Off the Skelligs (9)

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CHAPTER XXVIII.
 

'Herken this conseil for thy sickerness:
 Upon thy gladé day have in thy minde
 The unware woe of harm that com'th behind.'—Chaucer.


THE year came to an end.  Valentine had not failed to remind me of it, and had written more than once of his hope that he should come up to London and have my answer in person.  But he did not come, and he did not write.

    I was surprised; but on the fifth day after the time when I had thought to be asked for my decisive answer, I saw the announcement of Mr. Mortimer's death in the Times.

    Valentine, the last time he had written, had mentioned that his father was ailing.  Dear, beautiful, good old man! he had spent a happy life, and he died a most peaceful death.

    When I wrote to condole with Valentine, I did not ask any questions as to the future plans of the family; but he told me of his own accord all that I cared to know.

    Giles, he said, had left written instructions with him that, under all circumstances, the house and establishment were to be kept up till his return: everything was to go on as usual.  He also told me, with his own beautiful frankness, that one of the last things his father had said to him had, in a certain way, concerned me.  The old man had told him that he was still very young to engage himself in marriage, and he wished he would yet wait a few months longer.

    He conveyed to me the impression that Mr. Mortimer had not left much not property behind him; and in a succeeding letter he told me plainly that his father, less prudent for himself than for his step-son, had got involved in some mining speculations, and that when the debts were paid it was thought there would be nothing left for his children.

    Mrs. Henfrey had a handsome jointure.  He would have nothing; and Liz and Lou would be dependent on Giles, though the latter, with her little portion of a thousand pounds, was to be married to Captain Walker as soon as Giles returned.

    Valentine was an affectionate fellow; but I observed that he spoke of his brother as likely to feel Mr. Mortimer's death more than any of them; and I thought this probable, for the old man was very fond and very proud of him; he loved him with the peculiar partiality of amiable old age.

    Anne and I went for a few weeks to Hastings during the spring that followed.  I had hoped that my uncle would take me on board the 'Curlew' that year, but no invitation came, and shortly after our return I was made aware of the reason.

    'Madam,' said Mrs. Brand, writing to me for the first time, 'Master sends his respects to you, and I was to tell you that Mr. Graham has married that young woman after all.  Master is, so to speak, heart-broken about it, and doesn't seem to enjoy his meals nor his pipe at all.  Dear ma'am, don't take on more than you can help; she was always an impudent hussy, and we knew it must come to this at last.  But Master had made himself quite a slave to Mr. Graham, to keep it off as long as he could.

    'Master says he shouldn't have minded her being a barmaid, no more than nothing at all, if she could have brought him a good character; and he would have taken her on board, and made the best of her; for, said he to me, "If a young man who has not led a good life is willing to marry, that is a bad fellow who would prevent him, let the girl be who she will.'  But bless you, ma'am, he cannot demean himself to notice Mrs. Tom Graham.

    'The Master cannot seem to settle at all without Mr. Graham, so he never says a word about the marriage to him; and when he chooses to come on boar board and cruise about a bit, he does; but he has taken a small house at Southampton for his wife.

    'Mr. Graham has often mentioned you to me, ma'am, lately, and last Tuesday week he said to me, "If you over write to my sister, Mrs. Brand, send my love to her."

    'So no more at present, from your humble servant,


'MERCY BRAND.'


    It is remarkable on what very slight hints, and even on what unexpected silences, a strong impression can be formed!  I knew that this had been long impending; but how I had become possessed of the knowledge, even before going to Wigfield, I cannot say.  I had been determined not to acknowledge it even to myself, for it seemed to have no ground to stand upon, and certainly I had nothing to quote for it.  I might be wrong, and, therefore, silence was my best course with regard to it.

     For this trouble I could find no remedy but patience—and work.  My heart went into mourning for this one brother of mine.  It seemed so certain that he would deteriorate under such influence, and, as he would not write, he was already lost to me.

    Some months before I first came on board the 'Curlew,' he had first met with the woman who was to cast her dark shadow over his future life.  He was weak and could not resist, and yet he was obstinate and would not give others a chance of saving him by keeping him out of her way.

    I felt Tom's utter loss very keenly, but I struggled against sorrow as well as I could, and I had Valentine's letters to help me, for Valentine was improving fast, and now, as was his due, my heart began to turn to him with affectionate dependence; he had made himself important to me; he was taking pains to fit himself for the important duties of life, and he let me take to myself the comfort of thinking that I was doing him good, that the motives I set before him were not without their effect, and that, under my influence, he was growing more manly, more steady, and more serious.

    This was a pleasure, no doubt, but not exactly the kind of pleasure I should have chosen.  I wanted to look up, not down; I would gladly have obeyed a master, but I was not to have a master—I was to prepare for myself a faithful and affectionate companion whom it was to be my province to improve.

    I knew this was what I could have, and I often reflected whether it was not better to take the kind heart that was ready for me, than to stay behind without a friend in this hemisphere, and placed in such a position that it was scarcely possible for me to make friends.

    St. George did not reach England till the June after Mr. Mortimer's death, and I no sooner saw him and Valentine together than I became aware how much dearer Valentine was than he, how coolly I could now look on the bad taste he had betrayed in his conduct to me, and how secure I could now feel in the easy frankness, the growing affection, and the steady improvement of the Oubit.

    I still admired St. George's unselfishness, his benevolence, and high-minded generosity; but I began to feel that he was not suited for the gentle companionship of daily life.  He loved and cared for Valentine with an absorbing affection that he did not now attempt to conceal from me: he seemed to have transferred to him all the regard that he had hitherto bestowed on his father, but he took very little notice of me, and, if I had not been expressly assured by Valentine that he was very anxious for our marriage, I should have supposed that he disliked the notion of it, for he only came to see me twice, though the two brothers stayed in London a fortnight.

    I enjoyed that fortnight.  I was fast reconciling myself to the notion of spending my life with Valentine and I liked to listen to his plans, in which, of course, I was always supposed to play a conspicuous part.

    Giles had bought a fine tract of land, with one house on it; they were to build another, and each brother was to occupy one.

    It was such a fine climate—neither too hot, nor too cold—such streams for fishing, and a fine sea-board and soil—such timber, such shells to be picked up, such ferns to be gathered, that gradually, as I listened to the enthusiastic voice (which, by-the-bye, was no longer cracked), I began to grow enthusiastic in my turn, and consider how delightful it would be to begin a new life in a new country—a useful, free, active life, with at least one person to whose happiness I should be of consequence, and among others whom I had worked for and helped to reclaim from barbarism.

    So Valentine and Giles went away again—the latter having set plans on foot, in the courts and alleys where Anne visited, which were to result in the sending out of about forty people—men, women, and children.  How hard he worked!— vigorous hand and comprehensive brain both brought to bear on the plans he was maturing.  He came to see me, as I said, twice—the first time he stayed only a few minutes; the second time he stayed two hours, and spent them in giving me instructions and advice, that I might be able to go on with what he had begun.

    'It is most desirable,' he observed, 'that these very people should be settled about our land, for they have a perfect enthusiasm for you, and would do anything in the world to serve and please you.'

    'No wonder,' exclaimed Valentine, coming up and sparring at him with clenched fists, 'hasn't she devoted her whole time to them except the few hours spent in scribbling to me!  Oh, why was I thrown among such excellent people?  Giles, you villain, you've sailed all over the world on purpose to make me feel small; you and Dorothea have been the ruin of me; I'm crushed beneath the weight of your excellences!  Sir, you have much to answer for!  If it wasn't for the presence of a lady, I would knock you down.  What business, indeed, have you to be so much better than your neighbours?'

    'Come, none of this!' said Giles, starting up and laughing; 'if you want to knock me down, set to work and have done with it; show your prowess in this presence, which ought to inspirit you.'

    'On second thoughts, Dorothea,' said Valentine, turning to me, 'on second thoughts—though I could easily do it, mind you!—I shall forbear.  "Birds in their little nests agree, and 'tis a shocking sight," &c.  No, Giles, this once I won't do it.  It's a weak point of his, D. dear, to think he's strong.  You may sit down again, Giles; your brother has forgiven you.  Speak to him, Dorothea.'

    'Sit down, Mr. Brandon, Valentine will excuse you this once for being his superior, and you cannot very well throw him out of THIS window, because there is an area outside.'

    Mr. Brandon, however, did not sit down again; he had laughed; but when we began to talk together, he went to the window, and stood gravely looking out, as if lost in thought.  In that attitude he continued till Valentine said he was ready to go, and he then turned and shook hands with me, and sighed.  He looked gloomy enough then, perhaps a little irate also, for Valentine had kept him waiting some time, and it was scarcely possible that they could reach their train.

    They set off.  I knew it would be two months before I should see Valentine again; but I was easy on this point—he never gave me the least cause to be otherwise.  Early in August, Mrs. Henfrey, Liz, and Valentine were going to the sea-side; Anne and I were to visit the same place, and there I was to give Valentine my final answer.

    The time passed not unpleasantly.  I earned a good deal of money for the outfits of my people; but I never improved in wood-engraving beyond a certain point: I attained great facility and quickness, but was conscious myself that I should never excel.  I had illustrated several little books of small importance, and never was in want of work; therefore I did not care particularly to find that I was not to advance any farther; for if I did go to New Zealand, I should not exercise the art there, and in the meantime I could earn two guineas a week, and spend it on my emigrants.

    Mr. Brandon came up again to London in July; I never saw him, excepting in the district, whither I now sometimes went with Anne.  It was a great undertaking to ship off so many people, and the weather was intensely hot, which added to his fatigue.  My chief business was with the clothing required, and I often sat up till three o'clock in the morning, working through the summer nights, with the windows open to admit the night air, which was fresh and wholesome, compared with what we had to breathe in the day.

    Always cheerful, always kind to the people, reassuring the women, instructing the men, I heard of Mr. Brandon day by day, though I did not see him; and I heard from Valentine, sometimes every week, sometimes oftener.

    One day he sent me a little hamper of plants by the railway.  I unpacked them myself, as Anne was out, and set them one by one on my table.  Afterwards I noticed that the pots were wrapped in paper that had been written upon.  Old exercises I thought the writing looked like: it was clear and round, and very distinct.  The flowers were more attractive than these papers, and I do not think my eye was drawn to the writing again for two days, when, as I sat quietly engraving, these words were clearly seen:  'Tell you what I have been about, my lad?  Don't flatter your self; I shall do no such thing.  A man who cannot mind his own business is not to be trusted with the king's.  Besides you might treat my letters as you do Miss—'  Here a hiatus.

    How queer of Valentine, I thought, to use old letters to wrap his pots in.  And I felt rather pained to think that perhaps he laid my letters about in the same way.

    I took off this bit of paper, destroyed it, glanced at another pot, and these solemn words met my eyes: 'It is not possible truly to believe that He gave life and yet not to love the Giver; it is not possible to human nature to love without trying to please the object of the love.  And how can you talk with contempt of small beginnings and worthless attempts?  If God does not despise "the day of small things," you must not despise it either.'

    It made the blood rush to my face to think that Anne, and the servants, and Mrs. Bolton, and her pupils, might all probably have read this letter.  I began to suspect who alone could have written thus to Valentine, and when I turned the pot to the other side the writing was too fatally clear for a single word to be mistaken.  'I have paid your bills, and, you young scapegrace, don't leave this about, for I should feel humiliated if any living soul saw that I demeaned myself to the pitch of caring so much about you.  Why can't you burn your letters instead of throwing them about the floors, and wiping your razors on them?'

    That was all; the paper was torn away, and I saw no signature.  But Valentine had also sent me some seeds of mignonette; they, as I remembered, were twisted in written paper, in the same clear hand.  I took them, turned them upside down, that I might not read the writing, and proceeded to empty them into a glass; but fate was too cunning for me.  The name was signed cornerwise, where I could not fail to see it: 'Your loving brother, G. B.'

    I felt exceedingly vexed.  This, then, was a letter addressed to Valentine by Giles, and containing a particular request, which he had not attended to.  It alluded to a habit of his which made me blush, and wonder what he did with my letters.  Was he likely to correspond with any other Miss beside myself?  I thought not; then in all probability, the letters that Giles had picked up were my letters.

    I did not like to question Valentine about this, but it had a sensible effect on my mind.  I wrote more cautiously, and I believe that till August came, and my people were shipped off, and Anne and I, both looking very pale after long residence in London, had reached the pretty little bay where we were to spend our holidays, I had never forgotten the ill-omened piece of paper for an hour.

    A pretty little cottage had been taken for us by Mrs. Henfrey.  It was near their own lodgings, and was covered with china roses and passion-flower.  Valentine met us at the railway, and showed such simple and natural delight that I was touched.  Who was I, indeed, that he should care so long for one who had given so little in return?

    When I had changed my dress he took me to his sister, and I drank tea with her and Liz, Valentine being in such high spirits, and so openly complimentary, that I saw he was in no doubt as to my accepting him.

    He was, indeed, a fine fellow: his cough had left him, and though he stooped a little, he betrayed no other sign of weak health.  He had all his father's beauty of feature; the brown whiskers that he had prophesied of were come.  And as he sat opposite to me in his sea-side costume, I could not help looking at him and admiring him.

    'Valentine looks well, my dear,' observed Mrs. Henfrey.

    'And is well,' said Liz.

    'Good action,' Valentine added, 'warranted to go quietly in harness, no vice—rising twenty-two next ,grass.'

    Mrs. Henfrey laughed, and made some remark about his going in harness.

    'Why, yes,' said Valentine, 'the sooner I make up my mind to it the better.  Look at Walker, Lou takes away all his money, and only allows him a shilling a day for his little pleasures.'

    'Excepting what he spends in turnpikes,' observed Mrs. Henfrey: 'she pays that.'

    'If I were Captain Walker,' I remarked, 'I should not allow that.  I should choose to be master in my own house.'

    'Hear her!' cried Valentine.  'Well, if I ever have a wife,' he continued, with affected modesty and confusion, 'as there is nothing I desire so much as to please you, I shall endeavour to be master in my own house.'

    It was a glorious evening, and the quiet sea was sending up crisp little wavelets among the roundest of pebbles and the cleanest of sand.  Valentine took me out for a walk, and I felt all the ecstasy that the clear sky, and wooded cliffs, and sunny sea can impart, when one has long been pent up in a city, working hard and thinking much.

    Those were very pleasant days.  We rambled about, pleased with each other, but not talking in lover-like fashion.  I always instinctively checked such talk, and he followed my lead.  At last, when we had been together a week, he one day said, as we were walking home with baskets full of shells and seaweed, 'Well, D. dearest, have you made up your mind?'

    'About what?' I asked.

    'Why, whether you'll have me.  I've waited very patiently.'

    'So you have.'

    'And Giles says we really ought to sail next Christmas.  Come, say yes, and have done with it.'

    'Very well; I do say yes.'

    'You do!' he exclaimed, throwing up his cap and catching it again: 'then I say hurra!'

    We walked together in silence for half a mile, and then he said,—

    'Why have you hesitated so long, dear?'

    'Because I did not think we cared enough for each other.'

    'And you think so still?'

    'Yes; but the time is so near that now it does not so much signify.'

    'Very true,' he answered, as quietly as possible, 'it's not likely, you know, that in such a little while I should see any one I like better.  And if I don't love you enough, it's certain that I love you better than anybody else.'

    I think that was all that passed between me and this amiable, sweet-tempered fellow.  I felt that what he had said of himself was also true of me.  And I began to see that when we were once married we had every likelihood of happiness.  I should care ten times more for him when I had made it my duty and the occupation of my life to do so.  And he would have few people to compare with me out in New Zealand.  I should be useful and even necessary to him, and I fully believed that he would never regret the wife he had chosen.

    So we walked home quietly together.  He showed that he was in good spirits by singing a little now and then; but he did not kiss me, or even take my hand.  When I came in Mrs. Henfrey asked me to dine with her, and I agreed, and went up-stairs to take off my bonnet.  In the meantime Valentine had told his sisters what had passed, and when I came down they both kissed and congratulated me.

    And so this matter was settled.  I certainly had expected it to be accomplished with more dignity; but when the question was asked I was ready with my an answer.  I had taken plenty of time to consider, and at last had made up my mind, not that I greatly loved Valentine, but that I could not give up the only being who greatly loved me.

    After this I was very cheerful and contented.  Every day seemed to justify me to myself, for Valentine was in delightful spirits, pleased with me and everything I did; and never so happy as when we were rambling about together, or sitting talking under the deep shadows of the crags.

    There was one morning that made, as I supposed at the time, no especial impression on me.  I had on a hat and feather, his first present to me for my personal adornment, excepting the ring.  We sat together in a little cove, sorting some shells that we had collected, as we had frequently done before, and a little vessel sailed across the blue water, rocking prettily and gleaming white in the in sunshine.  The tide had gone out out laid bare the rocks covered with seaweed, and we saw a man stepping lightly among them, and sometimes standing still and gazing out to sea.

    'Whoever that fellow is,' said Valentine, ' he's not as happy as I am.'

    I do not very often dream, but what I have dreamed once I dream again.  Many, many times since have I dreamt of that scene: the overhanging crags, the delicate little heaps of shells, the fluttering of the feathers in my hat, and the solitary figure, concerning which Valentine was pleased to remark, 'he is not as happy as I am.'

    We had passed a pleasant week since our engagement.  Sometimes we read together, and sometimes we practised.  Valentine's voice was, as I have said before, no longer cracked; but it was not at all a good one,—it was poor, thin, and of small compass, yet it was his great ambition to sing.  And I spent many an hour practising his songs with him, and artfully accompanying them, humouring him in the tune and covering his defects as well as I could.

    'Well,' said Valentine, rising reluctantly, 'I suppose I ought to go and meet old Giles at the station.'

    I had known that Giles was coming that morning, but it had slipped out of my mind, and I now said that if he would not be away more than an hour I would sit there and wait for him.  The little station was just a quarter of a mile off; he had only to climb the winding path in the cliff, and cross a strip of wild heath, and there it was.

    I sat there alone and thanked God for my present happiness.  The recreation and pleasure of the country and the sea were very great; the comfort of the defined future was also great; and though I felt none of the jealousies, the absorbing interest, nor the restless excitement that I had heard ascribed to lovers, I was happy, and knew that I was likely to be more so.

    A man who began so gradually and reasonably to care for, and deliberately preferred, without idolizing me, was likely, as I now began to feel, to preserve his liking when I had shown him that I deserved it by returning it.  There was no over-estimation to begin with, and sink to its natural level; there was no enthusiasm to cool, and nothing to be found out.  We were both thoroughly well acquainted with one another, and now that I liked him well, I began to see that we were better suited to each other than most people.  Only, I said to myself, if I might have had a master!  But I checked that thought, it was so mean; and I confess that the notion of being the ruling spirit was not distasteful, if only it could be concealed from others!  To have my own way, and yet to have other people think that my husband ruled, would, I thought, be not disagreeable, and I resolved that it should be so.  I had already been able to make Valentine take my views of certain little matters and act upon them, thinking they were his own.  I resolved to do it again.

    Sitting quite alone in the clear heat of that exquisite August day, I let my heart sun itself with the beauty around.  That nimble and delicious air seemed to pervade me, and make me more buoyant and joyous.  My thoughts and the pictures that imagination was painting for me of my future mustered colour and freshness from the vivid colouring about me.  The murmuring noise of London being hushed, I could hear the exquisite tinkling of the water that only just curled its clear brink as it broke on the pebbles.  And this water was making the very music I was to live near out in New Zealand.  I listened, and it seemed to prophesy a pleasant something.  The water only gave the music, but I set words to it, and the music and the words together were delightful to my heart.  The water turned out to be a true prophet.  I did not.  The words I had sung to it were not half good enough, and were all wrong from beginning to end.

    Voices close at hand—Valentine's and another.  Before I had time to change my attitude they turned the corner of the cliffs and entered the tiny cove.

    'There he is,' said Valentine, and Giles, lifting his hat, stooped to give me his hand as I sat, and smiled affectionately.

    They sat down, Valentine beside me, Giles in front of us.  I was conscious directly of a great change for the better in the manner of the latter.  He was now quite friendly to me, and having come down to make holiday, he had left business behind him, and forgotten for the time his coppers and baths, his lectures, emigrants, and schools, and was enjoying the scene about him with tranquil contentment.

    So I thought; and when Valentine told me that he was the man whom he had seen walking among the rocks, I remarked, 'Then you were mistaken about that man.'

    'I had no sooner climbed the cliff,' continued Valentine, 'than he recognized me and waved his wide-awake.'

    'What did Valentine say about "that man"?' asked Giles.

    Valentine told him: he listened with quiet attention.  Perhaps our circumstances, and this tacit confession of Valentine's pride in them, touched and pleased him; certain it is that he looked at us both with a smile most sweet and sunny, as one might well do who knew that he had made two young people happy, and shaped their pleasant prospects for them, and smoothed their way.

    'And why did you say he was mistaken?' he asked, addressing me.

    His eyes and his whole face were full of such a much higher kind of happiness than Valentine had exulted in, that I had spoken suddenly, and now would have given something to have been silent.

    'You must have been very uncommonly jolly indeed, old Giles,' said Valentine, 'if you were then as jolly as I was—besides, you were alone.'

    'My dear boy, I don't at all doubt that you are as happy as you know how to be, perfectly brimful of happiness.'

    'And not as happy as you would be if you were engaged and in my circumstances.'

    'No.'

    'Nor as happy as I am now.'

    'That was Miss Graham's opinion.  I have nothing to do with it.'

    'You're a miserable bachelor.'

    'That's my own fault.'

    'O the conceit of mankind!  I have no doubt he thinks, D., that he could be engaged to-morrow if he liked.'

    'Not the least question of it,' he answered.

    'Then why don't you set about it?' asked Valentine, 'I mean to do!—there is nothing I am more convinced of than that I should be happier married.'

    'O yes! that abstract question is settled, but the moment one ventures to point out some particular lady—'

    'Why, then, being such a modest man, I always remark that I know she would not have me.'

    'Just hear him, D., how idly and contentedly he talks: not a spark of enthusiasm, no fervour, no earnestness.  O Giles, I wouldn't be you for a good deal.  You can sit opposite to the sweetest face, and the most killing hat and feather, and never remark them in the least.'

    'There you are mistaken; I admire the hat and feather exceedingly.'

    'And not the wearer, Giles?'

    Before Giles could answer I started up and said it was time to be walking homewards.  The conversation changed to boating and fishing.  Valentine and I had been out the whole of the previous morning in a boat, and had only caught two very small mullet.  We related our adventures, and Giles criticised the rigging of the fishing smacks.  Then Valentine launched out in praise of my skill in rowing and climbing cliffs; my feats in walking long distances, and my other excellences, while I tried to stem the torrent of his encomiums, and Giles indulgently listened and smiled.

    Liz and Mrs. Henfrey loved to sit in a bathing machine reading a novel.  Giles liked sailing and fishing.  And Valentine and I liked to ramble about, and sit talking under the cliffs.  Sometimes in the evening Valentine sang, and Giles groaned over his false notes, and shivered with the torture his mistakes inflicted on him.

    'What a pity you will sing, my dear!' said Mrs. Henfrey, one night.  'Here's all this good accompanying lost upon you; whereas, if Dorothea played for Giles to sing to, it would be a treat to hear them.'

    This very unflattering speech for once put Valentine out of temper, and he marched into the little garden.  I sat before the piano for a few minutes while Mrs. Henfrey continued her remarks to Giles, but he did not offer to sing nor I to play, and I presently went out into the moonlight, and soothed Valentine with a little harmless flattery, to the effect that I liked playing for him better than for any one else, and that he would soon sing better if he took pains.

    Meanwhile, even as I talked to him, I seemed to become conscious of a slight change, which I appeared to myself then to have acted on before, though unconsciously.  It seemed to have become my province to please him, no longer his to please me, and as I continued to excuse Mrs. Henfrey's speech, and show that I had always liked to play for him, I felt that several times before I had had the same kind of thing to do, and I said to myself that surely I need not trouble myself with the fear of ruling, for I had met with a master after all.

    We went in again; but Valentine had not quite recovered his temper, and I by various little arts and slight attentions gradually restored it, till Giles helped me by proposing to read aloud, for which I was grateful, seeing that it was done on my behalf.

    His voice, almost as fine in reading as in singing, was not without a soothing effect on Valentine; besides, the reading gave him space for reflection, and when it was over he talked as usual, till Anne Molton came to fetch me home, and he walked with me, when he burst out with, 'I hate to be compared to Giles; the comparison is so damaging to me.'

    I said nothing, and he presently added—'It's astonishing to me that you can't see how much he is above me.'

    'I do see it.  I see that he is above us both, but not in everything.'

    'In what one thing am I equal to him?'

    'In temper.  You have quite as good a temper as he has.  I think rather a better one.'

    'Thank you, Dorothea.  Anything else?'

    'Yes; you are taller.'

    'Pooh.'

    'And handsomer.'

    'D., you will soon put me in good temper.'

    'And more fond of ladies' society.'

    'Yes.'

    'Particularly of mine?'

    'That I am.'

    'We'll play and sing that song together to-morrow, when they are all out.'

    'So we will, Dorothea.  Oh, what a nice little thing you are!'

    So we did, taking care to see the remainder of the party safe out of the house.  Then when even I was weary of the practising, we came out, and wandered along the quiet shore towards a tiny cove, in which we often sat.  We went on till we reached a promontory, from which the tide never receded, and climbed up a steep path till we stood on the top of it.  It was crowned with a wood, which we passed through, and approached our cove from above, crossing the narrow promontory and looking down.  On the soft, white sand below a man was lying full length, leaning on his elbow, and gazing out to sea.

    'It's Giles,' said Valentine.  'Well, if we are not to have the place to ourselves, I would rather he shared it with us than that any one else did.'

    Giles had been so pleasant and brother-like to me lately, that I no longer felt ill at ease in his company, and stood looking on while Valentine set down the lunch-basket, and threw little pebbles towards him.  They did not reach him.  He was either asleep or in deep fit of abstraction, and we slowly wound down the steep path towards him, nearly reaching him before he looked up; which he did at last with great gravity; and as he betrayed no surprise, and did not accost us, we took no notice of him, but set the basket down close to him, and spread the cloth, as if he had not been there, leaving him by slow degrees to rouse himself from his deep abstraction.

    'When Mr. Brandon comes home,' I said to Valentine, 'he shall have some of these white-heart cherries.'

    'Comes home!' he asked.  'From whence?'

    'From wherever you have been, this last half-hour.'

    He darted a look at me, and an absolute flush mounted over his brow.  'What is a man's home!' he asked, to my surprise. 'Is it the place where his thoughts dwell?'

    'I did not mean to raise such a question, and I can not answer it, so I shall change my remark to Valentine, and say when Mr. Brandon comes down he shall have some of these white-heart cherries.'

    'Was it your pleasure to suppose that I had reached some height and was exulting there?'

    'Yes; and looking down at the prospect,' I replied, vexed at the evident despondency and almost shame of his manner, and wishing to convey to him, for the first time, some hint that I was grateful to him for his goodness to Valentine, in which I was to be the sharer.  'You were looking down from some New Zealand eminence, perhaps, and you saw a pretty house, round the balconies of which I hear that you have planted some vines and some passion-flowers and some cluster roses.'

    'You are mistaken,' he answered, hastily; 'I was down, not up—very low down indeed—grovelling.'

    'Very well,' I replied; ' "He that is down need fear no fall." '

    'Hear, hear,' said Valentine.  'D., my dear, after the pains you have taken to cure me of quoting, I am pleased to find that you are taking to it yourself.  Now, here we are.  "Rolls, ham sandwiches, buns, cherries, and ginger-beer."  Dorothea, serve out the rations.  Take a cabbage-leaf, settler, by way of a plate; we are rehearsing our parts to play life in New Zealand, Giles.'

    'In that case you had better dispense with the tablecloth'

    'Anything else?'

    'Yes, the hat and feather.'

    'No, Giles,' said Valentine with great seriousness; 'I always mean her to have a hat and feather, and to be got up just as she is now: my happiness will greatly depend on that.'  He broke into a laugh as he spoke, and went on, 'When you have a wife, I know you will be exceedingly particular about her dress.'

    'On the contrary, I mean to have one who will look well in anything'

    'The old story, always looking for impossibilities.  Liz heard from Jane Wilson yesterday.'

    'What has that to do with it?' said Mr. Brandon, thrown off his guard.

    'You know best.  They are coming.  Dorothea, have you a spare cabbage-leaf for Giles to fan himself with, he looks hot?  Jane's a fine creature.  Don't laugh, D.; how can you be so unfeeling?  I say, Giles, she's a fine creature.'

    'And these are fine cherries,' said Mr. Brandon.

    'Well, if there is one thing that I thoroughly detest it is a dogged insensibility to the charms of womankind.'

    I could not help saying, 'I do not observe the insensibility.'  On the contrary, I did observe a curious kind of embarrassment and a mounting flush over the healthy forehead, and I thought to myself, 'Jane Wilson's preference is rewarded at last.'

    I wondered whether she would understand him, or at all enter into the needs of a nature so peculiar, so strong, and so capable, as he had shown me, of a deep and almost romantic attachment.  Sometimes people are conscious of other people's eyes, though they are looking away from them.  Mr. Brandon was conscious of mine then I suppose, for he brought himself to glance at me, and I thought he had the air of a man who felt that he was found out.

    He was quietly putting his hand into the dry white sand, and sifting it through his fingers in search of the minute shells that it contained, and at the same time humming over the words of a little French song then in fashion.

    'There's nothing more odd to my mind than to hear you sing,' observed Valentine, 'because your voice is so different from your feelings.'

    'You and Miss Graham are exceedingly personal in your remarks this morning,' replied Giles, 'and you neither of you know anything about my feelings.'

    'I know that you are a very jolly fellow, and that your feelings, whatever they may be, are kept as close as—'

    'As potted shrimps,' interrupted Giles, 'with the layer of butter at top.'

    'And yet you sing like a nightingale with—'

    'Stop my lad, vary the simile; say a stormcock with a hairpin sticking in, under his left pinion.'  And so saying he went on to the end of the little song, at first with a joyous defiant air that suited well with the words, and at last with a touch of tenderness that made the tears start into my eyes.

    'D.,' said Valentine, 'what makes you look at Giles with that pretty kind of wistful interest?  I suppose you are cogitating about him and the coining fair one.'

    This remark was naturally rather embarrassing to Giles, and I stammered out some foolish excuse, saying, that I did not know I had stared at him.

    But I had been cogitating about him and the coming fair one, and so there was no denying it.

    'I should like to hear Jane Wilson and Dorothea having a feminine quarrel,' said Valentine, mischievously; 'it would be so pretty to hear that deep voice, mellow and manly, answered by this sweet little childish pipe so small and clear.  Perhaps, Giles, we may hear them quarrel some day.'

    'You never will,' I said.  'I shall take a great interest in her'

    Mr. Brandon replied with some hesitation, ' Do, she is a good girl, and as to her voice some people consider it agreeable.'

    'Cautious,' observed Valentine.

    'Come, have done with this,' said Giles, with sudden vehemence.

    'To be sure.  I'll talk of something else.  Do you know, D., that last night late, Giles and I took a stroll, and I made a few observations in reply to a lecture that he gave me?'

    'He told me what you had said respecting my temper, height, and features, Miss Graham.  You need not look so much disconcerted, I felt flattered.'

    'I am glad of it.'

    'I am aware that you did not intend to flatter me, Valentine; but it is my humour to be cheerful.'

    'I forgot that Valentine was in the habit of telling everything to you.'

    'He is my safety-valve,' observed Valentine; 'such a stunning fellow in general to hold his tongue and march on apparently listening, but often thinking of something else.  Well, D., last night I was launching out a little about you, and he being very silent, I naturally thought he was attending.'

    'Poor Mr. Brandon !'

    'And I was warming with my subject, and in the full tide of eloquence, when he heaved up a deep sigh and stopped short, looking out to sea.  Being thus brought to, I stopped also and looked out, saying, "What's the matter, old fellow?" and he replied, after a pause, "I've not eaten a single lobster since I've been at this stupid place."  Only imagine, while I was enlarging on the sweets of domestic life and the happy future, he was thinking about eating!'

    'I'm sorry, Mr. Brandon, that you should have so much to suffer on my account.'

    'Don't mention it,' he answered, laughing.

    'It's what he'll do himself when he is in my circumstances,' said Valentine.

    St. George, on hearing this, elevated his eyebrows with an air of astonishment and almost scorn.  He seemed about to say something, but thought better of it, and laughed instead, not by any means with a flattering air, but as if, well as he knew Valentine, the remark had quite taken him by surprise.

    'Well?' said Valentine.

    'Is it a good or a bad thing for a man to have no thoughts or feelings too strong or too deep to be expressed?'

    'Giles, you never used to put these metaphysical questions to a fellow.  Why, a good thing I should say, when one has somebody to talk to.'

    This slight hint that Valentine's feelings could be neither deep nor strong hurt me, however, chiefly, I believe, because I supposed it to be correct, and I could not help saying that I had often heard it remarked how much the affections grew by being exercised.  'Besides,' I went on, conscious all the time that I was arguing against my own secret convictions, 'people are not all gifted with equal powers of expression, and if two people feel equally, one may be able eloquently to describe while the other is mute, not from more feeling but from fewer words.'

    He seemed inclined to put the question by, but Valentine would not let him, and went on till he said, 'I never had a thought or image in my mind that I could not translate into language, if I chose; but sensations and passions are different: words lie below them or fly over their heads.  I cannot convey them unless they are slight and feeble, and that is lucky for me, for I have no desire to do so.'

    'I think I could,' said Valentine.

    'You could not convey to another person's mind the knowledge of what precise degree of anger you felt against him, or what pity or love for him; you would use superlatives to express the extreme of your love or your dislike, and he could but use the same superlatives, though he might be capable of ten times keener love and dislike.'

    'Yes,' I said, 'that is true, yet we know who feels much and who feels little; one man's words do not affect us because they do not affect himself, he says them with ease and coolness; another's affect us very much, though he may say less, because we see that he is affected by them himself, utters them with difficulty, and feels an intense meaning in them.'

    He smiled and answered, 'You and I are not devoid of penetration; we can read character and detect motives.  We think so, do we not?'

    'I think I can read motives.'

    'You know what motives would prompt you to certain actions, and therefore you impute them to others—to myself for instance.  You and Valentine have been exercising your penetration on me all the morning.'

    'Have we done it to any purpose?'

    'What an audacious young lady!  No, Valentine never hit the mark, but fell far short of it.'

    'And I?'

    'You have occasionally appeared to me to come near, but I have found afterwards that you had far overshot it.  As a general rule, I should say that you are prone to do so; you go too deep, and look too far off, and are too fond of analyzing.'

    'Have I shown that to-day?'

    'Only with your eyes.'

    'I shall be careful how I use my eyes for the future, if possible seeing with me shall not be believing.'


 
CHAPTER XXIX.


IN a few days the Wilsons arrived, and a great boy with them, who was in everybody's way.

    I soon saw that Jane was still a good deal interested in Mr. Brandon, and that her mother no longer cared to oppose her.  I am sure he was not aware of her preference, but he was aware of our observation; he knew his sisters watched him when in her company, and I believed that if he could be with her when she was away from her people and from his he would be glad.  So one morning when Valentine and Giles had gone out fishing, and had left word with Liz and me to be at our favourite cove at one o'clock with luncheon, when they would meet us and walk home with us, I went to Liz at eleven o'clock, and took with me an attractive paper, setting forth that there was to be a cottage flower-show that day in a village close by; and when I saw she longed to go to it—for she was infatuated about such things—I said I could easily get some one else to go to the cove with me, and she gladly let me.  So I sent on the basket by a girl whom we employed, ran to the bathing-machines and begged Jane Wilson to take a walk with me,—anything that made it in the least likely she would see Mr. Brandon she was sure to accept,—and we set off together, both of us very well pleased.

    Jane was a sweet girl,—not clever, but affectionate and simple.  We were very happy that morning, and in the course of conversation I let it appear that we were to have the two brothers to luncheon.  In due time their boat was beached.  I saw a man with bare feet spring out, take Valentine on his back and carry him beyond the wave.

    'That's Mr. Brandon!' exclaimed Jane.

    'Is it?' I said, for I had been looking at Valentine; 'he did it for a joke then, no doubt.  The sailor generally takes Valentine on shore, for it would not be prudent in him to wet his feet.'

    Valentine soon began to plod slowly up toward us, and Giles occupied himself sometime pulling the oars and sails about, putting on his shoes, &c., and talking to the man.  Then turning and seeing Valentine far before him, he set off to follow; and it sent a pang to my heart to see the different way in which they proceeded.  Valentine, walking rather slowly, and with a somewhat plodding foot, was following the course of a fresh-water stream which was between us and him, and which he would have to track up to a bridge near the cliff.  But Giles, to shorten the distance, vaulted two or three times over this stream, and so came straight toward us.

    'I wish Valentine was strong enough to do that,' I said.

    'One never sees such a graceful figure anywhere as Mr. Brandon's,' said Jane.  'Look, there he goes again.'

    His grace was nothing to me, but his vigour made me feel a little anxious, the difference was so marked between the two brothers.

    He came up the knoll on which we sat, before Valentine reached us.  He greeted Jane Wilson with all politeness, and then he gave me a significant look, and came and seated himself beside me, where Valentine, of course, was intended to be.

    When Valentine appeared, having crossed the bridge, he did not look best pleased: he was not often put out, but when he was he always showed it.  Giles did not rise, and went on talking, spreading out the viands and helping us to them in spite of two or three looks that I gave him, and which he returned with a certain air of amused defiance.

    Jane would, no doubt, have liked to sit where I did; but as Valentine would not talk at all, she could talk to Giles, and did for a while, till he too fell into silence, leaving us to talk together, and beginning to hum a few notes of some little German song.

    'Let us have a quartette,' said Valentine, speaking for the first time.

    Anything that enabled him to exercise his voice was always welcome to him; and though I was very angry with Giles for being so tiresome, I could not possibly help laughing, and was obliged to turn my face to him to hide it from the other two.  They had both of them a little way of singing out of time, and I felt that now Giles was going to be punished for his behaviour, and that it served him right.

    'I wish Mr. Brandon would sing a solo instead,' said Jane humbly.  'I am often afraid that I sing out of tune, and I don't like to exhibit my defects.'

    This was so true, and so modestly said, that I could not bear the thought of her being made to sing.  'You will sing,' I said to him.  'Pray do.'

    'Of course,' he answered.

    Jane named a song that she wished for, and while he sang it I thought I had never heard anything so sweet in my life; and as it went on I sat as forward as I could, because an inconvenient tear stole down Jane Wilson's cheek and dropped upon her glove.

    I was so sorry I had brought her that I could almost have cried too, and I felt comforted, to be sure, that Valentine did not see her, for he was pulling some bits of fern out of the rock behind us, and comparing them with other bits that he had in a pocket note-book.

    'That's not green spleenwort, old fellow,' said Mr. Brandon, the instant he had finished his song; 'you need not think it.'  And they began to argue together about the ferns in the neighbourhood.  Valentine and I had found a great many varieties, as we supposed; but when they were spread out in the note-book before Jane's more learnèd eyes, some of them were condemned as young specimens of the more common sorts, and several as mere duplicates in different stages of growth.

    I was very much disappointed when Jane said that none of it was the 'viride.'

    'But there is some here,' said Giles, 'and if you really care to see it I can easily show it, for it is not a hundred yards from this spot.'

    He sprang up, and I half mechanically rose, when held out his hand to me.

    'Val,' he said, 'if you and Jane will go over the bridge, I'll bring Miss Graham round to the knoll.  It's a much shorter way: we shall be there before you.'

    'Very well,' said Valentine; and Giles, who had not let go of my hand, put it on his arm, and we set off at brisk pace in what seemed the wrong direction.  We crossed over the sandy knoll and came to the brink of the stream again.  He let go my hand, and vaulted over it, fetching a wheelbarrow which was in the field the other side.  'The spleenwort is on this bank,' said as he returned, 'and a little lower down.'  He turned the wheelbarrow upside down in the middle of the stream, and setting his foot on it to keep it steady, invited me to step on it, which I did, and crossed easily.  Then he returned it to the spot where he had found it, and we went on a few paces, when we found the delicate weed, and saw Valentine and Jane giving the lunch-basket to our girl messenger, who had come for it.

    Giles laughed, and waving his hand, to them, signalled to Valentine to go over the bridge and take our usual path.

    Valentine seemed undecided, but Giles got me to take his arm again, and set forth at a good pace with me over the sandy knolls and hollows.  'We shall be there long before them,' he repeated; 'he must go over the bridge, for he can't cross up there.'  Then we climbed a hill, and as we came down to the knoll where we were to wait he indulged in a series of what, in talking of his sister Emily's laugh, he had called 'ecstatic little chuckles.'

    'I am afraid Valentine would go up there after us, I said, 'and expect to find a bridge.'

    'Then he would have to come back again, said Giles, 'for he would never think of the wheelbarrow, if he did he could not jump over to it; besides, it is such a slight affair that Jane's foot would break in the bottom of it.'

    'You are very tiresome to-day; I hardly know you!  Valentine won't like my not walking with him.'

    'Then he shouldn't have done it!'

    'He had nothing at all to do with it,' I answered, not pretending to misunderstand him; 'it was entirely my doing.  Why should you expect me to debar myself from the society of my friends?' I continued, but I could not help laughing.

    'Jane Wilson does not care for me a single straw,' he said as we sat down on the knoll.  'How should she? we have been familiarly acquainted with one another all our lives.  No,' he repeated, 'not a single straw.'

    'Oh, doesn't she?' I thought, but I did not say a word, and this was lucky, for he added quite deliberately, 'And as for me, I do assure you that I would rather be hanged to-morrow—than marry her!'

    'No one asks you to marry her,' I exclaimed.

    'Yes, you are ALL ALWAYS asking me to marry her!  It's no use.—There they are, a mile off, skirting the cliff.  Even at this distance, I can see how gloriously sulky Val is.'

    'No wonder, poor fellow, he has got to go all round the promontory, on the beach, and we have just crossed top.'

    'You will not tell him what I have been saying?'

    'No,' I answered; and I sat demurely beside him, thinking how cross Valentine would be at my not having managed better.

    'You made me do it, you know,' he continued.

    Giles had a very keen sense of the comical side of things, and when he saw Jane Wilson plunging through shingle, and Valentine disconsolately peering up for us in all directions but the right one, he said, 'But you won't let this sort of thing happen again, will you?'  Then he uttered another short laugh, and finished it up with such a heart-sick sigh, that I turned quite surprised to look at him.

    'What is the matter?' I exclaimed involuntarily.

    'Nothing's the matter that I know of,' he answered, 'excepting,'—and then he actually laughed again,—'excepting that I'm so miserable.'

    'Oh!' I answered almost in dismay, 'I hope you're not in earnest.'

    'I can't help sighing now and then,' he replied; 'I suppose it has become a habit with me.'  Then looking up, and observing my surprise and anxiety, he said, 'It's quite true, I assure you; you cannot imagine how perfectly miserable I am.'

    I continued to look at him, and really did not know what to say.

    'And it makes me so restless that I don't know what to do with myself' he went on.

    'I hope as you have told me this you will tell me something more,' I presently said.

    'I did not mean to tell you: I am only goaded into doing it now on account of Jane.'

    'But is it quite out of the question that I might be able to help in some way, if I knew something more?  'There's not the least use,' he answered, 'in my telling any one anything.'

    'Are you so very sure that I can do nothing at all?'

    'No,' he said.  'It worries me to have them all constantly teasing me about Jane.  If that could be prevented, I should be grateful.'

    'I will try; and I am not going to ask any question,—only going to make a remark.'

    He sighed as he sat by me plucking the little plants of eyebright, and looking at their tiny flowers.  'Nothing that you can say will be of any avail,' he answered. 'Valentine is not to know of this?'

    'No,' I replied.

    'Nor any one else?'

    'Nor any one else; but I am going to make my remark, and it does not call for any answer.'

    'Well?' he answered; 'I am listening.'

    'I wish to say that I think it quite improbable—quite out of all nature—that it should fall to the lot of one man to be twice the victim of a deep, faithful, and perfectly hopeless love.'

    He made me no answer, and after a long pause I went on,—'Women can often give some help in these cases: would it not be possible to get this lady, whoever she is, to come and stay here? or could not we go and stay where she is?  I hope this is not quite out of your reach.'

    I said this because I had a fear that it might be one particular person who I felt sure was out of his reach.

    'Yes, she is,' he answered, with a faltering in his voice, and a degree of humility that made me hate for the moment the woman I had in my thoughts.  'She is far out of my reach, and far above me too; but she is so inexpressibly sweet, that I do really think, sometimes, I shall break my heart about her.'

    'Oh then,' I thought to myself, 'I am certainly wrong; however infatuated he may be, he never could apply such words as inexpressibly sweet to that proud, cold maypole!'

    I sat quite still beside him, considering in my mind the lovely sister of this said maypole, and wondering whether first his ambition and then his love might have brought him to her feet, and I thought she was not so utterly out of his reach; but while I was considering whether I could venture to allude to her, he looked up and said, with a catch in his voice, 'It's very unfortunate for me, isn't it?'  Then he sprang up suddenly and said, 'There! they will be here in a quarter of an hour.  Do you mind my leaving you and going over the cliffs?'

    'Oh yes, indeed I do, because the cows come over the cliffs sometimes, and they have such long horns I don't like them.  Do stay till Valentine comes.  I don't want to say another word about this, now or ever excepting that I think only marriage can make any attachment truly hopeless.'

    He answered in a very low voice, 'I agree with you.'

    I was deeply sorry then.  I considered that there was indeed nothing more to be said, and as he leaned his chin upon his hand and gazed out seaward, evidently thinking of this ill-starred love, his whole face was so changed, so softened, and so full of passionate feeling, that the little remains of resentment and reserve I had felt towards him all melted away, and I began to talk to him of various things that I thought ought to give him comfort and pleasure, and supply a meaning to his life.  He had rescued so many families, I reminded him, from poverty and wretchedness, there was hardly any part of the world where somebody was not doing well whom he had taken there.

    'Yes,' he answered after a pause; 'do you know I have taken out more than two hundred people?  I was counting them up the other day.'

    So on that hint I spoke, and administered a little of that harmless flattery which an unhappy man generally finds pleasant; and as he sat and listened with his chin in his hand he began to look rather less moody, till at last, as the absentees approached, he lifted up his head, and went down with me to meet them.  Valentine was exceedingly out of temper; I had never seen him anything like so cross; and Jane Wilson was so determinedly silent that I saw she was displeased.  With great difficulty I managed to put Valentine in better humour, and induce Jane to answer a few remarks about the spleenwort.  But the walk dragged on wearily till, turning one of the cliffs, we met a whole posse of people whom we knew, got mingled among them, Jane was carried on to sail with them, Giles climbed the cliffs and made off, and Valentine and I being left alone, became cheerful and good-humoured directly.

    I felt quite uncomfortable about Giles till I saw him again, which I did the next day, looking just as usual.

    I came through the house and beheld him and Valentine seated on a garden border, each in a kitchen chair, the back legs whereof were deeply embedded in the mould.

    That garden was a sight to be seen!  It was full of somewhat straggling and neglected rose-trees, and an their account Giles had hired the house, giving an extra half-guinea a week on consideration that he should be allowed to bud and graft all these trees, as well as some miserable plum and cherry trees, as much as he liked.

    It was supposed to be a fine thing to know how to bud and graft trees if one was going to live in a new country, and I can only say I hope those trees liked it.

    Valentine was sitting before a large rose-bush which was absolutely covered with 'buds;' he was arrayed in a large white gardener's apron, and was now going to begin to graft.  He had a wash-tub half full of clay beside him, and Giles was kneading some of it in his shapely hands.

    'How tiresome of you, D. dear, to be so late!' said Valentine, 'when you know I have to go and bathe almost directly.'

    Giles turned away to his plum-tree with a lump of clay in his palm.  I saw at once that he was in a very different humour from that of the day before.  As I came in I had heard him whistling the air of the minuet in Samson; and I now saw that in a certain way he was enjoying himself.  His coat and waistcoat were off, and having made at different times nineteen clay puddings, which he called grafts, all over the miserable mossy little tree, he was now finishing a twentieth.

    He had got so accustomed to the aspect of the tree that when Valentine brought me up to it, and I gave way to irresistible laughter, he looked at first quite surprised.

    'What is the matter with it?' he exclaimed, stepping up to observe it from the same point of view; 'I really flattered myself that it looked like business.'

    'Oh,' I answered, 'it is such a wretched sickly little object, and the puddings are so large; and, besides, all this bass, and tape, and ribbon that you've tied them up with look so forlorn fluttering about.'

    'I was obliged to tie them up,' he answered, laughing in his turn, 'because some of them tumbled down.  Yes, I see it has rather a mangy effect!'

    The ground underneath was strewed with lumps that looked a little like swallows' nests, and almost all its leaves had been picked off.

    'Every tree, D. dear, in the garden over there will look exactly like this when he has done them,' said Valentine with suave gravity; 'but now I must go.  Sit down in this chair till I come back,'—he brought up one of the kitchen chairs,—'don't stir.  Giles must not be left without any protection,' he added in a loud whisper, and off he set.

    I was perfectly silent for at least ten minutes; then Giles said, 'This is all your doing.'

    'Yes, I know; and I am very penitent.'

    Something comic seemed to occur to him, for he parted the little twigs that he might see me better, and looking me in the face said deliberately, 'It's not Miss Tott;' then he let the leafy twigs go together again, went on with his work, and I heard him laughing.  I could hardly believe it; and yet if he was not telling me that it was not Miss Tott who was the object of this hopeless love, I could not tell what he meant.

    'Not Miss Tott!' I repeated in amazement.

    'Yes, I feel that you must have been speculating about this, and it really is very hard upon you, for you can make no investigation, because, you know, you said of your own accord that you should never allude to the subject again either to me or to any one else,—"now or at any future time," were your words I think.'

    'Yes,' I said, for I understood his hint, 'and I never will,—never!'

    'Thank you; and so I thought you might be glad to know that it was not Miss Tott.'

    'Dear Mr. Brandon, how can you be so ridiculous!'

    'For you looked so wistfully at me just now that—'

    'I beg your pardon; I promise you not to do it again.'

    I heard that same heart-sick sigh; but he presently said in his usual tone, 'I hate to be commiserated.  How Miss Tott would have enjoyed to hear my confession of yesterday!  But even now I'm not crushed!'

    'What could have put it into your head to think I should suppose her to have anything to do with it?  We never did anything but laugh at her, poor thing.'

    'No; I was far from thinking of love then; but as I told you I was in London when I fell into this pit—'

    'You never did,' I answered, very much confirmed in my fear that the lovely sister of the maypole was his love.  'Why should we talk of this sorrowful matter any more?'

    The Wilsons had chanced to mention a certain family that very morning, and without any question on my part it had come out that this lady was lately married.

    'No,' he answered; 'why, indeed?  And that reminds me that Valentine has been taking upon himself to lecture me this morning and yesterday.  The airs that boy gives himself, now he is engaged, are perfectly irresistible.'

    'That boy!' I repeated rather indignantly.

    'Yes,' said Giles, laughing at the recollection of it.  'He can't bear to hear me call you Miss Graham.'

    'It does seem rather formal, because you know I shall be your sister soon.'

    'He asked me to call you D., as he does'

    'And what did you say?'

    'I said I wouldn't.'

    'You did?'

    'Yes, I hate nicknames.  By the by, you don't like my Christian name; its because you don't like me.'

    'I shall continue to call you Mr. Brandon.'

    'But Valentine is very anxious that we "should like each other better,"—that was how he phrased it,' said Giles;  'and he made me promise to tell you so.'

    'I suppose we shall, then, for his sake,' I answered, feeling a little piqued.  I felt my face cover itself with blushes, and yet I managed to stammer out, as Giles was behind the tree, 'I hope—indeed I am sure, that Valentine has never had the least hint of what—what may have caused me once to feel some resentment.'

    'Of course not,' said Giles earnestly; and, to my great discomfiture, coming forward and facing me, 'How could you think so?'

    He retreated to his work when I turned my face away from him.  I thought if we were ever to be friends, now was the time; and I said,—

    'You have never told me that you were aware you had made a mistake.'

    'But I am aware of it,' he answered hastily; 'deeply, painfully aware.'

    'That is quite enough to say,' I answered; 'I shall feel quite differently now.  I shall be so much pleased, so thankful to forget it.'

    'I thought yesterday that you had forgotten it,' said Giles.  'No one who felt any resentment could have tried to comfort me as you did.'

    'I did forget it.  Do you think I have no feeling? do you think now that I have no regard for you at all? do you think that no human sorrow touches me—'

    I tried to twinkle away two tears that had gathered under my eyelids, but they would trickle down, and I was obliged to take out my handkerchief to wipe them away.

    'I will call you anything you like,' said Giles, quite in his ordinary tone.  'I was only joking when I found fault with the nickname.  What can it matter to a fellow with such a weight on his mind as I have?'

    And then there came a pause, and it distressed me to hear a sound uncommonly like a short sob behind the tree; but in two minutes Valentine was half-way down the garden, and Giles had met him and was making game of him because the sun had caught his nose and made it red.

    'That comes,' said Giles, 'of having a complexion like a lady's.'

    'Look at D.,' answered Valentine, 'the sea never tans her.'

    'No,' I replied, 'and I wish it would; it would make me look older.'

    'You are afraid we shall be a ridiculously young-looking couple!  That is the fact,' said Valentine.

    'But I consider that I look quite grown-up now,' was my youthful answer.

    'You look seventeen, if you look a day,' said Valentine.  And he continued in a reassuring tone, 'You'll look older in time.'  Thereupon he took me out for a walk, and told me with great glee that he had overheard a group of people talking of me as he was leaning out of the window and I passed with Anne Molton.  They said I had a figure like a sylph.

    'Yes,' I answered, 'I've often heard that before.  I don't care about it at all.'

    'You ungrateful little thing,' said Valentine, 'what would you have?'

    'The reason you think me so little,' I replied, 'is because you're so big.  I'm nearly as tall as the majority of women.'

    'And they said,' he continued, 'that you had the sweetest and most innocent face they had ever seen.'

    'I don't care about that either,' I answered laughing; for you would never have found it out unless these strangers had put it into your head.'

    'Oh! it signifies what I think then, does it?  Well now, what do you think of my appearance?  Am I handsome?'

    'Very handsome!'

    'Perhaps,' he said, 'you'll tell me you don't care about that either.'

    'I shall if you ask me!  But now let us be grave, and let me tell you what I mean.'

    'All right,' he answered, 'but I don't believe you know yourself what you mean.'

    'Yes, I do.  I wish it had been my lot to have a more womanly and mature air, so that people would have expected more of me, and by treating me as if they did would have helped me to be something more—'

    'Ah! we have aspirations—hang aspirations!  I never had any, but I'm always the victim of other people's aspirations on my account.'

    'Yes, but do have some now!  We both of us want dignity.  Aspire to manly dignity, will you? and take a more serious view of things in general.'

    'You mean,' said Valentine, exploding with laughter, 'that you've seen "V. M." cut on the bathing-machines—'

    'No, I haven't.'

    'That is because you didn't look, then!  I've cut those harmonious initials on every one of them.  Now, if you'll promise solemnly never to talk to me in this way again, I on my part promise that I won't—'

    'Won't what, Valentine?'

    'Won't cut them on the pier.'

    He laughed with delight when he had said thus, for he saw he had taken me in, and obliged me to laugh too.

    'If you had seen Giles and me at six o'clock yesterday morning,' he presently said, 'you would have been quite satisfied both about our manly dignity and our earnest views of life.'

    'What did you do?'

    'We took one of those kitchen chairs into the lane.  I sat upon it.  There are some lovely crab-trees in the lane, D. dear.  Giles got up into one of them, and made three puddings in it.  Two girls, who were going by with milk to sell, stopped, and when they saw what we were about, they perfectly yelled with laughter.  I don't know how it is, but our puddings are so big!  I grafted the lower boughs at the same time.  Next year that tree will burst out, with all sorts of green fruit.'


 
CHAPTER XXX.

'Lose not thine own for want of asking for it: 'twill get thee no thanks.'—FULLER.


AS the Wilsons continued to stay at our little seaside retreat, they gradually diminished our pleasure, and at last took almost all of it away.  They made acquaintances with several other families, they invited friends of their own to stay with them, and introduced them to us; so that we were now almost always in a large company.  Valentine liked this better than I did; he was naturally more sociable, and now that we were engaged, and he was sure of me, I did not wish that he should feel me to be any burden, and would not be exacting, so I took care to press his acceptance of every invitation that he seemed pleased with, though sometimes Liz and Mrs. Henfrey would excuse themselves, and consequently I did not go.  I reflected that he would have little chance of this kind of pleasure in New Zealand; yet, though I knew he could easily do without it when the time came, I resolved never to be the means of hastening it.

    I thought afterwards that it was a pity I had been so anxious to be obliging; for it was evidently, then, his business, and more according to the nature of things, that he should have been anxious about obliging me; and I have several times observed that nobody thanks one for giving up what is clearly one's own,—not even the person for whom it is done; for he either thinks it is all right, which is a pity,—or he knows it is not all right, and by accepting it lowers himself,—or he does not think about it, which is nearly as bad.

    It was not Valentine's fault that I encouraged him to do exactly as he pleased, or that he was already master of the situation; and I cannot be angry with him now, when I reflect how much pleasure he gave me often and long, and in the end more than in the beginning.

    I was quite aware that comfortable as we were in each other's companionship, cosy as were our confidences, and cheerful our chats over the future, we were not what is popularly called 'in love.'  My affection for him was an act of gratitude; his affection for me was partly friendship, partly habit, and partly pride in the not unamiable notion of an early independence with a wife and a home of his own.

    All this sounds very prosaic, and I knew it was tame and commonplace; but it was the only hope of not losing by long distance the kindest and freshest of companions.  It was what was offered, and all that was offered.  Why, then, was I to be left utterly alone in this hemisphere, with no one to work for but the people in my district, and no one to care for but Anne Molton, because I thought we might have loved each other more!

    I was only to stay a few days longer at the seaside.  We had agreed that we would be married late in January, and that Anne Molton should sail before our wedding, with three young women whom we had determined to befriend, and with the two little darlings from Chartres.  Their grandmother was dead, and Giles had asked Valentine whether he would ask me if I should like to have them with me.  They had no provision, and if I would take the trouble of them, he would undertake to defray the expense.

    I agreed gladly.  The little creatures were sent for, and came down by train to our watering-place, three days before I left it, with a stout bonne.  Mr. Brandon went down to Southampton to fetch them, and I did not see them till they were seated, one on either side of him, on the lee side of a bathing-machine.

    They did not remember me, but the elder recollected him, and the little one was already charmed with him and his stories and his songs.  I saw that they would be a great charge, but Giles was not to be refused anything, he had been so good to us.

    I sat down near them that I might see what specie's of creatures they were.  They had not forgotten their English.  'I like this place,' said the eldest.  'I said to Marmotte that I wanted to go across the sea again.'

    'Yes,' said the little one, 'for now we can see some live ships.  At Chartres we only saw dead old things that can't sail,—horses had to drag them.'

    As she spoke she stroked Mr. Brandon's face and hair all over with her soft hands,—it was evident that this little one was the favourite,—and the elder sat by gravely and quietly, not thinking of taking such liberties, but quite at home.

    'Now sing to us again,' she demanded, laying her head on his shoulder, and beginning to suck her thumb; 'sing to us about the Star and the Holy Babe.'

    Giles complied, and when he ceased the elder child said, 'He makes me cry.'

    'That's because you are silly.  Look at me, I hear him sing, and I don't cry.  Now tell us about the bears,—another story, quite a new one, about white bears; but they are not to kill anything.'

    'What are they to eat then?'

    'Why,—why,' pursing up her little mouth and considering,—'they can eat some of those animals that were drowned in the flood, and never went into the ark,—can't they?'

    The ever-compliant narrator accordingly compounded a story to order,—a story of white bears, describing their dens, their young cubs, and their dinners, also their amusements on the ice, and how they growled when they were angry.  This last was by far the most popular part of the entertainment, and was repeated several times with renewed applause.  In the mean time the French nurse sat all amazement at the infatuation of the two young English bachelors, for Valentine was almost as fond of children as St. George, and sat softly whistling and contemplating them with amiable curiosity.  I was delighted, for they were the freshest and simplest little creatures in the world, and when Giles obligingly assured Valentine that they would never give any trouble worth mentioning, and Valentine said, 'Of course not,' I did not say a word.  I thought if here was anything to be found out time would reveal it as far as he was concerned; and men are seldom able to estimate correctly the amount of trouble that domestic matters give to women, these two brothers being both very good examples of the fact.

    And now the day came when I was to return to London.  It was not thought proper that Valentine should escort me; I therefore went up with Anne Molton.  There was much to be done: my outfit to get ready, and many things to be bought for future comfort, specially books to select, seeds of all kinds, cutlery, and everything likely to be wanted in a house, that did not come under the name of actual furniture.

    I felt a sort of pang at leaving that sweet place; it was to be my last sojourn at an English village by the sea.  This was like taking leave of my country; I should see little more of it, but remain with Anne in London till within a week of my wedding-day; then she was to take me down to Wigfield, for it had been greed that I should be married there.  This would be he most convenient plan, for Mrs. Henfrey and Liz could not come up to London at that time of the year, and there was no need to consider Tom's or my uncle's convenience, for neither intended to be present.  So I left everything to Mrs. Henfrey, and she arranged that Liz should be my one bridesmaid, and that Mr. Brandon should give me away.

    The whole party, including the children, escorted me and Anne to the railway station, and the last words were spoken and the last kisses given with much laughing and joking on both sides.  When I say words and kisses, I do not speak of any words but such as all could hear; Valentine and I had no private leave-taking. He was particular in his directions respecting the pattern of the dinner-service, which was left to me to choose, and also respecting the fashion and material of my wedding-gown; but no nearer interests troubled us.  The kisses also were given by the ladies; Valentine did not offer one; indeed I should not have accepted it if he had.

    But he and I were becoming very much attached to each other notwithstanding, and I pleased myself with thinking that his style of affection was likely to grow and last.  He was not an intellectual young man, but he was clear-headed, and particularly reasonable.  His affection for me was of a reasonable kind.  'Why should I expect you to be faultless?' he once said; 'I am full of faults myself.'  And when I remarked one day, as I still sometimes did, that I hoped we really were sufficiently attached to each other to be happy, he replied, 'Affection is a habit as well as an instinct; it is sure to strengthen, do not be afraid of that; and we shall soon have all our interests in common.  That is a very great thing.  Besides, I want to be my own master.'

    'And mine,' I observed.  'I think you have aspirations at last, and they are in that direction.'

    'Perhaps so, dearest.  Besides, you know, I always said I would marry very young.'

    'But Prentice put that into your head.'

    'So he did, and good luck to him for it.'

    'You would never have thought of it but for him.'

    'I am not at all sure of that.  I believe you would have put it into my head if he hadn't.  Besides, what's the good of haggling about it?—I'll tell you another aspiration I have, and that is to make St. George really like you.'

    'Why, what makes you think he does not?' I asked.

    'Oh, you know very well that he doesn't, D.  Besides, I told you the other day that I had taxed him with it and told him he ought to be more cordial.'

    'What did he answer?  You never told me that.'

    'No.  Well, he answered, "Then you shouldn't be always talking about her.  I'm tired of your everlasting twaddle about Miss Graham." '

    'Then, pray don't weary him any more in that way. '

    'Easier said than done, you blessed creature!'

    Poor St. George!  I could easily fancy how painful it must be to him to hear Valentine enlarging on the pleasures of love and domestic life; and yet I knew as well as Valentine did that, though he tried to overcome his coldness towards me, he had never been really able to do so since our quarrel in the wood.

    'And so you told him to be more friendly and affectionate to me?' I asked.

    'Yes, and he laughed and said you kept him at a distance.  He said also, "Depend upon it, I like her a great deal better than she likes me." '

    I felt then he was a man who could forget nothing.  I had even brought myself to get an acknowledgment from him which enabled me to treat him as if the scene in the wood had never occurred; and sometimes, when the weight on his heart oppressed him, he had shown himself glad of my sympathy.  I had even seen him more than once deliberately try to be cordial; try to be familiar, for Valentine's sake.  But it was no use, the old feeling soon recurred, and the old manner.

    I thought often on this conversation for the first day or two of my return to London; but I had a great deal to do, and Valentine's delightful letters soon pushed it into the background.

    I helped Anne Molten to make the whole of my wedding outfit, which was the more ample because I knew that at the Antipodes I should have little leisure for needlework, and few shops to make purchases in. I also helped Anne with her own outfit, and gave my three protégées a lesson daily in reading and writing.  I wanted them to be able to read their Bibles, and write home to their friends when I took them far away from those friends, and far away perhaps from all earthly instructors.

    So very busy going about shopping; so very busy packing and choosing merchandise, crockery, seeds, hooks, drapery, and cutlery; so very busy learning the mysteries of bread-making, crust-making, pudding-making, &c., &c., that I was not conscious of a certain little fact till an ignorant servant-maid pointed it out to me.

    I was sitting in the parlour, Mrs. Bolton was out, as she so often was, giving a lesson,—a postman's knock came to the door.  I thought nothing of it, the door was open, and Anne Molten met the west-country servant-maid in the passage.

    'Is that for Miss Graham?' Anne said.

    'Ay, it's for she; her don't get so many letters as her used to do, do her?'

    She brought in a letter from Valentine, and as I held it in my hand I happened to look up at Anne Molton, and saw that my glance troubled her.  She was considering whether I had heard the speech of the house maid.  And when she had left me to my letter, the words seemed to ring in my ears,—'Her don't get so many letters as her used to do, do her?'

    I put down the letter before I read it, and smiled at myself for the momentary pang I had felt.  What if he did write somewhat seldomer? was he not as busy as myself, learning all sorts of things, that were likely to prove useful to us both, and paying hurried visits to numerous relatives and friends?  What if he did write rather seldomer? had not I also written rather seldomer myself?  I opened the letter,—the dear, kind, affectionate letter,—in which he alluded to his not writing so often, and hoped I knew it was because he was so busy and so much hurried from place to place.  It was a short letter, written late in the evening, and more full of excuses than of news,—as if I wanted him to be always afraid of annoying me or of making me uneasy!  I sat down at once and answered the letter.  I told him not to imagine that I was of an exacting turn; that I was satisfied in the possession of his affection, and did not want him to rob himself of rest in order to assure me of its continuance,—a circumstance that I had never doubted.

    That was by far the most affectionate letter I had ever written to him, and it did me good; it made me feel so secure; and so trustful.  I believe I had a kind of feeling that being such a letter as it was, it was almost sure of an answer in a day or two, if not even by return of post; and I set to my work again, after it was written, with a cheerful heart.

    But an answer did not come; and when I had waited as long as usual, and two or three days longer, I almost wished he had not taken me so completely at my word.  But he was a man, and I was a woman.  I had taken great pains to make him suppose that I was above, or devoid of, all the little weaknesses and exactions and anxieties of my sex.  He was treating me therefore as if I were a man—taking me at my word, and paying me the compliment to believe it; for when the letter did come (and it came at last) it was short, and contained no allusion to what I had said, but contained a droll account of some cricket matches at which he had been present, and a compliment to me on my good sense, which did not expect him to find time to write as often when his hands were full as when he had nothing to do.

    Dear fellow!  I accepted the compliment, and tried to be pleased with it, and to be sure that the shortness of his letter was no more than I might reasonably expect.

    Letters, at least the letters of most people, become unsatisfactory after long absence.  At first, after they have parted, there are fresh recollections and increased familiarity to make them easy; but after a time, if people care for each other very much, and are sensitive, there are frequently misunderstandings, which would occur in personal intercourse and be soon set right, but which, brooded over between the letter and its answer, derive an importance that they do not deserve.

    So long as people keep to the relation of facts in their letters, and think they know each other well enough, all is easy; but if they go from facts to opinions and feelings, if they anxiously desire to know each other more and more, it is very hard to do this by such means.  There is not the tell-tale human voice, and the changing human eye to help them to this further acquaintance.  The mystery that we want to penetrate, the soul that we want to reach with our soul, cannot unveil itself to us on a sheet of paper, even if it yearn to do so, and is willing to let us know as much as we can understand.

    Some such thought as this was often in my mind when, recollecting how I had written to him, I read his answers.  I wrote from within, he answered from without; I wrote what I felt, he of what had happened.  'Ah, well,' I thought, 'we shall soon be always together, and then I know I can get you to tell me whatever I please.'  It was a new phase in his character to shrink as it were from inspection, and it interested though it teased me.  Once he had been too open, too careless about the impression that might be made by his words and actions; he did not sufficiently sort his thoughts and ideas, but poured them out just as they came to the surface: now I perceived a certain caution in his letters; he was more anxious to please me; he often apologized for not writing oftener, and sometimes observed that he felt he was unworthy of me, which was such a very new view of things for him to take that the first time he advanced it I could not help laughing, and then, blushing, felt that perhaps he was falling in love with me after all!

    But by Christmas I began to feel really uneasy at the few letters I got and their shortness; they were affectionate, but restrained; and I longed for the time when we should meet, for it was of no use writing to inquire the reason of these changes, it only did harm.  Sometimes I felt almost afraid that so early a marriage and entrance on the grave responsibilities of life was beginning to be an alarming idea to him; but this notion I would not allow myself to entertain long, for he was always interested in my accounts of my purchases, particularly about the pattern of the tea-service, and eloquent in his descriptions of the pups he was bringing up to take with him, and the guns he had bought, and fishing-tackle, and tools.

    So I worked on till the last of my gowns was finished, till my wedding-dress, veil, and wreath were packed up, till I had taken my leave of the poor people, and of Miss Tott, the only acquaintance I had in London, and till, having paid all my bills, I found myself seated in the cab and driving with Anne Molton to the railway station to proceed to Wigfield.

    It wanted only a week to the day fixed for my wedding.  I had a letter from Mrs. Henfrey in my hand in which she fixed the train I was to come by.  Valentine was in Derbyshire, but he would be home in time to meet me; and she particularly hoped I would take care of a box which she had ordered a man to bring to me at the station; it must come in the carriage with me, and I was to keep my eye on it, for it contained my wedding-cake.

    Droll that I should take my own cake down with me! it made me smile through my tears, for I was shedding a few natural tears.  At the station I was to part with Anne Molton—my dear, faithful, loving friend, Anne Molton.

    We kissed each other when I was seated in the carriage, and she wished me joy.  I watched her as the train steamed rapidly out of the station, and felt that I had parted with the only friend I had in the world who was not of my future husband's family, or utterly out of my reach and beyond my ken.  In two days she was to sail, and as we did not mean to do so till about six weeks after our marriage, we hoped she would be in our new home long enough before we reached it to make it orderly and comfortable.  To her were entrusted the guns, the seeds, and all the purchases, except what I wanted for my own wearing.  The pups, of course, were too precious to sail under 'feminine' superintendence; so was Valentine's cart, and the strong little basket-carriage that he had bought for my use.

    It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when I reached the well-remembered station, and looked out in a flush of excitement that made me warm from head to foot.

    I waited till I feared the train would be going on, then I put out my head, and when I said I was to stop at Wigfield, there was a good deal of bad language used among the men, which hurried me to the point of keeping my wonder at a distance. I got out of the carriage, and being desired to look sharp, ran with the guard to identify my luggage, which they were hauling about with furious haste; and it was not till I saw it on the pavement, and the train in motion, that this wonder at Valentine's absence returned.

    'Is the train before its time?' I asked.

    'Quite contrary,' was the gruff answer; 'it's a quarter of an hour late.'

    I walked into the little waiting-room and sat down.  At five o'clock, it being dark, and Valentine not come for me, I ordered a fly, and started by myself for the house.  I was full of fear that I must have mistaken the day, and hoped, if I had, they would not suppose I had done it on purpose that I might be with them sooner.

    We reached the house and stopped.  It became evident to me before I had crossed the hall that I was not expected; and when the thin old footman left me in the morning-room, I felt as shy and as ashamed as if I had come unasked, and their neglect in being unprepared was entirely my own fault.

    A leisurely foot coming down the stairs—and a very rapid one directly after! (Valentine's I hoped.)  The latter overtook the former at their foot.

    'Come here, and not met!' exclaimed Mr. Brandon.  'Why, what does the fellow mean by it?'

    'Fellow, Giles!' said Mrs. Henfrey; 'how can you call your own brother such a name?'

    There was nothing in the name, but there was in the tone.

    'He wrote,' proceeded Mrs. Henfrey, 'and said he couldn't come home to-day, and of course I supposed he had written to her to the same effect; he said he should.'

    'Hang him!' was the fraternal rejoinder; 'it's a disgrace to my house that she should have waited at that hole of a station,—on such an occasion too!'

    'Well, well,' said Mrs. Henfrey soothingly, 'and where have they put the poor child, I wonder?'

    During this rapid colloquy I had just had time to advance to the door, and I now presented myself blushingly, and said, 'I am here, Mrs. Henfrey.'  The words 'my house' had accounted to me for Mr. Brandon's unusual heat almost at the moment when it astonished me.  The sudden consciousness that I was his guest did not make me feel any the more at home, and I wondered that I had not remembered it before.

    He had a bed-room candle in his hand, and when I appeared he cleared his rather irate face as quickly as he possibly could, but was evidently vexed that I should have overheard the conversation, and began to ring for different servants and excite a considerable bustle, with a view, as it appeared, to my speedy accommodation in what he was pleased to consider a suitable style for his brother's bride elect.

    So I was shortly taken up-stairs and ensconced in the very best bed-room, with a crackling fire, and two large candles, and some big glasses, together with other luxuries to which I had become quite unaccustomed.

    I was not seriously uncomfortable at Valentine's absence.  He had no doubt written to me, but the letter had not arrived in time to stop me.  Mr. Brandon had only entered the house an hour before I did; he had been away three days: therefore my first reception was quite accounted for, and when I made my appearance in the drawing-room ready dressed for dinner I felt contented and easy, the more so as they all greeted me with kindness.

    Two friends of Mr. Brandon's arrived to dine with us, and during dinner there was plenty of conversation; but as time wore on I felt less comfortable, because I had become aware that Mr. Brandon, though he talked, laughed, and exerted himself, stole a moment now and then to cogitate, and during these intervals of thought he had a puzzled and surprised air, which came over him many times during the evening, and gathered strength every time it occurred.

    When two people are deeply interested in a third person, and are thinking of this said third, they sometimes become conscious of each other's thoughts.

    I was perfectly certain that St. George, like myself, was thinking of Valentine, and considering why he had not returned.  We were both travelling on the same road,—the road to Derby,—and our spirits passed and repassed each other on the way.

    Every one else was cheerful and gay.  Mr. Brandon, despite these thoughtful intervals, contrived to keep them so: I talked as much as any one, but watched him, and soon found that he was avoiding my eye.  He frequently addressed me or answered my questions without looking at me.  There was something more to be disquieted at: he was aware, as well as myself; of this community of thoughts, and was trying to prevent my reading more of his.  One of the strangers began to talk to me, and I was obliged to turn away and listen.  When I was released I darted an anxious glance at him, and thrown off his guard, he involuntarily lifted his eyes.  That peculiar change of countenance instantly took place which often follows a consciousness of detection.  I had become possessed of something which he wished to hide, and in spite of himself his face acknowledged the fact.

    'He will come by the nine o'clock train to-morrow morning of course,' said St. George, as we parted for the night.

    Liz came up with me to my room, for we had been told that a number of boxes, six or eight, had come for me, and had been carried up to my room.

    They were marked No. 1, No. 2, &c., &c., and we got No. 1 opened, and found a letter in it from my uncle; a curious formal letter, setting forth that he wished me all happiness in the married life, and that he had decided on giving me a trousseau in addition to what he had settled on me, Mr. Brandon, as I might be aware, being my trustee.  Mrs. Brand had been sent by him to Paris to choose the trousseau, and he hoped I should approve it.

    There was a letter also from Mrs. Brand.  She had evidently taken great pleasure in her task, hoped I should like her taste, and reminded me that the gowns were sure to fit, for she had old ones of mine in her possession, and had taken them with her as guides.

    Neither of us had ever seen such a quantity of grandeur before.  Nothing could be more ridiculous than most of these beautiful dresses for a settler's wife in New Zealand; but we decided that I should wear a fresh one every day while I stayed at Wigfield, and we took one, a sort of morning robe of the softest white muslin, with a blue quilted satin petticoat, and in this it was agreed that I should appear before Valentine the next morning and completely take his breath away.

    Liz was in such perfectly good spirits, so secure that Valentine would come by the nine o'clock train, that she imparted all her tranquillity to me.  But we both sat up so late, fascinated by the fine clothes, that we overslept ourselves the next morning, and were neither of us down to family prayers.

    We chanced to meet on the stairs, and I said to her, 'What time do the letters come in?'

    'Not till the same train that brings Valentine,' she answered, and she opened the dining-room door, and ushered me in with an air.

    We related the affair of the boxes.  'Isn't this beautiful?' exclaimed Liz.

    'Lovely,' said Mrs. Henfrey; 'walk about a little, my dear, that I may see it.  Wonderful indeed are their works at Paris.'

    'Valentine will fall flat when he sees it,' exclaimed Mr. Brandon.  'In fact it's dangerous for any man to look at it; I must have a screen.'  Whereupon he took one down from the chimney-piece, and held it between me and himself with affected alarm.

    'It's like a baby's robe, isn't it?' he said.

    'A baby's robe!' repeated Liz: 'why, it's open in the front.'

    'Yes, but it's made of white muslin,' observed Mrs. Henfrey; 'that's why he thinks so, and it's all enriched with work and lace.'

    'But I think that fluffy thing she wore last night was prettier still,' continued St. George.  'When she came floating in she looked like a delicate cloud with two dove's eyes in it'

    The imaginary beauty again! but oh how coldly he spoke! and as I drew near to him I could not help saying softly, 'If I ever have a brother-in-law who admires my face—'

    'Which will soon be the case,' he interrupted.

    'And he ever says to me the sort of thing you have said just now, I shall feel it.'

    'You shall feel it,' he repeated, looking a little uncomfortable.

    'Yes, I shall wish—oh, so much!—that I might exchange the whole of his admiration for a very little of his regard.'

    Neither of his sisters heard this speech.  For the moment he looked a little ashamed.  'I'm going to give you a proof of my regard shortly,' he said laughing.  'I think you will consider it a very delicate attention.'

    I saw that he alluded to some wedding present, and could not help blushing as I answered, 'Thank you.  You are sure it is not a proof merely of your generosity?  I have had plenty of those already.'

    'In all discussions with you I am sure to get the worst of it,' he answered, as if amused and pleased.  'No, I think I may say this is a proof of my regard.  Then—'Valentine is sure to be infatuated about this blue thing,' he presently added.

    'I wish him to like it.  I always want him to be pleased.'

    'He shall be pleased,' said St. George, 'or we'll know the reason why.  What shall I do to him if he is not?  You may command me to any extent.'  And as he spoke, turning his face towards the window, I saw it change a little.  The dog-cart was coming back, and Valentine was not in it.

    He presently went into the hall and met the servant, who was bringing in the letters on a tray, and as he rapidly sorted them I saw that there was not one for me.

    'Do you think he is ill?' I whispered.

    'I had not thought so,' he answered; 'but it may be.  Yes, it must be so.'

    We came back in silence, sat down to breakfast, and Mrs. Henfrey poured out the coffee before she opened her letters.  Then she exclaimed, 'Why, dear me, here is a letter from Mrs. Wilson, and she says poor dear Valentine has caught such a terribly bad cold that he is in bed with it, and cannot possibly come home till Tuesday.  On Tuesday she thinks he might come with safety.'

    My heart leaped for joy: a bad cold, nothing worse, and here had I been dreading all sorts of things.  I was quite angry for the moment with Giles for having also been uneasy.

    Mrs. Henfrey let Giles take the letter from her, and as he walked back to his place with it he read it through.  Then he went and stood on the rug while he read it again.  After which he tore it in half, and flung it on fire.

    'Oh, you should not have burnt my letter,' said Mrs. Henfrey; 'perhaps Dorothea would like to have seen it.'

    I should have been pleased to see it, but was too glad of its contents to blame any one just then.

    'If you please, sir,' said the thin footman, 'I've been to the station, and I can't hear any tidings of the box.'

    'What box?' asked Mrs. Henfrey of Giles.

    'A little box that Miss Graham left in the carriage, it seems; at least the authorities say that it is not among her luggage.'

    The cake box!  I had left it behind me!

    I made many apologies, mingled with blushes.  Mrs. Henfrey was terribly vexed, hoped it would be returned, had chosen the ornaments herself, and continued to lament till Mr. Brandon said, 'Never mind!  When Val comes home there will be time enough to order another; and Miss Graham never ought to have been troubled with it.'

    He spoke with an irritation that I had never seen him display towards Mrs. Henfrey, and that I well knew was not directed at her, but at Valentine.  Poor fellow! he could not help having a bad cold, but I thought his brother considered that hardly any amount of sneezing and coughing ought to have kept him away from his bride elect.

    'It's tiresome his being ill just now,' said the moderate Mrs. Henfrey.

    'He had no business to catch cold,' said Liz.

    'Oh,' replied Mr. Brandon, suddenly turning round and taking his part, 'his colds never last more than three days.  He'll be here, no doubt, on Tuesday as fresh as ever.'

    He ate his breakfast rather hastily, and said he was going out on business, and might possibly not be home that night.

    What was it that prompted me directly after breakfast to steal away to the staircase window and watch the groom bringing out his horse?  I hardly know, but I went next to look for the 'Bradshaw,' which I found on the table in the hall, and had taken in my hand just as he came hastily in with a plaid over his arm.

    'You wanted this, Mr. Brandon?' I said as, at sight of me, he started and stood irresolute.

    He admitted the fact.

    'The first train to Derby that stops here starts, I see, at 10.20.'

    He looked quietly at me, and took the book in his hand.

    'What are you thinking of?' he said.

    'I am thinking that you will not go to Derby.'

    'Why not?'

    'Unless you think Valentine very ill, in which case I believe you would take me with you.'

    'I could not possibly do that,' he answered hastily, and as if the very idea was painful to him.

    'Then you do not think Valentine very ill?'

    'No, I believe he has a bad cold.'

    'Then why did you want to go to Derby?'

    His eye searched my face, he looked perplexed, and after a long pause he said frankly, 'I had a desire to go— I can hardly tell you why, it would disturb you.'

    'I know why.  Oh, how can you allow yourself to have such thoughts about your brother!'

    'If he is tolerably well,' answered Giles evasively, 'I could perhaps bring him with me.'

    'Because he does not show a proper desire to come of his own accord?  Is that your thought?  I have no such thought;—and if I had—'

    'If you had?'

    'It would still be the last thing I should wish that should go and hasten him.  I entirely trust him.'

    Again he looked at me.  'You ought to know him far better than I do,' he said reflectively.

    'Yes, I believe I do.'

    He put the plaid slowly from his arm, and still thought; his brow cleared visibly under the process, and at last he said, 'I submit then; it shall be as you please.'

    I was truly glad to hear his horse sent back to the stables, and his plaid returned to his room; but I was more glad to find that he was now really at his ease about Valentine.  I had dispersed his fears, whatever they were, and in so doing had made myself more happy.  We passed a pleasant day, and a quiet Sunday followed.  There were no visitors, and having nothing to do I listened to Mrs. Henfrey's programme of the wedding breakfast, and sometimes played with the children, and watched the descent of a heavy fall of snow, which fell with wearying persistence, kept us in the house, and debarred us from having any callers.

    On Monday there was no letter, but, as Mrs. Henfrey remarked, Val had never been a good correspondent; and no doubt did not want to write when he was coming so soon.

    St. George was apparently quite comfortable; he believed, I suppose, that my view was the right one, and reflected that the lover, though not ardent, was doubtless true.

    He was really kind that day, and seemed willing to relieve my suspense.  He read aloud to us in the morning, and was full of talk and argument.  I was a good deal excited; I could not help it.  I was just in that state when all the faculties being more awake than usual, and all the senses more keen, it was almost impossible for me to talk with men and women without finding some application to myself in their words that they had never intended.  The children were my only safe companions.  I began to fancy that the servants (perhaps it was not all fancy) looked at me furtively, with a kind of pitying wonder, and that Mrs. Henfrey treated me with a distinction which was due to Valentine's absence more than to my position; moreover that Mr. Brandon's cheerfulness was partly put on.  He had not been formerly in the habit of singing snatches of songs about the house, or exciting a noise in the sitting-rooms with his dogs.  Neither had he been in the habit of speaking of Valentine with the kind of regretful interest that he now bestowed upon him, as if he was making up to the poor fellow in his own mind for the suspicions that he had harboured respecting him.

    He was a proud man.  That any member of his family should do a disgraceful or dishonourable thing would have touched him to the quick; and he little suspected that I, on my part, was thinking it both disgraceful and dishonourable in him to have harboured the suspicions that I knew had tormented him.

    'There,' said Mrs. Henfrey at dessert time, 'I've got a nut with two kernels.  They used to say that with one such in each hand you could tell your own fortune.'

    'Telling one's own fortune,' observed Mr. Brandon, 'would be something like looking into a well.'

    'Why so?' I inquired.

    'If you look into a well you may see what you please: the reflection of what you set the focus of your eyes to suit, the clouds over your head, or the pebbles at the bottom, or your own face in the surface of the water.'

    'Which is best to look at?' I said, for the sake of saying something.

    'Not the clouds, for you cannot bring them down; nor the pebbles, for you cannot get them up'

    'There is nothing then to be looked at but one's own face?'

    'Our own faces, seen suddenly, will sometimes tell us things concerning ourselves that we did not suspect before,' he answered.

    'Did you ever see yours in a well, dear?' said Liz.

    'Yes.'

    'I suppose it didn't tell you your fortune?'

    'Why do you suppose so?  You are quite oracular this evening.'

    'Well, I only meant that at present you have no fortune to tell.  You and I, you know, Giles, never have any affairs of the heart, as people call them.  Emily and Valentine began early; but then they always told.'

    'To be sure,' answered St. George, who was quite capable of enjoying this speech.  'There is nothing that I dislike more than those ridiculous reserves that obtain in some families.  Why shouldn't we all know all about one another?' he continued audaciously appealing to me.

    'Why not, indeed?' I answered laughing.  'I am so glad you are not a reserved family.'

    Mrs. Henfrey, during this little conversation, sat perfectly still, and did not even look up, or betray the slightest interest; but when I went on, 'If I ever have anything to tell, I shall confide it to sister,' she said, 'Do, my dear,' and gently smiled.



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