The Man in Lonely Land - novelonlinefull.com
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"They ought to be cut." She stopped and unfastened a long tendril of intertwined honeysuckle and bridal-wreath which had caught her hair.
"Everything ought to be cut and fixed, only--"
"It would be beyond pardon. If any one should attempt to change this garden, death should be the penalty. One rarely sees such old-fashioned flowers as are here, never in modern places."
"No one knows when many of them were planted, and nothing hurts them." Stooping, Claudia picked from the ground a few violets and lilies-of-the-valley growing around the trunk of an immense elm-tree at the end of the path, then looked up.
"Don't let's go to the roses yet. I want to see what the sun-dial says. This is the way my great-grandmother used to come to meet my great-grandfather when she was a girl. Her parents wanted her to marry some one else. She would slip out of the house and down this path to that big magnolia-tree, from where she could see and not be seen, and it was there they made their plans to run away."
"We will go there. It looks like a very nice place at which to make plans."
Into Claudia's face color sprang quickly, and for a moment she drew back. "Oh no! It is too beautiful to-day to make plans of any kind.
It is enough to just--live. You haven't seen half of Elmwood yet, and you want to talk of--other things."
"I certainly do." Laine stepped back that Claudia might lead the way down the path, box-bordered so high that those within could not be seen outside, and smiled in the protesting face. A few moments more and they had come out to the front lawn on the left of the house and some distance below the terrace on which it overlooked the river, and as they reached a group of spreading magnolias he drew in his breath.
"I do not wonder that you love it. And I am asking you to leave it!"
She looked up. "Come, I want to show you some of the old things, the dear things, and then--"
"We will come back, and you will tell me what I must know, Claudia?"
She nodded and pulled the bells from the lily-of-the-valley she held in her hands. "We will come back and--I will tell you."
For an hour, in the soft glow of the sun now, sinking in the heavens, they wandered through the grounds and separate gardens of the old estate, now walking the length of the long avenue, shaded by great elms of more than century age, now around the lawn with its beds of bleeding-hearts and snowdrops, of wall-flowers and sweet-William, of hyacinths and tulips, with their borders of violets and cowslips, of candytuft and verbenas, and at the old sun-dial they stopped and read the hour. Picking an armful of lilacs and calicanthus and s...o...b..a.l.l.s and blue flags, planted in the days when the great trees were tiny saplings, they sent them in by Gabriel, who was following at a distance, blowing softly on his trumpet, and for some minutes stood in front of the house and watched the sun touch, here and there, the old brick laid in Flemish bond; then went back and sat down on the low seat under the big magnolia, from which the river could be glimpsed, and over which every now and then a white sail could be seen.
Behind them the sun sank. The ma.s.s of shifting gold and blue and crimson and pale purple lost little by little its brilliant splendor, and slowly over land and sky soft twilight fell, and only here and there was heard the song and twitter of birds as they made ready for the night.
For a few moments there was silence, and then in his Laine held the hands of Claudia.
"It is a wonder world, this old, old world of yours with its many things we have forgotten. And yet--you will come to me? You are sure at last, Claudia?"
"I am sure--at last." She raised her eyes to his. "I could not let you come until I knew that--all the homes in all the world would not be home without--"
"Without what, Claudia?"
"Without-- Why do you make me tell you when you know? You make me tell too much."
"You cannot tell too much. Claudia! Claudia!"
Overhead the birds chirped sleepily and one by one the stars came out. Presently Claudia drew herself away and smoothed her kissed and wind-blown hair. "I am such a queer person. I think you ought to know," she said, and again her shining eyes were raised to his.
"There are a great many things I don't care for, and I don't think the way some people do about a good many other things. I had to take long to be sure."
"It was very cruel, Claudia." He lifted her face to his and smiled in the confessing eyes. "My forgiveness proves the measure of my love. As proof of penitence, will you marry me in June?"
"I certainly--will--not!" Again she drew away. "Jacqueline will not get here until July. I told you she was coming home to live. You don't suppose I'd leave my mother before Jacqueline comes home?"
"In October, perhaps." Slowly the color crept to her temples. "It is so beautiful here in October. There isn't a month in all the year it will not hurt to leave." Sudden tears were in her eyes. "But it would hurt worse not to be--with--you. They were very long, Winthrop, the winter months that followed Christmas. You have very poor manners. You should have written first and told me you had enjoyed yourself instead of telling--"
"What I could no longer keep back? There was no time for manners. I had to know."
"But you didn't, and because I couldn't tell you. Before, I have always been so quick to know. To go away--with just you! I had to be so certain there was no other way of happiness." In the darkness she shivered slightly, and Laine drew her into his arms and held her close.
"Perhaps"--her voice was so low he had to bend his head to hear it--"perhaps it is because we are apart from the things that make one forget that I have thought more about what it should mean--what marriage should mean--than I might have done had there been no time to think. It is forever, Winthrop, this life that we are entering.
Are we very, very sure there's love enough to last?"
"I am very sure, Claudia." He lifted her hands to his lips and kissed them. "For me your love will make of life a--"
"Land that is not lonely?" Under her breath she laughed, to hide the sob in her throat. "Oh, Winthrop Laine, it is what love is for! And no one's land is lonely when there is love enough!"