James Branch Cabell (1879 1958)
Cabell was born in Virginia, and except for a few brief intervals he resided there continuously. Among his score of volumes, most of which are romantic and satirical novels, are a few charmingly related short tales. The collection called The Certain Hour is a delicately written cycle of stories around actual or imagined episodes in the lives of various authors. A Brown Woman is one of the best of these.
A Brown Woman is reprinted from The Certain Hour. Copyright, 1916, by Robert M. McBride & Co., New York, by permission of the publisher.
A Brown Woman
I must be hurrying home now,” the girl said, “for it is high JD time I were back in the hayfields.”
“Fair shepherdess,” he implored, “for heaven`s sake, let us not cut short the pastorally thus abruptly.”
“And what manner of beast may that be, pray?”
“ `Tis a conventional form of verse, my dear, which we at present strikingly illustrate. The plan of a pastorelle is simplicity`s self: a gentleman, which I may fairly claim to be, in some fair rural scene such as this comes suddenly upon a rustic maiden of surpassing beauty. He naturally falls in love with her, and they say all manner of fine things to each other.”
She considered him for a while before speaking. It thrilled him to see the odd tenderness that was in her face. “You always think of saying and writing fine things, do you not, sir?”
“My dear,” he answered, gravely, “I believe that I was undoubtedly guilty of such folly until you came. I wish I could make you understand how your coming has changed everything.
“You can tell me some other time,” the girl gaily declared, and was about to leave him.
Highland detained her, very gently. “Faith, but I fear not, for already my old hallucinations seem to me incredible. Why, yesterday I thought it the most desirable of human lots to be a great poet” the gentleman laughed in self-mockery. “I positively did. I labored every day toward becoming one.
I lived among books, esteemed that I was doing something of genuine importance as I gravely tinkered with alliteration and metaphor and antithesis and judicious paraphrases of the ancients. I put up with life solely because it afforded material for versification; and, in reality, believed the destruction of Troy was providentially ordained lest Homer lack subject matter for an epic. And as for loving, I thought people fell in love in order to exchange witty rhymes.”
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