The Anatomy of Love/Chapter 16

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

pp. 767–770.

CHAPTER XVI.

It is true that Macraven and Anne went for their walk, as the man of science had determined. But his declaration that their walk was to take them six long miles and more across the open country was only another evidence that man as a prophet is not always infallible.

They started off in silence, and in silence they crossed the orchard and the clover field and the sheep pasture. And at each step they took Macraven uneasily realized more and more the weight of all he had to say, until he felt entangled and bound in the very complexity of his emotions.

He was wondering whether, at heart, Anne did not hate him, whether beneath her silence there did not lurk some yet ungerminated seed of contempt. It troubled him to think how far apart, not only from this warm and silent woman at his side, but from all his fellow beings, his lonely paths of life had taken him.

“Oh, you must despise me!” he cried out, with a sudden and tremulous note of passion and self-hate that caused Anne to draw up, wide-eyed and staring.

“Despise you?” she gasped. “Why should I despise you?”

“Why shouldn't any woman despise selfishness and smallness and meanness of spirit? Why should any woman be satisfied with the dregs and husks of a man's life, and be ready to dignify those odious remnants with the name of friendship, even?”

Never before had Anne seen his thin, ascetic face so touched with emotion.

“Do you mean that every woman should love an idler in life?” she demanded. “Don't you think that women realize that work has its nobility as well as its obligations?”

“But when that work makes a man blind, and leaves him hard and narrow and exacting?”

“It's not the work's fault, but the man's,” answered Anne, very quietly, yet very bravely.

He turned to her suddenly.

“Anne Appleby, candidly and honestly, why did you refuse to marry me six years ago?”

She slipped down weakly on the soft turf that sloped to the river bank. The color had left her face completely. “I don't think I could explain to you,” she answered at last, gazing at him with what was almost a look of appeal.

“Then it was my selfishness that made you afraid of me,” he almost exulted. “It was that you were afraid of what I was making myself, or had already made myself!”

“It was only the selfishness of youth,” said Anne softly.

“But it was selfishness, utter selfishness!” he groaned in his bitterness of heart.

“But I knew—and you yourself must have known—that some day you would grow beyond it,” argued Anne, looking out over the wind-rippled 'river.

“If you had only told me!” he lamented.

She marveled at the intensity of his misery.

“Can't you see,” she said at last, “it had to come of itself? It would have been worse than useless if it had come to you except by way of your own heart.”

“And all the while,” he continued, more quietly, “all the while you were living for others. You were thinking of the needy and the suffering. You were doing good, and getting something tangible and worth while out of life.”

“No, no, no,” she denied. “I was only a woman. And that was all there was for me to do.” She was afraid he would see the teardrops on her lashes, so she bent her head and laughed a little. “Though I did hate to hear you make fun of me about those woolen mitts I was always knitting for the Indian children!”

Her laugh seemed to shake the tragedy out of the moment. Macraven looked up at her with a less troubled brow.

“How old are you, Anne?” he asked, with that ingenuousness peculiar to the mind of lifelong abstraction.

“Old enough to be your mother—almost,” replied Anne, feeling that it was safer thus to skirt the morasses of their former solemnity.

“You have been one,” said the candid man of science, earnestly and just a little ruefully. “You've been better than one to me for years!”

“Don't dare to say how many!” warned Anne.

“You're twenty-seven,” said Macraven, with sudden conviction.

“You once said you'd never trust a woman over twenty-five who wouldn't lie about her age,” reminded Anne.

“After all, it's a lovely age, twenty-seven!” sighed Macraven.

“I find it very comfortable,” admitted Anne.

Then a silence fell over them. The leaves rustled; the wind stirred the water; somewhere in the remote distance the bobolinks called and caroled.

“Anne,” said the professor of anthropology quietly.

He scarcely knew how to go on, and in his difficulty, he caught Anne's hand and held it in his own. It was a woman's hand, warm and soft and supple, with all its hints of latent strength and purpose. And it was an enchanting hand to hold, he discovered, to his great surprise. It was not a dimpled and trifling and dainty little hand, a useless little tinted shell of a hand, like Sybil's, for instance. There was a strength and a sacredness about it, he felt, something far above the mere tissue and bone, something that seemed to make it the shield and the receptacle for that sacred torch of life which had passed from woman to wistful woman from the first day of mortal existence down to now.

He looked at her timidly. A strange softness hovered about her face; some old and mysterious wistfulness lurked in her gray eyes. There had been no transfiguration, he told himself; it was the Anne he had always known. But he suddenly awoke to the startling consciousness that she was a compellingly beautiful woman—a beautiful woman whom some inscrutable awakening in his own troubled breast suddenly made the goal of all activity, the height of all aspiration,

“Do you know what I am going to say, Anne?” he asked, with a new and tender note of pleading in his voice. “I am going to ask you something that I ought not to ask you, I know. I am going to ask you to marry me. Can't you see,” he went on more passionately, “that I need you and want you, from the bottom of my heart! I have always needed and wanted you. But now I know I couldn't live and be happy without you! I've just had my eyes opened to what it means, to what it may do, this love you have brought out into the light. I know I can't offer you much, Anne—I've lost and surrendered so many things. But I can't loose and surrender you! It's you—you—you——

“Oh, are you sure of that?” she asked, a little tremulously.

“I know it as surely as I know that you're too good and pure and noble-hearted for me. I know it as surely as I know that all my life would go toward trying to make your life as full and happy and complete as it ought to be!”

It was from no momentary tumult of the blood that he was speaking, he knew only too well; it was no boyish emotion that had shaken him out of that old encysting shell of his former life. It was hunger and want made manifest; it was a propulsion, mysterious, implacable, that henceforth for good or evil must rule all his life.

“Can't you learn to love me, Anne?” he pleaded.

She had not intended to surrender to him at that moment, or in that way, but to her sudden bewilderment, she found herself in Macraven's subjugating arms. And as suddenly, almost, time and the world, the past and the future, fell away from her, forgotten, obliterated. For his lips had met hers, and she had quivered and relaxed and paled under his first kiss.