With a start of pain I recollected an old story about her childhood: that one day for the sake of her rights she had received a wound in one of her feet—how serious I had never known, but perhaps deforming, irremediable. My head was raised on the pillow; the moonlight was moving down that way; it would cross her feet; it would reveal the truth.
I turned my face away and closed my eyes.
It is nearly dark when I reach home from town these January evenings. However the cold may sting the face and dart inward to the marrow, Georgiana is waiting at the yard gate to meet me, so hooded and shawled and ringed about with petticoats—like a tree within its layers of bark—that she looks like the most thick-set of ordinary sized women; for there is a heavenly but very human secret hiding in this household now, and she is thoughtfully keeping it.
“We press our half-frozen cheeks together, as red as wine-sap apples, and grope for each other’s hand through our big lamb’s-wool mittens, and warm our hearts with the laughter in each other’s eyes. One evening she feigned to be mounted on guard, pacing to and fro inside the gate, against which rested an enormous icicle. When I started to enter she seized the icicle, presented arms, and demanded the countersign.
“Love, captain,” I said, “If it be not that, slay me at your feet!”
She threw away her great white spear and put her arms around my neck.
“It is ‘Peace,’” she said. “But I desert to the enemy.”
Without going to my fireside that evening I hurried on to the stable; for I do not relinquish to my servants the office of feeding my stock.
Believe in the divine rights of kings I never shall, except in the divine right to be kingly men, which all men share; but truly a divine right lies for any man in the ownership of a comfortable barn in winter. It is the feudal castle of the farm to the lower animals, who dwell in the Dark Ages of their kind—dwell on and on in affection, submission, and trust, while their lord demands of them their labor, their sustenance, or their life.
Of a winter’s day, when these poor dumb serfs have been scattered over the portionless earth, how often they look towards this fortress and lift up their voices with cries for night to come; the horses, ruffled and shivering, with their tails to the wind, as they snap their frosted fodder, or paw through the rime to the frozen grass underneath, causing their icy fetlocks to rattle about their hoofs; the cattle, crowded to leeward of some deep-buried haystack, the exposed side of the outermost of them white with whirling flakes; the sheep, turning their pitiful, trusting eyes about them over the fields of storm in earth and sky!