As Short as I Wish had been the Majority of Sermons to which I have been Forced to give Ear
When alone I confessed to aunt Helen that Harold had accompanied me to within a short distance of home. She did not smile as usual, but looked very grave, and, drawing me in front of her, said:
"Sybylla, do you know what you are doing? Do you love Harry Beecham? Do you mean to marry him?"
"Aunt Helen, what a question to ask! I never dreamt of such a thing. He has never spoken a word of love to me. Marriage! I am sure he does not for an instant think of me in that light. I'm not seventeen."
"Yes, you are young, but some people's age cannot be reckoned by years. I am glad to see you have developed a certain amount of half-real and half-assumed youthfulness lately, but when the novelty of your present life wears away, your old mature nature will be there, so it is of no use feigning childishness. Harold Beecham is not given to speech--action with him is the same thing. Can you look at me straight, Sybylla, and say that Harold has not extended you something more than common politeness?"
Had aunt Helen put that question to me a day before, I would have blushed and felt guilty. But today not so. The words of the jackeroo the night before had struck home. "A hideous barbarian", he had called me, and it seemed to me he had spoken the truth. My life had been so pleasant lately that I had overlooked this fact, but now it returned to sting with redoubled bitterness. I had no lovable qualities to win for me the love of my fellows, which I so much desired.
I returned aunt Helen a gaze as steady as her own, and said bitterly:
"Aunt Helen, I can truly say he has never, and will never extend to me more than common politeness. Neither will any other man. Surely you know enough of masculine human nature to see there is no danger of a man losing his heart to a plain woman like me. Love in fancy and song is a pretty myth, embracing unity of souls, congeniality of tastes, and such like commodities. In workaday reality it is the lowest of passions, which is set alight by the most artistic nose and mouth, and it matters not if its object is vile, low, or brainless to idiocy, so long as it has these attributes."
"Sybylla, Sybylla," said auntie sadly, as if to herself. In the first flush of girlhood, and so bitter. Why is this?"
"Because I have been cursed with the power of seeing, thinking, and, worse than all, feeling, and branded with the stinging affliction of ugliness," I replied.
"Now, Sybylla, you are going to think of yourself again. Something has put you out. Be sensible for once in a way. What you have said of men's love may be true in a sense, but it is not always so, and Harry is not that kind of man. I have known him all his life, and understand him, and feel sure he loves you truly. Tell me plainly, do you intend to accept him?"
"Intend to accept him!" I echoed. I haven't once thought of such a possibility. I never mean to marry anyone."
"Don't you care for Harold? Just a little? Think."
"How could I care for him?"
"For many, many reasons. He is young, and very kind and gentle. He is one of the biggest and finest-looking men you could find. He is a man whom no one could despise, for he has nothing despicable about him. But, best of all, he is true, and that, I think, is the bedrock of all virtues."
"But he is so conceited," I remarked.
"That does not make him any the less lovable. I know another young person very conceited, and it does not prevent me from loving her dearly," here aunt Helen smiled affectionately at me. "What you complain of in Harold will wear off presently--life has been very easy for him so far, you see."
"But, auntie, I'm sure he thinks he could have any girl for the asking."
"Well, he has a great number to choose from, for they all like him."
"Yes, just for his money," I said scornfully. "But I'll surprise him if he thinks he can get me for the asking."
"Sybylla, never flirt. To play with a man's heart, I think, is one of the most horribly unwomanly actions our sex can be guilty of."
"I would scorn to flirt with any man," I returned with vigour. "Play with a man's heart! You'd really think they had such a thing, aunt Helen, to hear you talk. Hurt their vanity for a few days is the most a woman could do with any of them. I am sick of this preach, preach about playing with men's hearts. It is an old fable which should have been abolished long ago. It does not matter how a woman is played with."
"Sybylla, you talk at random. The shortcomings of men are no excuse for you to be unwomanly," said aunt Helen.