A lame dogs diary, p.12
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       A Lame Dog's Diary, p.12

           S. Macnaughtan
 
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  CHAPTER XII.

  It is always rather melancholy arriving at home alone, and I missPalestrina very much at these times, and I feel ill-disposed towardsThomas. Down-Jock pretended not to know me, and barked furiously whenI drove up to the door, and then ran away on three legs, makingbelieve, as he sometimes does when he wants to appeal to one's pity,that he is old and lame.

  It was still early in the afternoon, and the sunshine was blazing overeverything when I hobbled down the hill to inquire for Miss Lydia. Thehouses in Stowel are all roofed with red tiles, and each garden hasflowering shrubs in it or beds full of bright-coloured flowers, so thatthe little place has a very warm and happy look on a sunny summer day.A great heavy horse-chestnut tree hung over the walls of the doctor'shouse, and scattered fragments of pink blossom when the soft airstirred gently. The wistaria on the post-office was in full bloom.And the place was so full of pleasant sounds this afternoon--of singingbirds, and heavy-rolling wagons moving up the broad street, and thelaughter of children, and the soft rush of the summer wind through thetrees--that one felt that a day like this gave one a very strongleaning in favour of the happy view that life is, after all, a goodthing.

  One had, of course, to stop and speak to several old friends, who saidthey were thankful to see me back, as though a visit to London was anexpedition fraught with many dangers.

  When I reached the little cottage with the green gate, and the maidopened the door to me, she told me that Lydia Blind had died an hourago.

  The staircase of the little house is directly opposite the front door.I could not but believe that if I waited a little while Miss Lydiawould descend the stairs, as she always did, with a smile which neverfailed to welcome every one. Or, if she were not within doors, that Iwould only have to pass out into the little garden at the back of thehouse to find her. I thought suddenly of the words of a boy I used toknow at school, who, when a young playfellow died, said between hissobs, "It was so hard upon him dying before he had had a good time."Certainly ever since we knew her Lydia's life had been one longsacrifice to a witless invalid, and I couldn't help feeling thatperhaps no one would ever know the extent of her patient service.Probably there never lived a more unselfish woman, and I cannot thinkwhy she never married.

  She was a person who lacked worldly wisdom, and in worldly matters shewas not prosperous--she never sowed that sort of grain. It was verytouching to find that she had not even a few trinkets to leave behind,but that one by one each had been sold to pay for something for theinvalid--a doctor's fee, or a chemist's heavy bill. She left the worldas unobtrusively as she lived in it. Her last illness was very suddenand brief, and probably she would have been thankful that the littlehousehold was spared any extra expense.

  The news of Lydia's death was unexpected by every one. When I turnedand left the house and was walking home again, I met Mrs. Taylor goingto inquire about her neighbour's health, with an offering of fruit in alittle basket. She begged me, in the Stowel fashion, to turn and walkback with her, declaring that she felt so seriously upset by the newsthat if I would only see her as far as her gate I should be doing her akindness. In the garden the General, who had run down to Stowel for acouple of days, was reclining in a deck-chair, Indian fashion. He wasreading some cookery recipes in a number of _Truth_, and he turned tohis niece as she crossed the lawn and said, "Do you think your cookcould manage this, Mary? Select a fine pineapple----"

  "Oh, uncle," said Mrs. Taylor with a good deal of feeling, "we have hadsuch bad news! Our dear old friend in the village, Miss Lydia Blind,is dead."

  "What Lydia Blind?" said the General; and Mrs. Taylor replied,--

  "You never knew her, dear. She wasn't able to come to the party;indeed, I think she has been ailing ever since about that time, but wehad no idea that the end was so near."

  "It can't be the Lydia Blind I used to know?" said the General.

  "Oh no, you couldn't have known her," said Mrs. Taylor with a sob; "shewas just a dear old maiden lady living in the village on very smallmeans."

  "She hadn't a sister called Belinda, had she?" said the General.

  Mrs. Taylor said she had, and I remembered suddenly how I had seenLydia Blind standing one morning in front of the General's picture inthe photographer's shop, and had heard her say, "I used to know him."

  Mrs. Taylor went indoors, and I said good-bye, but the General said tome abruptly, "I should like to see her; will you take me there?" Andhe did not speak again until we found ourselves in the little porch ofthe cottage. He looked very tall standing by the low door of thehouse, and an odd idea came to me that Miss Lydia would have been proudof her afternoon caller.

  "Let me go alone," he said gruffly, when he had asked permission to goto her room; and I waited in Lydia's morning-room, with its twine casesand unframed sketches, and the photographs of babies.

  "I cannot see the sister," said the General irritably, when he hadrejoined me in the darkened room. "Is she still dumb, poor thing? Ifever there was a case," he went on, "of one life--and, to my mind, thesweeter and the better life--being sacrificed to another, it is in thecase of Lydia Blind." He sat down on the little green sofa, and lookedabout him with eyes that seemed to see nothing. "I never expected sucha thing," he said; "I couldn't have expected a thing like this ... Ididn't even know she lived here.... Do you remember her," he said,"when she was very pretty? No, no, of course you wouldn't.... Itdoesn't hurt you to walk a little, does it? I have lived nearly all mylife out of doors, and when anything upsets me I cannot stand beingwithin four walls...."

  We went out and crossed the field-path into the woods beyond. Thepaths of the wood are narrow and uneven, and at first we walked insingle file, until we came to the broader road beyond the stream, andthen we walked on side by side, the General suiting his pace to myslow, awkward gait.

  "... Did you ever know the Bazeleys at all? No, you wouldn't, ofcourse: that would be before your time. They had a very pretty placein Lincolnshire--a charming place--with a veranda round the house, andwicker-chairs with coloured cushions on them--more like an Indian housethan an English one.... Harold Bazeley was in love with Lydia too."(I believe the General was talking more to himself than to me.) "Itwas one night sitting in the veranda that I heard him begin to makelove to her for all he was worth, and I had to cut it.... Poor chap!he came into the smoking-room that night, where I was sitting alone,and he sat down by the table and put his head in his hands. He mayhave been saying his prayers (for he was always a religious man ... hedid a lot of good for the men under him in India), and I sat with himtill it was time to go to bed. I don't know if it was any comfort tohim, but I knew from his face that Lydia must have said no, and Ithought perhaps he wouldn't like being alone.... Well, then of courseone didn't like to rush in and ask one's best friend's girl to marryone so soon after his disappointment. One had very strict ideas abouthonour in those days; I hope one has not lost them.... It is very oddthat I was never here before, until last spring. Nearly all my servicehas been abroad, and I generally used to spend my leave hunting or inLondon, and my niece used to come up and stay with me there.... Ididn't care much for Taylor in those days, but he really isn't a badsort of fellow."

  The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the General seemed to wakefrom the reverie in which he had been talking to me, and said: "Yououghtn't to be out after sunset, if you have still got malaria aboutyou," and we began to walk slowly homewards.

  "It was just such an evening as this," he said, "when I bade hergood-bye, meaning to come back in a little while and ask her to marryme. She was standing by the gate--fine old gates with stone pillars tothem, and the sun shone full in her eyes.... I suppose that gentle,sweet look never left them, did it? They were closed, of course, whenI saw them just now.... She was wearing a white dress that evening, Iremember--a sort of muslin dress which I suppose would not befashionable now, but which looked very pretty then. It had a lot ofpink ribbons about it, and there was a great bunch of pink moss-rosesin t
he ribbon of her belt.... Do you know I never picture her exceptas the girl who stood by the gate with the sun behind her, and theroses in her belt. I think I lost my head a little when it came tosaying good-bye, and I began to say things which I had not meant tosay--she looked so pretty with the red sunlight upon her, and her whitemuslin dress almost turned to pink in the glare.... I don't think shewas surprised, only sweeter and gentler than before, and a curious,happy look was in her eyes. But I stopped in time, and stammered likea fool, thinking of poor Harold Bazeley, and then I said good-byerather hurriedly. But I came back again to the gate where she wasstill standing, and asked if I might have one of the roses in her belt.And she gave me the whole bunch.

  "... It must have been after this that the father died and left themvery poor, and then the sister (this one, Belinda) had a stroke ofparalysis, and there was no one to look after her but Lydia.... Iwrote and proposed to her before I went to India--asked her to comewith me as my wife. But she said she could not marry while her sisterlived. It isn't as though we could have remained in England, and shecould have lived with us; but of course India would have been animpossibility for the poor thing. We never thought in those days thatpoor Belinda would live long. And then she made a sort of recovery,but was still quite helpless, and Lydia wrote and asked me to wait forher no longer.... I never heard that she had come to live at Stowel."

  The broad, wide village road was dim with twilight when we walkedhomewards along it--The Uncle and I. The children had all goneindoors, and the flowers in the little garden had lost their colour inthe dim light.

  As we passed by the cottage the General halted on the quiet, desertedroad and took off his hat, then he leaned over the little green palingand drew towards him a branch of a moss-rose tree that Miss Lydia hadplanted there. He plucked a bud from it and held it to his face. Thenhe said gently, "They are the same sort, but they do not smell sosweet."

 
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