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Authors: D. E. Stevenson

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One summer holidays he provided Garth and me with shiny black copy-books and advised us to keep a record of our days. “It is a valuable exercise,” he said with his kind smile, “and you will find it useful as you grow older.” Garth looked at his book with some surprise. “But you can buy diaries, sir,” he said. “All ready with dates and a space for every day.” “I know you can,” replied father, “but a bought diary is anathema to the true diariest—take Pepys as your model, his diary was not divided into equal parts—a bought diary starts with the erroneous assumption that all days are alike, or at least equal in length. We all know the assumption to be false. For Monday I may require three pages, for Wednesday three lines. If my diary is divided into equal parts I have the same space for both days. On Monday I am tempted to be telegraphic, or even to miss out some essential portion of my theme, on Wednesday I am tempted to be verbose.”

Garth and I began our diaries together—everybody knows the lure of a virgin copy-book—Garth lapsed a little when he was at Eton, but in the holidays his diary ran to pages daily. I often wondered, when I lacked material for mine, what he found to say (in speech I was the more facile) but I never knew, for our diaries were strictly private. It was the Unwritten Law that we should not “crib” each other's diaries, and we never broke it. We left our diaries lying about in the schoolroom or the summer-house secure in the conviction that they were sacred from alien eyes. It was only later, when Kitty was promoted to the ranks of the literate that we learned to secrete our diaries—Kitty did not observe the sanctity of the Unwritten Law. The habit, begun in childhood, continued with me throughout the years. If I had nothing else to write about I still had books, and I often found that a few lines of criticism, written months ago and forgotten, saved me from a second reading of the same dull tome. There is a pile of copy-books in the drawers of the battered old bureau which I had rescued from the schoolroom at the Parsonage. I scarcely ever look at them but I know that they are there and the knowledge is, somehow, comforting. They mirror my life from a contemporary standpoint, they are a material evidence of the troubles that I have borne, of the storms that have failed to wreck me, of the calms that have failed to discourage me.

I missed Garth dreadfully when he went to Eton. Kitty could not share in the make-believe games which had so delighted Garth and me. Her imagination could not people the woods with redskins and outlaws. She liked playing with dolls; she liked playing at houses, or shops. I used to play at her games because she could not play at mine, but I found them dull and monotonous after the wild freedom of the woods. The mornings were occupied with lessons. Father taught me himself and he made everything interesting. He was a born teacher, with ideas upon education greatly in advance of his time. I enjoyed my hours with him, they passed quickly—he led my mind from one point to another, so that I learned almost without knowing it. In the afternoon I took the path over the hill to the Manor stables to exercise Garth's pony and his dog. It was a routine life, busy and useful. The days passed quickly.

The holidays were too short for all the things that Garth wanted to do. Old haunts to be revisited, old pleasures to resume.

I lost Garth for a little while during his schooldays at Eton; he slipped away from me in spirit. That was bound to happen, of course, and I should have known it if I had not been so ignorant of the world. He was unhappy at Eton I think—although he never said so—the lack of privacy irked him (he had always had as much privacy as he liked). He was homesick for Hinkleton and the freedom of the woods. When he went on to Oxford he was happier and more settled. He became once more the companion of my childhood's days. At Oxford his time was at his own disposal, he could be solitary if he wanted. He could shut his door upon the world and take leisure for thoughts and dreams. And, because he was not always in a crowd, he was able to make friends with people who appealed to him, and to pick and choose a few congenial spirits. Garth was more
normal
during those years at Oxford than he ever was before—or since. I see that now, when I look back. At the time, of course, I saw nothing beyond the day. I sorrowed when Garth went from me and rejoiced when he returned.

It was while he was at Oxford that he grew so amazingly. As a child he was small for his age, and then he suddenly shot up into a very tall, thin young man. Later he filled out and became broad-shouldered and deep-chested, but he always retained the narrow hips and long lean legs of the born runner. I have only to shut my eyes to see Garth as he was in those far-off days. His long spare frame, his dark hair that fitted his small well-shaped head like a cap. His blue eyes, dreamy or eager as occasion demanded, were rather deeply sunk in his sun-tanned face. He had a short straight nose, and his mouth was large and mobile, the mouth of an actor, full of expression. His feet and his hands were long and thin, he had long sensitive fingers.

What else can I tell you about that Oxford Garth? (I want you to see him clearly, Clare. It is so important that you should see Garth clearly in his early days, before he was embittered and disillusioned by the world.) He did not care for games—perhaps that was one of the reasons why his time at Eton was unhappy—he ran well, and swam, but the passion of his life was, and still is, riding. Garth rode magnificently, he was absolutely fearless, and yet he was not reckless, nor inconsiderate of his horse as fearless riders often are. When he was on a horse, he and his horse were one in body and spirit. He could rouse a shirker, or quiet a nervous animal with a touch of his hand.

***

My thoughts go back to the last peaceful summer at Hinkleton—how happy we were. Childhood was over, for I was seventeen and Garth twenty, but the storms of life had not yet broken upon us. Garth came down from Oxford for the long vacation. He arranged to read Latin with father, for Latin was a weak subject of Garth's and it was holding him back. None of the many tutors had succeeded in making Latin come alive for Garth, and Eton and Oxford had failed to remedy the lack of grounding. The days were full of bright sunlight and father loved the sun, so Latin was read in the garden under the big old tree which cast its long shadows over the tennis lawn. I could see them sitting there if I glanced out of the windows in the intervals between bed-making and dusting which were my daily lot. Garth's dark head was bent studiously over the book from which he read. Father listened and commented and watched the birds. Sometimes father was called away in the middle of the lesson—his time was never his own—and then I went down to talk to Garth and the beds were left to look after themselves. We talked a great deal that summer. Talking took the place of games. Garth told me about his life at Oxford, about the long quiet afternoons on the river, and about the old beautiful buildings which had housed learning for so many generations. He told me, too, of his ambitions—to travel in unvisited places and to write books which should add to the knowledge of the world we live in. He would be Lord of the Manor when his father died and would find enough to do looking after the property, and traveling. The passion for traveling had always been with him, it had found expression in our childhood games of make-believe, but now these were left behind and Garth was looking forward to the reality. I envied him his secure manhood and the future which seemed so bright. To voyage to distant countries and strange lands, to meet in the flesh the people and animals of our imaginings seemed to me the apotheosis of desire.

“What a pity you are a girl, Char!” Garth exclaimed when we had been discussing the matter for hours. “If only you had been a boy we could have gone off together and explored the world.” How fervently I echoed his wish!

We were friends, old tried friends. We understood each other in that far-off summer of 1913.

Kitty was rather left out of it when Garth came home. I see that now, though I did not see it at the time. She was a child then—just thirteen, and she liked attention and petting. Garth and I found her something of a nuisance, she had no qualms about forcing her company upon us, and her company was a check upon our talk. We escaped from Kitty whenever we could.

Kitty loved Hinkleton Manor, not for the beauty of it and the old historical associations with the Wisdon family, but for the comfort and luxury of its well-appointed rooms and trained servants. Even then, young as she was, Kitty loved luxury as a cat loves warmth.

“Wouldn't it be lovely to have a house like this?” she whispered to me one day when we had been bidden to tea at the Manor, and were waiting in the drawing room for our hosts to appear. “When I'm grown up I shall marry a rich man and have a house exactly like Hinkleton Manor.”

I laughed at the childish ambition.

“You can laugh if you like, Char,” Kitty said, “but you'll see I shall. I would be absolutely happy if I had a house like this for my very own.”

“You will have to find a husband first,” I said lightly.

“Yes,” she said thoughtfully.

“And the richest men are not always the nicest husbands.”

“I wouldn't mind,” she said, “not if I had a house like this. Wouldn't it be lovely not to have to make your own bed, and to have a fire in your bedroom every night, and lovely things to eat every day? I shall ask you to stay with me, Char.”

“That will be very kind of you,” I told her. “But perhaps I may have a husband of my own by then—and a house too.”

She looked at me curiously, and said no more. I wonder, now, what she was thinking. In some ways Kitty was older than I was, in other ways she was incredibly babyish for her years. It was a strange mixture and rather intriguing—you never knew which side of her nature was going to appear. I wonder, now, whether she was thinking that someday I might marry Garth and be mistress of Hinkleton Manor.

Chapter Four
The Birthday Dance

Garth's twenty-first birthday was the following May. He came down from Oxford with some friends and the old Manor woke to life. There was a cricket match on the village green and a garden party for the tenants and the villagers. It was a glorious day, warm and sunny and bright. I remember it as if it were yesterday, the marquee with the long tables of cakes and jellies, the crowd of excited children playing games in the big meadow.

***

After dinner there was a dance at the Manor for us. It was my first dance, I was eighteen. I had a new dress to wear for the occasion. The village dressmaker had made it for me. We had put our heads together over pictures and patterns and had evolved a masterpiece—or so we thought. It was a pale yellow net, full in the skirt, and reaching to my ankles. The bodice was of the cross-over pattern, like a fichu, and was softly draped to give fullness to my thin breast. An orange-colored rose nestled in the corsage. I thought it was beautiful, and indeed it was not a bad result for inexperience to achieve.

Mother came to my room when I was nearly ready, to help me, and give the finishing touches to my appearance. I saw surprise in her face as she stood in the doorway, leaning upon her stick which her rheumatism had made essential. “My dear,” she said softly, “you are quite beautiful!”

I was so touched at the unaccustomed praise that I took her in my arms. We kissed each other gravely. I shall always be glad to remember that.

I saw the same look of surprise and pleasure in Garth's face as I came down the wide stairs of the Manor into the hall, where the introductions and gay chatter which precede a dance were in full swing. He sprang up the stairs to meet me, and took my hand, whispering urgently that I was to keep all the waltzes for him—“All of them, Char.”

“All of them,” I agreed gravely.

The evening was full of excitement and pleasure—it is like a dream of happiness when I look back—I danced with Garth's Oxford friends and found an unexpected fount of conversation for them; I danced with Garth again and again. Mr. Wisdon took me in to supper, and I swept through the door like a ship in full sail.

It was the night of my life, Clare. I was so happy, so carefree. Nothing went wrong. My hair behaved beautifully, my dress was perfect, I was a success.

Garth walked home with me. I chose to walk, for the night was mild and dry, and I was too excited to feel tired or sleepy. There was no moon, but the path was familiar to our feet, we needed no light to find our way over that path. We strolled along together, and the red tip of Garth's cigarette glowed like a little beacon in the dark. We did not speak; speech would have broken the spell of enchantment which had fallen upon us. We understood each other so well that there was no need for words.

He took my hand as we climbed the steep slope, where the little path went zigzag among the gray rocks, and I felt the pulse racing madly in the firm clasp of his fingers. I was quite sure that Garth loved me, and I knew that I loved Garth—this was the perfect flowering of our perfect friendship. It did not need his kiss to tell me what I had become to him—I had known it all the evening and the knowledge had lifted me up and glorified me—but the kiss was very sweet.

We lingered for a few moments on the top of the hill—our own beloved Prospect Hill—even then we did not speak. We were very innocent, very young, and this strange new feeling for each other had frightened us a little. It was the end of a beautiful chapter in our lives—a new chapter had begun, just as beautiful, more so perhaps, but the chapter of our childhood's friendship was finished forever.

We went down the hill together hand in hand.

As we neared the Parsonage I saw the windows were lighted—the house, which should have been asleep at this hour, was wide awake—something must have happened. My heart leaped like a mad thing. While I had been enjoying myself at the Manor, something—something dreadful—had happened at home. Garth saw the lights too, he shared my fear. He drew my hand through his arm and we hastened down the slope and across the lawn. Martha must have been watching for my return, for the french window of the drawing room was flung open and her broad figure appeared at the top of the steps.

“What is it?” I cried, seizing her hand and gazing anxiously into her face, raddled with weeping. “What has happened? Oh, Martha, what has happened?”

She told me that my mother was dead.

Later, when Garth had gone, and I was alone with my father in the shabby old library I learned the few details of her death. We sat hand in hand watching the dawn come over the hill. “Her heart failed quite suddenly,” father said. “She was going up the stairs to bed. Martha and I carried her into her room and laid her on the bed. There was no time to fetch Dr. Gray. She lay for a few moments, breathing quickly, and then she whispered, ‘Don't send for Charlotte. Let her enjoy—tonight. She doesn't have much pleasure, poor child.'”

These were her last words; her last thoughts had been for me. I wished I had done more for her. I wished I had understood her better. I wept in father's arms.

BOOK: The Young Clementina
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