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on the barge, who proved herself to be the most charming young person I ever met—with one exception, of course."
“Of course," said Freda.
“ Yes. She was not at all like what I expected a barge girl would be like ; she was very beautiful, and refined, and I might say intellectual ; and - how absurdly difficult it seems to describe her! I have described so many women in writing, it's odd I can't do it now.”
“I think I know the reason," said Freda. “ What is it?"
This was the critical moment. Mr. Kennan felt in some mysterious way guilty of something for which Freda was now going to punish him. He glanced at her face, and as he glanced that troublesome, haunting chord of memory was set twanging and vibrating again in his mind. He was annoyed that he could not trace it; he groped vainly for it in the crowd of shadowy memories. “I wish I were not so vague,” he said to himself.
“ Because you are in love with her," was Freda's answer.
“ Yes," he said slowly, “I am. That's what I came here to tell you. It may seem rather strange that I should come and ask your advice about it, considering all things."
“Yes, considering all things, my friend. But all things, you know, were seven years ago ; and we came to an understanding then, didn't we ? ”
“Yes, we did; and we have been old friends ever since. Your answer then was final, you know, and I gave it up.”
* Of course," said Freda. “What else could you do? We are much better as we are.”
* We're getting on much more easily than I expected,” thought Mr. Kennan. “But she doesn't seem to have much feeling. How calmly she talks of it !-sensible, though, I suppose. You know, Freda,” he went on aloud, "if you had ever given me another chance —"
- But I didn't, you see, Oh!"
She had been twisting the corner of the worked tablecloth round and round her finger, and now she had somehow pulled a cup off and let it fall to the floor. It clinked, and fell into three pieces. Mr. Kennan hastily picked it up.
“Whatever made you do that ? ” he said, looking at her curiously. “I am afraid it's broken in three pieces."
He laid them on the table.
“Yes-like a three-cornered game. But they can be joined together again and made one, you know.”
“You look at them as if they were a kind of omen.”
“No; they only suggested an idea," said Freda, carefully joining the broken pieces together. “See! they join exactly!”
She put them on the tray again with a laugh.
Now I want to hear some more about your fairy queen.” Mr. Kennan pushed his chair back, and ran his hand through his hair to quicken his wits. “I can't describe her any more ; but she is all that is best in women. acquaintance with her began with my taking a sudden fancy to investigate a barge which was in difficulties at the bridge. I went on the barge as far as Wooldham, and before I had got there I think I was half in love with her. She appealed to me, I think, first of all by making a quotation from Landor.
That makes you smile ; but it is true, really. She has dark hair and eyes, and—do you know, I
My think she is a little-in fact, very much-like you. How very curious that is, now ! I thought when I saw her she reminded me of some one."
He paused, looking thoughtfully at her. 'I am flattered," said Freda.
She left her place and sank into the depths of a great soft arm-chair, where the light of the tall lamp behind left her face in shadow.
“Of course she was different,” continued Mr. Kennan. “But you must not think of her as a barge girl ; she is to every appearance a lady of the noblest make. I wish you could see her; you would love her.”
“My friend, I am only thinking that neither she nor any other woman can be really worthy of you."
Freda spoke with sudden earnestness, and the ring of loyal friendship in her voice warmed him.
“Ah !-well, I'll finish my little tale. The next day I went down to the wharf at Wooldham, and found the barge there. The captain is a fine, friendly fellow, who looks as if he had walked out of one of Dickens' books : perhaps one of Dickens' men grew out of his father or his grandfather. I was made welcome to go on his barge when I liked ; and by the end of that day, when we had got down to Carchester again, I was hopelessly in love with Mavis-that's her name; but the men call her Miss Nora - I don't know why. I don't exactly know what relation she is to them; but I didn't feel any great desire to know. I never so satisfied myself, if I may put it so, in conversation with any other woman.” He stopped a moment, and added, “Except you, Freda.”
Freda listened in perfect stillness, and when he had finished still remained silent, her hands laid on the arms of the big chair. “ Yes, my friend,” she said presently, “it's a good thing you and I came to a right understanding seven years ago. If knew you pretty well then, though I think I know you even better now. And do you remember why I told you that I could not answer ‘Yes' when you came and asked me here to be your wife? I see you do. I think I was cursed at my birth by some fairy godmother with one irresistible bent of mind: a wretched, cold, deliberate propensity for studying character. I can't help it. Every one I come across is a specimen of character to be examined-almost every one. father was being buried, I tried to find out the undertaker's character from his face ; yet, I had nearly killed myself with grief.”
She sat upright, bending a little forward, and resting her elbows on the arms of the chair. The firelight cast a red glow on her face and hair. Mr. Kennan felt himself startled at the likeness to that other face he had watched in the glow of flames. A strange sense of mystery began to creep into his mind, and he wondered, with a vague wonder that had a touch of fear in it, whether there was not some mystic spiritual connection between the two women who had come with influence into his life, or between the forms of them as he saw them. The little of metaphysics that he had read had left confused traces in his imaginative mind, bent by nature to the shadowy and the spiritual side of things; and this suggestion worked round and round in his head, troubling him much. It disturbed him so that he even forgot to note it as a literary idea, into which form most of his emotions were crystallised, and, so to speak, packed for transport.
"I think my analysing mind killed my affections,” continued Freda, “or put them under its foot. I looked at your character, not your heart, that day, and I read it clearly. You know what I found wanting there—that strong decision which is necessary for making a man. I have notions of my own about marriage. You and I, I saw-or thought I saw—would be firm friends, but an ill-assorted husband
When my go now.
and wife. I had often made up my mind I would never take a man for my husband who had any part of his character wanting in strength. So I told you I would never marry you; and we let that day slip out of our memory."
“Not out of mine, Freda.” Ah, well! perhaps not so much out of mine as I thought. But we will let it
And now, what is it you want to ask me?" Mr. Kennan made no answer. He was thinking of those days when he had been Freda's lover, more favoured than the rest, when she was but nineteen, and refused him with the coolness and gravity of a woman of thirty. It was she who had first found out that fatal flaw in his character, and dragged it to light, and overwhelmed him with it—his miserable lack of decision. And he recalled all the many hours, the best and fullest hours of his life, spent in this same drawing-room of hers, and the talk of books, men, philosophy, letters, but always the merciless detection of every little weak indolence and indecision, and the perpetual urging to a strength more worthy of a man who had the power to do work in the world. It occurred to him now that a great act of decisive triumph, a vindication of himself in her eyes, might win her yet; but the decision he was going to make would of itself lose her for him for ever.
Everything that this unfortunate gentleman undertook, whether in great things or small, seemed always to land him in some sort of a dilemma.
Never before had Freda shown a sign of any possibility that she might relent from her answer given seven years ago. There was surely a strange new tone of softness in her voice; and her face—that was in the shadow, and he could not spy traces there. Thoughts and pictures chased each other through his brain, spurred on by the utter stillness of the room and the world outside; and he could neither collect the one nor fix the mingling colours of the other.
Suddenly Freda rose and went to the piano, that stood in a corner, and, picking up a piece of music, played a few bars of an air, and then struck into a little song. She played and sang well, though very simply: Mr. Kennan had often sat long listening as she wandered on from melody to melody while evening drew silently in. And the notes of her piano and her low clear voice were well known in the quiet Precincts, so that sometimes when Mr. Kennan had left her and gone out through the garden gate he had surprised half a dozen enraptured loafers satisfying the unconscious soul of music in themselves, and lingering on, if by chance she might “ give them just one more.” This is what she sang now : the old-fashioned air suited it :-
"• What's in a name?
-So runs Love's claim,
Still with quick senses shall I feel thee near.” She sat silent at the end of the verse ; began another, and stopped at the first line ; then, turning round on her music-stool, looked at Mr. Kennan, saying nothing.
“ Elizabethan ?” he asked.
“Your own composition !-I congratulate you. Might I ask when you thought of it?"
“ Just a week ago, I think-on Monday afternoon, if you wish to be exact.” She twirled round again and played the air over, softly. Mr. Kennan sat in deep cogitation.
The sense of mystery passed nearer yet to positive fearfulness now : that was the very afternoon that he had first met his Mavis, and she had said to him, “What's in a name?”—and they had exchanged differing replies over the truth of it when translated to the sphere of living persons. The coincidence was too mysterious-it could not be merely a coincidence. Mr. Kennan mentally invoked Spiritualism, Psychology, and all Man's tappings at the Unseen ; but he retired from the search confused and puzzled. Meantime Freda's plaintive little melody stole about the room.
At last she came behind his chair and rested her hands lightly on his shoulders. “Dreaming of her ? ” she said gently. "Weil, what is the use of wasting time like this? I know well enough, I think, what this great difficulty of yours is that made you come to me. Isn't it this ? You love this girl—you wish to make her your wife; and you are afraid to do it because of what the world will say—because she is not of your class. You are afraid of making your own decision, because Society has decided one way for you already ? Isn't that just it ?”
Mr. Kennan nodded silently for answer, wondering what she was going to say. In truth, he felt in a most grievously undecided frame of mind just now. He heard her move away from behind him, and when she spoke again her voice came from near the window.
“Don't you see,” she said earnestly, “ that this is the moment for you to show once for all that you can decide, -to show that you are a complete man, to take your place and assert yourself without fear? I know you through and through, my friend. I have read your character till I have every line of it by heart; and I have longed to see there the one thing lacking. If
you give way to the fear of the world, if you deny your own heart, you will never, never, rise to this chance again. It is the turning of the pass; it is the dividing of the roads; a final decision, a defeat or a victory. If once you can boldly assert yourself you will have completed your character; you will be a man, equipped and self-reliant. And there is no finer existence in the world, beneath God Himself. What does Emerson say? * Follow the leading of your own genius?"
“Ah--Emerson !” murmured Mr. Kennan, more from the instinct of criticism than because he at all desired to dissent; "he made himself responsible for much when he wrote that essay.”
“Then put him aside. It is not a question of quotation, this. It is the call upon you, yourself—not what the world thinks you—to action ; to an action which means the reaching of a perfect character—as near perfect as can be-or the missing of it for ever.
“Come, my friend, be a man! be independent ! Do not think I am talking wildly, or that I do not know what Society is, and its conventionalities, and their good uses ; but this I know, that one great, independent, individual act—like this, will be the very salvation of your character. Believe me, to be true to one's own heart must lead to good ; and I know you too well to be afraid that you are not sure what your own heart points to. * To thine own self be true'- where does that come from ?-never mind, it does well enough. Shake off the cramping, miserable indecision that has nearly ruined your whole life; be a man, single and self-responsible: “to thine own self'—thy very noble self, my friend'be true !'”
She stood again behind him, with her hands resting on his shoulders ; and some strong impetus seemed to pass, with her words, from her being into his. He felt himself mounting, as on a great wave, to the bold height of Decision. “Yes," he said, after a moment's silence, “I think you are right,
man you thought worthy
a good woman you are! I wish you could—find some of you. I wish I might see you married.”
“Perhaps I shall be, after all !” said Freda lightly.
The barge lay once more by the black beams of the wharf at Wooldham. She had discharged her cargo of hay, and was taking on barrels of grey cement, brought from the innumerable factories that pollute the once fair river with abominations of reeking smoke. The barrels were being swung on board by a great, solemn, clanking crane, and stored down the hold ; and already the barge lay deep in the water. The heavy-banded skipper was directing the storage; he hailed Mr. Kennan with a hearty shout.
Mr. Kennan made no note of the scene; and the picturesque forms and colours, the pleasant clank of the toiling crane, the broad, shining stream, and the brown sails passing up and down, sent no message into his brain : his eye mechanically observed them, but they had no meaning for him, and found no comment. He came down the wharf with the preoccupied air of a man who has with difficulty strung himself to a great decision, which commands all his thoughts, calls on all his energies, and shuts out for the moment everything else.
“Yus-Miss Nora's in the cab’n,” said the skipper; “an' I reckon you be welcome there. She talks of you a deal, she do."
“Ah !” said Mr. Kennan; and went below.
She stood at the farther end of the long, low cabin, before the doorway that opened into her own private sleeping cabin beyond, perfectly still, as though she