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Chapter X 


Next morning I was afoot early, bent on my quest in right good earnest; for I had a remorseful feeling that I had not been sufficiently diligent the day before, had spent too much time in dreaming and moralising, in which opinion I am afraid the reader will agree.

So I was up and out of the town while as yet most of the inhabitants were in the throes of getting up. Somewhere too SHE, the Golden One, the White Woman, was drowsily tossing the night-clothes from her limbs and rubbing her sleepy eyes. William Morris's lovely song came into my mind,--

`And midst them all, perchance, my love Is waking, and doth gently move And stretch her soft arms out to me, Forgetting thousand leagues of sea."

Perhaps she was in the very town I was leaving behind. Perhaps we had slept within a few houses of each other. Who could tell?

Looking back at the old town, with its one steep street climbing the white face of the chalk hill, I remembered what wonderful exotic women Thomas Hardy had found eating their hearts out behind the windows of dull country high streets, through which hung waving no banners of romance, outwardly as unpromising of adventure as the windows of the town I had left. And then turning my steps across a wide common, which ran with gorse and whortleberry bushes away on every side to distant hilly horizons, swarthy with pines, and dotted here and there with stone granges and white villages, I thought of all the women within that circle, any one of whom might prove the woman I sought,--from milkmaids crossing the meadows, their strong shoulders straining with the weight of heavy pails, to fine ladies dying of ennui in their country-houses; pretty farmers' daughters surreptitiously reading novels, and longing for London and "life;" passionate young farmers' wives already weary of their doltish lords; bright- eyed bar-maids buried alive in country inns, and wondering "whatever possessed them" to leave Manchester,--for bar-maids seem always to come from Manchester,--all longing modestly, said I, to set eyes on a man like me, a man of romance, a man of feeling, a man, if you like, to run away with.

My heart flooded over with tender pity for these poor sweet women--though perhaps chiefly for my own sad lot in not encountering them,--and I conceived a great comprehensive love-poem to be entitled "The Girls that never can be Mine." Perhaps before the end of our tramp together, I shall have a few verses of it to submit to the elegant taste of the reader, but at present I have not advanced beyond the title.

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