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    Millicent and Another

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    Chapter 17
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    They were two quite small maidies, aged respectively four and six years
    with some odd months in each case. They are older now and have probably
    forgotten the stranger to whom they gave their fresh little hearts, who
    presently left their country never to return; for all this happened a
    long time ago--I think about three years. In a way they were rivals,
    yet had never seen one another, perhaps never will, since they inhabit
    two villages more than a dozen miles apart in a wild, desolate, hilly
    district of West Cornwall.

    Let me first speak of Millicent, the elder. I knew Millicent well,
    having at various times spent several weeks with her in her parents'
    house, and she, an only child, was naturally regarded as the most
    important person in it. In Cornwall it is always so. Tall for her
    years, straight and slim, with no red colour on her cheeks; she had
    brown hair and large serious grey eyes; those eyes and her general air
    of gravity, and her forehead, which was too broad for perfect beauty,
    made me a little shy of her and we were not too intimate. And, indeed,
    that feeling on my part, which made me a little careful and ceremonious
    in our intercourse, seemed to be only what she expected of me. One day
    in a forgetful or expansive moment I happened to call her "Millie,"
    which caused her to look to me in surprise. "Don't you like me to call
    you Millie--for short?" I questioned apologetically. "No," she returned
    gravely; "it is not my name--my name is Millicent." And so it had to be
    to the end of the chapter.

    Then there was her speech--I wondered how she got it! For it was unlike
    that of the people she lived among of her own class. No word-clipping
    and slurring, no "naughty English" as old Nordin called it, and sing-
    song intonation with her! She spoke with an almost startling
    distinctness, giving every syllable its proper value, and her words
    were as if they had been read out of a nicely written book.

    Nevertheless, we got on fairly well together, meeting on most days at
    tea-time in the kitchen, when we would have nice sober little talks and
    look at her lessons and books and pictures, sometimes unbending so far
    as to draw pigs on her slate with our eyes shut, and laughing at the
    result just like ordinary persons.

    It was during my last visit, after an absence of some months from that
    part of the country, that one evening on coming in I was told by her
    mother that Millicent had gone for the milk, and that I would have to
    wait for my tea till she came back. Now the farm that supplied the milk
    was away at the other end of the village, quite half a mile, and I went
    to meet her, but did not see her until I had walked the whole distance,
    when just as I arrived at the gate she came out of the farm-house
    burdened with a basket of things in one hand and a can of milk in the
    other. She graciously allowed me to relieve her of both, and taking
    basket and can with one hand I gave her the other, and so, hand in
    hand, very friendly, we set off down the long, bleak, windy road just
    when it was growing dark.

    "I'm afraid you are rather thinly clad for this bleak December
    evening," I remarked. "Your little hand feels cold as ice."

    She smiled sweetly and said she was not feeling cold, after which there
    was a long interval of silence. From time to time we met a villager, a
    fisherman in his ponderous sea-boots, or a farm-labourer homeward
    plodding his weary way. But though heavy-footed after his day's labour
    he is never so stolid as an English ploughman is apt to be; invariably
    when giving us a good-night in passing the man would smile and look at
    Millicent very directly with a meaning twinkle in his Cornish eye. He
    might have been congratulating her on having a male companion to pay
    her all these nice little attentions, and perhaps signalling the hope
    that something would come of it.

    Grave little Millicent, I was pleased to observe, took no notice of
    this Cornubian foolishness. At length when we had walked half the
    distance home, in perfect silence, she said impressively: "Mr. Hudson,
    I have something I want to tell you very much."

    I begged her to speak, pressing her cold little hand.

    She proceeded: "I shall never forget that morning when you went away
    the last time. You said you were going to Truro; but I'm not sure--
    perhaps it was to London. I only know that it was very far away, and
    you were going for a very long time. It was early in the morning, and I
    was in bed. You know how late I always am. I heard you calling to me to
    come down and say good-bye; so I jumped up and came down in my
    nightdress and saw you standing waiting for me at the foot of the
    stairs. Then, when I got down, you took me up in your arms and kissed
    me. I shall never forget it!"

    "Why?" I said, rather lamely, just because it was necessary to say
    something. And after a little pause, she returned, "Because I shall
    never forget it."

    Then, as I said nothing, she resumed: "That day after school I saw
    Uncle Charlie and told him, and he said: 'What! you allowed that tramp
    to kiss you! then I don't want to take you on my knee any more--you've
    lowered yourself too much."

    "Did he dare to say that?" I returned.

    "Yes, that's what Uncle Charlie said, but it makes no difference. I
    told him you were not a tramp, Mr. Hudson, and he said you could call
    yourself Mister-what-you-liked but you were a tramp all the same,
    nothing but a common tramp, and that I ought to be ashamed of myself.
    'You've disgraced the family,' that's what he said, but I don't care--I
    shall never forget it, the morning you went away and took me up in your
    arms and kissed me."

    Here was a revelation! It saddened me, and I made no reply although I
    think she expected one. And so after a minute or two of uncomfortable
    silence she repeated that she would never forget it. For all the time I
    was thinking of another and sweeter one who was also a person of
    importance in her own home and village over a dozen miles away.

    In thoughtful silence we finished our talk; then there were lights and
    tea and general conversation; and if Millicent had intended returning
    to the subject she found no opportunity then or afterwards.

    It was better so, seeing that the other character possessed my whole
    heart. _She_ was not intellectual; no one would have said of her,
    for example, that she would one day blossom into a second Emily Bronte;
    that to future generations her wild moorland village would be the
    Haworth of the West. She was perhaps something better--a child of earth
    and sun, exquisite, with her flossy hair a shining chestnut gold, her
    eyes like the bugloss, her whole face like a flower or rather like a
    ripe peach in bloom and colour; we are apt to associate these delicious
    little beings with flavours as well as fragrances. But I am not going
    to be so foolish as to attempt to describe her.

    Our first meeting was at the village spring, where the women came with
    pails and pitchers for water; she came, and sitting on the stone rim of
    the basin into which the water gushed, regarded me smilingly, with
    questioning eyes. I started a conversation, but though smiling she was
    shy. Luckily I had my luncheon, which consisted of fruit, in my
    satchel, and telling her about it she grew interested and confessed to
    me that of all good things fruit was what she loved best. I then opened
    my stores, and selecting the brightest yellow and richest purple
    fruits, told her that they were for her--on one condition--that she
    would love me and give me a kiss. And she consented and came to me. O
    that kiss! And what more can I find to say of it? Why nothing, unless
    one of the poets, Crawshaw for preference, can tell me. "My song," I
    might say with that mystic, after an angel had kissed him in the

    Tasted of that breakfast all day long.

    From that time we got on swimmingly, and were much in company, for
    soon, just to be near her, I went to stay at her village. I then made
    the discovery that Mab, for that is what they called her, although so
    unlike, so much softer and sweeter than Millicent, was yet like her in
    being a child of character and of an indomitable will. She never cried,
    never argued, or listened to arguments, never demonstrated after the
    fashion of wilful children generally, by throwing herself down
    screaming and kicking; she simply very gently insisted on having her
    own way and living her own life. In the end she always got it, and the
    beautiful thing was that she never wanted to be naughty or do anything
    really wrong! She took a quite wonderful interest in the life of the
    little community, and would always be where others were, especially
    when any gathering took place. Thus, long before I knew her at the age
    of four, she made the discovery that the village children, or most of
    them, passed much of their time in school, and to school she
    accordingly resolved to go. Her parents opposed, and talked seriously
    to her and used force to restrain her, but she overcame them in the
    end, and to the school they had to take her, where she was refused
    admission on account of her tender years. But she had resolved to go,
    and go she would; she laid siege to the schoolmistress, to the vicar,
    who told me how day after day she would come to the door of the
    vicarage, and the parlour-maid would come rushing into his study to
    announce, "Miss Mab to speak to you Sir," and how he would talk
    seriously to her, and then tell her to run home to her mother and be a
    good child. But it was all in vain, and in the end, because of her
    importunity or sweetness, he had to admit her.

    When I went, during school hours, to give a talk to the children, there
    I found Mab, one of the forty, sitting with her book, which told her
    nothing, in her little hands. She listened to the talk with an
    appearance of interest, although understanding nothing, her bugloss
    eyes on me, encouraging me with a very sweet smile, whenever I looked
    her way.

    It was the same about attending church. Her parents went to one service
    on Sundays; she insisted on going to all three, and would sit and stand
    and kneel, book in hand, as if taking a part in it all, but always when
    you looked at her, her eyes would meet yours and the sweet smile would
    come to her lips.

    I had been told by her mother that Mab would not have dolls and toys,
    and this fact, recalled at an opportune moment, revealed to me her
    secret mind--her baby philosophy. We, the inhabitants of the village,
    grown-ups and children as well as the domestic animals, were her
    playmates and playthings, so that she was independent of sham blue-eyed
    babies made of sawdust and cotton and inanimate fluffy Teddy-bears; she
    was in possession of the real thing! The cottages, streets, the church
    and school, the fields and rocks and hills and sea and sky were all
    contained in her nursery or playground; and we, her fellow-beings, were
    all occupied from morn to night in an endless complicated game, which
    varied from day to day according to the weather and time of year, and
    had many beautiful surprises. She didn't understand it all, but was
    determined to be in it and get all the fun she could out of it. This
    mental attitude came out strikingly one day when we had a funeral--
    always a feast to the villagers; that is to say, an emotional feast;
    and on this occasion the circumstances made the ceremony a peculiarly
    impressive one.

    A young man, well known and generally liked, son of a small farmer,
    died with tragic suddenness, and the little stone farm-house being
    situated away on the borders of the parish, the funeral procession had
    a considerable distance to walk to the village. To the church I went to
    view its approach; built on a rock, the church stands high in the
    centre of the village, and from the broad stone steps in front one got
    a fine view of the inland country and of the procession like an immense
    black serpent winding along over green fields and stiles, now
    disappearing in some hollow ground or behind grey masses of rock, then
    emerging on the sight, and the voices of the singers bursting out loud
    and clear in that still atmosphere.

    When I arrived on the steps Mab was already there; the whole village
    would be at that spot presently, but she was first. On that morning no
    sooner had she heard that the funeral was going to take place than she
    gave herself a holiday from school and made her docile mother dress her
    in her daintiest clothes. She welcomed me with a glad face and put her
    wee hand in mine; then the villagers--all those not in the procession--
    began to arrive, and very soon we were in the middle of a throng; then,
    as the six coffin-bearers came slowly toiling up the many steps, and
    the singing all at once grew loud and swept as a big wave of sound over
    us, the people were shaken with emotion, and all the faces, even of the
    oldest men, were wet with tears--all except ours, Mab's and mine.

    Our tearless condition--our ability to keep dry when it was raining, so
    to say--resulted from quite different causes. Mine just then were the
    eyes of a naturalist curiously observing the demeanour of the beings
    around me. To Mab the whole spectacle was an act, an interlude, or
    scene in that wonderful endless play which was a perpetual delight to
    witness and in which she too was taking a part. And to see all her
    friends, her grown-up playmates, enjoying themselves in this unusual
    way, marching in a procession to the church, dressed in black, singing
    hymns with tears in their eyes--why, this was even better than school
    or Sunday service, romps in the playground or a children's tea. Every
    time I looked down at my little mate she lifted a rosy face to mine
    with her sweetest smile and bugloss eyes aglow with ineffable
    happiness. And now that we are far apart my loveliest memory of her is
    as she appeared then. I would not spoil that lovely image by going back
    to look at her again. Three years! It was said of Lewis Carroll that he
    ceased to care anything about his little Alices when they had come to
    the age of ten. Seven is my limit: they are perfect then: but in Mab's
    case the peculiar exquisite charm could hardly have lasted beyond the
    age of six.
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