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- A Life's Morning - 3/80 -
'They are at Greenhaws,' was the reply, 'Mrs. Winter called for them immediately after lunch. She will bring them back early in the evening.'
He plucked sprigs of heather. Miss Hood turned to her book.
'I've had a magnificent ride,' Wilfrid began again. 'Surely there is no country in England so glorious as this. Don't you enjoy it?'
'I have never seen the Yorkshire moors. The scenery, of course, is of a much wilder kind?'
'I have not seen them myself,' said the governess.
'I thought you might have taken your holidays sometimes in that direction.'
'No. We used to go to a seaside place in Lincolnshire called Cleethorpes. I suppose you never heard of it?'
'I think not.'
Wilfrid continued to pluck heather, and let his eyes catch a glimpse of her face now and then. Miss Hood was a year younger than himself, and had well outgrown girlishness. She was of very slight build, looked indeed rather frail; but her face, though lacking colour, had the firmness of health. It was very broad at the forehead, and tapered down into narrowness; the eyes seemed set at an unusual distance from each other, though the nose was thin and of perfect form, its profile making but a slight angle away from the line of the brows. Her lips were large, but finely curved; the chin was prominent, the throat long. She had warm brown hair.
Few would at first sight have called her face beautiful, but none could deny the beauty of her hands. Ungloved at present, they lay on the open pages of the book, unsurpassable for delicate loveliness. When he did not venture to look higher, Wilfrid let his eyes feed on the turn of the wrist, the faint blue lines and sinuous muscles, the pencilling about the finger-joints, the delicate white and pink nails.
Miss Hood was habitually silent when in the company of others than the children. When she replied to a question it was without timidity, but in few, well-chosen words. Yet her manner did not lack cheerfulness; she impressed no one as being unhappy, and alone with the twins she was often gay enough. She was self-possessed, and had the manners of a lady, though in her position this was rather to be observed in what she refrained from doing than in what she did. Wilfrid had, on first meeting her, remarked to himself that it must imply a Certain force of individuality to vary so distinctly from the commonplace even under the disadvantage of complete self-suppression; he had now come to understand better the way in which that individuality betrayed itself.
'Shall you go to Cleethorpes this year?' was his next question.
'I think not. I shall most likely pass the holidays at home.'
'And study electricity?'
In a former conversation she had surprised him by some unexpected knowledge of the principles of electricity, and explained the acquirement by telling him that this subject was her father's favourite study. Wilfrid put the question now with a smile.
'Yes, very likely,' she replied, smiling also, but faintly. 'It gives my father pleasure when I do so.'
'You have not a keen interest in the subject yourself?'
'I try to have.'
Her voice was of singular quality; if she raised it the effect was not agreeable, owing possibly to its lack of strength, but in low tones, such as she employed at present, it fell on the ear with a peculiar sweetness, a natural melody in its modulation.
'The way in which you speak of your father interests me,' said Wilfrid, leaning his chin upon his hand, and gazing at her freely. 'You seem so united with him in sympathy.'
She did not turn her eyes to him, but her face gathered brightness.
'In sympathy, yes,' she replied, speaking now with more readiness. 'Our tastes often differ, but we are always at one in feeling. We have been companions ever since I can remember.'
'Is your mother living?'
Something in the tone of the brief affirmative kept Wilfrid from further questioning.
'I wonder,' he said, 'what you think of the relations existing between myself and my father. We are excellent friends, don't you think? Strange--one doesn't think much about such things till some occasion brings them forward. Whether there is deep sympathy between us, I couldn't say. Certainly there are many subjects on which I should not dream of speaking to him unless necessity arose; partly, I suppose, that is male reserve, and partly English reserve. If novels are to be trusted, French parents and children speak together with much more freedom; on the whole that must be better.'
She made no remark.
'My father,' he continued, 'is eminently a man of sense if I reflect on my boyhood, I see how admirable his treatment of me has always been. I fancy I must have been at one time rather hard to manage; I know I was very passionate and stubbornly self-willed. Yet he neither let me have my own way nor angered me by his opposition. In fact, he made me respect him. Now that we stand on equal terms, I dare say he has something of the same feeling towards myself. And So it comes that we are excellent friends.'
She listened with a scarcely perceptible smile.
'Perhaps this seems to you a curiously dispassionate way of treating such a subject,' Wilfrid added, with a laugh. 'It illustrates what I meant in saying I doubted whether there was deep sympathy between us. Your own feeling for your father is clearly one of devotedness. You would think no sacrifice of your own wishes too great if he asked it of you.'
'I cannot imagine any sacrifice, which my father could ask, that I should refuse.'
She spoke with some difficulty, as if she wished to escape the subject.
'Perhaps that is a virtue that your sex helps to explain,' said Wilfrid, musingly.
'You do not know,' he added, when a bee had hummed between them for half a minute, 'how constant my regret is that my mother did not live till I was old enough to make a friend of her. You know that she was an Italian? There was a sympathy taken out of my life. I believe I have more of the Italian nature than the English, and I know my mother's presence would be priceless to me now that I could talk with her. What unsatisfactory creatures we are as children, so imperfect, so deficient! It is worse with boys than with girls. Compare, for instance, the twine with boys often. What coarse, awkward, unruly lumps of boisterousness youngsters mostly are at that age! I dislike boys, and more than ever when I remember myself at that stage. What an insensible, ungrateful, brainless, and heartless brat I was!'
'You must be wrong in one respect,' she returned, watching a large butterfly. 'You could not have been brainless.'
'Oh, the foundation of tolerable wits was there, no doubt; but it is just that undeveloped state that irritates me. Suppose I were now ten years old, and that glorious butterfly before me; should I not leap at it and stick a pin through it--young savage? Precisely what a Hottentot boy would do, except that he would be free from the apish folly of pretending a scientific interest, not really existing. I rejoice to have lived out of my boyhood; I would not go through it again for anything short of a thousand years of subsequent maturity.'
She just glanced at him, a light of laughter in her eyes. She was abandoning herself to the pleasure of hearing him speak.
'That picture of my mother,' he pursued, dropping his voice again, 'does not do her justice. Even at twelve years old--(she died when I was twelve)--I could not help seeing and knowing how beautiful she was. I have thought of her of late more than I ever did; sometimes I suffer a passion of grief that one so beautiful and lovable has gone and left a mere dumb picture. I suppose even my memory of her will grow fainter and fainter, founded as it is on imperfect understanding, dim appreciation. She used to read Italian to me--first the Italian, then the English-- and I thought it, as often as not, a bore to have to listen to her! Thank Heaven, I have the book she used, and can now go over the pieces, and try to recall her voice.'
The butterfly was gone, but the bee still hummed about them. The hot afternoon air was unstirred by any breeze.
'How glad I am,' Wilfrid exclaimed when he had brooded for a few moments, 'that I happened to see you as I rode past! I should have wandered restlessly about the house in vain, seeking for some one to talk to. And you listen so patiently. It is pleasant to be here and talk so freely of things I have always had to keep in my own mind. Look, do look at that bastion of cloud over the sycamore! What glorious gradation of tints! What a snowy crown!'
'That is a pretty spray,' he added, holding to her one that he had plucked.
She looked at it; then, as he still held It out, took it from him. The exquisite fingers touched his own redder and coarser ones.
'Have you friends in Dunfield?' he asked.
'Any real friend, I mean--any girl who gives you real companionship?'
'How shall you spend your time when you are not deep in electrics? What do you mean to read these holidays?'
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