On a beautiful evening three weeks later, Stephen took Angela over Morton. They had had tea with Anna and Puddle, and Anna had been coldly polite to this friend of her daughter’s, but Puddle’s manner had been rather resentful — she deeply mistrusted Angela Crossby. But now Stephen was free to show Angela Morton, and this she did gravely, as though something sacred were involved in this first introduction to her home, as though Morton itself must feel that the coming of this small, fair-haired woman was in some way momentous. Very gravely, then, they went over the house — even into Sir Philip’s old study.
From the house they made their way to the stables, and still grave, Stephen told her friend about Raftery. Angela listened, assuming an interest she was very far from feeling — she was timid of horses, but she liked to hear the girl’s rather gruff voice, such an earnest young voice, it intrigued her. She was thoroughly frightened when Raftery sniffed her and then blew through his nostrils as though disapproving, and she started back with a sharp exclamation, so that Stephen slapped him on his glossy grey shoulder: ‘Stop it, Raftery, come up!’ And Raftery, disgusted, went and blew on his oats to express his hurt feelings.
They left him and wandered away through the gardens, and quite soon poor Raftery was almost forgotten, for the gardens smelt softly of night-scented stock, and of other pale flowers that smell sweetest at evening, and Stephen was thinking that Angela Crossby resembled such flowers — very fragrant and pale she was, so Stephen said to her gently: ‘You seem to belong to Morton.’
Angela smiled a slow, questioning smile: ‘You think so, Stephen?’ And Stephen answered: ‘I do, because Morton and I are one,’ and she scarcely understood the portent of her words; but Angela, understanding, spoke quickly:
‘Oh, I belong nowhere — you forget I’m the stranger.’
‘I know that you’re you,’ said Stephen.
They walked on in silence while the light changed and deepened, growing always more golden and yet more elusive. And the birds, who loved that strange light, sang singly and then all together: ‘We’re happy, Stephen!’
And turning to Angela, Stephen answered the birds: ‘Your being here makes me so happy.’
‘If that’s true, then why are you so shy of my name?’
‘Angela —’ mumbled Stephen.
Then Angela said: ‘It’s just over three weeks since we met — how quickly our friendship’s happened. I suppose it was meant, I believe in Kismet. You were awfully scared that first day at The Grange; why were you so scared?’
Stephen answered slowly: ‘I’m frightened now — I’m frightened of you.’
‘Yet you’re stronger than I am-’
Yes, that’s why I’m so frightened, you make me feel strong — do you want to do that?’
Well — perhaps — you’re so very unusual, Stephen.’
‘Of course, don’t you know that you are? Why, you’re altogether different from other people.’
Stephen trembled a little: ‘Do you mind?’ she faltered.
‘I know that you’re you,’ teased Angela, smiling again, but she reached out and took Stephen’s hand.
Something in the queer, vital strength of that hand stirred her deeply, so that she tightened her fingers: What in the Lord’s name are you?’ she murmured.
‘I don’t know. Go on holding like that to my hand — hold it tighter — I like the feel of your fingers.’
Stephen, don’t be absurd!’
‘Go on holding my hand, I like the feel of your fingers.’ ‘Stephen, you’re hurting, you’re crushing my rings!’
And now they were under the trees by the lakes, their feet falling softly on the luminous carpet. Hand in hand they entered that place of deep stillness, and only their breathing disturbed the stillness for a moment, then it folded back over their breathing.
‘Look,’ said Stephen, and she pointed to the swan called Peter, who had come drifting past on his own white reflection. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘this is Morton, all beauty and peace — it drifts like that swan does, on calm, deep water. And all this beauty and peace is for you, because now you’re a part of Morton.’
Angela said: ‘I’ve never known peace, it’s not in me — I don’t think I’d find it here, Stephen.’ And as she spoke she released her hand, moving a little away from the girl.
But Stephen continued to talk on gently; her voice sounded almost like that of a dreamer: ‘Lovely, oh, lovely it is, our Morton. On evenings in winter these lakes are quite frozen, and the ice looks like slabs of gold in the sunset, when you and I come and stand here in the winter. And as we walk back we can smell the log fires long before we can see them, and we love that good smell because it means home, and our home is Morton — and we’re happy, happy — we’re utterly contented and at peace, we’re filled with the peace of this place —’
‘Stephen — don’t!’
‘We’re both filled with the old peace of Morton, because we love each other so deeply — and because we’re perfect, a perfect thing, you and I— not two separate people but one. And our love has lit a great, comforting beacon, so that we need never be afraid of the dark any more — we can warm ourselves at our love, we can lie down together, and my arms will be round you —’
She broke off abruptly, and they stared at each other.
‘Do you know what you’re saying?’ Angela whispered.
And Stephen answered: ‘I know that I love you, and that nothing else matters in the world.’
Then, perhaps because of that glamorous evening, with its spirit of queer, unearthly adventure, with its urge to strange, unendurable sweetness, Angela moved a step nearer to Stephen, then another, until their hands were touching. And all that she was, and all that she had been and would be again, perhaps even tomorrow, was fused at that moment into one mighty impulse, one imperative need, and that need was Stephen. Stephen’s need was now hers, by sheer force of its blind and uncomprehending will to appeasement.
Then Stephen took Angela into her arms, and she kissed her full on the lips, as a lover.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55