received from her divine liberty, had been for some time falling in love with her, these interviews, which he never hesitated to interrupt the moment he pleased, could hardly be agreeable. He never supposed that in them anything passed of which he could have complained had he been the girl's affianced lover; but he did not relish the thought that she looked to the workman and not his employer for help in her studies. Nor was it consolation to him to be aware that he could no more give her what the workman gave her, than he could teach her his bookbinding--at which also the eager Barbara grasped.
At Wylder Hall no questions were ever asked as to how she had spent the day. Her mother, although now that her twin was gone, she loved her best in the world, never troubled her head about what she did with herself. Although Barbara was now a little more at home than formerly, she and her mother were scarcely together an hour in a week except at meals. She thought Arthur Lestrange would make a good enough husband for Bab, and, having chanced on some sign that her husband cherished hopes of a loftier alliance, grew rather favourable to a match between them.
There was, however, a little betterment in Mrs. Wylder, and her ceasing to go to church was only one of the indications of it. She had in her a foundation of genuine simplicity, and was in essence a generous soul. Any one who wondered at the combination of strange wild charm and honest strength in the daughter, would have wondered much less had he gained the least insight into what, beneath the ruin of earthquake and tornado, lay buried in the soul of her mother. The best of changes is slow in most natures, and the main question is, perhaps, whether it goes slowly because of feebleness and instability, and consequent frequency of relapse, or because of the root-nature, the thoroughness, and the magnitude of what has been initiated. But Mrs. Wylder was tropical: any real change in her would soon reach a point where it must become swift as well as comprehensive.
Since returning to the trammels of a more civilized life, Mr. Wylder had grown self-absorbed, and from a loud, lawless man had become a sombre, sometimes morose person. One great cause of the change, however, was, that the remaining twin, his favourite, had for some time shown signs of a failing constitution. His increasing feebleness weighed heavily on his father. He had had a tutor ever since they came to England, but now they did little or no work together, spending their hours mostly in wandering about the grounds, and in fitful reading of books of any sort in which the boy could be led to take a passing interest. Barbara's heart yearned after him, but he was greatly attached to his nurse, and did not care for Barbara.
The dissension between husband and wife about the twins, had its origin mainly with the mother, but sprang from the generosity of her nature: the twin she favoured was sickly from infancy. A woman such as Mrs. Wylder might have been expected to shrink from the puny, suffering creature, and give her affection and approbation to the other, as did her husband; but it was just here that the true in her, the pure womanly, came to the surface and then to the front: the child had an appealing look, which, when first she saw him, went straight to the heart of the strong mother, and afterward roused, if not enough of the protective, yet all the defensive in her. From herself she did not, and from death she could not save him. He died rather suddenly, and now the strong one seemed slowly sinking. The mother did not heed him, and the father, for very misery, could scarcely look at him: he was to him like one dead already, only not dead enough to be buried.
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