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Chapter 19

The worst (or perhaps the best) of a temper so choleric as Mr. Wesley's is that by constant daily expenditure on trifles it fatigues itself, and is apt to betray its possessor by an unexpected lassitude when a really serious occasion calls. A temper thoroughly cruel (which his was not) steadily increases its appetite: but a temper less than cruel, or cruel only by accident, will run itself to a standstill and either cry for a strong whip or yield to the temptation to defer the crisis.

On this Mrs. Wesley was building when she broke to her husband the news of Hetty's return. He lifted himself in his chair, clutching its arms. His face was gray with spent passion.

"Where is she?"

"She has gone for a walk, alone," she answered. She had, in truth, packed Hetty off and watched her across the yard before venturing to her husband's door.

"So best." He dropped back in his chair with a sigh that was more than half composed of relief. "So best, perhaps. I will speak to her later."

He looked at his wife with hopeless inquiry. She bowed her head for sign that it was indeed hopeless.

Now Molly had sought her mother early and spoken up. But Molly (who intended nothing so little) had not only made herself felt, for the first time in her life, as a person to be reckoned with, but had also done the most fatally foolish thing in her life by winding up with: "And we--you and father and all of us, but father especially--have driven her to it! God knows to what you will drive her yet: for she has taken an oath under heaven to marry the first man who offers, and she is capable of it, if you will not be sensible."

--Which was just the last thing Hetty would have forbidden her to tell, yet just the last thing Hetty would have told, had she been pleading for Molly. For Hetty had long since gauged her mother and knew that, while her instinct for her sons' interests was well-nigh impeccable, on any question that concerned her daughters she would blunder nine times out of ten.

So now Mrs. Wesley, meaning no harm and foreseeing none, answered her husband gravely, "She has told me nothing. But she swears she will marry the first man who offers."

The Rector shut his mouth firmly. "That decides it," he answered. "Has she gone in search of the fool?"

But this was merely a cry of bitterness. As Mrs. Wesley stole from the room, he opened a drawer in his table, pulled out some sheets of manuscript, and gazed at them for a while without fixing his thoughts. He seldom considered his daughters. Women had their place in the world: that place was to obey and bear children: to carry on the line for men. It was a father's duty to take care that their husbands should be good men, worthy of the admixture of good blood. The family which yielded its daughters to this office yielded them as its surplus. They did not carry on its name, which depended on its sons. . . . He had three sons: but of all his daughters Hetty had come nearest to claim a son's esteem. Something masculine in her mind had encouraged him to teach her Latin and Greek. It had been an experiment, half seriously undertaken; it had come to be seriously pursued. Not even John had brought so flexible a sense of language. In accuracy she could not compare with John, nor in that masculine apprehension which seizes on logic even in the rudiments of grammar. Mr. Wesley--a poet himself, though by no means a great one--had sometimes found John too pragmatical in demanding reasons for this and that. "Child," he had once protested, "you think to carry everything by dint of argument; but you will find how little is ever done in the world by close reasoning": and, turning to his wife in a pet, "I profess, sweetheart, I think our Jack would not attend to the most pressing necessities of nature unless he could give a reason for it." To Hetty, on the other hand, beauty--beauty in language, in music, in all forms of art, no less than the beauty of a spring day-- was an ultimate thing and lay beyond questions: and Mr. Wesley, though as a divine he checked her somewhat pagan impulses and recalled them to give account of their ground of choice, as a scholar could not help admiring them. For they seldom led her to choose wrongly. In Hetty dwelt something of the Attic instinct which, in days of literary artifice and literary fashions from which she could not wholly escape, kept her taste fresh and guided her at once to browse on what was natural and health-giving and to reject with delicate disgust what was rank and overblown. Himself a sardonic humorist, he could enjoy the bubbling mirth with which she discovered comedy in the objects of their common derision. Himself a hoplite in study, laborious, without sense of proportion, he could look on and smile while she, a woman, walked more nimbly, picking and choosing as she went.

The manuscript he held was a poem of hers, scored with additions and alterations of his own, by which (though mistakenly) he believed he had improved it: a song of praise put in the mouth of a disciple of Plato: its name, "Eupolis, his Hymn to the Creator." As he turned the pages, his eyes paused and fastened themselves on a passage here and there:

     "Sole from sole Thou mak'st the sun
      On his burning axles run:
      The stars like dust around him fly,
      And strew the area of the sky:
      He drives so swift his race above,
      Mortals can't perceive him move:
      So smooth his course, oblique or straight,
      Olympus shakes not with his weight.
      As the Queen of solemn Night
      Fills at his vase her orb of light--
      Imparted lustre--thus we see
      The solar virtue shines by Thee.
      EIRESIONE! we'll no more
      For its fancied aid implore,
      Since bright oil and wool and wine
      And life-sustaining bread are Thine;
     Wine that sprightly mirth supplies,
      Noble wine for sacrifice. . . ."

The verses, though he repeated them, had no meaning for him. He remembered her sitting at the table by the window (now surrendered to Johnny Whitelamb) and transcribing them into a fair copy, sitting with head bent and the sunlight playing on her red-brown hair: he remembered her standing by his chair with a flushed face, waiting for his verdict. But though his memory retained these visions, they carried no sentiment. He only thought of the young, almost boyish, promise in the lines:

     "Omen, monster, prodigy!
      Or nothing is, or Jove, from thee.
      Whether various Nature's play,
      Or she, renversed, thy will obey,
      And to rebel man declare
      Famine, plague or wasteful war . . .
      No evil can from Thee proceed;
     'Tis only suffered, not decreed. . . ."

He gazed from the careful handwriting to the horizon beyond his window. Why had he fished out the poem from its drawer? She, the writer--his child--was a wanton.

Arthur Quiller-Couch