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Chapter III 


TWO TOWN MICE AT A COUNTRY INN.

When I reached the Wheel of Pleasure, I found Rosalind awaiting me in the coffee- room, looking fresh from a traveller's toilette, and with the welcome news that dinner was on the way. By the time I had washed off the day's dust it was ready, and a merry meal it proved. Rosalind had none of Alastor's objections to the wine-list, so we drank an excellent champagne; and as there seemed to be no one in the hotel but ourselves, we made ourselves at home and talked and laughed, none daring to make us afraid.

At first, on sitting down to table, we had grown momentarily shy, with one of those sudden freaks of self-consciousness which occasionally surprise one, when, midway in some slightly unconventional situation to which the innocence of nature has led us, we realise it--"for an instant and no more."

Positively, I think that in the embarrassment of that instant I had made some inspired remark to Rosalind about the lovely country which lay dreamy in the afterglow outside our window. Oh, yes, I remember the very words. They were "What a heavenly landscape!" or something equally striking.

"Yes," Rosalind had answered, "it is almost as beautiful as the Strand!"

If I'd known her better, I should have exclaimed, "You dear!" and I think it possible that I did say something to that effect,--perhaps "You dear woman!" At all events, the veil of self-consciousness was rent in twain at that remark, and our spirits rushed together at this touch of London nature thus unexpectedly revealed.

London! I hadn't realised till this moment how I had been missing it all these days of rustication, and my heart went out to it with a vast homesickness.

"Yes! the Strand," I repeated tenderly, "the Strand--at night!"

"Indeed, yes! what is more beautiful in the whole world?" she joined in ardently.

"The wild torrents of light, the passionate human music, the hansoms, the white shirts and shawled heads, the theatres--"

"Don't speak of them or you'll make me cry," said Rosalind.

"The little suppers after the theatre--"

"Please don't," she cried, "it is cruel;" and I saw that her eyes were indeed glistening with tears.

"But, of course," I continued, to give a slight turn aside in our talk, "it is very wrong of us to have such sophisticated tastes. We ought to love these lonely hills and meadows far more.

The natural man revels in solitude, and wants no wittier company than birds and flowers. Wordsworth made a constant companion of a pet daisy. He seldom went abroad without one or two trotting at his side, and a skylark would keep Shelley in society for a week."

"But they were poets," retorted Rosalind; "you don't call poets natural. Why, they are the most unnatural of men. The natural person loves the society of his kind, whereas the poet runs away from it."

"Well, of course, there are poets and poets, poets sociable and poets very unsociable. Wordsworth made the country, but Lamb made the town; and there is quite a band of poets nowadays who share his distaste for mountains, and take London for their muse. If you'll promise not to cry again, I'll recall some lines by a friend of mine which were written for town-tastes like ours. But perhaps you know them?"

It will gratify my friend to learn that Rosalind had the verses I refer to by heart, and started off humming,--

"Ah, London, London, our delight, Great flower that opens but at night, Great city of the midnight sun, Whose day begins when day is done . . .Like dragon-flies the hansoms hover With jewelled eyes to catch the lover;"

and so on, with a gusto of appreciation that must have been very gratifying to the author had he been present.

Thus perceiving a taste for a certain modern style of poetry in my companion, I bethought me of a poem which I had written on the roadside a few days before, and which, I confess, I was eager to confide to some sympathetic ear. I was diffident of quoting it after such lines as Rosalind had recalled, but by the time we had reached our coffee, I plucked up courage to mention it. I had, however, the less diffidence in that it would have a technical interest for her, being indeed no other than a song of cycling a deux which had been suggested by one of those alarmist danger-posts always placed at the top of the pleasantest hills, sternly warning the cyclist that "this hill is dangerous,"--just as in life there is always some minatory notice-board frowning upon us in the direction we most desire to take.

But I omit further preface and produce the poem:--

"This hill is dangerous," I said, As we rode on together Through sunny miles and sunny miles Of Surrey heather; "This hill is dangerous--don't you think We'd better walk it?" "Or sit it out--more danger still!" She smiled--"and talk it?"

"Are you afraid?" she turned and cried So very brave and sweetly,-- Oh that brave smile that takes the heart Captive completely!

"Afraid?" I said, deep in her eyes Recklessly gazing; "For you I'd ride into the sun And die all blazing!"

"I never yet saw hill," I said, "And was afraid to take it; I never saw a foolish law, And feared to break it. Who fears a hill or fears a law With you beside him? Who fears, dear star, the wildest sea With you to guide him?"

Then came the hill--a cataract, A dusty swirl, before us; The world stood round--a village world-- In fearful chorus

Sure to be killed! Sure to be killed! O fools, how dare ye! Sure to be killed--and serve us right! Ah I love, but were we?

The hill was dangerous, we knew, And knew that we must take it; The law was strong,--that too we knew Yet dared to break it. And those who'd fain know how we fared Follow and find us, Safe on the hills, with all the world Safely behind us.

Rosalind smiled as I finished. "I'm afraid," she said, "the song is as dangerous as the hill. Of course it has more meanings than one?"

"Perhaps two," I assented.

"And the second more important than the first."

"Maybe," I smiled; "however, I hope you like it."

Rosalind was very reassuring on that point, and then said musingly, as if half to herself, "But that hill is dangerous, you know; and young people would do well to pay attention to the danger-board!"

Her voice shook as she spoke the last two or three words, and I looked at her in some surprise.

"Yes, I know it," she added, her voice quite broken; and before I realised what was happening, there she was with her beautiful head down upon the table, and sobbing as if her heart would break.

"Forgive me for being such a fool," she managed to wring out.

Now, usually I never interrupt a woman when she is crying, as it only encourages her to continue; but there was something so unexpected and mysterious about Rosalind's sudden outburst that it was impossible not to be sympathetic. I endeavoured to soothe her with such words as seemed fitting; and as she was crying because she really couldn't help it, she didn't cry long.

These tears proved, what certain indications of manner had already hinted to me, that Rosalind was more artless than I had at first supposed. She was a woman of the world, in that she lived in it, and loved its gaieties, but there was still in her heart no little of the child, as is there not in the hearts of all good women--or men?

And this you will realise when I tell you the funny little story which she presently confided to me as the cause of her tears.

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