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The Two Destinies

7. The Woman On The Bridge
MY mother looked in at the library door, and disturbed me over my books.
"I have been hanging a little picture in my room," she said. "Come upstairs, my dear, and
give me your opinion of it."
I rose and followed her. She pointed to a miniature portrait, hanging above the
mantelpiece.
"Do you know whose likeness that is?" she asked, half sadly, half playfully. "George! Do
you really not recognize yourself at thirteen years old?"
How should I recognize myself? Worn by sickness and sorrow; browned by the sun on
my long homeward voyage; my hair already growing thin over my forehead; my eyes
already habituated to their one sad and weary look; what had I in common with the fair,
plump, curly-headed, bright-eyed boy who confronted me in the miniature? The mere
sight of the portrait produced the most extraordinary effect on my mind. It struck me with
an overwhelming melancholy; it filled me with a despair of myself too dreadful to be
endured. Making the best excuse I could to my mother, I left the room. In another minute
I was out of the house.
I crossed the park, and left my own possessions behind me. Following a by-road, I came
to our well-known river; so beautiful in itself, so famous among trout-fishers throughout
Scotland. It was not then the fishing season. No human being was in sight as I took my
seat on the bank. The old stone bridge which spanned the stream was within a hundred
yards of me; the setting sun still tinged the swift-flowing water under the arches with its
red and dying light.
Still the boy's face in the miniature pursued me. Still the portrait seemed to reproach me
in a merciless language of its own: "Look at what you were once; think of what you are
now!"
I hid my face in the soft, fragrant grass. I thought of the wasted years of my life between
thirteen and twenty-three.
How was it to end? If I lived to the ordinary life of man, what prospect had I before me?
Love? Marriage? I burst out laughing as the idea crossed my mind. Since the innocently
happy days of my boyhood I had known no more of love than the insect that now crept
over my hand as it lay on the grass. My money, to be sure, would buy me a wife; but
would my money make her dear to me? dear as Mary had once been, in the golden time
when my portrait was first painted?
 
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