The Stolen Dream

the stolen dream short story

To dream, a dream, on this perfect night for things to be wishfully, just right. A mystical awe of desire of which I might aspire. Alas! Out of reach until I sleep, I’ll keep wandering down this street, with hope in my heart for fortune to strike, you never know, it just might—an unconscious request, not in jest, intuition, ambition, a sense— my quest.

“Oh, how divine maybe one day, mine, you’ll see just give it time.” Justanemotion

Introducing one of my favourite short stories, The Stolen Dream by Richard Le Gallienne. An English author and poet, which was first published in 1912. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few changes, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.

the stolen dream short story

 

The Stolen Dream

The sun was setting and slanting long lanes of golden light through the trees, as an old man, borne down by a heavy pack, came wearily through the wood, and at last, as if worn out with the day’s travel, unshouldered his burden and threw himself down to rest at the foot of a great oak-tree. He was very old, older far he seemed than the tree under whose gnarled boughs he was resting, though that looked as if it had been growing since the beginning of the world.

 

His back was bent as with the weight of years, though really it had become so from the weight of the pack that he carried; his cheeks were furrowed like the bark of a tree, and far down upon his breast fell a beard as white as snow. But his deep-set eyes were still bright and keen, though sly and cruel, and his long nose was like the beak of a hawk. His hands were like roots strong and knotted, and his fingers ended in talon-like nails. In repose, even they seemed to be clutching something, something they loved to touch, and would never let go. His clothes were in rags and his shoes scarce held to his feet.

He seemed as abjectly poor as he was abjectly old.

Presently, when he had rested a while, he turned to his pack, and, furtively glancing with his keen eyes up and down the wood to make sure that he was alone, he drew from it a sack of leather which was evidently of great weight. Its mouth was fastened by sliding thongs, which he loosened with tremulous, eager hands.

First he took from the bag a square of some purple silk, stuff, which he spread out on the turf beside him, and then, his eyes gleaming with a wild light, he carefully poured out the contents of the bag onto the purple square, a torrent of gold and silver coins and precious stones flashing like rainbows—a king’s treasure. The setting sun flashed on the glittering heap, turning it into a dazzle of many-coloured fire. The treasure seemed to light up the wood far and near, and the gaudy summer flowers that a moment before had seemed so bright and splendid fell into shadow before its radiance.

The old man bathed his claw-like hands in the treasure with a ghoulish ecstasy and let the gold and silver pour through his fingers over and over again, streams of jewelled light gleaming and flashing in the level rays of the sun. As he did so, he murmured inarticulately to himself, gloating and gurgling with a lonely, hideous joy.

Suddenly a look of fear came over his face; he seemed to hear voices coming up the wood, and, huddling his treasure swiftly back again into the leathern bag, and the bag into the folds of his pack, he rose and sought some bushes nearby to hide himself from the sight of whosoever it was that approached. But, as he shouldered his pack, he half staggered, for the pack was of great weight, and he heaved a deep sigh.

“It grows heavier and heavier,” he muttered. “I cannot carry it much longer. I shall never be able to carry it with me to the grave.”

As he disappeared among the bushes, a young man and a young woman, with arms twined around each other, came slowly up the glade and presently sat down at the foot of the tree where the old man had been resting a moment or two before.

“Why, what is this?” presently exclaimed the young girl, picking up something bright out of the grass. It was a gold coin, which, in his haste, the old man had let slip through his fingers.

“Gold!” they both exclaimed together.

“It will buy you a new silk gown,” said the lover. “Whoever heard of such luck!” And then he sighed.

“Ah! Dear heart,” he said, “if only we had more like that! Then we could fulfil our dream.”

As the sun poured its last rays over them there at the foot of the oak, it was to be seen that they were penniless. Their clothes were old and weather-stained, and they had no shoes to their feet, but the white feet of the girl shone like ivory flowers in the grass, and her hair was a sheaf of ruddy gold. Nor was there a jewel in all the old man’s treasure as blue as her eyes. In his manly fashion, the young man was no less brave and fair to look upon.

In a little while, they turned to a poor wallet at the young man’s side. “Let us eat our supper,” they said.

There was little more than a crust or two, a few morsels of cheese, and a mouthful or two, of sour wine. Still, they were accustomed to being hungry, and the thought of the gold coin cheered their hearts. So they grew content, and after a while, they nestled close into each other’s arms and fell asleep, while slowly and softly through the woods came the light of the moon.

Now all this time the old, man had lain hidden, crouched down among the bushes, afraid almost to draw his breath, but from where he was, he could hear and see all and had overheard all that had been said. At length, after the lovers had been silent for a long time, he took courage to peer out from his hiding-place, and he saw that they were asleep. He would wait a little longer, though, till their sleep was sounder, and then he might be able perhaps to creep away unheard. So he waited on, and the moon grew brighter and brighter and flooded the woods with its strange silver. And the lovers fell deeper and deeper asleep.

“It will be safe now,” said the old man, half rising and looking out from his bushes. But this time as he looked out, he saw something, something extraordinary and beautiful.

Hovering over the sleeping lovers was a floating, flickering shape that seemed made of moonbeams, with two great shining stars for its eyes. It was the dream that came nightly to watch over the sleep of the lovers; and, as the miser gazed at it in wonder, a strange change came over his soul, and he saw that all the treasure he had hoarded so long—gathered by the cruel practices of years, and with which his back had grown bent carrying it about the world, was as dross compared with this beautiful dream of two poor lovers, to whom but one of all his gold pieces had seemed like a fortune.

“What, after all, is it to me but a weary burden my shoulders grow too old to carry,” he murmured, “and for the sake of which my life is in danger wherever I go, and to guard which I must hide away from the eyes of men?”

And the longer he gazed on the fair shining vision, the more the longing grew within him to possess it for himself.

“They shall have my treasure in exchange,” he said to himself, approaching nearer to the sleepers, treading softly lest he should awaken them. But they slept on, lost in the profound slumber of innocent youth. As he drew near, the dream shrank from him, with fear in its starry eyes; but it seemed the more beautiful to the old, man the closer he came to it and saw of what divine radiance it was made of; and, with his desire, his confidence grew greater. So, softly placing his leather bag in the flowers by the side of the sleepers, he thrust out his talon-like fingers and snatched the dream by the hand, and hurried away, dragging it after him down the wood, fearfully turning now and again to see that he was not being pursued.

But the sleepers still slept on, and by morning the miser was far away, with the captive dream by his side.

As the earliest birds chimed through the wood and the dawn glittered on the dewy flowers, the lovers awoke and kissed each other and laughed in the light of the new day.

“But what is this?” cried the girl, and her hands fell from the pretty task of coiling up the sunrise of her hair.

With a cry, they both fell upon the leather bag, lying there so mysteriously among the wood-lilies in the grass. With eager little fingers, they pulled apart the leather thongs and went half-mad with wonder and joy as they poured out the glittering treasure in the morning sun.

“What can it all mean?” they cried. “The fairies must have been here in the night.”

The treasure seemed real enough. The jewels were not merely dewdrops turned to diamonds and rubies and amethysts by the sun’s magic beams. And, nor was the gold mere gold of faerie, but coins bearing the image of the king of the land. Here were real jewels, real gold and silver. Like children, they dabbled their hands in the shining heap, tossing them up and pouring them from one hand to the other, flashing and shimmering in the morning light.

Then a fear came upon them.

“But folk will say that we have stolen them,” said the youth; “they will take them from us and cast us into prison.”

“No, I believe some God has heard our prayer,” said the girl, “and sent them down from heaven in the night. He who sent them will see that we come to no harm.”

And again, they fell to pouring them through their fingers and babbling in their delight.

“Do you remember what we said last night when we found the gold piece?” said the girl. “If only we had more of them! Surely our good angel heard us and sent them in answer.”

“It is true,” said the young man. “They were sent to fulfil our dream.”

“Our poor starved and tattered dream!” said the girl. “How splendidly we can clothe and feed it now! What a fine house we can build for it to live in! It shall eat from gold and silver plate, and it shall wear robes of wonderful silks and lawns like rainbows, and glitter with jewels, blue and yellow and ruby, jewels like fire fountains and the depths of the sea.”

As they spoke, a sudden disquietude fell over them, and they looked at each other with a new fear.

“But where is our dream?” said the girl, looking anxiously around. And they realized that their dream was nowhere to be seen.

“I seemed to miss it once in the night,” answered the young man in alarm, “but I was too sleepy to heed. Where can it be?”

“It cannot be far away,” said the girl. “Perhaps it has wandered off among the flowers.”

They were now thoroughly alarmed.

“Where can it have gone?” they both cried. And they rose and ran to and fro through the wood, calling out aloud on their dream. But no voice came back in reply, nor, though they sought high and low in covert and brake, could they find a sign of it anywhere. Their dream; was lost. Seek as they might; it was nowhere to be found.

And then they sat down by the treasure weeping, forgetting it all in this new sorrow.

“What shall we do?” they cried; “we have lost our dream.”

For a while, they sat on, inconsolable. Then a thought came to the girl.

“Someone must have stolen it from us. It would never have left us of its own accord,” said she.

And, as she spoke, her eyes fell on the forgotten treasure.

“What use are these to us now, without our dream?” she said.

“Who knows,” said the young man, “perhaps someone has stolen our dream to sell it into bondage. We must go and seek it, and maybe we can repurchase it with this gold and jewels.”

“Let us start at once,” said the girl, drying her tears at this ray of hope; and so, replacing the treasure in the bag, the young man slung it at the end of his staff, and together they set off down the wood, seeking their lost dream. Meanwhile, the old man had journeyed hastily and far, the dream following in his footsteps, sorrowing; and at length, he came to a fair meadow, and by the edge of a stream, he sat down to rest himself and called the dream to his side.

The dream shone nothing like so brightly as in the moonlit woodland, and its eyes were heavy as with weeping.

“Sing to me,” said the old man, “to cheer my tired heart.”

“I know no songs,” said the dream, sadly.

“You lie,” said the old man, “I saw the songs last night in the depths of your eyes.”

“I cannot sing them to you,” said the dream. “I can only sing them to the simple hearts I made them for, the hearts you stole me from.”

“Stole you?” said the old man, “did I not leave my treasure in exchange?”

“Your treasure will be nothing to them without me,” said the dream.

“You talk folly,” said the old man. “With my treasure, they can buy other dreams just as fair as you are. Do you think that you are the only dream in the world? There is no dream that money cannot buy.”

“But I am their own dream. They will be happy with no other,” said the dream.

“You shall sing to me, all the same,” said the old man angrily. But the dream shrank from him and covered its face.

“If I sang to you, you would not understand. Your heart is old and hard and cruel, and my songs are all of youth and love and joy.”

“Those are the songs I would hear,” said the old man.

“But I cannot sing them to you, and if I sang them, you could not hear.”

“Sing,” again cried the old man, harshly, “sing, I bid you.”

“I can never sing again,” said the dream. “I can only die.”

And for none of the old man’s threats would, the dream sing to him, but sat apart, mourning the loved ones it had lost.

So several days passed by, and every day the dream was growing less bright, a creature of tears and sighs, more and more fading away, like a withering flower. At length, it was nothing but a grey shadow, a weary shape of mist that seemed ready to dissolve and vanish at any breath of wind. No one could have known it for that radiant vision that had hovered shimmering with such a divine light over the sleep of the lovers.

At length, the old man lost patience and began to curse himself for a fool in that he had parted with so great a treasure for this worthless, whimpering thing. And he raved like a madman as he saw infancy all the gold and silver and rainbow-tinted jewels he had so foolishly thrown away.

“Take me back to them,” said the dream, “and they will give you back your treasure.”

“A likely thing,” raged the old man, “to give back a treasure like that for such a sorry phantom.”

“You will see,” said the dream.

As there was nothing else to be done, the old man took up his staff.

“Come along then,” said he, and started in the direction of the wood, and though it was some days’ journey, a glow flushed all through the grey shape of the dream at the news, and its eyes began to shine again.

And so they took their way.

Meanwhile, the two lovers had gone from village to village, and city to city, vainly asking for news of their dream. And to everyone they asked, they showed their treasure and said:

“This is all yours if you can but give us back our dream.”

Nowhere could they learn any tidings but gleaned only mockery and derision.

“You must be mad,” said some, “to seek a dream when you have all that wealth in your pack. Of what use is a dream to anyone? And what more dream do you want than gold and precious stones?”

“Ah! our dream,” said the lovers, “is worth all the gold and jewels in the world.”

Sometimes others would come, bringing their own dreams.

“Take this,” they would say, “and give us your treasure.”

But the lovers would shake their heads sadly.

“No, your dreams are not so beautiful as ours. No other dream can take its place. We can only be happy with our own dream.”

And, indeed, the dreams that were brought, to them seemed poor, pitiful, make-believe things, often ignoble, misbegotten, sordid, and cruel. To the lovers, they seemed not dreams at all but shapes of greed and selfish desire. So the days passed, bringing them neither tidings nor hope, and there came at length an evening when they turned their steps again to the woodland and sat down once more under the great oak-tree in the sunset.

“Perhaps our dream has been waiting for us here all the time,” they said.

The wood was empty and echoing, and they sat and ate their supper as before, but silently and in sorrow, and as the sunset, they fell asleep as before in each other’s arms, but with tears glittering on their eyelids.

And again, the moon came flooding the spaces of the wood, and nothing was heard but their breathing and the song of a distant nightingale.

Presently while they slept, there was a sound of stealthy footsteps coming up the wood.

It was the old man, with the dream shining by his side, and now and again running ahead of him in the eagerness of its hope. Suddenly it stopped, glowing and shimmering like the dancing of the northern lights, and placed a starry finger on its lips for silence.

“See,” it whispered, and there were the lovers, lying lost in sleep.

The old man’s wolfish eyes saw but one thing. There lay the leather bag of his treasure just as he had left it. Without a word, he snatched it up and hastened off with it down the wood, gurgling uncouthly to himself.

“Oh, my beauties!” he cried, as he sat himself down, afar off and poured out the gold and the silver and the gleaming stones into the moonlight. “Oh, my love, my life, and my delight! What other dream could I have but you!”

Meanwhile, the lovers stirred in their sleep and murmured to each other.

“I seemed to hear singing,” each said.

And, half opening their eyes, they saw their dream shining and singing above them in the moonbeams, lovelier than ever before, a shape of heavenly silver, with two stars for its eyes.

“Our dream has come back!” they cried to each other. “Dear dream, we had to lose you to know how beautiful you are!”

And with a happy sigh, they turned to sleep again, while the dream kept watch over them until dawn.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

Next short story

 

 

 

Original short story by Richard Le Gallienne 

Illustrations by justanemotion.com

©All rights reserved justanemotion.com 2021

The Twilight Guests

Old Man, The Twilight Guests short story book cover

Old man and The Twilight Guests is a wonderful short story of an old, man revisited by familiar fond memories of old friends who have long since past. A wonderful short story by the American author and poet Josephine Dodge Daskam wrote a series of short stories based on her own experiences. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few—slight—changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short story.

The Twilight Guests

When they left him, in the warm, late afternoon, lying listless on his couch in the porch, they thought he would stay alone there till they came again. His little granddaughter, indeed, felt so sad at deserting him that she ran back and kissed him twice. “To leave Grandpapa alone!” she said. But he was not alone; there came to him strange guests and sweet. And this was the manner of their coming.

Old Man, The Twilight Guests short story book cover

As he watched the shadow creeping up the steps, he thought how often he had marked the time by it in the far-away days. He remembered how he had tried to keep in the broad sunbeam that lay along the walk, when he used to run home to supper tired and hungry, shouting to his mother that his school was over and out and that he had come—”So hungry, mother dear!” And as he thought of her, slow tears crept from under his old eyelids, and he raised his hand feebly to wipe them away. When he saw clearly again, he started slightly, for up the path, walking in the sunbeam came a boy. He smiled sweetly, cheerily at the old, man, and sat down confidingly, close to the couch. “It is so warm in the sun!” he said.

The old man turned uneasily and looked at him. “Are you Arthur’s son?” he asked doubtfully. “My eyes are so dim—I cannot always tell you apart, at first. Are you Arthur’s son?”

“No,” said the child.

“Are you—” but then the boy looked full in his face, and the old man could not take his eyes from that searching smile. And as he looked, there grew around his heart the sweet faint breath of lilac trees, though it was early autumn and not at all the spring. And deep in the child’s eyes was so strange a soul—yet so familiar! As he looked yet deeper, the lilac scent grew stronger, and he dared not turn away his eyes, lest he should lose it. So he listened to the child, who spoke brightly yet gravely, with his head resting against the old man’s knee.

“See!” he said, “the lilacs are all out! I took a bunch to school, and the teacher wore them in her dress. Oh, but I grow tired of the school in the mornings, when the birds sing under the window! The brook is all full with the floodwater, do you know?”

“Yes,” said the old man dreamily, “yes, I know.”

“There are pickerel there—I saw one, anyway!” said the boy. “The old one—he lives under the stone all alone. If I could get him, I’d be proud enough! But I never can—I can only catch him on a Friday night when the moon is full, and then I’m not allowed out! The man that weeds the garden told me that. Do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” said the old man.

“But if I don’t fish, I don’t care so much,” said the boy happily. “Because I get so wet and dirty, and Rachel doesn’t like me then. I can’t look on her book. She is so dear! She never spots the ink on her apron, like the other girls. And she never eats fish, either. She thinks it hurts them too much to kill them. I don’t think so—do you? But girls are different.”

“Where are you going to-night?” said the old man, quietly, yet his voice trembled.

“I’m going to sing to Rachel’s grandfather. He’s blind, you know.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “and old. His hair is white. He walks with a cane. But he loves the singing.”

“Then to-morrow I must go to church,” said the boy. “The minister talks and prays and I get so sleepy. But mother keeps a peppermint for me, just before the second hymn. Then I have it for the long prayer. And I can sing the hymns. Rachel never looks at me; she sits so still in church. And she won’t play on Sunday. I can have my whip and two of the largest marbles. Do you think that is wrong?”

“No,” said the old man, “I don’t think that is wrong.”

“And we have gingerbread on the porch in the afternoon,” said the boy, “and Rachel comes. Mother says children must not be vexed at the Lord’s Day.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “mother is so good to us—so good—” and when he saw clearly again, the child was gone. Only the shadow lay upon the porch’s upper step, and the sunbeam was shrunken to a narrow path of light.

He stretched out his trembling hands and called sorrowfully to the boy. “Come back! O come back! I had forgotten so much! And the lilacs—” but he was alone. And his hair was almost white. He covered his face with his hands and shivered, for the shadow was creeping up the porch.

And then over his chilled heart, there came the breath of roses—summer roses. The air struck warm and soft upon his cheeks. And when he dropped his hands there stood in the sun-ray a straight, tall youth. His eyes were shining with strength; his smile was happiness itself. In his firm brown hands he held roses—summer roses. The old man forgot to be afraid and raised himself on the cushions.

“Give them to me—give them!” he cried. The young man laughed low and laid the red flowers softly up against the withered cheeks. Then he sat down and took the cold, dry hands in his.

“What do they make you remember?” he said.

The old man sighed for pure joy. “Ah, how sweet—how heavenly sweet! Did they come from the garden behind her father’s house?”

“Yes,” said the youth, “from the old bush near the wall. It was moonlight, and we picked them together. I reached the highest ones, because Rachel is not tall. She wore—”

“She wore the white gown with the big shade hat,” said the old man eagerly. “And I made a wreath for her shoulders. I called her—what did I call her? The queen—the queen.”

“The queen of roses,” said the youth.

“Ah, yes, the queen of roses!” said the old man. “Her mouth was like the pink, young buds. We went up and down the long paths, and I wanted her to take my arm.”

“But she would not,” laughed the young man. “She said that old folks might lean, but she could run as well as any man!”

“So she ran through the garden, and I after!” cried the old man, crushing the roses till they filled the porch with sweetness. “She hid behind the old elm and let me call and call. And I had to find her in the moon shadows. You know she grew afraid and cried out when I caught her? And yet she knew I would. But women are so. Her mother knew I was with her, so she let us stay till it was late. Rachel’s mother was kind to me, you know?”

“Yes,” said the young man. “But she knew that Rachel—”

“Ah!” said the old man quickly, “it seems they all knew! All but Rachel and me! Now that is so strange. We should have known it first. But Rachel laughed so when I tried to tell her, she said—what was it she said?”

“That you were too young to know how you would think of it later,” said the youth.

“And I said, ‘I’m old enough to know I love you, Rachel, now and forever!” said the old man softly, clasping his hands together so that the roses dropped to the ground. “And then she did not laugh at all, but only held her head down so I could not see her eyes, and would not speak.”

“It was so still,” said the youth. “There was no breeze, and everything in the garden listened, listened, for what she would say.”

But nothing in the garden could hear,” said the old man eagerly because she only whispered!”

“Was it then that her mother called?” asked the youth.

“Yes,” said the old man, and he smiled. But we did not come, for Rachel was afraid to go. She thought her mother would not like to have her leave the old home. And she feared to tell her that she wanted to go. So we sat like silly children in the dark. You see, I was afraid, too. Her father and mother were old and old people cannot know how we feel when love first comes to us—and yet they loved, once!”

“Yes, they loved once,” said the youth, “but they forget. They think of lands and money and the most prudent course—they cannot feed their heart’s blood rushing through their veins, surging in their ears, ‘She loves me!’ They cannot feel that one hour with her is dearer than years with the others of the world!”

“And then we went in!” said the old man softly. “Then we went in! And her mother stood waiting for us. Rachel would not look up, and I had to lead her by the hand. She feared that we could not make it plain, that her mother would scold us—”

The youth laughed aloud. “But did she?” he said.

And the old man laughed too.

“No. She came to me and kissed me and then she held Rachel and cried. But not that she was sorry. Older people feel strange when the younger ones start away, you see.”

The young man picked up the roses and laid them again by the side of the couch. “Sleep,” he said softly, “and dream of her!” And the old man’s eyelids drooped and the hands that held the roses relaxed in quiet sleep.

When he awoke, the sun had almost set. The path of rays had faded, and the creeping shadow had covered the highest step and lay along the porch. He felt feebly for the roses, but they were gone. And the sweet, warm scent of them was only in his dim memory. But there sat in the shadow a man.

Threads of grey were in his hair and lines around his firm mouth. But in his eyes shone yet a sweet strength, and he held his head high as he spoke.

“Do you know where I have been?” he said.

The old man shook his head.

“Think!” said the other.

Then while he looked into the stranger’s eyes, there stole across his heart, the wind that blows through the orchard when the fruit is ripe. He drew in great breaths of it, in doubt, and at last he said in a whisper so low that he hardly heard himself, “You have been to his grave—his little grave!”

“Yes,” said the man, “I have. His mother goes there alone—not even I go with her. She goes alone.”

“No,” said the old man solemnly, “no. God goes with her. I thought that she would have died—why did she live?”

“Because,” said the other, “because you would have been alone. And you could not have kept yourself a man, if she had gone, too.”

“Ah, yes!” said the old man softly, “that is it. She is an angel! When he was born, I was almost afraid. I said, “My son! I have a son! If I should die to-night, he would live, and I should live in him!” And when she brought him herself into the orchard—I see her now—I see her now!”

He could not lift his head from the pillow, he was so tired and weak, but he begged the other to come nearer with his eyes. The man came close to the couch and looked down tenderly at the old man. “She wore the white trailing gown,” he said.

“Yes,” whispered the old man, “and the great wide hat. And she held him up under the brim and said that if it should rain, she and he could keep dry together, but I must stay in the rain!”

“Do you remember,” said the other, “how when he could just say words, you played with him under the apple tree?”

“Can I ever forget?” said the old man. “But now the angels teach him a better language, so that he had but one to learn!”

“Do you remember how she left him with her mother and went away with you?” said the other.

The old man smiled a little. “Ah, yes! Well enough!” he said. “We thought we would be young again, and leave him to his grandmother and his sisters. He had enough care! It was not lacking of that—”

“And when you had gone only a few miles she grew anxious—”

“Yes, yes!” said the old man. “She said, ‘Suppose he is sick? Suppose he falls into the brook? He walks about so brave and strong—and he is our only son!’ So we came back.”

“You were good to her,” said the other. “You did always just as she wished.”

“I loved her,” said the old man simply.

The stranger’s eyes grew moist, and his voice shook as he said, “When he grew sick—”

“Ah, when he grew sick!” cried the old man bitterly. “Almost I lost my trust in the Giver of my child, and dared not give him back! How I begged! How I prayed!—you know!”

“Yes,” whispered the stranger, “I know.”

“Then she left me for the first time,” said the old man slowly. “For the first time. She went alone and prayed. Oh, Rachel, my dear, dear wife, I could not go with you to God! I think even we go best alone! I said ‘It cannot be! He cannot let it come! I have done all my life as best I knew how, and is this my reward?’ And I heard her crying, and I wished I had never lived.”

“But not for long?” said the other.

The old man smiled through his tears.

“No, no, not for long!” he said. “When Rachel saw that I was weak, she grew strong. It is strange, but women are the strongest then. And she showed me the folly and wickedness of throwing away my faith because the Most Faithful had taken away my child. And she brought me my little daughters and set them on my knees and put her arms around my neck. So I grew comforted. And there have come other sons—Arthur and John. But he—ah, Rachel! Little we thought when we laid him on the grass under the tree and measured him with goldenrod, that he would so soon lie there for all our lives!”

“And he lies there now,” said the stranger.

“Yes,” said the old man softly, “he lies there now. Under the apple tree where he lay and laughed that day, he lies there now, for Rachel wanted it so. ‘I carried him out there the first time,’ she said, ‘and he always loved it there. I used to walk there before he came, and plan for him, how he should grow so great and famous and good; and now I want him to be there, while he is asleep. And I think that all the fields are God’s—the orchard as well as the graveyard.’ So we laid him there, and she goes there often, and I.”

“You miss her?” said the stranger.

“Miss her?” said the old man, staring at the visitor, “miss her? Why she is here! She is my wife!—” but he was alone, on the couch, with the faint breath of ripening apples dying on the air.

And as he turned wearily, the shadow crept softly and covered the porch and the couch where he lay. The sun dropped behind the hills, and the air struck cold on his uncovered shoulders. He was too tired to cry, too old and weak to question or find fault, but he dimly felt that to be left alone was hard. His memory grew suddenly untrustworthy; had they come or not? It was all so plain to him now. He was not with Rachel; he was neither in the church nor the garden nor the orchard. He was an old man, strangely weak and confused, left alone.

“Ah, Rachel,” he murmured, “only come again, while I go! Come to take me—not that it will be a long to wait before I see you, dear! We have been so happy, you and I! But it was so cold—”

And then while he shivered helplessly and half afraid, there came the scent of spring lilac-bushes, and by his bed stood the bright-eyed child.

“Come! Come and sit by me!” cried the old man. But the boy only smiled. “Take my hands—they are so cold!” he begged. Still, the boy smiled. And as the old man looked, the child’s eyes filled him with half hope, half fear. “Are you—are you—” he tried to speak, but no sound came from his lips.

“If I come and touch you,” said the boy, “it will be the end. Shall I come?” The old man’s face lighted softly.

“Yes,” he said in his heart, for he could not speak aloud, “yes, come now!” The boy laughed and stepped to the couch and lay down beside him, putting his cheek close to the white hair.

Into the heart of the old man rushed a quick, new life. “Ah, Rachel, Rachel,” he said strong and clear, “sit on the step and eat your cake with me? Here is the flag-root I promised you—it’s quite clean. I took off all the mud! And here is the red marble”—but the child kissed him, and he went to sleep, holding to his heart his happy youth.

And when they found him in the evening, they were not too grieved, for on his face was a great content.

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Original short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by justanemotion.com

©All rights reserved justanemotion.com 2020

 

The Lonely Rock

The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared

The lonely rock is a shared descriptive short story told of a young girl recovering. It has a unique touch of enchantment all of its own. An experience shared from one to another, a most enjoyable narrative which leads you into another unique tale. It is from a collection of short stories by Jean Ingelow, an English author and poet and was originally published in 1865. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short and pleasant tale.

THE LONELY ROCK.

Three summers ago I had a severe illness, and on recovering from it, my father took me for a change of air. It was not to one of our usual pretty townish watering-places, but up to the very north of Scotland. A place which he had himself delighted in when he was a boy, a lonely farm-house, standing on the shore of a rocky bay in one of the Orkneys.

My father is a Highlander, and though he has lived in England from his early youth, he retains, not only a strong love for his own country, but a belief in its healthfulness. He is fond of indulging the fancy that scenery which the fathers have delighted in, will not strike on the senses of the children as something new and strange, but they will enter the hereditary region with a half-formed notion that they must have seen it before, and it will possess a soothing power over them which is better than familiarity itself.

I had often heard my father express this idea, but had neither understood nor believed in it. The listlessness of illness made me indifferent as to what became of me, and during our steam voyage, I cared neither to move nor to look about me. But the result proved that my father was right. It was dark when we reached our destination, but I no sooner opened my eyes the next morning than a delightful home-feeling came over me; I could not look about me enough, and yet nothing was sufficiently unexpected to cause me the least surprise.

It was August, the finest part of the northern summer; and as I lay on pillows, looking out across the bay, I enjoyed that perfect quietude and peace so grateful to those who have lately suffered from the turmoil and restlessness of fever. I had imagined myself always surrounded by shifting, hurrying crowds, always oppressed by the gaze of unbidden guests; how complete and welcome was this change, this seclusion! No one but my father and the young servant whom we had brought with us could speak a word that I understood, and I could fall asleep and wake again, quite secure from the slightest interruption.

 

The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared

By the first blush of dawn I used to wake up, and lie watching that quiet bay; there would be the shady crags, dark and rocky, lifting and stretching themselves as if to protect and embrace the water, which, perhaps, would be lying utterly still, or just lapping against them, and softly swaying to and fro the long banners of seaweed which floated out from them.

Or, perhaps, a thin mist would be hanging across the entrance of the bay, like a curtain drawn from cliff to cliff; presently this snowy curtain would turn into an amber colour, and glow towards the centre; once I wondered if that sudden glow could be a ship on fire, and watched it in fear.

Soon I saw the gigantic sun thrust himself up, so near, as it seemed, that the farthest cliffs as they melted into the mist appeared farther off than he—so near, that it was surprising to count the number of little fishing-boats that crossed between me and his great disk; still more surprising to watch how fast he receded, growing so refulgent that he dazzled my eyes, while the mist began to waver up and down, curl itself, and roll away to sea, till on a sudden up sprang a little breeze, and the water, which had been white, streaked here and there with a line of yellow, was blue almost before I could mark the change, and covered with brisk little ripples, and the mist had melted back into some half-dozen caverns, within which it soon receded and was lost.

I used to lie and learn that beautiful bay by heart. In the afternoon the water was often of a pale sea-green, and the precipitous cliffs were speckled with multitudes of sea-birds, and bright in the sunshine I loved to watch at a distance the small mountain goats climbing from point to point; wherever there was a strip of grass I was sure to see their white breasts; but above all things, I loved to watch the long wavy reflection of a tall black rock which was perfectly isolated, and stood out to sea in the very centre of the bay. I was the more occupied in-fancy, with this lonely rock, because, unlike the other features of the landscape, it never changed.

The sea was white, yellow, green and blue a long way off and, the sands were bare. Then the sea came back again and, was rushing between every little rock, and powdering the tops of them with spray. The sea was clear as a mirror, and white gulls were swimming on it by thousands. Then the sea was restless, and the rocking boats were tossing up and down on it. And the cliffs? In the moonlight they were castles, and they were ships. In the sunshine, they were black, brown, blue, green, and ruddy, according to the clouds and the height of the sun. Their shadows, too, now a narrow strip at their bases, now an overshadowing mass, gave an endless variety to the scene.

But this one black lonely rock out at sea never seemed to change. In appearance at that distance, it was a massive column, square, and bending inward at the centre, so as to make it lean towards the northern shore. Considering this changeless character, it was rather strange that in my dreams, still vivid from recent illness, this column always assumed the likeness of a man. A stern man it seemed to be, with head sunk on his breast, and arms gathered under the folds of a dark heavy mantle; yet when I awoke and looked out over the bay, the blue moonbeams would not drop on my rock, or its reflection, in such a way as to make it any other than the bare, bleak, bending thing that I always saw it.

In a week I was able to come out of doors and wander by the help of my father’s arm along the strip of yellow sand by the sea. How delightful was the feeling of leaf-like, pebble, sand, or seaweed to my hand, which so long had been used to nothing but the soft linen of my pillow! Everything looked beautiful and fresh out of doors! How delicious was the sound of the little inch-deep waves as they ran and spread briskly out over the flat green floors of the caverns! Yet even more delicious the crisp rustling of the displaced pebbles, when these capricious waves receded!

And the caverns! How I stood looking into them, sunny and warm as they were at the entrance, and gloomily grand within! What a pleasure it was to think that the world should be so full of beautiful places, even where few had cared to look at them! how wonderful to think that the self-same echo, which answered my voice when I sang to it, was always lying there ready to be spoken with, though rarely invoked but by the winds and the waves; that ever since the Deluge, perhaps, it had possessed this power to mock human utterance, but unless it had caught up and repeated the cries of some drowning fisher-boy, or shipwrecked mariner, and sent them back again more wild than before, its mocking syllables and marvellous cadences had never been tested but by me!

And the first sail in a boat was a pleasure which will never be forgotten.

The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared

It was a still afternoon when we stepped into that boat—so still that we had oars as well as the flapping sail; I had wished to row out to sea as far as the lonely rock, and now I was to have my wish. On and on we went, looking by turns into the various clefts and caverns; at last we stood out into the middle of the bay, and very soon we had left the cliffs altogether behind. We were out in the open sea, but still the rock was far before us; it became taller, larger, and more important, but yet it presented the same outline, and precisely the same aspect, when, after another half-hour’s rowing, we drew near it, and I could hear the water lapping against its inhospitable sides.

The men rested on their oars, and allowed the boat to drift down towards it. There it stood, high, lonely, inaccessible. I looked up; there was scarcely a crevice where a sea-fowl could have built, not a level slip large enough for a human foot to stand upon, nor projection for the hand of a drowning man to seize on.

Shipwreck and death it had often caused, it was the dread and scourge of the bay, but it yielded no shelter nor food for beast or bird; not a blade of grass waved there — nothing stood there.

We rowed several times round it, and every moment I became more impressed with its peculiar character and situation, so completely aloof from everything else — even another rock as hard and black as itself, standing near it, would have been apparent companionship. If one goat had fed there, if one sea-bird had nestled there, if one rope of tangled seaweed had rooted there, and floated out on the surging water to meet the swimmer’s hand — but no.

I looked, and there was no one. The water washed up against it, and it flung back the water; the wind blew against it, and it would not echo the wind; its very shadow was useless, for it dropped upon nothing that wanted shade. By day the fisherman looked at it only to steer clear of it, and by night, if he struck against it, he went down. Hard, dreary and bleak! I looked at it as we floated slowly towards home; there it stood rearing up its desolate head, a forcible image, and a true one, of a thoroughly selfish, a thoroughly unfeeling and isolated, human heart.

The Lonely Rock short story, narrative of a story shared

Shipwreck

Now let us go back a long time, and talk about things which happened before we were born. I do not mean centuries ago, when the sea-kings, in their voyages plundering that coast, drove by night upon the rock and went down. That is not the long time ago of which I want to speak; nor of that other long time ago, when two whaling vessels, large and deeply laden, bounded against it in a storm, and beat up against it till the raging waves tore them to pieces, and splitting and grinding every beam and spar, scarcely threw one piece of wreck on the shore which was as long as the bodies of the mariners.

I am not going to tell of the many fishing-boats which went out and were seen no more—of the many brave men that hard by that fatal place went under the surging water, of the many toiling rowers that made, as they thought, straight for home, and struck, and had only time for one cry—’The Rock! the Rock!’ The long time ago, of which I mean to tell, was a wild night in March, during which, in a fisherman’s hut ashore, sat a young girl at her spinning-wheel, and looked out on the dark driving clouds, and listened, trembling, to the wind and the sea.

The morning light dawned at last. One boat that should have been riding on the troubled waves was missing—her father’s boat! and half a mile from his cottage, her father’s body was washed up on the shore.

This happened fifty years ago, and fifty years is a long time in the life of a human being; fifty years is a long time to go on in such a course, as the woman did of whom I am speaking. She watched her father’s body, according to the custom of her people, till he was laid in the grave. Then she lay down on her bed and slept, and by night got up and set a candle in her casement, as a beacon to the fishermen and a guide. She sat by the candle all night, and trimmed it, and spun; then when day dawned she went to bed and slept in the sunshine.

So many hanks as she had spun before for her daily bread, she spun still, and one over, to buy her nightly candle; and from that time to this, for fifty years, through youth, maturity, and old age, she has turned night into day, and in the snow-storms of winter, through driving mists, deceptive moonlight, and solemn darkness, that northern harbour has never once been without the light of her candle.

How many lives she saved by this candle, or how many a meal she won by it for the starving families of the boatmen, it is impossible to say; how many a dark night the fishermen, depending on it, went fearlessly forth, cannot now be told. There it stood, regular as a light-house, steady as constant care could make it. Always brighter when daylight waned, they had only to keep it constantly in view and they were safe; there was but one thing that could intercept it, and that was the Rock. However far they might have stretched out to sea, they had only to bear down straight for that lighted window, and they were sure of a safe entrance into the harbour.

Fifty years of life and labour—fifty years of sleeping in the sunshine—fifty years of watching and self-denial, and all to feed the flame and trim the wick of that one candle! But if we look upon the recorded lives of great men, and just men, and wise men, few of them can show fifty years of worthier, certainly not of more successful labour. Little, indeed, of the ‘midnight oil’ consumed during the last half-century so worthily deserved the trimming. Happy woman—and but for the dreaded rock her great charity might never have been called into exercise!

But what do the boatmen and the boatmen’s wives think of this? Do they pay the woman?

No; they are very poor; but poor or rich, they know better than that.

Do they thank her?

No. Perhaps they feel that thanks of theirs would be inadequate to express their obligations, or, perhaps, long years have made the lighted casement so familiar, that they look on it as a matter of course.

Sometimes the fishermen lay fish on her threshold, and set a child to watch it for her till she wakes; sometimes their wives steal into her cottage, now she is getting old, and spin a hank or two of thread for her while she slumbers, and they teach their children to pass her hut quietly, and not to sing and shout before her door, lest they should disturb her. That is all. Their thanks are not looked for—scarcely supposed to be due. Their grateful deeds are more than she expects, and as much as she desires.

How often, in the far distance of my English home, I have awoken in a wild winter night, and while the wind and storm were rising, have thought of that northern bay, with the waves dashing against the rock, and have pictured to myself the casement, and the candle nursed by that bending, aged figure! How delightful to know that through her untiring charity the rock has long lost more than half its terrors, and to consider that, curse though it may be to all besides, it has most surely proved a blessing to her!

You, too, may perhaps think with advantage on the character of this woman, and contrast it with the mission of the Rock. There are many degrees between them. Few, like the rock, stand up wholly to work ruin and destruction; few, like the woman, ‘let their light shine’ so brightly for good. But to one of the many degrees between them, we must all most certainly belong—we all lean towards the woman or the lonely rock. On such characters, you do well to speculate with me, for you have not been cheated into sympathy with ideal shipwreck or imaginary kindness. There is many a rock elsewhere as perilous as the one I have told you of—perhaps there are many such women; but for this one, whose story is before you, pray that her candle may burn a little longer, since this record of her charity is true.

illustration of a little girl to say finish

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Original short story by Jean Ingelow

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by justanemotion.com

©All rights reserved justanemotion.com 2020

The Wind Flower Page 2

The Wind flower short story of fiction

The Wind Flower had blossomed into a kind of mystical dryad of the woods; her utter earthly wildness fascinated him. He was left feeling completely mesmerised by Sarah, the windflower, will her earthly wild romance with the wind encapture him once more.

 

The Wind Flower

Until late the next morning he wandered in strange, wearied, yet fascinating dreams with her. Vague sounds, as of high-pitched reproaches and quiet sobbing, mingled with his morning dreams, and when, with an aching head and thoroughly bewildered brain, he went to his late breakfast, Mrs Storrs served him; only as he left for the train, possessed by a longing for the great, busy city of his daily work, did he see her daughter, walking listlessly about the house. Her freckled face was paler than ever, her half-closed eyes reddened, and her slight, awkward bow in recognition of his puzzled salute might have been directed to someone behind him. Only his aching head and wearied feet assured him that the strangest night of his life had been no dream.

—x—

The Wind flower short story of fiction

That his studio should seem bare and uninteresting as he threw open the door, and tried to kindle a fire in the dusty, stove, did not surprise him. That the sketches and studies in colour should look tame and flat to the eye that had been fed for two weeks with Maine surf, angry clouds, and swaying branches, was perhaps only natural. But as the days went on and he failed to get in train for work a puzzled wonder slowly grew in him. Why was it that the picture dragged so? He remembered perfectly the look of the beach, the feel of the cold, hungry water, the heavy, grey clouds, the primitive, forbidding austerity that a while ago he had been so confidently eager to put on the canvas. Why was it that he sat for hours together helplessly staring at it?

His friends supposed him wrapped in his subject, working under a high pressure, and considerately left him alone; they would have marvelled greatly had they seen him glowering moodily at the merest study of the subject he had described so vividly to them, smoking countless packages of cigarettes, hardly lifting his hand from his chair-arm.

Once he threw down a handful of brushes and started out for a tramp. It occurred to him that the city sights and smells, the endless hum and roar, the rapid pace of the crowded streets would tone him up and set his thoughts in a new line; he was tired of the whistling gales and tossing trunks and booming surf that haunted his nights and confused his days. A block away from the studio a flower-woman met him with a tray of daffodils and late crocuses. A sudden puff of wind blew out her scanty thin skirt; a tree in the centre of the park they were crossing bent to it, the branches creaked faintly. The fresh, earthy odour of the flowers moved him strangely. He bought a bunch, turned, and went back to the studio, to sit for an hour gazing sightlessly ahead of him.

Suddenly he started up and approached the sketch.

“It wants wind,” he muttered, half unconsciously, and fell to work. An hour passed, two, three—he still painted rapidly. Just as the light was fading a thunderous knock at the door ushered in the two men he knew best. He nodded vaguely, and they crossed the room in silence and looked at the picture. For a few moments, no one spoke. Presently Willard took a brush from his mouth and faced them.

“Well?” he said.

The older man shook his head. “Queer sky!” he answered briefly.

The younger looked questioningly at Willard. “You’ll have to get a gait on you if you hope to beat Morris with that,” he said. “What’s up, Willard? Don’t you want that prize?”

“Of course I do.” His voice sounded dull, even to himself. “You aren’t any too sympathetic, you fellows—” he tried to feel injured.

The older man came nearer. “What’s that white thing there? Good Lord, Will, you’re not going to try a figure?”

Willard brushed rapidly over the shadowy outline. “No—that was just a sketch. The whole thing’s just a sort of—”

“The whole thing’s just a bluff!” interrupted the younger man, decidedly. “It’s not what you told us about at all—and it’s not good, anyway. It looks as if a tornado had struck it! You said it was to be late afternoon—it’s nearer midnight, as far as I can see! What’s that tree lying around for?”

His tone was abusive, but a genuine concern and surprise was underneath it. He looked furtively at his older friend behind Willard’s back. The other shook his head expressively.

Willard bit his lip. “I only wanted to try—it won’t necessarily stay that way,” he explained. He wished he cared more for what they said. He wished they did not bore him so unspeakably. More than all, he wished they would go.

The younger one whistled softly. “Pretty late in the day to be making up your mind, I should say,” he remarked. “When’s it going to dry in? Morris has been working like a horse on his for six weeks. He’s coming on, too—splendid colour!”

Willard lit a cigarette. “Damn Morris!” he said casually. The older man drew on his glove and turned to go.

“Oh, certainly!” he replied cheerfully. “By all means! No, we can’t stay—we only dropped in. We just thought we’d see how you were getting along. If I were you, Will, I’d make up my mind about that intoxicated tree and set it up straight—good-bye!”

They went out cheerfully enough, but he knew they were disappointed and hurt—they had expected so much from that picture. And he wished he cared more. He looked at it critically. Of course it was bad, but how could they tell what he had been doing? It was the plan of months changed utterly in three hours. The result was ridiculous, but he needed it no longer—he knew what he wanted now, what he had been fighting against all these days. He would paint it if he could—and till he could. The insistent artist-passion to express even bunglingly something of the unendurable beauty of that strange night was on him. Before the echo of his guests’ departure had died away, he was working as he had never worked before, the old picture lying unnoticed in the corner where he had thrown it.

He needed no models; he did not use his studies. Was it not printed on his brain, was it not etched into his heart, that weird vision of the storm, with the floating fairy creature that hardly touched the earth? Was there a lovely curve in all her melting postures, which slipped like water circles into new shapes, that he did not know? That haunting, elf-like look, that ineffably exquisite abandon, had he not studied it greedily then in the wood, and later, in his restless dreams? The trees were sentient, the bushes put out clasping fingers to detain him, the wind shrieked out its angry soul at him; and she, the white wonder with her floating wisps of stinging hair, had joined with them to mock at him, the startled witness of that mad revel of all the elements. He knew all this—he was drunk with it: could he paint it? Or would people see only a strange-eyed girl dancing in a wood?

He did not know how many days he had been at work on it; he ate what the cleaning-woman brought him; his face was bristled, with a stubby growth; the cigarette boxes strewed the floor. Men appeared at the door, and he urged them peevishly to go away; people brought messages, and he said he was not in town, and returned the notes unread. In the morning, he smiled and breathed hard and patted the easel; at night, he bit his nails and cursed himself for a colour-blind fool.

There was a white birch, strained and bent in the wind, that troubled him still, and as he was giving it the last touches, in the cold, strong afternoon light, the door burst open.

“Look here; the thing closes at six! Are you crazy?” they called to him, exasperatedly. “Aren’t you going to send it?”

“That’s all right; that’s all right,” he muttered vaguely, “shut up, can’t you?”

They stood over behind him, and there was a stillness in the room. He laid down his palette carefully and turned to them, a worried look on his drawn, bristled face.

“That’s meant to be the ocean beyond the cliff there,” he said, an almost childlike fear in his eyes, “did—did you know it?”

The older man drew in a long breath.

The Wind Flower book of fiction mystery and romance

—x—

“Lord, yes! I hear it!” he returned, “do you think we’re deaf?”

The younger one squinted at various distances, muttering to himself.

“Dryad? Undine? No, she frightens you, but she’s sweet! George! He’s painted the wind! He’s actually drawn a wind! My, but it’s stunning! My!”

Willard sank into a chair. He was flushed, and his legs shook. He patted the terrier unsteadily and talked to her. “Well, then! Well, then! So she was, his, so she was!”

The older man snapped his watch. “Five-thirty,” he said. “Put something ’round it, and whistle a cab—we’ll have to hurry!”

Willard fingered some dead crocuses on the stand beside him. “Look out, you fool, it’s wet!” he growled. The older man patted his shoulder.

“All right, boy, all right!” he said soothingly. “It’s all done, now—never mind!”

They shouldered it out of the door while he pulled the terrier’s ears.

“Where you are going?” they called.

“Turkish bath. Restaurant. Vaudeville,” he answered, and they nodded.

“All alone?”

“Yes, thanks. Drop-in to-morrow!”

“—And drive like thunder!” he heard them through the open window.

A week later he was walking up Broadway between them, sniffing the fresh, sweet air comfortably, the terrier at his heels. At intervals, they read him bits from the enthusiastic comments of the critics.

“Mr Willard, whose ‘Windflower’ distanced all competitors and won the Minot prize by a unanimous verdict of the judges, has displayed, aside from his thorough master of technic, a breadth of atmosphere, and imaginative range rarely if ever equalled by an American. Nothing but the work itself, so manifestly idealistic in subject and treatment, could convince us that it is not a study from life, so keen, so haunting is the impression produced by the remarkable figure of the Spirit of the Gale, who seems to sink before our eyes on the falling trunk, literally riding the storm. In direct contrast to this abandon of the figure is the admirable reticence of the background which is keyed so low—”

Willard stopped abruptly before the window of a large art establishment where a photograph of the picture was already displayed. “I want one of those,” he said, “and I’m going out into the country for a bit before I sail, I think.”

“Oh, back there?” they asked, comprehensively.

“Yes, back there!”

—x—

As the train rushed along, he explained to himself why he was going—why he had not merely sent the photograph. He wanted to see her, to brush away the cloud of illusion that the weeks had spun around her. He wanted to realise definitely the difference between the pale, silent, unformed New England girl and the fascinating personality of his picture. Ever since he left her they had grown confused, these two that his common sense told him were so different, and he was beginning to dread the unavowed hope that for him, at least, they might be someday one. The same passionate power that had thrown mystery and beauty into colour on the canvas wove sweet, wild dreams around what he contemptuously told himself was little better than a lay figure, but he yielded to it now as he had then.

When he told himself that he was going purposely to hear her talk, to see her flat, unlovely figure, to appreciate her utter lack of charm, of all vitality, he realised that it was a cruel errand. But when he felt the sharp thrill that he suffered even in anticipation as his quick imagination pictured the dream-cloud dropping off from her, actually before his eyes, he believed the journey more than ever a necessary one.

As he walked up the little country street, his heartbeat fast; the greening lawns, the fresh, faint odours, the ageless, unnamable appeal of the spring stirred his blood and thrilled him inexpressibly. He was yet in the first flush of his success; his whole nature was relaxed and sensitive to every joy; he let himself drift on the sweet, confused expectancy, the delicious folly, the hope that he was to find his dream, his inspiration, his spirit of the wind and wood.

A child passed him with a great bunch of daffodils and stopped to watch him long after he had passed, wondering at the silver in her hand.

At the familiar gate, a tall, thin woman’s figure stopped his heart a second, and as a fitful gust blew out her apron and tossed her shawl over her head, he felt his breath come more quickly.

“Good heavens!” he muttered, “what folly! Am I never to see a woman’s skirt blown without—?”

She put the shawl back as he neared her—it was Mrs Storrs’s sister. She met his outstretched hand with a blank stare. Suddenly her face twitched convulsively.

“O, Mr Willard! O Mr Willard!” she cried and burst into tears.

The wind blew sharper, the elm tree near the window creaked, a dull pain grew in him.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” he said brusquely.

“I suppose you ain’t heard—you wouldn’t be apt to!” she sobbed, and pushing back the locks the wind drove into her reddened eyes, she broke into incoherent sentences: he heard her as one in a dream.

“And she would go—’twas the twenty-fifth—there were dozens o’ trees blown down—’twas just before dark—her mother, she ran out after her as soon’s she knew—she called, but she didn’t hear—she saw her on the edge o’ the rocks, an’ she almost got up to her an’ screamed, an’ it scared her, we think—she turned ’round quick, an’ she went right off the cliff an’ her mother saw her go—’twas awful!”

Willard’s eyes went beyond her to the woods; the woman’s voice, with its high, flat intonation, brought the past so vividly before him that he was unconscious of the actual scene—he lived through the quick, terrible drama with the intensity of a witness of it.

“No, they haven’t found her yet—the surf’s too high. We always had a feeling she wouldn’t live—she wasn’t like other girls—”

Half unconsciously, he unwrapped the photograph.

“I—I brought this,” he said dully. The woman blanched and clutched the gate-post.

“Oh, take it away! Take it away!” she gasped, a real terror in her eyes. “O Mr Willard, how could you—it’s awful! I—I wouldn’t have her mother see it for all the world!” Her sobs grew uncontrollable.

He bent it slowly across and thrust it in his pocket.

“No, no,” he said soothingly, “of course not, of course not. I only wanted to tell—you all—that it took the prize I told you about and—and was a good thing for me. I hoped—I hoped—”

He saw that she was trembling in the sudden cold wind, and held out his hand.

“This has been a great shock to me,” he said quietly, his eyes still on the woods. “Please tell Mrs Storrs how I sympathise—how startled I was. I am going abroad in a few days. I will send you my address, and if there is ever anything I can do, you will gratify me more than you can know by letting me help you in any way. Give her these,” and he thrust out the great bunch of daffodils to her. She took them, still crying softly, and turned towards the house.

Later he found himself in the woods near the great oak that lay just as it had fallen that night. Beneath all the confused tumult of his thoughts, one clear truth rang like a bell, one bitter-sweet certainty that caught him smiling strangely as he realised it! “She’s won! She’s won!”

There, while the branches swayed above him, and the surf, sinister and monotonous, pounded below, the vision that had made them both famous melted into the elusive reality. He lived again with absolute abandonment that sweet mad night, he felt again her hair blown about his face as he lay on the windy cliff with the lady of his dreams.

For him, her fate was not dreadful—she could not have died like other women. There was an intoxication in her sudden taking away: she was rapt out of life as she would have wished, he knew.

Slowly there grew upon him a frightened wonder if she had lived for this. Her actual life had been so empty, so unreal, so concentrated in those piercing stolen moments; she had ended it, once the heart of it had been caught and fixed to give others faint thrills of all she had felt so utterly.

“She died for it!” he felt, with a kind of awe that was far from all personal vanity—the blameless egoism of the artist.

He left the little town hardly consciously. On his outward voyage, when the gale beat the vessel, and the wind howled to the thundering waves, he came to know that though a love more real, a passionless elusive, might one day hold him, there would always rest in his heart and brain one ceaseless inspiration, one strange, sweet memory that nothing could efface.

Next short story

 

Original short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by justanemotion.com

©All rights reserved justanemotion.com 2020

 

The Kiss

The Kiss, short story book cover by Edith Nesbit

The Kiss – was first published in 1907 by the author E Nesbit, an English author and poet who is best known for her children’s books such as; The Railway Children, The Story Of The Treasure Seekers The Woodbegoods. This short story is ablaze with colour and intrigue – leaving you completely spellbound – deep in the heart of an English country garden. Although, The Kiss is not one of the authors’ better-known works, it can capture the pure essence of love in its purest of forms. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short but delightful tale.

Their first meeting was in the long gallery among the Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities at the British Museum. Enthusiast though he was, he was tired, as human souls are tired, with the cold reserve of carved stone – the imperturbable mystery of these old kings and gods who had kept for thousands of years amid the shifting sands of the desert, their immemorial secrets. His eyes ached with the scrutiny of minute and delicate detail. Then suddenly, his eyes rested on her, fair and laughing and full of the joy of life, and his soul rejoiced because there was still a youth in the world and secrets that no kings and gods had the power to keep from the sons of men who walk the earth today.

She came along the gallery between two other girls, but he did not see these as living creatures – only as dark figures against the light of her presence. It was not till they three were close to him that he became aware of her and looked up. Their eyes met and stayed together in a look that lasted a very long time – almost half a minute. She came up quite close to him, always with those others that did not count, and then abruptly, the three turned to the right, and the swing doors of the refreshment room vibrated behind them.

Then he tried to analyse that look of hers – not bold or provocative, yet with no timidity, no bashfulness, no self-consciousness. It was the look of one who trusts the world and thinks well of it. Many girls nowadays have that frank, fearless look. The qualities that made them look worth analysing were two: its length and a quality of recognition.

Did she know him?

The Kiss, short story book cover by Edith Nesbit

The Kiss

Had he ever met her before? No, he could not have forgotten her. He lingered in the gallery till she and her companions came back through the swing doors. This time she had no eyes for him. He strolled the way they went, noted all down the Roman gallery the grace of her free gait, saw her disappear into the reading-room, and went home.

His home was in Kent, and he was going to say good-bye to it for a while – for next week he started for the East, to watch, under cloudless skies, paid and uninterested workers scraping at the earth to bring to light such cold witnesses to old faith and loyalty and love as lined the gallery where he had met her.

The last days were full. His father, who stayed at home and wrote the books for which Neville gathered the materials, had many last words to say. Also, his type-writing girl had gone off ill, and there was a delay in getting another. So Neville spent a good many hours in the work secretaries are paid for. His aunt, who adored him, wanted his opinion on the new Dutch garden that was now a bit of meadow beyond the orchard and was to be a blaze of formal beauty when he came home again.

“You’ll think about that mass of yellow tulips and forget-me-nots when you are boiling your brains in Egypt,” she said.

“I’m not imaginative enough,” he told her. “I shall see the old garden as I always do, and the rose arches all red and pink and yellow, and my nice aunt snipping off the dead flowers with a pair of rusty scissors.”

“Aren’t there any flowers out there?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, cactus flowers, but they’re not pleasant to pick. It’s difficult to believe that spring really will come again, isn’t it? when one sees the bare brown trees and the heaps of dead leaves.”

“But all the flowers are there under the leaves,” said the aunt, “and spring really will come again.”

The aunt was right. Spring did come again. And with its coming came Neville Underwood from the dry East. He sent his luggage up from the station in the dog-cart that came to meet him, and he walked up through the woods in the splendour of one of those afternoons when May takes the rôle of July and plays the part perfectly.

The beeches were thick with bright light leaves. The elms were fully dressed; only the oaks stood almost bare. The undergrowth of hazel and sweet chestnut was dense and fresh. Through its moving green, the sun made a golden haze and the shadows of the leaves danced on a pathway that was all green grass and glad little thriving wild weeds.

Dear God, but it’s good to see green woods again,” he said.

And it was here, among the woods, that he met her the second time. In the middle of that wood is a carrefour, an open space of bright fine grass, and from it, four broad green rides run, straight as arrows, dip and dwindle and grow invisible with distance. The ground is green, the undergrowth is green, and the new fronds of bracken and the trees overhead. And in all this green, a note of deep blue is likely to take the eye of the gazer.

It took him through a tangle of woodbine and wild rose trails. He went about and skirting the thicket came to a little clearing. A tree had been cut down, and its branches lopped. And here was the blue; it was a girl’s dress, and the girl herself lay on the ground, her head on a cushion of green leaves, one hand clenched on her breast and the other by her side; her body thrown there, with all the abandonment of a tired kitten that sleeps in the sun at flat full length. So still she lay he could hardly believe that she slept. He stood and gazed at her. It was still there, in the warm wood; not a hair of her loosely bound locks stirred. Was she asleep? Could she have fainted?

A keener question pierced him suddenly. There were crimes – even in England. One read about them in the newspapers. He came nearer – stooped beside her. His hand hesitated. Could one – dared one, lay one’s hand under the heart of a strange lady, no matter what mad fear suddenly caught one? And he did not know her. All he remembered of her was her eyes, and these were shut. Perhaps he would never have known her if she had kept them closed. But, as he, kneeling, stooped more nearly to listen for her breathing, her eyes opened, and he knew her. Her eyes opened, she smiled sleepily.

Then —
The Kiss a short story by Edith Nesbit,

It was impossible. There he stood in the wood, and there she lay, eyes closed, motionless as ever. Could one have these momentary dreams? Were woods sometimes enchanted, as old tales would have one to believe? For it had certainly seemed to him that she had opened her eyes, smiled and then – that she had put up an arm, soft and firm through the sun-warmed linen of its sleeve, had caught him round the neck, drawn his face down to hers till he had kissed her on the lips. Incredible, impossible. And further, it had seemed to him that his kiss had only been given as a response, an unavoidable response.

So he stood, looking at her, and now he saw that whether he had dreamed this or not, she was not dead, nor fainting, but equably asleep. At any rate, the deep, soft breathing that stirred the blue linen over her bosom, the eyelids deep-drooped, and with never a flicker of awakening, the limp abandon of the hands told of nothing but sleep – deep sleep. Only now, the pallor of her face was flushed with rose-colour.

 

 

He stepped back through the quiet green and walked home through the part of the wood which was not enchanted. The warm touch of her mouth was on his all the way. But it vanished when the aunt’s soft faded cheek lay against his lips, and the brilliant patchwork of the Dutch garden shut out the green woods of magic happenings. The happy dance of the leaves in the greenwood paled before the father, full of glad questionings and comments, his trembling hands stirring deep drifts of rustling leaves – notes for the new book, on all sorts of odd scraps of paper – it was good to be at home where one was so loved, so desired. And he told himself that he must have fallen asleep in the wood. Most certainly, the girl from the Museum could never have fallen asleep there.

Tea was served under the copper-beech.

“Are you expecting anyone?” Neville asked, for the cups were four.

“Only Phil—your father’s secretary, I mean,” said the aunt. “Ah, here she comes. . . ”

And of course, it was the girl from the Museum who came across the lawn in her blue dress, with a hat that hung from her arm by knotted strings.

Neville heard the aunt speak kindly to the girl, heard his name and another name, and found himself bowing to the girl whose lips – But he heard nothing distinctly because of the horrible new certainty that sprang at him. It was true. It was no vision. This girl whose eyes had haunted him among the Egyptian tombs more than once and more than twice – this demure girl who was his father’s secretary, this girl had really of her own free will drawn down the head of a perfect stranger with that arm now reached out for her teacup, had drawn it down till the stranger’s lips lay on hers. “It was beautiful in the woods,” she was saying.

She was sitting there – talking to his aunt and his father quietly, as if nothing had happened. She, who had kissed a stranger in a wood. Had she never thought to meet him again. Just the passing kiss, the moment of pale stolen fire, and now she had met him, what would she do? Nothing, she would brazen the whole thing out. Horrible. But she had not been able to help blushing. It was that deep a slow-fading blush that had enlightened him had shown him that it was no vision that she also remembered. A burning crimson blush, over face and ears and neck; and the aunt had said:

“I hope you haven’t hurried, dear, in this heat.”

And she had said: “I didn’t want to be late for tea.”

He handed bread and butter to her. She was not blushing now.

“Oh, bother,” said Neville to himself, “now all the peace and pleasure is gone. It won’t be like home with a wicked little cat like that about the place.”

She was pretty, he decided, much prettier than he had thought her at the Museum. Pretty and in an open-eyed, candid-looking way that did not rhyme with that girl’s disgraceful conduct in the wood.

She went away, presently, with the father to garner into sheaves those loose leaves of notes. Then Neville heard how she was the daughter of Grantham, the great Egyptologist, dead these three years, how she was very clever at her work, outstanding company, and altogether a dear child.

“But you mustn’t fall in love with her, Neville,” the aunt said, “and thank Heaven you’re not given to that sort of thing.”

“Thank Heaven I’m not! But why mustn’t I?”

“Because she’s got a sweetheart already.”

“She would have,” he told himself, “a sweetheart – half-a-dozen most likely.”

“How I know is that Mr Maulevere asked her to share his heart and vicarage – yes – before she’d been here a month. I thought it would be a perfect thing for her, for he’s really not bad, is he? And she is quite without means. However, she’s so well connected. But no. Then I got it out of her that there’s someone else.”

“I congratulate her,” said Neville lazily. “The jasmine’s late this year, isn’t it? “

“The jasmine flowers in July,” said the aunt severely, “and I congratulate him. For if ever there was a dear, good, kind, unselfish girl —

“Then I congratulate you,” he said, “and no doubt it’s lucky for me that I’m not given to that sort of thing.'”

It was “that sort of thing” – an unworldly romance – that had in his teens caused Neville’s relations to send him, for change of scene, to Southern climes. In other words, he had gone with one of Cook’s tourist tickets to Egypt, and there, his father’s hobby, hitherto a sealed and dull-seeming book to him, had suddenly grown to be the most important thing in the world.

He had come back to England, cured of his passion for poor vulgar Annabel, with the red hair, flaxen at the roots, and the black eyelashes and brows that were white when the dye was off them. He came back cured, despising love and wearing round his neck a charm that a gipsy woman from the desert had given him when he had saved her life from the keen blade of one who had been her lover.

“Wear it always,” she had said; “it will keep you from unworthy loves.” And it, or something else – had kept him. “It has a further power,” the woman had added, “but that you will learn when the time comes.”

He was not a superstitious man, but he wore the amulet. It did not keep him from the remembrance of an arm around his neck, lips on his – the shameless effrontery of a worthless girl.

“I hope,” said the aunt anxiously when the father had gone to his study and Philomela to her bed, “I do hope you’re not going to dislike that girl. You hardly spoke to her all the evening.”

“Didn’t I?” he said. “I’ll do better tomorrow.”

So next morning when he saw her gown, it was mauve to-day – among the little orange trees, in tubs that had just been moved out of the greenhouse, on to the end of the terrace, he went across the grey crooked flag-stones to her.

“Good morning,” he said, and he could hardly have said less.

“What a beautiful old place it is,” she said pleasantly. “I wonder whether you know how lucky you are to have been born here.”

“It’s old certainly,” he said, “and extremely shabby.”

“That’s part of the charm,” she said; “wealthy people never have anything beautiful because they always pay someone to make it for them. But look at the new garden. Miss Underwood and I made that . . . oh, of course, Sam did the dull digging, but he’s as proud of it as we are. We put in all the bulbs, made plans and everything.”

She was talking without a trace of embarrassment.

“That’s true,” said he.

“And having the drawing-room re-papered. That was an event. It took us a week to choose the paper. Now Really Rich People who can have their rooms papered whenever they like! And the orange trees, you don’t know how we’ve nursed them all winter. If Miss Underwood could buy new ones when these died, why they’d be nothing.”

He liked her voice, the turn of her head and her eyes – he had always liked her eyes.

“I do not like you at all,” he said inwardly -“oh, not at all. You shall not make me like you.”

But he stayed talking with her in the little wood of orange-trees till the aunt had laid away the jingling housekeeping keys and joined them on the terrace. Then she went to her work in the library. He strolled in presently to talk over the book with his father.

“You won’t mind Miss Grantham staying with us?” said the father. “She can take down everything you say in shorthand – and as she’ll have the whole transcribing of the book to do . . .

“Of course – of course,” said Neville. In that morning, he found out that Miss Grantham was not only pretty but clever. That she knew more about his special subject than any woman he had ever met.

“Curious,” he said to himself as he strolled into lunch. “Curious how I dislike that girl.”

Dislike her, he might, but it was impossible not to talk to her, as it is not to answer an amiable and intelligent child. She was not childish or even childlike, but she seemed so unconscious of any reason why she should not talk to him. And there were so many things to talk about. The book, the garden, the old house: the growing glory of spring putting on the vestments of summer, the brasses in the old church, the new green of the aspens in the churchyard.

It was one day when the haze of great heat turned the woods blue and the far hills violet that they stood by the broken balustrade of the terrace and looked out over the fields of flowering grass dimpled by the wind.

Her eyes were fixed on the wood: the wood.

“I wonder,” he said suddenly and quite without meaning to say it, “why you blushed so when my aunt introduced me to you.”

She blushed again now and turned her face away to gaze down the uneven line of the grey parapet.

“Why was it?” he urged.

“I did hope you hadn’t noticed,” she said.

“Noticed? My dear Miss Grantham, it was like a regiment of soldiers in the sunlight. No one could have helped noticing it. Was it surprise at seeing someone else there having tea?”

He gave her that loop-hole because suddenly he found that he was sorry for her. After all, she had done him no harm. Save for that one shocking incident in the wood she had been to him; a girl should be to a man in whose father’s house she is a well-paid servant and an honoured guest. She had been courteous, dignified, useful, amusing . . .

“No,” she said, avoiding the loop-hole, “it wasn’t surprising, because of course, I knew you were coming. But I didn’t know it would be you.”

He wished then very earnestly that he had not begun to ask questions.

“Oh, never mind,” he said quickly, “it doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“It was an impertinent question.”

“No, no,” she said eagerly. “I’ve often wanted to tell you. I knew you’d noticed me blushing in that insane way. It was because I met you once at the British Museum – of course, you don’t remember it.”

“But of course I do,” he interrupted.

“I hoped you wouldn’t,” she said, “because I stared at you. Honestly, I didn’t know I’d done it till afterwards, and I stared at you for quite a long time – and then. When I saw you at tea on the lawn here – I remembered, and I hoped you wouldn’t.”

“But why did you stare at me, as you call it – in the Museum, I mean?”

“I don’t know,” she said very earnestly. “I can’t think. It was as if I’d seen you before and been looking for you. Then suddenly, there you were. I believe I expected you to shake hands. It was as if we were old friends. It does sound most ludicrous. Do you think one ever has moments when one is quite mad?”

“I do,” he said earnestly. “I do indeed; I’ve had moments when I’ve fancied the most extraordinary things. But they’ve not been true,” he added stoutly, “any more than it was true that we’d met before that day at the Museum.”

“Are you sure we never met before – at a dance or anywhere? Oh, yes, I used to go to heaps of dances before father – when father was here. Are you sure that we never met before?”

“Quite,” he said. “I should never have forgotten it if we had.” His tone was one she had never heard.

And now he was quite certain that the hollow in the wood and the sleeping blue figure and the round arm and all the rest of it had been only a vision, queer and unaccountable, but still a vision. The certitude made a new heaven and a new earth for him. How could he ever have thought that she, she who was all that a man’s ideal lady should be, could ever have put an arm around the neck of a stranger and – but why go over the silly tale again?

However, the silly tale sang itself to him day and night like a song of the joy of all the world. He had felt her lips, though it had been but in a vision, and all his visions now, sleeping and waking, were of a time when he should touch those lips again.

He and she and the father worked hard at the book, often late into the night, but there were golden mornings and silver evenings when the garden was grey in starlight, and the white moon fell into the river and lay there looking up at her reflection in the deep calm sky.

The aunt and the father looked on and saw that more and more, in all the hours that the book did not claim, the two were together. And they were glad.

“If only he can make her forget the other one,” said the aunt, “he’ll never find such another – kind, gentle, sweet. . . ”

“And clever!” said the father, “and patient. And pretty, too.”

“That doesn’t matter so much,” said the aunt, “but she’s so modest and sweet and – she has a perfect genius for gardening.”

“And for our sort of work,” the father said. “I don’t suppose there’s another girl alive with eyes like hers who knows shorthand, and the Egyptian and Assyrian script, and how to be always handy and never in the way.”

“I must make her forget the other man, confound him,” said Neville, and wondered savagely whether the other man had ever had wild, extraordinary visions in woodland places.

Then came the wet day, the last of three, when the river was grey and lashed with rain, and the garden lay drenched and the roses, bowed, mud-splashed, drooped and dripped. Philomela covered her head with the aunt’s waterproof and ran through the rain and the wild west wind to the stone summer house at the end of the terrace. There was an unglazed window that looked eastward; from it, one could look out, sheltered and safe, at the green seething wetness of meadow and wood.

Here he found her. He came behind her as she sat on the stone seat, and she did not turn her head.

“Philomela,” he said; his voice was low.

“Yes,” she said.

Standing at her shoulder, he put his hand under her chin and turned her face up till he could see it.

“Philomela,” he said again, “Is there anyone else?”

“No,” said she.

Then he touched her lips and knew, at the touch, that it was not for the first time. That – is the wood – it had not been a vision. It had been real – real as this, real as his despair.

Yet he would be sure.

“Philomela,” he said her name for the third time, “have you ever fallen asleep in a wood?”

“Yes,” said she, and once more, the crimson flush covered neck and brow and ears.

“In that wood?” It lay below them drenched in misty desolation.

“Yes.”

“The day I came home?”

“Yes.”

“God forgive you,” he said, turned, and left her.

He went for a long walk in the rain.

That night at dinner, the aunt and the father were surprised to learn that Neville was going to town by the early train in the morning; it was uncertain when he would return. He ate little and spoke of business too long neglected and thought he should go by the 6.15 before any of them were up.

He stayed up late that night, packing everything in a raging fury of energy. O — how he had loved her – he did love her – and she was – that. There was no room in his brain for fatigue. There was only room for this furious anger against the woman who had made him love her – and she, herself unworthy of the love of any man.

It must have been two in the morning when the fire of resentment began to burn lower, and he suddenly found he was hungry. There would be less chance of sleep than ever if he were hungry. He was not young enough to spite his stomach to be revenged on his heart. Then down he went into the dining-room where the sideboard was, with the sherry and the biscuits and the cake. He lit the candles in the silver candlesticks on the mantelpiece. Something moved close to him.

“Who’s there?” he said. The candles turned clear, and Philomela rose from the big chair that was his father’s. She wore the grey dress she had worn at dinner, and her face seemed grey, too.

“What on earth are you doing here?” he asked roughly.

“I’m waiting to see you off,” she said. “You know I’ve got to speak to you. It can’t end like this. People don’t do such things.”

“What things?”

“Leave women as you left me – after – Oh, how I hate you! How dare you kiss me?”

“I might ask the same question,” he sneered.

“You might . . ?”

“Yes,” he said brutally. “And I will ask it. How dare you kiss me? Down there in the wood. How dared you put your arm around a stranger’s neck and draw his head down till he kissed you?”

I – you think I did that?”

“I know it.”

“But how – when?”

“You know well enough – the day I came home.”

“But,” she said slowly, and her eyes did not flinch from his as the two stood in the darkened room with the candles’ steady light on their confronted faces, “if you know this, you’ve always known it. Then why – all this time . . ?”

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought afterwards; it must have been a vision, a dream, a hallucination of the senses. How could I believe that you – you seemed so different – you – a stranger – shameless.”

“Then if you couldn’t believe it then, why believe it now?” Her voice was cold and toneless.

“Because I kissed you again – fool that I was. When I felt your lips, I knew it was not the first time – I knew, and you confirmed it; you owned that you’d been asleep in the wood that day, and you blushed – good God, girl, did you expect me to go on with it after that?”

She picked up one of the candlesticks, looked at it attentively, set it down very carefully in its place. Then she turned to him.

“Listen to me,” she said. “First of all, I’ll never see you, speak to you again as long as I live. If you could think that I – oh – how could anyone think it!”

The anger in her voice was fuel to the anger in his heart.

“But – great God in heaven, you can’t mean to try to brazen it out! I didn’t think – you did it.”

“I’m going to tell you the truth,” she said, facing him. “I don’t care whether you believe me or not. I was asleep in the wood that day, and I dreamed that you were there – and, and that it all happened as you say. And then I woke, and you were standing there. And I pretended to be asleep.”

“But why – why did you pretend that?

“How could I look you in the face after dreaming that?

“And you never thought that perhaps it wasn’t a dream?”

“How should I? Why! – Oh, you shall have the whole truth. That day I saw you at the Museum, I knew you, though I’d never seen you and never dreamed of you. And ever since that, I’ve dreamed of you almost always. That – is the wood was only a dream-like another.”

“Always of me? Never of anyone else?”

“No,” she retorted scornfully, “never of anyone else – goodbye.”

She turned to go, but he caught her arm roughly.

“Let me go – you hurt,” she said, but he said, “No, not yet. You shall tell me everything. Did you kiss me in your other dreams?”

“Yes,” she said defiantly, throwing back her head, “but in my other dreams, I loved you – and you loved me. No – no – I will never forgive you, never. Let me go. It’s no good. I hate you. I wish I’d never seen you. No, no, no.”

He had not spoken, but his eyes had implored.

“No,” she cried, “no, I will never forgive you, never. Oh, how could you, how could you – ”

“Don’t cry – ah, don’t,” he whispered with his arms around her.

“Here,” she said presently, lifting her head from his shoulder and feeling among the laces of her bodice, “my father told me to wear this always and to give it to the man I loved when I was certain he loved me. He said it would keep me from unworthy loves.”

He took it from her hand. It was an amulet. “Oh, but – ” he said and showed her the one he wore – its counterpart.

“Yes,” she said, “I knew you had that. Your aunt told me. So then I knew that nothing could part us.”

“But you said you’d never speak to me again—you’d never forgive me.”

“Ah,” she said, “yes – I said that,”

The pink flush of sunrise was over the drenched garden as they opened the French window and stepped out onto the terrace. She stopped and faced him.

“Now I’m quite, quite sure,” she said. “I want to tell you one thing. Then there won’t be even a shadow between us.”

“There is none now,” he said.

“That day – in the wood – sometimes I have wondered, whether it was a dream. And yet, I thought it couldn’t be true. But I did wonder if it could— really be only another dream like the others.”

“Why?”

“Come, let’s go and walk in the rose garden,” she said, pulling at his hand.

“But why,” he persisted, “shouldn’t it have been a dream, like the others?”

“I – you – the kisses in the dreams were quite different,” she said.

Original short story by E. Nesbit

Introduced by A I Moffat

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Illustrations & Photography

The front cover of a beautiful girl was by Ractapopulous.