Symud i'r prif gynnwys
Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

22 erthygl ar y dudalen hon



OUR SHORT STORY. I I LCVE'S HARVEST. 1 By CLAIRE D. POLLEXFEN. I The oppressive discomfort of the long, hot day in the crowded train, the many other long- daws in the heat of the city, seemed suddenly swept away by the sweet breath of dew-cooled country air which greeted Elisa- beth Brendon as she stepped out upon thE little wav side platform and watched the train go heavily away down the track. She was the oulv passenger who had alighted at the Halt, and, since straiigers were rare at Fordshallow, the station-master looked somewhat curiously at the slim, shabbil* y-dressed woman the train had set down. She was not for the Hall, that wa.- easily seen. And, so far as he knew (and he made a point of gathering the local news), none of the farms or cottages expected re- latives. He looked closely at her again as she handed him her ticket, but her luggage ap- parently consisted merely of the little com- pressed-paper attache case which she carried. She passed through the gate silently, like a woman in a dream. A thousand memories from her girlhood's days were flooding back upon her with stifling clearness; everything looked so cruelly the same—the white, dusty road, with its hawthorn hedges and wild flowers: the patchwork, sloping field.?, yel- low with corn; the distant line of hills, misty-blue in the evening light. The station-master, still curious, followed her out, mistaking, perhaps, her attitude as the hesitation of a stranger. "A-laybe I can direct you, ma'am?" he said. "Direct me?" she repeated vaguely, as though she hardly heard him through her tumultous thoughts. "I thought maybe you were come to help with the reaping—they be wanting gatherers and binders up to Amber's Farm. But there., you're from the city, I can see, though many come from the city to help with the land these days." As iilie listened, a sudden thought sprang like a dart of fire across Elisabeth Bren- don's mind. It had only been her intention to stay an hour or two in Fordshallow, to traverse the lanes and let her eyes wander caressingly over the fields and hedgerovts which had once been familiar to her—but now a vague longing came to her--the long- ing to stay in this quiet backwater. She turned suddenly. Yes," she said slowly, "I shall be very glad if you will direct me to Amber's Farm," and she listened gravely to the de- tailed directions which no stranger, how- ever intelligent, could ever have understood. Through the fragrant twilight a shabby woman, grasping her little, paper suit-case, made her wa"y eagerly up the winding road which led to Amber's Farm. Yet now that the moment of the test had come, she hesi. tated. "Fool!" ,he scolded mentally. "How will they recognise in the worn-looking old woman who asks for work the plump and laughing girl who went off so gaily fifteen years ago On reaching the farm she forced courage upon herself, raised her trembling hand and knocked. A dog rattled his chain and barked menacingly: a bird shrilled from his cage on the outside wall. Then came srow stel-d across the flags, and a stout, elderly woman looked out upon Elisabeth Brendon. She looked keenly, expectailtlv-but without a trace of gilitioii. "This—this is Amber's Farm, isn't it? asked Elisabeth huskily, though truly she ihad no need to ask, since it was familiar enough to her. Aye, 'tis indeed, are you "I'm told you want help for the reap. ing, and I'm looking for work." "But you're town bred, surely, my girl? Mrs. Amber hesitated. "I was bred to the country first," an- swered Elisabeth, and at once the other woman stood back that she might come into the great, brick-floored kitchen. Shatters were arranged between then., very much to their mutual satisfaction, and half an hour later Elisabeth sat with her employer over a real country supper. Though she lodged for the quiet p-eaco of the room beneath the thatch she was obliged to humour Mrs. Amber, who was delighted to have eomeone to listen to her constant chatter. Yet by these means she learned much cf the history of Fordshallow. She heard of the friends who were dead, of others who had married, of choice pieces of scandal which were spoken of in a hushed voice. Suddenly Mrs. Amber startled her by leaning forward, looking into her face. "You've never told me you- name yet," she said. For a second 's jpace Elisabeth hesitated; then she said quietly: "Margaret Friend." "Ah!" sighed Mrs. Amber, settling back in her chair. You do so remind me of some- one else! I thought perhaps you might have been some relation. It's about the eyes, I think," she went on reflectively. "But, of course, 'tis not likely you'd be' a relative of the Brendons." Elisabeth remained silent, but her heart thudded. "No, indeed, 'tis not likely," repeated the elderly woman, leaning forward to stir the fire; "and my talk must seem odd to you, but, ye see, there was a girl called Elisabeth Brendon—and a pretty 5ass she was. the belle of Fordshallow, and more than Ford- shallow. There wasn't her equal for beauty fifty miles around; many a romp she had about this old farm, I can tell 'cc r And the lads were crazy after her. Ye see, the like of that might tUrf. afcy girl's head. She had a. fine lover, too. had Elisabeth Bren- don, and his name was Peter Garvin. He had a fine house in the next county and a profitable farmstead here. v Not what all the world might call handsome, he wasn't, but there's some of us who admire rugged strength and see beauty in it—and that was the sort of beauty young Garvin had. Well, he was as much in love with Elisabeth as we all believed she was with him; but there's no telling with women, as I well know. The next thing was she g-ot to know some fine young town dandy who was staying at the Hall. Morning, noon, and night he was to be seen waiting around near the Brendons' home. "And then, what any one of us might have foreseen, and <lic111t, happened. Elisa- beth breaks it off with Deter and tells her father she's going to marry this other pretty fellow, Huiiert something or other. Her father turned her out of the house one bright morning, thinking 'twould bring her to her senses; but 'hvas the wrong thing to do, for she went off with the man to Lon- don. and never came back since. "You must thiuk me an old silly for keep- ing you up to hear about a lass that's lots better off than we are, no doubt, but 'twas your eyes reminded me. Alone in the room under the eaves—a room tp tally unadorned but as sweet and clean as fresh air and much scrubbing could make it-slie went to the mirror, and hold- ing the candle above her head, she gazed fixedly at her own reflection. 'ihe scrutiny was relentless, and at last, with bitter sat- isfaction. she turned away. "Safe!" she told herself. "I should think I am safe! "Why, who would ever re- ;ognis? in this miserable, pallid woman, withA-er face lined and aged even beyond her ?rtv-Gve years, the light-headed fool who ran away from everything worth having Jiftoen years ago? As safe ao the dead—-for you are dead, Elisabeth Brendon And Margaret Friend has come to life." She undressed slowly; then, pinching ou". the flame of the candle, she crept across tin dark room to the window. Suddenly slie grew hot with panic—she had come tc < Amber Farm for the reaping. Had it an. other significance, too? Had some calamity befallen Peter all those years ago? Hac: site come to reap the knowledge now? She got into her bed trembling with fear but the complete and wonderful silence oj the country soothed her, and she slept. The next day r.he was busy about the farm; Mrs. Amber gave her no time foi mental distraction*, and it was evening be fore she found herself free for a little vhiie. r Then, with the peach-coloured sunlight I flooding the cornfields around her, she set off on her tour of memories. Across thE bridge of planks, along the borders of the shallow river. Once, through a gap in the undulating ground she caught sight of Gar- vin's Farm. And at the thought of all she had foregone her heart contracted with a sharp pain. Memories, memories at every turn of tlif path! And for the first time Elisabeth be- gan to wonder if she had been wise to come back; it might be that there were too many memories, and that the pain of them wert not so dead as she had believed. She moved slowly towards the little cop- pice. How dear it had been to her once! It was on Garvin's lai-d, and she was glad, in a fierce, secret way, that he had not had it cut down. Then she stopped suddenly. Supposing supposing she should meet Peter? But immediately she remembered her scrutiny of the night before. There was nothing to fear. No one would recognise her. But her thoughts were bitter as she walked on under the still leaves of the little wood. Close to the edge of the stream she sat down; behind her was the tree where she and Peter had cut their names as children and, later, as betrothed lovers. How silly everything was! Yet she got up and found without difficulty the names. And as she stood fingering the tree she knew that someone ww beside her. With- out* moving, she knew that it was Peter Garvin. It seemed an eternity of time be- fore she could control herself sufficiently to turn round. He was standing there looking at her. She stared at him-he was the same, bigger, more rugged, and with a carious sternness of expression which he used not to have. He took off his cap, and his hair was grey. Elisabeth remembered herself. Please forgive me. I'm afraid I'm tres- passing," she said, and wondered hysteri- cally how she could speak so casually. "How could you ever trespass, Betty? he replied, staring into her eyes. "I—er—you recognise me? she said in a whisper, her defeaioee broken down at once. There is no question of recognition—I have never forgotten for a moment." "But I'm changed—terribly changed!" There were tears at the back of Elisabeth's voice now. "You have never cha-iig-d-tD me," an- swered Peter. "Every day I have pictured you. Betty must be like this by now: to- day she must be a little thinner—a great deal paler; the life of the cities always fades the roses.' So I have watched you .alter-all except your eyes. Your eyes don't change, Betty." "Oh, Peter! But I am changed—in my- self, I mean." He took her hands—then he looked down at them; they were both ringiess. She met his eyes and the question he did not ask. I never married Hubert," she said huskily. I went up to London with li iii, as you kcow, all that long time ago, but it only took me a very little while to discover that he was a scamp; and though he made every arrangement for the ceremony, I re- fused to go on with it I was ashamed to come back—people say such cruel things. So I got employment, and I've kept myself 'alive ever since. Then, because the fight seemed so hopeless and unavailing, I came to have one last look at Fordshallow. I was meaning to oh, well, what matter-sl- I went up to Amber's and got taken on for the reaping." "But, Betty, hadn't you better come up to my farm for the. reaping. We've been waiting for you so long ar.d it's be n confoundedly lonely. We've sown in tears for such a long time. Isn't our harvest of joy about due? "But. Peter, yon cent still care, anything for me?" Why, Betty, I've never done anything else than care for you in the past fifteen years and more."





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