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She and I, Volume 1

John C. Hutcheson

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  She and I - Volume 1

  by John Conroy Hutcheson________________________________________________________________The setting is a dull suburb in London, just after the middle of thenineteenth century. The hero spots a very pretty young lady in church,and falls in love with her. The first problem is to get anintroduction. He manages this, but the girl's mother, with an eye tothe long-term, knows that our hero is not well-off, while others, who wecan see are not the sort of person the girl would like to marry, are.Various parties and expeditions involving the church's congregation takeplace, and eventually the wooing of the young lady appears successful.

  The book is altogether in a different style to Hutcheson's later works,which are mostly nautical. Possibly a period of twenty years separatesthis book from the later ones. Certainly this book has about it, attimes, a feeling of the experimental, particularly in the use of certainwords, which one feels Hutcheson may have thought up, and which have not"caught on." Another symptom is the use of unusual hyphenated words,and an over-use of common ones. There are also several quotations frompoetry, which one does not mind while they are in English, or perhapsFrench, but which get a bit tedious when they are in other languages. Iparticularly dislike this habit when one of these foreign poems is usedat the start of the chapter. Couldn't a good translation have done justas well?________________________________________________________________SHE AND I - VOLUME ONE




  "I muse, as in a trance, when e'er The languors of thy love-deep eyes Float on me. I would I were So tranced, so wrapt in ecstasies, To stand apart, and to adore, Gazing on thee for evermore!"

  I saw her first in church.

  Do you happen to know a quaint, dreamy old region in the west of London,which bricks and mortar have not, as yet, overtaken, nor newfangledvillas vulgarised?

  A region of innumerable market gardens that are principally laid out inlong, narrow beds, lost into nothingness as they dwindle down in the dimvista of perspective, and which are planted with curly endive, piquante-looking lettuces, and early cabbages; squat rows of gooseberry bushesand currant trees, with a rose set here and there in between; and sweet-smelling, besides, of hidden violets and honeysuckles, and the pink andwhite hawthorn of the hedges in May:--

  A region of country lanes, ever winding and seemingly never ending,leading down to and past and from the whilom silent, whilom bustlingriver, that never heeds their tortuous intricacies, but hurries by onits way through the busy city towards the sea below; lanes wherein areto be occasionally met with curious old stone houses, of almosthistorical antecedents and dreamy as the region in which they lie,scattered about in the queerest situations without plan or precedent, onwhich the casual pedestrian comes when he least expects:--

  Do you know this quaint old region, this fleeting oasis in the Sahara ofthe building-mad suburban metropolis? I do, well; its market gardens,its circumambient lanes, its old, antiquarian stone houses, and all!

  Many a time have I wandered through them; many a time watched the heavywaggons as they went creaking on their way to town and the greatemporium at Covent Garden, groaning beneath the wealth and weight of thevegetable produce they carried, and laden so high with cunningly-arranged nests of baskets on baskets, that one believed each moment thatthey would topple over, and held the breath for fear of hastening theirfall; many a time sought to trace each curving lane to its probablegoal, or tried to hunt out the hidden histories which lay concealedwithin the crumbling walls of the old dwellings on which I might happento light in my walks.

  But my favourite ramble, eclipsing all others now in pleasantrecollections of by-gone days, was through the Prebend's Walk, borderedwith its noble grove of stately lime trees and oaks and elms on eitherhand; and passing by open fields, that are, in spring, rich with yellowbuttercups and star-spangled daisies, and, in summer, ripe with thearomatic odours of new-mown hay.

  The Prebend's Walk, beyond where the lime-grove ends, whence theprebend's residence can be faintly distinguished through the clusteringmasses of tree-foliage, merges into the open, commanding the river infront; but it is still marked out by a stray elm or horse-chestnut,placed at scanty intervals, to keep up the idea of the ancient avenuebeyond.

  Here, turning to the right and crossing a piece of unkempt land, halfcopse, half meadow, the scene again changed.

  You came to a stile. That surmounted and left behind, a narrow by-pathled you through its twisting turns until you reached a tiny, rusticstone bridge--such a tiny, little bridge! This was over the sluice andaqueduct from the adjacent river, which supplied the fosse that in oldentimes surrounded the prebend's residence, when there were such things assieges and besiegements in this fair land of ours.

  The prebend's residence was then a castle, protected, probably, bybattlements and mantlets and turreted walls, and with its keep and itsdrawbridge, its postern and its fosse--simple works of defence that werearmed for retaliation, with catapult and mangonel, the canon raye of theperiod, besides arquebuse and other hand weapons wielded, no doubt, bymighty men at arms, mail-clad and helmeted, who knew how to give andtake with the best of them; now, it was but a peaceful priest'sdwelling, inhabited by as true a clergyman and gentleman as ever lived,although it was still a fine old house.

  As for the fosse, it sank long ages ago to the level and capacity of acommon ditch, and was almost hidden from view by the overhanging boughsand branches of the park trees on the opposite side, and the half-decayed trunks of former monarchs of the forest that filled its bed--aditch covered with a superstratum of slimy, green water, lank weeds, andrank vegetation; and wherein, at flood time, urchin anglers could fishfor eels and sticklebats, and, at ebb, the village ducks disportthemselves and mudlarks play.

  Along this fosse, the path continued. Further on, it widened into abroader way, which led you direct to the churchyard of Saint Canon's.So studded is it with weatherworn tombstones, inclining at all angleslike so many miniature leaning towers of Pisa, ivy-wreathed obelisks andquaintly-fashioned, railed-in monuments, that you can scarcely make outthe lower buttresses of the ancient church that stands up from amongsttheir midst.

  With its whitish-grey walls, time-stained and rain-eaten, its severe-looking, square Norman tower, and its generally-formal style ofarchitecture, that edifice does not present a very imposing appearancefrom without; but, within, the case is different.

  Lofty, pointed, stained-glass windows light it. The chancel bears thestamp of the Restoration. Oaken beams; carved galleries, curiouslycontrived to fit into every available space; high, upright box pews--ofthe sort instituted, in the reign of Anne, by the renowned BishopBurnett to restrain the roving eyes of the congregation and makegallants better attend to their devotions; all these, in addition to thememorial slabs and tablets, and weeping angels over cinereal urns, tendto give the church that air of ugliness and comfort which the modernchurchman detests.

  Dear old church!

  I love its old walls, its old chancel, its old pews, its form ofworship, and all; for it was there that I first saw her,--my own, mydarling!

  O, Min, Min! can I ever forget that time?

  Can I!

  One Sunday--it is not so long ago that my hair is grey, nor so recentlyas to prevent my having a story to tell--I was in Saint Canon's church,sitting in one of its old, square box pews, where one was, as it were,shut up in a small, private house, away from all connection with theouter world; for you could not see anything when the door was closed,with the exception of the roof overhead, and, mayhap, the walls around.I was listening to the varied fugue introitus that the organist wasplaying from the gallery beyond th
e pulpit,--playing with the full windpower of the venerable reed instrument he skilfully manipulated, havingall the stops out,--diapasons, trumpet, vox humana, and the rest. Themusic was from Handel, a composer of whom the maestro was especiallyfond; so fond, indeed, that any of the congregation who might have thelike musical proclivities need seldom fear disappointment. They couldreckon upon hearing the Hallelujah Chorus at least once a fortnight, andthe lesser morceaux of _Israel in Egypt_ at intervals in between.

  Presently, just before the vicar and curate made their customaryprocessional entry, ere the service began, two ladies were ushered intothe large pew which I occupied alone in solitary state. There was roomenough, in all conscience. It could have accommodated a round dozen,and that without any squeezing.

  Both the ladies were dressed in half-mourning, which attracted myattention and made me observe them more closely than I might otherwisehave done. My mind was soon engaged wondering, as one is apt to do--when in church, more particularly--who and what they were. One, I saw,was middle-aged: the other had not, probably, as yet reached hereighteenth year; and what a charming face she had,--what an expression!

  I could not take my eyes off her.

  How shall I describe her? I had ample opportunity of taking a study, asshe faced me on the opposite side of the pew, seated beside the otherand elder lady, who, I could see at a glance, was her mother, from thestriking likeness between them--although, there was a wonderfuldifference the while.

  Have you never observed the slight, yet unmistakable traits of familyresemblance, and the various points in which they are displayed? Theymay sometimes be only traceable in a single feature, a smile, a look, orin some peculiar mannerism of speech, or action, or even thought; butthere they are; and, however indistinct they may be, however faint oncasual inspection, a practised eye can seldom fail to perceive them anddistinguish the relationship betwixt father and son, or mother anddaughter:--the kinship of brothers and sisters is not so evident tostrangers. In the present case no one could doubt: the younger ladymust certainly be the daughter of the other.

  But, what was she like, you ask?

  Well, she was not beautiful. She was not even what empty-headed people,unaware of the real signification of the term, call "pretty." She wasinteresting--will that word suit?

  No. The description would not give you the least idea of what her facereally was like--much less of her expression, in which consisted itsgreat charm.

  Shall I endeavour to picture her to you as I saw her for that first timein church, before Love's busy fingers had woven a halo of romance aroundher, only allowing me to behold her through a sort of fairy glamour; andmaking me forget everything concerning her, save that she was "Min," andthat I loved her, and that she was the darling of my heart?

  I will.

  Her figure seemed to me then a trifle below the middle height, but sowell-proportioned that one could not easily tell, unless standing besideher, whether she was actually short or tall. Her features were Grecianin outline, as regarded the upper portion of her face, and irregularbelow; with such a delightful little dimple in her curving chin, andfull, pouting lips. Her eyes, calm, steady, quiet, loving, grey eyes,--eyes symbolical of faith and constancy, and unswerving fidelity ofpurpose: eyes that looked like tranquil depths through which you couldsee the soul-light reflected from below; and which only wanted thestirring power of some great motive or passion to illumine them with amyriad irradiating gems.

  But,--pshaw! How can I describe her? It is sacrilege thus to weigh andconsider the points and merits of one we love. Besides, even the mostperfect and faultlessly-beautiful face in the world would be unable tostand the test of minute examination in detail. As Thomson sings, toput his poetry into prose, how can you "from the diamond single out eachray, when all, though trembling with ten thousand hues, effuse onedazzling undivided light?"

  It is impossible. No words of mine could put before you what her facereally was like, as it appeared to me then and afterwards when I hadlearnt to watch and decipher every versatile look and expression itwore. Sometimes, when in repose, it reminded me of one of Raphael'sangels. At other times, when moved by mirth and with arch glancesdancing in the deep, grey eyes,--and they could make merry when theywilled,--it was a witching, teasing, provoking little face. Or, again,if changed by grief,--under which aspect, thank God! I seldom saw it,--a noble, resolute face, bearing that indescribable look of calm, set,high resolve, which the face of the heart-broken daughter of Lear, orthe deep-suffering mother of the Gracchi might have borne. You may say,perhaps, that this is rhapsody; but what is love without rhapsody?--what, a love story?

  I determined at first, before I had studied it more attentively, thather face lacked expression; but I made a grievous error. I quicklyaltered my opinion on seeing it in profile and upturned; for I markedthe embodiment of devotion it betrayed during the service, when hervoice was raised in the praise of her Maker. She looked now exactlylike the picture of Saint Cecilia; and her appearance recalled to mymind what one of the American essayists, I forget who it is, observesquaintly somewhere, that it is no wonder that Catholics pay their vowsto the queen of heaven, for "the unpoetical side of Protestantism is,that it has no woman to be worshipped."

  Of course I had fallen in love with her,--love at first sight; and,although you may not credit the assertion, allow me to put you rightupon the point and inform you that such a thing is not only possible,but much more probable, and of more frequent occurrence than a good manypeople imagine or believe. Love is sometimes the growth of degrees: itmay also bound into existence in a moment; for there is a certainsympathetic attraction between some persons, as there is between othersan antipathetical, repulsive force. Understand, passion is not herealluded to. That is, of the senses. What I mean is, the essence orspirit of love, as pure as that which may subsist amongst the angelsabove.

  I felt such love growing within me, as I looked at her, with herdowncast eyes bent over her Bible, or as she sat, with head upraised andattentive ear, drinking in the words of spiritual wisdom addressed us byour good old pastor, of which at the time _I_ took but little heed. Shedid not seem at all conscious that she was being observed; although shedoubtless knew that I was looking at her, in that instinctive way commonto her sex, in which they manage to take cognisance of everything goingon around them, without so much as raising an eyelid. Indeed, she toldme afterwards that she had been well aware of my watch, and added thatshe thought me "very rude, too;" but, just now, she took no notice of mylooks and longings, as far as I could see.

  It was not until the close of the service, and when she and her motherwere leaving the pew, that I obtained a glance, a look, which dwelt inmy memory for days and days. She had brought with her into church atiny spray of mignonette, and this she left behind her on the seat closeto where she had been sitting. I perceived it, and taking it up, madeas if to restore it to its lawful owner.

  A half smile faintly played across her slightly parted lips, as shelooked at me for an instant, an amused sparkle in her clear, grey eyes,and then turned away with a polite inclination and shake of her littlehead, in refusal of the mignonette, which I have kept ever since. Butthat smile!

  Her whole face lit up, gaining just the colour and expression which itappeared to lack. My fate was sealed; and, as the organ pealed forththe grand prayer from _Mose in Egitto_ for the exodus of thecongregation, and I slowly paced down the aisle after my enchantress, mysoul expanded into a very heaven of adoration and love!