As destiny intended, a translucent glimmer embodied the night and the stars became shrouded in uncertainty; if her fate were to become her nemesis, she would accept it rather than force the hand of luck. The doom and gloom of solitude, her circumstance never intentional; her purposive desire merely fell on delusional imps. She could not change the way she felt about any of them. Why should she even consider anything less than what destiny intended?
Anna stood for a moment in a kind of trance; six whole years, her bedroom had been her sanctuary, a shrine almost. She thought of her father, unshaven and smiling with a coffee in his hand, with a worried mischievous hint of wonder. She thought of how he struggled to build the small loft conversion above the two-bed semi on Ravenswood Lane. ‘Tis all for yuh,’ he would say, drawing the sweat from his brow with his forearm, ‘A wee palace, all of yuh own.‘
She knew there was something wrong with the look in his eyes. ‘If — only,’ she sighed, sitting down at the end of her bed. The argument with her mother made her question her faith in destiny. Maybe it was time for her to move out. It might be what fate intended anyway, she supposed.
After all, Isabella, her younger sister, had found fortune; kismet had shone fondly on her. Her younger sister was unaware of the constant comparison she had to endure. Her mother’s determination to make sure she too would be tied, bound and, chastised in marriage.
‘Paul Rose! For heavens sakes.’ She cried.
A proper little mummies boy; she moaned to herself, afraid of his own shadow. How could she even think it would be okay. Paul, bloody Rose, she repeated as the argument slowly stole her mind once again. Admittedly she was not the prettiest of things, of which she did not need reminding. ‘O’ Isabella. Of course, Isabella was far more glamorous. She knew what she wanted in life.
Anna felt the emptiness, loneliness and missed her father’s warm, loving smile. She thought of him taking each day as it came, enjoying each blessed day even if it were raining. It momentarily gave her relief in a smile.
The minute her mother remarried, she broke her promise; things had changed; everything had changed since her father’s death. There was a sense of urgency, frustration almost, which made them feel as if they were in the way, until — Isabella, tired of the constant arguing, eloped with a man twice her age. ‘O’ how she remembered that day, ‘Sickly Imp,’ a nickname she had bestowed upon her stepfather, finally got told to shut it and keep his nose out of something that did not concern him.
It must have been the last time her mother comforted her in a heart-wrenching display of despair. First, mother had pulled her tight to her bosom; then they cried for hours, mourning the loss of her father, together. Then they giggled in fits of remembrance before finally making a pact, never to allow anyone or anything to come between them ever again. There was a desperate raw need in her mother that very night, one she would never forget. It made her feel wanted, needed.
As Destiny Intended
As for precious little Isabella, Richard Latimore, the man she eloped with, was already married. After a six-month spending spree across the country, Isabella had exhausted his finances to the point he wept in shame and admitted everything. Isabella had laughed in his face and called him every vile word she could think of before, opening the hotel door to Nick, who immediately took her in his arms and kissed her in a way to enrage Richard further. Nick Robinson was a young man she met on the night she ran away, whilst waiting for Richard at Tanner’s Palace, a cafe situated on the outskirts of town. He knew Richard very well and told her everything about the little weasel.
Isabella had no intention of returning home; she was determined to make the bastard suffer. Unlike herself, Isabella was not just beautiful; she was bright and strong-willed. And boy did he suffer the consequences of her deliberate allure of necessity, bags, jewellery and even the latest iPhone. All of this whilst taunting him into thinking that she would give herself to him freely once they were married, and at the same time tempting him into thinking she was on the absolute brink of giving herself completely, out of wedlock.
‘Hope! My dear Anna, is like a rope, you just need to know when to tug it.‘ Isabella had laughed.
Anna pondered on what she had meant by it. Then, in a deep diminishing sigh, she resigned herself to the fact her sister would always reap the riches of karma, no matter what she did. She was one in a million, and she was looking forward to finally seeing her again.
Now, three years after running away, Isabella was finally getting married, too, Nick. Mother could not be more excited and to have been asked to assist with the wedding preparations. It was as though Isabella could do no wrong, despite her running away and nearly causing her mother to have a heart attack, not to mention the sleepless nights that followed, month after month, without a single word.
Her mother truly believed Isabella was a victim of Mr Richard Latimore. He had subsequently hit the tabloids after committing several acts of fraud and indecent exposure. His lawyer had pleaded it was due to a mental breakdown caused by financial difficulties he had endured for several years. But, as destiny intended, Anna surmised, what else could it have been? It was not a coincidence.
‘O’ well, she sighed; theres no point in going over the past and stood up. The crux of which she was adamant was that she would most definitely not be entertaining Paul Rose.
“Oh, where art thou tentative heart of whom I seek?”
A quick note by the Author:
As a writer, the greatest reward is knowing the enjoyment a reader gets from his work. However, there is always that feeling of uncertainty until he receives a review. Your comments are of great importance in helping me improve my skill and improve your enjoyment. Your comments will be much appreciated and be of great value.
The unscrupulous proposal of Richard Myers received the disdain it so rightly deserved. The father would have none of it and insisted he would not interfere in his daughter’s private affairs. It was a relief to Catherine, who did not consider it necessary to discuss such an imperious letter. Although her mother, Mrs Ashington, questioned her relationship with an acquaintance of Lord and Lady Haxley, who had been identified as an imposter. On the grounds, the letter amounted to nothing more than blackmail, hoping it would persuade them to accept his proposal, Catherine was not prepared to discuss the matter any further.
Mr Ashington agreed and insisted that the implications of such a letter implied he should in some way be indebted to Richard Myers. When Mrs Ashington inferred they were looking at it all the wrong way and that Richard was merely trying to protect Catherine, her father became infuriated.
“Nonsense!” Mr Ashington shouted, “If, he had any decency at all, he would have first discussed it with Catherine—personally.”
The matter then escalated until Mr Ashington bought his fist down, heavy on the drawing-room table, asking why Richard had not had the decency to discuss it with him first. Catherine found it all so upsetting and quickly ran to her room.
The following night they had agreed to attend a formal gathering to celebrate Richard Myers promotion. Mr Ashington decided he would take the opportunity to express his displeasure at receiving such an unscrupulous proposal.
The announcement of Lord and Lady Haxleys arrival was like the sound of a great wave breaking on the shore before receding in a gentle hum of disbelief.
Robert, the butler, looked horrified and continued a little perplexed, “Accompanied—by—”
With horror, Richard Myers frantically began to search for Catherine. He was in no doubt who had accompanied them. His father would attend to the Haxleys, but he would have to move fast to prevent Catherine from seeing the scoundrel.
Thomas Benton then tapped the base of his glass on the table several times.
“Hear—hear!” Thomas shouted. “Hear—hear!”
His sudden authoritative burst stole the announcement of Paul Watkins, who had accompanied the Haxleys.
“Good heavens!” He exclaimed, “You look as horrified as I was when I first heard of Richards promotion.”
Awkwardly Richard smiled, twisting his large frame through the small congregation.
Thomas continued to welcome the guests and congratulate Richard Myers on becoming a partner in the family’s long-established law firm.
After only a few minutes, Richard saw Catherine standing dutifully beside Mr and Mrs Ashington.
He hesitated for a moment to tidy himself up.
Instinctively he turned to find George Thurston, reaching for his hand.
“Congratulations, my boy.” Vigorously he shook Richards hand, who felt his entire—attire dishevel once more. “I’m sure you’ll make us all very proud, my boy.”
“Thank—you,” Richard replied in a restrained grimace of discomfort, “I’ll—try, to do my best.”
The Unscrupulous Proposal
His view of Catherine diminished behind Albert, who too wished to congratulate him. After a few more pleasantries, he managed to excuse himself on a matter of urgency, only to find she had gone. His heart sank in fear of her finding the wretched fellow.
Paul Watkins relationship with the Haxleys had allowed him the privilege to attend such occasions. Although he always remained unapproachable and seemed to prefer his own company. He had caused more than a few people to speculate that he was not of this world. On one such occasion, he did suffer and, it was Catherine who took pity on him. She led his pale, sunken image out into the cold dead of night.
It was nothing but mere superstition as far as Richard was concerned. The idea that this fellow was some unearthly creature who had somehow stolen her soul was ridiculous. Catherine had merely felt sorry for him and, it was in her nature to nurture something back to health.
“Are—you alright, Richard?”Aunt Geraldine inquired startled by his sudden need to support himself with the arm of her chair.
It was with an exhaustive slump of his shoulders and a harsh glare that he finally saw Catherine again. He looked down with an open mouth and shook his head in disbelief. Geraldine Myers lifted herself slightly in anticipation he was taking a turn for the worst, but he quickly tapped her on the shoulder and insisted he was fine.
He watched them standing there together; she seemed to laugh at almost every gesture he made. He cursed her child-like mannerism, although he did, however, concede it was a quality he found most endearing. After all, she was not yet aware of his feelings.
“Richard!” His Aunt called after him as he followed them out into the night.
They strolled over the large terrace and down onto the lawn. Richard carefully avoided the full ray of light emitted by the lanterns. She then hesitated a moment; she looked up as if in awe of the soft moonlight. It was a clear perfect sky. The stars seemed to enhance its magnificence, flickering harmoniously with the romantic sound of orchestral music his father had requested. If not for Paul Watkins, he would be enjoying such a night.
“What!—What!” he growled, “Are you doing now? Facing, each other like that.”
Paul was offering her his wine glass; she took it. Paul immediately moved around her, removing his dark brown cardigan. Richard watched very closely as he then proceeded to place it over her shoulders carefully.
Catherine looked so beautiful in the soft moonlight. An exchange of pleasant offerings appeared to follow. Oh, how he despised the fellow. Then Paul started to make his way back up towards the house. He felt a little unnerved at the idea of having to enter into any pleasantries with him.
Myers then turned in a squint to try and make out who it was meandering along the far side of the lawn. Harry—yes, it was, his old friend from university, he assured himself. Immediately he put up his hand and began waving, “Harry, old chap—over here.”
Harry continued slowly, with his hands clasped behind his back, and his pipe was hanging from one side of his mouth. Myers started to feel a little nervous when he realised Paul was almost upon him. Quickly he shouted again, but this time rushed down the steps, then with a sly glance over his shoulder at Paul, he rushed over to his friend.
“Harry! Old chap, been looking everywhere for you.”
Harry appeared somewhat perplexed by Richard’s, complete relief at seeing him.
“Oh, Harry, thank—God!”
“I say, is everything alright old chap?”
“Yes, actually—no, well—” Simultaneously, Richard lifted his finger then immediately bent over slightly to catch his breath. “I wasn’t sure whether—” he continued, “—or not, you’d turned up.”
“By Jove! You look in a frightful state, old chap?”
“I’m alright—just a little out of breath, that’s all.”
“I mean, anyone would think you were running for your life or something.”
Richard straightened himself up, chuckled weakly, then put out his hand, “good ter see you, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Harry replied reflectively, “Well, yes. I suppose it has rather,” then, he popped his pipe back into the side of his mouth, only to withdraw it again and point it at Richard, “Now see here! Never mind all that. What the dickens! Is all this nonsense about?”
Myers glanced about them quickly, then drew close to Harry, “I think Catherine’s life is in danger. You remember Catherine, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course—go on,” he replied in a whisper spontaneously returning his pipe to the corner of his mouth.
A quick note by the Author:
As a writer, the greatest reward is knowing the enjoyment a reader gets from his work. There is always that feeling of uncertainty until he receives a review. Your comments are of great importance in helping me improve my skill and improve your enjoyment. Your comments will be much appreciated and be of great value.
The embers of a lifetime lay burning at my feet, memories of those I had learned to love fading slowly before me. They had given me so much strength a reason to fight. Yet, there was nobody to come home to, to hold my flesh and bone, to make me feel alive again. Only the calm waters of the brook could awaken my nightmare, for part of me still felt unsure of whether or not; I still lay on the battlefield, staring up into the abyss.
A lifetime of toil, nor riches nor fame, a mere peasant boy, “Alex, was thy name.”
It all began on Dreary Lane, home of servant girls governed by a Mrs Geraldine Fanshaw. The place was born from need; farm-labourers in haste had built four timber-framed dwellings from the remains of an old barn. These hardworking farmhands later moved to Church Street into more suitable accommodation. Then came the construction of Harmony Way, and a gang of heavily built Irish labourers moved into these crudely built shacks.
Once Harmony Ways construction was complete, the new owners of these prestigious properties required domestic servants. Dreary Lane then became home to the Fanshaw girls. These were girls considered unsuitable for living in the servant quarters, many of whom were under sixteen.
At the very end, where an evergreen mass had weaved its way up through the boards and onto the old pantile roof, I was born to a young servant girl called Connie. In the very beginning, my life was in the balance. Mrs Fanshaw stood downstairs clutching a pillow, waiting.
It would not be the first time she had to protect the Fanshaw girls’ reputation.
The Embers Of A Lifetime
Without hope, friendships slowly emerged from times long since past.
It was Nancy who assisted with my birth and, who kindly gave me thy name. Her orders were made very clear; as soon as I was born, she was to take me straight down to Fanshaw. Her instructions were not to allow Connie to hold me, not even for one second; It would be better that way.
Nancy, who was now seventeen, had endured the agony of having her child taken from birth, and she was determined to try and save me. So it came as a huge surprise when a silent, little angel was born alongside me, fast asleep.
My mother lay sobbing, aware of what was to happen to me, staring at the broken window pane. Nancy put her hand softly on her shoulder, but she ignored her. It was a matter of life and death; Fanshaw was waiting. Nancy, quickly placed me in a pouch she had sewn earlier under her dress and left my little sister lying on the bed.
“It’s dead! Miss — It’s bloody dead!” She screamed glancing over at Connie, then rushed down the stairs.
Fanshaw had rushed to the foot of the stairs, still clutching the pillow and looked up in horror as Nancy came bounding down towards her. Immediately Fanshaw reached out and caught her by the shoulders. Nancy had forced tears to her eyes and began to act hysterical, repeating over and over again, ‘The bloody thing’s dead, Miss.’ It was then that Fanshaw slapped her, demanding that she calm down.
Nancy belched in her face as if she were going to be sick, then covered her mouth and pulled free to make her escape outside. She hesitated at the small green picket fence to make sure Fanshaw would not follow her; again, she began belching, pretending to be sick. Fanshaw stared at her briefly, then turned and went up the stairs. Nancy then rushed down to the brook, her heart pounding, unsure whether I was alive or dead. Once she had reached the small stream, she immediately tried to rub life into me.
It was the sweetest sound she had ever heard, and her tears became as natural as my will to live.
‘Oh, yer little beauty, you.’ She whispered holding me tight to her chest.
A quick note by the Author:
As a writer, the greatest reward is knowing the enjoyment a reader gets from his work; there is always that feeling of uncertainty until he receives a review. Your comments are of great importance in helping me improve my skill and improve your enjoyment. Your comments will be much appreciated and be of great value.
An inconstant heart is thrown into an array of breath-taking joy and excitement, only to be quenched by a mother’s overprotective nature. A formidable twist of events slowly unfolds when she shares the news with her parents. Unsettled by her mother’s reaction, she soon realised all was not as it seemed—a short romantic story by A I Moffat, full of emotion.
When a whelm of emotion causes palpitations of one’s heart.
Together they stood under a willow tree in a glorious array of pale green; the heat of summer had caused them to seek shelter and, most of all, privacy. Mathew looked curiously at her smile, then up at her enchanting, almost bewildering gaze, he was thinking adoringly.
In a shallow subdued voice, Mary smiled at him, ‘It’s not fair that we should have to meet like this, in secret.’
With an attentive flicker, the boy replied, ‘I know.’ Then he pulled a small box from the pocket of his jeans and added, ‘That’s why I’ve bought you this.’
‘Oh, my God! — It isn’t? — Is it?
He watched her sudden, almost hysterical glow of excitement, ‘If you’ll have me?’
‘Oh — Mathew,’ she responded in a fading breath, her eyes fell then rose in a sudden heartbeat, ‘you know I will.’ Her inconstant heart seemed to fluctuate with joy and trepidation. The thrill of it taking her by surprise until she looked into his adoring, child-like eyes, ‘B—b, but,’ she stuttered, ‘what about mother?’ As his gaze slowly fell in a shallow gape, she tenderly whispered, ‘You know she would never allow it.’
Instantly the boy knelt on one knee in the subtle shades before her. His dark fringe lay exposed to a streak of direct sunlight, which made the depths of his eyes sparkle mischievously. ‘I’ve been thinking — we could elope — run away together.’
Mary was a little taken aback, then the boy offered up the ring, ‘A diamond!’ she gasped, ‘I never expected a diamond.’
An Inconstant Heart
Carefully her hands reached down and cupped his open hand; then, slowly, she eased herself down on one knee. Her eyes seem to purr in awe at his delicate desire, his wanting, ‘I can’t, Mathew, it’s not fair on you.’
The silent pause of emotion bound them in the same wanting desire, magnified by the glow of the weeping willow. Until the boy announced in defeat, ‘Then, I’ll ask your mother and father if you can marry me.’
As if accepting his staunch response, her eyes lightly closed before she drew herself up, drawing him gently with her, ‘You know, she won’t hear of my getting married.’
‘I know.’ Mathew whispered, ‘I just hope she will listen and realise how much I care about you.’
‘When — when will you ask them?’
‘Why not tonight.’ He said with a look of surprise.
Mary gently folded his fingers over the small blue box, ‘Until, tonight — then.’
He seemed transfixed by her delicate commands to his proposal. It felt as though she had, in some way, decided their fate. Never before had he felt this presence of belonging; it made him feel as though they were somehow already married.
She turned in a smile, ‘I’d better be getting back to the library, you know how mother likes to get there, early.’
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.
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.
A tentative touch of love has stolen all sense of reasoning and, Joe finds himself struggling to accept reality. Has the relationship born from a tentative indication of compassion reached the end? Can Emily ever make the boy understand, or will Joe’s utterance of love change everything? A mere tentative touch can evoke a sense of reasoning.
A Sense Of Reasoning
It wasn’t a mistake, she told herself. Things happen for a reason; he had given her so much, more than just his affections. She couldn’t allow him to think it had only been a mistake; without him, she would never have found herself. No – there was something about the boy, something so unusual it hurt. She couldn’t allow herself to weaken – not now. If only he could understand that it was hopeless, that they had no choice. It would be a living hell for both of them, and that was the last thing she ever wanted.
Joe lifted his head, ‘You still love him, don’t you?’
‘You know I do,’ she replied sharply.
‘I mean – you want him back.’
‘Joe, please – I want to be with you, but there isn’t any future for us. It just wouldn’t work.’
The boy turned and started to make his way back along the grass verge towards the small wooden bridge; they had crossed earlier.
Emily quickly jumped up and called after him, ‘Where are you going? – Joe!’
He continued carefully along the slippery bank. ‘Why should— she care anyway.’ He hissed to himself, ‘and anyway good riddance.’
She continued to yell after him to wait, but the boy had created an image of her that closely resembled Medusa, and he was eager to make his escape. Now, he could only hear the sound of serpents repeatedly lashing at his heels; it just won’t work.
When he reached the small incline leading up to the bridge, the repetitive crow of a pheasant fleeing suddenly caused the boy to stop. He hesitated, turned, and looked across the tenuous layer of mist floating a foot or so above the brook. He was almost sure he had heard her cry out, but not as before. Instinctively, the boy started to make his way back, and it was not long before he heard her cry out again.
Just where the brook turned towards the clearing, Emily had slipped and was struggling to remove bramble shoots stuck to her clothes.
‘Now look! – What you’ve made me do.’ She moaned angrily at him.
‘It’s a good job you’ve got yer woolly hat on.’ He smiled.
‘Ouch! Whatever were you thinking, rushing off like that?’
That’ll teach yer; he thought as he bent down and started to unhook the spines.
‘How am I ever going to explain – Ouch! – Careful – how I got a wet foot to me mum, when I’m supposed to be at work in a dry – bloody office?’
Quietly the boy went about assisting her up onto her feet, then began brushing off the bottom of her coat.
‘Just – leave it,’ she sighed heavily, ‘it’s my foot, I’m more concerned, about. Come on, help me get over to the bridge.’
Slowly the boy slid up around her waist, tucking his shoulder firmly under her right arm. Finding it all a little amusing took a deep breath and asked after a small cough if she was ready before taking the first step.
She felt ridiculous; it wasn’t as if she’d broken her foot or anything, but Joe being Joe, was making it into something more than it was. She sighed heavily in defeat.
The boy insisted he would go first when they reached the small incline, his earlier amusement had gradually worn off, and now he looked upon her as a young maiden in desperate need of being saved.
Emily noticed a slight glint in his eyes when he reached out to her, ‘Well!’ She exclaimed, ‘you’ve certainly found this quite amusing, haven’t you?’
In a crease of a smile, he insisted, ‘No! – Here – quick take my hand.’
‘Joe Johnson, I swear one of these days . . . ’
‘There – you’re safe now,’ he interrupted with a touch of bravado about him.
Emily hopped straight over to the handrail and immediately went about taking her shoe off. She called over to him for some help, and the boy was quick to wave his hand out in front of him as he bowed before her.
She rolled her eyes as he knelt, then tapped his head with her shoe, ‘Now arise Sir – Joe of Brooksfield and ring out my precious, bloody sock.’
He looked up in a smile as he removed her sock; he laid it to one side and then gently began to rub some warmth back into her foot.
‘You weren’t a mistake, Joe. It always was meant to happen, I’m sure of it. And – I’m only trying to protect you.’ She felt his firm but tender touch and thought of how attentive he was for a boy. ‘I’m sorry for being so horrid today, Joe.’
‘How is Charlotte going to know what you should do? He asked whilst tightly twisting her sock.
‘Well, she won’t – but she can help me sort things out, you know – with me mum,’ she paused a moment in thought, ‘I need to tell her I’m pregnant.’
Joe looked up with raised eyebrows, ‘Have you told Charlotte then?’
‘No – I need to tell her too.’
The boy smirked, ‘Well, rather you than me,’ he drew a deep breath. ‘There, all done now hand me your shoe.’
‘You know I can’t tell them the child is someone else’s. They need to know the truth.’
Joe looked up in dismay, ‘Push – then.’
‘Oh Joe, it’s hopeless they’ll never let us alone, ever.’
She placed her hand on his head to steady herself, then continued, ‘They’ll know it’s your brothers,’ she insisted, ‘so – where does that leave us?’
‘But you said . . . ’
‘I know!’ she was quick to stop him, ‘but – I just wasn’t thinking straight.’ Joe, I can’t risk losing my best friend, especially not now, don’t you see?’ She winced, ‘they’ll all blame me for making Steve run off with that tart,’ her tone sharpened at the notion, ‘Oh yes, he’ll love every minute of it. And what about me mum – Joe, I’m having a baby for Christ sake! I need her more now than ever before.’ Emily shook her head, ‘and what about you, he’s your brother – they’re going to go mental, especially now. Don’t you see it’s hopeless?’ She turned slightly as the boy rose to his feet, ‘I can’t let you go through all that, Joe, not now.’
‘Emily – please!’ he pleaded. ‘Not now? – What do you mean? – Not now?’
‘He’s finished with her, that’s what.’ She replied in a huff, then quietly added, ‘Steve phoned me last night — he wants me back.’
Joe suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders, ‘What – What did you say? Steve, phoned you?
‘Yes, but I didn’t speak to him. I was with you.’ She could see the fire in his eyes, ‘Me’ mum took the call,’ her eyes faded from him. ‘She told me this morning. Joe, you’re hurting me.’ A few moments elapsed, then in a more desperate tone, she shouted, ‘Joe ! . . . You’re hurting me!’
Almost instantly, the boy recoiled, turning away from her, his head shaking in disbelief.
Emily moved up behind him and wrapped her arms around the boy, ‘Oh, Joe . . . I’m so sorry.’ She allowed the weight of her to rest against his back, ‘you poor, poor fool.’
‘Emily . . . what’s happening to me?’
‘Nothing, darling . . . nothing.’ Her eyes slowly closed against his trembling frame.
After a few moments, the boy gradually turned to face her, ‘I’m so sorry – Emily.’
Tentatively she looked up at him, ‘Oh Joe, what are we going to do?’
It crazed him; he looked at her now wanting. She seemed different, fragile, delicate almost. It felt as though she were giving herself to him. No — No, he found himself repeating, he didn’t want this; he wanted the warmth of her, the woman. Then softly, she kissed him on the lips.
Emily was tired of the boy’s constant drain of affection but now caught sight of his inner strength, she so desperately craved. She watched his scrutiny fluctuate across his brow, her eyes flinching with every ripple begging almost in anticipation.
With a sense of reasoning, Joe looked down at her again. Instead of searching for her love, he pulled her close.
A touch of love Page 3
A quick note by the Author:
As a writer, the greatest reward is knowing the enjoyment a reader gets from his work. There is always that feeling of uncertainty until he receives a review. Your comments are of great importance in helping me improve my skill and improve your enjoyment. Your comments will be much appreciated and be of great value.
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.
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.
“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.
“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!”
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.
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.
“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.”
“And — my darling — Christmas Day is a very – good day to be married on . . . ”
A Touch Of Love is a short story by A I Moffat, who conjures up the innocence of a young boy who struggles to understand why reality should come in the way of his affections. Emily soon becomes increasingly concerned that she has made a dreadful mistake yet finds herself drawn to his innocence time and time again. Just a touch of love has awoken a child who lived in an imaginary world of his own, afraid of allowing his real depth to be exposed. An illustrated short story of intrigue which captures the imagination. We hope you enjoy a touch of love.
‘I’m not sure -’ she hesitated.
The boy lay at her side with his back to her, plucking the long blades of grass in front of him, then flicking them to one side. Not one thing, he pondered had he said or done all day had pleased her, now he just wanted to be free of her constant; what-ifs and his apparent inability to understand.
‘Joe!’ She insisted.
Childish, he thought, must be her favourite word. ‘Yes! I heard you,’ he sighed, flicking the next blade of grass straight up into the air, ‘sure about what?’
‘Well, you know— ’ she glanced over him, ‘about us!’
Us! – He repeated to himself whilst shaking his head, ‘you mean – me!’ he mumbled.
As if she had not made that perfectly obvious, the boy frowned. Now it just seemed like the only thing that mattered to her was what everyone else thought; how could Charlotte know what to do for the best? His eyes slowly fell into her imaginary embrace, the absolute warmth of her he so desperately yearned.
Again the girl persisted, ‘Joe!’
His eyes half opened, then fell heavily before bursting into a vacant stare as he pondered what she expected him to say. In frustration, he grabbed a large tuft of grass and pulled it straight from the sodden earth.
Emily sat quietly, staring in patience at her thoughts closely entwined within her clasp; with each unfolding finger came another uncertain notion.
Suddenly the boy rose to his feet, clutching the sodden clump in his hand until he was standing directly over her.
‘What are you doing?’ She asked in a disapproving tone.
The boy just smiled menacingly down at her.
Emily’s eyes tightened, ‘I’m— being serious.’
‘Nothing!’ The boy snapped, allowing himself to collapse at her feet.
Emily leaned forward and reached out to him; at first, he resisted, then his head turned slightly into her palm, and he kissed it gently. ‘I’m sorry— Joe, but I’m just so— tired and frightened.’
‘Me too,’ he murmured, leaning into her, ‘of losing you.’ Instantly he allowed his head to slip from her palm onto her lap.
‘Oh – Joe, you’re not losing me . . . ’
He felt her pity drop into an ever-increasing void, where once her words gave so much meaning. Again his eyes tightened to deafen the pain of reality and become submerged in the warmth of her embrace.
Again and again, he heard her distant torment of reason until finally, it shattered his delusion of any hope. Now only a sorceress maintained some degree of resistance as he lay craving her affection.
‘. . . And what about your poor mum?’ Emily insisted, ‘She will be devastated to find out – you had kept it a secret – from her,’
The beautiful sky blue eyes of the sorceress had suddenly faded into that of his mother, who now wielded a sword: Just – Do It! he screamed from within.
At times it was true. He felt it was wrong and was afraid of what she might do if ever she found out; he didn’t care about his dad, sister, or even brother, especially not Steve. Anyway, it was all over, and there was nothing he could do. He was going to die right there in her lap. Finally! He thought he would be free from the torment of his forbidden desire.
‘Steve might accuse you of abduction or trying to steal his child.’
Abduction! He found himself repeating over and over again.
‘Joe! Did you hear what I said?’
It was hopeless; she just wouldn’t let him be, all day he thought and not once had she allowed him to search the comfort of her. She was throwing him to the wolves, and he didn’t need to be twenty-one to understand that. His eyes lifted slowly, burdened by reality and her constant infliction. ‘Yes!’ He exclaimed, lifting his head, ‘You’re worried about my family,’ he smiled briefly in defeat.
‘Oh . . . Joe,’ her eyes flickered. ‘But – what if Steve was to find out?’
What was it that had changed from one day to the next? He thought as he stared straight into her eyes. He shrugged, ‘Doesn’t matter, and besides, he finished with you – remember.’
Her eyes slightly fell from him, ‘But are you sure – this is what you want, Joe?’
The boy leaned slightly in towards her, ‘Abduction, for goodness sakes,’ he tittered, pushing down hard against the tree stump until he was back on his feet. He looked down at her with a vague smile; it was no use for her to expect him to make it any easier; he just couldn’t; it would be like cutting his own throat.
Emily looked up as he turned and pushed his hands deep into the pockets of his trench coat. She smiled lightly as he stubbornly kicked out at the long blades of grass in front of him until he reached the edge of the brook. It was just the boys wanting Emily was sure of it, which made him so stubborn, so blind. She loved him with all of her heart, but there could never be a future for them, especially not now. Her smile faded with a nagging necessity to at least try and make him understand.
‘What a complete mess I’ve made of things,’ she called over to him.
‘I know – but – I,’ he stammered, ‘Well I thought you said . . . ’
‘I do, Joe, but – I’m frightened,’ she paused in thought. ‘So frightened, and it’s just so complicated. I do love you more than I ever loved him, but he’s the father and
‘And – ’ Joe cut in, ‘I’m just a silly mistake that should never have happened.’ He turned to face her, ‘But it did, and I – ’ his head fell, ‘love – you.’
As a writer, the greatest reward is knowing the enjoyment a reader gets from his work. There is always that feeling of uncertainty until he receives a review. Your comments are of great importance in helping me improve my skill and improve your enjoyment. Your comments will be much appreciated and be of great value.