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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Courtship
By James Lane Allen (1849–1925)
 
From ‘A Summer in Arcady’

THE SUNLIGHT grew pale the following morning; a shadow crept rapidly over the blue; bolts darted about the skies like maddened redbirds; the thunder, ploughing its way down the dome as along zigzag cracks in the stony street, filled the caverns of the horizon with reverberations that shook the earth; and the rain was whirled across the landscape in long, white, wavering sheets. Then all day quiet and silence throughout Nature except for the drops, tapping high and low the twinkling leaves; except for the new melody of woodland and meadow brooks, late silvery and with a voice only for their pebbles and moss and mint, but now yellow and brawling and leaping back into the grassy channels that were their old-time beds; except for the indoor music of dripping eaves and rushing gutters and overflowing rain-barrels. And when at last in the gold of the cool west the sun broke from the edge of the gray, over what a green, soaked, fragrant world he reared the arch of Nature’s peace!  1
  Not a little blade of corn in the fields but holds in an emerald vase its treasures of white gems. The hemp-stalks bend so low under the weight of their plumes, that were a vesper sparrow to alight on one for his evening hymn, it would go with him to the ground. The leaning barley and rye and wheat flash in the last rays their jeweled beards. Under the old apple-trees, golden-brown mushrooms are already pushing upward through the leaf-loam, rank with many an autumn’s dropping. About the yards the peonies fall with faces earthward. In the stable-lots the larded porkers, with bristles as clean as frost, and flesh of pinky whiteness, are hunting with nervous nostrils for the lush purslain. The fowls are driving their bills up and down their wet breasts. And the farmers who have been shelling corn for the mill come out of their barns, with their coats over their shoulders, on the way to supper, look about for the plough-horses, and glance at the western sky, from which the last drops are falling.  2
  But soon only a more passionate heat shoots from the sun into the planet. The plumes of the hemp are so dry again, that by the pollen shaken from their tops you can trace the young rabbits making their way out to the dusty paths. The shadows of white clouds sail over purple stretches of blue-grass, hiding the sun from the steady eye of the turkey, whose brood is spread out before her like a fan on the earth. At early morning the neighing of the stallions is heard around the horizon; at noon the bull makes the deep, hot pastures echo with his majestic summons; out in the blazing meadows the butterflies strike the afternoon air with more impatient wings; under the moon all night the play of ducks and drakes goes on along the margins of the ponds. Young people are running away and marrying; middle-aged farmers surprise their wives by looking in on them at their butter-making in the sweet dairies; and Nature is lashing everything—grass, fruit, insects, cattle, human creatures—more fiercely onward to the fulfillment of her ends. She is the great heartless haymaker, wasting not a ray of sunshine on a clod, but caring naught for the light that beats upon a throne, and holding man and woman, with their longing for immortality, and their capacities for joy and pain, as of no more account than a couple of fertilizing nasturtiums.  3
  The storm kept Daphne at home. On the next day the earth was yellow with sunlight, but there were puddles along the path, and a branch rushing swollen across the green valley in the fields. On the third, her mother took the children to town to be fitted with hats and shoes, and Daphne also, to be freshened up with various moderate adornments, in view of a protracted meeting soon to begin. On the fourth, some ladies dropped in to spend the day, bearing in mind the episode at the dinner, and having grown curious to watch events accordingly. On the fifth, her father carried out the idea of cutting down some cedar-trees in the front yard for fence posts; and whenever he was working about the house, he kept her near to wait on him in unnecessary ways. On the sixth, he rode away with two hands and an empty wagon-bed for some work on the farm; her mother drove off to another dinner—dinners never cease in Kentucky, and the wife of an elder is not free to decline invitations; and at last she was left alone in the front porch, her face turned with burning eagerness toward the fields. In a little while she had slipped away.  4
  All these days Hilary had been eager to see her. He was carrying a good many girls in his mind that summer; none in his heart; but his plans concerning these latter were for the time forgotten. He hung about that part of his farm from which he could have descried her in the distance. Each forenoon and afternoon, at the usual hour of her going to her uncle’s, he rode over and watched for her. Other people passed to and fro,—children and servants,—but not Daphne; and repeated disappointments fanned his desire to see her.  5
  When she came into sight at last, he was soon walking beside her, leading his horse by the reins.  6
  “I have been waiting to see you, Daphne,” he said, with a smile, but general air of seriousness. “I have been waiting a long time for a chance to talk to you.”  7
  “And I have wanted to see you,” said Daphne, her face turned away and her voice hardly to be heard. “I have been waiting for a chance to talk to you.”  8
  The change in her was so great, so unexpected, it contained an appeal to him so touching, that he glanced quickly at her. Then he stopped short and looked searchingly around the meadow.  9
  The thorn-tree is often the only one that can survive on these pasture lands. Its spikes, even when it is no higher than the grass, keep off the mouths of grazing stock. As it grows higher, birds see it standing solitary in the distance and fly to it, as a resting-place in passing. Some autumn day a seed of the wild grape is thus dropped near its root; and in time the thorn-tree and the grape-vine come to thrive together.  10
  As Hilary now looked for some shade to which they could retreat from the blinding, burning sunlight, he saw one of these standing off at a distance of a few hundred yards. He slipped the bridle-reins through the head-stall, and giving his mare a soft slap on the shoulder, turned her loose to graze.  11
  “Come over here and sit down out of the sun,” he said, starting off in his authoritative way. “I want to talk to you.”  12
  Daphne followed in his wake, through the deep grass.  13
  When they reached the tree, they sat down under the rayless boughs. Some sheep lying there ran round to the other side and stood watching them, with a frightened look in their clear, peaceful eyes.  14
  “What’s the matter?” he said, fanning his face, and tugging with his forefinger to loosen his shirt collar from his moist neck. He had the manner of a powerful comrade who means to succor a weaker one.  15
  “Nothing,” said Daphne, like a true woman.  16
  “Yes, but there is,” he insisted. “I got you into trouble. I didn’t think of that when I asked you to dance.”  17
  “You had nothing to do with it,” retorted Daphne, with a flash. “I danced for spite.”  18
  He threw back his head with a peal of laughter. All at once this was broken off. He sat up, with his eyes fixed on the lower edge of the meadow.  19
  “Here comes your father,” he said gravely.  20
  Daphne turned. Her father was riding slowly through the bars. A wagon-bed loaded with rails crept slowly after him.  21
  In an instant the things that had cost her so much toil and so many tears to arrange,—her explanations, her justifications, and her parting,—all the reserve and the coldness that she had laid up in her heart, as one fills high a little ice-house with fear of far-off summer heat,—all were quite gone, melted away. And everything that he had planned to tell her was forgotten also at the sight of that stern figure on horseback bearing unconsciously down upon them.  22
  “If I had only kept my mouth shut about his old fences,” he said to himself. “Confound my bull!” and he looked anxiously at Daphne, who sat with her eyes riveted on her father. The next moment she had turned, and they were laughing in each other’s faces.  23
  “What shall I do?” she cried, leaning over and burying her face in her hands, and lifting it again, scarlet with excitement.  24
  “Don’t do anything,” he said calmly.  25
  “But Hilary, if he sees us, we are lost.”  26
  “If he sees us, we are found.”  27
  “But he mustn’t see me here!” she cried, with something like real terror. “I believe I’ll lie down in the grass. Maybe he’ll think I am a friend of yours.”  28
  “My friends all sit up in the grass,” said Hilary.  29
  But Daphne had already hidden.  30
  Many a time, when a little girl, she had amused herself by screaming like a hawk at the young guineas, and seeing them cuddle invisible under small tufts and weeds. Out in the stable lot, where the grass was grazed so close that the geese could barely nip it, she would sometimes get one of the negro men to scare the little pigs, for the delight of seeing them squat as though hidden, when they were no more hidden than if they had spread themselves out upon so many dinner dishes. All of us reveal traces of this primitive instinct upon occasion. Daphne was doing her best to hide now.  31
  When Hilary realized it he moved in front of her, screening her as well as possible.  32
  “Hadn’t you better lie down, too?” she asked.  33
  “No,” he replied quickly.  34
  “But if he sees you, he might take a notion to ride over this way!”  35
  “Then he’ll have to ride.”  36
  “But, Hilary, suppose he were to find me lying down here behind you, hiding?”  37
  “Then he’ll have to find you.”  38
  “You get me into trouble, and then you won’t help me out!” exclaimed Daphne with considerable heat.  39
  “It might not make matters any better for me to hide,” he answered quietly. “But if he comes over here and tries to get us into trouble, I’ll see then what I can do.”  40
  Daphne lay silent for a moment, thinking. Then she nestled more closely down, and said with gay, unconscious archness: “I’m not hiding because I’m afraid of him. I’m doing it just because I want to.”  41
  She did not know that the fresh happiness flushing her at that moment came from the fact of having Hilary between herself and her father as a protector; that she was drinking in the delight a woman feels in getting playfully behind the man she loves in the face of danger: but her action bound her to him and brought her more under his influence.  42
  His words showed that he also felt his position,—the position of the male who stalks forth from the herd and stands the silent challenger. He was young, and vain of his manhood in the usual innocent way that led him to carry the chip on his shoulder for the world to knock off; and he placed himself before Daphne with the understanding that if they were discovered, there would be trouble. Her father was a violent man, and the circumstances were not such that any Kentucky father would overlook them. But with his inward seriousness, his face wore its usual look of reckless unconcern.  43
  “Is he coming this way?” asked Daphne, after an interval of impatient waiting.  44
  “Straight ahead. Are you hid?”  45
  “I can’t see whether I’m hid or not. Where is he now?”  46
  “Right on us.”  47
  “Does he see you?”  48
  “Yes.”  49
  “Do you think he sees me?”  50
  “I’m sure of it.”  51
  “Then I might as well get up,” said Daphne, with the courage of despair, and up she got. Her father was riding along the path in front of them, but not looking. She was down again like a partridge.  52
  “How could you fool me, Hilary? Suppose he had been looking!”  53
  “I wonder what he thinks I’m doing, sitting over here in the grass like a stump,” said Hilary. “If he takes me for one, he must think I’ve got an awful lot of roots.”  54
  “Tell me when it’s time to get up.”  55
  “I will.”  56
  He turned softly toward her. She was lying on her side, with her burning cheek in one hand. The other hand rested high on the curve of her hip. Her braids had fallen forward, and lay in a heavy loop about her lovely shoulders. Her eyes were closed, her scarlet lips parted in a smile. The edges of her snow-white petticoats showed beneath her blue dress, and beyond these one of her feet and ankles. Nothing more fragrant with innocence ever lay on the grass.  57
  “Is it time to get up now?”  58
  “Not yet,” and he sat bending over her.  59
  “Now?”  60
  “Not yet,” he repeated more softly.  61
  “Now, then?”  62
  “Not for a long time.”  63
  His voice thrilled her, and she glanced up at him. His laughing eyes were glowing down upon her under his heavy mat of hair. She sat up and looked toward the wagon crawling away in the distance; her father was no longer in sight.  64
  One of the ewes, dissatisfied with a back view, stamped her forefoot impatiently, and ran round in front, and out into the sun. Her lambs followed, and the three, ranging themselves abreast, stared at Daphne, with a look of helpless inquiry.  65
  “Sh-pp-pp!” she cried, throwing up her hands at them, irritated. “Go away!”  66
  They turned and ran; the others followed; and the whole number, falling into line, took a path meekly homeward. They left a greater sense of privacy under the tree. Several yards off was a small stock-pond. Around the edge of this the water stood hot and green in the tracks of the cattle and the sheep, and about these pools the yellow butterflies were thick, alighting daintily on the promontories of the mud, or rising two by two through the dazzling atmosphere in columns of enamored flight.  67
  Daphne leaned over to the blue grass where it swayed unbroken in the breeze, and drew out of their sockets several stalks of it, bearing on their tops the purplish seed-vessels. With them she began to braid a ring about one of her fingers in the old simple fashion of the country.  68
  As they talked, he lay propped on his elbow, watching her fingers, the soft slow movements of which little by little wove a spell over his eyes. And once again the power of her beauty began to draw him beyond control. He felt a desire to seize her hands, to crush them in his. His eyes passed upward along her tapering wrists, the skin of which was like mother-of-pearl; upward along the arm to the shoulder—to her neck—to her deeply crimsoned cheeks—to the purity of her brow—to the purity of her eyes, the downcast lashes of which hid them like conscious fringes.  69
  An awkward silence began to fall between them. Daphne felt that the time had come for her to speak. But, powerless to begin, she feigned to busy herself all the more devotedly with braiding the deep-green circlet. Suddenly he drew himself through the grass to her side.  70
  “Let me!”  71
  “No!” she cried, lifting her arm above his reach and looking at him with a gay threat. “You don’t know how.”  72
  “I do know how,” he said, with his white teeth on his red underlip, and his eyes sparkling; and reaching upward, he laid his hand in the hollow of her elbow and pulled her arm down.  73
  “No! No!” she cried again, putting her hands behind her back. “You will spoil it!”  74
  “I will not spoil it,” he said, moving so close to her that his breath was on her face, and reaching round to unclasp her hands.  75
  “No! No! No!” she cried, bending away from him. “I don’t want any ring!” and she tore it from her finger and threw it out on the grass. Then she got up, and, brushing the grass-seed off her lap, put on her hat.  76
  He sat cross-legged on the grass before her. He had put on his hat, and the brim hid his eyes.  77
  “And you are not going to stay and talk to me?” he said in a tone of reproachfulness, without looking up.  78
  She was excited and weak and trembling, and so she put out her hand and took hold of a strong loop of the grape-vine hanging from a branch of the thorn, and laid her cheek against her hand and looked away from him.  79
  “I thought you were better than the others,” he continued, with the bitter wisdom of twenty years. “But you women are all alike. When a man gets into trouble, you desert him. You hurry him on to the devil. I have been turned out of the church, and now you are down on me. Oh, well! But you know how much I have always liked you, Daphne.”  80
  It was not the first time he had acted this character. It had been a favorite rôle. But Daphne had never seen the like. She was overwhelmed with happiness that he cared so much for her; and to have him reproach her for indifference, and see him suffering with the idea that she had turned against him—that instantly changed the whole situation. He had not heard then what had taken place at the dinner. Under the circumstances, feeling certain that the secret of her love had not been discovered, she grew emboldened to risk a little more.  81
  So she turned toward him smiling, and swayed gently as she clung to the vine.  82
  “Yes; I have my orders not even to speak to you! Never again!” she said, with the air of tantalizing.  83
  “Then stay with me a while now,” he said, and lifted slowly to her his appealing face. She sat down, and screened herself with a little feminine transparency.  84
  “I can’t stay long: it’s going to rain!”  85
  He cast a wicked glance at the sky from under his hat; there were a few clouds on the horizon.  86
  “And so you are never going to speak to me again?” he said mournfully.  87
  “Never!” How delicious her laughter was.  88
  “I’ll put a ring on your finger to remember me by.”  89
  He lay over in the grass and pulled several stalks. Then he lifted his eyes beseechingly to hers.  90
  “Will you let me?”  91
  Daphne hid her hands. He drew himself to her side and took one of them forcibly from her lap.  92
  With a slow, caressing movement he began to braid the grass ring around her finger—in and out, around and around, his fingers laced with her fingers, his palm lying close upon her palm, his blood tingling through the skin upon her blood. He made the braiding go wrong, and took it off and began over again. Two or three times she drew a deep breath, and stole a bewildered look at his face, which was so close to hers that his hair brushed it—so close that she heard the quiver of his own breath. Then all at once he folded his hands about hers with a quick, fierce tenderness, and looked up at her. She turned her face aside and tried to draw her hand away. His clasp tightened. She snatched it away, and got up with a nervous laugh.  93
  “Look at the butterflies! Aren’t they pretty?”  94
  He sprang up and tried to seize her hand again.  95
  “You shan’t go home yet!” he said, in an undertone.  96
  “Shan’t I?” she said, backing away from him. “Who’s going to keep me?”  97
  “I am,” he said, laughing excitedly and following her closely.  98
  “My father’s coming!” she cried out as a warning.  99
  He turned and looked: there was no one in sight.  100
  “He is coming—sooner or later!” she called.  101
  She had retreated several yards off into the sunlight of the meadow.  102
  The remembrance of the risk that he was causing her to run checked him. He went over to her.  103
  “When can I see you again—soon?”  104
  He had never spoken so seriously to her before. He had never before been so serious. But within the last hour Nature had been doing her work, and its effect was immediate. His sincerity instantly conquered her. Her eyes fell.  105
  “No one has any right to keep us from seeing each other!” he insisted. “We must settle that for ourselves.”  106
  Daphne made no reply.  107
  “But we can’t meet here any more—with people passing backward and forward!” he continued rapidly and decisively. “What has happened to-day mustn’t happen again.”  108
  “No!” she replied, in a voice barely to be heard. “It must never happen again. We can’t meet here.”  109
  They were walking side by side now toward the meadow-path. As they reached it he paused.  110
  “Come to the back of the pasture—to-morrow!—at four o’clock!” he said, tentatively, recklessly.  111
  Daphne did not answer as she moved away from him along the path homeward.  112
  “Will you come?” he called out to her.  113
  She turned and shook her head. Whatever her own new plans may have become, she was once more happy and laughing.  114
  “Come, Daphne!”  115
  She walked several paces further and turned and shook her head again.  116
  “Come!” he pleaded.  117
  She laughed at him.  118
  He wheeled round to his mare grazing near. As he put his foot into the stirrup, he looked again: she was standing in the same place, laughing still.  119
  “You go,” she cried, waving him good-by. “There’ll not be a soul to disturb you! To-morrow—at four o’clock!”  120
  “Will you be there?” he said.  121
  “Will you?” she answered.  122
  “I’ll be there to-morrow,” he said, “and every other day till you come.”  123
 
 
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