The Return


"The Return" at The Database of Ornament

        For Winter's rains and ruins are over,
            And all the season of snows and sins;
        The days dividing lover and lover,
            he light that loses, the night that wins;
        And time remembered is grief forgotten,
        And l"rosts are slain and flowers begotten,
        And in green underwood and cover
            Blossom by blossom the Spring begins.

                                    ATALANTA IN CALYDON.

SPRING was late in coming, and the flowers, with
hidden heads, wondered sadly if he had forgotten.
Slowly they matured in the gloom of their coverings,
lamenting the days usurped from their short
lives in sight of the sun. Already some impatient
blossoms, betrayed by a fleeting· noon-day warmth,
had ventured forth, but had died with the sunset.
Human folk, too, were faint and fain for change and southern
breezes. Winter had come early and long outstayed his doubtful
welcome. Last Summer seemed weary years away, and all
its sunny memories soiled and dim. The unkind season held
man and beast in joyless case, bound all with cold and tortured
many with the pincers of famine. The merciless north wind
scourged the land, and wrung from men's hearts a sinister
confusion of cries and threatenings, which he caught up as he
passed and carried abroad. It seemed as if there might be
worse things yet than outcry, and rulers speculated uneasily on



the insanity of hungry men. On a sudden the suspense was
broken, the crisis averted; for Spring the Deliverer came over
the horizon, bringing gladness to Nature and awaking the
good that was in men's hearts. Warm winds spread themselves
over sea and shore, and routed the loitering fog from
cellar and garret, from wood and glen and airy hill-top. The
flowers burst forth with a little cry of joy that was heard and
repeated by all the friends who lived with and understood
them—by bird and bee and tree and fountain. The battle of
the year had again been won after a stern fight which had been
in secret progress for many weeks. No one had been aware
of the fluctuations of the struggle, the advance, the repulse,
the force of the succourer waxing steadily unperceived; of
anything but the declaratory success. 'Spring has come in a
day,' they said.
Who could resist the rare infl uence of the first Spring morning?
Not Dives nor Lazarus; not the invalid who cannot stir nor
the careless school-boy who cannot rest; not the city clerk
who, strangely dissatisfied with his favourite literature, throws
the paper out 0' window and enjoys his railway rush and
the unpolluted air; not the loafer who neglects his vocation
and saunters about the roadway with a sudden pleasure in
living and moving, astonishing to himself; not the 'bus-driver
who has a flower in his button-hole; nor the ploughman who,
seeing so many flowers, might again be inspired to music and
poetry, as ploughmen have been, ere now, on a like provocation;
not even pale-faced Agnes, who has been in the habit of
not noticing things much for a long while now. But this
morning there was an unremarked magic in the air which
made her smile at herself—a little sadly still—in the glass, and
brought her forth from her room singing.
'You are so gay this morning, Agnes! ' said her mother by and
by, with a small tremor that was partly joy and partly solicitude
—and altogether love. Her daughter was tying on a
rather old-fashioned hat with dark green ribbons.



'Yes, mother,' said the girl, 'I suppose it is because 'tis such a
gay morning. Do you know, I believe the Spring has actually
come for good. So I shall first water these hyacinths, and then
off to the fields to look for primroses—for you.'
So Agnes tended the plants, which must have loved her; for
they filled that cottage with more amazing perfume than the
rarest of their kind thought it worth while to give forth in the
King's palace. Then she tripped upstairs for a packet—a very
tiny packet—of crumpled letters, which she hid in her dress.
This, to be sure, was very foolish j but many of the letters in
that packet were terribly tear-stained, which perhaps accounts
for it. She also brought back with her a shawl, a wonderfully
gay shawl, which she substituted for the faded brown one
round her mother's shoulders, artfully, without that smiling old
lady being aware of her own transformation. As she set out,
she asked her heart what had lightened it so, and her heart
smiled and said nothing, but insensibly led her to be at one
with everything around. The sparrows were having the first
and most luxurious dust bath of the season, and she understood
and sympathised with their enjoyment. She called back
to the robins, clapped her hands at the singing of the larks,
and strained her hearing to catch the distant cooing of the
wood pigeons. She examined the buds on either hand, and
her walk was a zigzag from hedge to hedge. She had just
discovered a primrose hiding beneath a mossy stone, and was
stooping over it with delight, when suddenly she jerked herself
upright with a little gasp, and with a look in her eyes that may
have been fear, and may have been hope, but was more probably
both. For the postman had entered the lane leading to
the cottage. She thought to turn and fly; but instead, she
walked slowly towards him, in a mist of memories. He put a
letter in her hand. She scarcely noticed it for a moment, then,
with a little cry, carried it to her lips and bounded back with
the speed of gladness.
All this while a train, that had left the city in early morning,



was shrieking rapturously through wood and across meadow.
In one compartment was seated a pale young man about whom
there seemed to float a certain atmosphere, an atmosphere of
Cheapside accountantry, the most artificial—therefore the most
clinging. He was nervous and could not rest; the smart
literature he had brought in such baleful abundance to lessen
the tedium of the journey wearied and even disgusted him.
Something kept prompting him to throw aside his rugs and
papers, and to open both windows to the friendly air without:
but he resisted. Through the first hour he sat unmindful of
the potent influence at work on the world and within him.
He smoked doggedly at cigarettes for which he had little
relish, and glanced over paragraphs of deformed and mirthless
humour, while through his rp.ind there passed, by way of commentary
thereon, choice phrases from the unwritten handbook
of wit and epigram, which all aspiring Londoners must master,
if they would live in the estimation of their fellows. Gradually
he thought more and more frequently of the object of his travel,
and his mind was filled with reflections that kept him grave
and still. All at once a bit of landscape awakened a dear
memory in his heart, and he opened the window and leaned out.
Spring caught him in the act, and metamorphosed him. As
they passed through a copse of young trees a fresh green twig
just managed to caress his cheek. He thrilled as from a kiss.
Larger branches overhead sprinkled him with dew. He felt it
as a baptism. The City behind him now began to appear to
be something happily far away—a black blot on a pleasant
country. It was only a year since it had absorbed him, but
that year stretched in his memory as broad asten. He felt as
if he had never heard a bird or smelt a flower all that time;
never seen the sky!
All his apathy was gone. He was impatient to walk upon the
grass, and passed restlessly from window to window, trampling
heedlessly upon his books and papers; which by and by he
kicked under the seat. A strange timidity, which increased as



he neared his destination, plainly assailed him, and at last he
began a feverish search which resulted in the discovery of two
photographs. One pictured a young woman, beautiful but
loveless, and a little bold; the other a maiden, fresh-looking as
the dawn, with frank true eyes, and hair like sunshine. The
first he looked at a long time curiously, then tore and flung out
of window, muttering to himself, 'Thank God!' On the
second was written, 'From your own sweetheart Agnes,' and
he kissed the writing: which is a thing, mark you, that very
intelligent young men will do: and his eyes grew soft. His
mind went back to the days of his early homesickness in the
great City. He remembered the fretful letter which had won
from Agnes her portrait with its frank superscription, and he
divined with what hesitating fondness it had been written, as
something rather forward and unmaidenly. He considered his
cruel silences that had steadily lengthened, and the expression
of self-contempt on his face told what he thought of it all now
—the weakness and the folly. Soon afterwards he alighted,
and, as he walked along the fragrant country road, some colour
from pink blossoms began to steal upon his pale cheeks, some
of the glorious yellow sunlight sparkled in his eyes, and his
soul re-echoed the music of thrush and merle. He was hastening
to meet Agnes who, with glowing cheeks and hair that
would not be confined, seemed trying to outstrip the early
swallows. A robin who had been flitting playfully before her,
as robins will, was kept continually on the wing, and abandoned
the pastime as too fatiguing. She walked three steps, ran ten,
and sometimes stood still as if to think; then started off again.
He, on his part, though almost as spasmodic in the order of
his thoughts, commanded a less tell-tale demeanour. He
walked slowly, full of gratitude that Nature should make
friends again so warmly. But sometimes he broke into a
quicker pace, so that the glittering highway went past him
like a dream, and he felt that he was participating with all the
world in his first hour of unselfish revelry. Sometimes, indeed,

K          73


he questioned for a moment how Agnes would receive him;
but he held forward steadily, through doubt and confidence.
They met at the entrance to a wooded dell. Their greeting was
shy, even awkward, but happiness was moist in their eyes.
From the bright sunlit places astir with busy life-the whirr of
wings, the bleat of lambs, the low of kine, the continuous hum
of insect traffickers, which brought a curious lightning vision
of Fleet Street to the young man's mind—the leafy entrance to
the wood looked like the archway of some sylvan chapel.
By a natural impulse they joined hands and silently turned
thither. Sweet-scented hawthorn, charm against witches,
waved them a welcome. Everywhere the bright yellow florets
of the whin sparkled like tapers. Pale primrose and modest
violet were scattered richly over the soft green carpet of the
moss. The wood anemones lay like stars among the shadowy
grass, above which the hyacinth lifted its clusters of azure
bells, and the daisy gleamed at the foot of the giant oaks.
'Philip,' said Agnes presently, laying her head against his
shoulder, 'last year was long and dreary, but it is lost out of
my life,-gone and forgotten now.'
And so there was no more to be said. Instead of trying to
excuse his cruel silence during the delirium of his first contagion
with crowds and folly, Philip led her gently to the old
stone beside the spring among the ferns.
'Agnes,' he said, 'something to-day has happened to me. I
seem to have awakened and found myself ....Do you remember
last Spring?' He knelt at her feet. ' It was here... and
'Hush!' whispered Agnes, passing her hand gently through
his hair, 'I remember, I know, I understand. Why should we
talk about unhappy things? The future is all ours.'

The tender sunshine shone upon the lovers, and youth was all
around. Young trees showered sweet petals on their heads,
flowers smiled to them, birds sang to them, and the Spirit of



the Springtime gave them her blessing. The hours sped by.
And when, with radiant faces, they reluctantly left their bower,
they both by one impulse turned to look back. A starling
alighted with a blithe cry upon the stone seat they had just
quitted. 'Now I wonder,' exclaimed Philip, 'if that is the
same little chap who spoke to us exactly a year ago!'
'Yes,' answered the happy girl. 'It is the same dear friend
      who called his good wishes after us—yesterday.'

                                                                                                J.J. HENDERSON

MLA citation: Henderson, J. J. "The Return." The Evergreen 1 (1895): 69-75. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2016. Web. [Date of access]