The Wind Flower

The Wind Flower Book cover of short story mystery and romance fiction

The Wind Flower a short story of infatuation and, obsession. An artist becomes completely spellbound by a quiet, monosyllable girl who flourishes in a prevailing storm. This exhilarating transformation of the girl captures the spirit of life, excitement and adventure. A short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam, an American author and poet who wrote a series of short stories based on her own experiences. The Wind Flower is a unique tale of mystery and romance with a touch of mother nature and its ability to capture our emotions. 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 Wind Flower

Willard’s landlady smiled sympathetically across the narrow breakfast-table. “I guess you’ve got to stay in this mornin’, Mr Willard,” she said. “It’s a good deal too raw and cold for you to be out around, paintin’, to-day.”

Willard nodded. “Quite right, Mrs Storrs,” he returned, and he smiled at his landlady’s daughter, who sat opposite. But she did not smile at him. She continued her silent meal, looking for the most part at her plate, and replying to direct questions only by monosyllables.

She must be nineteen or twenty, he decided, but her slender, curveless figure might have been that of a girl several years younger. Her face was absolutely without character to the casual glance—pale, slightly freckled, lighted by grey-green, half-closed eyes, and framed in light brown hair. Her lips were thin, and her rare smile did not disclose her teeth. Even her direct look, when he compelled it, was quite uninterested.

The Wind Flower Book cover of short story mystery and romance fiction

—x—

Her mother chattered with the volubility of a woman left much alone, and glad of an appreciative listener, but the girl had not, of her own accord, spoken a word during his week’s stay. He wondered as he thought of it why he had not noticed it before, and decided that her silence was not obtrusive, but only the outcome of her colourless personality—like the silence of the prim New England house itself.

He groaned inwardly. “What in time can I do? Nothing to read within five miles: my last cigar went yesterday: this beastly weather driving me to melancholia! If she weren’t such a stick—heavens! I never knew a girl could be so thin!”

The girl in question rose and began clearing the table. Her mother bustled out of the room, and left Willard in the old-fashioned armchair by the window, almost interested, as he wondered what the girl would do or say now. After five minutes of silence, he realised the strange impression, or rather the lack of impression, she made on him. He was hardly conscious of a woman’s presence. The intangible atmosphere of femininity that wraps around a tête-à-tête with even the most unattractive woman was wholly lacking. She seemed simply a more or less intelligent human being.

Given greatly to analysis, he grew interested. Why was this? She did not want intellectually; he was sure. Such remarks as she had made in answer to his own were not noticeable for stupidity or even stolidity of thought. He broke the silence.

“What do you do with yourself, these days?” he suggested. “I don’t see you about at all. Are you reading, or walking about these fascinating Maine beaches?”

She did not even look up at him as she replied. “I don’t know as I do very much of anything. I’m not very fond of reading—at least, not these books.”

Remembering the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Book of Martyrs,” “Mrs Heman’s Poems,” and the “Adventures of Rev. James Hogan, Missionary to the Heathen of Africa,” that adorned the marble-topped table in the parlour, he shuddered sympathetically.

“But I walk a good deal,” she volunteered. “I’ve been all over that ledge you’re painting.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said. “It reminds me of a poem I read somewhere about the beauty of Appledore—that’s on this coast somewhere, too, isn’t it? You’d appreciate the poem, I’m sure—do you care for poetry?”

She piled the dishes on a tray and carried it through the door before he had time to take it from her.

“No,” she replied over her shoulder, “no, I don’t care for it. It seems so—so smooth and shiny, somehow.”

“Smooth? shiny?” he smiled as she came back, “I don’t see.”

Her high, rather indifferent voice fell in a slight embarrassment, as she explained: “Oh, I mean the rhymes and the verses—they’re so even and like a clock ticking.”

He took from his pocket a little red book. “Let me read you this,” he said eagerly, “and see if you think it smooth and shiny. You must have heard and seen what this man tries to tell.”

She stood awkwardly by the table, her scant, shapeless dress accentuating the straight lines of her slim figure, her hands clasped loosely before her, her face turned toward the window, which rattled now and then at the gusts of the rising wind. Willard held the little book easily between thumb and finger, and read in clear, pleasant tones, looking at her occasionally with interest:

The Wind Flower Poem Fresh from his fastnesses, wholesome and spacious. The north wind, the mad huntsman, halloos on his white hounds Over the grey, roaring reaches and ridges, The forest of Ocean, the chase of the world. Hark to the peal of the pack in full cry, As he thongs them before him, swarming voluminous, Weltering, wide-wallowing, till in a ruining Chaos of energy, hurled on their quarry. They crash into foam!

—x—

“Fresh from his fastnesses, wholesome and spacious.
The north wind, the mad huntsman, halloos on his white hounds
Over the grey, roaring reaches and ridges,
The forest of Ocean, the chase of the world.
Hark to the peal of the pack in full cry,
As he thongs them before him, swarming voluminous,
Weltering, wide-wallowing, till in a ruining
Chaos of energy, hurled on their quarry.
They crash into foam!”

—x—

“There! is that smooth and shiny?” he demanded. She had moved nearer, to catch more certainly his least intonation.

Her hands twisted nervously, and to his surprise, she smiled with unmistakable pleasure.

“Oh, no!” she half-whispered, eyeing the book in his hand wistfully. “Oh, no! That makes me feel different. I—I love the wind.”

“What’s that?” Mrs. Storrs entered quickly. “Now, Sarah, you just stop that nonsense! Mr Willard, has she been tellin’ you any foolishness?”

“Miss Storrs had only told me that she liked the wind,” he replied, hoping that the woman would go, and let him develop at leisure what promised to be a most interesting situation. She had really very pretty, even teeth, and when she smiled, her lips curved pleasantly.

But Mrs Storrs was not to be evaded. She had evidently a grievance to set forth, and looking reproachfully at her daughter, continued:

“Ever since Sarah was five or six years old, she’s had that crazy likin’ for the wind. ‘Taint natural, I say, and when the gales that we have up here strike us, the least anybody can do ‘s to stay in the house and thank Providence they’ve got a house to stay in! Why, Mr Willard, you’d never think it to look at her, for she’s a real quiet girl—too quiet, seems to me, sometimes, when I’m just put to it for somebody to be social with—but in that big gale of eighty-eight she was out all night in it, and me and her father—that was before Mr Storrs died—nearly crazy with fearin’ she was lost for good. And when she was six years old, she got up from her crib and went out on the beach In her little nightgown, and nothin’ else, and it’s a miracle she didn’t die of pneumonia, if not of bein’ blown to death.”

Mrs Storrs stopped for breath, and Willard glanced at the girl, wondering if she would appear disconcerted or angry at such unlooked-for revelation of her eccentricity. Still, her face had settled Into its usual impassive lines, and she dusted the chairs serenely, turning now and then to look fixedly through the window at the swaying elm whose boughs leaned to the ground under the still rising wind.

Her mother was evidently relieving the strain of an enforced silence, and sitting stiffly in her chair, as one not accustomed to the luxury of idle conversation, she continued:

“And even now, when she’s old enough to know better, you’d think, she acts possessed. Any wind-storm ‘ll set her off, but when the spring gales come, she’ll just roam ’round the house, back and forth, staring out of doors, and me as nervous as a cat all the while. Just because I won’t let her go out, she acts like a child. Why, last year I had to go out and drag her in by main force; I was nearly blown off the cliff gettin’ her home. And she was singin’, calm, as if she was in her bed like any decent person! It’s the most unnatural thing I ever heard of! Now, Sarah Storrs,” as the girl was slipping from the room, “you remember you promised me not to go out this year after supper, if the wind was high. You mind, now! It’s comin’ up an awful blow.”

The girl turned abruptly. “I never promised you that, mother,” she said quickly. “I said I wouldn’t if I could help it, and if I can’t help it, I can’t, and that’s all there is to it.” The door closed behind her, and shortly afterwards Willard left Mrs Storrs in possession of the room.

—x—

The day affected him strangely. The steady low moan of the wind was by this time very noticeable. It was not cold, only clear and rather keen, and the scurrying grey clouds looked chillier than one found the air on going out. The boom of the surf carried a sinister threat with it, and the birds drove helplessly with, the wind-current, as if escaping some dreaded thing behind them.

Indoors, the state of affairs was not much better: Mrs Storrs looked injured; her sister, a lady of uncertain years and temper, talked of sudden deaths, and the probability of premature burial, pointed by the relation of actual occurrences of that nature; Sarah was not to be seen.

At last he could bear idleness no longer, and opening the dusty melodeon, tried to drown the dreary minor music of the wind by some cheerful selection from the hymn-book Mrs Storrs brought him, having a vague idea that secular music was out of keeping with the character of that instrument. After a few moments’ aimless fingering the keys he found himself pedalling a laborious accompaniment to the “Dead March” from Saul, and closed the wheezy little organ in despair.

The long day dragged somehow by, and at supper, Sarah appeared, if anything, whiter and more uninteresting than ever, only to retire immediately when the meal was over.

“I might’s well tell you, Mr Willard, that you can give up all hope of paintin’ any more this week,” announced Mrs Storrs, as the door closed behind her daughter. “This wind’s good for a week, I guess. I’m sorry to have you go, but I shouldn’t feel honest not to tell you.” Mentally vowing to leave the next morning, Willard thanked her and explained that the study was far enough advanced to be completed at his studio in the city, and that he had intended leaving very shortly.

A few moments later, as he stood at the window in the parlour, looking at the waving elm-boughs and lazily wondering how the moon could be so bright when there were so many clouds, the soft swish of a woman’s skirt sounded close to his ear. As he turned, the frightened “Oh!” and the little gasp of surprised femininity revealed Sarah, standing near the table in the centre of the room. Even at that distance and in the dark, he was aware of a difference in her, a subtle element of personality not present before.

“Did I frighten you?” he asked, coming nearer.

“No, not very much. Only I thought nobody would be here. I—I—wanted someplace to breathe in; it seems so tight and close in the house.” As she spoke, a violent blast of wind drove the shutters against the side of the house and rubbed together the branches of the elm until they creaked dismally. She pressed her face against the glass and stared out into the dark.

“Don’t you love it?” she questioned, almost eagerly.

Willard shook his head dubiously. “Don’t know. Looks pretty cool. If it gets much higher, I shouldn’t care to walk far.”

She took her old place by the table again, but soon left it, and wandered restlessly about the room. As she passed him, he was conscious of a distinct physical impression—a kind of electric presence. She seemed to gather and hold about her all the faint light of the cold room, and the sweep of her skirt against his foot seemed to draw him toward her. Suddenly she stopped her irregular march.

“Hear it sing!” she whispered.

—x—

The now distinct voice of the wind grew to a long, minor wail, that rose and fell with rhythmic regularity. As she paused with uplifted finger near him, Willard felt with amazement a compelling force, a personality more intense, for the time, than his own. Then, as the blast, with a shriek that echoed for a moment with startling distinctness from every side, dashed the elm branches against the house itself, she turned abruptly and left the room. “Stay here!” she said shortly, and, resisting the impulse to follow her, he obeyed. In a few moments, she returned with a heavy shawl wrapped over her head and shoulders.

“Hold the window open for me,” she said, “I’m going out.” He attempted remonstrance, but she waved him impatiently away. “I can’t get out of the door—mother’s locked it and taken the key, but you can hold up the window while I get out. Oh, come yourself, if you like! But nothing can happen to me.”

Mechanically he held open the window as she slipped out, and, dragging his overcoat after him, scrambled through himself. She was waiting for him at the corner of the house, and as he stumbled in the unfamiliar shadows, held out her hand.

“Here, take hold of my hand,” she commanded. Her cool, slim grasp was strangely pleasant, as she hurried along with a smooth, gliding motion, wholly unlike her indifferent gait of the day before.

Once out of the shelter of the house, the storm struck them with full force, and Willard realised that he was well-nigh strangled in the clutches of a genuine Maine gale.

“What folly!” he gasped, crowding his hat over his eyes and struggling to gain his wonted consciousness of superiority. “Come back instantly, Miss Storrs! Your mother—”

“Come! Come!” she interrupted, pulling him along.

He stared at her in amazement. Her eyes were wide open, almost black with excitement. And now her face gleamed like ivory in the cold light. Her lips were parted and curved in a happy smile. Her slender body swayed easily with the wind that nearly bent Willard double. She seemed unreal—a phantom of the storm, a veritable wind-spirit. Her loosened hair flew across his face, and its touch completed the strange thrill that her hand-clasp brought. He followed unresistingly.

“Aren’t—you—afraid—of—the—woods?” he gasped, the gusts tearing the words from his lips, as he saw that she was making for the thick growth of trees that bordered the cliff. Her high, light laughter almost frightened him, so weird and unhuman it came to him on the wind.

“Why should I be afraid? The woods are so beautiful in a storm! They bow and nod and throw their branches about—oh, they’re best of all, then!”

A sweeping blast nearly threw him down, and he instinctively dropped her hand, since there was no possible feeling of protection for her, her footing was so sure, her balance so perfect. As he righted himself and staggered to the shelter of the tree under which she was standing, he stopped, lost in wonder and admiration. She had impatiently thrown off the shawl and stood in a gleam of moonlight under the tree.

Her long, straight hair flew out in two fluttering wisps at either side, and her slender, curved mouth were painted against her pale face in clear relief.  Now her eyes were wide open, the pupils dark and gleaming. It seemed to his excited glance that rays of light streamed from them to him. “Heavens! She’s a beauty! If only I could catch that pose!” he said under his breath.

“Come!” she called to him again, “we’re wasting time! I want to get to the cliff!”

He pressed on to her, but she slipped around the tree and eluded him, keeping a little in advance as he panted on, fighting with all the force of a fairly powerful man against the gale that seemed to offer her no resistance. It occurred to him, as he watched with a greedy artist’s eye the almost unnatural ease and lightness of her walk, that she caught the turns of the wind intuitively, guiding along currents and channels unknown to him, for she seemed with it always, never against it. Once she threw out both her arms in an abandon of delight, and actually leaned on the gust that tossed him against a tree, baffled and wearied with his efforts to keep pace with her, and confusedly wondering if he would wake soon from this improbable dream.

—x—

Speech was impossible. The whistling of the wind alone was deafening, and his voice was blown in twenty directions when he attempted to call her. Small twigs lashed his face, slippery boughs glided from his grasp, and the trees fled by in a thick-grown crowd to his dazed eyes. To his right, a birch suddenly fell with a snapping crash. He leapt to one side, only to feel about his face a blinding storm of pattering acorns from the great oak that with a rending sigh and swish tottered through the air at his left.

“Good God!” he cried in terror, as he saw her standing apparently in its track. A veer in the gale altered the direction of the great trunk, that sank to the ground across her path. As it fell, with an indescribable, swaying bound, she leapt from the ground, and before it quite touched the earth, she rested lightly upon it. She seemed absolutely unreal—a dryad of the windy wood. All fear for her left him.

As she stood poised on the still trembling trunk, a quick gust blew out her skirt to a bubble on one side, and drove it close to her slender body on the other, while her loose hair streamed like a banner along the wind. She curved her figure towards him and made a cup of one hand, laying it beside her opened lips. What she said he did not hear. He was rapt in delighted wonder at the consummate grace of her attitude, the perfect poise of her body. She was a figure in a Greek frieze—a bas-relief—a breathing statue.

Unable to make him hear, she turned slightly and pointed ahead. He realised the effect of the Wingless Victory in its unbroken beauty. She was not a woman, but an incarnate art, a miracle of changing line and curve, a ceaseless inspiration.

Suddenly he heard the pound and boom of the surf. In an ecstasy of impatience, she hurried back, seized his hand, and fairly dragged him on. The crash of the waves and the wind together took from him all power of connected thought. He clung to her hand like a child, and when she threw herself down on her face to breathe, he grasped her dress and panted in her ear: “We—can’t—get—much—further—unless—you—can—walk—the—Atlantic!” She smiled happily back at him, and the thickness of her hair, blown by the wind from the ocean about his face, brought him a strange, unspeakable content.

“Shall we ever go back?” he whispered, half to himself. “Or will you float down the cliff and wake me by your going?”

Her wide, dark eyes answered him silently. “It is like a dream, though,” her high, sweet voice added. And then he realised that she had hardly spoken since they left the house. The house? As in a dream he tried vaguely to connect this Undine of the wood with the girl whose body she had stolen for this night’s pranks. As in a dream, he rose and followed her back, through the howling, sweeping wind. Her cold, slim handheld his; her light, shrill voice sang little snatches of songs—hymns, he remembered afterwards. As the moonlight fell on her, he wondered dreamily why he had thought her too thin. And all the while he fought, half-unconsciously, the resistless gale, that spared him only when he yielded utterly.

The house gleamed white and square before them. Silently he raised the window for her. He had no thought of lifting her in. That she should slip lightly through was of course. The house was still lighted, and he heard the creaking of her mother’s rocking-chair in the bedroom over his head. He looked at his watch. “Does her mother rock all night?” he thought dully, for it was nearly twelve. She read his question from the perplexed glance he threw at her.

“She’s sitting up to watch the door so that I shan’t get out,” she whispered, without a smile. “Good-bye.” And he stood alone in the room.

continue

 

Original short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam

Retold by A Moffat

Illustrations by justanemotion.com

Book cover illustration by Ractapopulous

©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

 

By A Mere Accident

By A Mere Accident, Book Cover

By A Mere Accident – was first published in 1904 by the author E Nesbit, an English author and poet best known for her children’s books such as; The Railway Children, The Story Of The Treasure Seekers, and The Woodbegoods.  A consequential utterance caused by a mere accident could change his life forever. Although a questionable chance encounter leads to a dramatic change of events, this short story has a definite twist. 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.

By A Mere Accident

Her fresh, fair face glowed like a pink rose between the dark lustre of her sables and the frame of soft hair which repeated, with the softness of an echo, the sables’ colouring of mingled brown and black. The white, wintry sunshine struck through the railway carriage window and made jewels of her blue, Irish eyes. Railway rug and Gladstone, muff, and handbag were grouped about her. On the blue cushion at her side lay a sheaf of papers and reviews freshly reaped from the bookstall. On her green cloth lap lay a great bunch of violets.

By A Mere Accident, book cover

“They will be companions,” said the man who stood at the carriage door. “Don’t let them talk too much, or they will bore you.”

“Could violets possibly bore one?”

“These might if they did their duty and spoke of me.”

She laughed, but she did not look at him.

“Your boxes are all right, and your bicycle’s in the van at the back, and here is your ticket. You are sure you prefer solitude? Your aunt will regret having allowed me to see you off, and your mother will tell me that I ought to have secured for you the travelling companionship of at least one tabby.”

“I prefer the violets.”

Here the guard locked the carriage door, the man stood leaning his arms on the window, and passengers passing along the crowded platform scowled at the possessive set of his shoulders.

A jar, a whistle, a flag waved, and the train began to shudder and to move. The man kissed the smoothly gloved hand that lay on the window and drew back. As he did so, another man came up the platform running with great strides, caught at the handle of the door, shook it, and as it resisted, leapt on the step of the carriage, amid the shouts of porters, and was borne out of the station clinging to the carriage door.

“The door’s locked,” she said from within.

The man on the step thrust a bag through the window on to the seat and felt in his pocket. Then he moved a couple of feet past the carriage door, unlocked it with a railway key, stepped into the carriage, and closed the door after him.

“That was a near thing!” he said. And now, for the first time, the fellow-travellers looked in each other’s face.

His mouth grew stern. The pink faded from her face, and a greenish pallor crept up to the blue eyes.

You!” she said.

He looked at her critically — raised his hat without speaking, and busied himself with the straps of his bag. From this, he took a book and in it read sedulously, never raising his eyes.

She watched him by stolen glances, always met by the defence of his drooping lids. The lids were broad and white, and she knew well what manner of eyes they covered. Eyes mocking, disdainful, yet capable of a rare tenderness — besides which the consistent kindness, the open worship of other eyes seemed hardly worth the having. A handsome man for the rest — big and broad-shouldered, and with the masterful air beloved of dogs and servants and women.

Grown bolder, she watched him now no more by fleet, snatched instants, but steadily, as the train rattled and swung in its gathering speed. She looked at the firm hands that held the book. A year ago, those hands had held hers; she trembled at the memory of their touch. She looked at his lips — firm, smooth, pale lips, set in a thin line. A year ago those lips . . .

It was at this moment that he raised his eyes and looked at her. A hot blush covered her face and ears, and neck. He looked at her for one brief instant — a faint amusement in his half-closed eyes — and resumed his reading.

“Oh, don’t read!” she said desperately. “The train doesn’t stop for hours. Surely you won’t keep three hours’ silence with an old acquaintance just because . . .”

He laid down the book at once.

“I beg your pardon,” he said courteously. “You were so well provided with travelling companions that I feared to force the conversation of another on you.”

His glance rested on her papers for an instant and — for a longer instant — on the violets.

She laid the flowers on the cushion beside her.

“I am going to be married on Monday,” she said abruptly.

“Christmas Day,” he said, smiling. “A thousand congratulations. A curious day, though, to have chosen.”

He chose it,” she said, “and I could not . . . ”

He chose it? He makes the most of his privileges. And so you are to be Mrs. . . . ?”

“I am to be Lady Leamington,” she said.

“You are going to marry him?” The scorn in his voice stung her like a whip.

She raised her head proudly.

“I consider myself extremely fortunate,” she said and took up the Nineteenth Century.

And now it was he who watched her, with a gaze so fixed that she felt it in every nerve. Suddenly he shrugged his shoulders and moved to the seat opposite hers. She drew back her skirt as if from contamination. Then he spoke.

“Of all the virtues, I have always supposed reticence to be the most admirable, as it is the rarest. I have striven to practice it. Therefore, when you broke off our engagement, I did not seek to justify myself. Pride may have been for something in my silence also — I scorn to deny it. I own that my pride suffered when I found that you could throw me away at the first word from a stranger.”

She made a movement to speak, but he went on: “It was foolish, I admit; but, you see, I thought you loved me. It would be best if you made allowance for the other delusions that followed on that. The point is that I was not going to defend myself since you — who ought to have defended me — if you had loved me, I mean, of course — set yourself as my accuser. But that’s all over, thank God! I can now feel a sincere, if slight, interest in your welfare — as an old friend, and I think I ought to tell you the unpleasant truth about Lord Leamington, your fortunate bridegroom.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like a book,” she said. “If you want to abuse my future husband, do it in plain English.”

“I will,” he said. “He told you that he found a girl in my rooms at midnight and that her arms were around my neck. You asked me if this were true. I admitted it. You asked for no explanation, and I gave none.”

No explanation,” she began angrily, “could have . . . ”

“No — I know, but now it is different. I can’t let an old friend marry that man in ignorance of the facts. He had arranged to call for me at twelve; I had an article to finish, and we were going on to the Somersets’ ball. At about a quarter to twelve, I opened the door to a knock. It was not Leamington, but this girl. I knew her very slightly. She had lost her last train to Putney, Peckham, or somewhere — would I help her? It was like a scene in a play, don’t you know. I was Discretion absolute — left the door open — gave her wine and biscuits and proposed to charter a homeward cab for her. Then came Leamington’s step on the stair, and at that, as at a signal, she flung her arms around my neck. I should feel like a hairdresser’s apprentice telling you this, but I know now why it was done. It was Leamington’s last cast for you, and he threw the double six, confound him!”

She looked at him with shining eyes.

“Is this true?” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“You never asked me.”

“It is only your word against his . . . ”

“After a few years of married life, you will be better able to judge of their relative values,” he said, leaning back in his corner.

She lifted the violets to her face — the cool freshness of them was like a child’s kiss.

“Charles,” she said softly and threw the violets out at the open window.

He smiled. “So he did give you the violets? And you believe my word, and not his.”

“Charles,” she said again and reached out a timid hand towards him.

His face grew stiff and set.

“You understand my motives?” he said coldly. “I could not see any old friend married to a liar and a blackguard without a word of warning.”

“I was only — I wanted to shake hands with my old friend — to show that he forgives me.” She hardly knew what she was saying.

He touched her hand for a moment and let it drop.

“There is nothing to forgive,” he said. “I had almost forgotten the circumstance till your face reminded me of it.”

“You are cruel,” she said, “and not even polite. Why haven’t you punished him?”

“I punched his head,” he said coolly. “One does not go further on such slight quarrels.”

“You are positively insulting,” she said.

“I think I meant to be. I beg your pardon. You should be flattered. Correctly analyzed, my rudeness should show you that my vanity still suffers at the touch of a careless hand.”

She looked appealingly at him and presently spoke . . .

“Charles, couldn’t you forgive me? Don’t you love me at all now?”

He smiled kindly at her. “My dear lady, all is forgiven — and forgotten!”

She turned her head to the window so that he should not see her eyes. With a shriek and a rumble, the train passed into a tunnel. The roar of it rang in her ears, and the tears ran down her face on to the sables. Two shrieks from the engine — the train quivered and shook with the sudden stress of the brakes. Then came another shriek, a crash — and — the biggest accident of the year, as the Northern express ran full into the slow local rear lights.

The first-class carriage where pride and love had fought lay battered and overturned on the up-fine. The deafening noise of steam, the clamour of voices, the wailing of children, the cries of women rang out in the arch of the tunnel. But in the first-class carriage, there was silence and darkness, for, with the shock, all the lights had gone out.

Presently in the darkness, a match spurted. He raised himself on one elbow and tried to drag his other arm from under the wood that imprisoned it. The arm was tightly wedged, and he felt that it was broken. He lit another match, his teeth set in agony, and looked around for her. She was lying quite near him, yet not within reach, all twisted up, a heap of dark cloth and furs. Her eyes were closed, and there was blood on the ghastly white of her face.

“My darling! My darling!” he cried, and with that, he tore at his imprisoned arm to free it — that he might get to her — fought and tore till from sheer pain he went out of life.

When the sufferers were drawn out of the wreck one by one, he and she were among the last to be released. He regained his consciousness in the anguish of that release.

They bound up his arm and her head, and, clinging to each other, they tottered out of the tunnel by the light of the torches and climbed into the relief train. It was crowded with pale, bandaged faces and limbs swathed in white.

“I shall get out at the first station,” he said, and his voice was coldly polite. “By the way, I didn’t quite understand. Does your wedding take place on Christmas morning?”

She leaned a little against his uninjured shoulder, and so closely was the carriage packed that he could not draw away.

“If you wish it,” she said.

“I beg your pardon?” he questioned courteously.

“Oh, hush!” she whispered. “You cannot go on pretending any more now. When you thought I was dead, you called me your darling. Do you remember?”

“You are mistaken,” he said, but she answered with eyes that laughed at him from under the white bandage.

“Don’t scowl at me. I am not a bit afraid of you. Nothing matters now. I know that you love me. You will see — I shall have everything my own way. Dear, put the naughty, black dog up the chimney; I have no pride now — I am going to be your darling . . . ”

Under the sables, her hand, in its torn, grimy glove, slipped into his. He clasped it and: “You have exorcised the devil,” he said softly, and her fingers clung to his.

“Say it, again — now you know that I am not dead.”

So he whispered in her ear in that crowded carriage the most banal of love’s banalities: “My darling!” and then, for a time, they spoke no more.

It was at the first stopping-place that he said: “I had better come home with you and explain to your people the immutable nature of our intentions.”

“Yes,” she said.

“And you must telegraph to Lord Leamington. Writing won’t do — a wire the moment the offices are open.”

“Yes.”

“And — my darling — Christmas Day is a very – good day to be married on . . . ”

“Yes. . . ”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, my darling!”

 

Original short story by E. Nesbit

Retold by A Moffat

Illustration by ArtTower

©All rights reserved justanemotion.com 2020

 

 

Illustrations & Photography

My greatest appreciation to ArtTower for the first image of a beautiful lady.

 

 

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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The front cover of a beautiful girl was by Ractapopulous.