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The Girl of the Woods
By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing Inc.Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
Revel Radcliffe stood glowering by his father's desk in the library, where he had been ordered to await his father's coming.
His father was even then in the small reception room across the hall talking with a man on business, something to do with printing or engraving. Revel didn't care much. His father's affairs seldom concerned him, and rarely interested him. It had been that way since his babyhood. His few contacts with his father had been to receive commands for the ordinary changes that had followed one another regularly through his life: school attendance and the standing he was expected to maintain — he was required to be letter perfect in everything or there was a storm — attendance at certain family gatherings; and courtesy in the presence of any member of his father's family. His mother's family were seldom around, and never now since her death two years before.
His mother's maiden name had been Emily Revel, and she had lovingly given it to her son against the contemptuous protests of her husband who had insisted on the boy being named Hiram after himself. Hiram R. Radcliffe, he had given reluctant consent to at last, because the doctor had told him that his wife was in a serious state, with fever and lassitude, and needed to be humored. So the baby had been named Hiram Revel Radcliffe. But his mother had called him Revel, and he had always signed his name Revel Radcliffe, without the H. The fellows at school, and even the teachers, always called him Revel. His father was never about the school and didn't know.
He was trying, as he stood there glowering and waiting, to figure out what was coming. He was seldom ordered to await his father unless some huge change of the present state was in the offing. Perhaps there was a dinner ahead, or some definite prohibition was about to be given. His mind always sprang ahead and tried to anticipate. He liked to prepare himself, so that he could meet whatever was to be with the proper stony indifference. He would not offer interest or joy to meet any crisis, even if it were something he might like. And it seldom was that. He could not hope now that there was anything in the immediate future that would bring him any comfort or peace. Sometimes it seemed to him that his father fairly hated him, and he could recall so many times in the last few months of his beloved mother's life when her wishes were utterly set aside for something his father wanted done, that he bore a bitter resentment down in his heart.
And yet, his father was all he had.
So he waited.
Then he could hear his father escorting the man to the door, his grave, cold tones cutting through the dim gloom in the wide hall. That hall that always reminded Revel of his mother's funeral cortege, as she went in state, borne by six of his father's friends. Not a Revel among them all! Not even her own brother present. Somewhere in China, he was, or maybe some other far land, now that there was talk of war everywhere. His father had seen to it that every Revel was well out of his way. Plain and poor they were, though they used to be wealthy. He planned that the grandfather was soon to be banished to an old men's home, though Revel hadn't been told that, and the brother-in-law, if he returned, to a training camp where rules and regulations of government and militarism would relieve Mr. Radcliffe of the unpleasant necessity of having to think about him and plan for his absence. At least that was the Radcliffe idea.
Suddenly the front door closed with a final click like the sound of the elder Radcliffe's voice in all conversations. Then a firm self-assured step told the boy his father had entered the room. Revel lifted his eyes with the fleeting glance of sullen recognition that his father always demanded. The boy often wondered if his father recognized the utter rebellion of his young heart as he gave that glance of acknowledgment that this man was his father and as such had a right to deference and obedience.
"Sit down, Hiram!" ordered the father.
Revel averted his gaze and sidled toward a chair, though as long as he dared, he delayed to actually yield his body to its support.
"Yes, sir?" Revel said with a mixture of obedience, fury, and questioning in his voice.
"I called you in here, Hiram, to let you know that I am about to be married!"
The man paused for an instant and let his cold eyes bore cruelly through the tall young fellow with the dark eyes and heavy dark waves of hair that were all so utterly unlike his own vigorous tawny hair and light blue eyes. Revel had heard him almost blame his frail little mother once because her son did not resemble himself, but had the general look of the Revels. It seemed to be an unforgivable thing that his wife had not given him a son who would be a replica of himself. As if she had deliberately willed it to be so.
But Revel was not thinking of this now. The words his father had just spoken had gone deep into his heart, like well-aimed shots, each piercing the vital life of him. Nay, it seemed on second thought that they were great rocks, each word a rock, thudding on his sensitive soul with blows from which he could never hope to recover. And yet he managed to sit steadily without a visible quiver, just enduring those awful words. His father was actually going to wipe out from the home the memory of his mother by putting another woman in her place.
Oh, of course, it was a perfectly respectable thing to do, for his father to remarry, after two years. People would say he was sensible. That it was the only thing for him to do. They would say how nice it was for Revel to have a mother again, and life could go on for them in a normal way. But the boy knew that his life was shattered. So far as his father was concerned, or any memory of his father and mother together, which made the kind of dream any boy would like to conjure in his thoughts, it was gone! Dead! Lifeless!
It might have been different perhaps, if he could remember happy days they had had together. But all the happy memories were of his mother, and the rest were of the gloom and sadness that had pervaded the household whenever his father came about. If there had been sunny days and happiness, perhaps even Revel could have felt his father was justified in trying to have a little more happiness for himself. But a man who had made no joy for that precious mother, how had he a right to try for any pleasure in life for himself?
These bitter thoughts chased one another over his mind in rapid succession, and yet he sat there and held his face without a quiver, not a flicker of any eyelash. He had had long practice in hiding his innermost thoughts from his father.
"I want you to understand," continued that grim voice, "that I shall demand the utmost deference and courtesy and obedience, the same that you gave to your own mother. The woman I am marrying is a member of an old and noble family, a woman of character, and she will not brook slipshod manners, nor carelessness of speech or attire. I am telling you this now, and I do not wish to have to speak of it again. Do you understand?"
After an instant of utter stillness the boy summoned courage to lift a fleeting glance fatherward and grudgingly bow a brief assent to the question.
The father waited a moment, perhaps expecting some other word from his son, but Revel had done all that his tempestuous spirit could do, and not break forth into shocked protest. After a little he managed to get himself to his feet, his glance still down on the floor, controlling by some deep boy-power the awful trembling that was traveling upward from his heart to his lips.
"Well," said his father, "have you anything to say, Hiram? Doesn't it mean anything to you?"
Oh, yes, it meant much to him, but Revel could not say it here. Long years of hiding his feelings from his father would not let him speak now. What difference what he would say? It could only bring forth abuse. He knew that by long experience.
And then, because the silence demanded some reply from him, his cold lips and husky voice stumbled forth with:"Well, I guess you — had a right — to do that, Father!"
"Had a right? Why, of course I did. It is not for you to set yourself up as my judge. Of course I had a right. It seems to me a more pleasant wishful courtesy might have been on your lips."
The boy stuttered, stumbled, turned red and then deadly white again as he lifted almost haughty eyes and managed to say in a clear, contemptuous tone, "I guess you'll be happy all right!"
"Very well," said the man, having forced congratulations from this unwilling young serf of his. "You may go and get yourself ready for dinner. We are having it early tonight. I have to go out, and I hear the dishes being brought in. You had better hurry. Later, perhaps tonight, or in a day or two, I shall tell you the plans I have made for your college entrance next fall."
Without another word Revel went swiftly out of the room, across the hall with silent steps, and up the stairs. He crossed to his own room and then slid out again down the back stairs, and out a side entrance. Swiftly behind the garage he went, across the fields at the back of the house, straight out of his father's estate, and up a hill toward a woods that had been many times in his young past a refuge when his soul was in agony.
He passed like a shadow through the brightness of the setting sun, on into the shadows on the edge of the woods, and then entered the cool silence of the place he knew. He flung himself down full length upon the soft yielding carpet of moss and delicate spring blossoms. Violets and anemones, spring beauties, hepaticas. He knew and loved them all. They were his friends. How many times he had come here and gathered great handfuls of them for his mother. And unknown to his father or anyone who had been at her funeral, a handful of them lay even now close to her heart, where he had put them when no one was looking. They seemed now to be his only friends, his only touch with the beloved mother who was gone.
So he flung himself down with his face among the flowers, and let his boy tears flow, as he could never have let them go if there had been anyone watching. He had a feeling that not even God, if there was a God, must see him weep. It seemed to him his heart was broken, and there was no use going on.
And yet he had to go on!
The horror of it rolled over him. He had no mother, never had really had a father, and now his home, what had been left of it, was shattered.
True, he didn't know the woman who was to be his father's wife, but she would never be anything else to him. He would not even have the privilege of looking sorrowful anymore in that house into which he had been born. The newcomer might be a pleasant woman; he ought to feel sorry for her, perhaps, but he couldn't. Perhaps she would have to suffer as much as his mother had suffered, but at least that had nothing to do with him now. He could not help it. He had to bear this awful shock himself, and find out what to do.
He lay there for a long time, shaken with wild, silent sobs, still conscious of a world, even if it were only made up of birds and squirrels, that must not hear him weep. Must not ever know that a man-child could weep and could suffer like this.
And then, in an interval of a breath, he heard a light step. Looking up suddenly, his anguished face drenched in tears, he saw a girl, standing quite close to him, looking down. Her hands were full of the wild blossoms she had been picking, and her lovely face was full of startled tenderness and wonder and sudden deep embarrassment.
"Oh," she said, "I'm sorry! I beg your pardon! I didn't see you before or I wouldn't have come!"
He gave her a bewildered, ashamed, blinking stare. He wasn't a boy who was given to tears. He had come away to the woods to hide his misery. And here in the wilderness he was caught, by a girl!
She wasn't any girl he knew, and she probably didn't know him. But what difference did that make? Oh, why did this have to happen?
He gave an angry brush at his eyes.
"It's awright!" he growled, and began to arise. Then his misery caught him once more and he bowed his unhappy face into the flowers again with a suppressed groan. "Oh!"
The girl had started to go away, but his action drew her sorrowful glance again, and she turned a little and dropped softly down beside him among the flowers, laying one small hand gently on his bowed head, as lightly as a butterfly might have lit there.
"I'm sorry!" she said gently. "I'm only a stranger, you know, and I don't count of course, but I'm sure God cares."
The boy's tense shoulders quivered, and he lifted his head and looked at her in scorn.
"God cares!" he sneered. "A lot you know about it! He's had it in for me ever since I was born! Don't kid yourself. He never even thought of me."
"Oh, yes, He cares," said the girl firmly. "He loves you very much, and He's thinking about your trouble right now and wishing you would come to Him to get help!" The tense young shoulders quivered again.
He drew himself up and tossed his hair back from his hot, flushed face.
"I guess I don't need help. I guess I can take it. A man oughtta be able ta take it — anything that comes — oughtn't he?"
"Why — I don't know that he ought, not all alone. I think God meant us to be dependent on Him, and sometimes only trouble will bring us to recognize that." The girl spoke as if she was working out the thought as she talked. She didn't look like a girl who had been through much trouble herself.
He rested his elbow on the ground and stared at her, trying to look as if there had been no tears, to ignore his own humiliation.
"Well, I don't know about God. My mother used to pray. She taught me little prayers, but that's a long time ago, and she's gone. That's the trouble! I'm a fool of course, because she's been dead two whole years, and Dad has a right to do what he likes, only it kind of seems as if Dad is dishonoring her, and I can't take that! You see, Dad just told me he's getting married again, and I saw red. I came off here to be by myself."
"Oh, I'm sorry! And I broke in on your privacy! But truly, I didn't know you were here. I didn't see you till you looked up, and even then I tried to get away."
The boy took a deep breath and put out an impulsive hand to hers.
"Don't feel bad!" he said resignedly. "I didn't blame you. Only I just saw red, and I couldn't take it to have that done to my mother. She was a wonderful mother — and it wasn't as if she'd had a good time while she lived, either!"
His strong young lip quivered, and the tears began to blur into his eyes again, though he blinked them away quickly. He was gripping her little hand in his now, and looking down at it curiously, almost tenderly. "My mother had a hand like yours," he said suddenly. "Little and kind of soft, like silk when you touched it!" He smoothed her fingers thoughtfully, as if he didn't remember she was hearing him. And then suddenly he laid her hand back in her lap.
"I guess I'm a kind of a sis," he said shamedly, "and my mother wouldn't have liked that. But I was boiling mad when my father told me he was getting married again, and I couldn't see it. If I could find a job somewhere, I'd go away and he wouldn't ever see me again!"
The girl looked down on him with compassion. She was wearing a little white dress with tiny rosebuds printed on it. There were two small bows of rose-colored ribbon in her brown hair, and she seemed so sweet and sisterly there in the woods looking down on him.
"Well," she said, "maybe that would be a good thing for you to do. I don't know, I'm sure. But I think you would need to ask God about it before you did anything like that. God knows what is best for you, and if you would ask Him, He would show you, for sure."
"I doubt it!" said the boy, discouragement written all over his dejected young face. "But I'm all kinds of sorry you caught me bawling, and I'm grateful to you for trying to comfort me, anyhow."
"Well, I wish you'd try asking God," said the girl softly, with a troubled look in her eyes. "I'm going to be praying that you'll do it. And now, don't you worry about my seeing a few tears in your eyes. I'm just a stranger, and you'll probably never see me again. I'm going away now, so forget it! I'll forget it, too, and you can put it out of your mind forever."
Excerpted from The Girl of the Woods by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2015 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing Inc..
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