Off the Skelligs (10)

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CHAPTER XXXI.


'If you swear by that that is not, you are not forsworn: no more was this knight swearing by his honour, for he never had any.'

As You Like It.


AT this moment the nurse came in and said to St. George that both the children were crying, and saying that he had promised to come up and see them before they went to bed.  Accordingly he ran upstairs to them with an orange in one hand and an apple in the other.

    Their French nurse was gone, and they did not take kindly to her English substitute, but according to Mrs. Henfrey led St. George such a life that it was wonderful he could bear it.  They had been very low in their little minds since Valentine went away; they had had bad coughs, and would not take a drop of medicine unless he gave it them.  He had won their hearts, and had paid for this by being obliged to carry them upstairs on his back because they said they had chilblains; but now that he was gone, they had returned to their allegiance to St. George.  Sometimes nobody else might hear them say their prayers, and sometimes he was called out from his luncheon because they would not eat their pudding unless he ate a bit too.

    'French children generally are spoiled,' said Mrs. Henfrey, 'and these are no exceptions.  I am sorry for it for Dorothea's sake.'

    'O they will not be so troublesome with her,' said Liz; 'and depend on it Giles would not suffer their little exactions either, if he did not like them: he and Valentine both are quite absurd about children.'

    We were still talking of these little creatures when Mr. Brandon came back and went up-stairs with us to the drawing-room.  I took the Bradshaw with me to make up my mind by what train to expect Valentine to-morrow.

    By the one which stopped at Wigfield at nine in the morning I found that his sisters expected him to come, because in her note Mrs. Wilson had said, 'On Tuesday as early as possible.'

    Mr. Brandon said he thought he would be wiser if he did not travel in the night, for there was another train at six, which would bring him home to dinner.

    I made up my mind to expect him early.  I was certain that he would come, or he would have written; so spent the evening in tolerable comfort, and slept better than I had done since my arrival.

    Tuesday morning I looked out.  The snow was very deep, but at six o'clock I had heard the whistle of the up train, and knew that the line was not blocked; and rose and dressed, and came down with a beating heart, but scarcely any apprehension.

    Mr. Brandon's trap was sent for Valentine.  Dear fellow!  I longed to see him.  I was told by every one that the snow would make the train at least half an our late, so I waited till half-past nine, and again the trap returned without him.

    I cannot describe the looks of wonder and alarm that passed between Liz and Mrs. Henfrey; but St. George still said that he had felt that to travel in the night would be imprudent; and I observed as breakfast went on that he really was more at his ease, and this again influenced me to hope for the best.  I was determined to hope and trust to the last and uttermost: once to doubt Valentine was to give him up, and I clung to faith with all my power.

    We went to the morning-room as usual.  Something, about eleven o'clock, induced Liz to say, 'I shall just run up and ask St. George about that.'  Whereupon Mrs Henfrey said she had better not, for Giles was so worried that morning.

    'Why I thought he seemed easy enough about Val this morning,' answered Liz,  'and last night he said to me that he was sure Dorothea must know the Oubit far better than we did, and he felt that if he really had been worse than he had said we should have been told.'

    Mrs. Henfrey went away; and Liz and I, left alone, talked the matter over till we worked ourselves up to such a state of anxiety that she declared she must go up to Giles and find out why he was worried.  'He always did think so badly of Valentine's health,' she said; and this frightened me, and I told her that he had intended going to Derby and I had prevented him.  On this she blamed my folly; it was exactly what she had longed to see him do.  'But I must go and question him for myself,' she added; 'come with me,' and we both set forth to go to the top of the house to St. George's peculiar domain,—a sort of study or library that he had of his own.

    We came to a door, and finding it locked, Liz tapped.  We could hear a man's foot pacing about within.  St. George came to the door, but he only opened it an inch or two.   'What do you want, you plague?' he said, but not in the least ill-naturedly.  This is the third time you have been up this morning.'

    'D. came up with me,' said Liz; 'we want to speak to you.'

    On this he opened the door widely, and we stepped into a narrow room nearly forty feet long and with a pointed roof.  It was flooded with sunshine, and had four dormer windows looking over the open country, and showing a good way off the great north road and the railway.

    'Is it the evergreens?' he said; 'because if it is, Old Wilkins may cut down every bush in the garden if you like; you always want a quantity of garnish.'

    'How impatient you are, Giles,' said Liz, but with unusual gentleness; 'no, it's not the evergreens.'  And she detailed Mrs. Henfrey's remark, and all our fears and fancies in consequence.

    'You make Miss Graham quite nervous,' he answered, 'she is not in the least so by nature.'

    'Tell us once for all,' said Liz, 'whether you think the Oubit is worse than they said.'

    'I do not think so.'

    'And you do not think it would have been better if I had let you go to Derby,' I added; 'you do not regret having stayed at home.'

    'No, I think you were right.'

    'O very well,' said Liz, as if now really satisfied; 'it was silly of us, wasn't it, Dorothea, to frighten ourselves so?  Look, is not this a curious room?'

    'It should have been put to rights if I had expected such a visitor,' said St. George, glancing at my beautiful array, for I had dressed myself again in the Parisian robe, in the false hope of seeing Valentine.

    I looked about.  There were many shelves of books, there were globes and queer-looking machines in this room; there was a turning-lathe in one corner, and there were charming easy chairs, and a reading lamp, and on the walls some pictures; but my heart, in spite of his assurances, was beating with apprehension, for the whole floor was carpeted with a red Brussels carpet, which was quite fresh, except in one long narrow path from end to end, where the occupant was evidently in the habit of pacing up and down.  He began to do this again with restless and somewhat rapid steps, and with his fingers in his waistcoat pockets; and as I noted his appearance, I could not feel content.  His face, generally devoid of ruddy tints, was now almost pale, and his eyes, rather wide open, seemed to be troubled with lashes of an often recurring surprise.

    Well, Dorothea, shall we come down again?' says Liz.  I hesitated, and looked appealingly at him; on which he said to her, 'Go down if you like, my dear; but perhaps it would amuse Miss Graham to stay and look at my pictures; she never saw my room before.'

    Liz ran off, and still he paced up and down, and I dared not question him; but as I moved to look at a portrait of a lady whose likeness to him was very apparent, he came to my side.  'That's my mother,' he said; 'you see her face is full of prophecies but none of them have come true.  She is always promising me peace and sometimes joy.  You were frightened when you came up?'

    'Yes.'

    'My own affairs are alone what make me so wretched.  I told you about a certain misfortune that had befallen me.'

    'Yes; I am so grieved about it.'

    'So now you can be at rest.  I assure you it was only about myself that I was so horridly worried this morning.  I am afraid I am losing the mastery over myself altogether.  As for my temper—it's all that ill-starred love.'

    'You talk of a man's love as if it was an awful and terrible thing.'

    'So it is sometimes.  The first woman that I loved always made me feel that I was a fool.  As for my last love, she has sometimes said to me very cruel things.  She has the power so completely to make me take her view of what I am, that I often feel as if I must be a sneak.  No, not exactly that—'

    'And yet you actually said to me that she was inexpressibly sweet.'

    'I don't think it could have been her doing; it must have been my own self-consciousness,' he replied.

    'I hate that woman,' I answered deliberately; and I felt at the moment almost as if it lightened, such flashes of anger seemed to come darting out of my eyes.  'Yes I do,' I repeated, when he looked at me with amazement; 'I know it's very wrong, but I cannot help it, and I cannot feel any special desire to try.'

    Thereupon when I found that surprise at this unexpected outbreak of mine had so far dissipated his tragic feelings as actually to make him smile, I was obliged to indulge in the luxury of two or three tears, and when I had said something apologetic, to which he made no answer, I moved forward to look at another picture; on which he presently said,—

    'This is a curious room, is it not?  Mr. Mortimer had it done up for me when I was of age.  Dear old man! it's extraordinary how fond he was of me.  He wanted to keep me with him.'

    'I do not see that it was extraordinary; but let me look at Valentine's mother again.  What a dear face it is.'  Then as I went nearer, and a sunbeam stealing over the picture made it appear to smile on me, there was suddenly a strange, almost an awful thump at the door.  For the moment it startled me, and when it was repeated St. George said, 'It's only Smokey; he is very frequent in his visits just now.'  He went to the door, and the great beast came slinking in. 'He knocks with his tail,' said the master, partly addressing his vassal, and he sat down in a low chair and let the creature put his paws on the arm of it and look at him.

    'You'd much better keep your distance,' said Giles, addressing him exactly as if he had been a man; 'it only makes you more uneasy, you know.  You shouldn't try to investigate matters that you can't understand.'

    The dog, with his head laid along his master's shoulder, snuffled and whined a little, and tried to get St. George to rise; and when he would not, coiled himself at his feet and looked up at him.

    'Surely,' I exclaimed, 'he does not know you are out spirits.'

    'He feels that I can't sleep at night, and that makes him restless and uneasy.  But if you bark again and howl as you did last night you must be sent to the farm; do you hear that, my dog?'

    Smokey gave his master two or three little submissive yaps.

    'No, he does not know anything,' continued his master, 'but he feels something.  The greater life somehow affects his lesser thought.  I always respect his desire to investigate, but I am sure he is sagacious enough not to be satisfied now.  Surely you must know C the common experience in families that their dogs howl distressfully when there is death or even great danger of it in their houses.'

    'Yes, I have frequently heard of that.'

    'Then this dog (and some, indeed many others) goes a step beyond the common cur: he howls also when I am miserable.  Smokey!'

    Smokey sprang up with a sudden bound.

    'There's a cat on the stable roof!  He thinks it his duty to bark at all strange cats, but he does them no damage.  There now, I shall get rid of him for a while,' he went on as the dog rushed out of the room, and dashed down-stairs.

    Then when I went back to look at the mother's picture I managed to say, 'I cannot help telling you that I think you are now far more easy and confident than I am about Valentine.  For after all it certainly is strange that he does not either come or write.'

    'The reason I feel easier is that I sent a telegram yesterday night to Derby.  And the night before,' he continued after a pause.

    'O, what were the answers and what induced you not to tell me before?'

    'The first was, "Have we received a true account of Valentine's illness?" the answer was, "Yes, he is up and much better." '

    'Surely that is very reassuring!  And the second?'

    'The answer to the second was, "I am coming." '

    'Yes, of course, dear fellow! he is coming; but what was the question?'

    'The question will show that I was as you say surprised; it was, "Make me understand this;" but you had nothing to do with it—you never distrusted him for a moment, and I did only for a time.'

    'Then he will come this evening?'

    'Yes.'

    'How kind you have been!  You have taken care that in his case "the course of true love" shall for once "run smooth." '

    'Have I?'

    'You know you have.'

    'But I like to hear you say so.'

    'I do say so, and I say there is hardly anything I would not do to set this trouble of yours right again.'

    He paced up and down once more; then as he reached the place where I stood he said, 'No one knows of this?'

    'Of course not.'

    'No one ever shall?'

    'No, not even afterwards.'

    'Well, it is a shame to keep you up here, when no doubt you have so much to do.  Shall I take you down-stairs?

    I felt that I was dismissed, and said I could easily find my way down, he need not come with me; whereupon he opened the door, and as I walked away I heard him lock it behind me.

    I did not tell the two sisters about these telegrams.  One had clearly not been confided to me, because I had not supposed Valentine to be worse than Mrs. Wilson had said.  The other disturbed me; both question and answer, even though Valentine had so distinctly said he was coming.

    That was a restless day.  I longed for six o'clock with indescribable faintings of heart.  Liz could settle to nothing.  Mrs. Henfrey, who was having the whole of the family plate duly cleaned for the great occasion, sometimes brought in some precious old heirloom as shortly to be mine.  'All the plate,' she observed, 'belongs either to Giles or Valentine, and it will soon have to be divided; but excepting a few spoons and forks; there will be no difficulty about it even when there is no crest, for I knew all our plate long before the late Mr. Brandon's was mixed with it by Giles's mother.'  She went to the window from time to time.  'It's lucky I ordered the calves' feet on Saturday,' she observed, 'and had the turkey boned.'

    'Don't tease Dorothea,' said Liz kindly, 'she has a headache.'

    'I like to hear it,' was my reply, it seemed so completely to take for granted that the wedding breakfast would be eaten on the appointed day that it comforted me.

    I was thankful when it was time to dress for dinner, and passed through the dining-room on purpose to see whether a chair and cover had been placed in token
that Valentine was expected.

    I derived comfort from seeing these preparations and from seeing the trap set forth again.  Then I went up to my room to dress; and well knowing that I should be told the instant that he came in, I sat there in bridal white till after I had heard the whistle of the train and the returning wheels of the trap.

    No one came to me.  I felt sick and trembled slightly, but had no inclination to shed tears.  At length thinking I heard whispering outside, I opened my door and saw Mrs. Henfrey, Liz, and Mr. Brandon standing near it.  The latter advanced, and gravely offered his arm, saying with quiet steadiness of manner, 'Now, my dear, shall we go down to dinner?'

    O those words 'my dear,' what a world of meaning there was in them to my trembling heart!  They seemed plainly to tell me that he acknowledged my claim to be treated as one of the family, but I felt that in uttering them he thought that the chance of my entering it was but small.

    I went down with him in silence, and trembling to a degree that made it difficult to me to walk.  Mrs. Henfrey and Liz were perfectly silent during dinner, and hardly ate anything.  Mr. Brandon and I, though we felt so much more keenly, contrived to eat and to speak a little, for the sake of appearances before the servants.

    We went into the drawing-room as usual, and there, relieved from restraint, Liz cried quietly in a corner, and Mrs. Henfrey sighed incessantly.  I was trembling with dread and excitement, but could not sit a moment unoccupied, and went on with some knitting, with feverish restlessness, till I heard at a distance sounds like faint music coming across the snow; it was very sweet, a voice I thought,—and presently the opening of a door made it distinct enough for me to recognize it. Mr. Brandon was singing to the children.

    I laid down my work and wandered away towards the sound, as to something that might occupy my mind a little, and distract it from itself.

    The nursery door was ajar.  I entered, saw the elder child just finishing her supper, and the little one sitting on St. George's knee, with shoes and socks off, and the moment I entered she made a crying face.  She had been promised that Monsieur Valentine would come and see her, and he did not come; he was very naughty Monsieur Valentine, and she should tell him so.

    Valentine's little dog lay on the rug, and now and then made a yapping noise in his sleep.  'He's dreaming,' said Frances, and St. George said it was time they were dreaming too.  'But I haven't got anything to dream about,' said Nannette in a melancholy tone, 'and my foots are so cold.'  She had been pressing her pretty little fat feet against the nursery guard, but perhaps he saw that I wanted him, for he left the nursery with me and I asked him to come to the drawing-room and sing, and let me play for him.  I wanted something to do.

    The intense anxiety that was now beginning to overwhelm me was shared, I was certain, by him and by him only; neither of his sisters had admitted a single thought other than that Valentine was ill.

    I felt that he was very desirous that night to comfort and quiet my mind, and as he went to the drawing-room again he reminded me of the great depth of the snow which made traffic troublesome, and perhaps in some places impossible; and then he made the welcome suggestion that we might have a telegraphic message.

    I sat down to the piano, but soon found that my hands were trembling too much to make playing possible.  Then I went to the nursery again, and saw the children put to bed, and watched them in their little beds till they fell asleep.  After that I sat as patiently I could in the drawmg-room till our usual bed-time, and then Mrs. Henfrey and Liz, wearied both by their anxiety and my restlessness, rose to retire, and so did I.

    But I could not sleep of course, and did not mean to dress.  I knew that about midnight there was a parliamentary train, which stopped at  G—, a place about eight miles off, and I resolved to sit up and wait till all hopes of Velentine's coming by it were over.

    I think about an hour hour may have passed, when, finding that my watch had stopped, I stole down again to the drawing-room to look at the clock there, and to my surprise found the lamps alight, and St. George with his feet on the fender reading.

    At sight of me he betrayed not the least surprise, but spoke cheerfully and even smiled.

    'You wished to sit up for the last train no doubt; do you know I feel a strong conviction that he will come by it, and I have sent to G— to meet it?'

    'O thank you.'

    He again spoke of the deep fall of snow; then he gave me a book which he said was interesting, and began to pace slowly up and down the room; but observing that I was quite unable to read, he shortly came up to me, took the book out of my hand, and leaning one elbow on the mantelpiece, began to read aloud out of the bulgy Greek Testament that I remembered his possessing on board the 'Curlew.'  He read in a quiet steady voice, which, though very low and soft, was free from any expression of emotion.  It quieted my overwrought nerves, with the only, the eternal history and hope, that then I was in a state to listen to.

    He closed it at last.  'You are very patient,' he said gently; 'come to the window.  His senses had been quicker than mine, for when he drew aside the curtains I could hear the oncoming of the distant train, which had already stopped at G— and was rapidly speeding towards us.

    The moon was nearly at the full, the ground was very deep in snow, and the black trees looked awful in the stillness.  We saw the two red glaring, eyes of the engine as it sped past, and the black carriages behind.  Oh, how earnestly I prayed then that I might soon see the man I was waiting for; but I have lived to thank God that all my prayers have not been answered.

    Looking out, not speaking a word, good or bad, my heart beating and my hands trembling, I remained a long time, till, conscious of a very faint sound some way off, I turned, and saw Mr. Brandon, with his head thrown back and his nostrils dilated, standing with one hand raised gazing towards the open drawing-room door and listening.

    There was a slight stir outside, and a faint howling from one of the dogs; then a distant door was softly opened, and footsteps passed along the darkened hall.

    My heart beat wildly, I hated its audible noise because for all my listening it confused the sounds below.  There was a foot on the stairs, a slow heavy foot, and something had seemed now and then to strike against the banisters.  At last one man only entered the room,—the groom,—and he had a deal box in his hands.

    Neither of us spoke.

    'If you please, sir,' began the man in a tone of the humblest apology, 'Mr. Mortimer—sir—he wasn't there, but I brought this box on that they took up into the North by mistake; it came down by the first train this morning.'

    My wedding cake come back again!

    'You can set it down,' said Mr. Brandon; and when the man had slunk out of the room, I looked at him and he looked at me.

    What deadly fright and dread he saw in my face I cannot tell, nor what pity troubled him for the forlorn creature standing mute before him, but his face changed and paled till even his lips were white, and his large eyes became dilated, and his whole frame shivered as if some frost-bitten blast was blowing upon him.

    I moved a little nearer, and said in a whisper, for my voice was gone, 'Do you think he is dead?'  I looked at him eagerly, hungrily, for an answer, and he turned away his face from me, and muttered hoarsely, 'No.'


 
CHAPTER XXXII.


'The worst is not,
 So long as we can say, This is the worst'

King Lear.


I REMEMBER putting my hands to my eyes, and feeling a longing desire to shed tears; but I had no tears to shed, and was very sick and cold.

    I went back to the fire, which was burning dim, and sat cowering over it as if it could supply the warmth that had died out of me.  Mr. Brandon did not speak or take any notice of me; he was writing a letter in urgent haste, and when he had directed it, he dashed down the pen, came quickly to a sofa near the fire, and drew from under it a riding-whip, scarf, and overcoat.

    All this was very quickly done, and his resolute face, heightened colour, and flashing eyes helped me to the meaning of it.  He had prepared beforehand for a journey in case this train did not bring back Valentine; now he was resolved to fetch him back whether he would or not.

    'You will now go to bed, I hope,' he said to me.

    I asked if he was going to Derby.

    'Yes,' he answered resolutely; 'I must, there is not a moment to be lost,'—he held out his hand and went on saying, 'and black as things look I hope you will try not to judge Valentine till you hear something from me.'

    I summoned what force I had to say, 'Your going will not be for my good, unless you will first hear what I wish to say about it.'

    He looked as if impatience almost mastered him, but he sat down, and I could see that down to his very finger ends his nerves were thrilling with the longing desire to be off.

    'I know you are a just man—'

    He looked amazed at this beginning.

    'So I hope you will be just to me.'

    'To you?' he repeated faintly.

    'Yes, to me.  I have no friends: my brother would take no notice, poor fellow, if the wedding day should pass over, and my name remain as it is; my father is so far away.'

    'I don't know what this means; say something more.'

    'I say, then, that I know you are a loving brother; but I believe that above his chance of happiness, you desire that Valentine should yield to duty and honour.'

    'You do me no more than justice.'

    'You are not going to Derby because you think he is dying, for others would have informed us of that.'

    No answer.

    'Nor ill, for then he would have written himself.'

    Still no answer.

    'But you are going because you believe that his heart fails him at the last moment, and he dare not come home because he will not marry me.  I know what you suffer in this prospect, for I am your invited guest, come here on purpose, for your sister's convenience, to be married to your brother, you yourself giving me away.  Do not think that I make light of that.  If I were a man I should feel it keenly.  But, Mr. Brandon, (I said I knew you were just) I appeal to you to be kind, and I trust to your sense of duty and your honour not to sacrifice me.  Valentine has been cruel already to leave me so long in anxiety; but that would be nothing to your cruelty if you went to him and represented all that you have done for him and all that he owes to you, and the disgrace that would accrue to him, and the pain to your pride and your affection if he should act unworthily, and if between entreaties and commands you got him to return with you and marry me against his will.'

    'If he wants such persuasion,' muttered Giles between his clenched teeth, 'he is a villain whom but for his father's sake I could disown.  He must come,—he will, he shall!'

    'Not at your bidding.'

    'Yes, at my bidding.  He must be infatuated now, but once married to you, even at my instance, he would bless me ever after.'

    'I say again, do not be cruel to me, do not sacrifice me to him.  Forget for awhile how much you care for Valentine, and consider my happiness as if I were as dear to you as he is.'

    He seemed to feel this appeal in every fibre of his frame; he set his lips, and the colour forsook his face, but it retained its resolute expression, and he could not look me in the face, but fixed his eyes on the wall above my head.

    'Would it be sacrificing you,' he said, with a faltering in his voice that in a woman would have been the prelude to tears,—'would it be sacrificing you to marry you to the man whom you love?'

    I could not answer.  The man whom you love.  Why did I love and care for him?  only as the result of his love for me; but I could not look his brother in the face and tell him so.  It would have been too cruel.  After all, his absence was unaccounted for.  While we were discussing his possible falsity, he might be dying in some wayside inn, or buried deep in a snow-drift, his last thoughts having been of me.  Thinking of this,—and it was well I did,—a sudden passion of tears came to my relief, and I covered my face with my hands, and repented of what I had said, and bemoaned my own unkindness from the bottom of my heart.  I believe I reproached Giles for having first suggested to me a doubt as to Valentine's honour.  I repudiated any such doubt for myself; said I had altered my mind, and implored him if he found Valentine living not to tell him that I had ever entertained one.

    Becoming more calm,—and he left me to recover myself without a word of comfort from him,—I looked on.  He was standing still as a statue, just as I had seen him before, not directing his eyes towards me, but raising them above my head.

    Often, in after years, when I sat between him and Valentine, I saw again the expression that then met my eyes for the first time.

    It was the reflection of some inward thought which he was brooding over: it must have been a good thought, for it irradiated his face.  It made me feel a sudden trust in him; and as one looks at a picture of a saint holding heavenly communion, or an angel with a brow of more than mortal tenderness and calm, I looked at him till, conscious of my silence, he brought down his eyes to meet mine, and instantly the opening the clouds that had shown such a glimpse of brightness was closed, and the face resumed its usual expression of keen intelligence and penetration.

    The drawing room clock struck two, and he started forward and snatched up his whip.  It seemed as if he would leave the room without speaking to me; but he did not.  He gave himself time to tell me shortly and quickly that now he must go; that whatever happened I should hear by telegraph everything that he could tell me and then, as if reluctantly, he told me not to be afraid, for he should remember my appeal.

    So saying, and requesting that I would now go to bed and take some rest, he left the room and went quickly down-stairs.  I heard him unlock and open the back door, and then I heard the swing of the stable door on its hinges.  I went to my room, and from thence could see the carriage road.  I looked out and saw him leading his horse by a short cut through the deep snow in the field.  That done, he mounted him, and my heart beat a little more easily; for now whatever had happened to Valentine, he would soon have help and I should soon have tidings.  I lay down, and was so weary that I slept, but only to lose myself in miserable dreams.  The horse was stumbling, he had got into a hole and Giles could not drag him out, the snow was too deep; there was no train, it had whisked by just before he reached the station.  I heard the whistle of it in my dreams, and awoke to hear it in reality.  It was eight o'clock, and the pretty little maid was standing by my bed with a telegraphic letter in her hand.  With what sensations I opened it I need not attempt to describe.  It was dated from a station a few miles beyond Derby.  'One quarter past seven, A.M.  Valentine left this place two hours ago.  You shall hear again.'  That was all,—not a word of comfort; there was none evidently to be given; nothing about his health; and he could not have left on his way home, or why was I to hear again?

    Liz soon came to look at the letter, and took it away to Mrs. Henfrey.  Neither of them attempted to understand it, and I tried very hard not to judge poor Valentine before the time.

    That was a dreary day—the snow fell incessantly, and no one came to the house.  Mrs. Henfrey was very much annoyed about some evergreens that she wanted for decorating the house; she was sure they would never look well if they were cut with the snow upon them.

    I was very restless, but I could retire sometimes to my room, and kneel, and, as well as the tumult of my mind would permit, I could pray.  I could also weep now and then a little that day; but in the evening there came another telegram, which gave me a shock that drove away my tears for a long, long time, and greatly increased my suffering:—'London, six o'clock, Euston Hotel.  If you have received any letter or message let me know.  He is in London, but I do not know where.'

    Wretched uncertainty!  I could not sleep that night, but I came down the next morning as usual.  It still snowed.  I could not bear to sit still, but wandered from story to story, and from room to room.  There were no telegraphic messages now either to frighten or to cheer me; but every now and then there were Mrs. Henfrey's curious remarks to listen to.  She was not afraid for Valentine, it seemed, and she chose to consider that it must be the snow that kept him away.  The rails were blocked up certainly, but that did not account for the absence of telegraphic letters; neither Liz nor I, however, prevented her from taking any view she pleased, and she proceeded to have the jellies cleared, the raised pies made, and the game roasted, with a view to the wedding breakfast that nobody but herself expected to see on the table.

    Poor Liz cried a good deal that day: I never shed a tear.  I was very cold, and everything seemed to have a dimness spread over it; but I remember sometimes deriving a slight degree of relief from going into the nursery and hearing the artless prattle of the children.

    And now Friday came, the eve of my wedding day Liz was unwell from apprehension, and did not appear.  I came down feeling faint and so weak that I could not descend the stairs without holding by the banisters.  Colder and colder I had grown as time went on; there was a weary, wearing pain at the top of my head as if the weight of the world was pressing on it; but I could not be alone.  I followed Mrs. Henfrey about, and sat in each room that she went into.

    Strange to say, her only comfort now that things began to look so bad, was in pertinaciously continuing her preparations, as if they could help to avert the coming blow.  She had wheelbarrows-full of evergreens cut and laid in heaps on the dining-room floor; she even had some of the principal dishes carried in, that she might decide how they were to stand.  And at all this I sat and looked on.

    I sat on the dining-room sofa, my mind so dimmed by long tension that nothing affected me that passed around. I had a desperate necessity upon me to be occupied; and as my arms failed me through fatigue, I propped the one which held my needle on the cushion and drew it out with an effort, and a determination to continue the effort, which I can feel when I think of it, even to this day.

    The cook and another servant, as they carried the dishes and changed them at Mrs. Henfrey's orders, cast pitying glances at me.  I saw it, but I could only move a little way off that they might observe me less, and I went and sat in an arm-chair which was opposite to the door that led into the hall.  Through the hall windows I could now see the clear expanse of snow that lay over everything.  My powers of working had given way.  I laid my work on my lap, and resting my arms on the arms of the chair, looked out with listless apathy.

    All my impressions were faint now, my ideas dim, my thoughts confused.  I was not roused when I heard a servant utter the word 'wheels,' and instead of looking out I looked at her.

    An instant after, and there was a confused noise of footsteps, and then some one shaking and violently knocking at the side door of the room.

    'Good lack,' cried the cook running to open it, 'I locked it because of the jelly glasses being on the floor.'

    Mrs. Henfrey turned half bewildered by the noise, and the door being now opened Mr. Brandon burst in, stumbling in his vehement haste among the glasses and then trampling and plunging through a mass of evergreens.

    Brought thus for a moment to a stand, I could see the vehement flashing of his eyes and hear his hurried breathing, as Mrs. Henfrey and Liz, who now rushed in, seized him by either arm, crying, 'How's Valentine, Giles?  O Giles, where's Valentine?'

    He muttered some answer that was inaudible to me, and still trampling through the holly, his eyes fell on the table.  He saw instantly the meaning of these preparations, and while both his sisters fell back, he stood a moment aghast and shocked, and then in a low thrilling tone he said, 'O my God!'

    It was more like a prayer than an exclamation.  'Take that away!' he cried to the cook; 'take it out;' and with an awestruck face she snatched off the epergne, and the old footman in tears followed with my cake.  Liz, with her usual terror at being present when anything was the matter, filled her arms with holly and rushed out of the room crying, 'O, he is dead! he is dead!'  And then before any one could get after her to prevent it, she fell down heavily on the floor; and as I sat quiet in my place I heard Giles and Mrs. Henfrey lift her up.  I hoped she was not hurt, but in a minute or two I noticed that Giles had come back and shut the door, that he was coming toward me, and then that he was standing before me; but I sat as still as if the scene that had passed before my eyes was no concern of mine.  I could not feel, I could not stir, I only perceived that he was holding a letter for me to take, and that when I did not put out my hand for it he laid it on my knee.

    I saw the handwriting, that it was Valentine's, and I said with quiet apathy, 'He is not dead.'  Then I lifted up my eyes and saw, but did not hear him answer, 'No.'

    Still my senses were so dimmed by long suspense and alarm, that I sat without moving from my apathetic attitude till he took up the letter, and breaking open the envelope again offered it for my perusal.

    But no: Valentine was not come, I had sense enough to perceive that, and also that he was not ill, for he had written; and, strange as it may seem, I had no desire to read that letter.  Few women can have received one in all respects its parallel, and to none could it have been offered with a greater agony of shame and pity than he showed who offered it to me.

    'Do you know me?  Do you know who I am?' I remember hearing him say, I managed to answer 'Yes,' and he gently touched my forehead with his hand, and sighed. 'I have brought you a letter,' he repeated; 'don't you mean to read it?'

    Though I was so dull, and so unable to feel keenly, I as aware he was speaking to me as if he was anxious to rouse rather than soothe me, and I wished to rouse myself, but my arms lay like lead upon the arms of the and my thoughts wandered.

    'You may read it to me,' I said.

    He looked fixedly at me as if he did not hear, and I repeated what I had said.

    I did not know what a cruel task I was imposing till after glancing at the now open letter he trembled, and dropt it from his hand, with a gesture of almost loathing.  I felt a feeble kind of surprise then, and when he turned away I saw the first few words as it fluttered to his feet, 'My dear generous D—'

    But he did not leave me long waiting for the remainder.  He turned back with a resolute sort of courage, and forced himself to read it to me from beginning to end.  It was a strange weak confession, half apology, half self-justification.  The drift of it was that I had been right from the first, for now he knew what love was, and he had never loved me.  He had not meant to be cruel and inconsiderate; he had but lately discovered that his affections had been stolen from him by one who was the loveliest of her sex.  He should always be very fond of me as the dearest of sisters, but, oh, he could not come back to me, it would be too terrible.  Would I be generous, would I, could I forgive him, and be good to him and set him free?

    Poor Valentine!

    Some strange changes passed over St. George's face as he read, and added meaning to the flush of shame that dyed his features, and to the dilated nostril and heaving chest.  There was a resolute effort to keep his voice steady while he read, and Valentine's weak words were flung to me in broken but stormy tones of grief, and passion, and pity that his feebler nature never would have reached, but fainter and less firm they sounded with every fresh sentence, till the last unworthy entreaties died away in a muttered sigh, and the task once performed there was no more striving for self-mastery.  Subdued for once and stung to the quick, wounded both in his pride and his affection, he dropped the letter again on my knee, and I saw him, with an astonishment that almost roused me from my apathy, retreat to the sofa, lay his face among the cushions, and yield himself to an agony of tears.

    He wept with such passion, such a choking misery of sobs, that the deadly calm which was freezing me to death gave way a little.  I perceived that some of this grief was for me, and there was some slight comfort and healing in the thought.  There was at least one human being in the wide world who could be touched for my trouble.  But I could not weep yet: I could not cry for my lost lover—lost to the past now as well as to the future.  No, and I could not cry for my lost home and changed prospects.  I could only look on at this man who for the moment had forgotten himself to do it for me, and feel a yearning desire to change places with him, and lay down my head as he had done.

    And yet, strange to say, I had a great dread at heart lest some one who might be listening outside should hear this.  I forgot that it must all be made public the next day.  With an effort I rose from my chair, fetched a glass of water from the side-board, and brought it to him, whispering, 'Hush, hush.'  He had already sat up; but a passion of tears is such an unusual experience to some men that they don't know what to do with it, and when I spoke it overcame him again, and clenching his hands in the cushions he sunk his face into them, and cried out, bemoaning himself like a woman.  'What had he ever done that such a message should be sent by him.  He knew it would break my heart; he could not and he would not bear it!'

    'Hush,' I said to him again; 'you must be quiet, and we want time to think what can be done.'

    Thereupon he took the water with a sigh of utter exhaustion and drank it, and gave me back the glass.  As he did so he looked in my face with a world of pity and ruth, but my dimmed eyes had lost the art of weeping.  Neither his compassion nor his example could bring it back.

    He rose presently, and wheeled an easy chair near to the fire, and clearing away the evergreens with his feet, put me in it, propping me with cushions and commiserating me.  I could not have endured this from any one else; but he was a fellow-sufferer.  Moreover he had been right from the first; and I did think and I did feel, even at that moment, that if I had only let him go to Derby when he wished, Valentine would certainly have returned with him.  Indeed I said so to him; and I remember telling him not to be surprised at my behaviour; for I knew it was strange that I could feel no natural emotion, that I could neither tremble nor sigh.

    There was something piteous, no doubt, and hopeless in that hour—it was the first real turning aside from the important point to which my life had been tending, it was the flinging away of allegiance to a trusted friend.

    'Have you no question at all to ask me?' said Mr. Brandon, with a bitter sigh.

    I looked in his face, and the gloom of his brow almost frightened me.  It brought to my mind a sudden alarm as to what might have passed between him and Valentine, and my locked lips opened to question him:—'Where had he been?'

    'All over London,—miserable from dread of what in his desperation Valentine might have done.  All the mischief was done at Derby.  Oh, you have much to forgive—not only to him!'

    'And where did you find him at last?'

    'They found out at Derby, and telegraphed to me.  He was at an hotel.'

    'You were not angry with him, poor fellow.'

    'O, child, do not look at me so!  Yes, I was angry.'

    'You did not strike him?'

    'No.'

    'What did he say?'

    'Nothing.'

    'What did you say?'

    'I don't know,—I don't exactly know; but he answered that if I required it he would make the sacrifice.'

    'He was always of a yielding nature.'

    'Don't—don't speak so tamely—don't excuse him!  It pierces my heart to hear you.'

    'I must excuse him; he would have done worse to come.  I do excuse him for not coming, and I thank you for not bringing him.'

    'I could have brought him, but you had tied my hands.  I could have made him do his duty, and he would have blessed me for it afterwards.'

    'You have done your duty by me instead, and did not sacrifice me.'

    He dropped his face into his hand and sighed, repeating what he had said before,—'Would it, then, have been sacrificing you to marry you to the man whom you love?'

    'Yes, for the root and ground of my affection for him was the belief, which was tardy in coming to me, that he loved me, and that by devoting myself to him I could make him happy.  He tried long to persuade me of his affection; I thought his pertinacity was a proof of it; and so because I thought he loved me, I learnt to devote myself to him.  I meant to spend my life in helping him, to reserve my best affection for him, and all my allegiance.  If he really did care for me, he deserved it; for who else did—even of those on whom I had some claim?  I would not be perverse, then, and ungrateful.  If he did love me, I would love him in return.'

    As I spoke slowly and with long pauses and weariness and difficulty, he lifted his face from his hands and half turned towards me, but seemed to be arrested by amazement, and raising his eyes above my head, as he had done once before, he lost himself in such a fit of thinking that be appeared to be almost forgetting to breathe. '

    Perhaps he did not believe me; perhaps he felt the ground giving way under his feet,—one chief cause for anger against Valentine fading away, one chief cause for pitying me cleared from his mind; and like a person keenly searching in the depths of his own memory for something that he desires to bring up to the light, and that perplexes and torments him with doubts when he has found it, be sat motionless as a stone, knitting his brow, and I, weak and weary, looked calmly on, not able to feel much, but deriving a sort of feeble contentment from contemplating a person who could.

    At last, with a mighty sigh, he brought down his eyes to meet mine, and looked at me as if he would have penetrated to my very soul.

    'Is it so hard to believe me?' I asked.

    'I find it hard,' he answered gravely, 'to reconcile what you say with—with some things that have taken place.'

    'What things?'

    'What did I warn you of in the wood?  What significance could there be in my words to bring such cruel pain to you if you did not love Valentine then?  You wished to extort a promise from me that I would never allude to it again.  You cannot think I have forgotten that, and how you hung your head and drooped when I was hard enough to tell you that your boy lover had a careless heart and a faint memory.  Love him!  Why, he had confided to me that very morning that he believed you loved him; you declined to engage yourself to him, but he was sure you loved him.  And when I turned upon him and said, "What then?" what response did I get?  Boy that he was, he faltered and blushed, and owned that he liked you uncommonly—was so proud, so pleased with you and your love.  You have never been able to feel friendly towards me since that dark day.'

    'And now,' he went on, after another pause, 'when something worse than I ever dreaded has come to pass, something worse than careless and cold has been done, you can sit here white and wan, like the shadow only of that passionate creature who resented with such heartsick tears the first hint of this wrong.  And unless I am mistaken,—which I think I must be,—you are actually telling me,—you intend me to understand,—that you did not cherish him then in your heart (handsome, joyous, engaging young fellow that he was), but that your affection for him rose afterwards, and was due to his long persuasions.'

    Sometimes when a communication of grave import has been made, the mind is so full that nothing fresh can startle it.

    So it was with me then.  I perceived my long-cherished mistake, and St. George had warned me about Valentine after all.  What did it signify now?  I thought it over.  He was such a mere boy at that time, I said to myself: how could St. George take such a thing into his head?  He was a mere boy!  Then I recurred to my first thought on the subject.  What did it signify now?

    Some slight movement that he made recalled me to myself, and looking up I saw that he was expecting an answer from me, and looking at me with keen attention.

    'He was a mere boy,' I said at last.  And I considered again.  'And so he thought I loved him.  Strange!'

    'Strange,' repeated St. George; 'why, his father thought so, his sister thought so.  And as to his persuasions—'

    'Yes,' I said wearily; 'he was very open.  Surely you knew of them.'

    'Knew of them? he repeated bitterly: ' O yes, I knew of them; but I believed that your long hesitation was owing to my having reminded you of his extreme youth and volatile character.  I thought afterwards, poor fellow, that I had done him a great wrong, and you too.  I thought I had spoilt your best chance of happiness, and his best chance of a happy and noble and virtuous youth.'

    'Did you?' I answered, for I was sorry to hear him speak with such anguish.  'Well, never mind now, it makes no difference.'

    'I set myself to atone for it,' he went on.  'I never rested till I had made an early marriage possible for him.—At least you loved him afterwards?'

    He turned upon me almost vehemently to ask this question, and I answered, after thinking again: 'I cared for him very much, he was so kind, and I wanted some one to whom I could devote myself.  I loved him almost better even than Tom at last.'

    'Is that all?' he exclaimed, springing up; 'almost better than Tom!  O then, the mischief is not quite irreparable; the wrong is not so intolerable as I thought.'

    I cannot describe what I felt when he said this.  His shame for his brother, and his intense sympathy with me, had been more necessary in this great trouble than I was aware.  Now this sustaining sympathy was withdrawing, and all the courage I had left went after it.

    Happily for me, the pang of that moment brought back to me the power to weep, and I could lay down my head at last and cry for all I had lost—for my home under the New Zealand hills, and my cabin in the "Curlew."


 
CHAPTER XXXIII.
 

'I wad gie a' my gowd, my bairn,
     Sae wad I a' my fee,
 For ae blast o' the westlin wind
     To blaw the reek frae thee.'


IT takes a great deal to make some people ill.  I suppose so at least, for the next morning after lying awake nearly all night I saw the daylight come in, and I was not ill.

    I had wished to be left alone, and had asked to have my window curtains undrawn that I might look out as I lay in bed; for, as is so often the case in illness or trouble, I did not like to look at things near at hand.

    I did not think very intently about my changed prospects; all sorts of irrelevant matters pushed themselves into the foreground, and my only intervals of calm were when I could watch the slow movements of the clouds over the sky and the quiet southing of the stars.  I heard steps about the house all night, openings of outer doors, wheels, and movements of furniture.  The place only became quiet about dawn; but this made no difference to me.  I did not want to sleep, and yet I felt the profound quiet during which light came in resting and sustaining me.

    At last there were noises again; the usual sounds of unclosing shutters and knocking at doors, then I began to notice how unchanged everything else was in spite of the change in me.  What a commonplace experience, and yet we are all surprised by it in our turn, and with it comes the first power to understand how (greatly as some of us may be loved) we shall make no abiding change even in any one human face by our going away.

    The snow lay on the frozen trees, glittering and pure in the morning sunshine, and my pulse was beating as usual, and there was the little church tower.  This was the wedding day, and the bridegroom's letter was under the pillow.

    'I am glad he is not dead,' I whispered to myself, and all my sensations were dull, and the words in which my thoughts shaped themselves were few and moderate.  We can spend a great deal of vivid emotion on unimportant matters when the senses are keen and fresh; but let them be exhausted with watching, or waiting, or fear, and how patient and tame we are about the most remarkable and heart-sickening things.

    Mrs. Henfrey's little maid came and helped me to dress; she trembled more than I did, and could not speak to me at all.  Then Mrs. Henfrey came herself, and brought me down to breakfast.  I saw that everything had been restored to its usual state.  The evergreens and the plants were gone,—the tables were set as they generally stood.

    I was so quiet that no one could offer any sympathy.  I think they were thankful to find that I could behave almost as usual, and I dare say they little supposed that my commonplace cogitations were as much occupied with wonder as to what Mrs. Henfrey would do with the great wedding breakfast for eighty guests, as with the letter that I had to send to Valentine, and what I should say in it.

    Some of the wedding guests were there in the house, though I did not know it till I heard the sound of wheels, and was told in answer to a question, that the Augustus Mortimers and the John Mortimers were about to drive home; but the confusion of the previous evening I never heard more about till long afterwards; nor of the rage of 'Uncle Augustus,' the head of the family, and how John Mortimer and Mr. Brandon sent in all directions to stop the wedding guests; how angry they got with the wedding presents which kept coming in by the dozen, how Dick à Court had to be sent to (the clergyman who was to perform the ceremony), and the best man, who was no other than Valentine's old rival, Prentice, had to be met at the station and desired to keep his distance.

    All these things I knew nothing about.  They had done everything they could to prevent mortifications to me,—more indeed than was necessary; for as the great fact had to be borne, the little incidents grouped about it got swallowed up in the more important shadow.

    One strange thing, however, happened.  In spite of all their care, the old footman came to my side at breakfast time with a waiter in his hand; but just as he said 'With Miss Braithwaite's love, ma'am,' and before I had turned, Mr. Brandon snatched whatever lay on the tray and flung it under the table.  The man retired under a battery of looks from the family, but the present still came to me, falling at my feet.  I felt that it was something delicate and soft, and touched it several times with my foot as it lay there.  At last I was impelled to stoop and draw it out.  It was a bride's bouquet made of white camellias and tied with satin ribbon.  Miss Braithwaite, in the deep snow, could not know anything of my misfortune; indeed, no one did who had not been told the previous night.

    There was fish of some kind on the table I think, for finger-glasses stood about.  I began to untie the flowers, and put them into my glass, and as I did it slowly and wearily I observed Mrs. Henfrey's astonishment, and said to her, 'I do not see why these must fade and die because I am not to be happy.'  Whereupon both she and Liz gave way to tears and sobs, and I looked at them and longed in vain to follow their example.

    I recollect little of that morning.  About eleven o'clock the old craving for work came upon me, and I sat between Liz and Mrs. Henfrey, silent and quite unable to shed a tear.  Mr. Brandon then came in and asked if I thought there was anything that would do me good; and I said yes: I wished to go out a walk in the shrubbery.  He went away to have a path swept and when it was ready he took me out.  There was a cold north walk behind the trees, which was bare of snow, and there I began mechanically to walk up and down.  The inability to shed tears was telling on me.  I felt a burning pain in my brow; but I longed for exertion and bodily fatigue.  When he found that, he let me walk alone, standing near, and sometimes watching me.  The driving wind was bitterly cold, and the chill earth made my feet numb; but the mechanical exertion of walking seemed to be a relief to me, and I paced up and down in spite of his expostulations.

    Close to this walk, but facing south, was a little cottage consisting only of one room.  Sometimes we had used it for our photographs, but it was fitted up for a study, and Giles often wrote in it.  I now as I walked saw him drag wood into it, and then fetch some cushions from the house.  I thought it was that he might sit there till I was ready to go in, but instead of that he lingered near, and I continued to walk till I was chilled to my very bones.  At last he confronted me in the path, saying, 'You must not stop here any longer.'  I was too weak to contend, and he took me by the hand and led me till we had emerged from the dull dark shrubbery, and were facing the little cottage.  He brought me in, and I saw a great fire of wood on the andirons.  A basket-work couch stood close to it, which was filled with the cushions that he had brought from the house.  The sun was streaming through the stained glass windows, and all the place was cheerful and light and warm.  But I heard the wind moaning outside, and longed to be out in it walking in the dark shrubbery; for, sitting thus deprived of movement and yet not able to shed tears, I began to feel as if all power of endurance was over.  And yet this misery did not rouse me to any energy; it was very feebly that I complained to him, while my limbs trembled and my head swam,

    'Oh, it is much worse for me indoors!  Why did you bring me here?'

    'I brought you that you might speak.  You are breaking your heart in this silence.  Complain to me, and say what you please that is bitter, either of Valentine or of me.'

    'You are good to me now; I have no complaint against you.'

    'Oh, yes, you have.'

    'I did not know it; I don't care about it.'

    'And against him?'

    'If I must talk of him, I will justify him.'

    'Oh, have pity on me!  It is as I thought.  You could not excuse if you did not love him.  Oh, the disgrace, the misery of it!'

    He spoke huskily, but struggled with himself, and presently returned to the charge, saying, 'Don't turn away your face; give this trouble words.'

    'I can't; you don't understand.'

    'Don't I?' he answered and sighed.  'Tell me then, and make me understand.'

    His sympathy was so keen that for the moment it drew me out of myself.  I experienced a sharp pang of pity for him, for I saw how he was suffering from the sense of disgrace that Valentine had brought on him.  So I tried to tell him that I had not been utterly unprepared for this, and with that a burst of tears came to my relief, and I felt that the comforting warmth and sunshine were thawing my numb limbs, and that my heart, for all its aching, was less oppressed.

    'There,' he said, putting some cushions about me that I might rest on them, 'let us reckon over the things that are lost, and consider whether any of them can possibly be supplied.  If Valentine had been your true and faithful lover, and had been taken from you by death yesterday, would that have been a greater misfortune than it is to find him weak and dishonourable?'

    'It would have been a deeper sorrow; but then I should have felt that he had once been mine.  Now he has taken himself away even from the past: he has robbed me not only of his affection, but of my own faith, my own idea.  Oh, he is gone! and it breaks my heart to think of what he must have gone through before he could have behaved in this way.  You ought to have—'

    'Brought him home! brought him here?' exclaimed St. George as if in amazement.

    'For then at least we should have known what he was about.  I am tormented by the thought of his suspense.  What is he doing, do you think?'

    'I don't know,' he answered bitterly; 'perhaps longing for the letter that he expects from you, the letter which, it seems, since "love covers a multitude of sins," will, without any reproaches or resentment, give him all he wants—his release.'

    I wrung my hands and wept while he spoke, and then covered my face with them.  The forlornness of my position seemed to press upon me at that moment unbearably.  My maid was sent away, my uncle was at sea: where should I go? what should I do?  I had no relations, no friends, no home.

    'Don't, oh don't! I cannot bear it,' I said, when he added more about Valentine; 'he shall have the letter at once, and it shall be what he wishes.  It will make me ten times more unhappy to think that he is miserable too.  Don't talk to me any more.'

    He went to the window when I said this, and I shivered in spite of the glowing wood fire, and longed to get away from him and from every one, and after this short rest to go out and pace again along the frozen paths.

    I had risen, and drawing my cloak about me had reached the door, when rousing himself from his reverie he laid his hand on the latch, and said with a kind of reproachful pleading, 'Dorothea.'

    'I want to go out and walk,' I entreated piteously.

    'You are trembling, you are faint.  I will take you back to the house if you please, but you must not walk in that bitter wind again.  I dare not allow it.'

    So restrained, I lost all self-command, and threw myself on the couch sobbing.  He would not let me go and walk, that was clear, though I begged and entreated like a child.

    He held my hand and reasoned with me almost with a woman's patience.  'Oh,' I exclaimed when I had tried to rise and found I could not, 'if you will not let me walk, pray for me!'

    During the last sleep I had fallen into, I had dreamed of the raft.  We stood upon it in the night, he and I, and I knew of Valentine's desertion, and begged him then to pray to God for me.  My dream went on to show that he asked what he should pray for, and I had replied, 'That God would make me contented, and make Valentine happier without me than we had hoped to be together.'

    It was with this recollection in my mind that I repeated the request of my dream, and it was certainly the last thing that could enter my heart to suppose that he would refuse it.

    'To pray for you?' he repeated; 'what, aloud?  Oh, I cannot do that!  Hasn't there been enough of this?'  Then when I looked up at him with feeble wonder, he begged me to forgive him, and repeated in a choking voice that this was a thing he could not do.

    'I did not want you to pray that the marriage might come on again,' I replied; and when he made no answer, I went on, 'and if I had, I always thought you wished it to be, though none of the others did.'

    'None of the others did,' he repeated as if shocked.

    'No,' I said, 'none of them.  I told Mrs. Henfrey so last night,—nothing matters very much now,—and I have had time enough since I came here to be sure that if they had wished it they would have said so, and the absent ones would have sent kind messages.  Emily and Louisa have never so much as sent their love to me.  Not one of them has been kind.  So perhaps on the whole this is just as well.'

    'If you say that I have not been kind,'—he began and stopped short.

    'No, I do not say so; besides you told me that I had something to forgive you for.'

    'Yes.'

    'I cannot listen to what it was; I do not care; but it reminded me of what I have felt and believed and said about you.  I remembered it in the night.  If you only knew it all, how displeased you would be! and I suppose—'

    'Yes, try to tell me about this.'

    'I meant to do it, but everything is such a long way off.  I suppose we can never be friends unless I tell you about this.  I wish I could, it was so unjust.'

    My thoughts were getting dim by this time, and I heard and saw everything as if it was taking place in some other world.  'It was a pity,' I remember saying when I saw him come up to me, 'and it seems that it was all my own mistake.'

    Should he forgive me, he inquired.

    'Oh, yes,' I answered, 'and let us be friends.'

    But if a man forgives on his knees, with a face of passionate entreaty, it is likely to confuse the person forgiven, especially if there is alarm in the face.

    I looked down at him and said, 'I am not ill; why are you afraid?'  Agitation made his voice falter, and I did not hear his answer, but I went on, 'You don't understand; it is you that are to forgive—you.'

    It seemed to me that far away some one said,—yes, he knew that.  Would I let him hiss my hand then?

    I believe I said 'There is no need, and besides I have yet my glove on.'  I remember that I lifted up my hand then and considered that I could not have taken off that glove however much I might have tried.  Then I observed that he had risen, that he was standing before the fire, and that he told me I had not really forgiven him; but I was too utterly weary to contradict him.  Indeed I had begun to feel that I did not much care whether we were friends or not.

    Then after a time I noticed that he put some of the cushions against the high end of the basket-work couch.  I leant my cheek against them, and he untied the ribbons of my cloak and hat.

    Oh, I thought, how delightful it would be if I could sleep!  And then there came a moment of conscious delightful rest, and then I fell into a doze, and next into a dream.

    It was the only dream I ever had that realities often brought to my mind in after years—not that any of its details were repeated correctly, but things often occur which remind me of it, and I have believed in prevision ever since.

    I was walking in a wood by the margin of a stream hardly three feet wide.  A little child was holding me by the hand, and in its other hand and under the arm was tucked a straggling posy of long daisy asters and tall willow herbs, and it was singing all the while, for its own delight, in the sweetest small voice ever heard.

    I saw some one standing on a rise budding a tree.  I perceived directly who it was, and said with all the composure and indifference of sleep, 'Dear me, that is Valentine, and no doubt I have married him after all.'  Then I looked about for ferns, for I understood that this was a New Zealand wood; but I only noticed clumps of primrose, and the skeletons of poplar leaves, and there was water-cress in the stream.

    I observed a familiar look, and said, 'I did not think the two ends of the world were so much alike,' and I suddenly became aware that a little blue smoke which was sifting through the branches of a cedar tree on the opposite side of the stream, came from the chimneys of Mr. Mortimer's house, and without surprise I saw St. George coming down to meet me.  We approached a flat plank which served as a bridge; he set his foot upon it to ascertain whether it was safe, held out his hand to my little charge, and between us we guided her over.

    Then I thought he snatched her up in his arms and kissed the small singing mouth with a rapture of passionate love.  'Oh! ' I said to him with a sudden unsatisfied longing in my heart, 'I love that little creature too;' but as he held her face to meet mine I felt, as one sometimes does in a dream, that I was too late, my arms would not take her, my lips could not reach her, and in another instant I knew this was only a sleep, and that all of it was melting away.

    I got myself awake with a strange yearning at heart.  I remembered that I did not have that baby's kiss and sighed for it before I remembered my own trouble; but there was whispering in the room.  How seldom one hears people whisper!  It is the strangest, the most exciting, and the most suggestive sound in the world.

    I opened my eyes; saw Mr. Brandon sitting on the floor mending the fire with fresh wood; and leaning over him, with her hand on his shoulder, was a lady.  I saw some furs lying on the floor, I heard the crackling of the wood; but as he sat with his back to me, looking up at her while she listened intently, not a word of the whisper that floated from one of them to the other was audible to me, till, as he still spoke, this lady bent on one knee, and putting her other arm about him drew his head on her shoulder and held it there with her hand.  Then she answered, and I heard her words, 'As if I did not love you, except for that little squalling treasure of mine, more than all the rest of the world put together.'  And she began to excuse herself lovingly for not having been able to come to him before.

    After this they whispered again, and I saw him take out Valentine's letter.  Then I gathered strength to rouse myself a little more, and as I lifted up my head the basket-work couch creaked; on which the stranger rose and very gently came forward as if she did not wish me to be startled.  No doubt I had heard of her, she said; she was Emily, St. George's sister Emily, and she was come to see what she could do to help.

    She had St. George's dark cloudy hair, and a mouth like his, which when she smiled only showed the tips of the white even teeth; and when I held out my hand to her, she leant over me with much the same movement she had used to her brother.  'Don't go' I entreated.  No, she would stay as long as I liked, and she took me into her arms and into her possession in a way that, in spite of her youth, was quite motherly.

    I soon managed to say something to her about the letter, and proposed that St. George should go in and write one to Valentine, leaving her with me.  I could not bear the thought of her going, and when St. George went away I occupied myself with listening to her voice and looking at her hands, till falling asleep again I heard still the gentle plashing of drops from the thatch, and the crackling breakage of small icicles from the trees, for there was a thaw in that sheltered place, though on the other side, where the north wind was raging and the snow had been drifted away and swept away, the very snowdrops seemed to tremble and hang lower for the cold.

    Shortly Liz came, and St. George with her.  They brought a letter, and some wine and jelly, which they gave to me.  I did not like the letter at all; it was neither kind enough nor decided enough.  Whereupon Emily produced a pencil, and said she would add anything I pleased at my dictation, if I was quite sure I knew my own mind.

    'Yes,' I answered, 'I do.  I wish entirely and for ever to release him from his engagement to me, and I send my love to him and forgive him, for he has behaved better under the circumstances than I could have expected.'

    As they all looked amazed at this, and asked whether it was really to be sent, I had to explain that I knew he was weak; it would have been more like him to have yielded to circumstances, and then when it was too late, let me find out his deep attachment to another woman.  I should have been miserable then about him, and he would have spoilt both our lives; now he could but have spoilt one.

    'Wait a minute,' said Emily; 'if that message is sent, the Oubit must do something in return.'

    'What need he do?' I inquired, hurt at her calling him 'the Oubit,' and speaking so indifferently.

    'He must answer, that he also entirely and for ever releases you from your engagement to him.'

    'He will be glad enough to do that,' said Liz contemptuously.

    'Unless there comes any hitch about this new affair,' continued Emily, appearing to consider.

    I felt at that moment that the 'Oubit' did not deserve either the bitter contempt of Liz, or the disparaging suspicions of Emily, and I could not help saying, 'But he has met with a woman whom he loves now—whom he truly and deeply loves.'

    'No matter,' said Emily; 'this thing he must and shall do.'  And she actually added the condition she had mentioned.  After which the little pony chaise was brought over the grass to our retreat, and Emily drove me to the house in it; and shortly I felt so unwell that I went to bed, and they sent for their medical man.

    Mrs. Henfrey told him I had got the influenza, and he said my nerves had sustained a shock.  I did not much care for anything, so long as I might lie still and have Emily.  No tragical impressions could keep their dark hues long in the light of Emily's presence; and though she would call Valentine the 'Oubit,' and sometimes 'that boy,' I felt that so long as I might hear her voice now and then in my chamber, and feel her comforting arms, she might take whatever views she pleased of life, of Valentine, and of me.

    She came and sat by me in the night, and talked to me while the rest of that weary household slept.

    I said to her, 'You like me well enough, now that we have met; and yet I, knowing you were coming home from India, almost hoped you would not be in time for our wedding, for you had never taken any notice of me.'

    'I did not care to be in time,' she answered; 'and I do not like weddings.'

    I was not going to betray to her that I heard her tell her step-brother how much she loved him; nor how, while she said it, I had noticed the wedding-ring upon her hand; but she went on to talk of her husband.  Poor Fred was so unwell that she had been obliged to settle him in the south of France at Cannes; but she got a telegram to tell her that things were going all wrong, so she came home as quickly as possible.  Then of her own accord she told me that 'Fred' was fond of her.  'Every one must be,' I said; 'how can they help it?'

    'You told sister last night,' said Emily, 'that no one in the world cared very much for you.'

    'Valentine has proved that he does not; and he was the only person who professed to feel anything particular,' I replied.

    'Yes,' she answered, as if deep in thought.  'And yet how little we can know of the inner life of those about us!  The affection we rested in and that was proclaimed to the world may fade and perish, while unsuspected by us our names may be precious to some common acquaintance whom we seldom trouble ourselves to think about.  Who can tell?  Have you ever considered this question?  I often do.'

    'No; such an illusion could not come to me.  I wish to look at things as they are.  I had but one lover, and him I could not retain.  Oh, you cannot think how utterly alone I am!'

    She let me cry in her arms, and then she laid her head by mine on the pillow and soothed me to sleep.

    It was high day when we two awoke, and perhaps there was no real change in things about us; but yet the snow, I thought, did not now look so cold, nor any of the bare hills so desolate.  For three days I could hardly lift my head from the pillow, and yet I was free from some of the worst discomforts of illness.  I had no fever; I could sleep, and generally I could eat.

    All this time Mrs. Henfrey was exceedingly kind.  She tended me with motherly care; but the one person I wanted was Emily.  Emily sat with her feet on the fender, and told me all sorts of things; and when I was nervous about Valentine, Emily laughed at me—nobody was better able to take care of himself!  He did not feel the matter half so much as I did, I might be sure.  I began to love 'sister' more warmly when I saw how generously good she was to Emily,—taking care that she should have her share of all Mr. Mortimer's little personal possessions.  'I saved this,' or 'I put by that for you, my dear, for he was so fond of you.'

    I had never seen any one so free from jealousy, and I mentioned this to Liz and Emily one day.  She and mamma were always like the most loving sisters, they answered; but poor Mr. Mortimer had a very unhappy youth, and perhaps that made a difference in his one daughter's love for the woman who at last came to his home to make him happy.  For sister was about ten years old,—quite of an age to remark things,—when her mother eloped with a low, coarse man, and lived nearly twenty years not many miles from her old home in misery, disgrace, and wretchedness.  Nothing could be done for her, and Mr. Mortimer, for all those years, was a broken-down, unhappy man.  At last she died, and the second Mrs. Mortimer, who seemed to have been very easily won, was received by both husband and step-daughter as if she had been an angel; and in their opinion she always behaved like one.

    On the fifth day, when I woke, I heard to my dismay that Emily was going to Bath.  Old Walker had given out that the gout would certainly fly to his heart, unless Emily came and gave him a true and particular account of his dear Fred.  So Emily, who did not think much of the old man's ailments, was to set forth that very morning.

    She sat by me before she went, and talked.  She was full of life and hope.  To be sure she rather shocked me when she gave way to irrepressible laughter over 'the Oubit's' letter to me, which came by that morning's post.  How angry I should have been if any one but Emily had laughed at this effusion!  How vexed I was when I found that before it was given to me Giles had read it aloud to her; for it seemed that poor Valentine had humbly sent it to his brother to ask if it would do.  I cried; but I laughed too when I read that letter.  There was something so painfully ridiculous in it; for Valentine was quite devout and solemn.  He conveyed the notion to me that pious gratitude for my kindness almost overpowered him.  He did not mean it; but a man should be careful how he thanks God that he has been permitted to accomplish an unworthy action.

    'Did St. George laugh over this?' I inquired when I had very nearly sobbed and laughed myself into hysterics.

    Emily hesitated.  'He always laughs over his own misfortunes,' she said.  So by that I knew he must have done it over mine.

    'And that reminds me,' continued Emily,—'you may take for granted that I know everything you know about him, and a great deal more.  So, my darling, when you get better, do encourage him to talk about that love affair of his.'

    'Do you think he would like to talk of it?' I asked.

    'I am sure he would; and as you once said to him, you know, "a woman can often do so much to help in such cases." '

    'I will try; but, oh! I am so tired of love affairs.'

    'Well, here is one at least that you will never be troubled with again,' said Emily, taking up the letter.  'You see Valentine is so fervently desirous to show you that he complies with your condition, that he gives you up in all the long and strong words he can think of.  I never read anything more convincing than his serious assurances that under no circumstances will he ever put forward his suit or his claims any more.'

    Then, with all the encouraging words she could think of, with motherly caresses, and philosophical declarations that I should soon find this sorrow of mine was no great matter after all, the delightful young creature departed, and the tragical shadows she had kept away instantly began to settle down over me again.


 
CHAPTER XXIV.

'It never rains but it pours.'—Old Proverb.


IT was not till Sunday morning, a full week after the proposed wedding-day, that I suddenly felt quietness intolerable, and contrived with the maid's help to get up and lie on the sofa.

    When this was accomplished I felt miserably weak, but it was time, I thought, that something should be done; and Mrs. Henfrey seemed to think so too, for expressing her pleasure at seeing me up, she added, 'And I am so particularly glad it should happen to-day, for Giles has got another letter from Valentine—a very humble one, I am sure, poor fellow, begging his brother to forgive him and come to him.  The dear boy is very ill; but Giles says he shall not leave the house till he knows what your wishes are.'

    'Poor Valentine!' I said; 'how much I should like to see him!'  And I was a little struck by their having begun, as of old, to call him a boy.

    'Would you, my love?' she answered with eager surprise.  'Would you?  You would not object, then, to his coming home while you are here.  Dear me, I wish Giles could hear you say so.'

    'Object! dear Mrs Henfrey.  Of course not.  Object to his coming home!'

    She seemed to reflect.  'I don't think it is unreasonable to wish for him, poor fellow,' she said; 'and now his dear father is gone, I have but him to cling to.'

    'Oh, do tell Mr. Brandon I hope he will not keep Valentine away on my account'

    'Well, my dear, if you would tell him so yourself.  You get moped from seeing only me; I should like you now to take possession of my little sewing-room, and then we could come in and out, and you would lose that nervous dread of seeing people.  It is close to this room, you know.'

    So I was moved into the little sitting-room, and saw the people coming from church over the field—saw Liz and Mr. Brandon walking home, and very soon the latter was brought into the room, and I exerted myself to beg that he would bring Valentine home.

    'The boy has not been used to this sort of treatment,' said Mrs. Henfrey in her usual dispassionate tone.  'I am sure I don't know why they should make such a fuss, they have nothing particular to blame him for; and it's my belief, after this letter, that when he sees the dear girl, and reflects on her kindness to him—'

    'Dear Mrs. Henfrey!' I exclaimed, and this immediate opening again of the whole question completely overcame me in my then weak state.  I began to cry most piteously, and felt so hurt, so humiliated, by that expression, 'the boy,'—perhaps his impending marriage was all that had hitherto made a man of him in their opinion, or perhaps they had spoken of him with more respect out of politeness to me.

    'There,' she went on, and sighed, 'I told you how it was, Giles.  Yes, my love, yes, he shall come.'

    For the moment Mr. Brandon looked amazed, till roused by her composure and his surprise I fired up into something very like a passion, and asked them what right they had to suppose I would ever condescend to think of Valentine again—even if he wished it; which he never would.  I felt myself degraded, I exclaimed, by the mere supposition.

    At this most unexpected retort both to myself and to them, Mrs. Henfrey coloured with surprise and vexation.  She had meant to be so kind, and now I had spoken of Valentine with a contempt which in all calmer moments I had been so careful to avoid, lest her feelings should be hurt.  She arose quietly, and left the room, while I, sobbing with a painful compunction, exclaimed that I had never known that I felt any contempt for Valentine till she made me say this.

    St. George, however, soon made it evident to me that he was entirely on my side, and there was even something of the charm of Emily's manner in his gentle, almost loving way of talking, trying to calm me, and almost to take an apology to 'sister' from me, flattering and soothing by turns, and saying how pleased he was to find me getting well.

    'And you will not let any of them do this sort of thing any more?' I entreated; 'you will see that it is not done?'

    He assured me most earnestly that he would.  'Because, you know, I am your guest.'

    'Yes, you are my guest.  Do you really wish me to fetch Valentine?'

    'Yes, I do, for I think he may take great harm in his present delicate health from want of the comforts of his home, and want of nursing; but there is something else I should like to say, only I do not wish you to think me heartless.'

    'I shall not find it possible to think that.'

    'Then, I hope you will make as light as you can to him of my illness.  I hardly know how I came to be so ill—'

    Here I paused.  My host, partly perhaps because he had just been reminded of his position, was very unwilling to be seen to smile at my words.  He looked down, he looked everywhere but at my face, and he could not manage to hide how much he was both amused and pleased.

    'And so,' I went on, with some feeling both of pain and pride about the matter, 'I should like you to make him (incidentally) quite sure that I am not breaking my heart about him;' and having said this, I was obliged to cry a little more.  I felt too weak to explain to him that Mrs. Henfrey and I had not discussed this subject before; I could only ask him some question as to Valentine's letter.

    He answered that the letter was not altogether a displeasing one to him; and then he gradually unfolded to me what he had discovered concerning Valentine's love affair.  He had known the Nelson family about four months, and the eldest daughter, Lucy, had delighted him from the first.  Mr. Brandon had seen the mother, who was exceedingly indignant, though it appeared that Valentine had never paid any great attentions to her daughter; he had only been unable to keep away from her, and unable to conceal his exceeding admiration.  Some rumour, it seemed, had reached them as to a boyish engagement; but he seemed so young, and was so unsophisticated, that they did not believe it.  It was because he heard that Lucy had been taken ill that he had felt impelled to pay his last visit there; and then, in the despair of his heart, he had told all.  He had been attacked by severe influenza, and the Nelson family could not dismiss him at once; but Mrs. Nelson had done her best to impress him with a sense of his dishonourable conduct, and had parted with him believing that he would go straight home.  But that it seems he could not possibly do; he could not face and accept the destiny he had been once at so much pains to carve out for himself; and he had lingered at a village inn, and at last had gone to London.  'In short,' said his usually indulgent brother, 'he had behaved almost as badly as he could have done.'

    'Did you see Miss Nelson?' I inquired.

    'Yes, her mother brought her in, but of course nothing on that subject was said.'

    'And what did you think of her?'

    He hesitated, and almost stammered.  'I thought—oh, I thought there was a great deal of self-command and womanly dignity about her.'

    I could not have asked whether he thought she loved Valentine, but his belief that she did had been betrayed by the caution and embarrassment of his words.

    'Then his fate is in your hands,' I observed, 'just as it always has been—only you will have me to help you.'

    'Shall I?  That is a partnership which would greatly please me.'  His face expressed so much pleasure as fully to confirm his words; but I think he was very much surprised when I went on to ask if I might write to Lucy.

    At last, when I felt calm again, I begged him to go forthwith and fetch his brother; and he agreed to go that very night by the two o'clock train.

    Valentine was very ill, had a serious cough, was feverish, and could not be so well nursed as at home.  I knew Giles had always thought badly of his state of health, and could not bear to think of standing in the way of his being comfortable and among his own people.

    They were to travel down on Tuesday morning, but Valentine, when Giles reached him, was worse than had been expected, and their return was put off several times.

    In the meantime I had leisure and quiet to think of what I could do, and there was no one to advise or to interfere.  The old doctor who came to see me daily promised to name the earliest time at which I might travel safely, and I felt an urgent desire to get away.  I wished to see Valentine, make it evident both to him and to his family that I completely forgave him, and then go, and in a new scene try to forget him and this miserable episode in my life.

    I wrote to Mr. Mompesson again, and this time had a favourable answer.  He and his wife would be truly pleased to take me home to them.  They had given up their pupils, and were gone to live in the Isle of Wight, near Ventnor.  They would make me as happy as they could.

    It was several days before Valentine and Giles were reported as likely to appear, and I was sitting one sunny morning with my feet up on the sofa in Mrs. Henfrey's little sitting-room, when she entered and said quietly, 'My dear, they are come.'

    They followed close on this announcement—Giles with a face of guarded gravity, and Valentine slinking. behind, blushing and crest-fallen.  Mrs. Henfrey and Giles kept up a short conversation for the purpose of setting us more at our ease, and then left us alone.

    But Mr. Brandon turned back from the door to put some fresh wood on the fire and request us not to talk very long.  It would tire me, he said, and make Valentine cough.

    He then retired, and Valentine, relieved from his presence, laid his head down on the end of the sofa and sobbed out:—'She won't have me,—D. dear!  She says she never will; so now I've lost you both—and serve me—serve me right too!'

    I had begun to shed tears also from sympathy, and I replied that he must not despair.  Lucy would most likely accept him after a time, if he would only persevere.

    Was there ever such an undignified remark on such an occasion, or such an undignified answer!

    We sat side by side, and he condoled with me on account of all I had gone through, as if it had been no fault of his; and I, utterly without any feeling of indignation against him, condoled in my turn.

    He was comforted to have his old friend to talk to; and such was the confiding ease and simplicity of his nature, that when he had humbly begged my forgiveness, and I had most heartily assured him of it, he could find consolation in unbosoming himself as of old, and in ten minutes, or perhaps even fewer, he was mourning and lamenting again over the hard-heartedness of his beloved Lucy.

    It appeared that he and Lucy had exchanged several letters already—how odd, I thought, that this should have been allowed by the mother!

    'She won't have me,' he sighed; 'it's in vain that I tell her you always declared that you did not particularly love me: she says I trifled with her. I!  Why, I'm quite sore with loving her.'

    'O Valentine!' I said, a little reproachfully; 'what, quoting already, and on such a subject?'

    Valentine had a very bad cold, and looked wretchedly ill; but this, and his love for Lucy, and the dread he had felt of seeing me, and the humble apology he had just made, could not keep him grave and low-spirited for long together.

    'I'm just come home,' he pleaded, 'and you're such brick, D.—you blessed little creature!—your behaviour, after the way I've been treated lately, is such a change, such a treat, that I can't help rejoicing.'

    'Have they been so severe with you then?'

    'Severe!  Some have been beaten till they know what wood a cudgel's of by the blow.  Yes, D., if it's any pleasure to you to know it, they have been very severe.'

    'Your brother?'

    'Giles! ah, when first he found me—-?'

    'Well, Valentine?'

    'Oh, don't! I cannot think of it,—he has been so good to me since,—minded it so much less than a fellow could have expected, considering what he said at first.'

    'Indeed!'

    'Yes; but, D., I am disgraced in his eyes, notwithstanding, for he will scarcely let me mention your name.'

    'If it had not been for him, I do not really know, Valentine, what I should have done.'

    'O my dear D., I am so sorry.  Yes, of course, he would be kind and attentive to you—'  Then came a terrible fit of coughing, and he continued,—'but I am so utterly tired, so jaded, that I hardly care for anything.'

    'Excepting for Lucy.'

    'Yes, for Lucy, but I shall never have her.'  He rested his chin on his hand, and mournfully gazed into the fire with his beautiful brown eyes; then sighed, 'She'll be sorry perhaps when it's too late; for I shall never recover.  She'll get some one else to love her, "and monks shall sing, and bells shall ring, for him that goes to pot." '

    At this most unlikely point he shed two more tears, and I felt a choking in my throat that forced me to weep too.  'I shall never recover,' he had said.  Alas! whether he truly believed that or not, I did.  I thought the extreme delicacy of his constitution had met with a shock that it would not withstand, and I ceased to wonder that his family wanted him home to be nursed, and that his brother should be so anxious that all should be forgotten and forgiven.

    Poor fellow! he said he had had no sleep that night, and had eaten no breakfast, being so much afraid of seeing me.  His cold was so bad that he could not speak in his natural voice, and his whole manner showed how ill he was and how much he had suffered.  Yet there was a strange want of seriousness about him, though I could see plainly that in a fitful sort of way he was both ashamed and sorry, and that in the same manner and degree that he had always liked me he liked me still.

    Giles was the person of whom he seemed chiefly to think; he was far more ashamed that his brother should know how badly he had acted than that I should; and he acknowledged one or two things to me which proved that even before our engagement, and while he was on his probation, he had not always been very constant.  But Giles had pulled him up for it—had talked to him, as he said, about me, and between his pride and his affection kept him tolerably true till a real passion came in his way.

    This was what Mr. Brandon had meant then by saying that I had somewhat against him.  He had calculated, it seems, on Valentine's making a loving husband, though he was but a half-hearted suitor and lover of mine, as he was earnest in assuring me he never truly was.

    'You ought to have confided in me,' I remarked, 'and then we should neither have been made so ridiculous nor so unhappy.'

    And how did he reply?  First by a violent fit of sneezing; then when he could speak, which he did in a broken cracked voice, and shivering all the tune, he did it in these words:—


'When budding manhood stoops to folly
     And finds too late that life betrays,
 What charm can soothe his melancholy?
     What art recall his jollier days?'


Another violent fit of sneezing, coughing, and sniffing, and he went on—


'The only art when taunts are bitter,
     The only charm his soul to ease,
 To harrow the conflicting critter
     And wring her bosom, is to sneeze.'


    'I invented that as I came along,' he said.

    I could not say anything.  The tragedy of life seemed to shrink down into a corner, as if ashamed of itself; and I cried while I felt that it did so, and yet I laughed too, rather bitterly.  I began to think, in good truth, that surely this was all for the best.

    He was soon exhausted with talking, and glad to betake himself to his own room.

    The next day I was so well that I came down to breakfast, but Valentine was not able to rise, and we all felt uneasy about him.  I found out soon after breakfast another thing that disturbed them.  Mr. Crayshaw, who had several times stayed at Wigfield, and been repeatedly pressed to fix a day for coming again, had telegraphed from Chester to say that, if quite convenient, he would come with his wife and child and her two young brothers.  He could only stay for a day or two.

    'But Giles had to write and put them off,of course,' said Liz.

    I had noticed that all the friends and neighbours kept at a respectful distance,—not a creature came near the house; and this, no doubt, was out of consideration for their mortifying and ridiculous position.

    'I think if the Crayshaws are put off on my account,' I said, 'it is rather hard.  I cannot bear that there should be so many annoyances about me.'

    'Never mind,' she answered; 'we really could not face our friends just yet.  Besides, your dear Emily is coming back this morning, and she will console you and us.'

    The dear Emily did come, and I begged her not to let that letter be posted; the Crayshaws had not been a week in England, could know nothing of our affairs.  If they might come, I would keep in my room, and they need not even know I was in the house.

    At her request I went up with her to the room at the top of the house, and was surprised and touched at the pleasure St. George expressed at my kindness in letting the Crayshaws come.

    I perceived that she supposed us to be quite intimate and very friendly; and really, under the influence of this notion of hers, and her own easy openness, we actually for the time became so.  St. George was made to write another letter to the Crayshaws, mainly at her dictation, and my presence as a guest was openly mentioned in it.

    'But I do not intend to be present,' I remarked.

    'Oh, yes, my dear, you will.  A little society will be the very thing to do you good.  Besides,' she continued, 'I wish to dress you up myself in one of the Parisian gowns, and cut out the lovely little American, if we can.'

    St. George held the pen suspended over the page, and appealed to me with his eyes.  I felt my heart fail me at the notion of being present among a party of strangers; but I saw very plainly how much he wished it; and when she said, 'The sooner you appear among your friends the less you will feel it,' and he said appealingly, 'Dorothea,' I consented.  Now that I was likely always to be Miss Graham, he had at last given up addressing me by that name.  He thanked me, and said, while he sealed the letter, 'Crayshaw will be pleased to see this old house again; he is perfectly infatuated about it.'

    'I do not wonder; I think it the most charming old house I ever was in.  How you can think of leaving it, (perhaps selling it) to go and live in that dreary New Zealand I cannot think.'

    'I am not going to leave it,' he answered, with a sunny smile. 'I told Val so this morning.  I hope to live here all my life.  But I thought you liked the notion of going to New Zealand.'

    'No, I always thought it a great disadvantage; but then you know it sometimes is the disadvantage that reconciles one to a thing.  Is it one o'clock, Emily?'

    'Yes; why?'

    'I had better go down then.  Valentine sent word that he should be down about one o'clock.'

    'What business had he to send you any such message?' said Emily indignantly.

    'He is dull,' I replied rather coldly; 'and I suppose as I have formally declared that I forgave him, he naturally expects me to behave to him as usual.'

    'Well, I will go down and tell him you are coming soon,' said Emily, and she looked a good deal vexed whereupon I, remaining behind in a comfortable easy-chair, began to expostulate with St. George about the change in their manner towards Valentine.  I hoped they would behave to him as before.  'Why should anyone resent for me what I do not resent for myself?' I went on.  'I have forgiven him.'

    'I never pretended to resent it,' said St. George.  'And I forgave too,' he presently added, in a cogitative tone.  'I forgave you!  It was very kind of me.'

    'Yes, I remember.'

    'I do not at all know what it was for,' he added, with a smile.

    'And I have no intention that you should,' I answered, feeling that Valentine was already passed into the background, and that I could not help it.

    'I wonder,' he went on, standing on the rug and looking down on me, 'how you mean to show your sense of my kindness.'

    'If I thought there was anything that you had particularly at heart, perhaps I might offer you my valuable advice upon it.'

    'Would you?' he exclaimed, with such a sudden surprise, and such a lighting up of his whole face, that I saw at once he knew what I intended, and I was vexed to feel that while I only meant to allude to something remote, I had brought the whole subject over him and above him.

    'And you smiled again.  I like to see you smile,' he presently went on, without looking at me.  'What a relief it would be to me if I could talk of that—of this?'

    'Your good genius said to me that she thought you were in better spirits about it—more hopeful lately.  I am glad.'

    'My good genius?'

    'Yes, Emily.'

    I saw that he was not only moved, but exceedingly pleased; and as he stood turning his face towards the window, his eyes were full of broodings over a passionate dream.  My words, so unexpected, appeared to have brought his love vividly before him, to stand in his presence; but his smile had hope in it, and his eyes, more moist than usual, wandered over the wide leafless woods and the sunny fields.

    'And so you will help me?' he said at last.

    'I have no thought that I can help; but I can give you at least my sympathy.  You cannot think,' I presently said, when he continued silent, 'how much, since I have been unhappy myself, I have wanted something to be glad about for some one else.'

    'I am far from sure that there will ever be anything to be glad about for me.'

    No, I thought to myself, and I shall find it hard to allude to this again, too great an effect follows, and this hope of his may be all moonshine for anything I know about it.

    I heard the lunch bell just then, and we rose and went down.  That luncheon among them all was a refreshing meal.  They talked of common matters—how Louisa and her husband were slowly returning through France, with 'dear Fred' and little Fred.  Emily was very eloquent about little Fred—a charming child, indeed, by her account, only she wished us all to know that he had white eyelashes.

    I was not strong enough to go out and walk after luncheon, so I sat in the morning room with Mrs. Henfrey and Valentine, who preserved still a great degree of silence and reserve toward each other.  The room, in fact, became so quiet that I wearied of it, and went and walked up and down in the dining-room, pleased to find myself gaining strength and spirits; but I could not do this long, and was glad to go up-stairs and rest, till, the short winter afternoon closing in, Emily came and fetched me down to afternoon tea in the morning room, after which, in spite of the murmur of voices about me, I fell fast asleep on the sofa, and when I awoke the curtains were drawn and the room was dusk; but Emily went and stirred and shifted the logs on the hearth till a lovely red glow mounted up the walls, and lighted their faces and gleamed in their eyes, for Giles was in the room as well as herself, though at first, as he leaned back in his chair on the opposite side of the lire, he was so much withdrawn into the shadow that I did not see him.  As the rosy light fell over me he remarked, speaking of me by name, how well I was looking.  This name of mine always seemed to be rather different in his mouth from its familiar sound and meaning; he hesitated a little over the syllables, so that they took an appreciable time to be said in.

    'And so are you,' said Emily, laughing; 'I never saw you looking so well in your life!  I believe she must have put something into your head this morning.'  And I, turning my face towards him, could not help saying rather anxiously, 'No, I hope not.'

    'But I promised I would go and play to the Oubit,' she continued, rising.  'You are so determined that he shall be treated with all consideration that I dare not refuse him anything.'

    'Why did you say, "I hope not?" ' he asked the moment she had shut the door.

    'Emily's way of talking about this kind of thing appears always to make it of less importance,' I said by way of answer; 'mine, I think, does not.  Besides, I know so little about it that I am afraid of saying the wrong thing.'

    'But I want to tell you more about it if you will listen.'

    I said I would, and then there came a long silence, which at last had to my mind almost a ridiculous effect, and I broke it by saying,—

    'It seems to me that we cannot talk about this unless we give the lady a name.  Suppose I say that her name is Margarita.  May I ask whether you correspond with Margarita?'

    'No, I have not that honour.'

    'I suppose she is not engaged?'

    'No,' he answered, but he faltered and hesitated a little.

    I was so much afraid of producing again the bad effect of our morning talk, that I said to him only half in earnest, 'The reason why you cannot get on with her is that you are so very deferential.  Now, Margarita is not at all the kind of girl to be treated with deference.  Evidently not, or this would not have been going on so long.'

    'Are you so sure of that?'

    'Yes: you and I and Smokey are friends; we know all about it.  We consider that you are a little bit fainthearted; and as you and I only a few days ago came so near being brother and sister, and as you have expressly asked for my advice, I am going to speak to you as freely as under any circumstances I could have done.'

    'But you are not going to treat the matter in what you and Emily call a tragical spirit; that is evident.'

    'No; and I am now going to give you some really excellent advice, which, I assure you, I have considered deeply.  I advise you, without any farther delay, to go to Margarita, and tell her she must marry you,—say you insist upon it, and make her do it.'

    'Make her!' he exclaimed, starting up, 'make her,'—but he could not help laughing,—'how can you give me such ridiculous advice, you spiteful fairy?'

    'I am in earnest, I assure you.  I do not mean that you are to say it in so many words, though even that might have a very good effect.  But you must get the mastery over her,—you easily can; and I have no doubt, if the real truth was known, that you not only could get almost any woman to marry you (who does not care for some one else), but that you think so!'

    The tragical element was overcome.  To my delight he laughed, and declared that he never could hold his own when he talked to me.  Then he added, 'Well, since I am at confession, I may as well admit that I think with a fair field and no favour I could persuade almost any woman to marry me, excepting this one—this only one that I love and live for.'

    'There, I said so!  I always used to think you had rather a high opinion of yourself when first I knew you.'

    'Had I?  Well, it is all beaten out of me now.'

    'That is a pity.  It became you.  It was not in the least unreasonable.  In fact, I think it was decidedly moderate, considering your various advantages.'

    'Advantages!' he exclaimed, with evident surprise.

    'Of course.  I know few men who have so many.'

    I stopped short here, surprised again at the effect of my words, and wondering at the amount of hope that seemed to arise in his heart at another person's suggestion.  I felt a pang of compunction to think that I should have said, with so little thought, words that moved and stirred him so much; for as the firelight flickered on his face I saw its strange, sweet elation, and then that there was something which was almost shame in it,—a change of hue, which, in a fair man, might almost have been called a blush.

    Wondering what meaning he could attach to my words, and thinking to show my real aim, I presently said,—

    'You have, for instance, the advantage of a fine voice—a very delightful voice.  If you feel that you cannot be eloquent otherwise, you can sing—sing to her, tell her so,—anything you wish her to learn.'

    But here he hastily interrupted me; said he had been foolish, and with a certain caution and choosing of his words which attracted my attention, declared that he had not meant the conversation to go to such topics,—that he could not accept these flattering remarks of mine.

    Vexed with himself, but not content to give up talking, he began again in quite a different tone:—

    'Valentine, I believe, made you many offers?'

    'Oh, yes, dozens and dozens.  I refused a great many of them,'—here, quite unexpectedly to myself, I could not help shedding a few tears; 'but you see I accepted him at last, as, I hope, Margarita will accept you.'

    Thereupon he informed me that he had not yet found fitting occasion to make even one offer.

    'Not one!' I exclaimed, in amazement; 'and not find fitting occasion!  Why, anything and everything will do for an occasion, as I have had ample experience.  Valentine once made one on occasion of his having a new hat with a brim that I said was too broad.  I have known him make one when you gave him £1 18s., the change out of a bill.'

    I was a little angry at this moment, partly because I had been excited to shed those tears, partly because St. George, who had hitherto seemed to be a brave and manly person, appeared now to show a backwardness towards this Margarita, which was something more than deference, and which annoyed almost as much as it puzzled me.  I had felt desirous to get the conversation away from its more serious phases, and now I did not know how to manage it; and yet I saw that he wanted to go on discussing this unlucky love of his.  So I presently said,—for I remembered that he was my host, and I ought to be moderately civil to him,—'Margarita must indeed be formidable, since you find it so difficult even to speak to her.  Your caution, too, warns me to use all respect.  Is she very lovely?'

    'Yes,' he answered, 'but she does not think so.'

    'In that case her beauty is no bar; it does not signify.  Is she very rich?'

    Here there was a pause.  Then he answered, 'Yes, but she does not know it.'

    'Amazing Margarita!  I never heard of such a mysterious creature.  I might answer, "Then that does not signify," only that all you say is more and more remarkable.'

    'Yes, it is.  Will you consider what it probably means?'

    'Dear St. George, I am afraid it means that you have a rival.'

    'Yes, a rival.  I had a rival.  I am not sure whether he is my rival still; but he was such a one as I found it impossible to stand against.'

    'His advantages were so great?'

    'My disadvantages were so great.'

   'One of them, I am afraid, was that you loved her much more than he did, and that your love took away your self-possession, so that you had not so much to say for yourself as you should have had.'

    'You feel sure, then, of my love for—for Margarita.'

    'Of course, who could doubt it?  I am quite sure you love her far more than I ever loved anything; but you should at least have entered the lists with your rival.'

    'I loved her first,' he answered, 'and I never counted on such an evil chance as her being won before I spoke—'

    'But you speak of many disadvantages.  May I learn something of one of them?'

    'One of them was a family obligation, he answered in a low voice.  'I could not enter the lists with my rival; duty and honour, on account of this, were against it.'

    As he spoke he turned towards me, and something in his voice, in the low clear tone and the weighing of his words, arrested my attention, and fixed it on him more and more.

    I had wondered at him.  It was hardly manly, I thought, to have been afraid to speak, and now with a strange thrill of astonishment and perplexity I looked and listened.

    'A lady,' he repeated, 'a relative of mine, was under a great obligation—'

    'To your rival?'

    'No, to his father.'

    'Indeed.'

    'Yes; but nothing I am going to say to you demands any answer.  I intend to convey nothing to you but information.  My self-respect will not suffer me to withhold that any longer, at whatever disadvantage to my self it may be given.  That lady whom I spoke of—'

    'Yes,' I answered; 'wait a moment.  I have not wished talk of this because it seemed to bring your love so vividly before you.  It is not because I take no interest in it, or in you, that I have laughed sometimes to-night.  Pardon me.  I have been unhappy.  I think this must have made me dull.'

    Something, I knew not what, but certainly other than the truth and the reality, seemed to draw near to me then.  It was a light,—it was a shadow,—it was a wonder,—and through all it was a keen consciousness of the intense life, and passionate feeling, and cautious words I was encountering and sometimes baffling.

    I gave it up, and said to him quietly, perhaps even humbly, for I was puzzled,—'I wish you would let me look at your face.'

    Thereupon he moved in his chair, and turning it towards me smiled; and there flashed a sudden thought into my heart, that if I had been Margarita I should not have liked him to smile so on any one else in the world but only on me.

    'Go on now,' I ventured to say to him; 'you were talking of your rival.'

    'Yes,' he replied, 'and his father.  That lady whom I spoke of, she was under a great, almost a supreme obligation to him. (I would fain have told you this more gently, and now, I am afraid, it is not only too soon, but it will be an astonishment and a shock to you after all.)  She was a widow, that lady, she had no one to take care of her.  There was a lawsuit instituted which threatened to deprive her and her son of every shilling they possessed.  And this man, this old man, when she was so more than poor, married her and brought up all her young children as if they had been his own, and watched over her affairs, and at last gained the lawsuit for her, risking much of his own property to do it, and—'

    'This old man,' I repeated to myself as he paused.  I had heard him say those words before, and always in such a loving tone.  My heart trembled in me, and for the first time since I had seen him again Valentine seemed very dear to me; while with a choking voice and tears falling I said, 'Who was that lady?  I wish to know her name.'

    'Who was that lady?' he answered, with a low clear thrill in his voice that sounded in my ears long afterward,—'Who was that lady?  My mother was the lady, and my rival was my only brother.  He was the old man's son.'



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