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Chapter IV 


'T IS OF NICOLETE AND HER BOWER IN THE WILDWOOD

But I have all this time left the reader without any formal descriptive introduction to this whimsical young lady angler. Not without reason, for, like any really charming personality, she was very difficult to picture. Paint a woman! as our young friend Alastor said.

Faces that fall into types you can describe, or at all events label in such a way that the reader can identify them; but those faces that consist mainly of spiritual effect and physical bloom, that change with everything they look upon, the light in which ebbs and flows with every changing tide of the soul,--these you have to love to know, and to worship to portray.

Now the face of Nicolete, as I learnt in time to call her, was just soul and bloom, perhaps mainly bloom. I never noticed whether she had any other features except her eyes. I suppose she had a nose; a little lace pocket-handkerchief I have by me at the moment is almost too small to be evidence on that important point.

As I walked by her side that May morning, I was only conscious of her voice and her exquisite girlhood; for though she talked with the APLOMB of a woman of the world, a passionate candour and simple ardour in her manner would have betrayed her, had her face not plainly declared her the incarnation of twenty. But if she were twenty years young, she was equally twenty years OLD; and twenty years old, in some respects, is the greatest age attained to by man or woman. In this she rather differed from Alastor, of whom otherwise she was the female counterpart. Her talk, and something rather in her voice than her talk, soon revealed her as a curious mixture of youth and age, of dreamer and desillusionee.

One soon realised that she was too young, was hoping too much from life, to spend one's days with. Yet she had just sufficiently that touch of languor which puts one at one's ease, though indeed it was rather the languor of waiting for what was going to happen than the weariness of experience gone by. She was weary, not because of the past, but because the fairy theatre of life still kept its curtain down, and forced her to play over and over again the impatient overture of her dreams.

I have no doubt that it was largely nervousness that kept the mysterious playwright so long fumbling behind the scenes, for it was obvious that it would be no ordinary sort of play, no every-day domestic drama, that would satisfy this young lady, to whom life had given, by way of prologue, the inestimable blessing of wealth, and the privilege, as a matter of course, of choosing as she would among the grooms (that is, the bride-grooms) of the romantic British aristocracy.

She had made youth's common mistake of beginning life with books, which can only be used without danger by those who are in a position to test their statements. Youth naturally believes everything that is told it, especially in books.

Now, books are simply professional liars about life, and the books that are best worth reading are those which lie the most beautifully. Yet, in fairness, we must add that they are liars, not with intent to mislead, but merely with the tenderest purpose to console. They are the good Samaritans that find us robbed of all our dreams by the roadside of life, bleeding and weeping and desolate; and such is their skill and wealth and goodness of heart, that they not only heal up our wounds, but restore to us the lost property of our dreams, on one condition,--that we never travel with them again in the daylight.

A library is a better world, built by the brains and hearts of poets and dreamers, as a refuge from the real world outside; and in it alone is to be found the land of milk and honey which it promises.

"Milk and honey" would have been an appropriate inscription for the delicious little library which parents who, I surmised, doted on Nicolete in vain, had allowed her to build in a wild woodland corner of her ancestral park, half a mile away from the great house, where, for all its corridors and galleries, she could never feel, at all events, spiritually alone. All that was most sugared and musical and generally delusive in the old library of her fathers had been brought out to this little woodland library, and to that nucleus of old leather-bound poets and romancers, long since dead, yet as alive and singing on their shelves as any bird on the sunny boughs outside, my young lady's private purse had added all that was most sugared and musical and generally delusive in the vellum bound Japanese-paper literature of our own luxurious day. Nor were poets and romancers from over sea--in their seeming simple paper covers, but with, oh, such complicated and subtle insides!--absent from the court which Nicolete held here in the greenwood. Never was such a nest of singing-birds. All day long, to the ear of the spirit, there was in this little library a sound of harping and singing and the telling of tales,--songs and tales of a world that never was, yet shall ever be. Here day by day Nicolete fed her young soul on the nightingale's-tongues of literature, and put down her book only to listen to the nightingale's- tongues outside. Yea, sun, moon, and stars were all in the conspiracy to lie to her of the loveliness of the world and the good intentions of life. And now, thus unexpectedly, I found myself joining the nefarious conspiracy. Ah, well! was I not twenty myself, and full of dreams!

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