A Motto Changed III.

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CHAPTER IX.


FATHER laughed at me, and I consider therefore that I am let alone to do the best I can for myself. Dis does not care about me — not yet. Rowland knows nothing about it. Mr. Larkin takes no notice now. But Mrs. Larkin would like it.

“She got me yesterday out of the clutches of that old prig. Serves me right, though, that he should plague me; why did I get up this subject of the old Scotch poetry?

“She proposed of her own accord to read the papers to him, actually telling me to take a glass of water to Dis, and directing me to where she was painting with Rowland. I wish the little monkey was not with her, though.”

He carried a mug half full of water as he spoke. He had asked Mally for a glass. “Na,” she said, “gin ye think glasses grow here away ye’re just mistaken.”

The establishment was evidently short of those commodities; she gave a mug, and Rhodes took it meekly, set forth, and very soon found the brother and sister. Dis was making a sketch, and Rowland, with a good-sized piece of wood before him, was trying to shape it into a boat.

Rhodes had given him that piece of wood, had it, in fact, packed up and sent by parcel-post.

What! no pieces of wood lying about that were large enough for a little boy to “whittle?”

Certainly not! there was hardly a tree within five miles that was much larger than a gooseberry-bush.

Rowland was sitting on the ground with the piece of wood between his legs.

If those who manage her Majesty’s post-office had known that this bit of wood had come all the way from Derbyshire for ten-pence half-penny, this might have seemed an insignificant sum to accept for an insignificant purpose; but, luckily, those servants of the State have no business to investigate such matters. The wood arrived, Rhodes unpacked it, gave it to the young urchin, and felt rewarded, for Dis, as he sat down after presenting the mug of water, remarked how much Rowland had been delighted with it.

As for Dis herself, the sight of her best hat, which she was now wearing, made her in his eyes so much more lovely even than usual that it was indeed a privilege to look at her, and Rhodes felt perfectly happy for more than a quarter of an hour.

Though Dis was much more occupied with the little brother than with him. She seemed to be encouraging and consoling him. “But father laughed at me,” he said, ruefully, at last, “and after that I didn’t care so much even about my wood. I didn’t like that.”

“No, I dare say not,” observed Rhodes.

“He often laughed at me when I made a bungle of what I had to do.”

“Well, you had better go on with your boat,” said Dis.

“And so I had to write two copy-books full for nothing.”

“What was it about?”

“About history, for that prize.”

“You did not get it.”

“No, and father laughed, and said the prize was for history, and not for prophecy. That was when I told him what I had written.”

“He tried to prophesy, Rhodes,” said Dis.

“But it was not a prophecy of my own,” said Rowland, excusing himself. “And there was a whole page left in the second copy-book. So I thought it would look more grand if it was all written over, and I’ve often heard father talk about the tendency of the age; and you, too, Dis.”

“Oh,” said Rhodes, “the tendency of the age!”

“I have said sometimes that when particular opinions were set going, they generally get on faster and faster, and sometimes, if there is any danger or mischief in them, it is not observed for a long time.”

“Well, then, I only said, just because it would be something that would do so well to top off with, that there were only eight years more before the end of this century, and that I thought if so many people in this country, but not all people, of course, kept getting more like Roman Catholics in their religion; thinking more as they think, I mean; that by the time it was New-year’s Day 2001, those who didn’t like it would rise up and break away from them, and there would be another reformation.”

“Well, that was prophecy, wasn’t it?”

“But, I don’t know why father should have laughed, for I have often heard him say very nearly the same thing, and that he thought very likely the persecutions would come again.”

“Perhaps he laughed,” said Rhodes, “because you are such a little chap to imitate what he said about the tendency of the age; you never could have thought about it at all, you know, unless hearing him talk had put it into your head.”

“But mine was the best written exercise in our class, and I didn’t have the prize. And I never said I thought the Protestants would be persecuted, at least not that they would be burned again, because mother said she hoped the world was getting more humane, and it would be thought shocking now not to let people believe and do what they pleased.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Rhodes, who had been consoling himself a good deal with Isabel’s best hat, and ller eyes seen under its rim. “I should say that men, and women too, were much more brutal the last thirty years, or so, and persecute one another much more about other matters; why not eventually about that too? Look at the tens of thousands who band themselves together and vow that none shall work to earn their bread, excepting by the exact rules that they have laid down. They hunt and ill-use those who refuse to obey; they have stoned some and even killed them.

“We are not a free people now, you know; not even by our own account, but are very much persecuted by one another. A great many of us are slaves — and if I had to prophesy, I should say that before the yoke becomes so intolerable that we break it off, we shall more of us be so.”

“And remember, mister,” said Dis, “that father said nothing about the sort of prophecy you had finished up with, only that this prize was not for prophecy at all.”

And then — what misfortunes will happen in this life! Dis asked Rhodes if he had a watch, and if he would tell her the time. He pulled out his watch with fervour.

“Oh, I did not know it was so late,” she exclaimed, rising; “father said he should want me about this time to make a copy of something he has been writing. I shall not be long.” She put down her brushes and palette and was gone.

He decided against accompanying her, lest the old man should get hold of and detain him. No, he must wait for her there, she would come back to Rowland and her drawing.

Presently the boy quite startled him by uttering her name. “Father never asks mother to copy for him, but always Dis. Dis writes such a beautiful hand, it is almost as clear as print. What do you think we were talking about when you came up? Dis thought it was interesting.”

So, immediately, did Rhodes. He asked what it was.

“Why, it was about an old trapper that I have read of. His name was Joe; he said he had seen otters have games together on the top of a steep bank, covered with snow, and slide down, each one lying on its belly.”

“For fun?”

“Yes, and then they would crawl up the slippery bank, and run round to the sliding-place to perform the same evolution.”

“Oh! to perform to the same evolution. That was how the thing was expressed, was it?”

“Yes. He was a very good old gentleman who wrote this about Joe. He would not have told a story on any account. His name was Mr. Gosse.”

“I have heard of him, of course. He was a celebrated naturalist.”

“Yes, and he said he knew of no other example of a grown-up quadruped joining in a regular game that it had invented itself.”

“He saw them do it? He saw that?”

“No, but the old boy who was called Joe, saw it.”

“Ahem.”

“You don’t believe it?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, Dis said she thought she didn’t; but, you see, if it is not true, there’s nothing in it, and I need not trouble myself to keep thinking about it.”

“That’s certain, nor if it is true, that I know of.”

“But if I left off thinking about those otters, there are the elephants.”

“What about them?”

“You have often seen them?”

“Yes, of course, when I have been in Africa or India with father.”

“Well, when the gadflies have been teasing them, have you seen them break off branches all over leaves with their trunks, and carry them on to whisk the flies off their bodies?”

“Yes, I’ve seen that ; elephants are queer customers. I have seen them scrape up dust with their trunks and blow it at the flies when they could not reach them with the leaves.”

“Yes, that’s just as Wonderful. I wish Dis would come that I might tell her.”

“So do I,” thought Rhodes.

“Because she hardly ever believes things. Now l read that the little ostrich, nearly a week before he is hatched, moves about in his shell, and when he is nearly ready to come out he can be heard squeaking, and tapping it with his little beak.”

“Yes, that is not strange. He wants to get out.”

“Yes; but what does it mean? How should he know that there is any out? He has never seen it.”

“Certainly not.”

“He has never seen this world at all, but he knows about it. So that shows that he knows how to prophesy — even before he is hatched.”

“You are a queer youngster; what made you think of that?”

“That is what Dis said, and she said an ostrich had hardly as much brains as a thrush or any other of the little birds, and she was perfectly certain that the ostrich in the egg was not prescient.”

“I wonder such a little chap as you are should even know the meaning of such an uncommon word.”

“I did not know the word, but when Dis found that I kept thinking about the thing it meant, she told me the word, and said if l would leave off thinking about it she would give me a shilling.”

“Did you get the shilling?”

“No, it wasn’t worth while, for there are no shops here to buy hard-bake in, or tops, or anything I want, so I said she had better keep the shilling and tell me what it meant instead.”

“And she couldn’t.”

“No, for you see there are such a variety of creatures, and some of them have a way of knowing where they want to go, either they tell each other or somebody else tells them. I mean the birds of passage.”

“Well, suppose we polish off the ostrich first. He kicks at his shell not because he wants to see the world. He is growing, and it hurts him; so he struggles to get out. That is only instinct.”

“Well, then, what do you think instinct really and truly is?”

“What a plague of a child you are!”

“Dis says she thinks — ”

Here Rhodes became suddenly interested; he looked down into Rowland’s eyes and cogitated over his words.

“You told me,” said Rowland presently, “that you went for a cruise sometimes with your father and mother — went to the hot countries.”

“Yes, I did. I saw a great many curious things, but I shall not tell them to you, or you will add them to those that you plague Dis about.”

“Did you see the birds-of-paradise dance on their tree, that the others may admire them?”

“No; but I have heard all about it.”

“Do you believe it?”

“I suppose I do; but they cannot tell us themselves what they mean, so I cannot be sure. I am sure, though, that they are extremely vain, and know perfectly well how handsome they are — just as the nightingale knows how beautifully he sings; birds are more clever than beasts.”

“Dis says she thinks some of the beasts are fallen, and some are good still. Sheep and horses are naturally good. Crocodiles are naturally wicked, I think.”

“No doubt of that! When I was a little boy I had some very young crocodiles to play with. I went to stay at a missionary’s house in Africa. He used to go out early in the morning (he lived by a river) and hunt for and turn out all the crocodiles’ eggs he could find in the sand. I remember very well how he used to stamp on the leathery things. The wretches used to come up the creek at night to lay them. His little boy
and I got some that were only just hatched and made a sort of sty for them, and fed them, till one who was, I think, not more than a week old, bit a small black boy’s thumb off.”

Now, the place occupied by Rowland and Rhodes had a certain advantage — one could see from it all the path to the house as one sat.

This was for half an hour or so, but almost at the same moment that Dis slipped forth from the door and enriched his eyes with the sight of her, he noticed another circumstance which somewhat disturbed him.

In fact, she was no sooner settled in her place, and he had brought her some fresh water in her mug from the adjacent loch, than he mentioned it.

“I surely cannot be mistaken in thinking those tracks are the marks of wheels; they appear to lead up to the house.”

“Oh yes,” said Rowland, “the old uncle sometimes comes here — but very seldom.”

“He asked if it was dry and pleasant,” remarked Dis, “and said he would come to us if Mr. Mainwaring was here, because he took such an intelligent interest in the old Scotch poetry.”

Rhodes’s countenance expressed deep dismay, and Dis turned her own away that Rowland might not see how she was laughing; she therefore turned it towards Rhodes, and this was sweet to him. They understood one another, and she said, in the clear tone of her expressive voice, “It was very good of you, Rhodes, to come and talk with him so often. He very seldom gets his innings.”

“He does not want us,” said Rowland; “he only wants Rhodes.”

“Well, you may go, if you like,” said Dis. Rhodes cast an appealing look at Dis which said as plainly as possible, “You will not go too? Have not I waited all this time for a sight of you?”

“I think I shall not go,” said Rowland. “I don’t mind hearing him talk.”

“No, we had better all stay,” observed Dis, “as we know he is coming.” And she washed and dabbled on at her landscape while Mally came forth bearing a couple of cushions and a large umbrella.

“That settles it,” said Rhodes, now tolerably happy.

“Well, Mally, and how are you?”

“I am pleased to set eyes on ye, Mr. Mainwaring. Ye’ll not think I made too free talking at ye, the day?”

“About the egg-shells. Oh no.”

“Well, ye see, I thought ye mightna like my having sae muckle the best o’ the argument.”

Rhodes and Dis both turned and looked at her as she laid her pillow down.

“Now, ye’ll just give these to the laird for his back. Ye see ye can’t get the better of such a soobject, it’s just a meestery.”

“What do you mean by a mystery P”

“Why, a thing that ye canna look at all round, and it’s a meestery to me, too, that none of they editors wad prent his books. I aye thought it must be a grand pleasure writing a book. It’s like a sermon, ye see, where the meenister stands up and naebody can contradict him.”

“Not while he is preaching, Mally; but the sermon is freely pulled to pieces in many a house afterwards.”

“I’m no for denying that.”

“Just as the book is freely pulled to pieces afterwards by the reviewer.”

“Aye, to be sure, but they would never dare to be unceevil to the laird, the oldest family and the moust respectit for thirty miles round.”


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER X.


RHODES is caught!” exclaimed Dis, coming up to Mrs. Larkin a few days after, with a little laugh.

“Well, then, I think we must go and help him out of the scrape,” said Mrs. Larkin. “It really is not fair that my poor old uncle should make such a victim of him.”

“He should not have done it, then,” said Dis; but her step-mother was evidently so much in earnest that she went with her, and when Rhodes saw them coming his handsome young face lighted up, and he cast such a look of relief and gratitude on them both that Dis was afraid old Patrick’s surprise should be excited.

He was seated in his wheel-chair in the warm sunshine, and Dis caught these words as they came up: “For ye are not like many young men, Mr. Mainwaring; ye tak’ an intelligent interest — ”

Dis darted a look at him, and he returned it with an air of very great interest indeed. “Tiresome fellow,” she thought; “I did not intend to please him so much. One does feel a little more intimate with people one sees every day. I cannot be always formal, but I did not mean anything but that he was found out.”

Mrs. Larkin and Dis seated themselves.

“Well, my dears,” said old Patrick, “ye shall be welcome to join in the discussion, provided ye don’t interrupt; but Mr. Mainwaring holds fast to the subject, as a rule, and — and — ”

The interruption came.

“Miss Mackinnon, to wait on ye, laird,” said Mally, who appeared from the house, followed by a lady.

Rhodes started up and went to fetch another chair; he did not want to get away, now.

“I thought you might have got the new songs,” the fresh arrival was saying to Dis as he returned. She and Dis had been practising on a piano at one of the hotels, and singing Scotch music together.

“New!” exclaimed old Patrick, aghast, and with an energetic prod of the grass. “Never name them, my dears. All new Scotch songs are trash. Now, what does Mr. Mainwaring say to that?”

Rhodes screwed up his mouth with an expression which was not exactly protest, and with an air of earnestness and gravity which may or may not have been feigned. “But you know, laird, the old words were not always suitable for singing by young ladies.”

“And yet we want to sing the fine old tunes,” observed Dis.

“But ye should not get whole crops of fresh words — ye should keep to the original tinkering. And yet, such of the real old words as they condescended to retain had almost better have been lost than mauled as they have been. Walter Scott and Burns were the chief offenders.”

“I thought it was considered that they improved them,” said Mrs. Larkin.

“Aye, aye; they ceevlised them — in many cases made them less archaic; but Burns regarded each precious fragment as literally an old song, and the splendour that they whiles imparted was not what belonged to their date, for they had a unique beauty of their own. For my part, I generally know where a patch comes in, partly by the clearing out and partly by the taming of the style, which was part of their merit.”

Here Miss Mackinnon half rose, as if she would take her leave; she looked at Dis as if to propose that they should go away together, but Dis knew such a manoeuvre would distress and displease her step-mother. She did this twice, and Dis did not rise; but the third time Mrs. Larkin did, and helped her off; her father would expect her home to luncheon, she said, and no doubt she had heard about the old Scotch poetry many times.

Mrs. Larkin soon returned, and as she drew near, the sonorous voice was laying down the law. She was pleased to see how good Dis was, appearing to attend. “Stupid young creature,” was her thought; “why
cannot she care for him? — what an air of peace and joy her mere presence gives to that handsome, open young face.”

“It is my firm belief,” old Patrick was saying, “that Walter Scott often pretended that there were more of the old ballads than really existed. He constantly, as we know, invented appropriate lines to head his chapters with, and signed them ‘Old Ballad,’ or ‘Old Play,’ but occasionally, when he got a genuine fragment, and tinkered it up and made it consistent and poetical, I feel a wish that he had taken more pains to hunt out more of the original article instead. No doubt that is your own feeling, Mr. Mainwaring?”

Rhodes hesitated. The fact is, he had let his attention wander in the usual direction. Old Patrick went on, “For if ever there was one of this generation who showed a zeal for the recovery of certain precious fragments, and an interest in the whole subject — ” He prodded his crutch into the grass remorselessly, thinking Rhodes was making up his mind.

At last Rhodes answered, “No doubt you are right, Mr. Gordon,” and the old man replied, “Yes, yes; ye are willing to acknowledge at last that the rest of the ballad, or whatever it Was, must have existed somewhere. Now, there is the fine song, ‘Jock o’ Hazeldean.’ Walter Scott agrees that the first stanza, including the incomparable refrain, is ancient. Ye remember it, Mr. Mainwaring, no doubt?”

Rhodes looked rather helplessly at the two ladies.

“Oh yes,” said Isabel. “I remember most of it, because I have so often sung it.”

“Well, well,” replied old Patrick, who regarded the evident doubtfulness of Rhodes almost as a delinquency. “I’ll just recite the opening stanza to ye,” and he began in a sort of chant, using his crutch to beat time:


“‘Why weep ye by the tide, ladie?
       Why weep ye by the tide?
  I’ll wed ye to my youngest son,
      An’ ye sall be his bride.
  An’ ye sall be his bride, ladie,
      Sae comely to be seen —
  But aye she loot the tears down fa’
      For Jock o’ Hazeldean.’


Now we should have known that was ancient even if Walter Scott had not manfully confessed; and what does it so far tell? Why, that the old fellow, the speaker, in a border raid had carried off an heiress, and meant to marry her to his youngest son. Why? To make her land his own. It would be no use, when that was done, to run away and cry after jock, who was manifestly a Scotchman, as the few other lines recovered
seem to imply. The fragment is rude so far, and has in perfection the archaic stamp so striking and attractive to these quieter days. But Walter Scott goes on, and fills up the chasm with a stately and charming picture of his own, made out of the best days of chivalry; he gives the reader two stanzas which belong to a different age and different manners. He will wed her to his youngest son — his son Frank, forsooth. Now Frank was not a name in use when those earlier lines were composed. Frank, moreover, had elder brothers — how, then, could he be chief and lord of any domain whatever while they and their father both lived? Then comes the last stanza; it seems to be more patched and not so skilfully as the former one.”

“I should not have noticed that the ballad belonged to two different periods,” observed Mrs. Larkin.

“I should,” said Rhodes; “at least, I certainly agree that it does, now this has been pointed out.”

“And others might have done even at first, only ye’ll allow that was not a critical age. Perhaps our great magician merely used his wand to make such inklings of the tale as he had picked up fit together. The last four lines are ancient, so I think; but as to ‘hawk, or mettled hound,’ or a palfrey for the chase, these were not known in that day, so far north, any more than was the decking up of a church for a bridal. Now, to my mind, it’s highly probable that in the ancient song the old freebooter promised her nothing more than this, or something like it:


“‘A chain o’ gowd ye’se get for wear,
       A gown o’ watchet blue,
   A stalwart youth he rides forbye
       Sall plight ye promise true.
   His foot aye forward in the chase,
       In fight his falchion keen —
   But aye she loot the tears down fa’
       For Jock o’ Hazeldean.’


Now, why did ye laugh, Rhodes Mainwaring, and what are ye thinking of?”

“You would not like me to tell you.”

“I would.”

“Well, then, I was thinking if the song was to be saved at all, let me have Scott’s version, because it is beautiful in itself, and to be beautiful is surely the first duty of a song.”

“But I tell you I do not like that even high poets, such as Burns and Scott, should take the fine lines of the ancient songs, preserving mostly the story, also the rhythm, and yet modernize them and turn them into quite different things.”

“But I don’t think that even you consider their poetry to have the first place,” Rhodes broke in, and rose as he did so. “I have heard you say that most of the finest songs in the world have been written for existing tunes. I am afraid I must be going.” (“Poor fellow,” thought Mrs. Larkin, as he held out his hand to her.) “My father expects me to join them in an excursion,” he said.

“Ah!” said Dis, almost to her own surprise. “I will go part of the way with you, Rhodes.”

Mrs. Larkin was, therefore, left to the discussion, but she was much pleased with Isabel, though she half suspected the motive. “Anything to get away,” she said to herself, and yet it pleased her to see the two young people proceeding along the loch-side together.

Dis had not been walking with Rhodes many minutes before she felt ashamed of herself; also she perceived that “it was coming.” Something was certainly coming, for Rhodes was a little different. He was not at all elated; he did not address her, and there was a certain gravity in his manner that impressed her. He did not speak till they came to a little glen which sheltered them alike from being seen from the hotel and from Sir Patrick’s house. Here he turned to her and said, “This is the first, the very first time in my life that I have ever been alone with you.” He was carrying a plaid on his arm; he spread it on the heather, and asked her to sit down, “Well, he must have said it sooner or later,” she thought, and she sat down, saying, “I am very sorry, now I think of it, that I have not liked to walk with you before. It was only because I thought you might have something to say to me, which — which would impress itself on your own mind the more strongly if you put it into words, but — ”

Isabel was taking the man’s part in this interview.

“But which?” Rhodes asked, going on with her sentence in a questioning tone. Isabel blushed deeply. She saw what she had done; she had taken for granted that he was about to make her an offer, and she would have to let this appear. But he had just as much right to do it now as if he was forty, she considered, his father does not object. “Dear me, how tiresome; what do I mean by looking so out of countenance?”

“But which?” Rhodes asked again, and she said, not directly answering, and she faltered a little,

“I like you, Rhodes, and I did not want you to say much, for I thought if you could forget all this that you and I might be friends.”

He replied, “It is a great pleasure, an unexpected pleasure, to hear you say, and quite deliberately, that you like me. Let me ask you one question, and if the answer goes against me, I will never trouble you at all again. Is there any other fellow, any one for whose sake you cannot like me more?” Worse and worse. Dis was blushing more than ever, but he had certainly a right to her. She was obliged to say “No.”

“You mean me to understand quite clearly and without any mistake that you do not love any one else?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And you know by instinct that I love you with all my heart?”

Dis looked about. Yes, she did know it, but she could not say anything.

“We don’t know much about one another,” she remarked, at last, and almost humbly.

“Do you say that to encourage me to hope that some day you may like me better?”

“I don’t know what I mean. No. How can I foresee such a thing?”

“Such a thing as returning my love and letting me win you?”

“Let us be friends instead.”

Rhodes was very pale.

“I always let you see that I could not feel any enthusiasm about you,” she went on; “that was but fair.”

Then Isabel saw that he had a little ring in his hand, a pearl ring.

“If you would accept this,” he began, and when she looked surprised, he added, “It would console me to think of you as having that ring on your finger.”

“What, accept your ring,” she exclaimed, “and not your hand!”

She saw him put the ring on his little finger. “If you would only put it on for two minutes, that I might see it on your hand, I promise that I would not expect you to keep it. I would take it back and wear it myself.”

She held out her hand and let him put it on, then she sat for the moment wearing it; and this curious love scene ended when she claimed his promise by holding out her hand to him again.

He took the ring and put it on. “If ever you change your mind, after a few days or after many years, ask me for it again.”

“Do you mean to say that you have dismissed him?” exclaimed Mrs. Larkin, when some time after this Isabel presented herself to her step-mother, feeling, to her own surprise, almost like a delinquent.

“Yes,” answered Dis, drying away two or three tears, “I was afraid afterwards that you and father would be vexed; but it seemed such a natural thing to do and I did it.”

“And what can you possibly have to say against him?”

“Nothing, mother; but I cannot feel any enthusiasm about him.“

“But we are to be here for almost another month, and so are his people; you might at least have given him that time for trying to make you like him.”

“I hope father will not be disappointed,” said Dis, anxiously.

“I am sure he will be. Indeed, I hardly know how I can tell him. Mr. Mainwaring has been such a constant, such an attached friend to him, and Rhodes is his only child.”

“You did not like him,” said Dis, excusing herself, “and when first he used to follow me about you called him a ridiculous boy.”

“Yes, when he was a boy.”

“And father forbade me to speak to him.”

“Yes, when his father knew nothing about the matter; but now that he does know, and has most unexpectedly asked your father to let things be — ”

“I am sorry,” repeated Dis, “but, as I said before, I do not feel any enthusiasm for him.”

“Child, I wonder what you would have?” Dis looked disconsolate.

“And you always disliked the very notion of the Professor. Perhaps, after all, the reason why you cannot care for Rhodes is because your mind turns to that excellent, high-minded — ”

“Oh, mother!” exclaimed Dis.

“Well?”

“I always like Rhodes best when I think of him. At any rate, Rhodes is not elderly.”

“No.”

“And I always think he is rather handsome.”

“So do other people.”

“And he is amiable.”

“No question of it.”

“Very likely in the course of years, when he has quite forgotten me, I shall begin to wish I had not done it.”

“Very likely indeed.”

“Mamma, dear, I hope you’ll tell father, and say the best you can for me. You are always so kind.”

It may be supposed that Mrs. Larkin did do her best to put this matter before her husband in the way least likely to irritate him. But he was very much irritated, and inveighed for some time on the folly of his daughter and of young women in general.

“I shall have to tell Mainwaring,” he exclaimed, “and I shall be ashamed to look him in the face!”

“Not so much as you would have been if she had accepted him under the former circumstances,” she observed.

“If Isabel were half or a quarter as handsome and as taking as you were at her age,” he said, at last, when she had spent some time in soothing him, “the matter would be different. I wonder, indeed, what she would have.”

“I know,” said Isabel’s step-mother, “she would have something like her father, she would like a man that she can look up to and be proud of.”

Mr. Larkin was a man who, in his own opinion, could “see himself as others saw him.” He looked at his handsome young wife — he was twenty years her senior. It was not only once or twice that he had cogitations as to why she had chosen to marry him, was so supremely contented and happy with him, and so subservient to all his wishes. She had more plainly than ever before expressed and explained the reason.

“You will forgive Isabel,” she said. “She has a very poetic nature, as you often say, and she is romantic.”

“Well, well, my love,” he answered — he had, almost unconsciously to himself, been compared with a remarkably fine, young, handsome, strong man, to his own advantage — “yes, I must forgive her; but I may safely say she will never have such a chance again, and Mainwaring is my dearest friend. I hope she may not have to repent this.” And he went into a little room at the back of the one they were in, which now served him for a study, where he went on with his cogitations. “Yes, I am not much to look at. That young fellow is half a head taller than I am. I have always been master in my own house. Would he have been ifhe had married Isabel? Now I have often considered that the reason why so many marriages are not satisfactory nowadays is because a man is so often not able, or indeed willing, to be master in his own house. The Women are more our equals than they used to be. We expect much more from them, and they expect more of us. They must, if they are still to obey and be happy in obeying, have a good deal more from us and in us than most of them get. Most want at least manly strength and figure. Some want intellect. Some Want a hero. Most of us are emphatically not heroes.”

Then he fell to thinking again on the unreasonableness of the particular young woman in question, who wanted she knew not what.

“I cannot face Mainwaring,” he some time after said to his wife. “I must go, Theresa. Ha!”

He had that very morning heard from the editor for whom he had stayed behind to Write an article. It had given great satisfaction, and he had been asked to repeat it, and to investigate certain matters concerning the smoky town where he and his family had spent some time on their landing.

Mr. Larkin had hesitated when this request came. He wanted rest and country air. He now wrote and accepted this proposal, and told Mrs. Larkin he should take Dis with him.

“There will be many books to be consulted in the town library,” he observed. “Dis can copy out the extracts I want; her writing is almost as clear as print; I would rather copy from her writing than from my own.”

So the next morning, when the disconsolate little brother burst into his mother’s room to beg her to come out with him, and exclaimed, “I have seen the eagle again!” Dis was some distance from that homestead and the loch, and she also was thinking about the eagle.

“How do you know it was an eagle?” asked Rhodes, who was sitting silently not far from the usual haunt of Rowland and Dis, when Rowland came out again.

“Dis said it was.”

Rhodes almost smiled, so sweet was the sound of her name, and yet he knew she was gone.

“What was it doing?”

“Why, it seemed to be standing straight upright in the sky, for more than a minute; and it did not once move its wings — why it did not fall down I cannot think. Dis said it was leaning upon the wind. Then it seemed to give one flap with its wings, and in an instant it was quite in another part of the sky.”

“It was looking out for rabbits or young birds.”

“It can see them so far off?”

“Certainly. It could see you and Dis looking up at it — see your eyes and what colour they were. How else could it see the covey of young grouse crouching in among the heather, with feathers just the colour of any brown or faded bit of bracken that they shelter among.”

A smoky, dingy, noisy town it was indeed that Dis spent the next week in. She often thought of the sweet scenes she had left, the delightful air, and the wild creatures — yes, and Rhodes, too, he came in naturally as a part of the romantic past, and she had opportunity of comparing him with “The Professor,” for this excellent and high-minded man, as her step-mother had called him, very soon came to see her father again, and discussed with him the subject he was writing on.

“I never in my life heard anything so dry,” was her reflection once while he was setting forth his opinion while she made the tea. “Yes, and he looks dry, too, just like a botanical specimen which has been pressed between the leaves of a book till all its juices are gone out of it.”

And yet she was not altogether displeased when he came, because her father would talk then; but when he and Dis were alone in their somewhat dingy lodgings, and the paraffin lamp was smoking according to its nature, and the chops were not half cooked, and the landlady had forgotten to boil the potatoes, Mr. Larkin would preserve a somewhat embarrassing silence. He was not, it appeared, distinctly displeased with Dis, so much as disappointed in her, and he never mentioned the subject of Rhodes, or his father, or their late visit, or even the golden eagle once, and yet he had taken a great interest in this majestic (as its friends call it), or (as its enemies call it) this thievish, mean, and predatory bird.

“Father,” she said one night, after rather a long silence, “I am going to write to Rowland. Have you any message?”

No, it appeared that Mr. Larkin had no message; he had written himself that day, both to him and to his mother.

Rowland’s letter, which Dis was about to answer, was a good deal inked and blotted, and very badly spelled. It read as follows:


“Oh, Dis! what do you think?” Then those words were marked out, and the date and place were given, and the missive began again:


“MY DEAR ISABEL.,—It’s no use our being so anxious that there should be golden eagles who really live and build their nests here. Rhodes says they have not yellow breasts, as I always thought, they have only just a little reddish-yellow edge to their long wing-feathers.

“And I want you to look in some books in that ‘Instertute’ and see if this is true. Because he says ‘people always did be proud of them, and yet they even steal the young lambs, and pick their bones for their young ones, and Rhodes says there was once a King of Norway who had some golden eagles, even grander and fiercer than these, and he sent over a ship with two in it to the King of Scotland, and he sent some other handsome things, and they shut up them in the cabin, and gave them a great lot to eat till they were quite sleepy, when they gave them to that King and he immediately said they were not at all bigger than those he had in his own country, and then they gave each of them a whole lamb and hoped they would be happy. And the very next day the King of Norway was looking out of the window when he saw those very two eagles, he knew they were those because they had each of them a little sort of gold bracelet on one of its legs, and they had flown over in one night. So it was of no use.

I am your affectionate brother,

                                                           Ro. L.”


“There’s something wrong!” exclaimed Dis, when she came from the Institute the next afternoon and saw her father with his trunk on the floor of their parlour cramming various of his possessions into it, and using his foot to persuade them to go in. She could have laughed for the moment. She had never seen this sight before, as her step — mother always packed for him, but he lifted up his face, and then she repeated: “There is something wrong.”

“Yes, a telegram,” he exclaimed. “Make haste, my dear, I’ve rung for the landlady to help you — we must go off from the station in ten minutes. Here, Mrs. Macbean, we Want Miss Isabel’s trunk.”

“But, what is it, father? Oh, not Rowland, not mother!”

“No, Mainwaring. There has been an accident. I’ll tell you as we go along. There was an accident, Rhodes is dying, his father says he cannot live many hours. Would like him to see you before he dies, and wants the support of my presence himself. Don’t lose a single moment. Fly up-stairs. My poor, poor friend! and this is his only child.”

Isabel did fly up-stairs, and with the help of the landlady got her possessions packed with amazing celerity, and got through it all. She had time to be aware that her father’s commiseration was all for the other father, and his distress was all that his dear friend should meet with such a misfortune.

“Good girl, you have been quick,” he said, as she came down. “We must not be late, poor Mainwaring counts on me. Yes, yes, I have an only son myself; he counts on my sympathy.”

“As if I was not sorry at all,” thought Isabel, and she wiped away a few tears, and said aloud as they drove to the station, “Poor Rhodes!”

“Yes, poor Rhodes, poor fellow,” he repeated. “Hal he has, without doubt, left his father before now. Misfortune, misfortune; could only live a few hours.”

Dis was trembling violently, and the confusion and hurry of their rush to the train and the crowd did not help to reassure her. It was not till they had been settled some time that she asked to see the telegram. Then she observed that Mr. Mainwaring had so phrased it as to avoid any needless anxiety. “Your wife and boy are quite well,” but there was nothing else in it beyond what she had been told, excepting that they were to be met at the terminus of the railway by Mainwaring’s wagonette. It was a seven miles’ drive.

During the long twilight and the brief summer darkness Isabel sat deep in thought till — there was a stoppage — her father leaned over to her and whispered, “In case he should be still living, you will say everything that’s kind, my dear.”

“His father would not have sent for me if he had not been certain that I should,” she answered.

But what should she say? She prayed that she might be guided to say what was best — whatever that was; and, then, just before the moon went down and the sun came up she fell into a doze. For a long time she appeared to be walking over heather, she was quite alone, and could not make out where she was going.

A touch upon her hand.

“Wake up, my dear,” said her father, “we are just in.”


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XI.


A LITTLE way-side inn. Isabel was sitting on a bench outside its door. Her father went in to order some breakfast and wait for the wagonette. She was watching the ruddy solemnities of early day. Country people were up early thereabouts; two respectable-looking women were talking together close by her.

“Aye,” said one, “I never saw it after the English way; but my man he walked over, and he said it was vera convincing.”

“Ye just mean vera impressive, Janet, woman; that’s the word ye need.”

“Maybe. They were down on their knees, and the minister all in his white. He gave the bread, and he said to every one of them the same words, ‘The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul to everlasting life.’

Isabel started painfully on hearing these most solemn words. Could this have anything to do with Rhodes? She hardly thought so. The next word seemed to show that the ceremony was taking place out of doors.

“And my man and some others stepped up to the tent and peepit in, for it was tied back for air, and they just thought he could not last till ’twas over. Aye, but he looked grand, laid all his length, and as White as the napery that was over him.”

“Oh, that I dare ask a question,” thought Isabel.

“And so,” the woman went on, “the minister gave the blessing, and my man slipped away.”

Oh, what a relief to see the carriage coming up! Now she could speak. “Is Mr. Rhodes living?”

The surly coachman looked really concerned. “He was when I started, mem, living, and that’s all.”

Her father was out now. They had to bait the horses and get something to eat. He was shaking and trying to wake some one who was inside, and presently he half pulled out young Palk-Mayhew.

The surly coachman took it amiss that his horses should have to come along such a road. He used the universal epithet to express its steep, stony, narrow, and altogether detestable nature.

“I’m so dead tired,” said young Mayhew, as he followed him, “you must excuse me. No, not a fire; it was a scaffolding that gave way.”

“Do tell us about it!” exclaimed Dis, touching his arm.

“Yes,” he answered, in a tired voice. “There had been a regatta the day before. We saw it, but a good lot of us went again from our hotel to see the place from that new one which is in course of building. There is a fine view from the top of it. You can see over the cliffs. You can see from that height the whole bay. Our party from the hotel, and several other people, and Mrs. Larkin and her little boy were there. A great tent had been pitched, and there the members of the regatta club had dined. There had been a platform put up outside the new hotel, and there we had seen the race, and several of us this second day went up-stairs and got out of the openings where windows were to be. The wind was gusty and high, and nobody was thinking of the least danger, when all on a sudden, while we were stepping about on the platform, some of the scaffolding fell. They all scrambled in, and came rushing down-stairs, excepting Mr. Mainwaring and the little fellow. Everybody shrieked up to them to make haste. I was inside the window. Mr. Mainwaring seemed quite dazed, and stood as still as a stone. The scaffolding swayed horribly, and there was such a gap now between it and the hotel that it seemed as if he could not get over. Of course the little chap could not. Then I saw Rhodes throw off his coat and waistcoat. He was up at the window directly, and had got a coil of loose rope that he had brought up with him wound round his arm. (It makes me sick to think of it.) Well, he stood on the window-ledge and sprang across onto the platform.”

Neither Mr. Larkin nor Isabel said one word, but both remembered the telegram, “Your wife and child are quite well!”

“He got close to where they were safely, but he was lower down, and all the scaffold seemed to sway with his weight. Mr. Mainwaring had utterly lost his nerve, and he hardly seemed to pay any attention to Rhodes. Rhodes implored him to stand upon his arm (he held it out between two planks). He said he must step upon it, and then he could reach the sill. He stretched out his arm, and yelled out, between the lurches of the wind, that he could bear the weight perfectly; and when the poles swayed and Mainwaring hesitated, he called out, almost in despair, ‘Father, if you can’t attend to me, I must strike you!’ Well, at that Mr. Mainwaring did rouse up, just as it seemed at the very last instant. He stood upon Rhodes’s arm (that fellow is so strong). I held out my hand, he stepped across, and got in. Rhodes instantly began to tie his rope to some of the spars, and shouted out to his father, ‘I can’t do it till I see you safe on the ground.’ Off we set, ran down, and when I looked up I saw that Rhodes had got the little chap on his back, and he actually began to let himself down, hand over hand, and got on a good way. No one would have believed how long the doing it seemed. He could not get back into the house, so much more between it and him had come down. We stood as near as we dared. Don’t look so frightened, Mr. Larkin; no one was hurt but Rhodes. How the women shrieked up their advice to him! How they cried! Rhodes helped himself sometimes with his foot. The child was as good and quiet as possible. But in one moment all was over. In a lurch of the wind a heavy scaffold pole fell, struck Rhodes; he fell, and it on the top of him. They were not more than ten feet from the ground. The little chap was not so much as bruised. We heard him cry before we could get him out from under the rubbish. I helped, of course. It was horribly dangerous. Rhodes had a broken leg. Oh, how his father took on about him! If he should live (but they don’t think he will) that will soon get well; but his hand was terribly crushed, and before a doctor could be got — miles and miles there were to send — they bandaged it, but it was no use; before the doctor could be got they thought he would have bled to death.”

Dis could bear no more. The hostess, who was standing by listening open-mouthed, helped her out of the room, and there, seated at the foot of a bed, she wept most bitterly.

“Oh, that he might live! Oh, that he may at least live till I see him!” Then she arose, bathed her face, and arranged her hair.

When ten minutes later her father knocked at the door, telling her the carriage was ready, Dis opened it, dressed in everything she had that was best; that same hat which Rhodes had so much admired, and all her freshest adornments, even to her gloves.

“Aye, to think o’ her making herself sae braw to meet her friends, when that puir fella’s deeing; asked me for her trunk, she did,” said the landlady, in righteous indignation.

Her father was not a great observer of feminine attire, but he, too, did notice the change in her appearance, and an expression on her face that he knew he had never seen before.

They drove in perfect silence past the house to a great tent pitched not far from the sea.

“Yes,” young Palk said, “they carried Rhodes in there. It was just about to be taken down, but his father hired it for so long as he may want it. Rhodes cannot be moved.”

They stopped. Isabel seemed to have no misgiving, no hesitation; she meant to go in. “Yes, he was living,” they were told, and her father thought she looked unreasonably hopeful. She passed in at the opening of the tent. Those women had talked of Rhodes; their words flashed on her mind — “he looked just majestic.” He was lying on a narrow camp-bed, his father beside him with one arm under his head, and a doctor had just been giving him some soup, or stimulant. His illness had been so short that his features were not altered, but as she came forward very slowly, so as not to startle him, she saw that he was looking at her, but that he made no sign of recognition, or rather of surprise, at her presence.

“Here’s Isabel,” said Mr. Mainwaring, in the most quiet, matter-of-fact voice.

“Isabel!” he repeated, in a faint, fluttering tone, so that she only just heard it. “I saw her in the night, but she always kept flitting away. How many nights have there been?”

“Two,” said the father, with a sigh, and then, to Isabel, “Come nearer, my dear. There, you have been sleeping, and you felt rather confused. That was only a dream.”

“Aye, but he’ll win through, now,” said the old Scotch doctor, in a reassuring tone. “I thought she looked at my arm,” he said, as the real Isabel came close and knelt by his bed. “It was covered up. If she could know, father! — it’ll never write again. But perhaps I shall die, and then that won’t signify.”

“No, it won’t signify, dearest Rhodes, about not writing,” said Isabel, in the most tender tones of her sweet voice, “for I can always write for you ; I shall always be here to write for you. Rhodes, do you remember what you said to me?”

He looked at her, and his countenance cleared. “Why, she’s taking off her gloves!” he exclaimed, not quite so faintly. “I couldn’t have invented that. I never in the night saw her do that. Give me one of them.”

She put one of them into his large, white hand, and then took it in her small rosy fingers and leaned it against her cheek. “Rhodes, you have not forgotten — I am come to ask for my ring.”

In a tent people can look in, or walk in, if they please. Mr. Larkin was there, and Mrs. Larkin and Rowland and Eglantine, and several others of their friends and acquaintances; but Isabel was not aware, she was only looking at Rhodes and at Mr. Mainwaring.

Rhodes took his hand from her; it was the right hand which was covered up.

“You truly mean it?” he asked, in the peculiar fluttering accents of extreme weakness, and he looked at the ring which was still on his little finger.

“Oh yes, dear Rhodes; give it me. I Want it for my own.”

“A spar struck it,” he said, lifting up his hand to look at it; “two of the emeralds got broken.” It was tight, he could not slip it off with the one hand, and for the moment he had not the courage to remind her of this.

“Shall I take it off for you, my beloved boy?” asked Mr. Mainwaring.

“Everything floats away,” he answered; “but if she truly said that, ask her to take it off herself.”

If there was an audience of between twenty and thirty people to see her take off this ring, Isabel did not know it. The silence was deep and intense while she put it in his palm.

“I can have it mended for you, love,” he said, with a certain air of surprise, as if he hardly yet knew whether it was all true or not.

“Oh no,” she replied; “I want to wear it just as it is,” and he put it on for her.

Rhodes was by nature of a hopeful disposition, and when he had two or three times seen his ring on Isabel’s finger, he began to suppose, and so did she, that he was to get better. But this getting better was a long time in the doing. The hoar-frost was white about that tent before he could be moved from it. And he was moved on board his father’s yacht, wherein they came down to that same little sea-side place where Rhodes, as Isabel then thought, had made himself ridiculous; but when Dorey, who had now succeeded to the custody of “their old lady,” let fall some words, out of mere carelessness, referring to this, Isabel was much surprised and not at all pleased; but the Malay saw at once how matters stood, and never alluded to the reluctance with which he had parted from that bag. Isabel, her father and mother and Rowland, had come to their old quarters by land, and when Mainwaring and Rhodes appeared (he then with his arm in a sling) a small basket heaped with fruit was set on the table, addressed to Mr. Larkin. “Honoured Sir,” was written in a note appended to it,


“I beg your gracious permission to present to the adorable young mem-sahib the following fruits on this auspicious eventuality.


“Kindly pardon me for the indulgence.
                                                         “SAM PRINCE.”





THE END

――――♦――――

 


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