The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Study in Temptations/Chapter 2
Which contains some serious vanity.
Jane had started from her home with her hair in a plait, but the wind, her quick walking, and her natural impatience of restraint, had shaken it free, and it now hung, neither curled nor crimped, yet far from straight, in one lively, glimmering mass below her waist. Her gown was of white cotton, and was so clean that it still smelt of the ironing-board, and so outgrown that it did not reach her ankles by an inch,—perhaps more. The ankles, however, were innocent, and did not fear the light of day. A wide-brimmed hat concealed the upper part of her face, and only left visible the tip of a lift-upward nose, a round chin and a finely-cut, but still childish mouth. Her cheeks and throat, though delicate in grain, were well browned, and while by no means rustic in mien, she looked what indeed she was—a daughter of the sun and rain. Jane was not beautiful; or rather, there was too much strangeness in her beauty, to make her seem so at first sight: reddish hair and a dusky face make an odd combination. There was an atmosphere of strength and sweetness about her which swept over the heart-sick De Boys like a mountain breeze; he drew a long breath, and wondered at the change in the weather.
"It is time to go home," he said. She swallowed her mortification: she had sought him in order to offer her sympathy.
"Why don't you go, then?" she said, as promptly.
He made several thrusts at the meek earth with his heavy walking-stick. "You know," he said, "your grandfather does not like you to be out late."
"I can fight my own battles," said Jane, tossing her head.
De Boys shrugged his shoulders, and tried to frown down his rising colour; he also turned on his heel and walked away.
"De Boys," she said, pursuing—"De Boys. . .I suppose you think I am a cat?"
"I hate cats," he said, evasively.
"Do you hate me?"
The pause which followed seemed borrowed from eternity. "I could hate you," he said; "but, as it happens, I do not."
"Do you think I am ugly? All the girls say I am a fright!" Her smile had a crook at each end: one signified amusement, the other contempt.
"I have never thought about your looks," said De Boys, with more honesty than discretion. "I suppose you are all right. But in any case I would never call you hideous!"
Jane had a longing to be thought pretty. Her ideal was the sweet portrait of a young lady (on porcelain) which hung in a photographer's window she knew of, and which represented a divine creature with blue eyes, pink cheeks, and blonde hair, waved and parted Madonna-wise. If she might only look like that! She had a fatal admiration for the conventional type angelic, being neither old enough nor experienced enough to know, that holiness occasionally treads the human countenance on crow's feet.
"How do you like me best?" she said. "This way" (she showed her profile), "or that way?" (She looked him straight in the face.)
He gazed. "Are your eyes blue or brown?" he said: "in some lights they are brown, but that may be the effect of your lashes."
" I think," she said, "they are blue."
"They remind me of purple heather," said De Boys, with a certain dreaminess.
"Good gracious!" said Jane, blushing.
"And your mouth," he went on, warming to the subject, "is——"
"My mouth is a straight line," she said, sharply. "And now we must make haste!" She started ahead and began to hum. The first strains were a reminiscence of "Pleasant are Thy courts below," but, as the melody swelled, it found words which were De Boys's own, and which were these:—
"Love is a bubble,
Love is a trouble,
Love is a sigh,
And love is a grin.
Love is sweet honey,
Love is cold money,
Love is a lie,
And love is a sin.
Love is a jig—
So tread you a measure;
Love is a dirge—
So fill you with grief;
Love is bright wine—
To quicken your pleasure;
Love's the North Wind—
And Man the dead leaf."
This effusion had been rejected by the editor of the Brentmore, Haddington, and Mertford Express on the ground that it was "too reckless"; but Jane thought it extremely fine. Once, and only once in the course of her singing, she stole a glance at her companion.
De Boys was tall and straight, of careless but not awkward bearing. In countenance he looked like a cherub who had talked long hours with Puck—his expression was at once so subtle, so artless, and so discreet. A chuckle lurked in the deep recesses of his eye, but the imp rarely ventured to the surface. His nose had an eager and inquiring air, as though it were ever scenting for an undiscovered country; his beardless lips were pliant, and told his kind, pleasure-loving, and generous disposition.
He was the first to make a remark. "I have been thinking," he said, "what your mouth is like," he blushed—"it is like a kiss made incarnate."
"I hate kissing," said Jane, hurriedly. "I was not born under a kissing star. Kissing is silly."
"I fear it is," sighed De Boys.
"There is nothing to fear" said Jane. "But what does it mean, or what is the use of doing things which mean so little?"
"I think," said De Boys, trying to look unprejudiced, " kissing might mean a great deal if—if the people cared for each other."
"Have you ever kissed any one and meant a great deal?" said Jane, with anxiety.
De Boys glanced up at the sky. "The clouds are brooding," he said. "I would not wonder if it rained. No, it is not my custom to kiss women. I hate it quite as much as you do."
She seemed sceptical. "Ah," she said, "but men are different."
"How do you know," he said, quickly.
"I cannot say how I know it," she answered, "because I must have known it ever since I was born."
"Let us talk of something else," said De Boys.
"You began this. Kisses and all such nonsense never come into my head. I—I always skip the love-making in novels." She uttered this astonishing falsehood with cloudless eyes.
"Oh!" said De Boys.
"Why do you say 'oh'? I suppose you don't believe me. I do not care; if you wish to quarrel, quarrel. I will not say another word." She turned away her head, but De Boys heard the tears in her voice.
"Jane," he said, "I told you a lie just now. I once kissed Lizzie Cass, but it was very long ago."
"When?" said Jane.
"At the hay-making. She stood in my way, and, somehow—well, you know how these things happen!"
"No, I don't!" she said, with indignation.
"She isn't at all pretty; and it was only her ear! Your ears are like pink shells. But, unhappily, they never get in the way."
"I should hope not," said Jane; "I want no kisses spared from Lizzie Casses!"
"Then, if I had not——"
"But you have," she said, "and that ends it."
"It was months ago," murmured De Boys, "and I have changed since then. Life looks differently."
"After all," said Jane, "you were very honest to own it. But as for Lizzie Cass, I always said she was a bold minx. She ought to be ashamed of herself!"
"Undoubtedly I was to blame. I ought not to have done it. I should have had more self-respect."
"Oh, well," said Jane, "it is a girl's part to behave herself. But whenever there is kissing, either at the hay-making or at any other time, I have noticed that it is always some girl who starts it."
"That," said De Boys, " may be true. But you are not like other girls."
"De Boys," she said, faintly; "please don't think I am better than I am. I deceived you just now; I did not mean——"
His face grew hard, his voice cold, his eye was dismayed. " Do you mean," he said, " that you have told me a lie? What was it about?"
"Oh, forgive me," she said, half crying; "I cannot think what made me say it. But it was not the truth—I do not always skip the love-making in novels."
He stalked on with darkened brows.
"You lied to me," he said; "it is the principle I am thinking of. I never thought you could lie—even for a good purpose."
"Jane put her lips together. "It was a little one," she murmured.
"Ah, but now I know you are at least capable of deceiving me, how can I ever trust you so absolutely again?" His voice had a mournful cadence.
"I don't know," she said; " but—look at me."
To look at her were fatal, and he knew it. He stared undaunted and with resolution right in front of him.
"Look at me!" she entreated.
"I want to see whether you are so angry as you sound."
"Angry is not the word," he said, "but grieved and disappointed. You were my Ideal."
She began to cry. "If you had told me I was your Ideal," she said, "I would have been more careful. It is so much easier to be ideal when you know that some one appreciates you."
Jane had not yet grasped the truth, that man is a spectacle for angels, and that he can carry his heroism, his noble sentiments, and his virtue into a wilderness, and still not feel that he is being heroic and sublime for nothing—a suspicion, however, which will assail him for more causes than he would care to count, if he look for mortal appraisement only. But love is two-headed egoism, and to Jane the Ideal meant De Boys's ideas.
She continued—"I do not want you to think me perfect; because I am not, and I could not be, even to please you. I am just like other girls."
"Well," said De Boys, at length, "perhaps I ought to be glad of anything that makes you more like me—that puts you nearer my level."
Jane looked troubled; she was beginning to realise, though dimly, the responsibilities of an Ideal.
"De Boys," she said, "did you ever think that I was better than yourself?"
"Better! It was not a question of comparison at all.""And now," said Jane—"what do you think now?"
He hesitated. "And now?'' she asked again. They had reached a gate which led into a kind of shrubbery. As she passed through her skirt caught on one of the spikes. He was awkward and slow at releasing her, and when they started to walk again, he lagged behind.
"Are you tired?" said Jane.
"Are you angry?"
"Very well; then we are not friends. But I would rather be so than have deceit between us. And you may as well know the worst of me at once. I am much plainer in the face than you think. Take a good look at me this way."
She pulled off her hat, tugged back her magnificent hair, and in her anxiety to appear at her worst, all but made a grimace. De Boys did not seem so repelled as she had expected.
"Take a good look," she repeated, faintly. "I shall never have the courage to do this again."
"I am angry," he said, looking, "because I hate myself and because you are still as far above me as——"
She advanced a step towards him. "I am not above you, De Boys," she said, "I am here."
He needed no second reminder, but with the agility of a practised lover, caught her in his arms and kissed her at random, and with an ardour which, though wholly beyond the measure of her own childish affection, filled her with nameless fear."There!" he said; "but don't ask me to look at you again. That's kissing."
Jane fixed her eyes on his with something like reproach. "I was happier before," she said; "much happier. I almost wish you had not."
"But I love you," said De Boys.
"Still," said Jane, "I wish you had not. I shall remember it."
"So shall I," said De Boys.
"But I only want to remember that I love you," said Jane; "and I want to remember it without distractions, and without kisses, which, after all, may only mean that I am standing in your way."
"Yet I am glad," she went on—"I am glad God made me a woman."
"That you might love me."
Once more a spell was in the air, but this time she had experience.
"Come," she said, quickly, "we shall be late, and the geese will want their supper."Even thus does prose trample on the skirts of passion. They hurried on into the gathering twilight, on and on. At the hill they joined hands and ran, kicking, in imagination, the world (of their imagination), in front of them as they went.