Kilmeny of the Orchard/Chapter 7
When he emerged from the spruce wood and entered the orchard his heart gave a sudden leap, and he felt that the blood rushed madly to his face. She was there, bending over the bed of June lilies in the centre of the garden plot. He could only see her profile, virginal and white.
He stopped, not wishing to startle her again. When she lifted her head he expected to see her shrink and flee, but she did not do so; she only grew a little paler and stood motionless, watching him intently.
Seeing this, he walked slowly towards her, and when he was so close to her that he could hear the nervous flutter of her breath over her parted, trembling lips, he said very gently,
"Do not be afraid of me. I am a friend, and I do not wish to disturb or annoy you in any way."
She seemed to hesitate a moment. Then she lifted a little slate that hung at her belt, wrote something on it rapidly, and held it out to him. He read, in a small distinctive handwriting,
"I am not afraid of you now. Mother told me that all strange men were very wicked and dangerous, but I do not think you can be. I have thought a great deal about you, and I am sorry I ran away the other night."
He realized her entire innocence and simplicity. Looking earnestly into her still troubled eyes he said,
"I would not do you any harm for the world. All men are not wicked, although it is too true that some are so. My name is Eric Marshall and I am teaching in the Lindsay school. You, I think, are Kilmeny Gordon. I thought your music so very lovely the other evening that I have been wishing ever since that I might hear it again. Won't you play for me?"
The vague fear had all gone from her eyes by this time, and suddenly she smiled--a merry, girlish, wholly irresistible smile, which broke through the calm of her face like a gleam of sunlight rippling over a placid sea. Then she wrote, "I am very sorry that I cannot play this evening. I did not bring my violin with me. But I will bring it to-morrow evening and play for you if you would like to hear me. I should like to please you."
Again that note of innocent frankness! What a child she was--what a beautiful, ignorant child, utterly unskilled in the art of hiding her feelings! But why should she hide them? They were as pure and beautiful as herself. Eric smiled back at her with equal frankness.
"I should like it more than I can say, and I shall be sure to come to-morrow evening if it is fine. But if it is at all damp or unpleasant you must not come. In that case another evening will do. And now won't you give me some flowers?"
She nodded, with another little smile, and began to pick some of the June lilies, carefully selecting the most perfect among them. He watched her lithe, graceful motions with delight; every movement seemed poetry itself. She looked like a very incarnation of Spring--as if all the shimmer of young leaves and glow of young mornings and evanescent sweetness of young blossoms in a thousand springs had been embodied in her.
When she came to him, radiant, her hands full of the lilies, a couplet from a favourite poem darted into his head--
"A blossom vermeil white That lightly breaks a faded flower sheath, Here, by God's rood, is the one maid for me."
The next moment he was angry with himself for his folly. She was, after all, nothing but a child--and a child set apart from her fellow creatures by her sad defect. He must not let himself think nonsense.
"Thank you. These June lilies are the sweetest flowers the spring brings us. Do you know that their real name is the white narcissus?" She looked pleased and interested.
"No, I did not know," she wrote. "I have often read of the white narcissus and wondered what it was like. I never thought of it being the same as my dear June lilies. I am glad you told me. I love flowers very much. They are my very good friends."
"You couldn't help being friends with the lilies. Like always takes to like," said Eric. "Come and sit down on the old bench--here, where you were sitting that night I frightened you so badly. I could not imagine who or what you were. Sometimes I thought I had dreamed you--only," he added under his breath and unheard by her, "I could never have dreamed anything half so lovely."
She sat down beside him on the old bench and looked unshrinkingly in his face. There was no boldness in her glance--nothing but the most perfect, childlike trust and confidence. If there had been any evil in his heart--any skulking thought, he was afraid to acknowledge--those eyes must have searched it out and shamed it. But he could meet them unafraid. Then she wrote,
"I was very much frightened. You must have thought me very silly, but I had never seen any man except Uncle Thomas and Neil and the egg peddler. And you are different from them--oh, very, very different. I was afraid to come back here the next evening. And yet, somehow, I wanted to come. I did not want you to think I did not know how to behave. I sent Neil back for my bow in the morning. I could not do without it. I cannot speak, you know. Are you sorry?"
"I am very sorry for your sake."
"Yes, but what I mean is, would you like me better if I could speak like other people?"
"No, it does not make any difference in that way, Kilmeny. By the way, do you mind my calling you Kilmeny?"
She looked puzzled and wrote, "What else should you call me? That is my name. Everybody calls me that."
"But I am such a stranger to you that perhaps you would wish me to call you Miss Gordon."
"Oh, no, I would not like that," she wrote quickly, with a distressed look on her face. "Nobody ever calls me that. It would make me feel as if I were not myself but somebody else. And you do not seem like a stranger to me. Is there any reason why you should not call me Kilmeny?"
"No reason whatever, if you will allow me the privilege. You have a very lovely name--the very name you ought to have."
"I am glad you like it. Do you know that I was called after my grandmother and she was called after a girl in a poem? Aunt Janet has never liked my name, although she liked my grandmother. But I am glad you like both my name and me. I was afraid you would not like me because I cannot speak."
"You can speak through your music, Kilmeny."
She looked pleased. "How well you understand," she wrote. "Yes, I cannot speak or sing as other people can, but I can make my violin say things for me."
"Do you compose your own music?" he asked. But he saw she did not understand him. "I mean, did any one ever teach you the music you played here that evening?"
"Oh, no. It just came as I thought. It has always been that way. When I was very little Neil taught me to hold the violin and the bow, and the rest all came of itself. My violin once belonged to Neil, but he gave it to me. Neil is very good and kind to me, but I like you better. Tell me about yourself."
The wonder of her grew upon him with every passing moment. How lovely she was! What dear little ways and gestures she had--ways and gestures as artless and unstudied as they were effective. And how strangely little her dumbness seemed to matter after all! She wrote so quickly and easily, her eyes and smile gave such expression to her mobile face, that voice was hardly missed.
They lingered in the orchard until the long, languid shadows of the trees crept to their feet. It was just after sunset and the distant hills were purple against the melting saffron of the sky in the west and the crystalline blue of the sky in the south. Eastward, just over the fir woods, were clouds, white and high heaped like snow mountains, and the westernmost of them shone with a rosy glow as of sunset on an Alpine height.
The higher worlds of air were still full of light--perfect, stainless light, unmarred of earth shadow; but down in the orchard and under the spruces the light had almost gone, giving place to a green, dewy dusk, made passionately sweet with the breath of the apple blossoms and mint, and the balsamic odours that rained down upon them from the firs.
Eric told her of his life, and the life in the great outer world, in which she was girlishly and eagerly interested. She asked him many questions about it--direct and incisive questions which showed that she had already formed decided opinions and views about it. Yet it was plain to be seen that she did not regard it as anything she might ever share herself. Hers was the dispassionate interest with which she might have listened to a tale of the land of fairy or of some great empire long passed away from earth.
Eric discovered that she had read a great deal of poetry and history, and a few books of biography and travel. She did not know what a novel meant and had never heard of one. Curiously enough, she was well informed regarding politics and current events, from the weekly paper for which her uncle subscribed.
"I never read the newspaper while mother was alive," she wrote, "nor any poetry either. She taught me to read and write and I read the Bible all through many times and some of the histories. After mother died Aunt Janet gave me all her books. She had a great many. Most of them had been given to her as prizes when she was a girl at school, and some of them had been given to her by my father. Do you know the story of my father and mother?"
"Yes, Mrs. Williamson told me all about it. She was a friend of your mother."
"I am glad you have heard it. It is so sad that I would not like to tell it, but you will understand everything better because you know. I never heard it until just before mother died. Then she told me all. I think she had thought father was to blame for the trouble; but before she died she told me she believed that she had been unjust to him and that he had not known. She said that when people were dying they saw things more clearly and she saw she had made a mistake about father. She said she had many more things she wanted to tell me, but she did not have time to tell them because she died that night. It was a long while before I had the heart to read her books. But when I did I thought them so beautiful. They were poetry and it was like music put into words."
"I will bring you some books to read, if you would like them," said Eric.
Her great blue eyes gleamed with interest and delight.
"Oh, thank you, I would like it very much. I have read mine over so often that I know them nearly all by heart. One cannot get tired of really beautiful things, but sometimes I feel that I would like some new books."
"Are you never lonely, Kilmeny?"
"Oh, no, how could I be? There is always plenty for me to do, helping Aunt Janet about the house. I can do a great many things"--she glanced up at him with a pretty pride as her flying pencil traced the words. "I can cook and sew. Aunt Janet says I am a very good housekeeper, and she does not praise people very often or very much. And then, when I am not helping her, I have my dear, dear violin. That is all the company I want. But I like to read and hear of the big world so far away and the people who live there and the things that are done. It must be a very wonderful place."
"Wouldn't you like to go out into it and see its wonders and meet those people yourself?" he asked, smiling at her.
At once he saw that, in some way he could not understand, he had hurt her. She snatched her pencil and wrote, with such swiftness of motion and energy of expression that it almost seemed as if she had passionately exclaimed the words aloud,
"No, no, no. I do not want to go anywhere away from home. I do not want ever to see strangers or have them see me. I could not bear it."
He thought that possibly the consciousness of her defect accounted for this. Yet she did not seem sensitive about her dumbness and made frequent casual references to it in her written remarks. Or perhaps it was the shadow on her birth. Yet she was so innocent that it seemed unlikely she could realize or understand the existence of such a shadow. Eric finally decided that it was merely the rather morbid shrinking of a sensitive child who had been brought up in an unwholesome and unnatural way. At last the lengthening shadows warned him that it was time to go.
"You won't forget to come to-morrow evening and play for me," he said, rising reluctantly. She answered by a quick little shake of her sleek, dark head, and a smile that was eloquent. He watched her as she walked across the orchard,
"With the moon's beauty and the moon's soft pace,"
and along the wild cherry lane. At the corner of the firs she paused and waved her hand to him before turning it.
When Eric reached home old Robert Williamson was having a lunch of bread and milk in the kitchen. He looked up, with a friendly grin, as Eric strode in, whistling.
"Been having a walk, Master?" he queried.
"Yes," said Eric.
Unconsciously and involuntarily he infused so much triumph into the simple monosyllable that even old Robert felt it. Mrs. Williamson, who was cutting bread at the end of the table, laid down her knife and loaf, and looked at the young man with a softly troubled expression in her eyes. She wondered if he had been back to the Connors orchard--and if he could have seen Kilmeny Gordon again.
"You didn't discover a gold mine, I s'pose?" said old Robert dryly. "You look as if you might have."