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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

And upstairs to my own chamber


Oh!

the triple fool that I was! Yet who had ever taught me the ways of love, or what women mean, or what their hearts are like? If I had been one half the man that I thought myself, I would have seized her there, and forced back her foolishness with kisses, and vowed that, conspirator or not, she must have me; that we knew one another too well to play false coin like this. Or I should have blazed at her in return; and told her that she lied in thinking I was as base as that. Why, I should have just borne myself like a lover to whom love is all, and dignity and wounded pride nothing; for what else is there but love, sacred or profane, in the whole world that God has made? If I had done that! If only I had done that then! But I suppose that I was no lover then.

So I drew back, smarting and wounded; and let her go by; and a minute later I heard the door of her chamber slam behind her, and the key turn.

* * * * *

For myself I went out very slowly, five minutes after, and upstairs to my own chamber, and began to consider what things I must take with me on the morrow; for I would not stay another day in the house where I had been so insulted and denied.

CHAPTER VIII

Pride is a very good salve, when one has no humility; and it was Pride that I applied

to myself to heal the wounds I had.

I came down again to the Great Chamber, half an hour later, very cold and dignified, and danced again, like the solemn fool that I was, first with one and then with another; and all the while I told myself, like the prophet that "I did well to be angry"; and that I would shew her that no man, of my ability, could depend upon any mere woman for his content. Yet the pain at my heart was miserable.

It is very near incredible to me now how I, who truly knew something of the world, and of men and of affairs, could be so childish and ignorant in a matter of this sort. In truth this was what I was; I knew nothing of true love at all; how therefore should I be a proper lover? I saw my Cousin Tom, who mopped himself a great deal, eyeing me now and again; and he presently came up and asked me where Dolly was.

"In her chamber, I think," said I, with my nose in the air; and with such a manner that he said no more.

It was enough to break my heart to continue dancing; but it was the task I had set myself upstairs; and till near ten o'clock we continued to dance--but no Dolly to help us. I had even determined how I should bear myself if she came--and how superb should be my dignity; but she did not come to see it. We ended with singing "Here's a health unto His Majesty"; and I took care that my voice should be loud so that she should hear it. (I had even, poor fool that I was! walked heavily past her chamber-door just now, that she might hear me go.)

When all were gone away at last, I waited for my Cousin Tom, and then went with him into the parlour; where I told him very briefly all that had passed, with the same dignity that I had set myself to preserve. I even spoke in a high sort of voice, to shew my self-command and detachment. My Cousin Tom appeared as if thunderstruck.


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