Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Major Forsyth was not at all discouraged by the issue of his intervention.
"Now I see how the land lies," he said, "it's all plain sailing. Reconnoitre first, and then wire in."
He bravely attacked James next day, when they were smoking in the garden after breakfast. Uncle William smoked nothing but gold-tipped cigarettes, which excited his nephew's open scorn.
"I've been thinking about what you said yesterday, James," he began.
"For Heaven's sake, Uncle William, don't talk about it any more. I'm heartily sick of the whole thing. I've made up my mind, and I really shall not alter it for anything you may say."
Major Forsyth changed the conversation with what might have been described as a strategic movement to the rear. He said that Jamie's answer told him all he wished to know, and he was content now to leave the seeds which he had sown to spring up of their own accord.
"I'm perfectly satisfied," he told his sister, complacently. "You'll see that if it'll all come right now."
Meanwhile, Mary conducted herself admirably. She neither avoided James nor sought him, but when chance brought them together, was perfectly natural. Her affection had never been demonstrative, and now there was in her manner but little change. She talked frankly, as though nothing had passed between them, with no suspicion of reproach in her tone. She was, indeed, far more at ease than James. He could not hide the effort it was to make conversation, nor the nervous discomfort which in her presence he felt. He watched her furtively, asking himself whether she still suffered. But Mary's face betrayed few of her emotions; tanned by exposure to all weathers, her robust colour remained unaltered; and it was only in her eyes that James fancied he saw a difference. They had just that perplexed, sorrowful expression which a dog has, unjustly beaten. James, imaginative and conscience-stricken, tortured himself by reading in their brown softness all manner of dreadful anguish. He watched them, unlit by the smile which played upon the lips, looking at him against their will, with a pitiful longing. He exaggerated the pain he saw till it became an obsession, intolerable and ruthless; if Mary desired revenge, she need not have been dissatisfied. But that apparently was the last thing she thought of. He was grateful to hear of her anger with Mrs. Jackson, whose sympathy had expressed itself in round abuse of him. His mother repeated the words.
"I will never listen to a word against Captain Parsons, Mrs. Jackson. Whatever he did, he had a perfect right to do. He's incapable of acting otherwise than as an honourable gentleman."
But if Mary's conduct aroused the admiration of all that knew her, it rendered James still more blameworthy.
The hero-worship was conveniently forgotten, and none strove to conceal the dislike, even the contempt, which he felt for the fallen idol. James had outraged the moral sense of the community; his name could not be mentioned without indignation; everything he did was wrong, even his very real modesty was explained as overweening conceit.
And curiously enough, James was profoundly distressed by the general disapproval. A silent, shy man, he was unreasonably sensitive to the opinion of his fellows; and though he told himself that they were stupid, ignorant, and narrow, their hostility nevertheless made him miserable. Even though he contemned them, he was anxious that they should like him. He refused to pander to their prejudices, and was too proud to be conciliatory; yet felt bitterly wounded when he had excited their aversion. Now he set to tormenting himself because he had despised the adulation of Little Primpton, and could not equally despise its censure.
* * * * * * *
Sunday came, and the good people of Little Primpton trooped to church. Mrs Clibborn turned round and smiled at James when he took his seat, but the Colonel sat rigid, showing by the stiffness of his backbone that his indignation was supreme.
The service proceeded, and in due course Mr. Jackson mounted the pulpit steps. He delivered his text: "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate."
The Vicar of Little Primpton was an earnest man, and he devoted much care to the composition of his sermons. He was used to expound twice a Sunday the more obvious parts of Holy Scripture, making in twenty minutes or half an hour, for the benefit of the vulgar, a number of trite reflections; and it must be confessed that he had great facility for explaining at decorous length texts which were plain to the meanest intelligence.
But having a fair acquaintance with the thought of others, Mr. Jackson flattered himself that he was a thinker; and on suitable occasions attacked from his village pulpit the scarlet weed of heresy, expounding to an intelligent congregation of yokels and small boys the manifold difficulties of the Athanasian Creed. He was at his best in pouring vials of contempt upon the false creed of atheists, Romanists, Dissenters, and men of science. The theory of Evolution excited his bitterest scorn, and he would set up, like a row of nine-pins, the hypotheses of the greatest philosophers of the century, triumphantly to knock them down by the force of his own fearless intellect. His congregation were inattentive, and convinced beyond the need of argument, so they remained pious members of the Church of England.
But this particular sermon, after mature consideration, the Vicar had made up his mind to devote to a matter of more pressing interest. He repeated the text. Mrs. Jackson, who knew what was coming, caught the curate's eye, and looked significantly at James. The homily, in fact, was directed against him; his were the pride, the arrogancy, and the evil way. He was blissfully unconscious of these faults, and for a minute or two the application missed him; but the Vicar of Little Primpton, intent upon what he honestly thought his duty, meant that there should be no mistake. He crossed his t's and dotted his i's, with the scrupulous accuracy of the scandal-monger telling a malicious story about some person whom charitably he does not name, yet wishes everyone to identify.
Colonel Parsons started when suddenly the drift of the sermon dawned upon him, and then bowed his head with shame. His wife looked straight in front of her, two flaming spots upon her pale cheeks. Mary, in the next pew, dared not move, hardly dared breathe; her heart sank with dismay, and she feared she would faint.
"How he must be suffering!" she muttered.
They all felt for James intensely; the form of Mr. Jackson, hooded and surpliced, had acquired a new authority, and his solemn invective was sulphurous with the fires of Hell. They wondered how James could bear it.
"He hasn't deserved this," thought Mrs. Parsons.
But the Colonel bent his head still lower, accepting for his son the reproof, taking part of it himself. The humiliation seemed merited, and the only thing to do was to bear it meekly. James alone appeared unconcerned; the rapid glances at him saw no change in his calm, indifferent face. His eyes were closed, and one might have thought him asleep. Mr. Jackson noted the attitude, and attributed it to a wicked obstinacy. For the repentant sinner, acknowledging his fault, he would have had entire forgiveness; but James showed no contrition. Stiff-necked and sin-hardened, he required a further chastisement.
"Courage, what is courage?" asked the preacher. "There is nothing more easy than to do a brave deed when the blood is hot. But to conduct one's life simply, modestly, with a meek spirit and a Christ-like submission, that is ten times more difficult Courage, unaccompanied by moral worth, is the quality of a brute-beast."
He showed how much more creditable were the artless virtues of honesty and truthfulness; how better it was to keep one's word, to be kind-hearted and dutiful. Becoming more pointed, he mentioned the case which had caused them so much sorrow, warning the delinquent against conceit and self-assurance.
"Pride goeth before a fall," he said. "And he that is mighty shall be abased."
* * * * * * *
They walked home silently, Colonel Parsons and his wife with downcast eyes, feeling that everyone was looking at them. Their hearts were too full for them to speak to one another, and they dared say nothing to James. But Major Forsyth had no scruples of delicacy; he attacked his nephew the moment they sat down to dinner.
"Well, James, what did you think of the sermon? Feel a bit sore?"
"Why should I?"
"I fancy it was addressed pretty directly to you."
"So I imagine," replied James, good-humouredly smiling. "I thought it singularly impertinent, but otherwise uninteresting."
"Mr. Jackson doesn't think much of you," said Uncle William, with a laugh, ignoring his sister's look, which implored him to be silent.
"I can bear that with equanimity. I never set up for a very wonderful person."
"He was wrong to make little of your attempt to save young Larcher," said Mrs. Parsons, gently.
"Why?" asked James. "He was partly right. Physical courage is more or less accidental. In battle one takes one's chance. One soon gets used to shells flying about; they're not so dangerous as they look, and after a while one forgets all about them. Now and then one gets hit, and then it's too late to be nervous."
"But you went back--into the very jaws of death--to save that boy."
"I've never been able to understand why. It didn't occur to me that I might get killed; it seemed the natural thing to do. It wasn't really brave, because I never realised that there was danger."
* * * * * * *
In the afternoon James received a note from Mrs. Clibborn, asking him to call upon her. Mary and her father were out walking, she said, so there would be no one to disturb them, and they could have a pleasant little chat. The invitation was a climax to Jamie's many vexations, and he laughed grimly at the prospect of that very foolish lady's indignation. Still, he felt bound to go. It was, after a fashion, a point of honour with him to avoid none of the annoyances which his act had brought upon him. It was partly in order to face every infliction that he insisted on remaining at Little Primpton.
"Why haven't you been to see me, James?" Mrs. Clibborn murmured, with a surprisingly tender smile.
"I thought you wouldn't wish me to."
She sighed and cast up her eyes to heaven.
"I always liked you. I shall never feel differently towards you."
"It's very kind of you to say so," replied James, somewhat relieved.
"You must come and see me often. It'll comfort you."
"I'm afraid you and Colonel Clibborn must be very angry with me?"
"I could never be angry with you, James.... Poor Reginald, he doesn't understand! But you can't deceive a woman." Mrs. Clibborn put her hand on Jamie's arm and gazed into his eyes. "I want you to tell me something. Do you love anyone else?"
James looked at her quickly and hesitated.
"If you had asked me the other day, I should have denied it with all my might. But now--I don't know."
Mrs. Clibborn smiled.
"I thought so," she said. "You can tell me, you know."
She was convinced that James adored her, but wanted to hear him say so. It is notorious that to a handsome woman even the admiration of a crossing-sweeper is welcome.
"Oh, it's no good any longer trying to conceal it from myself!" cried James, forgetting almost to whom he was speaking. "I'm sorry about Mary; no one knows how much. But I do love someone else, and I love her with all my heart and soul; and I shall never get over it now."
"I knew it," sighed Mrs. Clibborn, complacently, "I knew it!" Then looking coyly at him: "Tell me about her."
"I can't. I know my love is idiotic and impossible; but I can't help it. It's fate."
"You're in love with a married woman, James."
"How d'you know?"
"My poor boy, d'you think you can deceive me! And is it not the wife of an officer?"
"A very old friend of yours?"
"It's just that which makes it so terrible."
"I knew it."
"Oh, Mrs. Clibborn, I swear you're the only woman here who's got two ounces of gumption. If they'd only listened to you five years ago, we might all have been saved this awful wretchedness."
He could not understand that Mrs. Clibborn, whose affectations were manifest, whose folly was notorious, should alone have guessed his secret. He was tired of perpetually concealing his thoughts.
"I wish I could tell you everything!" he cried.
"Don't! You'd only regret it. And I know all you can tell me."
"You can't think how hard I've struggled. When I found I loved her, I nearly killed myself trying to kill my love. But it's no good. It's stronger than I am."
"And nothing can ever come of it, you know," said Mrs. Clibborn.
"Oh, I know! Of course, I know! I'm not a cad. The only thing is to live on and suffer."
"I'm so sorry for you."
Mrs. Clibborn thought that even poor Algy Turner, who had killed himself for love of her, had not been so desperately hit.
"It's very kind of you to listen to me," said James. "I have nobody to speak to, and sometimes I feel I shall go mad."
"You're such a nice boy, James. What a pity it is you didn't go into the cavalry!"
James scarcely heard; he stared at the floor, brooding sorrowfully.
"Fate is against me," he muttered.
"If things had only happened a little differently. Poor Reggie!"
Mrs. Clibborn was thinking that if she were a widow, she could never have resisted the unhappy young man's pleading.
James got up to go.
"It's no good," he said; "talking makes it no better. I must go on trying to crush it. And the worst of it is, I don't want to crush it; I love my love. Though it embitters my whole life, I would rather die than lose it. Good-bye, Mrs. Clibborn. Thank you for being so kind. You can't imagine what good it does me to receive a little sympathy."
"I know. You're not the first who has told me that he is miserable. I think it's fate, too."
James looked at her, perplexed, not understanding what she meant. With her sharp, feminine intuition, Mrs. Clibborn read in his eyes the hopeless yearning of his heart, and for a moment her rigid virtue faltered.
"I can't be hard on you, Jamie," she said, with that effective, sad smile of hers. "I don't want you to go away from here quite wretched."
"What can you do to ease the bitter aching of my heart?"
Mrs. Clibborn, quickly looking at the window, noticed that she could not possibly be seen by anyone outside. She stretched out her hand.
"Jamie, if you like you may kiss me."
She offered her powdered cheek, and James, rather astonished, pressed it with his lips.
"I will always be a mother to you. You can depend on me whatever happens.... Now go away, there's a good boy."
She watched him as he walked down the garden, and then sighed deeply, wiping away a tear from the corner of her eyes.
"Poor boy!" she murmured.
Mary was surprised, when she came home, to find her mother quite affectionate and tender. Mrs. Clibborn, indeed, intoxicated with her triumph, could afford to be gracious to a fallen rival.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.