The Novel on Blue Paper - Chapter 9
THE ALOE BLOSSOMS
She gave a little start, and a pleased cry, when she saw his smiling face coming towards her; and running towards him she shifted her letter into her left hand, caught his right hand in hers, and kissed his cheek quite frankly, and without noticing apparently that it was scarlet with blushing—for in fact the youth was thinking of what Stoneman had said to him, and had been wondering all the way up from the river whether she would kiss him or not, and whether he would manage to ask her to if she didn't; for he hadn't seen her since the Christmas holidays, owing to Arthur's illness, and he thought that he was really growing up to be very manly.
'I'm so glad to see you, after all this long time. Why, I wonder when you will have done growing, John.'
He laughed frankly too, and said:
'O, I've done now—I'm a man, and am going into business soon; and you're a woman, and haven't grown a bit this last year, I think, though you're a year younger than me. But where were you going without your bonnet in this hot sun?'
'Why,' she said, 'I wrote a letter to Arthur this morning, and I had just come out to find the boy and send him off with it.' And she held the letter out. It was fat, and puffy.
'What have you got inside?' he said.
'Why, our big aloe has blossomed this year, and I was sending him some blossoms, because you know they say they only blossom once in a hundred years, and I thought he should have something to remember his being ill this year. Dr Stoneman saw Mother yesterday, and so I know he's better. I'm so glad.'
He held the letter out to her again to take, but she said:
'No, won't you take it home to him, the poor lad.'
As he did so, putting his hand back, she touched it with hers; and he thought what a difference the summer had made, for he wasn't anything like as happy the last time he saw her, which was on a cold, rainy day at the beginning of February.
They turned now, and went side by side toward the door of the house that led into the farmyard, she with her eyes cast down and her brow a little knitted, as though she were thinking of something hard to grasp; he with his eyes wandering from one part of her to another, and wishing—if it might be—that he could see her all at once; and indeed, it was a good wish, for if he were to live to see the aloe blossom again he would not see so goodly a sight.
She had really stopped growing some months ago, and was slim, and thin, though without a suspicion of ill-health about her. She was a little above the middle height of women, wellbuilt, and with a certain massiveness about the figure, in spite of her present thinness. Her hands were long-nailed and delicate in make, but not very small, and they were browned with the sun, too, with even a little freckle here and there on them; her face, like her figure, had something strong and massive amidst its delicacy—somewhat sunburnt, too, like her hands, and beautifully clear of skin, but without much red in her cheeks; dark brown, abundant, silky hair; and a firm, clearcut, somewhat square jaw and round, well-developed chin; lips a little over-thin, a little too firmly closed together for her youth and happiness; a straight nose with wide nostrils, and perfectly-made, but somewhat short; rather high cheekbones that gave again too much of a plaintive look to the cheeks, a wide forehead, and a beautifully-shaped head above it; and, to light all this up, large grey eyes set wide apart, fringed with dark lashes.
So capable were her eyes of all shades of expression, that they were liable from their expressiveness to be misread, so sympathetic to the soul that showed through them, that in times of strong emotion, before the lips had begun to tremble, the whole change would have come over the eyes. Amidst apparent coldness they would be tender—o, how tenderl—with love; amid apparent patience they would burn with passion; amid apparent cheerfulness they would be dull and glassy with anguish. No lie or pretence could ever come near them. They were the index of the love and greatness of heart that wielded the strong will in her, which, in its turn, wrought on those firm lips of hers that serious brow which gave her the air of one who never made a mistake, a look which, without the sanctification of the eyes, might perhaps have given an expression of sourness and narrowness to her face.
I have told of what she was like here, and it is true that even at this time all this was in her face, yet certainly undeveloped, much of it. Boundless simple love, rather, her face showed now, and the frankest pleasure in whatever was delightful—and yet, how serious it was sometimes; and as John walked beside her now he felt rough and rude and awkward and common, and began to shuffle, and to tremble when her dress touched him.
By the way, one must say something about the said dress, though there was little to be told about it. She was dressed in a white cotton gown, fresh and pleasant-looking in the hot sunshine, and though it was all very plain there was nothing clownish about her, rather a very visible taste in the make of her clothes. All was dainty, from her collar of coarse old lace to her trim sandalled shoes. On the second finger of her dear right hand she had a flimsy, old-fashioned ring of two or three coloured golds and turquoises, and a little brooch at her throat of the same manufacture. These were all her ornaments; and even these, perhaps, would have seemed excessive for a work-aday to the canons of taste that ruled the system she had been brought up in, which at all events implied (if they did not declare) that all ornament was display.
She led him into the cool, clean house with its sanded passages, past the kitchen where a sound of washing-up was going on; past the parlours right and left, and the foot of the queer heavily-balustraded staircase. The house was small enough, as I said before. It had been but a farmhouse, panelled all over with rather rude panelling, left unpolished in these stairs and passages, and polished dark in the parlours. However, more of these hereafter.
They went out of the front door into a little grass-plot with a border of delicious summer flowers all round it, growing as such things only do in old gardens, and railed off with a little green railing from a large orchard, scattered over rather sparsely with old and decaying trees, and bound by the high road and a great untidy hedge, all dusty now. In the orchard was wandering an old grey purblind horse, that was sauntering out the end of his days in utter peace, since the good widow could not make up her mind to finish it with a bullet. Half a dozen geese pecked away gravely almost between his legs, and a peahen with two chicks wandered about restlessly. Nearer to the house, the long white stony drive that swept about the old tree will bring us again to the gate in the green fence, from which a flagged path led up to the green-painted front door with its gleaming brass knocker. A little way from the sunniest side of the flagged path was a big mulberry tree, under which sat the widow, dealing with many yards of calico, and making the deuce knows what.