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Chapter VIII 


THE KIND OF THING THAT HAPPENS IN THE MOON

Two friends of my youth, with whom it would be hopeless to attempt competition, have described the star-strewn journey to the moon. It is not for me to essay again where the ingenious M. Jules Verne and Mr. William Morris have preceded me. Besides, the journey is nowadays much more usual, and therefore much less adventurous, than when those revered writers first described it. In the middle ages a journey to the moon with a woman you loved was a very perilous matter indeed. Even in the last century the roads were much beset with danger; but in our own day, like most journeys, it is accomplished with ease and safety in a few hours.

However, to the latter-day hero, whose appetite for dragons is not keen, this absence of adventure is perhaps rather pleasurable than otherwise; and I confess that I enjoyed the days I spent on foot with Nicolete none the less because they passed in tranquil uneventfulness,--that is, without events of the violent kind. Of course, all depends on what you call an event. We were not waylaid by robbers, we fed and slept unchallenged at inns, we escaped collision with the police, and we encountered no bodily dangers of any kind; yet should I not call the journey uneventful, nor indeed, I think, would Nicolete.

To me it was one prolonged divine event, and, with such daily intercourse with Nicolete, I never dreamed of craving for any other excitement. To walk from morning to evening by her side, to minister to her moods, to provide such entertainment as I might for her brain, and watch like a father over her physical needs; to note when she was weary and too proud to show it, and to pretend to be done up myself; to choose for her the easiest path, and keep my eyes open for wayside flowers and every country surprise,--these, and a hundred other atten- tions, kept my heart and mind in busy service.

To picnic by some lonely stream-side on a few sandwiches, a flask of claret, and a pennyworth of apples; to talk about the books we loved; to exchange our hopes and dreams,--we asked nothing better than this simple fare.

And so a week went by. But, though so little had seemed to happen, and though our walking record was shamefully modest, yet, imperceptible as the transition had been, we were, quite insensibly indeed, and unacknowledged, in a very different relation to each other than when we had started out from the Morning Star. In fact, to make no more words about it, I was head over heels in love with Nicolete, and I think, without conceit, I may say that Nicolete was rapidly growing rather fond of me. Apart from anything else, we were such excellent chums. We got along together as if indeed we had been two brothers, equable in our tempers and one in our desires.

At last the feeling on my side became so importunate that I could no longer keep silence.

We were seated together taking tea at a small lonely inn, whose windows looked out over a romantic little lake, backed by Salvator Rosa pine-woods. The sun was beginning to grow dreamy, and the whole world to wear a dangerously sentimental expression.

I forget exactly what it was, but something in our talk had set us glowing, had touched tender chords of unexpected sympathy, and involuntarily I stretched out my hand across the corner of the table and pressed Nicolete's hand as it rested on the cloth. She did not withdraw it, and our eyes met with a steady gaze of love.

"Nicolete," I said presently, when I could speak, "it is time for you to be going back home."

"Why?" she asked breathlessly.

"Because," I answered, "I must love you if you stay."

"Would you then bid me go?" she said.

"Nicolete," I said, "don't tempt me. Be a good girl and go home."

"But supposing I don't want to go home," she said; "supposing--oh, supposing I love you too? Would you still bid me go?"

"Yes," I said. "In that case it would be even more imperative."

"Aucassin!"

"It is true, it is true, dear Nicolete."

"Then, Aucassin," she replied, almost sternly, in her great girlish love, "this is true also,--I love you. I have never loved, shall never love, any man but you!"

"Nicolete!"

"Aucassin!"

There were no more words spoken between us for a full hour that afternoon.

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