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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 12
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    It seemed to me now that I had never really lived before so sweet was
    this new life--so healthy, and free from care and regret. The old life,
    which I had lived in cities, was less in my thoughts on each succeeding
    day; it came to me now like the memory of a repulsive dream, which I was
    only too glad to forget. How I had ever found that listless, worn-out,
    luxurious, do-nothing existence endurable, seemed a greater mystery
    every morning, when I went forth to my appointed task in the fields or
    the workhouse, so natural and so pleasant did it now seem to labor with
    my own hands, and to eat my bread in the sweat of my face. If there was
    one kind of work I preferred above all others, it was wood-cutting, and
    as a great deal of timber was required at this season, I was allowed to
    follow my own inclination. In the forest, a couple of miles from the
    house, several tough old giants--chiefly oak, chestnut, elm, and
    beech--had been marked out for destruction: in some cases because they
    had been scorched and riven by lightnings, and were an eyesore; in
    others, because time had robbed them of their glory, withering their
    long, desolate arms, and bestowing on their crowns that lusterless,
    scanty foliage which has a mournful meaning, like the thin white hairs
    on the bowed head of a very old man. At this distance from the house I
    could freely indulge my propensity for singing, albeit in that coarser
    tone which had failed to win favor with my new friends.

    Among the grand trees, out of earshot of them all, I could shout aloud
    to my heart's content, rejoicing in the boisterous old English ballads,
    which, like John Peele's view-hallo,

    _"Might awaken the dead
    Or the fox from his lair in the morning."_

    Meanwhile, with the frantic energy of a Gladstone out of office, I plied
    my ax, its echoing strokes making fit accompaniment to my strains, until
    for many yards about me the ground was littered with white and yellow
    chips; then, exhausted with my efforts, I would sit down to rest and eat
    my simple midday fare, to admire myself in my deep-green and chocolate
    working-dress, and, above everything, to think and dream of Yoletta.

    * * * * *

    In my walks to and from the forest I cast many a wistful look at a
    solitary flat-topped hill, almost a mountain in height, which stood two
    or three miles from the house, north of it, on the other side of the
    river. From its summit I felt sure that a very extensive view of the
    surrounding country might be had, and I often wished to pay this hill a
    visit. One afternoon, while taking my lesson in reading, I mentioned
    this desire to Yoletta.

    "Come, then, let us go there now," said she, laying the tablets aside.

    I joyfully agreed: I had never walked alone with her, nor, in fact, with
    her at all, since that first day when she had placed her hand in mine;
    and now we were so much nearer in heart to each other.

    She led me to a point, half a mile from the house, where the stream
    rushed noisily over its stony bed and formed numerous deep channels
    between the rocks, and one could cross over by jumping from rock to
    rock. Yoletta led the way, leaping airily from stone to stone, while I,
    anxious to escape a wetting, followed her with caution; but when I was
    safe over, and thought our delightful walk was about to begin, she
    suddenly started off towards the hill at a swift pace, which quickly
    left me far behind. Finding that I could not overtake her, I shouted to
    her to wait for me; then she stood still until I was within three or
    four yards Of her, when off she fled like the wind once more. At length
    she reached the foot of the hill, and sat down there until I joined her.

    "For goodness sake, Yoletta, let us behave like rational beings and walk
    quietly," I was beginning, when away she went again, dancing up the
    mountain-side with a tireless energy that amazed as well as exasperated
    me. "Wait for me just once more," I screamed after her; then, half-way
    up the side, she stopped and sat down on a stone.

    "Now my chance has come," thought I, ready to make up for insufficient
    speed and wind by superior cunning, which would make us equal. "I will
    go quietly up and catch her napping, and hold her fast by the arm until
    the walk is finished. So far it has been nothing but a mad chase."

    Slowly I toiled on, and then, when I got near her and was just about to
    execute my plan, she started nimbly away, with a merry laugh, and never
    paused again until the summit was reached. Thoroughly tired and beaten,
    I sat down to rest; but presently looking up I saw her at the top,
    standing motionless on a stone, looking like a statue outlined against
    the clear blue sky. Once more I got up and pressed on until I reached
    her, and then sank down on the grass, overcome with fatigue.

    "When you ask me to walk again, Yoletta," I panted, "I shall not move
    unless I have a rope round your waist to pull you back when you try to
    rush off in that mad fashion. You have knocked all the wind out of me;
    and yet I was in pretty good trim."

    She laughed, and jumping to the ground, sat down at my side on the
    grass.

    I caught her hand and held it tight. "Now you shall not escape and run
    away again," said I.

    "You may keep my hand," she replied; "it has nothing to do up here."

    "May I put it to some useful purpose--may I do what I like with it?"

    "Yes, you may," then she added with a smile: "There is no thorn in it
    now."

    I kissed it many times on the back, the palm, the wrist then bestowed a
    separate caress on each finger-tip.

    "Why do you kiss my hand?" she asked.

    "Do you not know--can you not guess? Because it is the sweetest thing I
    can kiss, except one other thing. Shall I tell you----"

    "My face? And why do you not kiss that?"

    "Oh, may I?" said I, and drawing her to me I kissed her soft cheek. "May
    I kiss the other cheek now?" I asked. She turned it to me, and when I
    had kissed it rapturously, I gazed into her eyes, which looked back,
    bright and unabashed, into mine. "I think--I think I made a slight
    mistake, Yoletta," I said. "What I meant to ask was, will you let me
    kiss you where I like--on your chin, for instance, or just where I
    like?"

    "Yes; but you are keeping me too long. Kiss me as many times as you
    like, and then let us admire the prospect."

    I drew her closer and kissed her mouth, not once nor twice, but clinging
    to it with all the ardor of passion, as if my lips had become glued to
    hers.

    Suddenly she disengaged herself from me. "Why do you kiss my mouth in
    that violent way?" she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling, her cheeks
    flushed. "You seem like some hungry animal that wanted to devour me."

    That was, oddly enough, just how I felt. "Do you not not know, sweetest,
    why I kiss you in that way? Because I love you."

    "I know you do, Smith. I can understand and appreciate your love without
    having my lips bruised."

    "And do you love me, Yoletta?"

    "Yes, certainly--did you not know that?"

    "And is it not sweet to kiss when you love? Do you know what love is,
    darling? Do you love me a thousand times more than any one else in the
    world?"

    "How extravangantly you talk!" she replied. "What strange things you
    say!"

    "Yes, dear, because love is strange--the strangest, sweetest thing in
    life. It comes once only to the heart, and the one person loved is
    infinitely more than all others. Do you not understand that?"

    "Oh no; what do you mean, Smith?"

    "Is there any other person dearer to your heart than I am?"

    "I love every one in the house, some more than others. Those that are
    closely related to me I love most."

    "Oh, please say no more! You love your people with one kind of love, but
    me with a different love--is it not so?"

    "There is only one kind of love," said she.

    "Ah, you say that because you are a child yet, and do not know. You are
    even younger than I thought, perhaps. How old are you, dear?"

    "Thirty-one years old," she replied, with the utmost gravity.

    "Oh, Yoletta, what an awful cram! I mean--oh, I beg your pardon for
    being so rude! But--but don't you think you can draw it mild?
    Thirty-one--what a joke! Why, I'm an old fellow compared with you, and
    I'm not twenty-two yet. Do tell me what you mean, Yoletta?"

    She was not listening to me, I saw: she had risen from the grass and
    seated herself again on the stone. For only answer to my question she
    pointed to the west with her hand, saying: "Look there, Smith."

    I stood up and looked. The sun was near the horizon now, and partially
    concealed by low clouds, which were beginning to form--gray, and tinged
    with purple and red; but their misty edges burned with an intense yellow
    flame. Above, the sky was clear as blue glass, barred with pale-yellow
    rays, shot forth by the sinking sun, and resembling the spokes of an
    immense celestial wheel reaching to the zenith. The billowy earth, with
    its forests in deep green and many-colored, autumnal foliage, stretched
    far before us, here in shadow, and there flushed with rich light; while
    the mountain range, looming near and stupendous on our right, had
    changed its color from dark blue to violet.

    The doubts and fears agitating my heart made me indifferent to the
    surpassing beauty of the scene: I turned impatiently from it to gaze
    again on her graceful figure, girlish still in its slim proportions; but
    her face, flushed with sunlight, and crowned with its dark, shining
    hair, seemed to me like the face of one of the immortals. The expression
    of rapt devotion on it made me silent, for it seemed as if she too had
    been touched by nature's magic, like earth and sky, and been
    transfigured; and waiting for the mood to pass, I stood by her side,
    resting my hand on her knee. By-and-by she looked down and smiled, and
    then I returned to the subject of her age.

    "Surely, Yoletta," said I, "you were only poking fun at me--I mean,
    amusing yourself at my expense. You can't possibly be more than about
    fifteen, or sixteen at the very outside."

    She smiled again and shook her head.

    "Oh, I know, I can solve the riddle now. Your years are different, of
    course, like everything else in this latitude. A month is called a year
    with you, and that would make you, let me see--how much is twelve times
    thirty-one? Oh, hang it, nearly five hundred, I should think. Why am I
    such a duffer at mental arithmetic! It is just the contrary--how many
    twelves in thirty-one? About two and a half in round numbers, and that's
    absurd, as you are not a baby. Oh, I have it: your seasons are called
    years, of course--why didn't I see it before! No, that would make you
    only seven and a half. Ah, yes, I see it now: a year means two years, or
    two of your years--summer and winter--mean a year; and that just makes
    you sixteen, exactly what I had imagined. Is it not so, Yoletta?"

    "I do not know what you are talking about, Smith; and I am not
    listening."

    "Well, listen for one moment, and tell me how long does a year last?"

    "It lasts from the time the leaves fall in the autumn until they fall
    again; and it lasts from the time the swallows come in spring until they
    come again."

    "And seriously, honestly, you are thirty-one years old?"

    "Did I not tell you so? Yes, I am thirty-one years old."

    "Well, I never heard anything to equal this! Good heavens, what does it
    mean? I know it is awfully rude to inquire a lady's age, but what am I
    to do? Will you kindly tell me Edra's age?"

    "Edra? I forget. Oh yes; she is sixty-three."

    "Sixty-three! I'll be shot if she's a day more than twenty-eight! Idiot
    that I am, why can't I keep calm! But, Yoletta, how you distress me! It
    almost frightens me to ask another question, but do tell me how old your
    father is?"

    "He is nearly two hundred years old--a hundred and ninety-eight, I
    think," she replied.

    "Heavens on earth--I shall go stark, staring mad!" But I could say no
    more; leaving her side I sat down on a low stone at some distance, with
    a stunned feeling in my brain, and something like despair in my heart.
    That she had told me the truth I could no longer doubt for one moment:
    it was impossible for her crystal nature to be anything but truthful.
    The number of her years mattered nothing to me; the virgin sweetness of
    girlhood was on her lips, the freshness and glory of early youth on her
    forehead; the misery was that she had lived thirty-one years in the
    world and did not understand the words I had spoken to her--did not know
    what love, or passion, was! Would it always be so--would my heart
    consume itself to ashes, and kindle no fire in hers?

    Then, as I sat there, filled with these despairing thoughts, she came
    down from her perch, and, dropping on her knees before me, put her arms
    about my neck and gazed steadily into my face. "Why are you troubled,
    Smith-have I said anything to hurt you?" said she. "And do you not know
    that you have offended me?"

    "Have I? Tell me how, dearest Yoletta."

    "By asking questions, and saying wild, meaningless things while I sat
    there watching the setting sun. It troubled me and spoiled my pleasure;
    but I will forgive you, Smith, because I love you. Do you not think I
    love you enough? You are very dear to me--dearer every day." And drawing
    down my face she kissed my lips.

    "Darling, you make me happy again," I returned, "for if your love
    increases every day, the time will perhaps come when you will understand
    me, and be all I wish to me."

    "What is it that you wish?" she questioned.

    "That you should be mine--mine alone, wholly mine--and give yourself to
    me, body and soul."

    She continued gazing up into my eyes. "In a sense we do, I suppose, give
    ourselves, body and soul, to those we love," she said. "And if you are
    not yet satisfied that I have given myself to you in that way, you must
    wait patiently, saying and doing nothing willfully to alienate my heart,
    until the time arrives when my love will be equal to your desire. Come,"
    she added, and, rising, pulled me up by the hand.

    Silently, and somewhat pensively, we started hand in hand on our walk
    down the hill. Presently she dropped on her knees, and opening the grass
    with her hands, displayed a small, slender bud, on a round, smooth stem,
    springing without leaves from the soil. "Do you see!" she said, looking
    up at me with a bright smile.

    "Yes, dear, I see a bud; but I do not know anything more about it."

    "Oh, Smith, do you not know that it is a rainbow lily!" And rising, she
    took my hand and walked on again.

    "What is the rainbow lily?"

    "By-and-by, in a few days, it will be in fullest bloom, and the earth
    will be covered with its glory."

    "It is so late in the season, Yoletta! Spring is the time to see the
    earth covered with the glory of flowers."

    "There is nothing to equal the rainbow lily, which comes when most
    flowers are dead, or have their bright colors tarnished. Have you lived
    in the moon, Smith, that I have to tell you these things?"

    "No, dear, but in that island where all things, including flowers, were
    different."

    "Ah, yes; tell me about the island."

    Now "that island" was an unfortunate subject, and I was not prepared to
    break the resolution I had made of prudently holding my tongue about its
    peculiar institutions. "How can I tell you?--how could you imagine it if
    I were to tell you?" I said, evading the question. "You have seen the
    heavens black with tempests, and have felt the lightnings blinding your
    eyes, and have heard the crash of the thunder: could you imagine all
    that if you had never witnessed it, and I described it to you?"

    "No."

    "Then it would be useless to tell you. And now tell me about the rainbow
    lilies, for I am a great lover of flowers."

    "Are you? Is it strange you should have a taste common to all human
    beings?" she returned with a pretty smile. "But it is easier to ask
    questions than to answer them. If you had never seen the sun setting in
    glory, or the midnight sky shining with myriads of stars, could you
    imagine these things if I described them to you?"

    "No."

    "That word is an echo, Smith. You must wait for the earth to bring forth
    her rainbow lilies, and the heart its love."

    "With or without flowers, the world is a paradise to me, with you at my
    side, Yoletta. Ah, if you will be my Eve! How sweet it is to walk hand
    in hand with you in the twilight; but it was not so nice when you were
    scuttling from me like a wild rabbit. I'm glad to find that you do walk
    sometimes."

    "Yes, sometimes--on solemn occasions."

    "Yes? Tell me about these solemn occasions."

    "This is not one of them," she replied, suddenly withdrawing her hand
    from mine; then with a ringing laugh, she sped from me, bounding down
    the hill-side with the speed and grace of a gazelle.

    I instantly gave chase; but it was a very vain chase, although I put
    forth all my powers. Occasionally she would drop on her knees to admire
    some wild flower, or search for a lily bud; and whenever she came to a
    large stone, she would spring on to it, and stand for some time
    motionless, gazing at the rich hues of the afterglow; but always at my
    approach she would spring lightly away, escaping from me as easily as a
    wild bird. Tired with running, I at last gave up the hunt, and walked
    soberly home by myself, wondering whether that conversation on the
    summit of the hill, and all the curious information I had gathered from
    it, should make me the most miserable or the most happy being upon
    earth.
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