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      "Maiden passing fair, turn away thine eyes! Turn away thine eyes ere my bosom burn,Of course, yes, said Alice, with enthusiasm. How stupid of me not to have thought of that. That lovely spider! Do remember to tell Jane not to dust it away. I havent seen Mrs Fyson for a long time, nor Julia. I must write a note to Julia wishing her good-bye before I go to Brighton. Dear Julia.

      She got up and went to her looking-glass, turning on the electric light above it. Certainly Julia was much prettier than she, with her mutinous little pink and white face and her violet eyes. But she was such a little thing, she hardly came above Alices shoulder, and Alice, who knew her so{114} well, had often thought, in spite of her apparent earnestness nowadays, that she was flighty and undependable. With the self-consciousness that was the unfortunate fruit of her newly found habits of self-examination and confession, she told herself that Julia had not a quarter of her own grit and character. Only the other day, when he was walking between them, he had said, I always think of my friends by nicknames. Then he had undeniably squeezed Julias arm and said, You are Sprite, just Sprite. Julia had liked this, and with the anticipation of a less attractive nickname for Alice, had said, And what is she? Then had come a memorable reply, for he had answered, We must call her Alice in Wonderland: she lives in a fairyland of her own. And he had squeezed Alices arm too.Mr. Flack, who was seated in his arm-chair by the fire-place, looked up in amazement. His interest in cricket was immense, but chronic rheumatism prevented him from getting as far as the ground. He was dependent upon Arthur's reports and the local paper. "'Ow's that, then?" he demanded, slowly.

      The conference lasted some time. Keeling was but learning now, through this one channel of books, that attitude of mind which through instinct, whetted and primed by education, came naturally to the younger man, and it was just this that made these talks the very essence of the secret garden. Propert, for all that he was but an employee at a few pounds a week,{43} was gardener there; he knew the names of the flowers, and what was more, he had that comprehension and love of them which belongs to the true gardener and not the specimen grower or florist only. It was that which Keeling sought to acquire, and among the prosperous family friends, who were associated with him in the management of civic affairs, or in business relationships, he found no opportunity of coming in contact with a similar mind. But Propert was freeborn in this republic of art and letters, and Keeling was eager to acquire at any cost the sense of native, unconscious citizenship. He felt he belonged there, but he had to win his way back there.... He must have learned the language in some psychically dim epoch of his existence, for exploration among these alleys in his garden had to him the thrill not of discovery, but the more delicate sense of recollection, of revisiting forgotten scenes which were remembered as soon as they disentangled themselves again from the jungle of materialistic interests that absorbed him all the week. Mr Keeling had very likely hardly heard of the theory of reincarnation, and had some modern Pythagoras spoken to him of beans, he would undoubtedly have considered it great nonsense. But he would have confessed to the illusion (the fancy he would have called it) of having known something of all this before when Propert, with his handsome face{44} aglow and his eyes alight, sat and turned over books with him thus, forgetting, as his own absorption increased, to interject his sentences with the respectful sir of their ordinary week-day intercourse. Keeling ceased to be the proprietor and master of the universal stores, he ceased even to be the proprietor of his own books. They and their pictures and their binding and their aroma of the kingdom of intellect and beauty, were common possessions of all who chose to claim them, and belonged to neither of them individually any more than the French language belongs to the teacher who instructs and the pupil who learns.

      [Pg 360]"Never had the chance to write it," Lawrence cried. "But I worked it all out. Wicked woman, revenge, plot to bring hero within the grip of the law. It's pigeonholed in my writing desk, and labelled 'The Corner House.' But I don't suppose it will ever be written."

      There was no time for speech. The shot was not a signal, yet on the instant and in our very teeth, on our right and our left, the cross-fire of the hidden and waiting foe flashed and pealed, and left and right, a life for a life, our carbines answered from the saddle. For a moment the odds against us were awful. In an instant the road was so full of fallen horses and dismounted men that the jaded column faltered in confusion. Our cunning enemy, seeing us charge in column, had swung the two extremes of their line forward and inward. So, crouching and firing upon us mounted, each half could fire toward the other with impunity, and what bullets missed their mark buzzed and whined about our ears and pecked the top rails of either fence like hail on a window. A wounded horse drove mine back upon his haunches and caused him to plant a hoof full on the breast of one of our Louisianians stretched dead on his back as though he had lain there for an hour. Another man, pale, dazed, unhurt, stood on the ground, unaware that he was under point-blank fire, holding by the bits his beautiful horse, that pawed the earth majestically and at every second or third breath blew from his flapping nostrils a cloud of scarlet spray. They blocked up half the road. As we swerved round them the horse of the company's first lieutenant slid forward and downward with knees and nose in the dust, hurling his rider into a lock of the fence, and the rider rose and rushed to the road again barely in time to catch a glittering form that dropped rein and sword and reeled backward from the saddle. It was his captain, shot through the breast. An instant later our tangled column parted to right and left, dashed into the locks of the two fences, sprang to the ground, and began to repay the enemy in the coin of their own issue. Only a dozen or so did otherwise, and it was my luck to be one of these. Espying Ned Ferry at the very front, in the road, standing in his stirrups and shouting back for followers to carry the charge on through, we spurred toward him and he turned and led. Then what was my next fortune but to see, astride of my stolen horse, the towering leader of the foe, Captain Jewett."'I was rather used up and tired out, and a little bewildered, and so I sat down on the southwest corner of his liver, and crossed my legs while I got my wits together. It wasn't dark down there, as there was ten thousand[Pg 69] of them little sea jellies shinin' there, like second-hand stars, in the wrinkles of his stomach, and then there was lots of room too. By-an'-by, while I was lookin' round, I saw a black patch on the starboard side of his stomach, and went over to examine it. There I found printed in injey ink, in big letters, "Jonah, B.C. 1607." Then I knew where I was, and I began to feel real bad.

      Biblos; that was it. And she never seemed to think how time was flying, for she never once alluded to her husbands being so late. To be sure she might have; she might perhaps have said she was afraid she was keeping me from my occupations, for I could have assured her very handsomely that I was more than pleased to sit and talk to her. And it is all quite true, Thomas, about the Princesss visit next month. You may be sure I asked about that. She is coming down to spend three days with them, very quietly, Lady Inverbroom said; yes, she said that twice now I come to think of it, though I caught it perfectly the first time. But I shall be very much surprised if I dont get a note asking us to dine and sleep, with Alice as well perhaps, for I said what a pleasure it would be to Alice to see her beautiful house and grounds some day. But I shall quite understand after what she said about the visit being very quiet, why there will be no party. After all, it was a very pleasant evening we spent there before when there were no guests at all. I said how much we enjoyed quiet visits with no ceremony.{281}


      In his heart he knew he was beaten. She had given him even a sharper lesson than he had given himself in the matter of the cheque he had forgotten to post. And that was but business; the error was expensive, but it was merely a matter of money as far as its effects went. He very much doubted whether money would settle this. He still thought that ten pounds was an excessive charge, but that did not detract from the fact that he had behaved meanly. His pride still choked him, but he knew that sooner or later he would be obliged to capitulate. He would have to apologize, and hope that his apology would be accepted.{125}