ENGLISH ²¨¶àÒ°½áÒÂ´©ºìË¿ÍàµÄ·¬ºÅA dreadful face, a face dull and dissipated, with horrible watery red eyes, yet full of malice and cunning and passion. There was a bristle of whiskers and a moustache, as if chin and razor had for days been strangers. As suddenly as the face had come it turned. A hand shot out from somewhere, as if seeking for the throat of the strange apparition, a fist was uplifted, and the figure disappeared, evidently going down before a cruel and crushing blow. The light vanished; it had probably been overturned and gone out."I thought you were pretty well set," he remarked, casually.There was a certain amount of applause, followed by an embarrassing silence. Presently someone threw another ball out into the field, and the game was resumed. But the Clockwork man treated Tanner's next delivery, which was a fast one, in exactly the same manner. Again nobody could say exactly what happenedfor the action was swifter than the quickest eye could followbut the ball disappeared[Pg 27] again, this time in the direction of a fringe of poplars far away on the horizon. Again there was a lull, but the applause this time was modified. Another ball was supplied, and this also was dispatched with equal force and in a third direction, almost unanimously decided by the now bewildered spectators to be the flagstaff of the church that stood in the middle of the High Street, Great Wymering.
"Medicines," said the Doctor, without enthusiasm.She was conscious that somebody was by her side. She looked and found that her companion was the Countess. No answer came. Hetty touched the other's arm. She was shaking from head to foot like a reed in the gale."Mine, too!" I cried, springing up after her. How queerly the inner house stood alight and silent, its guests and inmates hidden, while outside pistols and carbines flashed and cracked. I came upon Charlotte, just recrossing her chamber to leave it, with her doll in her arms. "Come!" I cried, "our line is falling back behind the house!" Her head flinched aside, a bit of her hat flew from it, and a pistol-ball buried itself in the ceiling straight over my head. We ran downstairs together, pulling, pushing and imploring each other in the name of honor, duty and heaven to let him--let her--go out first through the bright hall door. Kendall was not in sight, but in a dim half-light a few yards off we saw Oliver. He was afoot, bending low, and gliding toward us with his revolver in his left hand. He fired as I did; her clutch spoiled my aim; with eager eyes she straightened to her finest height, cried "Richard! tell Lieutenant Ferry he--" and with a long sigh sank into my arms. A rush of hoofs sounded behind Oliver, he glanced up, and Ferry's blade fell across his brow and launched him face upward to the ground. I saw a bunch of horses, with mine, at the foot of the steps, and a bunch of men at the top; Ferry snatched Charlotte's limp form from me and said over his shoulder as he went down the steps, "Go get him and bring him along, dead or alive!"
And so I began to hear the tale. I was startled by its strong reminder of Charlotte's own life; but Charlotte answered my anxious glance with a brow so unfretted that I let the reading go on, and so made a cruel mistake. At every turning-point in the story its reader would have paused to talk it over, but Charlotte, with a steadily darkling brow, murmured each time "Go on," and I was silent, hoping that farther along there would be a better place to stop for good. Not so; the story's whirling flood swept us forward to a juncture ever drawing nearer and clearer, clearer and crueler, where a certain man would have to choose between the woman he loved and that breadth and fruitfulness of life to which his splendid gifts imperiously pointed him. Oh, you story-tellers! Every next page put the question plainer, drove the iron deeper: must a man, or even may a man, wed his love, when she stands between him and his truest career, a drawback and drag upon his finest service to his race and day? And, oh, me! who let my eye quail when Charlotte searched it, as though her own case had brought that question to me before ever we had seen this book. And, oh, that impenetrable woman reading! Her husband was in Lee's army, out of which, she boasted, she would steal him in a minute if she could. She was with us, now, only because, at whatever cost to others, she was going where no advancement of the enemy's lines could shut her off from him; and so stop reading a moment she must, to declare her choice for Love as against all the careers on earth, and to put that choice fairly to shame by the unworthiness of her pleadings in its defence. I intervened; I put her grovelling arguments aside and thrust better ones in, for the same choice, and then, in the fear that they were not enough, stumbled into special pleading and protested that the book itself had put the question unfairly."But they always get married," he said, suddenly. "The chaps in books, I mean. They always get married in the end."But the Clockwork man made no reply. He stood in the middle of the stage and slowly[Pg 96] lifted a finger to his nose. The Curate's doubts returned. Something seemed to occur to him as he examined his companion more closely. "You haven't been taking anything, my good man, have you? Anything of an alcholic nature?"
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[Pg 153] CHAPTER SIX
"Shut it," said Charlotte, with a sigh like that which had risen when the lead first struck her. "If I could be moved ever so little,--" she said.
"Then, madam, tell me this! With a whole world of other people's names to choose from, why have you borrowed Charlotte Oliver's? Have you come here determined to be sent to prison, Miss Coralie Rothvelt?""Of course, I'm only a sort of amateur," Arthur continued, modestly. "But I do like books, and I can generally get at what a chap's driving atin a way."Gin-house and all, we burned him up. On our horses out in the open road to the house, we sat, the girl perched behind the Colonel, and watched the fire mount and whirl and crackle behind the awful black arms of the cotton-press. The Arkansan shook his head: "It's too fine; 'tain't a dog's death, after all. Lord! why didn't I think of it in time? we'd ought to 'a' just dropped him alive into that lint-box and turned the press down onto him with our horses!"
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Upstairs in the bedroom, Arthur hastily removed his flannels and paced the limited amount of floor space between the two beds. What a little box of a place it was, and how absurdly crammed with furniture! You couldn't move an inch without bumping into things or knocking something over. There wasn't room to swing a cat, much less to perform an elaborate toilet with that amount of leisurely comfort necessary to its successful accomplishment. Ordinarily he didn't notice these things; it was only when he was in a[Pg 68] hurry, and had all sorts of little duties to carry out, that the awkwardness of his surroundings forced themselves into his mind and produced a sense of revolt. There were times when everything seemed a confounded nuisance and a chair stuck in your way made you feel inclined to pitch it out of the window. Just when you wanted to enjoy simply being yourself, when your thoughts were running in a pleasant, easeful way, you had to turn to and dress or undress, shave or wash, prepare yourself for the conventions of life. So much of existence was spent in actions that were obligatory only because other people expected you to do the same as themselves. It wasn't so much a waste of time as a waste of life.They looked solemnly at one another for a[Pg 74] long while without even approaching a "stare out."
"Sometimes. Chaps people don't understand. That's because they like beauty more than anything else, and not many people really care about beauty. They only think of it when they see a sunset or look at pictures. If you can forget beauty, then you're alright. Nobody thinks you're strange. You don't have any difficulties."It was quite silent upstairs; there was no sign of a maid anywhere. As Hetty reached the landing the frightened bleating cry broke out again. There was only a night-light in the nursery; a little white figure sat moaning in bed.
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