Off the Skelligs (11)

Home Up Poems Story of Doom Monitions Old Days Poetical Works Allerton and Dreux Allerton and Dreux Fated to be Free Sarah De Berenger Don John John Jerome A Moto Changed Studies for Stories Stories Told to a Child A Sister's Bye-Hours Mopsa the Fairy Wonder Box Tales Sheet Music Sheet Music Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER XXXV.


NOT beautiful, not intellectual, scarcely even accomplished.  How strange the infatuation which could invest such a common life and being with a halo so lovely and so lasting!

    The misfortune of it, for the moment, completely overcame me, and with passionate tears and keen self-reproaches I remembered first of all how coolly I had treated his attempts to enlighten me; then, his words, that 'she had sometimes said very cruel things;' and then, what a little, what a very little while it was since I had come down to that house very well content to marry Valentine.  I was sorry next that I had ever let him know I did not love Valentine; and I believe when he came round to the back of the sofa, my first words were something very like a reproof.

    The whole situation came before me with such miserable clearness,—Valentine having had no one to help him, no one to depend on but this very brother, and my having accepted it all, utterly unconscious of its cost.

    'Oh,' I exclaimed, when he leant towards me, begging me to be calm, 'this is all so strange—and then the sorrow came such a little while ago.'

    'Yes; you do not think that I forget this; and that if all had gone well with you I should then have given you away myself; and put you out of my reach forever?  Do not be afraid; you are not asked to bestow anything—only to be aware of something that you receive; and there is nothing for you to say—nothing.'

    'I wish much to say something, if I could.  I feel that I must have appeared ungrateful, and I cannot understand this at all.'

    'But you will believe it, and you will trust me.  You told Emily there was no one in the world who deeply loved you.  If you think my love for you has cost me any suffering; if you think it was bitter not only to forego the hope of you myself, but to keep active in my young brother's heart the affection that I believed you lived for, will you now trust me so far as to let me bestow my love in peace? and will you be sure that when a time to speak comes I will found no hopes on any regard and interest and confidence you may have shown me in the mean time?'

    'There is no one whom I ought to trust so much; but make me a promise in your turn: promise me—'

    'Ask me this to-morrow,' he interrupted, 'not now.  Give me your hand now, and let me have it in mine for a moment—'

    'But you will try to overcome this imagination; for no one even who loved you could content it.  The person whom you cherish in your heart is not in the least like me.'

    A small, unimportant life! an insignificant hand!  How hard, I thought, as he took it, that it should have, even for the moment, so much power; for I knew that his trembled.  I never felt so again.  I perceived, for the first time in my life, when it touched his lips, the true attitude of manhood towards womanhood.  To some few men—and these are generally the best—God gives that exaltation of heart, that wonderful addition to what is commonly known to be love, which makes it all one to them as if they were shown the ideal wife, as first she was given;—the pureness and the perfectness that is NOT, and yet is destined to raise them as if it WAS.

   'Now, whatever happens I shall not be always hampered, and sometimes put to shame, by the wretched feeling that I am obliged to conceal things that ought to be known, and let you say what you never would say if only you knew the truth.'

    Before he left me he was very anxious to impress upon me that there was nothing for me to do or to say.  But there was certainly a good deal for me to think; and when I got up to my own room to dress, I cried so heartily over both those two brothers, that I could not possibly come down to dinner.  I seemed to have done such irretrievable mischief to them.  There was Valentine sneaking about the house, crest-fallen and silent, on my account.  I often felt ashamed of him, and yet very angry with myself for seeing that he deserved it.  And now here was St. George,—I could not overcome altogether the long reserve, and coldness, and jarring words, and uneasy recollections there had been between us,—how enthusiastic my feelings had been once towards him!  I knew he more than deserved them all now; but they were gone, and could not revive.  And the more I thought over all that he had said, the more puzzled I felt.

    I could not make up my mind to come down the next day till after breakfast, when Emily entered silently and kissed me, and took me with her into the morning room, where a discussion was going on as to the dinner party in the evening.  There would only be eleven people, not counting the two boys, and there ought to be twelve.  Lou was expected about lunch-time, and ' Jemmy' and 'dear Fred.'

    That being one of my lucky days, I said, 'There is Mr. à Court, will he do?'  I knew he was a good and stupid man, and that I should not mind seeing him.

    It appeared that he would exactly do if I did not mind his coming, and a note was sent off to him; but while it was on its way he called, accepted the invitation to dinner, and proposed to stay lunch also, on his way to see some poor people in his father's parish.

    Valentine, I was pleased to find, was wonderfully better; and he was so relieved, poor fellow, at the prospect of visitors in the house; for as his health improved his sisters made more evident a certain difference of feeling towards him, and he knew they could not be uncivil to him before strangers.

    'Isn't it nasty, of them?' said Valentine to me confidentially.  'If it weren't for St. George I don't know what I should do.'

    We went in to lunch, and it was on this occasion that Dick, apparently lifted quite out of himself, actually made a joke,—something at least that he meant for a joke,—and he laughed at it himself till we all burst out into laughter too.

    There was a hare for lunch, and in course of time Dick said he would take some more.

    'More hare!' exclaimed St. George; 'why, this is the hare with many friends!  I don't think there is any more, Dick,' he went on, and poked it about, 'excepting the shoulders, and they are getting cold.'

    'And you would not offer the cold shoulder to me, surely, Giles!' exclaimed Dick, and repeated 'the cold shoulder' as if he regarded the notion of any coolness between himself and St. George as an exquisite joke.

    Then as soon as we had finished our lunch, Dick said, quite deliberately and composedly, to Liz, that he wanted to speak to her.  Liz rose and went into the morning room, and he followed.  The extraordinary efforts that they all made not to laugh were crowned with success; and in less than five minutes the little man opened the door again, crossed the hall, and went his way, and Liz came back.  She looked puzzled, and seemed to be reflecting.  Her gold watch-chain had come off, and as she advanced into the room she kept pouring it carefully from one hand into the other, in a little heap of links.  Valentine looked very much ashamed of himself, and at last, when no one else spoke, Emily said,  'Well?'

    'He says I'm just suited to be a clergyman's wife,' said Liz simply; and St. George started up—

    'Give me a kiss,' he said, 'and don't be a ridiculous little goose.'

    Liz kissed her brother.  He had evidently been quite tight in his suspicions as to what her thoughts might be, for she then said,—'I would rather not, you know, dear; but if I don't take him, I don't believe you will ever get rid of me at all.'  Then she freed herself from him, and again pouring her chain into her palm, she said,—'And yet I can't help thinking that if I don't take him, I shall be sorry for it afterwards.'

    It was not easy to reply to such a speech as this; but Emily took Liz up-stairs with her, and they prepared to walk to the station.  The carriage was to go, but it would be empty, and as it was a sunny, pleasant afternoon, sister proposed that I should go a little way in it, and then get out and walk home.

    I knew very well who would be my companion; but if he had not gone with me he would have stayed with me; so I set forth with him, enjoyed the delightful air, and hoped I should not meet any one whom I knew!

    'What could I do?' he presently said, as if he meant to apologize.  'I was obliged to speak, you were so unconscious.  Any other woman would have discovered that open secret long ago.'

    'I thought she was a Londoner: you said to me that you "fell into that pit" when in London.'

    'So I did: when I took Tom away, you know, and, as you said to Valentine, "deprived you of your home, because I could not be at the trouble of amusing him here."  I forgave you for something or other, perhaps it was for that; an easy thing to forgive, as it arose from ignorance, and Valentine did not tell me your idea till it was too late for me to trust myself with any justification.—Do you see that tree stump?'

    'Yes, certainly'

    'On it the girl was sitting,—Clara, you know, now his wife.'

    'I never knew she came here.'

    She followed him, and I thought his only chance lay in my taking him off without her knowledge.  He was watched, and could not get a letter to her before he left.  He counted, no doubt, on writing from London.  I was beforehand with him.  I wrote out a telegram ready before we started, telling her to come to town by the very next train.  I knew that was a slow train, and would not get in till the middle of the night.  Graham chancing to lay down his cigar-case soon after we started, I threw it furtively out of the window, and my own, too.  When we hunted we naturally could not find them.  He got out as soon as he could to buy cigars, and I to send my telegram.  Graham was sulky that night—no wonder!  He openly wrote a letter, and gave it to the waiter at the hotel in my presence.  I argued afterwards, and reasoned with him.

    'We went out.  Acis and Galatea was given.  We took tickets, and he endured the music, and afterwards retired early.  His room was next to our sitting-room.  I sat up over the fire waiting till it was time to go and meet this train.  I had another hour on my hands, and as I did not like to draw his attention, in case of his being still awake, to the fact of my sitting up, I had turned down the lamp, and let the fire get low.  It was not strange therefore that I began to doze, and shortly to dream.  I thought I saw my mother.  I have no recollections of her that do not present her as healthful, joyous, and lovely.  She died from the effects of an accident when she was about forty-four years of age.  I knew it was my mother, but I did not see her face.  She stood with her back to me, and she seemed to be leaning over some one who sat in an easy-chair before the fire.  A girl I thought it was, and my mother had gathered some of her long fair hair into her hand, and was plaiting it for her.  I had seen her do this for my sisters when they sat on a sea-beach, having dried their hair after bathing, by leaving it loose in the wind.  But as she went on, and the braid got longer, she moved aside.  I saw the girl's face.  It was yours!  You took my mother's attention and caresses very quietly.

    'I have no other incident to relate to you—no account to give of what so suddenly came upon me, but only this dream.

    'I saw my mother's white hand pass softly over your shining young head; and then as I looked at you again, I found to my astonishment that I loved you; that you were my hope and my fate.

    'I woke instantly and congratulated myself with strange elation of heart.  Yes, I did.  You were so young, I thought you would be sure to come to me.  I had been delighted with you ever since the day when you had come to Wigfield, and I had felt a very tender interest about you before.  I had left the station in the morning a free man; I got back to it in the middle of the night as deeply in love as a man can be who loves with scarcely any fear as to the success of his suit.  Do you wonder at me?'

    'Yes; and at poor Tom, who would not in the end let himself be saved.'

    'No.  I got to the station just in time, and when Clara saw who met her, I think she felt she was mastered.  I told her there was no chance for her; that Mr. Graham was not aware of her coming—would soon be on board the yacht.  I told her I knew she was not a woman of character.  "No, sir," she answered, poor girl!  "But," I said, "your word, for anything I know, is to be depended on.  Shall I trust you?"  "You will be a fool," she answered, "if you do."—Perhaps you think that was an unsatisfactory answer?'

    'Yes, and very impertinent.'

    'I liked it.  She might have answered, "Yes, sir."  "Well," I said, "I shall stand here for five minutes and read the paper.  I am inclined to think I shall trust you."  I looked at her once; her black eyes were flashing, hard and defiant.  I went on reading.  When I looked again I saw that it would do, "I am going to trust you," I remarked.  "Very well, sir," she answered, with great reluctance.  "I am going to give you four hundred pounds, and you are going to promise me solemnly that you will neither go within ten miles of Southampton for two full years, nor communicate with Mr. Graham all that time, in any way whatever."  I thought two full years and four hundred pounds would surely see her married, and cure him of such a disastrous infatuation.  "Two full years; that's a long time," was all the answer.  I only wished I had dared to propose a yet longer; and presently, with a sulky air, she said, "I'll take three hundred, and say eighteen mouths."  So I was obliged to accept the promise, and she gave it so grudgingly that I was sure she meant to keep it; which she did.

    'I got back.  Graham discovered nothing.  I began to feel a deep longing to get home again; but I knew Graham would not stir till he had discovered Clara's absence from the cottage where she had lodged.  He telegraphed when she did not answer his letter, and found this out.  Then, sullen and miserable, and deaf to my request that he would go back to Wigfield, he insisted on our running down to Southampton.  And there to my joy he could not find her, she was actually keeping faith with me.

    'We stayed there two days; then your uncle stood in, and we went on board the yacht.  I was very desirous to let him know the state of affairs, and also to ask a favour of him, and get away home.


    'That very afternoon, as we sat in the chief cabin at dinner, it suddenly seemed to occur to Graham that I must have had something to do with his discomfiture.  And as he reflected he began to say very galling things to me, which I tried to pass off; and this attracted your uncle's attention; and made Graham more sure of his ground.  But I had two reasons, beyond the ordinary ones, for commanding my temper: first, I felt he had guessed the truth; and next, I saw that he was drinking a good deal of wine.  We never mentioned Clara.'

    Here the carriage stopped, and, I was told, by Mrs. Henfrey's orders.  She thought I should not be able to walk farther than this point was from home.  So we went back through the wood.  All the snow was gone, a delightful south-west wind was moving among the trees; but I hardly cared to look about me, I wanted to hear the end of this, to me, strange story, and I soon brought St. George to speak of Torn again.

    'After dinner he took more wine, got first heated, then insolent.  The old man sat between us, aware that something was wrong, and waiting to find out what it was.  At last Graham informed him that "old Mortimer's" reason for asking you down was, that we knew you would have a large fortune, and I wanted to secure it for myself.  Then I flamed out.  I might have known this was only said to enrage me, and throw me off my guard, till he could accuse me of things more real; but I had not the sense to keep my temper, and we began to storm at one another, the old man filling Tom's glass as fast as he emptied it, and listening to his now incoherent bluster with quiet gravity.  We had both risen by this time.  Graham showed a great wish to get at me, and taking your uncle by the arm they began to sway about together, the old man keeping between us, and pushing me towards the door, till we reached it.  By that time I had said what trenchant words had been burning in me for utterance, and when he told me to go into the after cabin till he came to me I reached it in a high state of indignation, while he kept Graham where he was.

    'I felt as if I had never been in such a passion in my life; it was something new to be accused of meanness and mercenary hypocrisy, &c., &c.; and I sat down glowing with wrath, and yet I felt almost directly that my position was perfectly ridiculous, for this had really come upon me in consequence of my interference about Clara, and was meant to punish me for that, and for nothing else. . . . . There is a very pretty looking-glass in your cabin?'

    'Yes.'

    'Draped about with lace and delicate with all sorts of feminine surroundings?  I saw a small work-basket, too, hanging up by a hook,—a graceful little thing.  And various other beautiful possessions of yours were evident all about me.

    'They made me tremble when I saw them with a great longing to get home again; and I sat brooding over my newly-waked love till your uncle came in again.  "Now then," he exclaimed, "Tom's drunk,—a very little wine gets into his head.  Out with it all, man!  What does it mean?"  So I told him.'

    'And he thanked you, of course?'

    'Yes; and I felt how hard Graham had made it to mention you.  But he went on,—"And as to my little girl, I suppose that's all moonshine?" I soon undeceived him.  I wonder what you will think if I tell you his answer.'

    'I should like to hear it'

    'Perhaps I may tell it you then; it will do me neither good nor harm; for if it marks his approval, which is something in my favour, it links a certain advantage to it, and advantages, as I plainly perceive, and as you have said, are not what reconcile you to things.  He said, "I shall give my little girl eight thousand pounds when she marries; but if YOU can get her, I will leave her thirty thousand more."'

    I had no reply to make to this speech, and he presently went on, 'In an hour or two I went on deck, and to my amazement we were out of sight of land.  "O Yes," Brand said, "master was running down to Bordeaux about some wine."  We soon ran down, but oh the beating up!  Such weather!  We were sixteen days on that passage beating about the Channel.  Graham and I were soon reconciled, and he never asked me one question.  Your uncle was very kind; we suited one another well enough.  I almost always get on comfortably with an old man.  We landed at last, but I did not come home unwarned.  Letters from my stepfather and from sister were waiting for me at Mr. Rollin's hotel.  They confirmed my worst fears when I got home.  Within a month I went back to the old man, reported my failure, and he called me a fool for my pains.'

    The carriage coming after us loaded with Walkers!  Lou got out and walked home with us, and Emily held up her boy to the window.  I was very tired when we reached the house, and was received by the newcomers with a certain distinction which was certainly owing to my somewhat mortifying circumstances.  The two shabby little captains soon went away to smoke with Valentine, and the ladies all streamed up-stairs together into the nursery to introduce little Fred to Frances and Nannette.  All their toys were set out; but little Fred, overpowered by the number of strangers, burst into a fit of crying, and fought his aunts, and scowled at the children, till we all retired.

    The Crayshaws were to appear soon, and I was ordered by Emily to lie on my sofa till it was time to dress for dinner, that I might not look tired and pale.  I was not sorry to obey, for the walk had fatigued me.  Emily and Lou came in course of time, and chose among my beautiful dresses what I should wear.  They fixed on a silk dress that looked yellowish by daylight, but which at night became a cream-like white.  I thought it would not suit me, but was not sorry for that, because Valentine had said when alone with me that day that 'I was not acting by him in the generous way he could have hoped,' and I made out, not without some trouble, that he thought I was trying to attract him again by my array!

    So I let the cream-coloured gown go on, and the faintly-tinged rose with it; then going up to the glass, secretly hoped Valentine would not think it as becoming as I did.

    My heart trembled a little when I entered the drawing-room, and a very pretty delicate young woman met me with, 'Is this the rose of England then—the white rose?  I have so much wished to see her.'

    Crayshaw was there also, looking handsomer than ever, as I had time to observe when, after having spoken to me, he sat down between Nannette and Frances, and tried to make them believe that they remembered him.  But, as if there was to be no end to the children, the baby Crayshaw was shortly announced, and being forthwith taken from his nurse by Valentine, began to crow and make himself agreeable, seizing Valentine by the nose, and then trying to suck the buttons of his coat.  Crayshaw looked on, surprised at Valentine's audacity in daring to take a baby; but desiring, as it seemed, to show himself a valiant man, he presently received his son and heir himself; and holding him rather tightly, made an effort to appear at his ease.

    St. George, not at all taken in by it, proposed to take the little thing himself, but Mr. Crayshaw was quite above that.  What another man could do he would dare, and he held his boy, while Giles tickled the small nose with a feather; and the little creature, after rubbing it with his dimpled fist, sneezed in the most natural manner possible.

    That was the strangest evening I ever spent.  Our host was changed back again to the man of my earlier recollections.  Valentine, having no lady to talk to, was sullen and discomfited; he looked at me every now and then with an air of reproof which I hoped would not be so evident to other eyes as to mine.  In the mean time, Mrs. Crayshaw and Emily, having merely exchanged glances, understood each other perfectly, and Mrs. Crayshaw soon made her husband understand too; so that as I sat by him and he talked of the old days and the yacht, I felt at once that they supposed Mr. Brandon to be my lover,—that they approved, and without saying one single word they would convey their thought to him, and even manage to congratulate him.

    Little Dick and Liz, accustomed to be often together, had now suddenly discovered that they had nothing to talk about.  And the two young boys, neither of them more than thirteen, discoursed with perfect gravity on the institutions of their country.

    I was thankful when we got up-stairs; but as I sat by Emily, and she comforted and rallied and tried to make me feel at ease, Lou said, in passing us, 'The Oubit will want to sing to-night.'

    'Why shouldn't he?' answered Emily; 'it won't hurt him.'

    'He will ask Dorothea to play for him.'

    'Tell him beforehand then,' said Emily to me, 'that you will not do it.'

    Valentine soon came up,—sat beside me.  'How lovely you look, D. dear,' he said, 'and what a shame it all is!'

    'If you address me again in that manner, I shall call you Mr. Mortimer; and that reminds me I cannot play for you to-night, so don't ask me.'

    Valentine replied that I was very unkind,—very disagreeable, and I knew he liked to sing, and could always sing, even if he could hardly speak, and I knew also that none of them could accompany him properly.

    'Have you written to Lucy to-day?' I inquired.

    'You are always asking me that; of course I have.'

    At this moment the rest of the party came up.  I hoped they would not ask St. George to sing, being sure that if they did I should be in request to play for him.  I remembered how I had told him to sing to his Margarita, and I felt that he was sure to remember it also.

    They did ask him to sing; he, as I had expected, came up to me.  'D. is so tired, she says she cannot play to-night,' said Valentine.

    'You have asked her'?' exclaimed Giles, with an air of astonishment and reproof, but in a low voice.

    'Yes,' said Valentine, quite surprised.

    'I hope I shall never hear of your taking such a liberty again,' said Giles, in a still lower tone.  Then he went on to me, 'I am almost afraid it will excite remark if you do not play once for me;' and I, nervous and thinking more of Valentine than of him, replied, 'I should not think of declining, of course.'

    'Because I am your host?' he asked, as we went to the piano.

    I made no answer.  That was what I had meant.  But I soon knew that I had hurt him, without appeasing Valentine, who went and sulked openly, in a place by himself.  And I began to feel so much that I had taken the wrong side, that it made me very conscious how little my host cared to sing.  He lost his place, and was nervous; he looked dispirited, and I was so vexed with myself that when the song was over I did not rise, but presently obliged myself to say to him, 'That song went badly; I must play you a second to atone for the first.'

    'Not as my guest then,' he whispered.

    'No, as your friend,—and to atone.'

    So now it was right with St. George, but it was all the more wrong with Valentine; and it got worse, because the Oubit was very anxious to sing himself, and everybody else wanted to hear St. George, and also, as I could not but know, it amused and pleased them to see me playing for him.  I played four times, and each time he told me the story more and more plainly, carrying out my own advice to him to the letter, and making me very nervous lest others, including Valentine should feel and perceive what he was doing.

    'I knew you would not let me sing any more,' he said as I closed the book; 'but at least you are my Margarita, my pearl—I was only telling you so,'—

    'I am afraid you are telling everybody else.'

    'Delightful! Brandon,' said Mr. Crayshaw, coming up with grave audacity.  'What a pity Miss Graham is not always here to accompany you!'

    I went to bed that night to be haunted by a vision of Valentine's displeased face, and the ghost of St. George's sigh when I began to play for him.

    I did not know what to do; but that was Wednesday.  The old doctor had paid me his last visit and said I might travel on Saturday, if I pleased, I thought I had better do it, if they would let me, for I could not please them all, and I hardly knew yet which I most wished to please, or rather not to displease.

    I knew the next morning.  Mrs. Crayshaw, always beautifully dressed, came down, and we were all arrayed, as is the way with women, so as not to be outdone in taste if we could help it.  The unlucky blue dress, which Giles had declared it was dangerous to look at, did a great deal of mischief that morning.  He looked at it so often, that Valentine's attention was attracted, and I saw on his face not only that he did not like this, but even the dawn of a curious kind of dismay.

    'Mrs. Crayshaw's nurse has been asking for plate powder,' said Liz, coming into the morning-room about eleven o'clock,—'pink plate powder.  What can she want with it?  She and Mrs. Crayshaw are boxed up together.'

    'Some jewels are to be cleaned perhaps,' said Mrs, Henfrey.

    I soon discovered what they had wanted with it.  St. George and Mr. Crayshaw were walking about the garden together, and Smokey beside them.  When the latter came in, he presently went up-stairs, and then they came down together.  True to the customs of his nation, Mr. Crayshaw was always grave and melancholy when saying anything humorous, much more so than at other times, and his making us frequently laugh, as he had done since he came, had been rather a relief, for Valentine was far too crest-fallen to joke at all, and St. George hardly seemed inclined for laughter.

    When I saw Mr. Crayshaw come in with more than usual gravity, I was therefore inclined to suppose that he had something droll to say, especially as Mrs. Crayshaw followed with laughter in her eyes.  I was soon undeceived.  She produced a pretty little gold chain with a curious locket hanging to it,—a small locket in the shape of a heart.  She and her husband hoped I would accept it.  The heart was of wood,—a little piece of some hard dark American wood, highly polished; a piece, she said, of one of the planks out of which they had made the raft.  Of course I accepted it.  She put it round my neck.  Would I always wear it?  I promised.  It was a pretty little thing with a gold rim, but it would not open; I tried it.

    'But it will open,' she presently said; 'the inside's the best part of it.  George, go and find the key.'

    George hesitated.  'Some other time,' he said; but after various declarations on her part that she was sure I should forget to wear it, and protestations on mine that I would not, the key was at last fetched—a minute gold key.

    'What's in it has a certain value,' said Mrs. Crayshaw; 'but it's not a precious stone—not a stone at all.'

    'Well, no,' said Mr. Crayshaw, 'it's what, here, they sometimes call a brick.'

    Emily immediately pricked up her head; nobody else was present but sister.

    'It's British,' he went on;—'I wish I could get this open;—it's altogether British, but it's what we term true grit.'

    'If you'll give it me,' I exclaimed, suddenly suspicious, 'and give me the key, I'll open it when I have an opportunity.'

    'Ah, well, he went on, still poking at the lock, 'God never made anything better worth having.  But you must open it and look at it pretty often, for there are some things that cannot live if they are always kept in the dark.  There!'

    Open at last.

    'Mrs. Crayshaw?' he said.

    'Yes, George.'

    'I'll give you back the key, because this will want opening often.'

    St. George's face, of course; the portrait we had taken ourselves—'He sweetly dreameth.'  The walls of some of the bedrooms were half covered with photographs; it was no difficult matter to get one.

    'Now, what do you think of it?' he went on, with the greatest gravity, holding it before me.

    Neither Emily nor Mrs. Henfrey lifted up her face at all.

    I looked.

    'It's not very often,' he went on, with melancholy gravity, 'that any one has a chance of such a possession.  Mrs. Crayshaw never had.'

    'Did she ever tell you so?' asked Mrs. Crayshaw, and he smiled.

    'Look at it again,' he said.  I did.

    'Well, now, you'll tell me what you think of it.'

    I felt amazed at his still and gentle audacity; and he went on, 'There's a certain beauty in it, and a good deal of power, and there's a brooding tenderness in the eyes.  There are some people, however, in this world, that have never yet had any one thing that they most wanted.'

    Still I could find nothing to say.

    'It's a fine thing,' he observed in a dispassionate tone, 'to have it in our power to enrich a life—to give enough, and all that was lacking.'

    I believe I answered, 'Yes.'

    'But,' he went on, 'some people are a long time before they can believe that is their case; and when at last they have learned to believe it, I have known some that spent so long thinking about it, that all the grace of the gift,—indeed the opportunity of making it, altogether went by.'

    Utterly deceived! perfectly wrong!  He knew nothing about me and Valentine, as was evident.

    Just the same party at dinner that night.  Valentine having been shamefully complimentary to me, I was bent on not having to play for him; but he was determined to sing, and he so managed matters that I was obliged to do it once.  Emily and Mrs. Crayshaw, however, were far too clever to let that sort of thing go on.  St. George was soon put in his place, by particular desire of his guests, and I went on playing for him sometime, not without a certain contentment, for I knew that as long as I was so occupied they would hardly even look at me.

    I wanted Valentine to be displeased, and he remained so all that evening; but the next morning, to my dismay, as I sat writing up-stairs in the drawing-room,—writing to Mr. Mompesson to come on Saturday and fetch me, he came in.  I observed that he had put on his pious air, and I felt dreadfully disconcerted when he said seriously that he wanted to speak to me; he had something of importance to say.

    He was so deteriorated, ever since he had come home, that I should hardly have known him for the frank-hearted fellow I used to be so attached to.

    'No,' I answered; 'I would rather not hear it, Valentine.'

    'But,' he continued, 'I feel it to be my duty to warn you of this, because it would disturb you very much, I know, if it occurred.'

    This not being in the least like anything I could have anticipated, curiosity triumphed, and I went and sat on a sofa near him.  'It's not about myself,' he went on; and I decided to hear it.

    'It's—it's about St. George;' and, as he spoke, leaning on the chimney-piece, he took up a small china vase, and out of mere embarrassment because his hand trembled, he let it slip, and it fell into the fender, and smashed itself into twenty pieces.

    A curious sort of shame in his face, and this awkwardness, made me see that he really had something important to say, and I thought it could not well be anything unworthy because it concerned his brother.

    He began—

    'You have been so generous, and so gentle, since I came home, and somehow, D. dear, you are so much handsomer than I expected, that you have more than once—I do not deny it—made me waver in my allegiance to Lucy; but—'

    'No more of this!' I exclaimed; 'if you are unmanly enough to feel so, you would not be ridiculous enough to say it, if you knew what it makes me think of you.'

    'That,' he replied, 'was only by way of opening.  You need not be so warm.  I'm coming to St. George, and you know he is a very clever fellow.'

    'Yes.'

    'My father used to hope that some day he would get into Parliament and distinguish himself.'

    'Well, Valentine?—this is an odd beginning.'

    'I shouldn't like to stand in his light,' said the Oubit, looking almost sheepish; 'I shouldn't like to think that what I've done would be any disadvantage to him.'

    I wondered what he was thinking of now, and more when he said.

    'Giles has never had any attachment, you know—any particular attachment, as I have.'

    'Indeed.'

    'Why, of course,' he continued, arguing partly with himself and partly with me, 'if he had I must have known it.  He's always been so jolly too, so sure things would come right, and so disgusted if a fellow ventured to be sentimental.  A man who finds his pleasure in adventure, in knocking about the world, and public speaking, and politics, passes over domestic matters lightly.  Love, so important to some men, and to most women, he could soon tread down and push away even if it came—'

    'Indeed.'

    'You are curt this morning.'

    'Because you made me suppose you really had something important to say, and now you are merely occupying the time with a dissertation on your brother's character.'

    'But that's what I want to say—he—in spite of all that, he has a vein of chivalry in his thoughts about women, which sways him so much that I believe—yes, I almost believe—if he thought any one—or indeed I—was what I wanted to tell you—'

    'Do go on, Valentine; what can it be?'

    'I believe if he thought my having thrown you by,—and I'm sure I beg your pardon,—I believe he has such a chivalrous nature, that, rather than such a thing should be any disadvantage to you, he would propose to marry you himself.'

    For the moment I felt as if Valentine's idea of what St. George might do was more noble than what he had done.  'Are you in earnest?' I exclaimed; 'do you mean this?  Does it at all occur to you to consider what a noble generous nature you are imputing to him?' and he blushed and looked so sheepish, that I was impelled to go on: 'You need not suppose, however, that any such disadvantage will accrue to me.  I do not see that your fault reflects itself upon me in any way whatever.'

    Valentine's face shocked me so then, both for old affection's sake, and from present deterioration, that I burst into tears, for I was so ashamed of him—it seemed so plain from his manner that he knew he was acting hypocritically.

    'And so,' he went blundering on, 'as I felt that after all you have a constant nature, not affected by my inconstancy (which I could not help) I felt that it was my duty to warn you, so that you might not be annoyed by an offer that naturally would hurt you—your sense of what was due to yourself; for, as you have said, this has been no disadvantage to you; and I am sure you would never wish to be a disadvantage to him, poor fellow!'

    'Stop!' I burst out as soon as I could speak; 'I can't bear you to make me despise you so!'

    'What!' he answered, not able to fire up in the least, but more than ever crest-fallen and ashamed of himself, 'can you really think, D.—do you really suppose that I was trying to keep you mine, in case I should fail with Lucy?'

    'If you are not,' I replied, crying heartily,—'if such a thought never entered your head, say so like a gentleman,—like a man, and I will believe you.'

    He blustered a little, and tried to get off with some protestations as to the high respect he felt for me, but he, could not say what I had asked of him; and when I inquired how he could presume to talk to me of constancy, he, very cross, and very much out of countenance too, replied, that he only wanted me to be warned in time.

    'You are determined to drive me out of his house,' I exclaimed; 'and the very first day that I can, you may depend on it I shall go.'

    'He certainly will make you an offer,' cried Valentine.  'But perhaps,' he added, with a sudden flash of astonishment, which probably arose from some new reflection on what Giles had looked or said,—'perhaps he has done that already.'

    'No,' I answered,—sure for once of what he was, and what the other was not,—he is very good, and very noble, but this he has not done.  If he had, it would be no affair of yours.'

    'Then he will,' said Valentine angrily, 'I know he will;' and I, deciding then and there what should be and what must be if he did, replied,—

    'Then, IF HE does, I shall accept him.'

    I had never felt so astonished in my life, and it was at myself.

    And I meant it all too; but it was scarcely spoken when, drying away the tears from my face, I beheld Mrs. Crayshaw and Giles advancing into the room, and talking as they came.

    One instant, and less, was enough to show her Valentine's confusion and my tears, and without changing her voice, she seemed to go on as with a sudden thought.  'But you must let me go and see my baby first;' and so she turned, and quietly leaving the room she shut the door behind her, while Giles, advancing to the sofa, laid his hand on the high end of it, and exclaimed, with considerable indignation,—'This is the second time you have offended in this way.  What have you dared to say to Dorothea?'

    Valentine did not answer a single word; but I knew I had no power over him.  When he did speak, he could say what he chose.

    But Giles I could do something with to prevent their quarrelling; so I laid my hand down on his, and kept it there.

    He could not well move away then; but in a high state of indignation he again demanded of Valentine how he had dared to annoy me.  And the Oubit, instead of answering, looked at him, and while he looked his handsome face changed, till I thought I saw again the better, sweeter expression of his boyhood.  His good angel, perhaps, was pleading with him; and when Giles broke out into invectives, and said several angry and bitter things, he not only could not answer, but a kind of joy appeared in his face, and then there came the frank beautiful blush that I had several times so much admired.

    He looked his brother full in the face, waiting till he should pause, and still leaning on the mantelpiece.  And I, keeping my hand in its place, wondered how much of the truth had dawned an him, and wondered what he would say; but when he did speak, oh how displeased I was!

    'It's only three months,' be began, 'since first I saw Lucy, and we've kissed each other dozens and dozens of times—'

    'How dare you! how dare you!' exclaimed Giles, stung to the quick, and glowing with passionate indignation that almost seemed to choke him.  'What object can you have in saying this to me, unless you know how I shall feel under it?'

    I put my other hand to his, and with both of them held it gently in its place.  I felt how wildly the pulse went.  'Don't quarrel,' I entreated.  'Now, Valentine, say the rest of it.'

    Valentine had been arrested by surprise.

    'You have always been careless,' Giles burst out.  'You have been heartless lately; but I have deserved better of you than that you should torment me in this way, and you know it.  Do you think either that there is no one in the world whom I love better than myself, or that I will suffer any words from you that are meant for the least disparagement of her!'

    Whatever dawning suspicions may have been awakened in Valentine's breast were so immensely over-justified by this outburst of complete betrayal, this absolute throwing away of reserve on the part of Giles, that for the moment he stood amazed.

    'Well, Valentine?—well, Valentine?' I repeated.

    'Don't be angry, old fellow,' said Valentine, advancing a step or two, and speaking with the gentleness they sometimes used to one another when either was irritated,—'Don't be angry, hear me out.  That young lady' (looking at me)—'I am not to address her by the old name now, it seems, and I have not yet thought of another—I told you I had kissed Lucy many times—but I never kissed that young lady in my life, Giles—never once—never! no, never.'

    Giles heaved up a mighty sobbing sigh,—he was not master of the situation; he had pinned his heart upon his sleeve at last, and for the moment it had seemed that this 'daw' had pecked at it!

    Generous people, though they may be wholly on the right side of any quarrel, sometimes feel keenly any little wrong they may have done in the small details of it.  Giles, trying to calm himself, presently said, 'I beg, your pardon.'

    'What for?' Valentine inquired.

    Giles was now rather holding my hand than I his.

    'What for?' Valentine repeated.

    'I need not have been so angry; and last night, it seems, I need not have been so hard upon you.  I did not understand that was all—'

    'Do you mean that I did not understand?  That was not my fault, Giles, was it? But you are always so reserved.'

    Then, while Giles stood stockstill, trying to overcome his temper and his surprise, the Oubit came and sat down near and opposite to us.

    'You shouldn't have let me do this to you,' he said gently, but almost reproachfully; 'and perhaps it has been going on a long time—perhaps even my father knew of it.'

    Then Giles making no answer, his eyes seemed to be opened more and more.  'Did he, D. ?' was his inquiry.

    'I think so.'

    'You have been very generous to me,' continued Valentine, becoming more and more his old self every instant.  'Curious,' he went on, lifting up his face as if to think,—'very curious!  You gave up to me all,—so that I might have married her and never have known.  And yet nothing short of all would have given you back all as you have it now; for,' he continued, with his own remarkable frankness, 'it would not have been in human nature, Giles, to have neglected her, forgotten her, and thrown her by, for another woman, if I had known that another man was waiting for her, even though that man had been you.  No; I feel now that the least opposition would have kept me true.  Ask him to forgive me, D.'

    'I do not think he had anything to forgive you for TILL TO-DAY.'

    By this time they were both very hard put to it to preserve that mastery over emotion, or rather the appearance of that absence of emotion, so dear to the pride of an Englishman.

    It is astonishing in how short a time the most important affairs can be transacted, and how little dignity there is in conversations on which depend the most important event in some of our lives.

    Set and sustained sentences there were none then; only a great outbreak, a sudden subduing of it, a certain thing discovered, a little broken evidence of affection,—all the rest taken for granted; then the grasp of two hands, and the younger of the party turned round half-choked, and 'bolted.'

    I would fain call his exit by a grander name, if I could with the least approval of my conscience; but if men will be so very much ashamed of showing their feelings even to their own brothers, they must either run away, or be comforted, as I endeavoured to comfort Giles, by putting my cheek down also on his hand and kissing it.


 
CHAPTER XXXVI.


THE next day the Crayshaws departed, and when St. George found I had arranged to be fetched away on Saturday, he was at first unreasonably vexed.  My situation, however, had been eminently uncomfortable almost ever since Valentine's return; now it was comical besides.

    The first time I met him after the scene in the drawing-room, he threw himself into a chair and exhausted himself with laughter.  'No,' he exclaimed; 'I never hoped to see this day!  There is no misfortune in this world that I could not be consoled for, by the fun of seeing Giles make a muff of himself—Giles in love!'

    It never was of the slightest use being angry with Valentine, but I felt that to remain under his eyes any longer was quite impossible.

    In the afternoon came what Valentine had predicted.  When Giles found I would go, he said that to offer his hand so soon was, he felt, to give himself no chance of its being accepted.  I replied that he was right, and that I could not think of such matters at present.  Whereupon he immediately did make an offer in set terms, giving much the same reasons for this that Valentine had mentioned.  I did decline it.  This did not seem to disturb him at all.  He said he meant to tell Dick à Court, and perhaps Miss Braithwaite, as a great secret, that he had been refused, and then it would become known in the neighbourhood.  He believed he must have made this proposal even if he had not loved me.

    'And now,' he went on, 'I ask you, as the greatest favour possible, to reflect, seriously, on the many disadvantages of the marriage that I hope one day to propose to you again.'

    'The disadvantages?'

    'Yes; as you remarked yourself, the disadvantages are sometimes what reconcile. (They satisfy, I suppose, the craving for self-sacrifice.)  I thought it was very sweet of you.'

    'You have many singular thoughts!  But I had better hear the disadvantages.'

    'There's my temper,—I am afraid my temper is sometimes rather stormy.'

    'Is it?  I shall not allow you to call that a disadvantage—not an attractive one at least.  I do not like a man to be so tame that he cannot fire up on any occasion whatever.'

    'Then I am so ugly.'

    'You don't think so yourself.'

    'Some allowance must be made for the self-conceit of man.'

    'And nobody else does.'

    'That shows their bad taste.'

    'And I don't.'

    'You don't!  I understood that you did, and I have been hideously ugly ever since.'

    'All this is because I once said that portrait of you was flattered.'

    'Yes, that blue-eyed muff, as Emily called it.  Nobody but the dear old man could bear the sight of it.'

    'If you cannot think of any better disadvantages than these,—'

    'You will be obliged to point them out yourself?  But I can.  There is my having no profession.'

    'That is one, I confess.  I wonder how it came to pass?'

    'It came first from my mother and Mr. Mortimer being so desirous that I should take orders.  I did not feel that "call" which the English office makes indispensable, and I knew very well that my mind was too active to rest satisfied in the steady fixed routine of a clergyman's life, with little chance of roving.  So they sent me to travel, while, as they thought, I made up my mind.  Then it came, secondly, from my having, as soon as I was of age, about eight hundred pounds a year, and discovering that if my time was given in addition to that money, and I bought bits of land here and there, I could help people over to them.  As long as I remained unmarried, I expected to make a regular occupation of that.'

    'Surely you cannot have settled all those people that I know of with eight hundred a year!  How little my uncle has effected in the world with almost seven thousand.'

    'Some few things that I have written have brought in money also; but while Mr. Mortimer lived I had no more income.  Now it is about doubled.'

    'Is it too late then to have some regular occupation or profession?'

    'Certainly not; the thing is half-arranged already.  I found I must have regular work, when coming home after rushing about the world on purpose to forget you, I thought I had managed to do it to a great degree, and was undeceived by being with you for a few days.  You are afraid of cows, you know,—cows with long horns.  I was despicably near betraying myself when I had to remain and take care of you then!  If I had—How strange it was of Valentine to say those words to me yesterday!—I think they were true.'

    I felt that they had been true: it was security that had made him neglectful; and this he never would have had, had he known of his formidable rival.

    Giles went on,—'Sometimes I wonder what became of the ring I gave you.'

    'It is at the bottom of the sea.  I told Valentine that you had given me a ring for a remembrance when first we were acquainted.  I thought also that he told you everything.  So when we were engaged, I wished him to know this that he might think nothing of it, and you that you might not think I carelessly neglected to wear it.'

    'At the bottom of the sea, is it?'

    'Yes.  We lay at anchor in a lovely little cove, and they were taking in water.  I was leaning over the bulwarks looking at the superb pale cliffs like shafts of cinnamon, and at the clear blue water, so deep and yet showing the wonderful sea flowers, the pink and orange anemones, spreading below.  I had on a chain and a locket hanging to it, with a little piece of my mothers hair within, and that ring.  And as I looked down and down, and saw the swaying of the long leaves of dulse, the chain slipped from my neck, flashed like a gold snake into the water, and seemed to eddy down under layers of the dulse.  The people spent two days in trying to find it.  Such wonderful creatures and plants and shells came up by drags and in buckets, but not my locket and my ring.  No wonder, for it was below the tide line, and the water was forty feet deep.  This was on the coast of South America.  It was the only morsel of our mother's hair that we had.  Tom made a dot on the chart to show the exact latitude and longitude where these treasures went down.'

    'Valentine never told me that.'

    I was working in the morning room while we talked thus.  He presently began to speak of the Mompessons; two or three tears had dropped on my hand, for his manner so gentle and easy, and his face so full of hope and happiness, touched me more now than any sorrow of my own.  But he loved far too much.  I could not answer this love, and I wanted—I knew I wanted to get away from him and rest.

    I could not say anything so unkind, but I did say how much I wanted Tom, and asked him to try if he could not be a brother to me.

    He answered, 'We have caused you nothing but misery, both Valentine and I.'

    'Have you?'

    'But you do not want to forget?'

    'No; and if I would, I could forget nothing.'

    'For the sake of which brother, then, Dorothea, are you content to remember the other?'

    'I am not so ungrateful as you think, nor so undiscerning.  I am not willing to forget you on any term—on any terms whatever!'

    'If that be so,' he answered, 'I will venture to ask you one question more: Have you any wish that you could care more for me? should you be glad to love me if you could?'

    Perhaps that was a singular question to ask; but, however that may be, it was a question that I found suitable, and to which I could answer frankly, 'Yes.'

    'Then,' he answered gravely and gently, 'I will teach you to love me, my sweet, if you will let me.'

    Our circumstances were most peculiar.  I felt it, and was never equal to the making of philosophical reflections; I am not equal to that sort of thing now; but I know that when I heard those words, I was exceedingly glad—very much comforted.  I saw no evidence of over self-esteem in them, nothing but a confidence not at all misplaced.

    Saturday came.  I had a terror upon me of leave-taking; not even the servants could I think of speaking to and shaking hands with, without alarm.  As to Valentine, it made me nervous to think what I could say to him.  Emily found this out, and Giles knew it by instinct.  Soon after breakfast they got me to put my out-of-doors dress on and step into the garden with them.  A few primroses were in flower already and the snowdrops.  When we had reached the wood, Emily kissed me and retired.  Sister and Liz soon came up, stood talking a few minutes, then they also found occasion to kiss me, and went away.

    'We are not going back into the house any more,' said Giles; 'the carriage will come in about an hour to the corner of the wood—Emily in it.'

    'Oh, how kind of you to think of this! how considerate you all are!'

    He brought me up the slope to that little one-roomed cottage where I had spent such a bitter morning.  The sun was warm upon its small casement.  I went in and saw again the wicker couch, and the white embers as we had left them.  And then, just as Valentine had done long ago in the railway carriage, he asked me to give him a kiss.  I replied, 'You promised to teach me to love you.  If I can learn, it will be time enough for that.'  Thereupon drawing nearer he immediately took me in his arms and kissed me on the lips and cheeks.  The first sensation of astonishment over, I released myself from him (as soon as he would let me), and exclaimed involuntarily, 'Valentine told you that he never did anything of that kind.'

    'Then I hope he never saw your sweet face cover itself with such blushes,' he answered, with a low laugh of heartfelt amusement.  'But that was an extraordinary circumstance; I wonder how it happened.'

    I replied, 'It happened partly because I never should have thought of allowing it.'

    'How did you prevent it?' he inquired with gentle deference, as he pulled the couch forward for me to sit on.

    'I made a compact with him at first.  I said he was not to be—absurd.'

    'You did?  But sit down, my Margarita, my pearl, and tell me about this.  You know it is my last day with you.'

    He had pushed the couch into a sunny place, then he brought a long piece of matting, by way of a carpet for me, and chose to kneel on it, with his elbow on the seat of the couch, and look up.  Something of the beauty I had seen when we two watched for Valentine in the night, had dawned upon his face.  That strange fancy about a loveliness and sweetness which his own heart supplied, made him look as if he had got up into some higher and happier sphere.  There was nothing for it but either to weep, or to rally my spirits and laugh.  I chose the latter, and said, 'I shall not say another word till you get up.'

    'Why not? why should I not be here?' he answered, and laughed also.

    'Because—partly because I do not care to see you make yourself ridiculous.'

    'What! are you sensitive about my making myself ridiculous?'

    'Yes, indeed.'

    'A pleasant hearing!  But to make themselves ridiculous in this fashion is natural to mankind.—How charming it is to me to see you blush!—Do tell me about that compact.'

    'I shall not say another word till you rise and sit on the chair.'

    'This sofa will do as well; I may sit beside you—Valentine never once kissed you!  What could he mean by it?'

    This was not by any means the view I had intended him to take of Valentine's conduct; but I had declined his homage, and I was to be rallied instead.

    'I said to you that I should not have chosen to allow it,' I replied.

    'Sweet little peremptory voice!  Valentine knew what he was about when he told me that.  And all this talk, too, is like Enchanted English—it floats over to me with a comforting charm.  This is a delightful hour, Margarita?'

    'Yes.'

    'Considering how badly that plan answered, I can hardly be expected to follow it.  I must look at his conduct in that particular as a warning.'

    'He did not say I had never kissed him.  I did once, because it was necessary.'

    'Necessary?  You are a strange creature—strange as sweet.  Tell me why it was necessary.'

    I told him, and he pondered over the little narrative for a while, saying, 'He had told me several times before that day that he knew you loved him.  I treated it with scorn always; that day I went and fetched him home and told him he was right.—Well, this is something like a confidence on your part: people only talk confidentially to those whom they trust.'

    'I suppose not

    'And like.'

    'Yes.'

    'Did you talk so to Valentine when first you and he were friends?'

    'Not exactly.'

    'Why do you hesitate and look so delightfully, shy? I have never thought you shy.  Does this place disturb you with recollections?  I hate to think it was here I refused to do the one thing you asked of me.'

    'Yes, I wondered at that: I asked you to pray or me.'

    'And how could I do it?  I could not send up such a lie to Heaven.  I could not pray at all in your hearing without gross hypocrisy, when I knew that, even with no hope on my own account, I found the failure of that marriage such a respite, such a reprieve.'

    'As you could not do that, you are going to grant me a favour now.'

    'Yes, I am; what is it?'

    'You are going to try faithfully and earnestly to see through the glamour with which you have invested me;—all this beauty and sweetness that you have invented yourself.  I should prefer that you would see me as I am—with such good qualities as I have, and not these.'

    'Very well,' he answered, and folding his arms, as it seemed, between joke and earnest, he began to look at me quietly and attentively.  I soon found that I had done no good by this request of mine.  Moreover, looking at him from time to time, it seemed, strangely enough, that his whole face and figure, his voice and his words, were fast acquiring a beauty and an interest that I had never found in them before.

    'And these good qualities that you really have,' he said at last, 'may I hear what they are, my pearl?  What is your "favourite Virtue"? tell me that I may admire and cherish it.'

    'Certainly,' I answered; 'lest, when you find out your mistake, you should under-estimate me, for a change.  I can be docile and faithful; I am not unreasonable in my requirements; and I never forget.'

    He looked at me.  'These shall be added,' he replied, 'and I will, since you wish it, try to feign you other than you are.  In return I ask you what you think you should feel in my place?'

    'How can I tell?  I flatter myself that I am without illusions as regards Margarita.'

    'Ah, you laugh.'  Then changing his manner, 'You are very fond of little children?'

    'Yes, I love them.'

    'Can you feign yourself in the place of some poor woman who, being in prison, sees her child outside, and hears it cry, in another woman's arms?  Do you think that hers would ache for it,—specially if that other neglected it, starved it, and was cruel?  Can you feign yourself in the place of such a woman?  If you can, how would you feel in the place of a man whose dearest object in life had eluded his grasp before he had felt the comfort of expression and avowal?  Think how impatience and regret and long restraint would wound and wear him.  Can you tell how such a man would feel if he saw the blessing that his nature craved carelessly used or roughly hurt by its owner?  If you can, then do you also think that when, as through some blissful enchantment, contrary to all sober hope, he found this being that he loved flung away, and lying on his breast, he would weary of holding her there?  Or would he find in her a long consolation—a once forbidden thing made holy and right for him?  Would he comfort her for what she had lost? would he be patient with her regrets for the past?  Tell me whether he would, and whether you can sympathize with him?'

    Silence then.  And soon after the grating of the carriage wheels at the corner of the wood.  We went together to it, and so on to the station.  Emily was within.  St. George and I were both absolutely silent; and when he had put us into the carriage to go on together to the junction, where we were to meet Mr. Mompesson, he took leave of me with scarcely a word.

    That same evening I entered my new home.  Such a quiet, pleasant home; such a comfortable, easy, and indulgent hostess; and such an affectionate host!  There was nothing to do, and I entered on a willing course of idleness, which it still surprises me to think of.  Nature is evidently sometimes in need of repose my nature certainly wanted it; and I need to lie on the sofa for hours, in the gay little drawing-room, reading some book that amused me, or doing a piece of fancywork.  Also I had a letter,—a remarkably long letter, which I often read over; the only real love letter I ever received.  It was put into my hand at the station, and being written in a clear, round hand was easy to read, wonderful to ponder on, and very convincing as well as comforting.

    I had pictured to myself that I should be so useful in the house, act like a daughter, save trouble to my kind hostess, and read aloud in the evening to my old friend.  Nothing of the sort happened.  Mrs. Mompesson had lately lost her two elder children by fever; the other two were delicate, and were kept very much in one temperature.  I used to pity them sometimes, and go into their nice airy nursery to tell them stories, when the day was not fine enough for them to go out of doors; but beyond this, and doing a little needlework for Mrs. Mompesson, I do not think I undertook any kind of useful occupation, and I soon perceived that no species of exertion was required of me.

    The only day of the week when I felt restless was Tuesday, because then I always had a letter from Mr. Brandon.  It was not a love letter,—so he always said, for I had made an agreement with him that he was to write in a brotherly fashion, and try to be reasonable.  These letters were very interesting, very amusing to me, and a great resource; but the better I liked them, the harder it was to answer.  This cost me a great deal of thought, and evidently betrayed to him the fact that absence was obliterating that intimate ease which we had begun to feel in one another's society.  I began to feel afraid of him, and my letters through February and March grew shorter and more reserved constantly.

    But the second week in March saw me suddenly, almost in one day, quite well, perfectly active, and as strong as ever.  The sofa was intolerable.  I began to teach the children, take long walks with them, and wonder why it was that I had been so inert.  I began also to copy out Mr. Mompesson's sermons for him in a clear hand.  This was a duty that his wife had long performed, but she was very glad to hand it over to me; and it was soon made more interesting, by his dictating them to me in the morning, instead of composing them in his study and giving me the manuscript.  His sight was not good, and his handwriting being small, he could not read it in the pulpit.

    On the second Tuesday in April there was no letter.  The perversity of human nature being very great, I was disappointed.  Still I thought it must be because Giles would shortly appear; and I went out into the 'landslip,' and walked with the children among the green trees, all delicate with their freshly-opening leafage.

    As I walked on the narrow pathway, lost in pleasant thoughts, a gentleman, whom I had not looked at, stepped aside to let me pass; and when I moved carelessly by, a delightful voice said, 'Dorothea.'  I looked up at him.  No pretence of shyness could survive such an unpremeditated meeting: before there was time to consider he had expressed his delight at meeting me, and I had shown him my delight at seeing him again.

    We turned back, and walked homeward with the children.  There was always an early dinner, but if Mrs. Mompesson had not expected a guest that day, I felt that I was very much mistaken; and if Mr. Mompesson had not put on his best coat, and otherwise furbished himself up, I felt that my eyes deceived me.

    It was nearly four o'clock before we left the dining-room.  Then Giles said he had brought some papers to be signed.  He had been made my trustee under the marriage settlement which never was completed, and my uncle now wanted to take back some property that had been made over to him for my benefit.  I think this was the account he gave of his errand, and he went away telling me he should return in the evening.  It was warm and fine, the French window was open, and I was sitting by it, when, in the gathering darkness, I saw him returning.  He seemed unwilling to startle me, and did not enter till I spoke.  What a little while it was since he had read me Valentine's letter!  Yet I was not now ashamed to feel that my heart had turned to him, and in my silent thoughts I vowed him a life-long fealty, and gave him my love and allegiance for evermore.

    Finding that he did not speak, but stood looking at me, as the moon pushed up a little rim from the sea, and shone on us with a yellow feeble light, I mentioned Valentine for the first time, and asked about his affairs.

    He answered, 'I said to you this morning that I had come on business.  I meant to have unfolded it all, but changed my mind.  It concerns Valentine.  It is high time that he should think of sailing.'

    'And Lucy?'

    'I have seen Lucy again.'

    'She will sail too?'

    'That depends.'

    'On what does it depend, and on whom?'

    'On you.'

    'But I gave my full consent long ago, and I wrote to her.  What more can I do?'

    'What do you think?  She cannot make up her mind that she shall not wrong you by such a marriage.'

    'I can but assure her that it is not so.'

    'She is not easy to persuade; she is thoughtful, and I like and admire her.  She would improve and elevate Valentine, and I suppose she loves him.'

    'And you believe that he really loves her?'

    'Yes, heartily.'

    'And he must not risk another winter in England?'

    'No.  And I promised you that I would promote their marriage.  She did indeed suggest a proof of your contentedly resigning Valentine, that it was possible you might one day give.  She said it would be enough, and I considered that her words gave me a right to invade your quietude before the time you had mentioned.  The real proof of Valentine's being free would be your becoming engaged to another man.'

    As he said no more, I presently observed, with a certain demureness, that I thought such a proof ought to satisfy any woman.

    'What may I say to her?' he asked.

    'Unless you can think of a more appropriate answer, you may say that (entirely, of course, for her sake) I will take the first opportunity that presents itself of obliging her.'

    I could hardly believe it, when, an hour after this, the candles coming in, I took occasion to look at the pearl ring that I had got on my finger.  It had seemed natural enough while we were alone together that I should be engaged again; and I felt that the kind of deference which was habitual with him gave him power and mastery far more than any of his reasons and persuasions,—more, indeed, than anything but the love itself which now he had scarcely skill either to conceal or to express.

    Considering that he was a little inclined to be jealous now and then, a little unreasonably vexed when it occurred to him that I had lately been quite willing to marry some one else, it was a very fortunate circumstance for me that just at first we had a good deal to do: letters to write to Anne Molton, letting her know what of my possessions she was to send me home, what she might keep for herself, and what was to be the property of Mrs. Valentine Mortimer; letters to my uncle and to Tom, these latter being copied and sent to three different ports, as their best chance of being received.

    Then I wrote to Lucy, and to Lucy's mother, and St. George superintended—made suggestions now and then, which I copied in; and so when we read the letters aloud afterwards, we discovered that the grammar was confused, and that fresh letters must be undertaken.  He also wrote to Valentine several times, setting forth his views as to what would be the best line of action for him to take; but in these last a feminine instinct warned me to show as little interest as possible.

    I had presently shoals of letters from the family, full of love and congratulations.  Dick à Court, also, as hoping soon to be one of the family, wrote, and delivered his soul of various earnest reflections on life, and love, and duty.  I found it very difficult to answer this effusion from my future husband's future step brother-in-law.  Giles, however, read it, and said Dick was a dear good fellow, and that, next to commanding intellect, he thought there was nothing so attractive as honest and sober dulness.  So I answered it in the light of that opinion, and began to share it.

    Sometimes Giles had to go away for a few days.  I should have been almost perfectly happy when we were together, but for his now and then choosing to talk of marriage.  I was nervous still about this, and could not bring myself to believe that I ever should be married.  I would not hear of such things as bridesmaids, a cake, wedding guests, wedding presents.  I soon brought Giles to agree that none of these alarming adjuncts should come near me.

    Though I had no intention of hurrying my own wedding, I considered that Lucy and Lucy's mother were very unreasonably slow in making up their minds; and the more delicate Valentine became, the more tardy they were in fixing a day.

    Mrs. Mompesson seemed to think this very natural, and one morning being called to our counsel by Giles, I observed her looking so very grave over one of Mrs. Nelson's letters that I begged her to tell us what she thought of it.

    She thought it seemed uncommonly like breaking the whole thing off.  'They were both very young—their means were not large—his health was so delicate; but she would consult her brother-in-law, and had no doubt he would agree with her to allow it.'

    I was very much vexed with Mrs. Nelson, not only for poor Valentine's sake, but because anything which seemed to threaten uncertainty as to his prospects made me feel that St. George was inclined to be jealous still.  I was sometimes quite hurt, and often a little displeased, that he could dare to be jealous; but I would not venture to say anything on the subject.  I wanted to ignore the feeling altogether, till I should have made him quite forget that he had ever entertained it.

    In the mean time I was perfectly aware that new papers and paint, with certain renewings of carpets and hangings, were in progress at Wigfield.  I remarked to Giles that it was early days to think of these things yet, with any reference to me; and he replied much as Valentine had done, only with gentlemanlike deference, that 'time would show;' he thought it behooved him, he remarked, to have his house ready at any time, as ours was not like an ordinary engagement.

    'In what respect?' I asked.

    No preparations were needed,—no guests were to attend,—my trousseau, filling many boxes, was already at Wigfield,—we had no one to consult: it was evident that I could be married whenever I pleased.  'As the settlements,' he went on, 'I told your uncle what possessed when first I hoped to win you; and he said then what he should wish me to settle on you.'

    On the afternoon when he talked thus he was going away, partly to superintend some alterations at Wigfield, and partly to consult with Dick, who, having come into about eighty pounds a year, thought with the thousand that Liz was to have, and his curacy, that they might set up housekeeping; and as sister said they could not, and Emily was indignant at the very idea, Dick wanted to go abroad, get a chaplaincy somewhere in India, or go to Australia.

    I felt very sorry for them all when I got his first letter.  Mrs. Nelson had now distinctly proposed that the young people should, wait two years; at the end of which time she hoped Valentine's health would be restored.  Lucy had consented with as much docility, and it seemed as much contentment, as if Valentine's life, health, and love were all secured to her by special contract with Heaven.  Valentine, on the other hand, was in a fury.  He had been allowed to believe that the whole thing depended on me; he was incensed with Mrs. Nelson, deeply hurt with Lucy, and the summer weather having now come on, and brought his summer health with it, he desired to go and show himself at once at Derby.  But this Mrs. Nelson declined; he was to wait awhile.  All this was detailed to me by Giles and Mrs. Henfrey by letter; and I could not but think that his health was what really alarmed Mrs. Nelson, for she had not shown any remarkable delicacy about appropriating him on my account; all this had come from the daughter.

    I wrote to Giles begging that he would exhort Valentine to patience, and also to importunity.  In the mean time I took everything very easily myself, and when Giles came back and declared that it the Nelsons would not let Valentine marry at once, he would give up this engagement also, I could not believe it; such a thing would so cover him with ridicule; besides he loved Lucy, and she was supposed to love him.

    Giles took me out for a walk, and presently, as we sat on a lovely grass slope looking out to sea, he began to ask me to fix the time for our wedding.

    I begged him to leave it for a time.  I could not believe that it would really take place, and wanted to rest in the peace and happiness of the present.  But this view he did not share, and at last I proposed a day,—a distant one certainly,—and he was so dissatisfied with it that I asked him what his own views were.  He replied, and laughed, that he thought next Wednesday would be a good day.

    'Next Wednesday!' I exclaimed in amazement 'why, this is Thursday.'

    But there was no preparation needed, he replied, and the lovely white dress I had on would surely do to be married in.  Wednesday had always been his favourite day; he should like to be married on a Wednesday.

    I began to look at my white gown; and he, choosing to consider that I was yielding to his arguments, began to press me further, till, becoming extremely nervous, I begged him to desist, and confessed how completely the notion that something (I could not shape to myself any idea what) would certainly intervene to prevent the marriage.  It was the only remnant of the terror and suspense I had gone through, and when he reasoned with me it became more vivid, till at last he asked what I could possibly suppose would intervene.  It must be a presentiment of death, he remarked; nothing else could part us.  No; it was not death; I could give no account of it.  He wished to persuade me that it was nothing but a nervous fancy, that the longer I indulged it the worse it would become.

    What could possibly put it into his head, I inquired, that I would be married so soon.  Next Wednesday indeed!  And though he argued the matter all the way home, and laughed a good deal over it, yet, as it had been proposed only half in earnest, he gave it up with a very good grace.  But the next morning when he came to see me, I could not help observing that he was out of spirits,—so much out of spirits, that I really did not like to ask him the reason.  We went to walk in the 'landslip,' and sat down, and then he told me what was the matter.  He had got a letter from Valentine; Mrs. Nelson declined to make any change as to the two years that he was to wait; he had positively refused to wait, and she had accordingly desired that he would return her daughter's letters and give up the engagement; which he had done!

    I was more than disturbed at this, I was even shocked.  That Valentine should make himself ridiculous and behave ill, was nothing; but that Giles should condescend to be jealous of him now (and he made this very evident) was more than I could bear, and I spoke to him with an asperity that I am sure astonished him; and when he answered gently, I burst into tears.  This I could not bear.

    'And he wants to come down here,' said Giles.

    'He shall not come,' I answered; 'I will not have him here.'

    'Surely, my dearest, you are not afraid of seeing him again.'

    Afraid!  Oh, how my whole heart rebelled against such an idea! But I insisted that he should not come, he was always making some mischief in what concerned me; there would be no more peace if he appeared; and being excessively hurt at seeing St. George's discomfiture, I declared that his being annoyed at this matter, jealous and disturbed, was almost cruel to me—very nearly insulting.

    'He shall not come,' I repeated.

    St. George answered that he did not know how to prevent it.  Valentine had left Wigfield, and gone with the Walkers to London.  They would take lodgings, and might not write to give him their address before Wednesday.  Valentine proposed to come on Thursday.

    Thereupon being destined to cure him of his jealousy once and for ever, but being only, to my own apprehension, very angry with Valentine, and feeling hurt at the distrust of my love, I replied,—not without some of the most passionate tears I had ever shed, and not without certain upbraidings too,—'Very well then; I said I would not be married on Wednesday—should not think of such a thing,—but rather than he should trouble my peace, and see that you condescend to be jealous of him,—I will!'

    If my recollection is correct, I said this in a somewhat threatening spirit against Valentine,—he should find me gone,—and as to Giles I certainly meant it to mark my sense of his conduct which was displeasing me.

    But when I dried my eyes, and saw his face; when I heard him say that he never would condescend to be jealous again as long as he lived; and when I found that as we walked home together he was very silent, and never said a word about Wednesday,—I could not summon courage to mention it either; but while I sat in my room waiting till it was dinner-time, and considering whether he would treat my words as if they had not been said with due consideration, Mrs. Mompesson came in.  'Love,' she said gently, 'Mr. Brandon wants you to go out fishing this afternoon; but if I buy the silk for you, the dress can easily be made by Wednesday.'

    This was said, I was certain, at St. George's instance, to discover whether I would hold to what I had said.  I sat a minute, lost in thought, but my good angel pleaded with me; St. George had gone through enough worry already, and too much, about me.  When could there be a more convenient time? and how could Valentine be kept from making me uncomfortable if he came?  I had determined as we walked home to let things be; so at last I said, 'He always promised me that I should walk to church through the fields.  So as he is rather infatuated about a white morning-gown that I have, it would be better that I should wear that.'  Thus the thing was settled.

    We had letters from New Zealand on Monday; and to my deep delight and thankfulness I found that my dear Anne Molton would never feel my not coming to my house there, as I had feared.  Anne had met with an excellent man, a missionary, and they had found each other so well suited that she had married him.  It was not till Tuesday, the very day before my wedding, that I let Giles write and tell them all at Wigfield.  I also, as well as he, wrote to Liz and Dick, and as Valentine was not now to go to New Zealand, we made over that house and everything in it to them.  Liz was to have it instead of her portion,—a right good exchange; for an English clergyman, as we had good reason to know, would be a most welcome arrival in that particular locality; and if he had not a church to begin his ministrations in, he would have a barn, on which Giles had worked many a day with his own hands; and Liz would have a garden that was the envy of the colony!

    I was very nervous; the days of snow and silence all over the country, during which I had waited for a wedding already, kept constantly recurring to me unless St. George was by, and he would not allude to the past.

    At last Wednesday came.  I woke, and could hardly believe it.  We breakfasted precisely as usual; then the two children and their parents set off on foot to the little quiet church, and Giles and I followed over two or three fields.  We sat down on a grassy bank, to put on some new gloves; these were not white, however, and I, though I wore a white dress, as I usually did in the morning, had no other bridal array.  I did not even then believe that all would go well. I had a vivid recollection of the telegrams.  But we rose, and he took me on to the church,—a little rural building that stood open.  There I saw Mr. Crayshaw, who had come from London to give me away,—and no one else at all but Mr. Mompesson with his white gown on, and Mrs. Mompesson with the children.

    The ceremony actually began, and I perceived, almost to my surprise, that we certainly were being married after all!  But as if it was quite impossible that anything concerning me could be done as other people do it, all on a sudden, while Giles held my hand, a thought seemed to flash straight out of his heart into mine, that he had forgotten the ring.  I was quite sure of it: he did not even put his finger into his waistcoat pocket, as a man might have done who had bought one and left it behind.  There was no ring; he had forgotten it.

    A pause.

    'Fanny,' said Mr. Mompesson; and Mrs: Mompesson, with all the good-will in the world, and with Mr. Crayshaw to help her, tried to get her ring off her dear, fat, friendly hand, and tried in vain.

    Giles almost groaned.  He had expected me to be more than commonly nervous; now seemed some ground for it; but real and sheer nervousness often goes off when there is anything to be nervous about, and I now felt very much at my ease, and whispered to Giles that a ring would be found somewhere.  So it was.  The clerk had darted out of the church at the first sight of Mrs. Mompesson's hand, and in a few minutes he returned, following a lovely, fresh-complexioned, young woman in a linen sun-bonnet, and with a fat, crowing baby on her arm.  She was out of breath, and coming up to Giles quickly, she thrust out her honest hand, and allowed him to draw her ring off, and marry me with it.  A healthy-looking young fellow, in a paper cap, which he presently removed, came slouching in after her, and looked on, unable, as it seemed, to repress an occasional grin of amusement; and when the ceremony was over, they followed us into the vestry, and we all sat talking a little while, till some rings were brought from a shop for me, and Giles chose one and paid for it.  Then I felt that I was Mrs. Brandon.

    He returned the ring he had used to the young woman, but I observed that she made her husband put it on for her again; and as he did so, he remarked to Giles, with a certain quaint complacency,—that wives wanted humouring; and for his part (he might be wrong) he considered it was their due.  Then in all good faith assuring him that he would never repent what he had that day done, he set his paper cap on his head, and retired with his family, while we, having taken leave of our friends, stepped out into the fields, and departed together to begin our story.




____________________________
University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge.

 


[Home] [Up] [Poems] [Story of Doom] [Monitions] [Old Days] [Poetical Works] [Allerton and Dreux] [Allerton and Dreux] [Fated to be Free] [Sarah De Berenger] [Don John] [John Jerome] [A Moto Changed] [Studies for Stories] [Stories Told to a Child] [A Sister's Bye-Hours] [Mopsa the Fairy] [Wonder Box Tales] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

 

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk