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The Well - Beloved

Her Earlier Incarnations
'You, Somers, are not, I know, one of those who continue to indulge in the world-wide,
fond superstition that the Beloved One of any man always, or even usually, cares to
remain in one corporeal nook or shell for any great length of time, however much he may
wish her to do so. If I am wrong, and you do still hold to that ancient error--well, my
story will seem rather queer.'
'Suppose you say the Beloved of some men, not of any man.'
'All right--I'll say one man, this man only, if you are so particular. We are a strange,
visionary race down where I come from, and perhaps that accounts for it. The Beloved of
this one man, then, has had many incarnations--too many to describe in detail. Each
shape, or embodiment, has been a temporary residence only, which she has entered, lived
in awhile, and made her exit from, leaving the substance, so far as I have been concerned,
a corpse, worse luck! Now, there is no spiritualistic nonsense in this--it is simple fact, put
in the plain form that the conventional public are afraid of. So much for the principle.'
'Good. Go on.'
'Well; the first embodiment of her occurred, so nearly as I can recollect, when I was about
the age of nine. Her vehicle was a little blue-eyed girl of eight or so, one of a family of
eleven, with flaxen hair about her shoulders, which attempted to curl, but ignominiously
failed, hanging like chimney-crooks only. This defect used rather to trouble me; and was,
I believe, one of the main reasons of my Beloved's departure from that tenement. I cannot
remember with any exactness when the departure occurred. I know it was after I had
kissed my little friend in a garden-seat on a hot noontide, under a blue gingham umbrella,
which we had opened over us as we sat, that passers through East Quarriers might not
observe our marks of affection, forgetting that our screen must attract more attention than
our persons.
'When the whole dream came to an end through her father leaving the island, I thought
my Well-Beloved had gone for ever (being then in the unpractised condition of Adam at
sight of the first sunset). But she had not. Laura had gone for ever, but not my Beloved.
'For some months after I had done crying for the flaxen-haired edition of her, my Love
did not reappear. Then she came suddenly, unexpectedly, in a situation I should never
have predicted. I was standing on the kerbstone of the pavement in Budmouth-Regis,
outside the Preparatory School, looking across towards the sea, when a middle- aged
gentleman on horseback, and beside him a young lady, also mounted, passed down the
street. The girl turned her head, and--possibly because I was gaping at her in awkward
admiration, or smiling myself-- smiled at me. Having ridden a few paces, she looked
round again and smiled.
 
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