he asked breathlessly

t’s nearly dark, and the car’s only going on one leg . . . .” He pulled out a new-looking watch, and gave her the hour. “Oh, misery! can I make it? Well, I’ll have to try, or Lewis won’t have his suitcase till tomorrow; and he loathes borrowing pyjamas.” She stood poised in the dusk of the porch as if her outcry had given her wings; then she turned and held out her hand. This time Vance took it in his. “Well — so long. Don’t oversleep yourself! I’ll be on the stroke tomorrow,” she laughed.
She ran down the steps and scrambled into the car, and the Providence which cares for the improvident carried her to the station just in time for the arrival of the train from New York.
A perspiring throng was pouring out of the station, but she had to wait for some time before she was joined by a fair-haired young man in a light gray suit, whose movements had the deliberation of a nervous traveller determined to keep cool.
The two greeted each other with friendly familiarity. “I was afraid you’d get tired of waiting, and run away before I turned up,” the young man said, as he put himself and his suitcase into the motor, “but I didn’t want to get mixed up with that dripping crowd.”
She replied with a laugh that running away was the last thing the motor was thinking of, and that it was doubtful if they wouldn’t have to push her up the hill or drop her at a garage for repairs. But this did not seem to dismay him.
“I suppose Lorry’s been out in her again,” he merely remarked; and Miss Spear rejoined that it was no use trying to hide the family secrets from him. He settled himself comfortably at her side, and she put her hand on the wheel. The car, after making a spasmodic dash, hovered a moment between arrest and movement, and then spurted up the mountain as if nothing in the world had been the matter with it. As they bumped up the road under the dark arch of overhanging trees Halo lapsed into silence, her attention seemingly absorbed in the delicate task of persuading the motor to forget its grievances till they were safely landed at Eaglewood. In reality her mind was still lingering over her talk with young Weston, and his curious way of leaping straight at the gist of things, as when, at the Willows, he had asked her as soon as she appeared in the doorway who had written “Kubla Khan,” and just now had seized upon her mention of a mountain pool, instantly crying: “Could I get to it?” That way of disposing of preliminaries, brushing them aside with an impatient shake, as he tossed the tumbled hair from his forehead — what a sense it gave of a latent power under his unformed boyish manner. And what a wonderful thing life would be without idle preliminaries — as clear of smoke and rubbish as the crystal world of sunrise she was going to show him from the mountain! Getting at once to the heart of things: that was the secret. But how many people know it, or had any idea where the heart of things really was? . . .
She felt a touch on her arm. “Penny, Halo.”
“My thoughts? I don’t know. . . . Well, yes.” She gave a little laugh. “I was thinking I’d spent thirty dollars this afternoon, and what I’d bought with it.”
“New hat?”
She laughed. “Exactly. A new hat — a wishing-cap!”
He laughed too, with an easy vague air of assent and approval. “Though why you women keep on buying new hats as you do, when you all of you go bareheaded — ”
“Ah,” she murmured, “that’s what makes it such fun. Art for art’s sake. Besides, as it happens, my new hat’s invisible, and I’ve got it on at this very minute . . . .”
“Well, if you have it’s awfully becoming,” he rejoined.
“How silly! When you know you can’t see it — ”
“I don’t so much care about that, if I can see what’s going on underneath it.” She fell suddenly silent, and he added in the same quiet voice: “Halo, can I?”
“Just what is it you want to see?”
“Well — just if you think we’re engaged.”
She drew away slightly from his gesture. “When you think we are it always makes me think we’re not.”
“Oh well — I’ll try not to think about it at all then,” he rejoined good-humouredly.
To this at the moment she made no answer, and they drove on again in silence under the overhanging boughs; but as she turned the motor in at the gate she said, with another of her fugitive laughs and eyes bent on his: “You see, Lewis, I’m as like this old car as her twin sister. When she says she won’t she almost always does.”
Chapter 9
The summer darkness rustled with the approach of dawn. At the foot of the lane below the Tracys’ Vance Weston felt the stir as if it were one with the noise in his own temples: a web of sounds too tenuous to be defined or isolated, but something so different from the uniform silence which had enveloped the world an hour earlier that every blade of grass and feather of bird now seemed sighing and ruffling in the darkness.
Vance had crept unheard out of the sleeping house, and now, in the obscurity of the lane, sat on a stone under a twisted thorn tree and listened for the splutter of the Eaglewood motor. Miss Spear might forget him again, as she had forgotten him (how he liked her for owning it!) the day before; or the car, which she had said was going on one leg, might fall dead lame, and leave her stranded before she could get down the mountain. But he did not really believe that either of these things would happen. There are days which give you, in the very moment of waking, the assurance that they were born for you, are yours to do as you please with; this was one of them for Vance.
He had been, not offended, but hurt and a little bewildered, at Miss Spear’s failure to come to the Willows the previous afternoon, after sending him word that if he met her there she would let him spend a long afternoon with the books. She had taken the trouble to ask for Upton at the nursery, where she had called to pick up a basket of plants for her mother, and had instructed him to tell his cousin Vance to be at the Willows punctually at three, and to let her know in case he could not come. It was the tenth day after Vance’s arrival, and that very morning he had made up his mind to go to New York. He was going alone, for Upton could only get away on Sundays; moreover, Vance knew by this time that as a guide his cousin would be of little use. All that Upton seemed to know of the metropolis was where the wholesale seedmen and nurserymen had their offices; as a means of introducing Vance to the world of journalism Laura Lou would have been about as helpful. Vance therefore meant to go alone, not with any hope of arriving within speaking distance of an editor, but to slake his curiosity with a sight of the outside of some of the big newspaper offices, and get an impression of the general aspect of the city. He had waited for over a week, partly because of the oppressive heat (his mother was right, it was worse than Chicago) and his own lingering physical weakness, but chiefly because his afternoon in the library at the Willows, and the brief apparition there of the girl who might have been old Miss Lorburn’s reincarnation, had thrown him into a sort of prolonged daydream, which was broken only by intervals of frenzied composition.
When the summons came from Miss Spear to meet Miss Spear again at the Willows he threw New York to the winds, and lived through the next twenty-four hours in a tremor of expectation. Long before three he was unlocking the gate of the deserted place and pushing his bicycle through the grass and clover of the drive. The day was cooler — it would have been a good day for New York — and the green air under the willows trembled with a delicious freshness. Vance sat down on the doorstep. From where he sat he could get a glimpse of the gate through the shimmering branches, and watch the shadows of the trees wheel slowly across the lawn. The air was rich with the smell of syringas, that smell which is so like the sound of bees on a thundery day. Vance leaned his head back against a pillar of the porch and waited . . . .
He had been sincere in saying to Miss Spear that while he waited he had not been impatient or angry. He had always had a habit of rumination unusual at his age, and everything in this new life was so strange, so unreal, that even in its disappointments and denials he found food for his imagination. The spell of Miss Lorburn’s house was stronger now than on his first visit, because in the interval he had lived among people, plain unimaginative people, who nevertheless took old houses for granted, took age and permanence for granted, seemed in fact to live with one foot in the grave of the past, like the people pushing back their tombstones in a queer stiff sculpture of the Last Judgment that he had seen reproduced in some illustrated travel paper. The fact that the Tracys, who never thought of anything but the present, were yet so tacitly imbued with the past, so acquiescent in its power and its fatality, that they attached such a ritual significance to phrases like “a very long time ago,” and “it’s always been so,” and “nothing will be changed as long as any of the family are alive,” had completely altered Vance’s perspective, transforming his world from the staring flatness of a movie “close-up” to a many-vistaed universe reaching away on all sides from this empty and silent house. Even the thought of the books inside the house, so close yet inaccessible, did not long tantalize him. It was enough to sit there waiting, listening for the noise of the motor, and in the intervals straining his ear to catch the secret coming and going of the Past behind the barred threshold.
It was only when dusk fell that he roused himself to the fact that Miss Spear had failed him. Then his boyish pride reasserted itself, and for a moment he felt sore and humiliated. He remembered things Upton had said: “She never stays anywhere more than five minutes. . . . A gentleman friend called for her in his car . . . .” and subsequent allusions picked up from Mrs. Tracy, who had been speechless with surprise when she learned that Miss Spear intended to devote an afternoon to showing Vance the books at the Willows. “Well, I never! Anyhow, she’s got the right to — I guess some day the place will be hers,” was one of the things Mrs. Tracy had said; and Laura Lou, breaking her habitual silence, had added in her quick fluttering way: “I don’t believe she’ll ever live at Paul’s Landing. She says she means to travel all the time when she’s married . . . .”
All this wove itself into Vance’s own picture of the pale dark~haired young woman who had appeared to him so suddenly, and taken up the verse of “Kubla Khan” in her rich chanting voice. He had assumed her to be some years older than himself, and at nineteen, and to a mind as ignorant of class distinctions as his, such a difference of age put a much greater distance between them than the fact that Miss Spear lived at “the big house” (as the Tracys called Eaglewood), or even that she was to inherit the Willows, or meant to travel all the time when she was married. . . . Vance thought of her as goddesslike and remote, mistress of the keys of knowledge and experience; her notice had flushed him with pride, but it seemed a part of the mysterious unreality of everything in this new world. As he got to his feet and walked back to the gate of the Willows he felt his first pang of wounded pride. She had forgotten him; forgotten him because he was too young and insignificant to be remembered; because fellows called for her and carried her off in their cars; because she never stayed anywhere more than five minutes . . . .
Ah, how differently he thought of her now! Since her breathless arrival at the Tracy house on the previous evening, her summoning him out to the porch to accuse and excuse herself, the goddess had become woman again, and he was sure that the woman was to be trusted. She still seemed to him a good deal older than himself, but that now gave him a happy sense of ease and freedom, instead of the feverish excitement which the advances of a girl of his own age would have occasioned . . . .
As he waited in the darkness the early noises of awakening life began to stir. He heard the long eerie scream of a train far away; then the rumble of a motor truck down the turnpike at the foot of the hill, followed by the jolt of a lame farm horse coming in with garden produce; and lastly, close by, the cluck-cluck of the Eaglewood motor — and she was there.
“Vance!” she called gaily, half under her breath, as though instinctively adapting her voice to the whispered sounds of the hour. He had his hand on the door of the car, and in a moment was sitting at her side. “Now if she’ll only start!” the girl sighed. The car kicked and jibbed and stood stock still, as it had the evening before; then it was off with a rush, as if aware of the challenge to its powers, and amused at so unusual an adventure.
Vance was too full of happy emotion to speak. When Miss Spear said: “Did you think I was going to forget you again?” he merely answered: “No,” and she laughed, as if the simplicity of the answer pleased her, and then fell silent too.
When they started up the wooded road to the mountain there still lingered so much of night under the branches that she had to turn on the headlights, and the white stretch of illumination on each side of the motor was filled with layer upon layer of delicately drawn motionless leaves, between which the ruts of the road seemed to Vance to rise up and meet them as they climbed. All these details burnt themselves into his brain with a curious precision, as if he had been crawling at a snail’s pace through an eternity of overarching foliage, while at the same time the wheezy car seemed to be whirling him breathlessly to unknown distances; so that when the headlights painted the sudden picture of two gateposts of gray stone flanking a drive he was startled to hear Miss Spear say: “There’s Eaglewood,” for he thought they must long since have reached the ridge of the mountain above it.
They still mounted; the air was growing cooler; at last it was almost cold. The headlights paled gradually in the imperceptible growth of dawn, and when Miss Spear remembered to turn them out the road was scarcely less distinct, though everything appeared farther away and softer to the eye. At last the motor came out of the woodland, high up on a stretch of rough country road between fields. The sky arched overhead dim and pallid, with here and there a half-drowned star like a petal in gray water. They passed once more under trees, the world grew all dark again, and Miss Spear, stopping the motor, said: “Here.”
They were in a tree-shadowed trail leading from the road to the foot of a steep overhanging rock. “There’s Thundertop,” Miss Spear said. She jumped out, and Vance after her. They scrambled up from ledge to ledge and finally reached a projecting rocky spur from which they saw, far below and around, the outspread earth, its lonely mountain masses and habitable slopes, and hollows still indistinct, all waiting inanimate for the light.
“If it shouldn’t happen!” Miss Spear exclaimed. Vance turned to her in wonder. She had spoken his very thought; and to youth such coincidences are divine.
“Or if it had never happened before — if we were actually looking at the very first. . . . Ah!” she broke off on a deep breath; for a faint vibration, less of light than of air, a ripple of coming life, had begun to flow over the sky and the opposite mountains, hushing every incipient sound. There was a lull after that first tremor; a lull lasting so long that it seemed as if, after all, nothing in the landscape had moved or altered. Then Miss Spear, laying her hand on Vance’s shoulder, turned him about toward a break in the swarthy fell of the eastern mountains; and through it came the red edge of the sun. They watched in silence nike air max 90 as it hung there apparently unmoving; then they glanced away for a moment, and when they looked back they saw that it had moved; saw the forerunning glow burn away the ashen blur in the forest hollows, the upper sky whiten, and daylight take possession of the air. Again they turned westward, looking toward the Hudson, and now the tawny suffusion was drawing down the slopes of the farther shore, till gradually, very gradually, the river hollows also were washed of their m nike air max ists, and the great expanse of the river shone bright as steel in the clear shadow.
Vance drew a deep breath. His lips were parted, but no word came. He met Miss Spear’s smiling eyes with a vague stare. “Kubla Khan?” she said. He nodded.
“You’d never seen one of our sunrises?”
“No, only over the prairies.”
“Well, that must be rather splendid too. But very different — like seeing it over the sea.”
He made no response, for he had never seen the sea, and there was no room in his soul for more new visions.
“It’s less of an effort to see the sun rise in Illinois, I suppose?” Miss Spear continued. “You only have to look out of your window. Here it involves mountaineering, and it’s given me a mountaineer’s appetite; hasn’t it you?”
He didn’t know; he supposed so; but he hardly heard what she said. His whole sentient self was still away from him, in the blue and gold of the uprolling. He would have liked to lie down there on the edge of Thundertop between the misty splendours below and the pure cheap nike air max light above, and let the hours drift by while the chariot of the day described its great circuit before him. At such moments he was almost disembodied.
“Come along, Vance! I’m ravening. Ham and eggs over a gipsy fire!” She slipped a comrade-arm through his, and they started to scramble down from their eminence, leaving at each step a fragment of the mighty spectacle behind them. Vance, reluctantly following, thought to himself: “She never stays anywhere more than five minutes — ”
But by the time they had reached the motor hunger had seized him too, and he was laughing with her while she made sure that the lunch basket and thermos were somewhere among the odds and ends under the seat, and thinking he had never met anybody who made things so easy, yet was somehow so gaily aloof. With a fresh expenditure of persuasion and violence she got the motor going, and they backed out of the trail, and started down the mountain. About halfway of the descent Miss Spear turned into another trail, deeply shadowed, and they took out their provisions, and began to climb through the forest. Presently the little woodland nike air max 90 sale noises, twitter of birds and stir of leaf, were all merged in the tinkle of an unseen brook, and a little farther on they met the brook itself, leaping down wet ledges in a drip of ferns and grasses, till it led them to the rocky pool encircled with turf of which Miss Spear had told him. There she unpacked the basket, and Vance brought two stones, and some twigs to lay across them; but they could find no dry fuel in that mossy dripping place, and had to eat their eggs raw, and munch the ham between slices of stale bread. Luckily the coffee was piping hot, and w hen Vance had drained his cup his tongue was loosened, and there poured from him all that he had been revolving in his mind, and thirsting to utter, since his first encounter with Miss Spear at the Willows. He could hardly keep the thread of the talk in his hands, so quickly did one idea tumble out after another, and so many new trains of thought did Miss Spear’s answers start in the coverts of his mind.
Afterward, in looking back at the adventure, he wondered at the fact that he had hardly been conscious of his companion’s age or sex, hardly aware of the grave beauty of her face, had felt her only as the mysterious vehicle of all the new sensations pouring into his soul — as if she had been the element harmonizing the scene, or a being born of the sunrise and the forest.
Yet afterward he saw nothing ethereal or remote about her; to his memory she became again a dark-haired girl with thoughtful eyes and animated lips, who leaned back, her hat tossed off, her bare arms folded behind her head, and plied him with friendly questions. The trouble was that every one of the questions, though to her so evidently simple and mat nike air max sale ter-of-course for him, called a new vision out of the unknown, as the car’s headlights, while they climbed the mountain, had kept on painting pictures on the darkness. The simplest things she said presupposed a familiarity with something or other that he was ignorant of: allusions to people and books, associations of ideas, images and metaphors, each giving an electric shock to his imagination, and making him want to linger and question before she hurried him on to the next point.
What she wanted, for her part, was evidently just to be helpful and friendly. She had guessed, perhaps, that there cheap nike air max was not much nourishment for him in life at the Tracys’, and wondered what direction he would take when that interval was over, as she assumed it would be soon. He acknowledged that he had accepted his parents’ proposal to send him to his cousins for his convalescence because it was a way of being brought nearer New York, which at the moment was the place he mo nike air max classic st wanted to get to; and when she asked why — whether just as a big sight, or with some special object? he answered, feeling himself hot from feet to forehead at the confession, yet unable to hold it back, that, yes, what he wanted was to live in New York and be a writer.
“A writer? I see. But that’s interesting.” Miss Spear raised herself on her elbow and reached for a cigarette, while her eyes continued to rest on his crimson countenance. “Tell me more about it. What do you want to write?”
He threw back his head and gave back her look with a thumping heart. “Poetry.”
Her face lit up. “Oh, but that’s splendid! You’ve written a lot already, I suppose?”
“Not a lot. Some.” How flat the monosyllables sounded! And all the whi nike air max 1 le his brain rustled with rich many-branching words that were too tangled up with each other to be extricated. Miss Spear smiled, and said: “This is just the place for poetry, isn’t it? Do repeat something of yours.”
Vance’s heart dropped back to silence. No one had ever before asked him to recite his verses. The inside of his mouth grew parched and there was a buzzing in his head. This girl had commanded him, here in this magical place, to recite to her something he had written! His courage began to ebb away now that he was confronted with this formidable opportunity.
He moistened his dry lips, closed his mind’s eyes nike air max 2013 as if preparing to leap into space, and said: “‘Trees.’”
“Is that the title?”
“Yes. They were the first things that struck me when I got here — the trees. They’re different from ours, thicker, there are more of them . . . I don’t know . . .”
“Yes, and so — ”
He began: “Arcane, aloof, and secret as the soul . . .”
She sat motionless, resting her chin on her lifted hand. Her cigarette went out, and dropped to the da nike air max canada mp mosses of the poolside. “Secret as the soul,” she murmured. “Yes.” She nodded softly, but did not speak again, and at times, as he went on, he forgot her presence and seemed alone with his own imagination; then again he felt her so close that her long meditative face, drooping slightly, seemed to interpose itself between his eyes and what he was saying, and he was chilled by the thought that when, in a moment, he ceased reciting, the face would be there, unescapable, rhadamanthine, like death at the end of life. He poured out the last words of the poem in a rush, and there was a long silence, an endless silence, it seemed to the poet, before his hearer spoke.
“You recite too fast; you swallow half the words. Oh, why aren’t people in our country taught —? But there are beautiful things . . .” She paused, and seemed to muse discriminatingly upon them. “That about the city of leaves . . . I wish you’d write it out for me, will you? Then I can read it over to myself. If you have a bit of paper, do write it now.”
Vance had the inevitable bit of paper, and the fountain pen from which he was never parted. He pulled out the paper, spread it on a stone, and began to write. He was mortified that she thought his reading so bad, and his hand shook so that he feared she would hardly find the poem more intelligible than when he had recited it. At last he handed her the paper, and she held it to her short~sighted eyes during another awful interval of silence.
“Yes — there are beautiful things in it. That image of the city of leaves . . . and the soul’s city being built of all the murmurs and rustlings of our impressions, emotions, instincts . . .” She la cheap nike air max trainers id the page down, and lifted her head, drawing her eyelids together meditatively. “By the way, do you know what the first temple at Delphi was built of?” She paused, smiling in expectation of his enjoyment. “Of birds’ feathers and honey. Singing and humming! Sweetness and lightness! Isn’t that magical?”
Vance gazed at her, captivated but bewildered. Did he understand — or did he not? Birds’ feathers and honey? His heart beat with the strange disturbing beauty of the metaphor — for metaphor it must be, of course. Yet bodying forth what? In his excitement over the phrase, his perplexity at the question, he felt himself loutish and unresponsive for not answering. But he could not think of anything to say.
“The First Church of Christ at Delphi? Christian Science, you mean? I’m afraid I don’t understand,” he stammered at length. nike air max 95
She stared as if she didn’t either; then she gave a little laugh. “Well, no, nothing quite so recent. The legend is about the first temple of Delphi — (I mean the GREEK Delphi, the famous shrine, where Apollo’s oracle was) — well, the legend is that the first temple was only a hut of feathers and honey, built in that uninhabited place by the bees and birds, who knew there was a god there long before man came and discovered him . . . .” She broke off, and folded up the paper. “That’s a subject for another poem, isn’t it? . . . But this one,” she added, rousing herself, and turning again to Vance with her look of eager encouragement, “this I do like immensely. You’ll let me keep it? I have a great friend who really cares for poetry, and I want to show it to him. And won’t you repeat another? Please do. I love lying here and listening to beautiful words all mixed up with the sound of water and leaves . . . Only you know, Vance,” she added, fixing him suddenly with a piercing humorous glance, “I should leave ‘urge’ as a noun to the people who write blurbs for book jackets; and ‘dawn’ and lorn’ do NOT rhyme in English poetry, not yet . . . .”
A silence followed. The girl’s praise and understanding — above all, her understanding — had swung Vance so high above his everyday self that it was as if, at her touch, wings had grown from him. And now, abruptly, her verbal criticism, suggesting other possibilities of the same kind, hinting at abysses of error into which he might drop unawares at any moment, brought him down like a shot bird. He hardly understood what she meant, did not know what there was to find fault with in the English of the people who wrote for book jackets — it was indeed the sort of thing he aspired to excel in some day himself — and still less understood what she meant when she attacked the validity of rhymes as self-evident to the ear as “lorn” and “dawn.” Perverse and arbitrary as she evidently was — and sound-deaf, probably — she might as well have said (very likely would, if challenged) that “morn” and “gone” did not rhyme in English poetry! He was so passionately interested in everything concerning the material and the implements of his art that at another time he would have welcomed a discussion of the sort; but in this hour of creative exaltation, when his imagination was still drenched with the wonder of the adventure, and the girl’s praise, as she listened, had already started a twitter of new rhythms and images in his brain, it was like falling from a mortal height to have such praise qualified by petty patronizing comments, which were all the more disturbing because he found no answer to them.
“Don’t rhyme — in English poetry?” he stammered, paling under the blow. But Miss Spear had sprung to her feet and stood looking down on him with the sportive but remote radiance of some woodland spirit.
“Oh, but what does all that matter? I don’t know what made me even speak of it.” She continued to look at him, and as she did so, the anxious groping expression of her short-sighted eyes, as she tried to read his, suddenly humanized her face and brought her close again. “It was just my incurable mania for taking everything to pieces. Gilding the lily — who was the fool who said THAT wasn’t worth doing? . . . But I shouldn’t have spoken, you know, Vance, if I didn’t believe you have the gift . . . the real gift . . . ‘the sublime awkwardness that belittles talent,’ as George Frenside calls it . . .”
His heart swelled as he listened. How she knew how to bind up the hurts she made! “The sublime awkwardness . . .” He trembled with the shock of the phrase. Who talked or wrote like that, he wondered? Was it anyone he could see, or whose books he could get hold of — in the Willows library, perhaps? “Who’s that you spoke of?” he asked breathlessly.
“The man who can talk to you better than anybody else about English poetry.”
“Oh, do you know him? Can I see him? Is he alive?”

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