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But other passengers were approaching Lincoln meanwhile by other roads on
foot. A county town draws the inhabitants of all vicarages, farms, country houses,
and wayside cottages, within a radius of ten miles at least, once or twice a week
to its streets; and among them, on this occasion, were Ralph Denham and Mary
Datchet. They despised the roads, and took their way across the fields; and yet,
from their appearance, it did not seem as if they cared much where they walked
so long as the way did not actually trip them up. When they left the Vicarage,
they had begun an argument which swung their feet along so rhythmically in time
with it that they covered the ground at over four miles an hour, and saw nothing
of the hedgerows, the swelling plowland, or the mild blue sky. What they saw
were the Houses of Parliament and the Government Offices in Whitehall. They
both belonged to the class which is conscious of having lost its birthright in these
great structures and is seeking to build another kind of lodging for its own notion
of law and government. Purposely, perhaps, Mary did not agree with Ralph; she
loved to feel her mind in conflict with his, and to be certain that he spared her
female judgment no ounce of his male muscularity. He seemed to argue as
fiercely with her as if she were his brother. They were alike, however, in believing
that it behooved them to take in hand the repair and reconstruction of the fabric
of England. They agreed in thinking that nature has not been generous in the
endowment of our councilors. They agreed, unconsciously, in a mute love for the
muddy field through which they tramped, with eyes narrowed close by the
concentration of their minds. At length they drew breath, let the argument fly
away into the limbo of other good arguments, and, leaning over a gate, opened
their eyes for the first time and looked about them. Their feet tingled with warm
blood and their breath rose in steam around them. The bodily exercise made
them both feel more direct and less self-conscious than usual, and Mary, indeed,
was overcome by a sort of light-headedness which made it seem to her that it
mattered very little what happened next. It mattered so little, indeed, that she felt
herself on the point of saying to Ralph:
"I love you; I shall never love anybody else. Marry me or leave me; think what
you like of me--I don't care a straw." At the moment, however, speech or silence
seemed immaterial, and she merely clapped her hands together, and looked at
the distant woods with the rust-like bloom on their brown, and the green and blue
landscape through the steam of her own breath. It seemed a mere toss-up
whether she said, "I love you," or whether she said, "I love the beech-trees," or
only "I love--I love."
"Do you know, Mary," Ralph suddenly interrupted her, "I've made up my mind."
Her indifference must have been superficial, for it disappeared at once. Indeed,
she lost sight of the trees, and saw her own hand upon the topmost bar of the
gate with extreme distinctness, while he went on:
"I've made up my mind to chuck my work and live down here. I want you to tell
me about that cottage you spoke of. However, I suppose there'll be no difficulty