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'Only a sweetheart; not much when you get a besotted mother in her place; and then for the husband to object to be sunk in the father of a fine family-what folly!" And Mr. Eyre detached a spur with a vigour worthy of the thought.
"It is a beautiful character-a father," said Madcap, shaking her head gravely; "but somehow-somehow you don't seem to fit it!"
"Not I," he said grimly; "such folly is for mothers, not men."
'Yes," she said, sitting down opposite him; a young light shape with bare arms crossed lightly on its knees, and upon brow and lip something lovelier far than the childish dimpled beauty so dear to lover's heart; "for mothers, like me. Have you ever thought of it; that I must love them because . . . because I am their mother?”
He turned and looked at her keenly, for the first time in his life consciously regarding her as the mother of those mere unconsidered trifles that he called his children.
As idolised sweetheart, wife, friend, as the little wild Madcap who, in electing to dance through life to the tune of his own sober footsteps, had come to him to
Fill all the stops of life with tuneful breath,
he knew her well; but this motherhood-there was to him. nothing lovely or sacred in it; on the contrary, a fierce pang smote him as he realised that his sole, undivided right to her was gone, and that others had as great a claim upon her as himself.
He snatched her in his arms, as though by sheer force he would keep her still; then put her from him, and heavily, with the fires of love suddenly grown chill in his eyes, turned away.
"There—go," he said. "Forty years of my life I managed to live without you; the rest of my existence, as I told you but now, I'll eke out somehow."
For a moment she shrank from him—from this selfish virile love that swept aside all, even duty, in its course; then with an instant recoil of feeling, the woman's heart thrilled to the man's exacting devotion, and she approached him softly.
"and could you live
"Love has no second place," she said; "and could without me?" she added, all the mother gone, and the sweetheart's airs and graces in full blow.
"Indeed I could. It's living with you, and taking a second place, that I won't endure."
"You might do worse," said Madcap sadly, and uplifting to him two such sweet mirrors of fatherhood as a man might look in and find himself ennobled, not dethroned.
"And better," he said. "For instance, he might breakfast" and he opened the door as he spoke.
His will carried him across the threshold; but flesh and blood is sometimes stronger than iron, and somehow Mr. Eyre found himself led back to a chair while Madcap, in a mere accidental way, seated herself on his knee.
"And pray, ma'am," said he coldly, "what do you do here?"
"O! I'm used to it," she said, nodding, as she clung to his coat lappel to save herself from slipping from the ungracious support afforded.
Precisely," he said. "Mere habit-duty-what you will— not a spark of real inclination in it-a chair would do as well. Off with you, ma'am, to the nursery; there thread your daisy chains, weave your cowslip balls, and be happy."
"And supposing I would rather stay here?" she said, twining an unwilling hand about her neck. "Besides, you-you've forgotten something!"
"What's that?" he said, looking with cold and grudging eyes at the little mouth
Where the untired smile of youth
"to wish you more years in which to see me grow old? Your babies have done that. To kiss you? It was Madcap that I used to kiss—and she's gone; it's a body without a heart that perches so confidently on my knee."
"Is it?" she said, suddenly clasping two round, young arms above his ebon head; "then-then kiss me as a mother!"
For a moment he did not stir, only looked hard in her eyes, where bit by bit he saw himself, as detested parent disappearing and the lover growing, in his own proper form; then as their hearts rushed together their lips met in such a kiss as suspense had quickened into heaven.
"And you will love them a little-for my sake?" said Madcap wistfully, as he released her.
"No; you for theirs. And for me, Madcap-for me
Keep therefore a true woman's eye,
And love me still, but know not why,
So hast thou the same reason still
To dote upon me ever.
His certain life that never could deceive him,
His life is neither toss'd in boisterous seas
O'er the vexatious world, or lost in slothful ease;
Pleas'd and full blest he lives when he his God can please.
Two little faces-one tear-stained, the other proud and angry— at nine o'clock saw the horses led to the door, and Mr. Eyre come out leading his wife, who was laughing at something he said, and somehow forgot to look up at the casement and kiss her hand to the children as she passed.
She remembered them too late, and then but for a moment; her husband filled memory and landscape alike, ruling her every thought, and carrying her back to those days when, deprived of his company, she had tried to live without him and nearly died of the attempt. The momentary coldness of the morning had in its recoil drawn them but the closer, and something of that yearning sense of love being before, not behind them, rode with them as they went and gave to the life around that subtle touch which brings the lowliest blade of grass equally with God's noblest handiwork, into sympathy with the heart's content.
There are moments when memory quickens and becomes a living joy; when the mere hue of a flower seems to say, "Do you remember?" and the note of the bird to cry, "Have you forgotten?" when a sound-a scent-is as a word spoken by one to another; when if your beloved be at your side, in fancy you clasp hands and go back together to the remote beloved past; and when-ah, God!-if you have lost him, but not by death, he comes to you living and real as the grass at your feet-your very own as when together you plucked the flowers that look up at you with clear eyes that remember both you and him. Strange that the past should have such power over us, turning our present gold, as it were, to dross-dimming the sunset hues that point to a bright to-morrow; reaching out to us from the darkness like a dear dead hand to hallow our loving
joys, as the good ship that lies at anchor casts far beyond her on the waters a silvery track of light that she herself shall never traverse.
Mr. Eyre's heart exulted in him as he bared his brow to the air, "nimble and sweet," and looked around-Madcap, honour, fame, riches; all these were his-and what lacked he? Life held not one joy that he coveted, or did not hold in the hollow of his hand, and through the gathering years he saw himself as now, for love is immortal, and Madcap was youth, and with the twain ever at his side he might defy age. He had never before counted up his treasures thus-whence, too, came this odd sense of power and mastery over fate that swayed him as though he were unused to sovereignty, and must take the braggart's loud pitiful pride in it?
Dear to him were those peaceful breathings that, ascending from the village below, spoke of duteous toil, followed in its turn by grateful rest. Not a sight or sound met eye or ear but spoke of happiness in the past, of sure coming peace in the future. Content was he to dwell among clods, so he might share the clods' noble portion of air, sky, and earth.
"A sweet without a snare—a pleasure that brings no painto sow and plant in hope, waiting in the rainbow promise that harvest shall never fail," he said, thinking half out of his own mind, and half from a well-loved book. "And there are those who pity us, Madcap-who smile at this rich attendance on our poverty,' and who would beckon us out of our content to the feverish delights of the world-delights that would please you about as well as a jewel would in comparison with this."
He turned aside to pluck a pale earth-star, lonely, belated, seeming to shrink within herself from the too vivid, voluptuous life around; for they were passing just then between hedgerows sparkling through spring showers-hedgerows upon whose banks the seasons met and clasped hands, the bright young beauties of a month ago standing bravely up in their faded smocks side by side with the bold, gay new-comers, about whose skirts the breath of early summer clung. And these wistful eyes, that seemed to say, "Do not pass us by because we wear so shabby a mien, but gather us for the sake of the yesterday in which we and you were so happy, and that perhaps will have ." drew Madcap's, so that it was a tiny knot indeed that at length she placed in her breast.
"And I love to see you so," said Mr. Eyre, “with a simple flower in your hand, and your hair with only its own light to
view it by. After all, what is every ornament with which a foolish woman thinks to adorn herself but an imitation of those natural ones that adorn our birds?"
"And how much less beautiful!" said Madcap, looking up to a gold-crested wren who sang at ease, swinging amidst the yellow tassels of the hazel; while, hard by, as if in mockery of the tiny creature's soulless splendour, a russet thrush poured out his song-the careful thrush who
Sings each song twice over.
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture,
and whose song, when we are happy, is the song of our own hearts, and it is the bird who is hearkening, and we who are pouring out that triumphant throbbing joy.
"What were you thinking, Madcap?" said Mr. Eyre, struck by something in her face.
"That if I were not happy, such a song as that would break my heart!
She was trembling violently, and though he caught her in his arms she trembled still, then sat erect, and passing her hand before her eyes, gazed around.
"What was it?" she said. "Something-someone-and yet I saw only you-alone-hating all the beauty on which you looked because I was not beside you!"
"That's true enough," said Mr. Eyre; "not a twig, leaf, or blossom pleased me on my way home this morning; all I saw was Madcap at the end of my ride, and I found
"Something that could think of you, not them, if"
"And so you are to die in spring, Madcap," he said, as he held her close, "and, like Sir Thomas Overbury's milkmaid, have good store of flowers to cover you; well, you'll let me creep under the same coverlid, I hope-but no, not even for you will I submit to be made ridiculous. Two sculptured lovers weeping under a willow-tree never inspired me with anything but disgust; they ought not to have died-had they willed to live they must have done so.'
"But, before now, lovers have willed each other to die," said Madcap dreamily; "and all-for love!"
"No-for jealousy," said Mr. Eyre; “and what a man has reason to be jealous of, is not worth killing-he should equally scorn to harm as to detain her."
"And so you could not be jealous?" said Madcap, some of the old colour and mischief stealing back to her pale face.