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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

Loftus looked straight in front of him


A

great tranquillity had fallen upon Mr. Loftus. He had made up his mind. After a turn along the terrace, he and Crack went into the little wood near the gardens, and sat down under the pink horse-chestnut-tree, just blushing into flower. It would have been difficult to put the arrangement into words, but there was a tacit understanding between the husband and wife that when Mr. Loftus sat under that particular tree he did not mind being interrupted. Sibyl generally fluttered out to him after he had been there a few minutes, though the wood was out of sight of the windows. And he waited for her to come to him now.

Spring had returned at last. But you might have walked through the wood and not known she was there: have seen only the naked trees, and the gray twigs of the alder, bleached white where the rabbits had bitten them in the frost. But if you had stopped to listen and look as Mr. Loftus did, you would have seen and heard her; seen her in the blue haze, and the mystery of change that lurked among the gray twigs, and in the rare primroses among the brown leaves; heard her in the persistent double-tongue of the chiff-chaff, and, not near at hand, but two trees away, in the ripple of the goldfinch, with a little question at the end of it. Is it a hint of immortality, that haunting desire and expectation of happiness which comes with the primroses, that longing for some future year when the spring shall bring with it no heartache, the autumn

no contrition; of another year, somewhere in the future, when the ills of life will be done away? Mr. Loftus looked straight in front of him, and his face took an expression as of one whose eyes are on a goal where even patience itself, so visible in every line of his quiet face, will at last with other burdens be laid aside.

She saw him before he saw her, as she came towards him. Her heart went out to him wistfully and passionately by turns. She longed to turn to him as a young wife turns to a young husband, and cry her heart out on his breast, and be petted, and caressed, and comforted. But she dared not. Whatever besides she was ignorant of, she had learnt certain things about her husband, and one of them was that she must never show her devotion unasked. And she was seldom asked. Her life was a constant repression of its greatest, its only real affection.

As she came towards him he roused himself and smiled at her. She sat down by him in silence. He had a single primrose in the buttonhole of his coat, and he took it out and drew it very gently through the Russian embroidery on her bodice.

'When I was young, Sibyl,' he said, 'I was convinced, and the conviction has never wholly left me, that flowers are God's thoughts which He sows broadcast in the hearts of all alike. But we will have none of them, and they drop unheeded to the ground. But the faithful earth receives them--thoughts despised and rejected of us--and nurses them in her bosom, and they come forth transfigured. And that is why, when we see them again, we love them so much, and feel akin to them.'

Her locked hands trembled on her knee.

'It must have been a beautiful thought that could turn into a lily,' he went on, noting, but ignoring, her emotion. 'I wonder, if it had fallen into a poet's heart, what it would have grown into. Nothing more beautiful, I think. And I know the primroses are first love. I have felt sure of that always. I wonder, my Sibyl, when there is so much in your heart for me, that there are any left to come out in the woods; but there are a few, you see, among the brown leaves.'

'They will soon be over,' said Sibyl, turning her head away.


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