"THE HOUR FOR WHICH THE YEARS DID SIGH"
This unexpected awakening of an old tenderness naturally prevented my speaking any more of my mind to Sylvia that evening. No doubt the reader may be a little astonished to hear that I had decided to offer her marriage,--not taking my serious view of a fanciful vow. Doubtless Sylvia was not entirely suitable to me, and to marry her was to be faithless to that vision of the highest, that wonderful unknown woman of the apocalyptic moorland, whose face Sylvia had not even momentarily banished from my dreams, and whom, with an unaccountable certitude, I still believed to be the woman God had destined for me; but, all things considered, Sylvia was surely as pretty an answer to prayer as a man could reasonably hope for. Many historic vows had met with sadly less lucky fulfilment.
So, after dinner the following evening, I suggested that we should for once take a little walk up along the river-side; and when we were quiet in the moonlight, dappling the lovers' path we were treading, and making sharp contrasts of ink and silver down in the river-bed,--I spoke.
"Sylvia," I said, plagiarising a dream which will be found in Chapter IV.,--"Sylvia, I have sought you through the world and found you at last; and with your gracious permission, having found you, I mean to stick to you."
"What do you mean, silly boy?" she said, as an irregularity in the road threw her soft weight the more fondly upon my arm.
"I mean, dear, that I want you to be my wife."
"Your wife? Not for worlds!--no, forgive me, I didn't mean that. You're an awful dear boy, and I like you very much, and I think you're rather fond of me; but-- well, the truth is, I was never meant to be married, and don't care about it--and when you think of it, why should I?"
"You mean," I said, "that you are fortunate in living in a society where, as in heaven, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, where in fact nobody minds whether you're married or not, and where morals are very properly regarded as a personal and private matter--"
"Yes, that's what I mean," said Sylvia; "the people I care about--dear good people--will think no more of me for having a wedding-ring, and no less for my being without; and why should one put a yoke round one's neck when nobody expects it? A wedding-ring is like a top-hat,--you only wear it when you must--But it's very sweet of you, all the same, and you can kiss me if you like. Here's a nice sentimental patch of moonlight."
I really felt very dejected at this not of course entirely unexpected rejection,--if one might use the word for a situation on which had just been set the seal of so unmistakable a kiss; but the vision in my heart seemed to smile at me in high and happy triumph. To have won Sylvia would have been to have lost her. My ideal had, as it were, held her breath till Sylvia answered; now she breathed again.
"At all events, we can go on being chums, can't we?" I said.
For answer Sylvia hummed the first verse of that famous song writ by Kit Marlowe.
"Yes!" she said presently. "I will sing for you, dance for you, and--perhaps--flirt with you; but marry you--no! it's best not, for both of us."
"Well, then," I said, "dance for me! You owe me some amends for an aching heart." As I said this, the path suddenly broadened into a little circular glade into which the moonlight poured in a silver flood. In the centre of the space was a boulder some three or four feet high, and with a flat slab-like surface of some six feet or so.
"I declare I will," said Sylvia, giving me an impulsive kiss, and springing on to the stone; "why, here is a ready-made stage."
"And there," I said, "are the nightingale and the nightjar for orchestra."
"And there is the moon," said she, "for lime-light man."
"Yes," I said; "and here is a handful of glow-worms for the footlights."
Then lifting up her heavy silk skirt about her, and revealing a paradise of chiffons, Sylvia swayed for a moment with her face full in the moon, and then slowly glided into the movements of a mystical dance.
It was thus the fountains were dancing to the moon in Arabia; it was thus the Nixies shook their white limbs on the haunted banks of the Rhine; it was thus the fairy women flashed their alabaster feet on the fairy hills of Connemara; it was thus the Houris were dancing for Mahomet on the palace floors of Paradise.
"It was over such dancing," I said, "that John the Baptist lost his head."
"Give me a kiss," she said, nestling exhausted in my arms. "I always want some one to kiss when I have danced with my soul as well as my body."
"I think we always do," I said, "when we've done anything that seems wonderful, that gives us the thrill of really doing--"
"And a poor excuse is better than none, isn't it, dear?" said Sylvia, her face full in the cataract of the moonlight.
As a conclusion for this chapter I will copy out a little song which I extemporised for Sylvia on our way home to Yellowsands-- too artlessly happy, it will be observed, to rhyme correctly:--
Sylvia's dancing 'neath the moon, Like a star in water; Sylvia's dancing to a tune Fairy folk have taught her.
Glow-worms light her little feet In her fairy theatre; Oh, but Sylvia is sweet! Tell me who is sweeter!Next