The night after the wedding the boy stood at the window of his pleasant attic bedroom, with one wall sloping, and a faint smell of mice. He was tired and excited, and his brain, full of pictures. This was his first wedding, and he was haunted by a vision of his sister's little white form, and her face with its starry eyes. She was gone--his no more! How fearful the Wedding March had sounded on that organ--that awful old wheezer; and the sermon! One didn't want to hear that sort of thing when one felt inclined to cry. Even Gordy had looked rather boiled when he was giving her away. With perfect distinctness he could still see the group before the altar rails, just as if he had not been a part of it himself. Cis in her white, Sylvia in fluffy grey; his impassive brother-in-law's tall figure; Gordy looking queer in a black coat, with a very yellow face, and eyes still half-closed. The rotten part of it all had been that you wanted to be just feeling, and you had to be thinking of the ring, and your gloves, and whether the lowest button of your white waistcoat was properly undone. Girls could do both, it seemed--Cis seemed to be seeing something wonderful all the time, and Sylvia had looked quite holy. He himself had been too conscious of the rector's voice, and the sort of professional manner with which he did it all, as if he were making up a prescription, with directions how to take it. And yet it was all rather beautiful in a kind of fashion, every face turned one way, and a tremendous hush--except for poor old Godden's blowing of his nose with his enormous red handkerchief; and the soft darkness up in the roof, and down in the pews; and the sunlight brightening the South windows. All the same, it would have been much jollier just taking hands by themselves somewhere, and saying out before God what they really felt--because, after all, God was everything, everywhere, not only in stuffy churches. That was how he would like to be married, out of doors on a starry night like this, when everything felt wonderful all round you. Surely God wasn't half as small as people seemed always making Him--a sort of superior man a little bigger than themselves! Even the very most beautiful and wonderful and awful things one could imagine or make, could only be just nothing to a God who had a temple like the night out there. But then you couldn't be married alone, and no girl would ever like to be married without rings and flowers and dresses, and words that made it all feel small and cosy! Cis might have, perhaps, only she wouldn't, because of not hurting other people's feelings; but Sylvia--never--she would be afraid. Only, of course, she was young! And the thread of his thoughts broke--and scattered like beads from a string.
Leaning out, and resting his chin on his hands, he drew the night air into his lungs. Honeysuckle, or was it the scent of lilies still? The stars all out, and lots of owls to-night--four at least. What would night be like without owls and stars? But that was it--you never could think what things would be like if they weren't just what and where they were. You never knew what was coming, either; and yet, when it came, it seemed as if nothing else ever could have come. That was queer-you could do anything you liked until you'd done it, but when you had done it, then you knew, of course, that you must always have had to . . . What was that light, below and to the left? Whose room? Old Tingle's--no, the little spare room--Sylvia's! She must be awake, then! He leaned far out, and whispered in the voice she had said was still furry:
The light flickered, he could just see her head appear, with hair all loose, and her face turning up to him. He could only half see, half imagine it, mysterious, blurry; and he whispered:
"Isn't this jolly?"
The whisper travelled back:
"Aren't you sleepy?"
"No; are you?"
"Not a bit. D'you hear the owls?"
"Doesn't it smell good?"
"Perfect. Can you see me?"
"Only just, not too much. Can you?"
"I can't see your nose. Shall I get the candle?"
"No--that'd spoil it. What are you sitting on?"
"The window sill."
"It doesn't twist your neck, does it?"
"No--o--only a little bit."
"Are you hungry?"
"Wait half a shake. I'll let down some chocolate in my big bath towel; it'll swing along to you--reach out."
A dim white arm reached out.
"Catch! I say, you won't get cold?"
"It's too jolly to sleep, isn't it?"
"Which star is yours? Mine is the white one over the top branch of the big sycamore, from here."
"Mine is that twinkling red one over the summer house. Sylvia!"
"Oh! I couldn't--what was it?"
"No, but what was it?"
"Only my star. It's caught in your hair."
Silence, then, until her awed whisper:
And his floating down, dying away:
What had stirred--some window opened? Cautiously he spied along the face of the dim house. There was no light anywhere, nor any shifting blur of white at her window below. All was dark, remote-- still sweet with the scent of something jolly. And then he saw what that something was. All over the wall below his window white jessamine was in flower--stars, not only in the sky. Perhaps the sky was really a field of white flowers; and God walked there, and plucked the stars. . . .
The next morning there was a letter on his plate when he came down to breakfast. He couldn't open it with Sylvia on one side of him, and old Tingle on the other. Then with a sort of anger he did open it. He need not have been afraid. It was written so that anyone might have read; it told of a climb, of bad weather, said they were coming home. Was he relieved, disturbed, pleased at their coming back, or only uneasily ashamed? She had not got his second letter yet. He could feel old Tingle looking round at him with those queer sharp twinkling eyes of hers, and Sylvia regarding him quite frankly. And conscious that he was growing red, he said to himself: 'I won't!' And did not. In three days they would be at Oxford. Would they come on here at once? Old Tingle was speaking. He heard Sylvia answer: "No, I don't like 'bopsies.' They're so hard!" It was their old name for high cheekbones. Sylvia certainly had none, her cheeks went softly up to her eyes.
"Do you, Mark?"
He said slowly:
"On some people."
"People who have them are strong-willed, aren't they?"
Was she--Anna--strong-willed? It came to him that he did not know at all what she was.
When breakfast was over and he had got away to his old greenhouse, he had a strange, unhappy time. He was a beast, he had not been thinking of her half enough! He took the letter out, and frowned at it horribly. Why could he not feel more? What was the matter with him? Why was he such a brute--not to be thinking of her day and night? For long he stood, disconsolate, in the little dark greenhouse among the images of his beasts, the letter in his hand.
He stole out presently, and got down to the river unobserved. Comforting--that crisp, gentle sound of water; ever so comforting to sit on a stone, very still, and wait for things to happen round you. You lost yourself that way, just became branches, and stones, and water, and birds, and sky. You did not feel such a beast. Gordy would never understand why he did not care for fishing--one thing trying to catch another--instead of watching and understanding what things were. You never got to the end of looking into water, or grass or fern; always something queer and new. It was like that, too, with yourself, if you sat down and looked properly--most awfully interesting to see things working in your mind.
A soft rain had begun to fall, hissing gently on the leaves, but he had still a boy's love of getting wet, and stayed where he was, on the stone. Some people saw fairies in woods and down in water, or said they did; that did not seem to him much fun. What was really interesting was noticing that each thing was different from every other thing, and what made it so; you must see that before you could draw or model decently. It was fascinating to see your creatures coming out with shapes of their very own; they did that without your understanding how. But this vacation he was no good-- couldn't draw or model a bit!
A jay had settled about forty yards away, and remained in full view, attending to his many-coloured feathers. Of all things, birds were the most fascinating! He watched it a long time, and when it flew on, followed it over the high wall up into the park. He heard the lunch-bell ring in the far distance, but did not go in. So long as he was out there in the soft rain with the birds and trees and other creatures, he was free from that unhappy feeling of the morning. He did not go back till nearly seven, properly wet through, and very hungry.
All through dinner he noticed that Sylvia seemed to be watching him, as if wanting to ask him something. She looked very soft in her white frock, open at the neck; and her hair almost the colour of special moonlight, so goldy-pale; and he wanted her to understand that it wasn't a bit because of her that he had been out alone all day. After dinner, when they were getting the table ready to play 'red nines,' he did murmur:
"Did you sleep last night--after?"
She nodded fervently to that.
It was raining really hard now, swishing and dripping out in the darkness, and he whispered:
"Our stars would be drowned to-night."
"Do you really think we have stars?"
"We might. But mine's safe, of course; your hair is jolly, Sylvia."
She gazed at him, very sweet and surprised.
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