LORNA STILL IS LORNA
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Although a man may be as simple as the flowers of the field; knowing when, but scarcely why, he closes to the bitter wind; and feeling why, but scarcely when, he opens to the genial sun; yet without his questing much into the capsule of himself—to do which is a misery—he may have a general notion how he happens to be getting on.
I felt myself to be getting on better than at any time since the last wheat-harvest, as I took the lane to Kensington upon the Monday evening. For although no time was given in my Lorna’s letter, I was not inclined to wait more than decency required. And though I went and watched the house, decency would not allow me to knock on the Sunday evening, especially when I found at the corner that his lordship was at home.
The lanes and fields between Charing Cross and the village of Kensington, are, or were at that time, more than reasonably infested with footpads and with highwaymen. However, my stature and holly club kept these fellows from doing more than casting sheep’s eyes at me. For it was still broad daylight, and the view of the distant villages, Chelsea, Battersea, Tyburn, and others, as well as a few large houses, among the hams and towards the river, made it seem less lonely. Therefore I sang a song in the broadest Exmoor dialect, which caused no little amazement in the minds of all who met me.
When I came to Earl Brandir’s house, my natural modesty forbade me to appear at the door for guests; therefore I went to the entrance for servants and retainers. Here, to my great surprise, who should come and let me in but little Gwenny Carfax, whose very existence had almost escaped my recollection. Her mistress, no doubt, had seen me coming, and sent her to save trouble. But when I offered to kiss Gwenny, in my joy and comfort to see a farm-house face again, she looked ashamed, and turned away, and would hardly speak to me.
I followed her to a little room, furnished very daintily; and there she ordered me to wait, in a most ungracious manner. “Well,” thought I, “if the mistress and the maid are alike in temper, better it had been for me to abide at Master Ramsack’s.” But almost ere my thought was done, I heard the light quick step which I knew as well as “Watch,” my dog, knew mine; and my breast began to tremble, like the trembling of an arch ere the keystone is put in.
Almost ere I hoped—for fear and hope were so entangled that they hindered one another—the velvet hangings of the doorway parted, with a little doubt, and then a good face put on it. Lorna, in her perfect beauty, stood before the crimson folds, and her dress was all pure white, and her cheeks were rosy pink, and her lips were scarlet.
Like a maiden, with skill and sense checking violent impulse, she stayed there for one moment only, just to be admired; and then like a woman, she came to me, seeing how alarmed I was. The hand she offered me I took, and raised it to my lips with fear, as a thing too good for me. “Is that all?” she whispered; and then her eyes gleamed up at me; and in another instant, she was weeping on my breast.