Amazing grace, who prove.., p.17
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       Amazing Grace, Who Proves That Virtue Has Its Silver Lining, p.17

           Kate Trimble Sharber
 
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  CHAPTER XVII

  HOUSE OF A HUNDRED DREAMS

  The shadows inside the roofless old abbey were warm and friendly. Thesunlight gleamed against the tombs with a cheer which always fallsover very old grief spots.

  "This quietude--this sense of all rightness--makes you feel that nothingreally matters, doesn't it?" I asked, looking around with a sort ofawed delight as we paused to read one or two inscriptions--voluminousin length and medieval in spelling.

  The man at my side was less awed.

  "Shall we go on to the gardens, then?" he asked. "You'll not think solittle of temporal pleasures there, perhaps."

  I looked up at him.

  "But why?"

  "Well, because these gardens are usually filled with suggestions ofliving joys--for one thing. There are millions of forget-me-nots,which always give a cheering aspect to the landscape--and there arefrequently the flowers mentioned in Shakespeare's plays."

  With a sigh of regret we left the sanctuary. Then, turning a corner ofthe old stone wall we came full upon a side of the house which wasreceiving shamelessly the biggest sun-kiss I had ever seen. But then,it was the biggest house I had ever seen. It was the gladdest sun--andit was the warmest blending. Between house and sun--as if they werethe love children of this union--lay thousands of brilliant flowers.

  When I could get my breath I made a quick suggestion that we gocloser.

  "I want to know which is rosemary--and which is rue!" I told him. Buthe stopped a moment and detained me.

  We halted beside a fallen stone, at a point slightly separated fromthe walls of the house--a sort of half-way ground, where the shadow ofthe Greek cross on an isolated pinnacle seemed still to claim theground for religion, against the encroachments of the work-a-dayworld. Maitland Tait's sudden smile was a mixture of amusement andtenderness.

  "I've recently heard a story about this spot--this identicalstone--which will interest you," he said. "A monk comes here atnight--one of those old fellows buried in there."

  I smiled.

  "It's quite true!" he insisted. "People have seen him."

  "I know it," I avowed seriously. "I was not smiling out of unbelief,but out of sheer joy at beholding with mine own eyes the 'Normanstone!'

  "'He mutters his prayers on the midnight air, And his mass of the days that are gone.'"

  Maitland Tait looked at me in surprise.

  "Do you know all the legends of the place?" he asked.

  I shook my head sorrowfully.

  "I wish I did," I replied. "For so many years this has been my Houseof a Hundred Dreams!"

  We both fell into a moment's dreamy thoughtfulness, which I was firstto cast aside.

  "Come and tell me about the plants, if you can!" I begged. "Which _is_rosemary, and which is rue?"

  We walked down a flight of worn steps, and came upon prim gravelpathways.

  "This is rosemary," he said, "and here, by the sun-dial, is rue."

  Then, even when I realized that this was the place where Lady FrancesWebb had spent her wearisome days, to keep from hearing the clockchime in the hall, I could not be sad. The sun-dial was another griefspot, it was true, but it was an ancient grief spot--and it waslocated in a golden sea of sunshine, under a sky that was thereflection of forget-me-nots.

  "She could gather the rue while the sun-dial told, all silently, ofthe day's wearing on," I said.

  He looked at me uncertainly.

  "Did she say that in her letters?" he asked.

  "Yes. She had sent her lover away, you see, and--there was nothingelse in life."

  "And she longed for the days to pass silently?"

  "She stayed out here as much as she could--to keep from hearing theclock in the hall," I told him. "The chime shamed the unholy prayer onher lips, she said--and the sound of the ticking reminded her of herheart's wearying beats."

  "Of _their_ hearts' wearying beats, you mean," he exclaimed, and aquick look of pain which darted into his face showed me that hecomprehended. Then, for the first time, I began to grasp what a loverhe would make! Before this time I had been absorbed with thoughts ofhim as a beloved.

  Suddenly my hat began to feel intolerably heavy, and my glovesintolerably hot. I tampered fumblingly with the pearl clasp at my leftwrist, and drew that glove off first. Maitland Tait was watching me.He saw my hand--my bare ringless hand. He stared at it as if it mighthave been a ghost, although it looked fairly pink and healthy in thewarm glow of the noonday sun. Even the little pallid circle on thethird finger was quite gone.

  "Grace----" he said.

  "Yes?"

  "Does this mean that you're--you're----"

  A discreet cough--a still distant, but distinctly warningcough--interrupted for a moment. Collins was coming toward us, fromthe ruins of the old abbey. Maitland Tait looked up and saw himcoming, but he did not stop. On the other hand, the sight of hisservant seemed to goad him into a hasty precipitation.

  "Grace, will you marry me?" he asked.

  "Of _course_!" I managed to say, but not too energetically, for themuscles of my throat were giving me trouble again.

  "Soon?" he asked hungrily.

  I felt very reckless and--American.

  "Before the shadows pass round this dial again, if you _insist_," Ismiled.

  But his eyes were very grave.

  "Without knowing anything more about me than you know now?"

  "Why, I know everything about you," I replied, in some astonishment."I know that you are the biggest, and the best-looking, and thedearest----"

  "You know nothing about me," he interrupted softly, "except what Ihave told you. I am a working man! I have always had the mass hatredfor class, and--and my grandfather was a coal-digger in Wales."

  I was silent.

  "Yet, you are willing to marry me?" he asked.

  "Of course! Coal is--very warming," I answered.

  * * * * *

  Collins descended the flight of stone steps and came slowly along thegravel walk. When he had come to the respectful distance he stopped.No English servant ever approaches very close--as if there were aquarantine around the sacred person of the served.

  "My Lord," he said, but stammeringly, as a man halts over anewly-acquired language--"My Lord, Mrs. Carr wishes to know if youwill have lunch served in the oak room, or in the----"

  "In the oak room," the man standing beside me answered readily enough."And have the old wing opened and lighted, Collins. We want to see thepictures in there."

  The servant breathed the inevitable "Thank you," and turned away.

  I seemed suddenly to feel that the golden sea of sunlight was sweepingme away--up into the blue, which was the reflection of forget-me-nots.And there loomed big on my horizon a house that was a home!

  "My _Lord_?" I demanded, as soon as I could speak.

  Maitland Tait nodded reassuringly.

  "My father died two weeks ago," he said. "And I _had_ to come into thetitle."

  "And this place is _yours_!" I sang out, feeling that all the years ofmy life I had been destiny's love-child. "This old abbey is yours! Thepark is yours! The garden is yours! The sun-dial is yours!"

  "And the girl is mine!" he said, with a grave smile. "I am careless ofall the other."

  His gravity sobered my wild spirits.

  "And your father was--Lord Erskine?" I finally asked.

  "He _was_--Lord Erskine," he answered. "He married out of hisstation--far, far above his station, _I_ think----"

  His big beautiful mouth set grimly, but he said nothing more, and Iknew that this was as heavily as he would ever tread upon the ashes ofthe dead. Gradually, bit by bit, I learned the history of the muddypool of mistake and fault, out of which the tender blossom of hisboyhood had been dragged. His father had never seen him, but acertain stiff-necked family pride had caused him to provide materialbounty for his child. The combination of a good education and ruggedplebeian industry had made him what he was.

  "But why didn't you te
ll me--that day when you first came to see meand we talked about this place--why didn't you tell me that it was_your_ ancestral home?"

  He looked at me in surprise.

  "Why, because I had made up my mind to marry you!" he said. "You toldme that this old place was a sort of dreamland of yours--and I didn'twant to complicate matters. I wanted your love for me to be areality."

  "Well, it--it is!" I confessed.

  After a long while--that is, the sun-dial said it was a longwhile--spent this way a sudden thought of my waiting hosts atBannerley came over me. I sprang up from the step of the pedestalwhere we had been sitting.

  "I _must_ get some word to Mrs. Montgomery!" I said. "They will bethinking that my rash American ways have got me into some dreadfulscrape, I'm afraid."

  But the serene man at my side was still serene. His face looked as ifnothing on earth could ever cause him a pang again. He caught my handand drew me gently, but rather steadfastly back to my place.

  "Mrs. Montgomery knows everything--except that we are going to bemarried--when did you say, to-morrow?" he smiled. "I've been stayingwith them, and they told me about you, and I told them about you--andwe had rather a satisfactory adjustment of neighborly relations."

  I looked at him in awe. I could not quite shake off the idea that hehad a miraculous lamp hidden about somewhere in his pockets. Thingsseemed to _happen_ when he wished them to happen.

  "Did you chance to know that I would take a bad train and be delayedhere this morning at sunrise?" I asked, trying to look dignified andunawed. "Did you know that I should be compelled to waste preciousmorning hours pacing up and down a railway station platform?"

  "Why, of course," he answered imperturbably. "Mrs. Montgomery sent meover to meet you."

  I sprang up again, more energetically this time.

  "Then why didn't you meet me?" I asked, with the horror of shockingEnglish propriety overwhelming me. "Come! We must go to Bannerley atonce."

  He rose and followed me toward the main garden path. Then he pointedthe way to the house door.

  "I've had Collins telephone that your train was very, very late," heexplained. "She'll not be surprised--nor too inquisitive. She evensuggested this morning that if you shouldn't get in until evening--thedrive to Bannerley is very fine by moonlight."

  * * * * *

  In the late afternoon the chilly dusk sent little forerunners ahead,which caused the old wing of the house to be lighted from within,instead of opened to the cool dying sunset. A cheery fire was kindledin the room which had once been the library of Lady Frances Webb.

  The dampness and air of disuse disappeared, and it seemed as ifpersonalities came forth from the shadowy corners and sat beside thefire with Maitland Tait and me.

  "This was her own desk, they tell me," he said, as he was showing theancient treasures to me, yet still looking at them himself withhalf-awed, almost unbelieving eyes. "This was where all her famousbooks were written."

  I crossed the room to where the little locked secretary stood. Itspolished surface was sending back the firelight's glow and seemed toproclaim that its own mahogany was imprisoned sunshine.

  "And she wrote those letters here," I said in a hushed voice. "Do yousuppose she has some of his letters locked away somewhere?"

  He nodded, fitting the key to its lock very carefully.

  He drew me to a corner of the room]

  "All of them! All the letters written her by--Uncle James."

  "And we are going to look over them together--you and I are going toread these love-letters--before we burn them?" I asked, quick joymaking my voice tremulous.

  For a moment there was silence in the old room, then he turned awayfrom the secretary, and came very close.

  "Why burn them--now?" he asked, his own strong voice of a sudden moretremulous than mine. "Why burn them, now, darling? Why not--hand--them--down?"

  Then--in that instant--I knew what life was going to mean to me. And Ifelt as if I had the great joy of the world--hugged close--in a circleof radiance--like the _Madonna della Sedia_!

  "I can be good--a very good woman--if I have your face before me," Itold him.

  After a while he smiled, then took my hand and drew me to a shadowycorner of the room.

  "You haven't seen this yet," he said.

  There was a crimson velvet curtain hanging before a picture, and hedrew aside the folds.

  "This is--Uncle James,"

  The candlelight shone against the canvas, and glittered in dancinglittle waves over the name-plate on the frame.

  "_Portrait of the Artist, by Himself._"

  "Was it a comfort to her, I wonder?" my lover said, his thoughts onlyhalf with the past.

  "A torturing comfort--the kind a woman like her demands," I answered."She had to go to it every hour in every day--and look at it--to makeher heart ache, because it was only a picture. She was a humanbeing--as well as a novelist, so that such as this could only add toher anguish. She wanted a _living_ face----"

  "She wanted--this?"

  He set the candlestick down and put both arms round me.

  "She wanted--_this_?" he breathed.

  His face was close above mine-waiting for the first kiss. A momentlater it came--descending gently, like some blessed holy thing. Andit was that.

  "You are like him," I whispered. "Your face can make me good."

  His arms tightened, and a smile escaped.

  "And yours? What will you be like to me?" he asked.

  I looked up, remembering.

  "Like--just an American woman--a tormenting side-issue in your busylife?"

  But he shook his head gravely.

  "No--not that."

  A casement was open near by, and he drew me toward the shaft ofradiance which fell into the shadowed room.

  Across the courtyard, white now with moonlight, were the ruins of theabbey. There shone a softened luster through the space of the absentwindow, and above, resplendent in her niche, stood the Virgin. Herhead was bowed above the burden in her arms.

  "Like that--_like that_!" he whispered.

  THE END

 
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