Kilmeny of the Orchard
XVII. A Broken Fetter
Eric went home with a white, haggard face. He had never thought it was possible for a
man to suffer as he suffered then. What was he to do? It seemed impossible to go on
with life--there was NO life apart from Kilmeny. Anguish wrung his soul until his strength
went from him and youth and hope turned to gall and bitterness in his heart.
He never afterwards could tell how he lived through the following Sunday or how he
taught school as usual on Monday. He found out how much a man may suffer and yet
go on living and working. His body seemed to him an automaton that moved and spoke
mechanically, while his tortured spirit, pent-up within, endured pain that left its impress
on him for ever. Out of that fiery furnace of agony Eric Marshall was to go forth a man
who had put boyhood behind him for ever and looked out on life with eyes that saw into
it and beyond.
On Tuesday afternoon there was a funeral in the district and, according to custom, the
school was closed. Eric went again to the old orchard. He had no expectation of seeing
Kilmeny there, for he thought she would avoid the spot lest she might meet him. But he
could not keep away from it, although the thought of it was an added torment, and he
vibrated between a wild wish that he might never see it again, and a sick wonder how
he could possibly go away and leave it--that strange old orchard where he had met and
wooed his sweetheart, watching her develop and blossom under his eyes, like some
rare flower, until in the space of three short months she had passed from exquisite
childhood into still more exquisite womanhood.
As he crossed the pasture field before the spruce wood he came upon Neil Gordon,
building a longer fence. Neil did not look up as Eric passed, but sullenly went on driving
poles. Before this Eric had pitied Neil; now he was conscious of feeling sympathy with
him. Had Neil suffered as he was suffering? Eric had entered into a new fellowship
whereof the passport was pain.
The orchard was very silent and dreamy in the thick, deep tinted sunshine of the
September afternoon, a sunshine which seemed to possess the power of extracting the
very essence of all the odours which summer has stored up in wood and field. There
were few flowers now; most of the lilies, which had queened it so bravely along the
central path a few days before, were withered. The grass had become ragged and sere
and unkempt. But in the corners the torches of the goldenrod were kindling and a few
misty purple asters nodded here and there. The orchard kept its own strange
attractiveness, as some women with youth long passed still preserve an atmosphere of
remembered beauty and innate, indestructible charm.
Eric walked drearily and carelessly about it, and finally sat down on a half fallen fence
panel in the shadow of the overhanging spruce boughs. There he gave himself up to a