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"It seems to me just as imbecile, just as infernal, to have to go to the office on Monday," said Jonathan, "as it always has done and always will do. To spend all the best years of one's life sitting on a stool from nine to five, scratching in somebody's ledger! It's a queer use to make of one's...one and only life, isn't it? Or do I fondly dream?" He rolled over on the grass and looked up at Linda. "Tell me, what is the difference between my life and that of an ordinary prisoner. The only difference I can see is that I put myself in jail and nobody's ever going to let me out. That's a more intolerable situation than the other. For if I'd been-- pushed in, against my will--kicking, even--once the door was locked, or at any rate in five years or so, I might have accepted the fact and begun to take an interest in the flight of flies or counting the warder's steps along the passage with particular attention to variations of tread and so on. But as it is, I'm like an insect that's flown into a room of its own accord. I dash against the walls, dash against the windows, flop against the ceiling, do everything on God's earth, in fact, except fly out again. And all the while I'm thinking, like that moth, or that butterfly, or whatever it is, 'The shortness of life! The shortness of life!' I've only one night or one day, and there's this vast dangerous garden, waiting out there, undiscovered, unexplored."
"But, if you feel like that, why--" began Linda quickly.
"Ah!" cried Jonathan. And that "ah!" was somehow almost exultant. "There you have me. Why? Why indeed? There's the maddening, mysterious question. Why don't I fly out again? There's the window or the door or whatever it was I came in by. It's not hopelessly shut--is it? Why don't I find it and be off? Answer me that, little sister." But he gave her no time to answer.
"I'm exactly like that insect again. For some reason"--Jonathan paused between the words--"it's not allowed, it's forbidden, it's against the insect law, to stop banging and flopping and crawling up the pane even for an instant. Why don't I leave the office? Why don't I seriously consider, this moment, for instance, what it is that prevents me leaving? It's not as though I'm tremendously tied. I've two boys to provide for, but, after all, they're boys. I could cut off to sea, or get a job up-country, or--" Suddenly he smiled at Linda and said in a changed voice, as if he were confiding a secret, "Weak...weak. No stamina. No anchor. No guiding principle, let us call it." But then the dark velvety voice rolled out:"
"Would ye hear the story
and they were silent.
The sun had set. In the western sky there were great masses of crushed-up rose-coloured clouds. Broad beams of light shone through the clouds and beyond them as if they would cover the whole sky. Overhead the blue faded; it turned a pale gold, and the bush outlined against it gleamed dark and brilliant like metal. Sometimes when those beams of light show in the sky they are very awful. They remind you that up there sits Jehovah, the jealous God, the Almighty, Whose eye is upon you, ever watchful, never weary. You remember that at His coming the whole earth will shake into one ruined graveyard; the cold, bright angels will drive you this way and that, and there will be no time to explain what could be explained so simply...But to-night it seemed to Linda there was something infinitely joyful and loving in those silver beams. And now no sound came from the sea. It breathed softly as if it would draw that tender, joyful beauty into its own bosom.
"It's all wrong, it's all wrong," came the shadowy voice of Jonathan. "It's not the scene, it's not the setting for...three stools, three desks, three inkpots and a wire blind."
Linda knew that he would never change, but she said, "Is it too late, even now?"
"I'm old--I'm old," intoned Jonathan. He bent towards her, he passed his hand over his head. "Look!" His black hair was speckled all over with silver, like the breast plumage of a black fowl.
Linda was surprised. She had no idea that he was grey. And yet, as he stood up beside her and sighed and stretched, she saw him, for the first time, not resolute, not gallant, not careless, but touched already with age. He looked very tall on the darkening grass, and the thought crossed her mind, "He is like a weed."
Jonathan stooped again and kissed her fingers.
"Heaven reward thy sweet patience, lady mine," he murmured. "I must go seek those heirs to my fame and fortune..." He was gone.
Light shone in the windows of the bungalow. Two square patches of gold fell upon the pinks and the peaked marigolds. Florrie, the cat, came out on to the veranda, and sat on the top step, her white paws close together, her tail curled round. She looked content, as though she had been waiting for this moment all day.
"Thank goodness, it's getting late," said Florrie. "Thank goodness, the long day is over." Her greengage eyes opened.
Presently there sounded the rumble of the coach, the crack of Kelly's whip. It came near enough for one to hear the voices of the men from town, talking loudly together. It stopped at the Burnells' gate.
Stanley was half-way up the path before he saw Linda. "Is that you, darling?"
He leapt across the flower-bed and seized her in his arms. She was enfolded in that familiar, eager, strong embrace.
"Forgive me, darling, forgive me," stammered Stanley, and he put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to him.
"Forgive you?" smiled Linda. "But whatever for?"
"Good God! You can't have forgotten," cried Stanley Burnell. "I've thought of nothing else all day. I've had the hell of a day. I made up my mind to dash out and telegraph, and then I thought the wire mightn't reach you before I did. I've been in tortures, Linda."
"But, Stanley," said Linda, "what must I forgive you for?"
"Linda!"--Stanley was very hurt--"didn't you realize--you must have realized--I went away without saying good-bye to you this morning? I can't imagine how I can have done such a thing. My confounded temper, of course. But--well"--and he sighed and took her in his arms again--"I've suffered for it enough to-day."
"What's that you've got in your hand?" asked Linda. "New gloves? Let me see."
"Oh, just a cheap pair of wash-leather ones," said Stanley humbly. "I noticed Bell was wearing some in the coach this morning, so, as I was passing the shop, I dashed in and got myself a pair. What are you smiling at? You don't think it was wrong of me, do you?"
"On the con-trary, darling," said Linda, "I think it was most sensible."
She pulled one of the large, pale gloves on her own fingers and looked at her hand, turning it this way and that. She was still smiling.
Stanley wanted to say, "I was thinking of you the whole time I bought them." It was true, but for some reason he couldn't say it. "Let's go in," said he.
Why does one feel so different at night? Why is it so exciting to be awake when everybody else is asleep? Late--it is very late! And yet every moment you feel more and more wakeful, as though you were slowly, almost with every breath, waking up into a new, wonderful, far more thrilling and exciting world than the daylight one. And what is this queer sensation that you're a conspirator? Lightly, stealthily you move about your room. You take something off the dressing-table and put it down again without a sound. And everything, even the bed-post, knows you, responds, shares your secret...
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Mansfield's Short Stories -by- Katherine Mansfield