Read A KNIGHT - VII of Villa Rubein and Other Stories , free online book, by John Galsworthy, on ReadCentral.com.

“I was in high spirits, but the next moment trembled like a man with ague.  I reached the orchard before my time.  She was not there.  You know what it is like to wait?  I stood still and listened; I went to the point whence I could see farthest; I said to myself, ’A watched pot never boils; if I don’t look for her she will come.’  I walked up and down with my eyes on the ground.  The sickness of it!  A hundred times I took out my watch....  Perhaps it was fast, perhaps hers was slow ­I can’t tell you a thousandth part of my hopes and fears.  There was a spring of water, in one corner.  I sat beside it, and thought of the last time I had been there ­and something seemed to burst in me.  It was five o’clock before I lost all hope; there comes a time when you’re glad that hope is dead, it means rest.  ‘That’s over,’ you say, ‘now I can act.’  But what was I to do?  I lay down with my face to the ground; when one’s in trouble, it’s the only thing that helps ­something to press against and cling to that can’t give way.  I lay there for two hours, knowing all the time that I should play the coward.  At seven o’clock I left the orchard and went towards the inn; I had broken my word, but I felt happy....  I should see her ­and, sir, nothing ­nothing seemed to matter beside that.  Tor was in the garden snipping at his roses.  He came up, and I could see that he couldn’t look me in the face.  ‘Where’s my wife?’ I said.  He answered, ‘Let’s get Lucy.’  I ran indoors.  Lucy met me with two letters; the first ­my own ­unopened; and the second, this: 

“’I have left you.  You were good to me, but now ­it is no use.

Eilie.’”

“She told me that a boy had brought a letter for my wife the day before, from a young gentleman in a boat.  When Lucy delivered it she asked, ‘Who is he, Miss Eilie?  What will Mr. Brune say?’ My wife looked at her angrily, but gave her no answer ­and all that day she never spoke.  In the evening she was gone, leaving this note on the bed....  Lucy cried as if her heart would break.  I took her by the shoulders and put her from the room; I couldn’t bear the noise.  I sat down and tried to think.  While I was sitting there Tor came in with a letter.  It was written on the notepaper of an inn twelve miles up the river:  these were the words.

“‘Eilie is mine.  I am ready to meet you where you like.’”

He went on with a painful evenness of speech.  “When I read those words, I had only one thought ­to reach them; I ran down to the river, and chose out the lightest boat.  Just as I was starting, Tor came running.  ‘You dropped this letter, sir,’ he said.  ’Two pair of arms are better than one.’  He came into the boat.  I took the sculls and I pulled out into the stream.  I pulled like a madman; and that great man, with his bare arms crossed, was like a huge, tawny bull sitting there opposite me.  Presently he took my place, and I took the rudder lines.  I could see his chest, covered with hair, heaving up and down, it gave me a sort of comfort ­it meant that we were getting nearer.  Then it grew dark, there was no moon, I could barely see the bank; there’s something in the dark which drives one into oneself.  People tell you there comes a moment when your nature is decided ­’saved’ or ‘lost’ as they call it ­for good or evil.  That is not true, your self is always with you, and cannot be altered; but, sir, I believe that in a time of agony one finds out what are the things one can do, and what are those one cannot.  You get to know yourself, that’s all.  And so it was with me.  Every thought and memory and passion was so clear and strong!  I wanted to kill him.  I wanted to kill myself.  But her ­no!  We are taught that we possess our wives, body and soul, we are brought up in that faith, we are commanded to believe it ­but when I was face to face with it, those words had no meaning; that belief, those commands, they were without meaning to me, they were ­vile.  Oh yes, I wanted to find comfort in them, I wanted to hold on to them ­but I couldn’t.  You may force a body; how can you force a soul?  No, no ­cowardly!  But I wanted to ­I wanted to kill him and force her to come back to me!  And then, suddenly, I felt as if I were pressing right on the most secret nerve of my heart.  I seemed to see her face, white and quivering, as if I’d stamped my heel on it.  They say this world is ruled by force; it may be true ­I know I have a weak spot in me....  I couldn’t bear it.  At last I Jumped to my feet and shouted out, ‘Turn the boat round!’ Tor looked up at me as if I had gone mad.  And I had gone mad.  I seized the boat-hook and threatened him; I called him fearful names.  ‘Sir,’ he said, ’I don’t take such names from any one!’ ‘You’ll take them from me,’ I shouted; ’turn the boat round, you idiot, you hound, you fish!...’  I have a terrible temper, a perfect curse to me.  He seemed amazed, even frightened; he sat down again suddenly and pulled the boat round.  I fell on the seat, and hid my face.  I believe the moon came up; there must have been a mist too, for I was cold as death.  In this life, sir, we cannot hide our faces ­but by degrees the pain of wounds grows less.  Some will have it that such blows are mortal; it is not so.  Time is merciful.

“In the early morning I went back to London.  I had fever on me ­and was delirious.  I dare say I should have killed myself if I had not been so used to weapons ­they and I were too old friends, I suppose ­I can’t explain.  It was a long while before I was up and about.  Dalton nursed me through it; his great heavy moustache had grown quite white.  We never mentioned her; what was the good?  There were things to settle of course, the lawyer ­this was unspeakably distasteful to me.  I told him it was to be as she wished, but the fellow would come to me, with his ­there, I don’t want to be unkind.  I wished him to say it was my fault, but he said ­I remember his smile now ­he said, that was impossible, would be seen through, talked of collusion ­I don’t understand these things, and what’s more, I can’t bear them, they are ­dirty.

“Two years later, when I had come back to London, after the Russo-Turkish war, I received a letter from her.  I have it here.”  He took an old, yellow sheet of paper out of a leathern pockethook, spread it in his fingers, and sat staring at it.  For some minutes he did not speak.

“In the autumn of that same year she died in childbirth.  He had deserted her.  Fortunately for him, he was killed on the Indian frontier, that very year.  If she had lived she would have been thirty-two next June; not a great age....  I know I am what they call a crank; doctors will tell you that you can’t be cured of a bad illness, and be the same man again.  If you are bent, to force yourself straight must leave you weak in another place.  I must and will think well of women ­everything done, and everything said against them is a stone on her dead body.  Could you sit, and listen to it?” As though driven by his own question, he rose, and paced up and down.  He came back to the seat at last.

“That, sir, is the reason of my behaviour this afternoon, and again this evening.  You have been so kind, I wanted! ­wanted to tell you.  She had a little daughter ­Lucy has her now.  My friend Dalton is dead; there would have been no difficulty about money, but, I am sorry to say, that he was swindled ­disgracefully.  It fell to me to administer his affairs ­he never knew it, but he died penniless; he had trusted some wretched fellows ­had an idea they would make his fortune.  As I very soon found, they had ruined him.  It was impossible to let Lucy ­such a dear woman ­bear that burden.  I have tried to make provision; but, you see,” he took hold of my sleeve, “I, too, have not been fortunate; in fact, it’s difficult to save a great deal out of L 190 a year; but the capital is perfectly safe ­and I get L 47, 10s. a quarter, paid on the nail.  I have often been tempted to reinvest at a greater rate of interest, but I’ve never dared.  Anyway, there are no debts ­I’ve been obliged to make a rule not to buy what I couldn’t pay for on the spot....  Now I am really plaguing you ­but I wanted to tell you ­in case-anything should happen to me.”  He seemed to take a sudden scare, stiffened, twisted his moustache, and muttering, “Your great kindness!  Shall never forget!” turned hurriedly away.

He vanished; his footsteps, and the tap of his stick grew fainter and fainter.  They died out.  He was gone.  Suddenly I got up and hastened after him.  I soon stopped ­what was there to say?