A Kentucky Cardinal/Chapter XII

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XII

Yes, she knew; while unconscious I talked of Georgiana, of being in love with her. Mrs. Walters added, sadly, that Georgiana came home in the fall engaged to that New York cousin. Hence the sewing—he is to marry her in June.

I am not in love with her. It is now four weeks since hearing this conventional fiction, and every day I have been perfectly able to repeat: “I am not in love with Georgiana!” There was one question which I put severely to Mrs. Walters: Had she told Georgiana of my foolish talk? She shook her head violently, and pressed her lips closely together, suggesting how impossible it would be for the smallest monosyllable in the language to escape by that channel; but she kept her eyes wide open, and the truth issued from them, as smoke in a hollow tree, if stopped in at a lower hole, simply rises and comes out at a higher one. “You should have shut your eyes also,” I said. “You have told her every word of it, and the Lord only knows how much more.”

This February has let loose its whole pack of grizzly sky-hounds. Unbroken severe weather. Health has not returned as rapidly as was promised, and I have not ventured outside the yard. But it is a pleasure to chronicle the beginning of an acquaintanceship between his proud eminence the young cardinal and myself. For a long time he would have naught to do with me, fled as I approached, abandoned the evergreens altogether and sat on the naked tree-tops, as much as threatening to quit the place altogether if I did not leave him in peace. Surely he is the shyest of his kind, and, to my fancy, the most beautiful; and therefore Nature seems to have stored him with extra caution towards archenemy.

But in the old human way I have taken advantage of his necessities. The north wind has been by friend against him. I have called in the aid of sleets and snows, have besieged him in his white castle behind the glittering array of his icicles with threats of starvation. So one day, dropping like a glowing coal down among the other birds, he snatched a desperate hasty meal from the public poor-house table that I had spread under the trees.

It is the first surrender that decides. Since then some progress has been made in winning his confidence, but the struggle going on in his nature is plain enough still. At times he will rush away from me in utter terror; at others he lets me draw a little “nearer, a little nearer, without moving form a limb; and now, after a month of persuasion, he begins to discredit the experience which he has inherited from centuries upon centuries of ancestors. In all that I have done I have tried to say to him: "Don’t judge me by mankind in general. With me you are safe. I pledge myself to defend you from enemies, high and low.”

This had not escaped the notice of Georgiana at the window, and more than once she had let her work drop to watch my patient progress and to bestow upon me a rewarding smile. Is there nearly always sadness in it, or is the sadness in my eyes? If Georgiana’s brother is giving her trouble, I'd like to take a hand-axe to his feet. I suppose I shall never know whether he cut her foot in two. She carries the left one a little peculiarly; but so many women do that.

Sometimes, when the day's work is over and the servant is gone, Georgiana comes to the window and looks away towards the sunsets of winter, her hands clasped behind her back, her motionless figure in relief against the darkness within, her face white and still. Being in the shadow of my own room, so that she could not see me, and knowing that I ought not to do it, but unable to resist, I have softly taken up the spy-glass which I use in the study of birds, and have drawn Georgiana’s face nearer to me, holding it there till she turns away. I have noted the traces of pain, and once the tears which she could not keep back and was too proud to heed. Then I have sat before my flickering embers, with I know not what all but ungovernable yearning to be over there in the shadowy room with her, and, whether she would or not, to fold my arms around her, and, drawing her face against mine, whisper: “What is it Georgiana? And why must it be?”