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Title: Nancy
Author: Broughton, Rhoda, 1840-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Nancy" ***

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                                NANCY:

                              _A NOVEL._

                          BY RHODA BROUGHTON.

AUTHOR OF "'GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART!'" "RED AS A ROSE IS SHE," ETC., ETC.


NEW YORK:
D. APPLETON & COMPANY,
549 & 551 BROADWAY.
1874.



    "As through the land at eve we went,
    And plucked the ripened ears,
    We fell out, my wife and I,
    Oh, we fell out, I know not why,
    And kissed again with tears."



NANCY.



CHAPTER I.


"Put into a small preserving pan three ounces of fresh butter, and, as
soon as it is just melted, add one pound of brown sugar of moderate
quality--"

"Not moderate; the browner the better," interpolates Algy.

"Cannot say I agree with you. I hate brown sugar--filthy stuff!" says
Bobby, contradictiously.

"Not half so _filthy_ as white, if you come to that," retorts Algy,
loftily, looking up from the lemon he is grating to extinguish his
brother. "They clear white sugar with but--"

"Keep these stirred gently over a clear fire for about fifteen minutes,"
interrupt I, beginning to read again very fast, in a loud, dull
recitative, to hinder further argument, "or until a little of the
mixture dipped into cold water breaks clear between the teeth without
sticking to them. When it is boiled to this point, it must be poured out
immediately or it will burn."

Having galloped jovially along, scorning stops, I here pause out of
breath. We are a large family, we Greys, and we are _all_ making taffy.
Yes, every one of us. It would take all the fingers of one hand, and the
thumb of the other, to count us, O reader. Six! Yes, six. A Frenchman
might well hold up his hands in astonished horror at the insane
prolificness--the foolhardy fertility--of British householders. We come
very _improbably_ close together, except Tou Tou, who was an
after-thought. There are no two of us, I am proud to say, exactly
simultaneous, but we have come tumbling on each other's heels into the
world in so hot a hurry that we evidently expect to find it a pleasant
place when we get there. Perhaps we do--perhaps we do not; friends, you
will hear and judge for yourselves.

A few years ago when we were little, people used to say that we were
quite a pretty sight, like little steps one above another. We are big
steps now, and no one any longer hazards the suggestion of our being
pretty. On the other hand, nobody denies that we are each as well
furnished with legs, arms, and other etceteras, as our neighbors, nor
can affirm that we are notably more deficient in wits than those of our
friends who have arrived in twos and threes.

We are in the school-room, the big bare school-room, that has seen us
all--that is still seeing some of us--unwillingly dragged, and painfully
goaded up the steep slopes of book-learning. Outside, the March wind is
roughly hustling the dry, brown trees and pinching the diffident green
shoots, while the round and rayless sun of late afternoon is staring,
from behind the elm-twigs in at the long maps on the wall, in at the
high chairs--tall of back, cruelly tiny of seat, off whose rungs we have
kicked all the paint--in at the green baize table, richly freaked with
splashes. Hardly less red than the sun's, are our burnt faces gathered
about the fire.

This fire has no flame--only a glowing, ruddy heart, on which the bright
brass saucepan sits; and kneeling before it, stirring the mess with a
long iron spoon, is Barbara. Algy, as I have before remarked, is grating
a lemon. Bobby is buttering soup-plates. The Brat--the Brat always takes
his ease if he can--is peeling almonds, fishing delicately for them in a
cup of hot water with his finger and thumb; and I, Nancy, am reading
aloud the receipt at the top of my voice, out of a greasy, dog's-eared
cookery-book, which, since it came into our hands, has been the innocent
father of many a hideous compound. Tou Tou alone, in consideration of
her youth, is allowed to be a spectator. She sits on the edge of the
table, swinging her thin legs, and kicking her feet together.

Certainly we deteriorate in looks as we go downward. In Barbara we made
an excellent start: few families a better one, though we say it that
should not. Although in Algy there was a slight falling off, it was not
much to complain of. But I am sensibly uglier than Algy (as indeed he
has, on several occasions, dispassionately remarked to me); the Brat
than me; Bobby than the Brat; and so steadily on, till we reach our
nadir of unhandsomeness in Tou Tou. Tou Tou is our climax, and we
certainly defy our neighbors and acquaintances to outdo her.

Hapless young Tou Tou! made up of the thinnest legs, the widest mouth,
the invisiblest nose, and over-visiblest ears, that ever went to the
composition of a child of twelve years.

"Keep stirring always! You must take care that it does not stick to the
bottom!" say I, closing the receipt-book, and speaking on my own
account, but still as one having authority.

"All very well to say 'Keep stirring always,'" answers Barbara, turning
round a face unavoidably pretty, even though at the present moment
deeply flame-colored; eyes still sweetly laughing with gay good-humor,
even though half burnt out of her head, to answer me; "but if you had
been stirring as long as I have, you would wonder that you had any arm
left to stir with, however feebly. Here, one of you boys, take a turn!
You Brat, you never do any thing for your living!"

The Brat complies, though not with eagerness. They change occupations:
the Brat stirs, and she fishes for almonds. Ten minutes pass: the taffy
is done, and what is more it really is taffy. The upshot of our cookery
is in general so startlingly indifferent from what we had intended, that
the result in the present case takes us by surprise. We all prove
practically that, in the words of the receipt-book, it "breaks clear
between the teeth without sticking to them." It is poured into Bobby's
soup-plate, and we have thrown up the window-sashes, and set it on the
ledge to cool. The searching wind blows in dry and biting. Now it is
rushing in a violent current through the room, for the door has opened.
Mother enters.

"To what may we attribute the honor of this visit?" says Algy, turning
away from the window to meet her, and setting her a chair. Bobby gives
her a kiss, and the Brat a lump of taffy, concerning which it would be
invidious to predicate which were the stickier; so exceedingly adhesive
are both.

"Your father says," begins she, sitting down. She is interrupted by a
loud and universal groan.

"Says what? Something unpleasant of course, who is it now? Who has done
any thing now? I do hope it is the Brat," cries Bobby, viciously; "it is
quite his turn; he has been good boy of the family for the last week."

"I dare say it is," replies the Brat, resignedly; "one can't expect such
prosperity as mine to last forever."

"Of course it is _I_," says Algy, rather bitterly, "it is always I. I
have never been good boy since I was ploughed; and, please God, I never
will be again."

"But what is it? what is it? About how bad is it? Is it to be one of our
worst rows?"

We are all speaking together at the top of our voices; indeed, we rarely
employ a lower key.

"It is no one; no one has done any thing," replies mother, when, at
last, we allow her to make herself heard, "only your father sends you a
message that, as Sir Roger Tempest is coming here to-day, he hopes you
will make less noise this evening in here than you did last night: he
says he could hardly hear the sound of his own voice."

"Ahem!" "Very likely!" "I dare say!" in different tones of angry
incredulity.

"He begs you to see that the swing-door is shut, as he does not wish his
friend to imagine that he keeps a private lunatic asylum."

A universal snort of indignation.

"If we are bedlamites, we know who made us so. We will tell old Roger if
he asks," etc.

"For my part," say I, resolutely pinching my lips together as I kneel on
the carpet, and violently hammer the now cold and hard taffy with the
handle of the poker, which in its day has been put to many uses vile, "I
can tell you that I shall not dine with you to-night: I should
infallibly say something to father--something unfortunate--I feel it
rising; and it would be unseemly to have one of our _émeutes_ before
this old gentleman, would not it?"

"They are nice breezy things when you are used to them," says Barbara,
laughing; "but one requires to be brought up to them."

"Do not you dine either, Brat," say I, looking up, and waving the poker
with suave command at him, "and we will broil bones for tea, and roast
potatoes on the shovel."

"Some of you must dine," says poor mother, rather wearily, "or your
father--"

"He cannot complain if we send our two specimen ones," say I, again
looking up, and indicating Barbara and Algy with my weapon, "our sample
figs: if Sir Robert--Sir Robin--Sir Roger--what is he?--does not see the
rest of us, he may perhaps imagine that we are all equally presentable,
which would be more to your credit, mother, than if Bobby and Tou Tou
and I were to be submitted to the poor old thing's notice."

Mother looks rather at sea.

"What are you talking about? What poor old thing? Oh! I understand."

"He will have to see us," says Tou Tou, rather lugubriously, "he cannot
help it--at prayers."

Tou Tou has descended from the table, and is standing propped against
mother's knee, twisting one leg with ingenious grace round the other.

"Bless your heart," says the Brat, comfortingly, "he will never find out
that we are there: do you suppose that his blear old eyes will see all
across that big room, economically lit up by one pair of candles?"

Mother smiles.

"Wait till you see whether he has blear eyes!"

"He must be very ancient," says Algy, in all the insolence of twenty,
leaning his flat back against the mantel-shelf, "as he was at school
with father."

"Father has not blear eyes," remarks Bobby, dryly. "Would God he had!
For then perhaps he would not see our little vices quite so clearly with
them as he does."

"But then father has not been in India," retorts Algy, stretching.
"India plays the deuce with one's organs and appurtenances."

"I wish you joy of him," say I, rising flushed and untidy from my knees,
having successfully smashed the taffy into little bits; "from soup to
walnuts, you will have to undergo a ceaseless tyranny of tales about
hitmaghars and dak bungalows and Choto Lazery: which of us has not
suffered in our day from the horrible monotony of ideas of an old
Indian?"

"Never you mind, Barbara!" cries the Brat, giving her a sounding
brotherly pat on the back. "Pay no attention to her."

"'What great events from trivial causes spring!' as the poet says: you
may live to bless the day that old Roger crossed our doors."

"As how?" says Barbara, laughing, and rocking herself backward and
forward in a veteran American rocking-chair which, at different periods
of our history, has served most of us the dirty turn of tipping us over,
and presenting us reversed to the eyes of our family.

"Never you mind," repeats the Brat, oracularly; "truth is stranger than
fiction! odd things happen: I read in the paper the other day of a man
who pulled up the window for an old woman in the train, and she died at
once--I do not mean on the spot, but very soon after, and when she
died--listen, please, all of you--" (speaking very slowly and
impressively)--"she left him _two thousand pounds_ a year."

"I wish I saw the application," answers Barbara, still rocking and
sighing.

"Mind that you set a stool for his gouty foot," says Algy, feeling for
his faint mustache, "and run and search for his spectacle-case, when he
has mislaid it."

"Seriously," say I, "what a grand thing it would be for the family if he
were to adopt you, Barbara!"

"Or me," suggests the Brat, standing before the fire with his coat-tails
under his arm. "Why not _me_? My manners to the aged are always
considered particularly happy."

"Here he is!" cries Tou Tou from the window, whither she has retired,
and now stands, like a heron, on one leg, leaning her elbow on the sill.
"Here is the dog-cart turning the corner!"

We all make a rush to the casement.

"Yes, there he is! sure enough! our future benefactor!" says Algy,
looking over the rest of our heads, and making a counterfeit
greeting.--"Welcome, welcome, good old man!"

"And father, all affability, pointing out the house," supplements Bobby.

We laugh grimly.

"But who is it he has in the fly?" say I, as the second vehicle follows
the first. "His harem, I suppose! half a dozen old Wampoos."

"His valet, to be sure," replies the Brat, chidingly, "with his stays,
and his evening wig, and the calves of his legs."



CHAPTER II.


The wind is even colder than it was, stronger and more withering now
that the sun's faint warmth is withdrawn, and that the small and chilly
stars possess the sky. Nevertheless, both the school-room windows are
open. We are all huddled shivering round the hearth, yet no one talks of
closing them. The fact is, that amateur cooking, though a graceful
accomplishment, has its penalties, and that at the present moment the
smell of broiled bones and fried potatoes that fills our place of
learning is something appalling. Why may not it penetrate beneath the
swing-door, through the passages, and reach the drawing-room? Such a
thing has happened once or twice before. At the bare thought we all
quake. I am in the pleasant situation, just at present, of owning a
chilled body and a blazing face.

Chiefest among the cooks have I been, and now I am sitting trying to fan
my red cheeks and redder nose, with the back of an old atlas, gutted in
some ancient broil, trying, in deference to Sir Roger, to cool down my
appearance a little against prayer-time. Alas! that epoch is nearer than
I think. Ting! tang! the loud bell is ringing through the house. My hair
is loosened and tumbled with stooping over the fire, and I have burnt a
hole right in the fore front of my gown, by letting a hot cinder fall
from the grate upon it. There is, however, now no time to repair these
dilapidations. We issue from our lair, and _en route_ meet the long
string of servants filing from their distant regions. How is it that the
cook's face is so much, _much_ less red than mine? Prayers are held in
the justicing-room, and thither we are all repairing. The accustomed
scene bursts on my eye. At one end the long, straight row of the
servants, immovably devout, staring at the wall, with their backs to us.
In the middle of the room, facing them, father, kneeling upon a chair
with his hands clutched, and his eyes closed, repeating the church
prayers, as if he were rather angry with them than otherwise. Mother,
kneeling on the carpet beside him, like the faithful, ruffed, and
farthingaled wife on a fifteenth-century tomb. Behind them, again, at
some little distance, we and our visitor. With the best will in the
world to do so, I can get but a meagre view of the latter. The room is
altogether rather dark, it being one of our manners and customs not to
throw much light on prayers, and he has chosen the darkest corner of it.
I only vaguely see the outline of a kneeling figure, evidently neither
bulky nor obese, of a flat back and vigorous shoulders. His face is
generally hidden in his hands, but once or twice he lifts it to scan the
proportions of my late grandfather's preposterously fat cob, whose
portrait hangs on the wall above his head.

There is no doubt that on some days the devil reigns with a more potent
sway over people than on others. To-night he has certainly entered into
the boys. He often does a little, but this evening he is holding a great
and mighty carnival among them. While father's strong, hard voice
vibrates in a loud, dull monotone through the silent room, they are
engaged in a hundred dumb yet ungodly antics behind his back.

Algernon has thrust his head far out between the rungs of his
chair-back, and affects to be unable to withdraw it again, making
movements of simulated suffocation. The Brat is stealthily walking on
his knees across the space that intervenes between them to Barbara, with
intent, as I too well know, of unseemly pinchings. If father unbutton
his eyes, or move his head one barley-corn, we are all dead men. I hold
my breath in a nervous agony. Thank Heaven! the harsh recitation still
flows on with equable loud slowness. In happy ignorance of his
offspring's antics, father is still asking, or rather ordering, the
Almighty (for there is more of command than entreaty in his tone) to
prosper the High Court of Parliament. Also the Brat is now returning to
his place, travelling with surprising noiseless rapidity over the Turkey
carpet, dragging his shins and his feet after him. I draw a long breath
of relief, and drop my hot face into my spread hands. My peace, however,
is not of long duration. I am aroused again by a sort of choking snort
from Tou Tou, who is beside me--a snort that seems compounded of mingled
laughter and pain, and, looking up, detect Bobby in the act of deftly
puncturing one of her long bare legs with a long brass pin, which he has
found straying, after the vagabond manner of pins, over the carpet.

I raise myself, and lean over Tou Tou, to give the offender a silent
buffet of admonition, and, lifting my eyes apprehensively to see if I am
noticed, I meet the blear eyes of Sir Roger fixed upon mine. He has
turned his face quite toward me, and a ray from the candles falls full
upon it. _Blear!_ Well, if his eyes are blear, then henceforth blear
must bear a different signification from the unhandsome one it has
hitherto worn. Henceforth it must mean blue as steel: it must mean clear
as a glass of spring water; keen as a well-tempered knife; kindly as the
early sunshine.

I am so astonished at my discovery, that I remain for full two minutes
staring blankly at the object of it, while he also looks stealthily at
me; then, recollecting my manners, I burrow my face into my
chair-bottom, and so remain until mother's gentle Amen, and a noise of
shuffling and scrambling to their feet on the part of the congregation,
tell me that the end has come.

We all go up to father, and coldly and stiffly kiss him. While I am
waiting for my turn to receive our parent's chilly salute, I steal a
second glance at our guest. Yes, he is old certainly. Despite the youth
of his eyes, despite the uprightness, the utter freedom from superfluous
flesh--from the ugly shaky bulkiness of age--in his tall and stalwart
figure, still he is old--old in the eyes of nineteen--as old as father,
perhaps--though in much better preservation--forty-eight or forty-nine;
for is not his hair iron-gray, and his heavy mustache, and the thick and
silky beard that falls on his broad breast, are they not iron-gray too?
I have dropped my small and unwilling kiss on father's forehead--and
said "good-night" in a tone as suppressedly hostile as his own. Now I
may go. We may all go. I am the last, or I think I am, to pass through
the swing-door. I hurry along the passage to join the rest in the
school-room. I upbraid the boys for the rash impiety of their demeanor.
I feel a foot on my garments behind, and hear a long cracking sound that
I too, too well know to mean _gathers_.

"You beast!" cried I, in good nervous English, turning sharply round
with my hand raised in act to strike, "that is the third time this week
that you have torn out my--"

I stop dumfounded. If I mean to box the offender's ears, I must raise my
hand considerably higher than it is at present. Angels and ministers of
grace! what has happened? I have called General Sir Roger Tempest a
_beast_, and offered to cuff him. For a moment, I am dumfounded. Then,
for shyness has never been my besetting sin, and something in the genial
laughter of his eyes reassures me.

I hold out the injured portion of my raiment, and say:

"Look! when you see what you have done, I am sure you will forgive me;
but of course I meant it for Bobby. I never dreamt it was you."

He takes hold of one end of the rent, I of the other, and we both
examine it.

"How exceedingly clumsy of me! how could it have happened? I beg your
pardon ten thousand times."

In his words there is polite remorse and solicitude; in his face only a
friendly mirth. He is old, that is clear. Had he been young, he would
have said, with that variety and suitability of epithets so
characteristic of this generation:

"I am awfully sorry! how awfully stupid of me! what an awful duffer I
am!"

The gas is shining in its garish yellow brightness full down upon us, as
we stand together, illuminating my plain, scorched face, the slatternly
looseness of my hair, and the burnt hole in my gown.

"You will have to give me another," I say, looking up at him and
smiling. I should not have thought of saying it if he had been a young
man, but with a _vieux papa_ one may be at one's ease.

"There is nothing in the world I should like better," he says, with a
sort of hurry and eagerness, not very suggestive of a _vieux papa_; "but
really--" (seeing me look rather ashamed of my proposition)--"is it
_quite_ hopeless? the damage quite irremediable?"

"On the contrary," reply I, tucking my gathers in, with a graceful
movement, at the band of my gown, "five minutes will make it as good as
new--at least" (casting a disparaging eye over its frayed and
taffy-marked surface), "as good as it ever will be in this world."

A little pause.

"I suppose I have lost my way," he says, thinking, I fancy, that I look
rather eager to be gone. "I am never very good at the geography of a
strange house."

"Yes," say I, promptly; "you came through _our_ door, instead of your
own; shall I show you the way back?"

"Since I have come so far, may not I come a little farther?" he asks,
glancing rather longingly at the half-open school-room door, whence
sounds of pious mirth are again beginning to reissue.

"Do you mean _really_?" ask I, with a highly-dissuasive inflection of
voice. "Please not to-night; we are all higgledy-piggledy--at sixes and
sevens! To tell you the truth, we have been _cooking_. I wonder you did
not smell it in the drawing-room."

Again he looks amused.

"May not I cook too? I _can_, though you look disbelieving; there are
few people that can beat me at an Irish stew when I set my mind to it."

A head (Bobby's) appears round the school-room door.

"I say, Nancy, who are you colloquing with out there? I believe you have
got hold of our future benefact--"

An "oh!" of utter discomfiture, and the head is withdrawn.

"I am keeping you," Sir Roger says. "Well, I will say good-night. You
will shake hands, won't you, to show that you bear no malice?"

"That I will," reply I, heartily stretching out my right hand, and
giving his a cordial shake. For was not he at school with father?



CHAPTER III.


Day has followed night. The broiled smell has at length evacuated the
school-room, but a good deal of taffy, spilt in the pouring out, still
adheres to the carpet, making it nice and sticky. The wind is still
running roughly about over the earth, and the yellow crocuses, in the
dark-brown garden-borders, opened to their widest extent, are staring up
at the sun. How _can_ they stare so straight up at him without blinking?
I have been trying to emulate them--trying to stare, too, up at him,
through the pane, as he rides laughing, aloft in the faint far sky; and
my presumptuous eyes have rained down tears in consequence. I am trying
now to read; but a hundred thousand things distract me: the sun shining
warm on my shoulder, as I lean against the window; the divine morning
clamor of the birds; their invitations to come out that will take no
nay; and last, but oh! not, _not_ least, the importunate voices of
Barbara and Tou Tou. Every morning at this hour they have a weary tussle
with the verb "aimer," "to love." It is hard that they should have
pitched upon so tender-hearted a verb for the battle-field of so grim a
struggle:

    J'aime,       I love.

    Tu aimes,     Thou lovest.

    Il aime,      He loves.

    Nous aimons,  We love.

    Vous aimez,   You love.

    Ils aiment,   They love.

This, with endless variations of ingenious and hideous
inaccuracies--this, interspersed with foolish laughter and bitter tears,
is what I have daily been audience to, for the last two months. The day
before yesterday a great stride was taken; the present tense was
pronounced vanquished, and Barbara and her pupil passed on in triumph to
the imperfect, "j'aimais, I loved, or was loving." To-day, in order to
be quite on the safe side, a return has been made to "j'aime," and it
has been discovered that it has utterly disappeared from our young
sister's memory. "J'aimais, I loved, or was loving," has entirely routed
and dispersed his elder brother, "j'aime, I love." The old strain is,
therefore, desperately resumed:

    J'aime,     I love.

    Tu aimes,   Thou lovest.

    Il aime,    He loves, etc.

It is making me drowsy. Ten minutes more, and I shall be asleep in the
sun, with my head down-dropped on the window-sill. I get up, and,
putting on my out-door garments, stray out into the sun, leaving
Barbara--her pretty forehead puckered with ineffectual wrath, and Tou
Tou blurred with grimy tears, to their death-struggle with the restive
verb "to love." It is the end of March, and when one can hide round a
corner from the wind, one has a foretaste of summer, in the sun's warm
strength. I gaze lovingly at the rich brown earth, so lately freed from
the frost's grasp, through which the blunt green buds are gently forcing
themselves. I look down the flaming crocus throats--the imperial purple
goblets with powdery gold stamens--and at the modest little pink faces
of the hepaticas. All over our wood there is a faint yet certain purply
shade, forerunner of the summer green, and the loud and sweet-voiced
birds are abroad. O Spring! Spring! with all your searching east winds,
with your late, shriveling frosts, with your occasional untimely sleets
and snows, you are yet as much better than summer as hope is better than
fruition.

    J'aime,    I love.

    Tu aimes,  Thou lovest.

    Il aime,   He loves.

It runs in my head like some silly refrain. I meet Bobby. I also meet
Vick, my little shivering, smooth, white terrier. They both join me.
The one wriggles herself into the shape of a trembling comma, and,
foolishly chasing herself, rolls over on her back, to demonstrate her
joy at my advent. The other says:

"Come into the kitchen-garden, and see whether the apricot-flowers are
out on the south wall."

We pace along the broad and even gravel walk among the red cabbages and
the sea-kale, basking in the sun, whose heat we feel undiminished by the
influence of any bitter blast, in the prison of these four high walls,
against which the long tree-branches are pinioned. In one place, the
pinioning has failed. A long, flower-laden arm has burst from its bonds,
and is dangling loosely down. There is a ladder against the wall, set
for the gardener to replace it.

"Is it difficult to get up a ladder, Bobby?" ask I, standing still.

"Difficult! Bless your heart, no! Why?"

"One can see nothing here," I answer. "I should like to climb up and sit
on the top of the wall, where one can look about one."

My wish is easy of gratification. Bobby holds the ladder, and I climb
cautiously, rung by rung. Having reached the summit, I sit at ease, with
my legs loosely dangling. There is no broken glass, there are no painful
bottoms of bottles to disturb my ruminant quiet. The air bites a little,
but I am warmly clad, and young. Bobby sits beside me, whistling and
kicking the bricks with his heels. There is the indistinctness of fine
weather over the chain of low round hills that bound our horizon, giving
them a dignity that, on clearer days, they lack. As I sit, many small
and pleasant noises visit my ears, sometimes distinct, sometimes mixed
together; the brook's noise, as it runs, quick and brown, between the
flat, dry March fields; the gray geese's noise, as they screech all
together from the farm-yard; the church-bells' noise, as they ring out
from the distant town, whose roofs and vanes are shining and glinting in
the morning sun.

"Do you hear the bells?" say I. "Some one has been married this
morning."

"Do not you wish it was you?" asks Bobby, with a brotherly grin.

"I should not mind," reply I, picking out a morsel of mortar with my
finger and thumb. "It is about time for one of us to move off, is not
it? And Barbara has made such a signal failure hitherto, that I think it
is but fair that I should try my little possible."

"All I ask of you is," says Bobby, gravely, "not to take a fellow who
has not got any shooting."

"I will make it a _sine qua non_," I answer, seriously.

A louder screech than ever from the geese, accompanied with
wing-flappings. How unanimous they are! There is not a voice wanting.

"I wonder how long Sir Roger will stay?" I say presently.

"What connection of ideas made you think of him?" asks Bobby, curiously.
"Do you suppose that he has any shooting?"

I break into a laugh.

"I do not know, I am sure. I do not think it matters much whether he has
or not."

"I dare say that there are a good many women--old ones, you know--who
would take him, old as he is," says Bobby, with liberality.

"I dare say," I answer. "I do not know. I am not old, but I am not sure
that I would not rather marry him than be an old maid."

A pause. Again I laugh--this time a laugh of recollection.

"What a fool you did look last night!" I say with sisterly candor, "when
you put your head round the school-room door, and found that you had
been witty about him to his face!"

Bobby reddens, and aims a bit of mortar at a round-eyed robin that has
perched near us.

"At all events, I did not call him a _beast_."

"Well, never mind; do not get angry! What did it matter?" say I,
comfortingly. "You did not mention his name. How could he tell that he
was our benefactor? He did not even know that he was to be; and I begin
to have misgivings about it myself."

"I cannot say that I see much sign of his putting his hand into his
breeches-pocket," says Bobby, vulgarly.

There is the click of a lifted latch. We both look in the direction
whence comes the sound. He of whom we speak is entering the garden by a
distant door.

"Get down, Bobby!" cry I, hurriedly, "and help me down. Make haste!
quick! I would not have him find me perched up here for _worlds_."

Bobby gets down as nimbly as a monkey. I prepare to do likewise.

"Hold it steady!" I cry nervously, and, so saying, begin to turn round
and to stretch out one leg, with the intention of making a graceful
descent backward.

"Stop!" cries Bobby from the bottom, with a diabolical chuckle. "I think
you observed just now that I looked a fool last night! perhaps you will
not mind trying how it feels!"

So saying, he seizes the ladder--a light and short one--and makes off
with it. I cry, "Bobby! Bobby!" suppressedly, several times, but I need
hardly say that my appeal is addressed to deaf ears. I remain sitting on
the wall-top, trying to look as if I did not mind, while grave
misgivings possess my soul as to the extent of strong boot and ankle
that my unusual situation leaves visible. Once the desperate idea of
jumping presents itself to my mind, but the ground looks so distant, and
the height so great, that my heart fails me.

From my watch-tower I trace the progress of Sir Roger between the
fruit-trees. As yet, he has not seen me. Perhaps he will turn into
another walk, and leave the garden by an opposite door, I remaining
undiscovered. No! he is coming toward me. He is walking slowly along, a
cigar in his mouth, and his eyes on the ground, evidently in deep
meditation. Perhaps he will pass me without looking up. Nearer and
nearer he comes, I hold my breath, and sit as still as stone, when, as
ill-luck will have it, just as he is approaching quite close to me,
utterly innocent of my proximity, a nasty, teasing tickle visits my
nose, and I sneeze loudly and irrepressibly. Atcha! atcha! He starts,
and not perceiving at first whence comes the unexpected sound, looks
about him in a bewildered way. Then his eyes turn toward the wall. Hope
and fear are alike at an end. I am discovered. Like Angelina, I--

    .... "stand confessed,
    A maid in all my charms."

"How--on--earth--did you get up there?" he asks, in an accent of slow
and marked astonishment, not unmixed with admiration.

As he speaks, he throws away his cigar, and takes his hat off.

"How on earth am I to get down again? is more to the purpose," I answer,
bluntly.

"I could not have believed that any thing but a cat could have been so
agile," he says, beginning to laugh. "Would you mind telling me how
_did_ you get up?"

"By the ladder," reply I, laconically, reddening, and, under the
influence of that same insupportable doubt concerning my ankles, trying
to tuck away my legs under me, a manoeuvre which all but succeeds in
toppling me over.

"The _ladder_!" (looking round). "Are you quite sure? Then where has it
disappeared to?"

"I said something that vexed Bobby," reply I, driven to the humiliating
explanation, "and he went off with it. Never mind! once I am down, I
will be even with him!"

He looks entertained.

"What will you do? What will you say? Will you make use of the same
excellently terse expression that you applied to me last night?"

"I should not wonder," reply I, bursting out into uncomfortable
laughter; "but it is no use talking of what I shall do when I am down: I
am not down yet; I wish I were."

"It is no great distance from the ground," he says, coming nearer the
wall, standing close to where the apricot is showering down her white
and pinky petals. "Are you afraid to jump? Surely not! Try! If you will,
I will promise that you shall come to no hurt."

"But supposing that I knock you down?" say I, doubtfully. "I really am a
good weight--heavier than you would think to look at me--and coming from
such a height, I shall come with great force."

He smiles.

"I am willing to risk it; if you do knock me down, I can but get up
again."

I require no warmer invitation. With arms extended, like the sails of a
windmill, I hurl myself into the embrace of Sir Roger Tempest. The next
moment I am standing beside him on the gravel-walk, red and breathless,
but safe.

"I hope I did not hurt you much," I say with concern, turning toward him
to make my acknowledgments, "but I really am very much obliged to you; I
believe that, if you had not come by, I should have been left there till
bedtime."

"It must have been a very unpleasant speech that you made to deserve so
severe a punishment," he says, looking back at me, with a kindly and
amused curiosity.

I do not gratify his inquisitiveness.

"It was something not quite polite," I answer, shortly.

We walk on in silence, side by side. My temper is ruffled. I am planning
five distinct and lengthy vengeances against Bobby.

"I dare say," says my companion presently, "that you are wondering what
brought me in here now--what attraction a kitchen-garden could have for
me, at a time of year when not the most sanguine mind could expect to
find any thing good to eat in it."

"At least, it is sheltered," I answer, shivering, thrusting my hands a
little farther into the warm depths of my muff.

"I was thinking of old days," he says, with a hazy, wistful smile. "Ah!
you have not come to the time of life for doing that yet. Do you know, I
have not been here since your father and I were lads of eleven and
twelve together?"

"_You_ were eleven, and _he_ was twelve, I am sure," say I,
emphatically.

"Why?"

"You look _so much_ younger than he," I answer, looking frankly and
unembarrassedly up into his face.

"Do I?" (with a pleased smile). "It is clear, then, that one cannot
judge of one's self; on the rare occasions when I look in the glass it
seems to me that, in the course of the last five years, I have grown
into a _very_ old fogy."

"He looks as if he had been so much oftener vexed, and so much seldomer
pleased than you do," continued I, mentally comparing the smooth though
weather-beaten benignity of the straight-cut features beside me, with
the austere and frown-puckered gravity of my father's.

"Does he?" he answers, with an air of half-surprised interest, as if the
subject had never struck him in that light before. "Poor fellow! I am
sorry if it is so. Ah, you see"--with a smile--"he has _six_ more
reasons for wrinkles than I have."

"You mean us, I suppose," I answer matter-of-factly. "As to that, I
think he draws quite as many wrinkles on our faces as we do on his."
Then, rather ashamed of my over-candor, I add, with hurried bluntness,
"You have never been married, I suppose?"

He half turns away his head.

"No--not yet! I have not yet had that good fortune."

I am inwardly amused at the power of his denial. Surely, surely he might
say in the words of Lancelot:

    "Had I chosen to wed,
    I had been wedded earlier, sweet Elaine."

"And you?" he asks, turning with an accent of playfulness toward me.

"Not yet," I answer, laughing, "and most likely I shall have to answer
'not yet' to that question as often as it is put to me till the end of
the chapter."

"Why so?"

I shrug my shoulders.

"In moments of depression it strikes Barbara and me, that me and Tou Tou
shall end by being three old cats together."

"Are you so anxious to be married?" he asks with an air of wonder, "in
such a hurry to leave so happy a home?"

"Every one knows best where his own shoe pinches," I answer
vernacularly. "I am afraid that it does not sound very lady-like, but
since you ask me the question, I _am_ rather anxious. Barbara is not:
_I_ am."

A shade of I cannot exactly say what emotion--it _looks_ like
disappointment, but surely it cannot be that--passes across the sunshine
of his face.

"All my plans hinge on my marrying," I continue, feeling drawn, I do not
know how or why, into confidential communication to this almost total
stranger, "and what is more, on my marrying a rich man."

"And what are your plans?" he asks, with an air of benevolent interest,
but that unexplained shade is still there.

"Their name is Legion," I answer; "you will be very tired before I get
to the end of them."

"Try me."

"Firstly then," say I, narratively, "my husband must have a great deal
of interest in several professions--the army, the navy, the bar--so as
to give the boys a helping hand; then he must have some shooting--good
shooting for them; for them all, that is, except Bobby! _never_ shall
_he_ fire a gun in my preserves!"

My mind again wanders away to my vengeances, and I break off.

"Well!"

"He must also keep two or three horses for them to hunt: Algy _loves_
hunting, but he hardly ever gets a day. He is so big, poor dear old boy,
that nobody ever gives him a mount--"

"Yes?"

"Well, then, I should like to be able to have some nice parties--dancing
and theatricals, and that sort of thing, for Barbara--father will never
hardly let us have a soul here--and to buy her some pretty dresses to
set off her beauty--"

"Yes?"

"And then I should like to have a nice, large, cheerful house, where
mother could come and stay with me, for two or three months at a time,
and get _clear_ away from the worries of house-keeping and--" the
tyranny of father, I am about to add, but pull myself up with a jerk,
and substitute lamely and stammeringly "and--and--others."

"Any thing else?"

"I should not at all mind a donkey-carriage for Tou Tou, but I shall not
_insist_ upon that."

He is smiling broadly now. The shade has fled away, and only sunshine
remains.

"And what for yourself? you seem to have forgotten yourself!"

"For myself!" I echo, in surprise, "I have been telling you--you cannot
have been listening--all these things are for myself."

Again he has turned his face half away.

"I hope you will get your wish," he says shortly and yet heartily.

I laugh. "That is so probable, is not it? I am so likely to fall in with
a rich young man of weak intellect who is willing to marry all the whole
six of us, for that is what he would have to do, and so I should explain
to him."

Sir Roger is looking at me again with an odd smile--not disagreeable in
any way--not at all hold-cheap, or as if he were sneering at me for a
simpleton, but merely _odd_.

"And you think," he says, "that when he hears what is expected of him he
will withdraw?"

Again I laugh heartily and rather loudly, for the idea tickles me, and,
in a large family, one gets into the habit of raising one's voice, else
one is not heard.

"I am so sadly sure that he will never come forward, that I have never
taken the trouble to speculate as to whether, if he did, my greediness
would make him retire again."

No answer.

"Now that I come to think of it, though," continue I, after a pause, "I
have no manner of doubt that he would."

Apparently Sir Roger is tired of the subject of my future prospects, for
he drops it. We have left the kitchen-garden--have passed through the
flower-garden--have reached the hall-door. I am irresolutely walking up
the stone steps that mount to it, not being able to make up my mind as
to whether or no I should make some sort of farewell observation to my
companion, when his voice follows me. It seems to me to have a
dissuasive inflection.

"Are you going in?"

"Well, yes," I answer uncertainly, "I suppose so."

He looks at his watch.

"It is quite early yet--not near luncheon-time--would it bore you very
much to take a turn in the park? I think" (with a smile) "that you are
quite honest enough to say so if it would: or, if you did not, I should
read it on your face."

"Would you?" say I, a little piqued. "I do not think you would: I assure
you that my face can tell stories, at a pinch, as well as its neighbor."

"Well, _would_ it bore you?"

"Not at all! not at all!" reply I briskly, beginning to descend again;
"but one thing is very certain, and that is that it will bore _you_."

"Why should it?"

"If I say what I was going to say you will think that it is on purpose
to be contradicted," I answer, unlatching the gate in the fence, and
entering the park.

"And if I do, much you will mind," he answers, smiling.

"Well, then," say I, candidly, looking down at my feet as they trip
quickly along through the limp winter grass, "there is no use blinking
the fact that I have no conversation--none of us have. We can gabble
away among ourselves like a lot of young rooks, about all sorts of silly
home jokes, that nobody but us would see any fun in; but when it comes
to real talk--"

I pause expressively.

"I do not care for _real talk_," he says, looking amused; "I like
_gabble_ far, far better. I wish you would gabble a little now."

But the request naturally ties my tongue tight up.

"This is the tree that they planted when father was born," I say,
presently, in a stiff, _cicerone_ manner, pointing to a straight and
strong young oak, which is lifting its branchy head, and the fine
net-work of its brown twigs, to the cold, pale sky.

Sir Roger leans his arms on the top of the palings that surround the
tree.

"Ah! eight-and-forty years ago! eight-and-forty years ago!" he repeats
to himself with musing slowness. "Hard upon half a century!"

I turn over in my own mind whether I should do well to make some
observation of a trite and copy-book nature on the much greater duration
of trees than men, but reflecting that the application of the remark may
be painful to a person so elderly as the gentleman beside me, I abstain.
However, he does something of the kind himself.

"To think that it should be such a stripling," he says, looking with a
half-pensive smile at the straight young trunk, "hardly out of the
petticoat age, and _we_--he and I--such a couple of old wrecks!"

It never occurs to me that it would be polite, and even natural, to
contradict him. Why should not he call himself an old wreck, if it
amuses him? I suppose he only means to express a gentleman decidedly in
the decline of life, which, in my eyes, he is; so I say kindly and
acquiescingly--

"Yes, it _is_ rather hard, is it not?"

"Forty-one--forty-two--yes, forty-two years since I first saw him," he
continues, reflectively, "running about in short, stiff, white
petticoats and bare legs, and going bawling to his mother, because he
tumbled up those steps to the hall-door, and cut his nose open."

I lift my face out of my muff, in which, for the sake of warmth, I have
been hiding it, and, opening my mouth, give vent to a hearty and
undutiful roar of laughter.

"Cut his nose open!" repeat I, indistinctly. "How pleased he must have
been, and what sort of a nose was it? already hooked? It never _could_
have been the conventional button, _that_ I am sure of; _yours_ was, I
dare say, but _his_--_never_. Good Heavens!" (with a sudden change of
tone, and disappearance of mirth) "here he is! Come to look for you, no
doubt! I--I--think I may go now, may not I?"

"Go!" repeats he, looking at me with unfeigned wonder. "Why? It is more
likely _you_ that he has missed, _you_, who are no doubt his daily
companion."

"Not quite daily," I answer, with a fine shake of irony, which, by
reason of his small acquaintance with me, is lost on my friend. "Two,
you know, is company, and three none. Yes, if you do not mind, I think
it must be getting near luncheon-time. I will go."

So I disappear through the dry, knotted tussocks of the park grass.



CHAPTER IV.


"Friends, Romans, and countrymen!" say I, on that same afternoon,
strutting into the school-room, with my left hand thrust oratorically
into the breast of my frock, and my right loftily waving, "I wish to
collect your suffrages on a certain subject. Tell me," sitting down on a
hard chair, and suddenly declining into a familiar and colloquial tone,
"have you seen any signs of derangement in father lately?"

"None more than usual," answers Algy, sarcastically, lifting his pretty,
disdainful nose out of his novel. "If, as the Eton Latin Grammar says,
_ira_ is a _brevis furor_ you, will agree with me that he is pretty
often out of his mind, in fact, a good deal oftener than he is in it."

"No, but _really_?"

"Of course not. What do you mean?"

"Put down all your books!" say I, impressively. "Listen attentively.
Bobby, stop see-sawing that chair, it makes me feel deadly sick. Ah! my
young friend, _you_ will rue the day when you kept me sitting on the top
of that wall--"

I break off.

"Go on! go on!" in five different voices of impatience.

"Well, then, father has sent a message by mother to the effect that _I_
am to dine with them to-night--_I_, if you please--_I!_--you must own"
(lengthening my neck as I speak, and throwing up my untidy flax head)
"that sweet Nancies are looking up in the world."

A silence of stupefaction falls on the assembly. After a pause--

"YOU?"

"Yes, _I!_"

"And how do you account for it?"

"I believe," reply I, simpering, "that our future benefac--, no! I
really must give up calling him that, or I shall come out with it to his
face, as Bobby did last night. Well, then, Sir Roger asked me why I did
not appear yesterday. I suppose he thought that I looked so _very_ grown
up, that they must be keeping me in pinafores by force."

Algy has risen. He is coming toward me. He has pulled me off my chair.
He has taken me by the shoulders, and is turning me round to face the
others.

"Allow me!" he says, bowing, and making me bow, too, "to introduce you
to the future legatee!--Barbara, my child, you and I are _nowhere_. This
depraved old man has clearly no feeling for symmetry of form or face; a
long career of Begums has utterly vitiated his taste. To-morrow he will
probably be clamoring for Tou Tou's company."

"Brat!" says Barbara, laughing, "where has the analogy between me and
the man who pulled up the window in the train for the old woman gone
to?"

"Mother said I was to look as nice as I could," say I, casting a rueful
glance at the tea-board, at the large plum loaf, at the preparations for
temperate conviviality. I have sat down on the threadbare blue-and-red
hearth-rug, and am shading my face with a pair of cold pink hands, from
the clear, quick blaze. "What _am_ I to wear?" I say, gloomily. "None of
my frocks are ironed, and there is no time now. I shall look as if I
came out of the dirty clothes-basket! Barbara, dear, will you lend me
your blue sash? Last time I wore mine the Brat upset the gum-bottle over
my ends."

"Let us each have the melancholy pleasure of contributing something
toward the decking of our victim," says Algy, with a grin; "have my
mess-jacket!"

"Have as many beads as you can about you," puts in Bobby. "Begums always
have plenty of beads."

A little pause, while the shifting flame-light makes small pictures of
us on the deep-bodied teapot's sides, and throws shadowy profiles of us
on the wall.

"Mother said, too, that I was to try and not say any of my unlucky
things!" I remark, presently.

"Do not tell him," says Bobby, ill-naturedly, "as you told poor Captain
Saunders the other day, that 'they always put the fool of the family
into the army.'"

"I did not say so of myself," cry I, angrily. "I only told it him as a
quotation."

"Abstain from quotations, then," retorts Bobby, dryly; "for you know in
conversation one does not see the inverted commas."

"What _shall_ I talk about?" say I, dropping my shielding hand into my
lap, and letting the full fire-warmth blaze on eyes, nose, and cheeks.
"Barbara, what _did_ you talk about?"

"Whatever I talked about," replies Barbara, gayly, "they clearly were
not successful topics, so I will not reveal what they were."

Barbara is standing by the tea-table, thin and willowy, a tea-caddy in
one hand, and a spoon in the other, ladling tea into the deep-bodied
pot--a spoonful for each person and one for the pot.

"I will draw you up a list of subjects to be avoided," says Algy,
drawing his chair to the table, and pulling a pencil out of his
waistcoat-pocket. "Here, Tou Tou, tear a leaf out of your
copy-book--imprimis, _old age_."

"You are wrong there," cry I, triumphantly, "_quite_ wrong; he is rather
fond of talking of his age, harps upon it a good deal. He said to-day
that he was an _old wreck_!"

"Of course he meant you to contradict him!" says Bobby, cackling, "and,
from the little I know of you, I am morally certain that you did
not--_did_ you, now?"

"Well, no!" reply I, rather crestfallen; "I certainly did not. I would,
though, in a minute, if I had thought that he wanted it."

"I wish," says Barbara, shutting the caddy with a snap, "that Providence
had willed to send the dear old fellow into the world twenty years later
than it did. In that case I should not at all have minded trying to be a
comfort to him."

"He must have been very good-looking, must not he?" say I, pensively,
staring at the red fire-caverns. "Very--before his hair turned gray. I
wonder what color it was?"

Visions of gold yellow, of sunshiny brown, of warm chestnut locks,
travel in succession before my mind's eye, and try in turn to adjust
themselves to the good and goodly weather-worn face, and wide blue eyes
of my new old friend.

"It is so nice and curly even now," I go on, "twice as curly as Algy's."

"Tongs," replies Algy, with short contempt, looking up from his list of
prohibitions.

"_Very_ good-looking!" repeat I, dogmatically, entirely ignoring the
last suggestion.

"Perhaps when this planet was young!" retorts he, with the superb
impertinence of twenty.

"You talk as if he were eighty years old," cry I, with an unaccountably
_personal_ feeling of annoyance. "He is _only_ forty-seven!"

"_Only_ forty-seven!"

And they all laugh.

"Well, I must be going, I suppose," cry I, leisurely rising, stretching,
sighing, and beginning to collect the various articles of my wardrobe,
scattered over the furniture. "Good-by, dear teapot! good-by, dear plum
loaf! _how_ I wish I was going to stay with you! It really is ten
minutes past dressing-time, and father is always so pleased when one
keeps him waiting for his soup."

"He would not say any thing to you to-day if you _were_ late," says
Bobby, astutely. "You might tumble over his gouty foot, and he would
smile! Are we not the most united family in Christendom--_when we have
company_?"

After all, I need not have disquieted myself; I am in very good time.
When I open the drawing-room door, and make my entrance in the borrowed
splendor of Barbara's broad blue-sash tails, and the white virginity of
my own muslin frock, I find that neither of my parents have as yet made
their appearance. Sir Roger has the hearth-rug to himself; at least he
only shares it with Vick, and she is asleep; sitting very upright, it is
true, with her thin tail round her toes, like a cat's, her head and
whole body swaying from side to side in indisputable slumber. At sight
of the chaste and modest apparition that the opened door yields to his
gaze, an exclamation of pleasure escapes him--at least it sounds like
pleasure.

"Ah! this is all right! You are here to-night at all events; but,
by-the-by, what became of you yesterday?"

"What always becomes of me?" reply I, bluntly, lifting my grave gray
eyes to his face, and to the hair which sweeps thick and waved above his
broad brown forehead. (Tongs indeed!)

"I remember that you told me you had been _cooking_, but you cannot cook
_every_ night."

"Not quite," reply I, with a short smile, stretching my hands to the
blaze.

"But do not you dine generally?"

"Never when I can possibly help it," I reply, with emphasis. And no
sooner are the words out of my mouth than I see that I have already
transgressed my mother's commands, and given vent to one of "my unlucky
things." I stand silent and ashamed, reflecting that no after-tinkering
will mend my unfortunate speech.

"And to-night you could not help it?" he asks, after a slight, hardly
perceptible pause.

I look up to answer him. He is forty-seven years old. He is a general,
and a sir, and has been in every known land; has killed big and little
beasts, and known big and little people, and I am nineteen and nobody,
and have rarely been beyond our own park and parish, and my acquaintance
is confined to half a dozen turnipy squires and their wives; and yet he
is looking snubbed, and it is I that have snubbed him. Well, I cannot
help it. Truth is truth; and so I answer, in a low voice:

"No, father said I was to."

"And you look upon it as a great penance?" he says, still with that
half-disappointed accent.

"To be sure I do," reply I, briskly. "So does Barbara. Ask her if she
does not. So would you, if you were I."

"And why?"

"Hush!" say I, hearing a certain heavy, well-known, slow footfall. "He
is coming! I will tell you by-and-by--when we are by ourselves."

After all, how convenient an elderly man is! I could not have said that
to any of the young squires!

His blue eyes are smiling in the fire-light, as, leaning one strong
shoulder against the mantel-piece, he turns to face me more fully.

"And when are we likely to be by ourselves?"

"Oh, I do not know," reply I, indifferently. "Any time."

And then father enters, and I am dumb. Presently, dinner is announced,
and we walk in; I on father's arm. He addresses me several times with
great _bonhomie_ and I respond with nervous monosyllables. Father is
always suavity itself to us, when we have guests; but, when one is not
in the habit of being treated with affability, it is difficult to enter
into the spirit of the joke. Several times I catch our guest's frank
eyes, watching me with inquiring wonder, as I respond with brief and
low-voiced hurry to some of my parent's friendly and fatherly queries as
to the disposition of my day. And I sit tongue-tied and hungry--for,
thank God, I have always had a large appetite--dumb as the butler and
footman--dumb as the racing-cups on the sideboard--dumber than Vick,
who, being a privileged person, is standing--very tall--on her
hind-legs, and pawing Sir Roger's coat-sleeve, with a small, impatient
whine.

"Why, Nancy, child!" says father, helping himself to sweetbread, and
smiling, "what made you in such a hurry to get away this morning out of
the park?"

(Why can't he always speak in that voice? always smile?--even his nose
looks a different shape.)

"Near--luncheon-time," reply I, indistinctly, with my head bent so low
that my nose nearly touches the little square of bare neck that my
muslin frock leaves exposed.

"Not a bit of it--half an hour off.--Why, Roger, I am afraid you had not
been making yourself agreeable! eh, Nancy?"

"No," say I, mumbling, "that is--yes--quite so."

"I was _very_ agreeable, as it happened--rather more brilliant than
usual, if possible, was not I? And, to clear my character, and prove
that you thought so, you will take me out for another walk, some day,
will not you?"

At the sound of his voice so evidently addressing me, I look up--look at
him.

"Yes! with pleasure! when you like!" I answer heartily, and I neither
mumble nor stutter, nor do I feel any disposition to drop my eyes. I
_like_ to look at him. For the rest of dinner I am absolutely mute, I
make only one other remark, and that is a request to one of the footmen
to give me some water. The evening passes. It is but a short one--at
least, as regards the company of the gentlemen, for they sit late;
father's port, I am told, not being to be lightly left for any female
frippery. I retire to the school-room, and regale my brethren with
lively representations of father's unexampled benignity. I also resume
with Algy the argument about _tongs_, at the very point where I had
dropped it. It lasts till prayer-time; and its monotony is relieved by
personalities. The devil in the boys is fairly quiescent to-night, and
our evening devotions pass over with tolerable peace; the only
_contretemps_ being that the Brat, having fallen asleep, remains on his
knees when "Amen" raises the rest of the company from theirs, and has to
be privily and heavily kicked to save him from discovery and ruin.
Having administered the regulation embrace to father, and heartily
kissed mother--not but what I shall see her again; she always comes, as
she came when we were little, to kiss us in bed--I turn to find Sir
Roger holding open the swing-door for us.

"Are you quite sure about it to-night?" I say, stretching out my hand to
him to bid him good-night. "_Ours_ on the right--_yours_ on the left--do
you see?"

"_Yours_ on the right--_mine_ on the left," he repeats, "Yes--I see--I
shall make no more mistakes--unless I make one on purpose."

"Do not come without telling us beforehand!" I cry, earnestly. "I mean
_really_: if you hold a vague threat of paying us a visit over our
heads, you will keep us in a state of unnatural tidiness for days."

I make a move toward retiring, but he still has hold of my hand.

"And about our walk?"

The others--boys and girls--have passed us: the servants have melted out
of sight; so has mother; father is speaking to the butler in the
passage--we are alone.

"Yes? what about it?" I ask, my eyes calmly resting on his.

"You will not forget it?"

"Not I!" reply I, lightly. "I want to hear the end of the anecdote about
father's nose! I cannot get over the idea of him in a stiff white
petticoat: I thought of it at dinner, whenever I looked at him!"

At the mention of father, his face falls a little.

"Nancy," he says, abruptly, taking possession of my other hand also,
"why did you answer your father so shortly to-day? Why did you look so
scared when he tried to joke with you?"

"Ah, why?" reply I, laughing awkwardly.

"You are not _afraid_ of him, surely?"

"Oh, no--not at all!"

"Why do you speak in that sneering voice? It is not your own voice; I
have known you only twenty-four hours, and yet I can tell that."

"I will not answer any more questions," reply I, recovering both hands
with a sudden snatch: "and if you ask me any more, I will not take you
out walking! there!"

So I make off, laughing.



CHAPTER V.


"A peck of March dust is worth a king's ransom," say I slowly next
morning, as I stand by the window, trying to see clearly through the
dimmed and tearful pane. "The king would have to do without his ransom
to-day."

It is raining _mightily_; strong, straight, earnest rain, that harshly
lashes the meek earth, that sends angry runlets down the gravel walks,
that muddies the gold goblets of the closed crocuses.

"And you without your walk!" says Barbara, lifting her face from her
stitching. "Poor Miss Nancy!"

"There is not enough blue sky to make a cat a pair of breeches!" cries
Bobby, despondently, and with his usual vulgarity.

Sometimes I am tempted to fear that Bobby is hopelessly
ungenteel--ungenteel for life. He has now taken possession of another
window, and is consulting the eastern sky.

"A ransomless king, and a trouserless cat! That is about the state of
the case!" say I, turning away from the window with a grin.

After all, now I come to think of it, I am nearly as vulgar as Bobby.
But I am right. Through the day, through the long, light, cold evening,
the posture of the weather changes not. To-day, Barbara, Algy, and I,
are all constrained to dine; for have not we a dinner-party, or rather a
mild simulation of one?--a squire or two, a squiress or two, a curate or
two--such odd-come-shorts as can be got together in a scattered country
neighborhood at briefest notice. Barbara and I, as it happens, are both
late. It is five minutes past eight, when with the minor details of our
toilets a good deal slurred, with a paucity of bracelets and lack of
necessary pins, we hurriedly and sneakingly enter the drawing-room, and
find all our guests already come together. Mother gives us an almost
imperceptible glance of gentle reproach, but father is so occupied in
bantering a strange miss--banter in which the gallant and the fatherly
happily join to make that manner which is the envy and admiration of the
neighborhood--that he seems unconscious of our entrance. An intuition,
however, tells us that this is not the case, but that he is making a
note of it. This depresses us so much that, until song and sherry have
comforted and emboldened us, we have not spirits to make any effort
toward the entertainment of our neighbors. We have been paired with a
couple of curates. Mine is a strong-handed, ingenuous Ishmael, who tells
everybody that he hates his trade, and that he thinks it is very hard
that he may not get out of it, now that his elder brother is dead. I am
thankful to say that his appetite is as vast as his shoulders; so, after
I have told him that I _love_ raw oysters, and that Barbara cannot sit
in the room with a roast hare; and have heard in return that he does not
care about brill, but worships John Dory, we slide into a gluttonous
silence, and abide in it. Barbara's man of God is in a wholly different
pattern to mine. He is a macerated little saint, with the eyes of a
ferret and the heart of a mouse. As the courses pass by, in savory
order, I, myself unemployed, watch my sister gradually reassuring,
comforting, heartening him, as is her way with all weakly, maimed, and
unhandsome creatures. She has succeeded in thawing him into a thin
trickle of parochial talk, when mother bends her laced and feathered
head in distant signal from the table-top, and off we go. We drink
coffee, we drink tea, we pick clever little holes in our absent
neighbors, in brisk duet and tortuous solo we hammer the blameless
spinnet, we sing affecting songs about "fair doves," and "cleansing
fires," and people "far away," and still our deliverers come not. They
_must_ hear our appealing melodies clearly through the walls and doors,
but still they come not. Sunk in sloth and old port, still they come
not. I seem to have said every possible thing that is to be said on
every known subject to the young woman beside me, and now I am falling
asleep. I feel it. Lulled by the warm glow diffused through the room, by
the smell of the jonquils, lilies of the valley and daphnes, by the low
even talk, I am slipping into slumber. The door opens, and I jump into
wakefulness; Sir Roger to the rescue. I am afraid that I look at him
with something not unlike invitation in my eyes, for he makes straight
toward me.

"Wish me good-morning," say I, rubbing my eyes, "for I have been sweetly
asleep. I fell asleep wondering which of you would come first--somehow I
thought it would be you. Are you going to sit here? Oh! that is all
right!" as he subsides into the next division of the ottoman to mine.
"What have you been talking about?" I continue, with a contented, chatty
feeling, leaning my elbow on the blue-satin ottoman-top; "any thing
pleasant? Did not you hear our screams for help through the wall?"

"Have not we come in answer to them?"

Yes; they are all here now, at last; all, from father down to the
curates; some sitting resolutely down, some standing uncertainly up.
Barbara's _protégé_, with frightened stealth, is edging round the
furniture to where she sits on a little chair alone. Barbara is
locketless, braceletless, chainless, head-dressless! such was our
unparalleled haste to abscond. Ornaments has she none but those that God
has given her: a sweep of blond hair, a long, cool throat, and two
smooth arms that lie bare and white as any milk on her lap. As he
nervously draws near, she lifts her eyes with a lovely friendliness to
his face. He is poor, slightly thought of, sickly, not over-clever;
probably she will talk to him all the evening.

"Look at Barbara!" say I, with deep admiration, familiarly laying my
hand on Sir Roger's coat-sleeve, to make sure of engaging his attention,
"that is always her way! Did you ever see any thing so cruelly shy as
that poor little man is? See! he is wriggling all over like an eel! He
came to call the other day, and while he was talking to mother I watched
him. He tore a pair of quite new tea-green gloves into thin strips, like
little thongs! He must find it rather expensive work, if he makes many
morning calls, must he not?"

"Rather!"

"I am sure that you and Barbara would get on," continue I, loquaciously,
leaning my head on my hand, and talking in that low, comfortable voice
that our proximity warrants; "I cannot understand how it was that you
did not make great friends that first night! I suppose that you are not
poor and ugly and depressed enough for her to make much of you! Shall I
make a sign to her to come over and talk to us?"

Sir Roger does not accept my proposal with the alacrity I had expected.

"Do not you think that she looks very comfortable where she is?" he
asks, rather doubtfully.

I am a little disappointed.

"I am sure she would like you," I say, with a dogmatic shake of the
head. "I told her that you were--well, that _I_ got on with you, and we
always like the same people."

"That must be awkward sometimes?"

"What do you mean? Oh! not in _that_ way--" (with an unblushing
heart-whole laugh). "Lucky for me that we do not."

"Lucky for _you_?" (interrogatively).

"Why _will_ you make me say things that sound mock-modest?" cry I,
reddening a little this time. "You know perfectly well what I mean--it
is not likely that any one would _look_ at me when Barbara was by--you
can have no notion," continue I, speaking very fast to avoid
contradiction, "how well she looks when she is dancing--never gets hot,
or flushed, or _mottled_, as so many people do."

"And _you_? how do _you_ look?"

"I grow purple," I answer, laughing--"a rich imperial purple, all over.
If you had once seen me, you would never forget me."

"Go on: tell me something more about Barbara!"

He has settled himself with an air of extreme repose and enjoyment. We
really _are_ very comfortable.

"Well," say I, nothing loath, for I have always dearly loved the sound
of my own voice, "do you see that man on the hearth-rug?--do not look at
him this very minute, or he will know that we are speaking of him. I
cannot imagine why father has asked him here to-night--he wants to marry
Barbara; he has never said it, but I know he does: the boys--we all,
indeed--call him _Toothless Jack_! he is not old _really_, I
suppose--not more than fifty, that is; but for Barbara!--"

I think that Sir Roger is beginning to find me rather tiresome:
evidently he is not listening: he has even turned away his head.

There is a movement among the guests, the first detachment are bidding
good-night, the rest speedily do the like. Father follows his favorite
miss into the hall, cloaks her with gallant care, and through the door I
hear him playfully firing off parting jests at her as she drives away.
Then he returns to the drawing-room. Sir Roger has gone to put on his
smoking-coat, I suppose. Father is alone with his wife and his two
lovely daughters. We make a faint movement toward effacing ourselves,
but our steps are speedily checked.

"Barbara! Nancy!"

"Yes, father" (in a couple of very small voices).

"May I ask what induced you to keep my guests waiting half an hour for
their dinner to-night?"

No manner of answer. _How_ hooked his nose looks! how fearfully like a
hawk he has grown all in a minute!

"When you have houses of your own," he continues with iced politeness,
"you may of course treat your visitors to what vagaries you please, but
as long as you deign to honor _my_ roof with your presence, you will be
good enough to behave to my guests with decent civility, do you hear?"

"Well, Roger, how is the glass? up or down? What is it doing? Are we to
have a fine day to-morrow?"

For Roger apparently has got quickly into his smoking-coat: at least he
is here: he has heard all. Barbara and I _crawl_ away with no more
spring or backbone in us than a couple of torpid, wintery flies.

Five minutes later, "Do you wonder that we hate him?" cry I, with
flaming cheeks, holding a japanned candlestick in one hand, and Sir
Roger's right hand in the other.

"I do not care if he _does_ hear me!--yes, I do, though" (giving a great
jump as a door bangs close to me).

Sir Roger is looking down at me with an expression of most thorough
discomfiture and silent pain in his face.

"He did not mean it, Nancy!" he says, hesitatingly, and with a sort of
look of shamed wonder in his friendly eyes.

"_Did_ not he?" (ironically).

A little pause, the position of the japanned candlestick and of Sir
Roger's hand still remaining the same. "_How_ I wish that _you_ were my
father instead!" I say with a sort of sob. He does not, as I fully
expect, say, "So do I!" and I go to bed, feeling rather small, as one
who has _gushed_, and whose gush has not been welcome to the recipient.



CHAPTER VI.


A fortnight has passed. Two Sundays, two Mondays, two Tuesdays, etc.
Fourteen times have I sleepily laid head on pillow. Fourteen times have
I yawningly raised it from my pillow. Fourteen times have I hungrily
eaten my dinner, since the night when I stood in the hall with Sir
Roger's hand in mine, raging against my parent. And Sir Roger is here
still. After all, there is nothing like the tenacity of boyish
friendship, is there?

I suppose that, to Sir Roger, father is still the manly, debonair youth
that he remembers thirty years ago. In happy ignorance he slurs over the
thirty intervening years of moroseness, and goes back to that blest
epoch in which I have so much difficulty in believing, and about which
he, walking beside me now and again through the tender, springing grass
of the meadows, has told me many a tale. For our promised walk has come
off, and so has many others like it.

He _must_ be dotingly fond of father. It is the 15th of April. I dare
say, O reader, that it seems to you much like any other date, but to me,
through every back-coming year, it seems to gain fresh significance--the
date that marks the most important day--take it for all in all--of my
life, though, whether for good or ill, who shall say, until I am dead,
and my life's sum reckoned up. I awake on that morning with no forecast
of what is coming? I tear myself from my morning dreams with as sleepy
unwillingness as usual. I eat my bread-and-butter with as stolidly
healthy an appetite. I run with as scampering feet, as evenly-beating a
heart as is my wont, with little Vick along the garden-walks, in the
royal morning sun. For one of God's own days has come--one that must
have lost his way, and strayed from paradise.

It has the steady heat of June, though we are only in mid-April, and the
freshness of the prune. The leaves on the trees are but tender and tiny,
and through them the sun sends his might. The tulips are all a-blaze and
a-stare, making one blink with the dazzle of their odorless beauty: the
frolicsome young wind is shaking out their balm from the hyacinth-bells,
and the sweet Nancies--my flowers--blowing all together, are swaying and
_congéeing_ to the morning airs.

O wise men, who know all things, do you know this? Can you tell it me?
Where does the flower hide her scent? From what full cup of hidden
sweets does one suck it?

It is one of those days when one feels most convinced of being
immortal--when the spirits of men stretch out longing arms toward the
All-Good, the Altogether Beautiful--when souls thirst for God, yearn
most deeply for the well of his unfathomed truth--when, to those who
have lost, their dead come back in most pleasant, gentle guise. As for
me, I have lost nothing and no one as yet. All my treasures are still
about me; I can stretch out live hands, and touch _them_ alive; none of
my dear names are yet to be spoken sparingly with bated breath, as too
holy for common talk. And yet I, too, as I walk and bask, and bend to
smell the hyacinth-blooms, feel that same vague and most unnamed
yearning--a delicate pain that he who has it would barter for no
boisterous joy. The clocks tick out the scented hours, and with loud
singing of happy birds, with pomp of flowers and bees, and freaked
butterflies, God's day treads royally past.

It is afternoon, and the morning wind, heaving with too much fragrance,
has lain down to sleep. A great warm stillness is on the garden and
house. The sweet Nancies no longer bow. They stand straight up, all
a-row, making the whole place honeyed. The school-room is one great
nosegay. Every vase and jug, and cup, and pot and pan and pipkin that we
can command, is crammed with heavy-headed daffodils, with pale-cheeked
primroses, with wine-colored gilly-flowers, every thing that spring has
thrust most plentifully into our eager hands.

The boys have been out fishing.

Algy and Bobby have been humorously trying to drown the Brat.

He looks small and cold in consequence, and his little pert nose is
tinged with a chilly pink. Half an hour ago, mother called me away to a
private conference, exciting thereby a mighty curiosity not unmixed with
envy in my brethren.

Our colloquy is ended now, and I am reëntering the school-room.

"Well, what was it? out with it," cries Algy, almost before I am inside
the door again. Algy is sitting more than half--more than three-quarters
out of the window, balancing himself with great nicety on the sill. He
is in the elegant _négligé_ of a decrepit shooting-jacket, no
waistcoat, and no collar.

"What have you been doing to your face?" says Bobby, drawing nigh, and
peering with artless interest into the details of my appearance; "it is
the color of this" (pointing to a branch of red rhibes, which is hanging
its drooped flowers, and joining its potent spice to the other
flower-scents).

"Is it?" I answer, putting both hands to my cheeks, to feel their
temperature. "I dare say! so would yours be, perhaps, if you had, like
me, been having a--" I stop suddenly.

"Having a _what_?"

"I will not say what I was going to say," I cry, emphatically, "it was
nonsensical!"

"But what _has_ she told you, Nancy?" asks Barbara, who, enervated by
the first hot day, is languishing in the rocking-chair, slowly
see-sawing. "What could it have been that she might not as well have
said before us all?"

"You had better try and guess," I reply, darkly.

"I will not, for one," says Bobby, doggedly, "I never made out a
conundrum in my life, except, 'What is most like a hen stealing?'"

"It is not much like that," say I, demurely, "and, in fact, when one
comes to think of it, it can hardly be called a conundrum at all!"

"I do not believe it is any thing worth hearing," remarks the Brat,
skeptically, "or you would have come out with it long ago! you never
could have kept in to yourself!"

"Not worth hearing!" cry I, triumphantly raising my voice, "is not it?
That is all _you_ know about it!"

"Do not wrangle, children," says Algy from the window; "but, Nancy, if
you have not told us before the clock gets to the quarter" (looking
impressively at the slowly-traveling hands), "I shall think it right
to--"

What awful threats would have followed will never now be certainly
known, for I interrupt.

"I _will_ tell you! I _mean_ to tell you!" I cry, excitedly, covering my
face with my hands, and turning my back to them all; "only do not _look_
at me! look the other way, or I _cannot_ tell you."

A little pause.

"You have only three minutes, Nancy."

"Will you _promise_," cry I, with indistinct emphasis from under my
hands, "none of you to _laugh_--none, even Bobby!"

"Yes!"--"Yes!"--"Yes!"

"Will you _swear_?"

"What is the use of swearing?--you have only half a minute now. Well, I
dare say it is nothing very funny. Yes, we will swear!"

"Well, then, Sir Roger--I _hear_ Bobby laughing!"

"He is not!"--"He is not!"--"I am not!--I am only beginning to sneeze!"

"Well, then, Sir Roger--"

I come to a dead stop.

"_Sir Roger?_ What about him? There is not a smile on one of our faces:
if you do not believe, look for yourself!--What about our future
benefactor?"

"He _is_ not our future benefactor," cry I, energetically, whisking
swiftly round to face them again, and dropping my hands, "he _never_
will be!--he does not _want_ to be! He wants to--to--to MARRY ME!
there!"

The murder is out. The match is set to the gunpowder train. Now for the
explosion!

The clock-hand reaches the quarter--passes it; but in all the assembly
there is no sound. The westering sun shines in on four open mouths (the
youthful Tou Tou is absent), on four pairs of stupidly-staring eyes. The
rocking-chair has ceased rocking. Bobby's sneeze has stopped half-way.
There is a petrified silence.

At length, "_Marry you!_" says the Brat, in a deeply-accented tone of
low and awed disbelief. "Why, he was at school with father!"

"I wish to heavens that he had never been at school anywhere!" cry I, in
a fury. "I am sick to death of hearing that he was at school with
father. Will no one ever forget it?"

"He is for-ty-sev-en!" says Algy, at last closing his mouth, and
speaking with slow impressiveness. "Nineteen from forty-seven! how many
years older than you?"

"Do not count!" cry I, pettishly; "what is the use? not all the counting
in the world will make him any younger."

"It is not true!" cries Bobby, with boisterous skepticism, jumping up
from his seat, and making a plunge at me; "it is a _hoax_! she has been
taking us all in! Really, Nancy, for a beginner, you did not do it
badly!"

"It is _not_ a hoax!" cry I, scornfully, standing scarlet and deeply
ashamed, facing them all; "it is real, plain, downright, simple truth."

Another pause. No sound but the monotonous, unemotional clock, and the
woodpecker's fluty laugh from the orchard.

"And so you _really_ have a lover at last, Nancy?" says Algy, the
corners of his mouth beginning to twitch in a way which looks badly for
the keeping of his oath.

"Yes!" say I, beginning to laugh violently, but quite uncomfortably;
"are you surprised? you know I always told you that if you half shut
your eyes, and looked at me from a great way off, I really was not so
bad-looking."

"You have distanced the Begums!" cries the young fellow, joining in my
mirth, but with a good deal more enjoyment than I can boast.

"So I have!" I answer; and my sense of the ludicrous overcoming all
other considerations, I begin to giggle with a good-will.

"Let us look at you, Nancy!" says the Brat, taking hold of me by both
arms, and bringing the minute impertinence of his face into close
neighborhood to mine. "I begin to think that there must be more in you
than we have yet discovered! we never looked upon you as one of our most
favorable specimens, did we?"

"Do not you remember old Aunt Williams?" reply I, merrily; "how she used
to say 'I was not pretty, my dears, but I was a pleasant little devil!'
perhaps I am a pleasant little devil!"

"_Poor_--_dear_--old fellow!" says Barbara, in an accent of the
profoundest, delicatest, womanliest pity, "_how_ sorry I am for him!
Nancy, how will you break it to him most kindly? I am afraid he will be
sadly hurt! will you speak to him, or do it by letter?"

Barbara has risen. We are all standing up, more or less; it is
impossible to sit through such news; Barbara's garden-hat is in her
hand. The warm and mellow sun that is making Africa's dreary expanse in
the map on the wall, one broad fine sheet, is enkindling, too, the silk
of her hair, the flower-petals of her cheeks, the blue compassion of her
eyes. My pretty, tall Barbara! Let them say what they like, I am sure
that somewhere--_somewhere_--you are pretty now!

"If you write," says Algy, still laughing, but with more moderation, "I
should advise you to depute me to make a fair copy of the letter; else,
from the extreme ambiguity of your handwriting, he will most likely
mistake your drift, and imagine that you are saying yes."

"How do you know that I am not going to say yes?" I ask, abruptly.

Rivers of additional scarlet are racing to my cheeks, over my
forehead--in among the roots of my hair--all around and about my throat,
but I stand, looking the assembled multitude full in the face, fairly,
well, and boldly.

"Listen!" I continue, holding up my right hand in deprecation, "let me
speak!--do not interrupt me!--Bobby, I know that he was at school with
father--Algy, I know that he is forty-seven--all of you, I know that his
hair is gray, and that there are crows'-feet about his eyes--but
still--but still--"

"Do you mean to say that you are _in love_ with him?" breaks in Bobby,
impressively.

Instances of enamored humanity have been rare in Bobby's experience.
With the exception of Toothless Jack, he has never had a near and
familiar view of an authentic specimen. I therefore see him now
regarding me with a reverent interest, not unmixed with awe.

"I mean nothing so silly!" I answer, with lofty petulance. "I am a great
deal too old for any such nonsense!"

"There I go with you," says Algy, not without grandeur. "I believe that
it is the greatest humbug out, and that it rarely occurs between the
ages of sixteen and sixty."

"Father's and mother's was a love-match," says Bobby, gravely. "Did not
Aunt Williams tell us that they used always to sit hand-in-hand before
they were married?"

A shout of laughter at our parents' expense greets this piece of
information.

"_All_ married people grow to hate one another after a bit," say I,
comprehensively; "it is only a question of time."

"But if you do not love him _now_, and if you are sure that you will
hate him by-and-by," says Barbara, looking rather puzzled, "what makes
you think of taking him?"

"It would be such a fine thing for all the family: I could give all the
boys such a shove," say I, with homely shrewdness.

"They killed seven hundred head of game on his big day last year; I
heard him tell father so," says Bobby, with his mouth watering.

"He has a moor in Scotland," throws in the Brat.

"He must ride a stone heavier than I do," says Algy, thoughtfully, "his
horses would certainly carry me: I wonder would he give me a mount now
and then?"

"I would have you _all_ staying with me _always_," I cry, warming with
my theme, and beginning to dance, "all except father: he should come
once a year for a week, if he was good, and _not at all_, if he was
not."

"What will you call him, Nancy?" asks the Brat, inquisitively. "What
shall _we_ call him?"

"He will be Tou Tou's _brother_," cries Bobby, with a yell of delight.

"Hush!" says Barbara, apprehensively, "he will hear you."

"No he will not," I answer, composedly. "A person would have to bawl
even louder than Bobby does, to make him hear: he has gone away for a
week; he said he did not wish me to decide in a hurry: he has given me
till this day week; I wish it were this day ten years--"

"This day week, then," says Algy, walking about with his hands in his
pockets, and smiling to himself, "we may hope to see him return in
triumph in a blue frock-coat, with the ring and the parson: at that age
one has no time to lose."

"Haste to the wedding!" cries the Brat at the top of his voice, seizing
me by both hands, and forcing me to execute an uncouth war-dance, in
unwilling celebration of my approaching nuptials.

"I hope that there will be lots of almonds in the cake!" says Bobby,
gluttonously.



CHAPTER VII.


The week's reprieve has ended; my Judgment Day has come. Never, never,
surely, did seven days race so madly past, tumbling over each other's
heels. Even Sunday--Sunday, which mostly contains at least forty-eight
hours--has gone like a flash. Morning service, afternoon service, good
looks, sermon to the servants, supper, they all run into one another
like dissolving views. For the first time in my life, my sleep is
broken. I fall asleep in a fever of irresolution. I awake in one. I walk
about in one. I feed the jackdaw in one. I box Bobby's ears in one. My
appetite (oh, portent!) flags. In intense excitement, who can eat yards
of bread-and-butter, pounds of oatmeal-porridge, as has ever been my
bucolic habit? Shall I marry Sir Roger, or shall I not? The birds, the
crowing cocks, the church-bells, the gong for dinner, the old pony
whinnying in the park, they all seem to say this. It seems written on
the sailing clouds, on the pages of every book that I open. Armies of
_pros_ wage battle against legions of _cons_, and every day the issue of
the fight seems even more and more doubtful.

The morning of the day has arrived, and I am still undecided. I dress in
a perfect storm of doubts and questionings. I put on my gown, without
the faintest idea of whether it is inside out, or the reverse. I go
slowly down-stairs, every banister marked by a fresh decision. I open
the dining-room door. Father's voice is the first thing that I hear;
father's voice, raised and rasping. He is standing up, and has a letter
in his hand; from the engaging blue of its color, and the harmony of its
shape, too evidently a bill.

"I regret to have to hurt your feelings," he is saying, in that awful
civil voice, at which we all--small and great--quake, "but the next time
that _this_ occurs" (pointing to the bill), "I must request you to find
accommodation for yourself elsewhere, as really my poor house is not a
fit place for a young gentleman with such princely views on the subject
of expenditure."

The object of this pleasant harangue is Algy, who, also standing, with
his face very white, his lips very much compressed, and his eyes
flashing with a furious light, is fronting his parent on the hearth-rug.

Behind the tea-urn, mother is mingling her drink with tears, and making
little covert signs to Algy, at all rates to hold his tongue.

My mind is made up, never to be unmade again. I will marry Sir Roger. He
shall pay all Algy's debts, and forever dry mother's sad, wet eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

The weather of paradise is gone back to paradise. This day is very
earthly. There has been a sharp, cold shower, and there is still a
strong rain-wind, which has snapped a score of tulip-heads. Poor, brave
_Jour ne sols_! Prone they lie on the garden-beds, defiled, dispetalled.
Even the survivors are stained and dashed, and the sweet Nancies look
pinched and small. If you were to go down on your knees to them, they
could not give you any scent. I am walking up and down the room, in a
state of the utmost agitation. My heart is beating so as to make me feel
quite sick. My fingers are very hot, but hardly so hot as my face.

"For Heaven's sake do not make me laugh! do not!" cry I, nervously, "it
would be _too_ dreadful if I were to receive his overtures with a broad
grin, would not it? There! is it gone? Do I look quite grave?"

I take half a dozen hurried turns along the floor, and try to think of
all our most depressing family themes--father; Algy's college-bills; Tou
Tou's shrunk face and thin legs; nothing will do. When I stop before the
glass and consult it, that hysterical smile is there still.

"Do you remember the day, when we were children, that we all went to the
dentist?" says the Brat, chuckling, "and father gave Bobby a New
Testament because he had his eye-tooth out? Does to-day at all remind
you of it, Nancy?"

"I had far rather have _both_ my eye-teeth out, and several of my double
ones, too," reply I, sincerely.

A little pause.

"I must not keep him waiting any longer," cry I, desperately. "Tell me!"
(appealing piteously to them all), "do I look all right? do I look
pretty natural?"

"You do not look _middle-aged_ enough," says Bobby, bluntly.

"Put on your bonnet," suggests Algy. "You look twenty years older in
that, particularly when you cock it well over your nose, as you did last
Sunday."

"You are all very unkind!" say I, in a whimpering voice, walking toward
the door.

"And if he becomes too demonstrative," says the Brat, overtaking me with
a rush before I reach it, "say--

    'Unhand me, graybeard loon!'"

Then I go. As I know perfectly well, that if I give myself time to
think, I shall stand with the drawing-room door-handle in my grasp for
half an hour, before I can make up my mind to enter, I take the bull by
the horns, and whisking in suddenly and noisily, find myself
_tête-à-tête_ with my lover.

Certainly, I never felt such a fool in my life. How _awful_ it will be
if I burst out laughing in his face! It is quite as likely as not that I
shall do it out of sheer hysterical fright. Oh, how different! how much
nicer it was when we last parted! I had taken him to see the jackdaw,
and the little bear that Bobby brought from foreign parts; and jacky had
bitten his finger so humorously, and we had been so merry, and I had
told him again how much I wished that he could change places with
father. And now! I _feel_--more than see--that he is drawing nigh me.
Through my eyelids--for I am very sure that I never lift my eyes--I get
an idea of his appearance.

Under his present aspect I am much more disposed to be critical, and to
pick holes in him, than I was under his former one. Any attempt at
youthfulness, any effort at _smartness_, will not escape my vigilant
reprobation--down-eyed and red-cheeked as I appear to be. But none such
do I find. There is no false juvenility--there is no trace of dandyism
in the plain and quiet clothes, in the hair sparsely sprinkled with
snow, in the mature and goodly face.

An iron-gray, middle-aged gentleman stands before me, more vigorous,
more full of healthy life than two-thirds of the puny youth, nourished
on sherry and bitters, of the present small generation, but with no
wish, no smallest effort to take away one from the burden of years that
God has laid on his strong shoulders.

There is no doubt that I shall not speak first, so for a moment there is
a profound silence. Then I find my hot hand in Sir Roger's where it has
so often and so familiarly lain before, and I hear Sir Roger's voice
addressing me.

"I am an old fool, Nancy, and you have come to tell me so?"

Somehow I know that the bronze of his face is a little paled by emotion,
but there is no sawny sentiment in his tone, none of the lover's whine.
It is the same voice--as manly, as sustained--that made comments on
Bobby's little bear. And yet, for the moment, I am physically unable to
answer him. Who _can_ answer the simplest question ever put with a lump
the size of a cocoa-nut in their throat? My eyelids are still hopelessly
drooped over my eyes, but, by some sense that is not eyesight, I am
aware that there is a sort of shyness in his face, a diffidence in his
address.

"Nancy, have I come back too soon? am I hurrying you?"

I raise my eyes for an instant, and then let them fall.

"No, thank you," I say, demurely, "not at all. I have had plenty of
time!"

And then, somehow, there seems to me something so ludicrous in the sound
of my own speech, that I tremble on the verge of a burst of loud and
unwilling laughter.

"Speak out all your thought to me, whatever it is," he says, in a tone
of grave entreaty, moved and tender, yet manly withal. "Look at me with
the same friendly, fearless eyes that you did last week! I know, my
dear, that you always think of others more than yourself, and I dare say
that _now_ you are afraid of hurting me! Indeed, you need not be! I am
tough and well-seasoned; I have known what pain is before now--it would
be very odd, at my time of life, if I had not! I can well bear a little
more, and be the better for it, perhaps."

I stand stupidly silent. One's outer man or woman often does an
injustice to one's inner feelings. As he speaks, my heart goes out to
him, but I can find no words in which to dress my thought.

"Nancy!" in a tone of thorough distress. "I can bear any thing but
seeing you shrink and shiver away from me, as I have seen you do from
your father."

"You _never_ will see that," reply I, laconically, gathering bravery
enough to look him in the face, as I deliver this encouraging remark.

"Do you think," he says, beginning to walk restlessly about the
room--(long ago he dropped my limp hand)--"that all this week I have had
much hope? Every time that I have caught a glimpse of myself in the
glass, I have said, 'Is this a face likely to take a child's fancy? Do
you bear much resemblance to the hero of her storybooks?' My
dear"--(stopping before me)--"you cannot think my presumption more
absurd than I do myself."

"I do not think it at all absurd," reply I, beginning to speak quite
stoutly, and to be rather diffuse than otherwise. "Perhaps I did, just
at first, when they were all laughing, and saying about your having been
at school with father; but _now_ I do not in the least--I do not care
what the boys say--I do not, really. I am not joking."

At my words he half stretches out his hand to take mine; but, as if
repressing some strong impulse, withdraws it again, and speaks quietly,
with a rather sober smile.

"I am afraid that one's soul ages more slowly than one's body, Nancy!
Even at my age it has seemed difficult to me to be brought into hourly
companionship with all that was most fresh and womanly, and spirited,
and pretty."

"_Pretty!_" think I. "I wish the boys could hear him! they will never
believe me if I tell them."

"And not wish to have it for my own, to take and make much of. I that
have never had any thing very lovely or lovable in my life. And then,
dear, it was all your good-nature, you did not know what you were doing;
you seemed to find some little pleasure in my society--even chose it by
preference now and then. My talk did not weary you, as I should have
thought it would have done, and so I grew to think--to think--Bah!"
(with a movement of impatience) "it was a foolish thought! what can
there be in common between me and a child like you?"

"I think that there is a great deal," reply I, speaking very steadily,
and so saying, I stretch out my hand and of my own accord put it in his
again. He cannot well return it to me, so he keeps it.

"And yet it is impossible?" he says, with hesitating interrogation,
while his steel-blue eyes look anxiously into mine.

"Is it?" say I, a wily smile beginning to creep over my features. "If it
is, what was the use of asking me?" I have the grace to grow extremely
red as I make this observation.

"Nancy!" seizing my other hand, too, and speaking in a hurried, low
voice that slightly shakes with the force of his emotion, "what are you
saying? You do not know what you are implying."

"Yes I do," reply I, firmly. "I know perfectly. And it is _not_
impossible. Not at all, I should say."

Upon this explicit declaration an ordinary lover would have had me in
his arms and smothered me with kisses before you could look round, but
my lover is abnormal. He does nothing of the kind.

"Are you sure," he says, with an earnest gravity and imploring emphasis,
"that you understand what you are doing? Are you certain, Nancy, that if
we had not been friends, if you had not been loath to pain me, that you
would not have answered differently? Think, child! think well of it!
this is not a matter of months or even years, but of your whole long
young life."

"Yes," say I, gravely, looking down. "I know it is."

And put thus solemnly before me, the idea of the marriage state seems to
me, hardly less weightily oppressive than the idea of eternity.

"How should I feel," he continues (he has put a hand on each of my
shoulders, and is looking at me with a serious yet tender fixity), "if,
by-and-by, in the years ahead of us, you came and told me that by my
selfishness, taking advantage of your youth, I had destroyed your life?"

"And do you think," say I, with a flash of indignation, "that even if
you had done it, I should come and tell you?"

"Are you _quite_ sure that among all the men of your acquaintance, men
nearer you in age, more akin in tastes, men _not_ gray-haired, _not_
weather-beaten, _not_ past their best years--there is not one with whom
you would more willingly spend your life than with me? If it is so, I
_beseech_ you to tell me, as you would tell your mother!"

"If there were," reply I, smiling broadly, a smile which greatly widens
my mouth, and would show my dimples if I had any, "I should _indeed_ be
susceptible! The two curates that you saw the other night--the one who
tore his gloves into strips, you know, and the other who ate so
much--Toothless Jack--these are the sort of men among whom my lines have
lain. Do you think I am likely to be very much in love with any of
_them_?"

My speech does not seem so altogether reassuring as I had expected.

"I am very suspicious," he says, half apologetically, "but you have seen
so little of the world, you have led such a nun's life! how can you
answer for it that hereafter out in the world you may not meet some one
more to your liking? You are a dear little, kindly, tender-hearted sort,
and you do not tell me so, but you do not like me _much_, Nancy! Indeed,
dear, I could far better do without you now, than see you by-and-by
wishing me away and yet be unable to rid you of me."

"People can help falling in love," say I, with matter-of-fact
common-sense. "If I belonged to you, of course I should never think of
any one else in that way."

"Are you sure--?"

"I wish that you would not ask me any more questions," say I,
interrupting him with a pout. "I am quite sure of every thing you can
possibly think of."

"I will only ask _one_ more--are you quite sure that it is not for your
brothers' and sisters' sakes--not your own--that you are doing this? Do
you remember" (with a smile half playful, half sad) "what you told me
about your views of marriage on that first day when I found you in the
kitchen-garden?"

"I hope to Heaven that you did not think I was _hinting_," say I,
growing crimson; "it certainly sounded very like it, but I really and
truly was not. I was thinking of a _young_ man! I assure you" (speaking
with great earnestness) "that I had as much idea of marrying you as of
marrying _father_!"

Looking back with mature reflection at this speech, I think that it may
be safely reckoned among my unlucky things.

"No," he says, wincing a little, a very little. "I know you had not;
but--you have not answered my question."

For a moment I look down irresolute, then, through some fixed belief in
him, I look up and tell him the plain, bare truth.

"I _did_ think that it would be a nice thing for the boys," I say, "and
so it will, there is no doubt; you will be as good as a fa--, as a
brother to them; but--I like you _myself_ besides, you may believe it or
not as you please, but it is quite, _quite_, QUITE true."

As I speak, the tears steal into my eyes.

"And _I_ like _you_!" he answers very simply, and so saying, stoops, and
with a sort of diffidence, kisses me.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, how did it go off?" cries Bobby, curiously, when I next rejoin my
compeers. "Did you laugh?"

"_Laugh!_" I echo, with lofty anger, "I do not know what you mean! I
never felt in the least inclined." Then seeing my brethren look rather
aghast at this sudden change in the wind, I add gayly: "Bobby, you must
never again breathe a word about Sir Roger's having been at school with
father; let it be supposed that he did without education."



CHAPTER VIII.


This is my wooing: thus I am disposed of. Without a shadow of previous
flirtation with any man born of woman--without any of the ups and downs,
the ins and outs of an ordinary love-affair, I place my fate in Sir
Roger's hands. Henceforth I must have done with all girlish
speculations, as to the manner of man who is to drop from the clouds to
be my wooer. Well, I have not many day-dreams to relinquish. When I have
built Spanish castles--in a large family, one has not time for many--a
lover for myself has been less the theme of my aspirations than a
benefactor for the family. One, who will exercise a wholesomely
repressive influence over father, has been more than any thing the theme
of my longings; on the unlikely hypothesis of my marrying at all. For, O
friends, it has seemed to me _most_ unlikely; I dare say that I might
not have been over-difficult--might have thankfully and heartily loved
some one not quite a Bayard, but one cannot love _any thing_--any odd
and end--and, say what you will, the choice of a country girl, with a
little dowry and a plain face, is but small. For--do not dislike me for
it if you can help--I _am_ plain. I know it by the joint and honest
testimony of all my brethren. I have had no trouble in gathering the
truth from them. A hundred times they have volunteered it, with that
healthy disregard of any sickly sensitiveness which arms one against
blows to one's vanity through all after-life. Yes: I am plain; not
offensively so, not largely, fatly, staringly plain, but in a small,
blond, harmless way. However, Sir Roger thinks me pretty. Did not he say
so, in unmistakable English? I have tried darkly to hint this to the
boys, but have been so decisively pooh-poohed that I resolve not to
allude to the subject again. Not only am I plain now, but I shall remain
plain to my life's end. Unlike the generality of ugly heroines, you will
not see me develop and effloresce into beauty toward the end of my
story.

The interval between my betrothal and my marriage is but short. On April
22d, I put my hand into Sir Roger's. On May 20th, I am to put it into
his for good. When the bridegroom is forty-seven, and the bride one of
six, why should there be any delay? Why should a man keep and lodge his
daughter any longer than he can help, when he has found some one else
willing to do it for him? This, I think, is father's view. And,
meanwhile, father himself is more like an _angel_ than a man. Not once
do we hear the terrible polite voice that chills the marrow of our
bones. Not once is his nose more than becomingly hooked. Not once does
he look like a hawk. _Another_ long bill comes in for Algy, and is
dismissed with the benevolent comment that you cannot put gray heads
upon green shoulders. I dine every day now; and father and I converse
agreeably upon indifferent topics. Once--oh, prodigious!--we take a walk
round the Home Farm together, and he consults me about the Berkshire
pigs. Then comes a mad rush for clothes. I am involved in a whirlwind of
haberdashery, Brussels lace, diamonds. It feels very odd--the becoming
possessed of a great number of stately garments, to which Barbara has no
fellows--Barbara and I, who hitherto have been always stitch for stitch
alike. And meanwhile I see next to nothing of my future husband. This is
chiefly my own doing.

"You will not mind," I say, standing before him one day in the
drawing-room window, and speaking rather bashfully--somehow I do not
feel so comfortably easy and outspoken with him as I did before the
catastrophe--"you will not mind if I do not see much of you--do not go
out walking--do not talk to you very much till--till _it_ is over!"

"And why am I not to mind?" he asks, half jestingly, and yet a little
gravely, too.

"You will have quite enough--_too much_ of me afterward," I say, with a
shy laugh, "and _they_--they will never have much of me again--never so
much, at least--and" (with rather a tremble in my voice) "we have had
_such_ fun together!"

And so Sir Roger keeps away. Whether his self-denial costs him much, I
cannot say. It never occurs to me at the time that it does. He may think
me a very nice little girl, and that I shall be a great comfort to him,
but he cannot care much about having any very long conversations with
me--he that has seen so many lands, and known so many great and clever
people, and read so many books. He has always been _most_
undemonstrative to me. At _his_ age, no doubt, he does not care much for
the foolish endearments of lovers; so, with an easy conscience, I devote
myself, for my short space, to the boys, to Barbara, to Vick, and the
jackdaw. Once, indeed--just once--I have a little talk with him, and
afterward I almost wish that I had not had it. We are sitting under a
horse-chestnut-tree in the garden--a tree that, under the handling of
the warm air, is breaking into a thousand tender faces. We did not begin
by being _tête-à-tête_; indeed, several lately-occupied chairs intervene
between us, but first one and then another has slipped away, and we are
alone.

"Nancy!" says Sir Roger, his eyes following the Brat, who is lightly
tripping up the stone steps, looking very small and agile in his
white-flannel cricketing things, "what is that boy's real name? Why do
you call him 'the Brat'?"

"Because he _is_ such a _Brat_," reply I, fondly, picking up from the
grass a green chestnut-bud that the squirrels or the rooks have untimely
nipped. "Did you ever see any thing so little, so white and pert? He has
sadly mistaken his vocation in life: he ought to have been a street
Arab."

"One gets rather sick of one's surname," says my companion. "Except your
father, hardly any one calls me Roger now! I should be glad to answer to
it again."

He turns and looks at me with a kind of appeal as he says this. If he
were not forty-seven and a man, I should say that he was coloring a
little. After all, blushing is confined to no age. I have seen a veteran
of sixty-five redden violently.

"Do you mean to say," cry I, looking rather aghast, and speaking, as
usual, without thinking, "that you mean _me_ to call you _Roger_!
indeed, I could not think of such a thing! it would sound so--so
_disrespectful_! I should as soon think of calling my father _James_."

"Should you?" he answers, turning away his face toward the garden-beds,
where the blue forget-me-not is unrolling her sky-colored sheet, and the
double daisies are stiffly parading their tight pink buttons. "Then call
me what you like!"

I am not learned in the variations of his voice, as I am in those of
father and Algy, in either of which I can at once detect each fine
inflection of anger, contest, or pain; but, comparatively unversed as I
am in it, there sounds to me a slight, carefully smothered, yet still
perceptible, intonation of disappointment--mortification. I wish that
the air would give me back my words; but that it never yet was known to
do.

"I will try if you like," say I, cheerfully, but a little shyly, as,
like the March Hare and the Hatter in the "Mad Sea Party," I move up
past the empty chairs to the one next him. "I do not see, after all, why
I should not get quite used to it in time! Roger! Roger! it is a name I
have always been very partial to until" (laughing a little) "the
Claimant threw discredit on all Rogers!"

He is looking at me again. After all, I must have been mistaken. There
is no shadow of disappointment or mortification near him. He is smiling
with some friendliness.

"You must never mind what _I_ say," I continue, dragging my wicker chair
along the shortly-shorn sward a little nearer to him. "_Never!_ nobody
ever does; I am a proverb and a by-word for my malapropos speeches.
Mother always _trembles_ when she hears me talking to a stranger. The
first day that I dined after you came, Algy made me a list of things
that I was not to talk about to you."

"A list of sore subjects?" says my lover, laughing. "But how did the boy
know what _were_ my sore subjects? What were they, Nancy?"

"Oh, I do not know! I have forgotten," reply I, in some confusion. "I've
made some very bad shots."

And so we slip away from the subject; but, all the same, I wish that I
had not said it.

We have come to the day before the wedding. My spirits, which held up
bravely during the first two weeks of my engagement, have now
fallen--fallen, like a wind at sundown. I am as limp, lachrymose, and
lamentable, a young woman as you would find between the three seas. I
have cried with loud publicity in full school-room conclave; I have
cried with silent privacy in bed. I have cried over the jackdaw. I have
cried over the bear. I have not cried over Vick, as I am to take her
with me. To-day we have _all_ cried--boys and all; and have moistened
the bun-loaf and the gooseberry-jam at tea with our tears. Our spirits
being now temporarily revived, I am undergoing the operation of trying
my wedding-dress. I am having a private rehearsal, in fact, in mother's
boudoir, with only mother, Barbara, and the maid, for audience.

"Mine is the most hopeless kind of ugliness," say I, with an admirable
dispassionateness, as if I were talking of some one else, as, armed in
full panoply, I stand staring at my white reflection in a long mirror
let into the wall--staring at myself from top to toe--from the highest
jasmine star of my wreath to the lowest edge of my Brussels flounce. "If
I were very fat, I might fine down; if I were very thin, I might plump
up; if I were very red, I might grow pale; if I were--hush! here are the
boys. I would not for worlds that they should see me!"

So saying, I run behind the folding-screen--the screen which, through so
many winter evenings, we have adorned with gay and ingenious pictures,
and which, after having worked openly at it under her nose for a year
and a half, we presented to mother _as a surprise_, on her last
birthday.

"Come out, ostrich!" cries Algy, laughing. "Do you suppose that you are
hidden? Did it never occur to you that we could see your reflection in
the glass?"

Thus adjured, I reissue forth.

"Did you ever see such a fool as I look?" say I, feeling very sneaky,
and going through a few uncouth antics to disguise my confusion.

"Talk of _me_ being a Brat," cries the Brat, triumphantly. "I am not
half such a brat as you are! You look about ten years old!"

"Mark my words!" cries Bobby. "Wherever you go, on the Continent, you
will be taken for a good little girl making a tour with her grandpapa!"

Bobby is speaking at the top of his voice; as, indeed, we have all of us
rather a bad habit of doing. Bobby has the most excuse for it, as, being
a sailor, I suppose that he has to bellow a good deal at the
blue-jackets. In the present case, he has _one_ more listener than he
thinks. Sir Roger is among us. The door has been left ajar, and he,
hearing the merry clamor, and having always the _entrée_ to mother's
room, has entered. By the pained smile on his face, I can see that he
has heard.

"You are right, my boy," he says, quite gently, looking kindly at the
unfortunate Bobby; "she _does_ look very--_very_ young!"

"I shall mend of that!" cry I, briskly, putting my arm through his, in
anxious amends for Bobby's hapless speech. "We are a family who age
particularly early. I have a cousin whose hair was gray at
five-and-twenty, and I am sure that any one who did not know father,
would say that he was sixty, if he was a day--would not they, mother?"



CHAPTER IX.


The preparations are ended; the guests are come; no great number. A few
unavoidable Tempests, a few necessary Greys (I have told you, have not
I, that my name is Grey?). The heels have been amputated from a large
number of white satin slippers, preparatory to their being thrown after
us. The school-children have had their last practice at the
marriage-hymn.

I have resolved to rise at five o'clock on my wedding-morning, so as to
make a last gloomy progress round every bird and beast and
gooseberry-bush on the premises. I have exacted--binding her by many
stringent oaths--a solemn promise from Barbara to make me, if I do not
do so of my own accord, at the appointed hour. I am sunk in heavy sleep,
and wake only very gradually, to find her, in conformity with her
engagements, giving my shoulder reluctant and gentle pushes, and softly
calling me.

"Is it five?" say I, sitting up and yawning. Then as the recollection of
my position flashes across my mind, "I will _not_ be married!" I cry,
turning round, and burying all my face in my pillow again. "Nobody shall
induce me! Let some one go and tell Sir Roger so."

"Sir Roger is not awake," replied Barbara, laughing rather sleepily,
"you forget that."

And by the time he is awake, I have come to a saner mind. We dress, for
the last time, _alike_. The thought that never again shall I have a
holland frock like Barbara's is nearly too much for us both. We run
quietly down-stairs, and out into as August a morning as God ever gave
his poor pensioners.

We walk along soberly and silently, hand-in-hand, as we used to do when
we were little children. My heart is very, _very_ full. I may be going
to be happy in my new life. I fully expect to be. At nineteen, happiness
seems one's right, one's matter of course; but it will not be in the
same way. _This_ chapter of my life is ended, and it has been _such_ a
good chapter, so full of love, of healthy, strong affection, of
interchanged, kind offices, and little glad self-denials, so abounding
in good jokes and riotous laughter, in little pleasures that--looked
back on--seem great; in little wholesome pains that--in retrospect--seem
joys. And, as we walk, the birds

    "Prefer soft anthems to the ears of men
    To woo them from their beds, still murmuring
    That men can sleep while they their matins sing.
    Most divine service, whose so early lay
    Prevents the eyelids of the blushing day."

The old singers have said many a fine and lovely thing about lusty
spring. From their pages there seems to come a whiff of clean and
healthy perfume from many dead Mays. In sweet and matterful verse they
have sung their praises; but, oh! no singer, old or new--none, at least,
that was but human--none but a God-intoxicated man could tell the
glories of that serenely shining and suave morn.

One so seldom sees the best part of a summer day! Buried in swinish
slumber, with window-curtains heedfully drawn, and shutters closely
fastened, between us and it, we know nothing of the stately pageant
spread outside our doors.

It is wasted; nay, not wasted, for the birds have it. It is so early,
that the gardening-men are not yet come to their work. Every thing is as
wet as though there had been a shower, but there has been none.

Talk of the earth moving round the sun--he himself the while stupidly
stock-still--let _them_ believe it who like; is not he now placidly
sailing through the turquoise sea? Below, the earth is unfolding all her
freshened meadows, bravely pied with rainbow flowers. There is a very
small soft wind, that comes in honeyed puffs and little sighs, that wags
the lilac-heads, and the long droop of the laburnum-blooms. The grass is
so wet--so wet--as we swish through it, every blade a separate green
sparkle. The young daisies give our feet little friendly knocks as we
pass.

All round the old flowering thorn there is a small carpet, milk-white
and rose-red, of strewn petals. Every flower that has a cup, is holding
it brimful of cool dew. Vick is sitting on the top of the stone steps,
her ears pricked, and her little black nose working mysteriously as she
sniffs the morning air.

On the bright gravel walk stands the jackdaw, looking rather a funereal
object in his black suit, on this gaudy-colored day; his gray head very
much on one side, his round, sly eyes turned upward in dishonest
meditation. A worse bird than Jacky does not hop. His life is one long
course of larceny, and I know that if he had the gift of speech, he
would also be a consummate liar. I kneel on the walk, and, holding out a
bit of cake, call him softly and clearly, "Jacky! Jacky!" He snatches it
rudely, with a short hoarse caw, puts one black foot on it, and begins
to peck.

"Jacky! Jacky!" say I, sorrowfully, "I am going to be married! Oh, you
know that? You may thank your stars that you are not."

As I speak, my tears fall on his sleek black wings and his dear gray
head. I try to kiss him; but he makes such a spiteful peck at my nose,
that I have to give up the idea. Thus one of my good-byes is over. By
the time that they are all ended, and we have returned to the house, I
am drowned in tears, and my appearance for the day is irretrievably
damaged. My nose is certainly _very_ red. It surprises even myself, who
have known its capabilities of old. Bobby, always prosaic, suggests that
I shall hold it in the steam of boiling water, to reduce the
inflammation. But I have not the heart to try this remedy. It may be sky
blue, for all I care. Nose or no nose, I am dressed now.

Instead of the costly artificial wreath that Madame Elise sent me,
Barbara has made a little natural garland of my own flowers--my Nancies.
I smell them all the time that I am being married. I have no female
friends--Barbara has always been friend enough for me--so I have
stipulated that I shall have no other bridesmaids but her and Tou Tou.
They are not much to brag of in the way of a match. Algy indeed
suggested that in order to bring them into greater harmony, Tou Tou
shall clothe her thin legs with long petticoats, or Barbara abridge her
garments to Tou Tou's length; but the proposition has met with as little
favor in the family's eyes as did Squire Thornhill's proposal, that
every gentleman should sit on a lady's lap, in the Vicar of Wakefield.

The guests are all off to the church. I follow with my parents. Mother
is inclined to cry, until snubbed and withered into dry-eyedness by her
consort. He is, however, all benignity to me. I catch myself wondering
whether I _can_ be his own daughter; whether I am not one of the train
of neighboring misses who have sometimes made me the depository of their
raptures about him.

We reach the church. I am walking up the aisle on red cloth: the
wedding-hymn is in my ears, gayly and briskly sung, though it _is_ a
hymn, and not an _Epithalamium_: a vague idea of many people is in my
head. I am standing before the altar--the altar smothered in flowers.
The old vicar who christened me is to marry me. I have declined the
intervention of all strange bishops and curates whatsoever. He is a
clergyman of the old school, and spares us not a word of the ritual.

Truly in no squeamish age was the marriage-service composed! I
know--that is, I could have told you if you had asked me--that I am
standing beside a large and stately person, to whom, if neither God nor
man interpose to prevent it, I shall, within five minutes, be lawfully
wed; but I do not in the least degree realize it.

Now and again a strong sense of the ludicrous rushes over me. There
seems to me something acutely ridiculous in the idea of myself standing
here, so finely dressed--of the boys, demure and prim in their tall hats
and Sunday coats, gathered to see _me_ married--_me_ of all people!

Like lightning-flash there darts into my head the recollection of the
_last time that I was married_! when, long ago we were little children,
one wet Sunday afternoon, for want of a job, I had espoused Bobby; and
Algy, standing on a chair, with his night-gown on for a surplice, had
married us. It is over now. I am aware that several persons of different
genders have kissed me. I have signed my name. I am walking down the
church-yard path, the bells jangling gayly above my head, drowning the
sweet thrushes; and the school-children flinging bountiful garden
flowers before my feet. It seems to me a sin to tread upon them. It goes
to my heart. We reach the house. Vick comes out to meet us in a
crawling, groveling manner, which owes its birth to the _shame_ caused
in her mind by the huge favor which my maid has tied round her little
neck. We go into breakfast and feed--the _women_ with easy minds; the
_men_, with such appetites as the fear of impending speeches, of
horrible shattered commonplaces leaves them.

I suppose that, despite my change of name, I cannot yet be wholly a
Tempest; for, while I remain perfectly serene and calm during Sir
Roger's few plain words, I am one red misery while Algy is returning
thanks for the bridesmaids, which he does in so appallingly lame,
stammering, and altogether agonizing a manner, that I have serious
thoughts of slipping from my bridegroom's side under the friendly shade
of the table, among its sheltering legs.

Thank God it is over, and I am gone to put on my traveling-dress! The
odious parting moment has come. The carriage is at the door: the maid
and valet are in the dickey. What a pity that they are not bride and
bridegroom too! Vick has jumped in--alert and self-respecting again now
that she has bitten off her favor.

I have begun my voluminous farewells. I have kissed them all round once,
and am beginning again. How can one make up one's mind where to stop?
with whom to end?

"Never you marry, Barbara!" say I, in a sobbing whisper, as I clasp her
in my last embrace, greatly distorting my new bonnot, "it is _so_
disagreeable!"

We are off, followed by a tornado of shoes--one, aimed with dexterous
violence by that unlucky Bobby, goes nigh to cut the bridegroom's left
eye open, as he waves his good-byes.

As we trot smartly away, I turn round in the carriage and look at them
through my tears. There they all are! After all, what a nice-looking
family! Even Tou Tou! there is something pretty about her, and standing
as she is now, her legs look quite nice and thick.

       *       *       *       *       *

We reach Dover before dinner-time. Sir Roger has gone out to speak to
the courier who meets us there. I am left alone in our great stiff
sitting-room at the Lord Warden. Instantly I rush to the
writing-materials.

"What, writing already?" says my husband, reëntering, and coming over
with a smile toward me. "Have you forgotten any of your finery?"

"No, no!" cry I, impulsively, spreading both hands over the sheet; "do
not look! you must not look!"

"Do you think I _should_?" he says, reproachfully, turning quickly away.

"But you may," cry I, with one of my sudden useless remorses, holding
out the note to him. "Do! I should like you to!--I do not know why I
said it!--I was only sending them a line, just to tell them how
_dreadfully_ I missed them all!"



CHAPTER X.


I have been married a week. A _week_ indeed! a week in the sense in
which the creation of the world occupied a week!--seven geological ages,
perhaps, but _not_ seven days. We have been to Brussels, to Antwerp, to
Cologne. We have seen--(with the penetrating incense odor in our
nostrils, and the kneeling peasants at our feet)--the Descent from the
Cross, the Elevation of the Cross--dead Christs manifold. Can it be
possible that the brush which worthily painted Christ's agony, can be
the same that descended to eternize redundant red fishwives, and call
them goddesses? We have given ourselves cricks in the necks, staring up
at the divine incompleteness of Cologne Cathedral. And all through
Crucifixions, cathedrals, table d'hôtes, I have been deadly, _deadly_
homesick--homesick as none but one that has been a member of a large
family and has been out into the world on his or her own account, for
the first time, can understand. When first I drove away through the
park, my sensations were something like those that we all used to
experience, on the rare occasions when father, as a treat, took one or
other of us out on an excursion with him--the _honor_ great, but the
_pleasure_ small.

It seems to myself, as if I had not laughed once since we set
off!--yes--_once_ I did, at the recollection of an old joke of Bobby's,
that we all thought very silly at the time, but that strikes me as
irresistibly funny now that it recurs to me in the midst of strange
scenes, and of jokeless foreigners.

After forty, people do not laugh at absolutely _nothing_. They may be
very easily moved to mirth, as, indeed, to do him justice, Sir Roger is;
but they do not laugh for the pure physical pleasure of grinning. The
weight of the absolute _tête-à-tête_ of a honey-moon, which has proved
trying to a more violent love than mine, is oppressing me.

At home, if I grew tired of talking to one, I could talk to another. If
I waxed weary of Bobby's sea-tales, I might refresh myself with
listening to the Brat's braggings about Oxford--with Tou Tou's murdered
French lesson:

    J'aime,        I love.
    Tu aimes,      Thou lovest.
    Il aime,       He loves.

How many thousand years ago, the labored conjugation of that verb seems
to me!

_Now_, if I do not converse with Sir Roger, I must remain silent. And,
somehow, I cannot talk to him now as fluently as I used. Before--during
our short previous acquaintance--where I used to pester the poor man
with filial aspirations that he could not reciprocate, there seemed no
end to the things I had to say to him. I felt as if I could have told
him any thing. I bubbled over with silly jests.

It never occurred to me to think whether I pleased him or not; but
_now_--_now_, the sense of my mental inferiority--of the gulf of years
and inequalities that yawns between us--weighs like a lump of lead upon
me.

I am in constant fear of falling below his estimate of me. Before I
speak, I think whether what I am going to say will be worth saying, and,
as very few of my remarks come up to this standard, I become extremely
silent. Oh, if we could meet some one we knew--even if it were some one
that we rather disliked than otherwise: some one that would laugh and
have as few wits as I, and be _young_.

But it is too early in the year for many people to be yet abroad, and,
so far, we have fallen upon no acquaintances. Once, indeed, at Antwerp,
I see in the distance a man whose figure bears a striking resemblance to
that of "Toothless Jack," and my heart leaps--detestable as I have
always thought Barbara's aspirant; but on coming nearer the likeness
disappears, and I relapse into depression.

Long ago, I had told my husband--on the first day I had made his
acquaintance indeed--that I had no conversation, and now he is proving
experimentally the truth of my confession. At home, our talk has always
been made up of allusions, half-words, petrified witticisms, that have
become part of our language. Each sentence would require a dictionary of
explanation to any strange hearer. _Now_, if I wish to be understood, I
must say my meaning in plain English, and very laborious I find it.

To-day, we are on our way from Cologne to Dresden; sixteen hours and a
half at a stretch. This of itself is enough to throw the equablest mind
off its balance.

We have a _coupé_ to ourselves. This is quite opposed to my wishes, nor
is it Sir Roger's doing, but Schmidt, the courier, knowing what is
seemly on those occasions--what he has always done for all former
freshly-wed couples whom he has escorted--secured it before we could
prevent him. As for me, it would have amused me to see the people come
in and out, to air my timid German in little remarks about the weather;
albeit I have thus early discovered that the German, which we have been
exhorted to talk among ourselves in the school-room, to perfect us in
that tongue, bears no very pronounced likeness to the language as talked
by the indigenous inhabitants. They _will_ talk so fast, and they never
say any thing in the least like Ollendorff.

_Sixteen hours and a half_ of a _tête-à-tête_ more complete and unbroken
than any we have yet enjoyed. All day I watch the endless, treeless,
hedgeless German flats fly past; the straight-lopped poplars, the spread
of tall green wheat, the blaze of rape-fields--the villages and towns,
with two-towered German churches, over and over, and over again. Oh, for
a hill, were it no bigger than a molehill! Oh, for a broad-armed English
oak!

At Minden we stop to lunch. The whole train pushes and jostles into the
refreshment-room, and, in ten galloping minutes, we devour three filthy
_plats_; a nauseous potage, a terrible dish of sickly veal, and a ragged
Braten. Then a rush and tumble off again.

The day rolls past, dustily, samely, wearily. There have been flying
thunder-storms--lightning-flashes past the windows. I hide my face in my
dusty gloves to avoid seeing the quick red forks, and leave a smear on
each grimy cheek. Every moment, I am a rape-field--a corn-field, a
bean-field, farther from Barbara, farther from the Brat, farther from
the jackdaw.

"This is rather a long day for you, child!" says Sir Roger, kindly,
perceiving, I suppose, the joviality of the expression with which I am
eying the German landscape. "The most tedious railway-journey you ever
took, I suppose?"

"Yes," reply I, "far! It seems like three Sundays rolled into one, does
not it? What time is it now?"

He takes out his watch and looks.

"Twenty past five."

"_Seven_ hours more!" say I, with a burst of desperateness.

"I am so sorry for you, Nancy! what can one do for you?" says my
husband, looking thoroughly discomfited, concerned, and helpless. "Would
you care to have a book?"

"I cannot read in a train," reply I, dolorously, "it makes me _sick_!"
Then feeling rather ashamed of my peevishness--"Never mind me!" I say,
with a dusty smile; "I am quite happy! I--I--like looking out."

The day falls, the night comes. On, on, on! There is a bit of
looking-glass opposite me. I can no longer see any thing outside. I have
to sit staring at my own plain, grimed, bored face. In a sudden fury, I
draw the little red silk curtain across my own image. Thank God! I can
no longer see myself. Sir Roger ceases to try his eyes with the print of
the _Westminster_, and closes it.

"I wonder," say I, pouring some eau-de-cologne on my
pocket-handkerchief, and trying to cleanse my face therewith, but only
succeeding in making it a muddy instead of a dusty smudge--"I wonder
whether we shall meet any one we know at Dresden?"

"I should not wonder," replies Sir Roger, cheerfully.

"Is the Hôtel de Saxe the place where most English go?" inquire I,
anxiously. "Ah, you do not know! I must ask Schmidt."

"Yes, do."

"I hope we shall," say I, straining my eyes to make out the objects in
the dark outside. "We have been very unlucky so far, have not we?"

"Are you so anxious to meet people? are you so dull already, Nancy?" he
asks, in that voice of peculiar gentleness which I have already learned
to know hides inward pain.

"Oh, no, no!" cry I, with quick remorse. "Not at all! I have always
_longed_ to travel! At one time Barbara and I were always talking about
it, making plans, you know, of where we would go. I enjoy it, of all
things, especially the pictures--but do not you think it would be
amusing to have some one to talk to at the _tables d'hôte_, some one
English, to laugh at the people with?"

"Yes," he answers, readily, "of course it would. It is quite natural
that you should wish it. I heartily hope we shall. We will go wherever
it is most likely."

After long, _long_ hours of dark rushing, Dresden at last. We drive in
an open carriage through an unknown town, moonlit, silent, and asleep.
German towns go to bed early. We cross the Elbe, in which a second moon,
big and clear as the one in heaven, lies quivering, waving with the
water's wave; then through dim, ghostly streets, and at last--at
last--we pull up at the door of the Hôtel de Saxe, and the sleepy porter
comes out disheveled.

"There is no doubt," say I, aloud, when I find myself alone in my
bedroom, Sir Roger not having yet come up, and the maid having gone to
bed--addressing the remark to the hot water in which I have been bathing
my face, stiff with dirt, and haggard with fatigue. "There is no use
denying it, I _hate_ being married!"



CHAPTER XI.


We have been in Dresden three whole days, and as yet my aspirations have
not met their fulfillment. We have met no one we know. We have borrowed
the Visitors' Book from the porter, and diligently searched it. We have
expectantly examined the guests at the _tables d'hôte_ every day, but
with no result. It is too early in the year. The hotel is not half full.
Of its inmates one half are American, a quarter German, and the other
quarter English, such as not the most rabidly social mind can wish to
forgather with. At the discovery of our ill-success, Sir Roger looks so
honestly crestfallen that my heart smites me.

"How eager you are!" I say, laying my hand on his, with a smile. "You
are far more anxious about it than I am! I begin to think that you are
growing tired of me already! As for me," continue I, nonchalantly,
seeing his face brighten at my words, "I think I have changed my mind.
Perhaps it would be rather a _bore_ to meet any acquaintance,
and--and--we do very well as we are, do not we?"

"Is that true, Nancy?" he says, eagerly. "I have been bothering my head
rather with the notion that I was but poor company for a little young
thing like you; that you must be wearying for some of your own friends."

"I never had a friend," reply I, "_never_--that is--except _you_! The
boys"--(with a little stealing smile)--"always used to call you my
friend--always from the first, from the days I used to take you out
walking, and keep wishing that you were my father, and be rather hurt
because I never could get you to echo the wish."

"And you are not much disappointed _really_?" he says, with a wistful
persistence, as if he but half believed the words my lips made. "If you
are, mind you tell me, child--tell me every thing that vexes
you--_always_!"

"I will tell you every thing that happens to me, bad and good," reply I,
quite gayly, "and all the unlucky things I say--there, that is a large
promise, I can tell you!"

I am no longer dusty and grimy; quite spick and span, on the contrary;
so freshly and prettily dressed, indeed, that the thought _will_ occur
to me that it is a pity there are not more people to see me. However, no
doubt some one will turn up by-and-by. The weather is serenely, evenly
fine. It seems as if no rain _could_ come from such a high blue sky. It
is late afternoon or early evening. Since dinner is over--dinner at the
godless hour of half-past four--I suppose we must call it evening. Sir
Roger and I are driving out in an open carriage beyond the town, across
the Elbe, up the shady road to Weisserhoisch. The calm of coming night
is falling with silky softness upon every thing. The acacias stand on
each side of the highway, with the delicate abundance of their airy
flowers, faintly yet most definitely sweet on the evening air.

I look up and see the crowded blooms drooping in pensive beauty above my
head. The guelder-rose's summer snow-balls, and the mock-orange with its
penetrating odor, whiten the still gardens as we pass. The billowy
meadow-grass, the tall red sorrel, the untidy, ragged robin, all the
yearly-recurring May miracles! What can I say, O my friends, to set them
fairly before you?

Under the trees the townsfolk are walking, chatting low and friendly. A
soldier has his arm round a fat-faced Mädchen's waist, an attention
which she takes with the stolidity engendered by long habit. Dear,
willing, panting dogs, are laboriously dragging the washer-women's
little carts up-hill.

"Vick," say I, gravely, "how would you like to drag a little cart to the
wash?"

Vick does not answer verbally, but she stretches her small neck over the
carriage-side, and gives a disdainful yet inquisitive _smell_ at her low
brethren. No words could express a fuller contempt for a dog that earns
his own living.

The driver is taking his horses along very easily, but we do not care to
hurry him. I have not felt so happy, so at ease, so gay, since I was
wed.

"This _is_ nice," say I, making a frantic snatch at a long acacia-droop;
"_how_ I wish they were _all_ here!"

Sir Roger laughs a little, and raises his eyebrows slightly.

"Do you mean _with us_--_now_--_in the carriage_? Should not we be
rather a tight fit?"

"Rather," say I, laughing too. "We should be puzzled how to pack them
all, should not we? We would be like the animals in a Noah's ark."

A little pause.

"General," say I, impulsively, "it has just occurred to me, are not you
sometimes deadly, _deadly_ tired of hearing about the boys? I am sure I
should be, if I were you. Confess! I will try not to be any angrier with
you than I can help; but do not you sometimes wish that Algy and Bobby,
and the Brat--not to speak of Tou Tou--were drowned in the Red Sea, or
in the horse-pond, at home?"

"At least you gave me fair warning," he says, with a smile. "Do you
remember telling me that whoever married you would have to marry all
six?"

"I wish you would not remind me of that," say I, reddening.

It was quite the broadest hint any one ever gave. The evening is
deepening. We have reached Weisserhoisch. Now our faces are turned
homeward again. As we pass the entrance to the Gardens of the Linnisches
Bad, we see the lamps springing into light, and the people gayly yet
quietly trooping in, while on the soft evening air comes the swell of
merry music.

"Stop! stop!" cry I, springing up, excitedly. "Let us go in. I _love_ a
band! It is almost as good as a circus. May we, general? Do you mind?
Would it bore you?"

Five minutes more, and we are sitting at a little round table, each with
a tall green glass of Mai-Trank before us, and a brisk Uhlanenritt in
our ears. I look round with a pleasant sense of dissipation. The still,
green trees; the cluster of oval lamps, like great bright ostrich-eggs;
the countless little tables like our own; the happy social groups; the
waiters running madly about with bif-tecks; the great-lidded goblets of
amber-colored Bohemian beer; the young Bavarian officers, in light-blue
uniforms, at the next table to us--stalwart, fair-haired boys--I should
not altogether mind knowing a few of them; and, over all, the arch of
suave, dark, evening sky.

"What shall we have for supper?" cry I, vivaciously. "I never can see
anybody eating without longing to eat too. _Blutwurst!_ That means
black-pudding, I suppose--certainly not _that_--how they do call a spade
a spade in German! By-the-by, what are the soldiers having? Can you see?
I think I saw a vision of _prawns_! I saw things sticking out like their
legs. I _must_ find out!"

I rise, on pretense of getting a little wooden stool from under an
unoccupied table close to the object of my curiosity, and, as I stoop to
pick it up, I fraudulently glance over the nearest warrior's shoulder.
My sin finds me out. He turns and catches me in the act, and at the same
time a young man--_not_ a warrior, at least not in uniform, but in loose
gray British clothes--turns, too, and fixes me with a stony, British
stare. I am returning in some confusion, having moreover incidentally
discovered that they were _not_ prawns, when to my extreme surprise, I
hear my husband addressing the young gentleman in gray.

"Why, Frank, my dear boy, is that you? Who would have thought of seeing
_you_ here?"

"As to that," replies the young man, stretching out a ready right hand,
"who would have thought of seeing _you_? What on earth has brought _you_
here?"

Sir Roger laughs, but with a sort of shyness.

"Like the man in the parable, I have married a wife," he says; then,
putting his hand kindly on the young fellow's shoulder--"Nancy, you have
been wishing that we might meet some one we knew, have not you? Well,
here is some one. I suppose that I must introduce you formally to each
other. Lady Tempest--Mr. Musgrave."

Despite the searching, and, I should have thought, exhaustive
examination of my appearance, that my new friend has already indulged
in, he thinks good to look at me again, as he bows, and this time with a
sort of undisguisable surprise in his great dark eyes.

"I must apologize," he says, taking off his hat. "I had heard that you
were going to be married, but I am so behind the time, have been so out
of the way of hearing news, that I did not know that it had come off
yet."

He says this with a little of that doubtful stiffness, which sometimes
owes its birth to shyness, and sometimes to self-consciousness; but he
seems in no hurry to return to his friends, the big, blond soldiers. On
the contrary, he draws a chair up to our table.

"Do they ever get _prawns_ here?" say I, with apparent irrelevancy, not
being able to disengage my mind from the thought of shell-fish, "or is
it too far inland? I am _so_ fond of them, and I fancied that these
gentlemen--" (slightly indicating the broad, blue warrior-backs)--"were
eating some."

His mouth curves into a sudden smile.

"Was that why you came to look?"

I laugh.

"I did not mean to be seen: that person must have had eyes in the back
of his head."

I relapse into silence, and fish for the sprigs of woodruff floating in
my Mai-Trank, while the talk passes to Sir Roger. Presently I become
aware that the stranger is addressing me by that new title which makes
me disposed to laugh.

"Lady Tempest, have you seen those lamps that they have here, in the
shape of flowers? Cockney sort of things, but they are rather pretty."

"No," say I, eagerly, dropping my spoon and looking up; "_in the shape
of flowers_? Where?"

"You cannot see them from here," he answers; "they are over there,
nearer the river."

"I should like to see them," say I, decisively; "shall we, general?"

"Will you spare Lady Tempest for five minutes?" says the young man,
addressing my husband; "it is not a hundred yards off."

At _my_ words Sir Roger had made a slight movement toward rising; but,
at the stranger's, he resettles himself in his chair.

"Will you not come, too? Do!" say I, pleadingly; and, as I speak, I half
stretch out my hand to lay it on his arm; then hastily draw it back,
afraid and ashamed of vexing him by public demonstrations.

He looks up at me with a smile, but shakes his head.

"I think I am lazy," he says; "I will wait for you here."

We set off; I with a strongish, but unexplained feeling of resentment
against my companion.

"Where are they?" I ask, pettishly; "not far off, I hope! I do not fancy
I shall care about them!"

"I did not suppose that you would," he replies, in an extremely happy
tone; "would you like us to go back?"

"No," reply I, carelessly, "it would not be worth while now we have
started."

We march on in solemn silence, not particularly pleased with each other.
I am staring about me, with as greedily wondering eyes as if I were a
young nun let loose for the first time. We pass a score--twoscore,
threescore, perhaps--of happy parties, soldiers again, a _bourgeois_
family of three generations, the old grandmother with a mushroom-hat
tied over her cap--soldiers and Fräuleins _coketteering_. The air comes
to our faces, dry, warm, and elastic, yet freshened by the river, far
down in whose quiet heart all the lamps are burning again.

"Have you been here long?" says Mr. Musgrave, presently, in a formal
voice, from which I see that resentment is not yet absent.

"Yes," say I, having on the other hand fully recovered my good-humor, "a
good while--that is, not very long--three, four, three whole days."

"Do you call that a _good while_?"

"It seems more," reply I, looking frankly back at him in the lamplight,
and thinking that he cannot be much older than Algy, and that, in
consequence, it is rather a comfort not to be obliged to feel the
slightest respect for him.

"And how long have you been abroad altogether?"

We have reached the flower-lamps. We are standing by the bed in which
they are supposed to grow. There are half a dozen of them: a fuchsia, a
convolvulus, lilies.

"I do not think much of them," say I, disparagingly, kneeling down to
examine them. "What a villainous rose! It is like an _artichoke_!"

"I told you you would not like them," he says, not looking at the
flowers, but switching a little stick nonchalantly about; then, after a
moment: "How long did you say you had been abroad?"

"You asked me that before," reply I, sharply, rising from my knees, and
discovering that the evening grass has left a disfiguring green trace on
my smart _trousseau_ gown.

"Yes, and you did not give me any answer," he replies, with equal
sharpness.

"Because I cannot for the life of me recollect," reply I, looking up for
inspiration to the stars, which the great bright lamps make look small
and pale. "I must do a sum: what day of the month is this?--the 31st?
Oh, thanks, so it is; and we were married on the 20th. It is ten days,
then. Oh, it _must_ be more--it seems like ten _months_."

I am looking him full in the face as I say this, and I see a curious,
and to me _puzzling_, expression of inquiry and laughter in the shady
darkness of his eyes.

"Has the time seemed so long to you, then?"

"No," reply I, reddening with vexation at my own _bêtise_; "that
is--yes--because we have been to so many places, and seen so many
things--any one would understand _that_."

"And when do you go home?"

"In less than three weeks now," I reply, in an alert, or rather joyful
tone; "at least I hope so--I mean" (again correcting myself)--"I _think_
so."

Somehow I feel dissatisfied with my own explanations, and recommence:

"The boys--that is, my brothers--will soon be scattered to the ends of
the earth; Algy has got his commission, and Bobby will soon be sent to a
foreign station--he is in the navy, you will understand; and so we all
want to be together once again before they go."

"You are not going home _really_, then?" inquires my companion, with a
slight shade of disappointment in his tone; "not to _Tempest_--that is?"

"What a number of questions you do ask!" say I, impatiently. "Of what
possible interest can it be to you where we are going?"

"Only that I shall be your nearest neighbor," replies he, stiffly; "and,
as Sir Roger has hardly ever been down hitherto, I am rather tired of
living next an empty house."

"Our nearest neighbor!" cry I, with animation, opening my eyes. "Not
_really_? Well, I am rather glad! Only yesterday I was asking Sir Roger
whether there were many young people about. And _how_ near are you?
_Very_ near?"

"About as near as I well can be," answers he, dryly. "My lodge exactly
faces yours."

"Too close," say I, shaking my head. "We shall quarrel."

"And do you mean to say," in a tone of attempted lightness that but
badly disguises a good deal of hurt conceit, "that you never heard my
name before?"

Again I shake my head.

"Never! and, what is more, I do not think I know what it is now: I
suppose I did not listen very attentively, but I do not think I caught
it."

"And your tone says" (with a very considerable accession of huffiness)
"that you are supremely indifferent as to whether you _ever_ catch it."

I laugh.

"_Catch_ it! you talk as if it were a _disease_. Well" (speaking
demurely), "perhaps on the whole it _would_ be more convenient if I were
to know it."

Silence.

"Well! what is it?"

No answer.

"I shall have to ask at your lodge!"

"Who _can_ pronounce his _own_ name in cold blood?" he says, reddening a
little. "I, for one, cannot--there--if you do not mind looking at this
card--"

He takes one out of his pocket, and I stop--we are slowly strolling
back--under a lamp, to read it:

    MR. FRANCIS MUSGRAVE,
    MUSGRAVE ABBEY.

"Oh, thanks--_Musgrave_--yes."

"And Sir Roger has never mentioned me to you _really_?" he says,
recurring with persistent hurt vanity to the topic. "How very odd of
him!"

"Not in the least odd!" reply I, brusquely. "Why should he? He knew that
I was not aware of your existence, and that therefore you would not be a
very interesting subject to me; no doubt"--(smiling a little)--"I shall
hear all about you from him now."

He is silent.

"And do you live _here_ at this abbey"--(pointing to the card I still
hold in my hand)--"_all by yourself_?"

"Do you mean without a _wife_?" he asks, with a half-sneering smile.
"Yes--I have that misfortune."

"I was not thinking of a _wife_," say I, rather angrily. "It never
occurred to me that you could have one! you are too young--a great deal
too young!"

"_Too young_, am I? At what age, then, may one be supposed to deserve
that blessing? forty? fifty? sixty?"

I feel rather offended, but cannot exactly grasp in my own mind the
ground of offense.

"I meant, of course, had you any father? any mother?"

"Neither. I am that most affecting spectacle--an orphan-boy."

"You have no brothers and sisters, I am _sure_," say I, confidently.

"I have not, but why you should be _sure_ of it, I am at a loss to
imagine."

"You seem to take offense rather easily," I say, ingenuously. "You
looked quite cross when I said I did not think much of the flowers--and
again when I said I had forgotten your name--and again when I told you,
you were too young to have a wife: now, you know, in a large family, one
has all that sort of nonsense knocked out of one."

"Has one?" (rather shortly).

"Nobody would mind whether one were huffy or not," continue I; "they
would only laugh at one."

"What a pleasant, civil-spoken thing a large family must be!" he says,
dryly.

We have reached Sir Roger. I had set off on my little expedition feeling
rather out of conceit with my young friend, and I return with those
dispositions somewhat aggravated. We find my husband sitting where we
left him, placidly smoking and listening to the band.

    "Four-and-twenty fiddlers all in a row!"

They have long finished the Uhlanenritt, and are now clashing out a
brisk Hussarenritt, in which one plainly hears the hussars' thundering
gallop, while the conductor madly waves his arms, as he has been doing
unintermittingly for the last two hours.

"You were quite wise," say I, laying my hand on the back of his chair;
"you had much the best of it! they were a great imposture!"

"Were they?" he says, taking his cigar out of his mouth, and lifting his
handsome and severe iron-gray eyes to mine. "They were farther off than
you thought, were not they? I began to think you had not been able to
find them."

"Have we been so long?" I say, surprised. "It did not _seem_ long! I
suppose we dawdled. We began to talk--bah! it is growing chill! let us
go home!"

Mr. Musgrave accompanies us to the entrance to the gardens.

"Good-night, Frank!" cries Sir Roger, as he follows me into the
carriage.

As soon as I am in, I recollect that I have ungratefully forgotten to
shake hands with my late escort.

"Good-night!" cry I, too, stretching out a compunctious hand, over Sir
Roger and the carriage-side. "I am so sorry! I forgot all about you!"

"What hotel are you at?" asks Sir Roger, closing the carriage-door after
him. "The Victoria? Oh, yes. We are at the Saxe. You must come and look
us up when you have nothing better to do. Our rooms are number--what is
it, Nancy? I never can recollect."

"No. 5," reply I. "But, indeed, it is not much use any one coming to
call upon us, is it? For we are always out--morning, noon, and night."

With this parting encouragement on my part, we drive off, and leave our
young friend trying, with only moderate success, to combine a gracious
smile to Sir Roger, with a resentful scowl at me, under a lamp-post. We
roll along quickly and easily, through the soft, cool, lamplit night.

"Well, how did you get on with him, Nancy?" asks Sir Roger.
"Good-looking fellow, is not he?"

"Is he?" say I, carelessly. "Yes, I suppose he is, only that I never
_can_ admire _dark_ men: I am so glad that all the boys are fair--I
should have hated a _black_ brother."

"How do you know that my hair was not coal-black before it turned gray?"
he asks, with a smile. "It may have been the hue of the carrion-crow for
all you know."

"I am _sure_ it was not," reply I, stoutly; then, after a little pause,
"I do not think that I _did_ get on well with him--not what _I_ call
getting on--he seems rather a touchy young gentleman."

"You must not quarrel with him, Nancy," says Sir Roger, laughing. "He
lives not a stone's-throw from us."

"So he told me!"

"Poor fellow!" with an accent of compassion. "He has never had much of a
chance; he has been his own master almost ever since he was born--a bad
thing for any boy--he has no parents, you know."

"So he told me."

"Neither has he any brothers or sisters."

"So he told me!"

"He seems to have told you a great many things."

"Yes," reply I, "but then I asked him a great many questions: our
conversation was rather like the catechism: the moment I stopped asking
_him_ questions, he began asking me!"



CHAPTER XII.


Three long days--all blue and gold--blue sky and gold sunshine--roll
away. If Schmidt, the courier, _has_ a fault, it is over-driving us. We
visit the Grüne Gewölbe, the Japanese Palace, the Zwinger--and we visit
them _alone_. Dresden is not a very large place, yet in no part of it,
in none of its bright streets--in neither its old nor its new market, in
none of its public places, do I catch a glimpse of my new acquaintance.
Neither does he come to call. This last fact surprises me a little, and
disappoints me a good deal. Our walk at the Linnisches Bad in the gay
lamplight, his character, his conversation, even his appearance, begin
to undergo a transformation in my mind. After all, he was not _really_
dark--not one of those black men, against whom Barbara and I have always
lifted up our testimonies; by daylight, I think his eyes would have been
hazel. He certainly was very easy to talk to. One had not to pump up
conversation for him, and I do not suppose that, _as men go_, he was
_really_ very touchy. One cannot expect everybody to be so jest-hardened
and robustly good-tempered as the boys. Often before now I have only
been able to gauge the unfortunateness of my speeches to men, by the
rasping effect they have had on their tempers, and which has often taken
me honestly by surprise.

"_Again_, Mr. Musgrave has not been to call," say I, one afternoon, on
returning from a long and rather grilling drive, speaking in a slightly
annoyed tone.

"Did you expect that he would?" asks Sir Roger, with a smile. "I think
that, after the searching snub you gave him, he would have been a bolder
man than I take him for, if he had risked his head in the lion's mouth."

"_Am_ I such a lion?" say I, with an accent of vexation. "_Did_ I snub
him? I am sure I had no more idea of snubbing him than I had of snubbing
_you_; that is the way in which I always cut my own throat!"

I draw a chair into the balcony, where he has already established
himself with his cigar, and sit down beside him.

"I foresee," say I, beginning to laugh rather grimly, "that a desert
will spread all round our house! your friends will disappear before my
tongue, like morning mist."

"Let them!"

After a pause, edging a little nearer to him, and, regardless of the
hay-carts in the market below--laying my fair-haired head on his
shoulder:

"What _could_ have made you marry such a _shrew_? I believe it was the
purest philanthropy."

"That was it!" he answers, fondly. "To save any other poor fellow from
such an infliction!"

"Quite unnecessary!" rejoin I, shaking my head. "If you had not married
me, it is very certain that nobody else would!"

Another day has come. It is hot afternoon. Sir Roger is reading the
_Times_ in our balcony, and I am strolling along the dazzling streets by
myself. What can equal the white glare of a foreign town? I am strolling
along by myself under a big sun-shade. My progress is slow, as my nose
has a disposition to flatten itself against every shop-window--saving,
perhaps, the cigar ones. A grave problem is engaging my mind. What
present am I to take to father? It is this question which moiders our
young brains as often as his birthday recurs. My thoughts are trailing
back over all our former gifts to him. This year we gave him a
spectacle-case (he is short-sighted); last year a pocket-book; the year
before, an inkstand. What is there left to give him? A cigar-case? He
does not smoke. A hunting-flask? He has half a dozen. A Norwegian stove?
He does not approve of them, but says that men ought to be satisfied
with sandwiches out shooting. A telescope? He never lifts his eyes high
enough above our delinquencies to look at the stars. I cannot arrive at
any approximation to a decision. As I issue from a china-shop, with a
brown-paper parcel under my arm, and out on the hot and glaring flags, I
see a young man come stepping down the street, with a long, loose,
British stride; a young man, pale and comely, and a good deal worn out
by the flies, that have also eaten most of me.

"How are you?" cry I, hastily shifting my umbrella to the other hand, so
as to have my right one ready to offer him. "Are not these streets
blinding? I am blinking like an owl in daylight!--so you never came to
see us, after all!"

"It was so likely that I should!" he answers, with his nose in the air.

"Very likely!" reply I, taking him literally; "so likely that I have
been expecting you every day."

"You seem to forget--confound these flies!"--(as a stout blue-bottle
blunders into one flashing eye)--"you seem to forget that you told me,
in so many words, to stay away."

"You _were_ huffy, then!" say I, with an accent of incredulity. "Sir
Roger was right! he said you were, and I could not believe it; he was
quite sorry for you. He said I had snubbed you so."

"_Snubbed_ me!" reddening self-consciously, and drawing himself up as if
he did not much relish the application of the word. "I do not often give
any one the chance of doing that _twice_!"

"You are not going to be offended _again_, I suppose," say I,
apprehensively; "it must be with Sir Roger this time, if you are! it was
he that was sorry for you, not _I_."

We look at each other under my green sun-shade (his eyes _are_ hazel, by
daylight), and then we both burst into a duet of foolish friendly
laughter.

"I want you to give me your advice," say I, as we toddle amicably along,
side by side. "What would be a nice present for a gentleman--an elderly
gentleman--at least _rather_ elderly, who _has_ a spectacle-case, a
pocket-book, an inkstand, six Church services, and who does not smoke."

"But he _does_ smoke," says Mr. Musgrave, correcting me. "I _saw_ him
the other day."

"Saw _whom_? What--do you mean?"

"Are not you talking of Sir Roger?" he asks, with an accent of surprise.

"_Sir Roger!_" (indignantly). "No, indeed! do you think _he_ wants
spectacles? No! I was talking of my father."

"_Your father?_ You are not, like me, a poor misguided orphan, then; you
have a father."

"I should think I _had_," reply I, expressively.

"Any brothers? Oh, yes, by-the-by, I know you have! you held them up for
my imitation the other day--half a dozen fellows who never take offense
at any thing."

"No more they do!" cry I, firing up. "If I tell them when I go home, as
I certainly shall, if I remember, that you were out of humor and bore
malice for _three_ whole days, because I happened to say that we were
generally out-of-doors most of the day--they will not believe it--simply
they will not."

"And have you also six sisters?" asks the young man, dexterously
shifting the conversation a little.

"No, two."

"And are they _all_ to have presents?--six and two is eight, and your
father nine, and--I suppose you have a mother, too?"

"Yes."

"Nine and one is ten--ten brown-paper parcels, each as large as the one
you now have under your arm--by-the-by, would you like me to carry it?
_What_ a lot you will have to pay for extra luggage!"

His offer to carry my parcel is so slightly and incidentally made, and
is so unaccompanied by any gesture suited to the words, that I decline
the attention. The people pass to and fro in the sun as we pace
leisurely along.

"Have you nearly done your shopping?" asks my companion, presently.

"Very nearly."

"What do you say to taking a tour through the gallery?" he says, "or are
you sick of the pictures?"

"Far from it," say I, briskly, "but, all the same, I cannot do it; I am
going back at once to Sir Roger; we are to drive to Loschwitz: I only
came out for a little prowl by myself, to think about father's present!
Sir Roger cannot help me at all," I continue, marching off again into
the theme which is uppermost in my thoughts. "_He_ suggested a
traveling-bag, but I know that father would _hate_ that."

"To _drive_! this time of day!" cried Mr. Musgrave, in a tone of extreme
disapprobation; "will not you get well baked?"

"I dare say," I answer, absently; then, in a low tone to myself, "_why_
does not he smoke? it would be so easy then--a smoking-cap, a
tobacco-pouch, a cigar-holder, a hundred things!"

"Is it _quite_ settled about Loschwitz?" asks the young man, with an air
of indifference.

"Quite," say I, still not thinking of what I am saying. "That is,
no--not quite--nearly--a bag _is_ useful, you know."

"I passed the Saxe just now," he says, giving his hat a little tilt over
his nose, "and saw Sir Roger sitting in the balcony, with his cigar and
his _Times_, and he looked so luxuriously comfortable that it seemed a
sin to disturb him. Do not you think, taking the dust and the
blue-bottles into consideration, that it would be kinder to leave him in
peace in his arm-chair?"

"No, I do not," reply I, flatly. "I suppose he knows best what he likes
himself; and why a strong, hearty man in the prime of life should be
supposed to wish to spend a whole summer afternoon nodding in an
arm-chair, any more than you would wish it yourself, I am at a loss to
inquire!" The suggestion has irritated me so much that for the moment I
forget the traveling-bag.

"When I am as old as he," replies the young man, coldly, shaking the ash
off his cigar, "if I ever am, which I doubt, and have knocked about the
world for as many years, and imperiled my liver in as many climates, and
sent as many Russians, and Chinamen, and Sikhs to glory as he has, I
shall think myself entitled to sit in an arm-chair--yes, and sleep in it
too--all day, if I feel inclined."

I do not answer, partly because I am exasperated, partly because at this
moment my eye is caught by an object in a shop-window--a traveling-bag,
with its mouth invitingly open, displaying all manner of manly
conveniences. I hastily furl my green umbrella, and step in. My squire
does not follow me. I hardly notice the fact, but suppose that he is
standing outside in the sun. However, when I reissue forth, I find that
he has disappeared. I look up the street, down the street. There is no
trace of him. I walk away, feeling a little mortified. I go into a few
more shops: I dawdle over some china. Then I turn my steps homeward.

At a narrow street-corner, in the grateful shade cast by some tall
houses, I come face to face with him again.

"Did not you wonder where I had disappeared to?" he asks; "or perhaps
you never noticed that I had?"

He is panting a little, as if he had been running, or walking fast.

"I thought that most likely you had taken offense again," reply I, with
a laugh, "and that I had lost sight of you for three more days."

"I have been to the Hôtel de Saxe," he replies, with a rather triumphant
smile on his handsome mustacheless lips. "I thought I would find out
about Loschwitz."

"Find out _what_?" cry I, standing still, raising my voice a little, and
growing even redder than the sun, the flies, the brown-paper parcel, and
the heavy umbrella, have already made me. "There was nothing to find
out! I wish you would leave things alone; I wish you would let me manage
my own business."

The smile disappears rather rapidly.

"You have not been telling the general," continue I, in a tone of rapid
apprehension, "that I did not want to go with him? because, if you have,
it was a great, great _mistake_."

"I told him nothing of the kind," replies Mr. Musgrave, looking, like
me, fierce, but--unlike me--cool and pale. "I was not so inventive. I
merely suggested that sunstroke would most likely be your portion if you
went now, and that it would be quite as easy, and a great deal
pleasanter, to go three hours later."

"Yes? and he said--what?"

"He was foolish enough to agree with me."

We are standing in a little quiet street, all shade and dark shops.
There are very few passers-by. I feel rather ashamed of myself, and my
angry eyes peruse the pavement. Neither does he speak. Presently I look
up at him rather shyly.

"How about the gallery? the pictures?"

"Do you wish to go there?" he asks, with rather the air of a polite
martyr. "I shall be happy to take you if you like."

"Do!" say I, heartily, "and let us try to be friends, and to spend five
minutes without quarreling!"

       *       *       *       *       *

We have spent more than five, a great deal more--thirty, forty, perhaps,
and our harmony is still unbroken, _uncracked_ even. We have sat in awed
and chastened silence before the divine meekness of the Sistine Madonna.
We have turned away in disgust from Jordain's brutish "Triumphs of
Silenus," and tiresome repetitions of Hercules in drink. We have admired
the exuberance of St. Mary of Egypt's locks, and irreverently compared
them to the effects of Mrs. Allen's "World-wide Hair Restorer." We have
observed that the forehead of Holbein's great Virgin is too high to
please _us_, and made many other connoisseur-like remarks. I have
pointed out to Mr. Musgrave the Saint Catherine which has a look of
Barbara, and we have both grown rather tired of St. Sebastian, stuck as
full of darts as a pin-cushion of pins. Now we are sitting down resting
our eyes and our strained powers of criticism, and have fallen into easy
talk.

"I am glad you are coming to dine at our _table d'hôte_ to-night," say
I, in a friendly tone. "It will be nice for the general to have an
Englishman to talk to. I hope you will sit by him; he has been so much
used to men all his life that he must get rather sick of having nothing
but the chatter of one woman to depend upon."

"At least he has no one but himself to blame for that," replies the
young fellow, laughing. "I suppose it was his own doing."

"How do you know that?" cry I, gayly, and then the recollection of my
_hint_ to Sir Roger--a remembrance that always makes me rather
hot--comes over me, and causes me to turn my head quickly away with a
red blush. "It certainly _has_ a look of Barbara," I say, glancing
toward the Saint Catherine, and rushing quickly into another subject.

"Has it?" he says, apparently unaware of the rapidity of my transition.
"Then I wish I knew Barbara."

I laugh.

"I dare say you do."

"She is not much like you, I suppose?" he says, turning from the saint's
straight and strict Greek profile to the engaging irregularity of mine.

"Not exactly," say I, with emphasis. "Ah!" (in a tone of prospective
triumph), "wait till you see her!"

"I am afraid that I shall have to wait some time."

"The Brat--that is one of my brothers, you know--is the one like me," I
say, becoming diffuse, as I always do, when the theme of my family is
started; "we _are_ like! We can see it ourselves."

"Is he one of the thick-skinned six that you told me about?"

"There are _not_ six," cry I, impatiently. "I do not know what put it
into your head that there were _six_; there are only _three_."

"You certainly told me there were six."

"I am _he_ in petticoats," say I, resuming the thread of my own
narrative; "everybody sees the likeness. One day when he was three or
four years younger, we dressed him up in my things--my gown and bonnet,
you know--and all the servants took him for me; they only found him out
because he held up his gown so awkwardly high, and gave it such great
kicks to keep it out of his way, that they saw his great nailed boots!
Sir Roger thought we were twins the first time he saw us."

"Sir Roger!" repeats the young man, as if reminded by the name of
something he had meant to say. "Oh, by-the-by, if you will not think me
impertinent for asking, where did you first fall in with Sir Roger? I
should have thought that he was rather out of your beat; you do not hail
from his part of the world, do you?"

"No," reply I, my thoughts traveling back to the day when we made taffy,
and tumbled over each other, hot and sticky to the window, to see the
dog-cart bearing the stranger roll up the drive. "I never saw him till
this last March, when he came to stay with us."

"To stay with you?"

"Yes," reply I, thinking of our godless jokes about his wig and his
false calves, and smiling gently to myself; "he was an old friend of
father's."

"A contemporary, I suppose?" (a little inquisitively).

"Yes, he was at school with father," I answer; and the moment I have
given utterance to the abhorred formula I repent.

"At school with him?" (speaking rather slowly, and looking at me, with a
sort of flickering smile in lips and eyes). "Oh, I see!"

"What do you see?" cry I, sharply.

"Nothing, nothing! I only meant to say I understand, I comprehend."

"There is nothing to understand," reply I, brusquely, and rising. "I am
tired--I shall go home!"

We walk back rather silently; there is nothing so trying to eyes and
mind as picture-seeing, and I am fagged, and also indefinitely, yet
certainly, cross. As we reach the door of the Saxe, I hold out my hand.

"Now that we have come to the end of our walk," say I, "and that you
cannot think that I am _hinting_ to you, I will tell you that I think it
was very ill-mannered and selfish of you not to _insist_ on carrying
_this_" (holding out the brown-paper parcel); "there is not _one_ of the
boys--not even Bobby, whom we always call so rough, who would have
_dreamed_ of letting a lady carry a parcel for herself, when he was by
to take it. There! I am better now! I _had_ to tell you; I wish you
good-day!"



CHAPTER XIII.


"If he does not like it," say I, setting it on the floor, and regarding
it from a little distance, with my head on one side, while friendly
criticism and admiration meet in happy wedlock in my eyes, "I can give
it to you; I had much rather make you a present than _him_."

"Then Heaven grant that it may find disfavor in his sight!" says Sir
Roger, piously.

We are talking of the traveling-bag, which at last, in despair of any
thing suitable occurring to my mind, I have bought, and now regard with
a sort of apprehensive joy. The blinds are half lowered for the heat,
but, through them and under them, the broad gold sunshine is streaming
and pushing itself, washing the careful twists of my flax hair, the
bag's stout red leather sides, and Sir Roger's nose, as he leans over
it, with manly distrust, trying the clasp by many searching snappings.

"I never gave you a present in my life--never--did I?" say I, squatting
down on the floor beside him, crumpling my nice crisp muslin frock with
the recklessness of a woman who knows that there are many more such
frocks in the cupboard, and to whom this knowledge has but newly come;
"never mind! next birthday I will give you one--a really nice, handsome,
rather expensive one--all bought with your own money, too--there!"

This is on the morning of our last day in Dresden. Yes! _to-morrow_ we
set off homeward. Our wedding-tour is nearly ended: tyrant Custom, which
sent us off, permits us to rejoin our fellows. Well, it really has not
been so bad! I do not know that I should care to have it over
again--that is, just immediately; but it has gone off very well
altogether--quite as well as most other people's, I fancy. These are my
thoughts in the afternoon, as (Sir Roger having gone to the post-office,
and I having made myself very hot by superintending the packing of the
presents--most of them of a brittle, _crackable_ nature) I am leaning,
to cool myself, over our balcony, and idly watching the little events
that are happening under my nose. The omnibus stands, as usual, in the
middle of the square, about to start for Blasewitz. Mysterious 'bus!
always about to start--always full of patient passengers, and that yet
was never seen by mortal man to set off. As I watch it with the
wondering admiration with which I have daily regarded it, I hear the
door of our sitting-room open, and Vick give a little shrewish shrill
bark, speedily changed into an apologetic and friendly whiffling and
whoffling.

"Is that you?" cry I, holding on by the balcony, and leaning back to
peep over my own shoulder into the interior. "Come out here, if it is."

"Sir Roger is out," I say, a second later, putting my hand into that of
Mr. Musgrave (for it is he), as he comes stepping, in his usual
unsmiling, discontented beauty, to meet me.

"I know he is! I met him!"

"I am seeing the people start for Blasewitz for the last time! it makes
me quite low!" I say, replacing my arms on the balcony, and speaking
with an irrepressibly jovial broad smile on my face that rather
contradicts my words.

"You _look_ low," he answers, ironically, standing beside me, and
looking rather provoked at my urbanity.

"This time to-morrow we shall be off," say I, beginning to laugh out of
pure light-heartedness, though there is no joke within a mile of me, and
to count on my fingers; "this time the day after to-morrow we shall be
at Cologne--this time the day after _that_ we shall be getting toward
Brussels--this time the day after _that_, we shall be getting toward
Dover--this time the day after _that_--"

"You will all be rushing higgledy-piggledy, helter-skelter, into each
other's arms," interrupts my companion, looking at me with a lowering
eye.

"Yes," say I, my eyes dancing. "You are quite right."

"Algy, and the Brat, and--what is the other fellow's
name?--Dicky?--Jacky?--Jemmy?--"

"Bobby," say I, correcting him. "But you are not quite right; the Brat
will not be there!--worse luck--he is in Paris!"

"Well, Barbara will not be in Paris," says the young man, still in the
same discontented, pettish voice. "_She_ will be there, no doubt--well
to the front--in the thickest of the osculations."

"_That_ she will!" cry I, heartily. "But you must give up calling her
Barbara; that is not at all pretty manners."

"We will make a bargain," he says, beginning to smile a little, but
rather as if it were against his will and intention. "I will allow her
to call me 'Frank,' if she will allow me to call her 'Barbara.'"

"I dare say you will" (laughing).

A little pause. Another person has got into the omnibus; it is growing
extremely full.

"I _hate_ last days," says my companion, hitting viciously at the iron
balcony rails with his stick, and scowling.

"'The Last Days of Pompeii,'" say I, stupidly, and yet laughing again;
not because I think my witticism good, which no human being could do,
but because I _must_ laugh for very gladness. Another longer pause.
(Shall I present the bag the night we arrive, or wait till next day?)

"I have got a riddle to ask you," says Frank, abruptly, and firing the
observation off somewhat like a bomb-shell.

"Have you?" say I, absently. "I hope it is a good one."

"Of course, _you_ must judge of that--'_Mon premier_--'"

"It is in _French_!" cry I, with an accent of disgust.

"Well, why should not it be?" (rather tartly).

"No reason whatever, only that I warn you beforehand I shall not
understand it: I always _shiver_ when people tell me a French anecdote;
I never know when the point has arrived: I always laugh too soon or too
late."

He says nothing, but looks black.

"Go on!" say I, laughing. "We will try, if you like."

"_Mon--premier--est--le--premier--de tout_," he says, pronouncing each
word very separately and distinctly. "Do you understand _that_?"

I nod. "My first is the first of all--yes."

"_Mon second n'a pas de second._"

"My second has no second--yes."

"_Mon tout_"--(turning his long, sleepy eyes sentimentally toward
me)--"_je ne saurai vous le dire._"

"My whole--I cannot tell it you!--then why on earth did you ask me?" cry
I, breaking out into hearty, wholesome laughter.

Again he blackens.

"Well, have you guessed it?"

"Guessed it!" I echo, recovering my gravity. "Not I!--my first is the
first of all--my second has no second--my whole, I cannot tell it
you!--I do not believe it is a riddle at all! it is a hoax--a take-in,
like 'Why does a miller wear a white hat?'"

"It is nothing of the kind," he answers, looking thoroughly annoyed.
"Must I tell you the answer?"

"I shall certainly never arrive at it by my unassisted genius," I reply,
yawning. "Ah! there is M. Dom going out riding! Alas! never again shall
I see him mount that peacocking steed!"

"It is 'Adieu!'" says my companion, blurting it out in a rage, seeing
that I _will_ not be interested in or excited by it.

"_Adieu!_" repeat I, standing with my mouth wide open, looking perfectly
blank. "_How?_"

"You do not see?" he says. (His face has grown scarlet.) "Well, you must
excuse me for saying that you are rather--" He breaks off and begins
again, very fast this time. "My first is the first of all--is not _A_
the first letter in the alphabet? My second has no second--has God
(_Dieu_) any second? My whole--I cannot say it to you--_Adieu!_"

The contrast between the sentimentality of the words, and the brusque
and defiant anger of his tone, is so abrupt, that I am sorry to say, I
laugh again: indeed, I retire from the balcony into the saloon inside,
throw myself into a chair, and, covering my face with my handkerchief,
roar--

"It is very good," say I, in a choked voice; "very--so civil and
pretty--but it is not very _funny_, is it?"

I receive no answer. I am still in my pocket-handkerchief, and he might
be gone, but that I hear his quick, angry breathing, and know, by
instinct, that he is standing over me, looking like a handsome
thunder-cloud. I dare not look up at him, lest another mad cachinnation,
such as sometimes overtakes one for the punishment of one's sins in
church, should again lay violent hands upon me.

"I think I like 'Why was Balaam like a Life-Guardsman?' better, _on the
whole_," I say, presently, peeping through my fingers, and speaking with
a suspicious tremble in my voice.

"I have no doubt it is far superior," he answers, in a fierce and sulky
tone, that he in vain tries to make sound playful. "'_Balaam like a
Life-Guardsman?_' and why was he, may I ask? Something humorous about
his donkey, I suppose."

"Because he had a queer ass (cuirass)," reply I, again exploding, and
hiding my face in the back of the chair.

"A _queer ass_!" (in a tone of the profoundest contempt); "you have no
more sentiment in you than _this table_!" smiting it with his bare hand.

"I know I have not," say I, sitting up, and holding my hand to my side
to ease the pain my excessive mirth has caused; "they always said so at
home. Oh, here is the general! we will make _him_ umpire, which is
funniest, yours or mine!"

Sir Roger enters, and glances in some surprise from Frank's crimson face
to my convulsed one.

"Oh, general, do we not look as if we had been having an affecting
parting?" cry I, jumping up and running to him. "Do not I look as if I
had been crying? Quite the contrary, I assure you. But Musgrave and I
have been asking each other such amusing riddles--would you like to hear
them? _Mine_ is good, plain, vulgar English, but his is French, so we
will begin with _it_--'_Mon premier_--'"

I stop suddenly, for Mr. Musgrave is looking at me with an expression
simply _murderous_.

"Well, what are you stopping for? I am on the horns of
expectation--'_Mon premier_--'"

"After all, it is not so funny as I thought," I answer, brusquely. "I
think we will keep it for some wet Sunday afternoon, when we are short
of something to do."



CHAPTER XIV.


The day of departure has really come. We have eaten our last bif-teck
_aux pommes frites_, and drank our last cup of coffee in the Saxe. I
have had my last look at the familiar square, at the great dome of the
Frauen Kirchen, at the high houses with their dormer-windows, at the
ugly big statue standing with its stiff black back rudely turned to the
hotel, at the piled hay-carts. We are really and truly off. Our faces
are set Barbara-ward, Bobby-ward, jackdaw-ward. I am in such rampaging
spirits, that I literally do not know what to do with myself. I feel
that I should like to tuck my tail, if I had one, between my legs, like
Vick, and race round and round in an insane and unmeaning circle, as she
does on the lawn at home, when oppressed by the overflow of her own
gayety.

It seems to me as if there never had been such a day. I look at the sky
as we drive along to the station. Call it sapphire, turquoise--indeed!
What dull stone that ever lived darkling in a mine is fit to be named
even in metaphor with this pale yet brilliant arch that so softly leans
above us? It seems to me as if all the people we meet were handsome and
well-featured--as if the Elbe were the noblest river that ever ran,
carrying the sunlight in flakes of gold and diamond on its breast--as if
all life were one long and kindly jest.

As we reach the station I see Mr. Musgrave standing on the pavement
awaiting us, with a sort of mixed and compound look on his face.

"Here is Mr. Musgrave come to see us off!" I cry, jocundly. "Come to say
'_Adieu!_' ha! ha! I must not forget to ask him whether he has any more
riddles."

"For Heaven's sake do not!" cries Sir Roger, smiling in spite of
himself, yet seriously and earnestly desirous of checking my wit. "Let
the poor boy have a little peace! He no more understands chaff than I
understand Parsee."

I hop out of the carriage like a parched pea, scorning equally the step
and Frank's hand extended to help me. I feel to-day as if I need only
stand on tiptoe, and stretch out my arms in order to be able to fly.

"So you have come to see the last of us," I say, trying to pull a long
face, and walking with him into the waiting-room.

"Yes; rather a mistake, is not it?" he says, somewhat gloomily, but
loading himself at once, with ostentatious haste (in memory of my former
reproof), with my bag, parasol, and novel.

"The day after--the day after--the day after to-morrow," say I, smiling
cheerfully up in his dismal face. "You may fancy us just turning in at
the park-gates--by-the-by, have you any message to send to the boys, to
Barbara?"

"None to the boys," he answers, half smiling, too. "I hate boys: you may
give my love to Barbara if you like, and if you are quite sure that she
is like the St. Catherine."

"Wait till you see her," say I, oracularly.

"But when _shall_ I see her?" he asks, roused into an eagerness which I
think promises admirably for Barbara; "when are you coming home,
really?"

"Keep a good lookout at your lodge," I say, gayly, "and you will no
doubt see us arrive some fine day, looking very foolish, most
probably--crawling along like snails, dragged by our tenants."

"Were you _ever_ known to answer a plain question plainly since you were
born?" he cries, petulantly. "When are you likely to come _really_?"

"'I know not! What avails to know?'" reply I, pompously spouting a line
out of some forgotten poem that has lurked in my memory, and now struts
out, to the anger and discomfiture of Mr. Musgrave.

"Ah! here are the doors opening."

Everybody pours out on to the platform, and into the empty and expectant
train.

Sir Roger and I get into a carriage--_not_ a _coupé_ this time--and
dispose our myriad parcels above our heads, under our feet. Trucks roll,
and porters bawl past; luggage is violently shot into vans. The last
belated, panting passenger has got in. The doors are slammed-to. Off we
go! The train is already in motion when the young man jumps on the step
and thrusts in his hand for one parting shake.

"_Mon tout_," say I, screwing up my face into a crying shape, and
speaking in a squeaky, pseudo-tearful voice, "_je ne saurai vous le
dire!_"

Then he is hustled off by an indignant guard and three porters, and we
see him no more. I throw myself back into my corner laughing.

"General," say I, "I think your young friend is nearly as soft-hearted
as the girl in Tennyson who was

    'Tender over drowning flies.'

He looked as if he were going to _weep_, did not he? and what on earth
about?"



CHAPTER XV.

    "How mother, when we used to stun
    Her head wi' all our noisy fun,
    Did wish us all a-gone from home;
    But now that some be dead and some
    Be gone, and, oh, the place is dumb,
    How she do wish wi' useless tears
    To have again about her ears
    The voices that be gone!"


We have passed Cologne; have passed Brussels; have passed Calais and
Dover; have passed London; we are drawing near home. How refreshing
sounds the broad voice of the porters at Dover! Squeamish as I am, after
an hour and three-quarters of a nice, short, chopping sea, the sight of
the dear green-fustian jackets, instead of the slovenly blue blouses
across-Channel, goes nigh to revive me. Adieu, O neatly aquiline,
broad-shaved French faces! Welcome, O bearded Britons, with your
rough-hewn noses!

To avoid the heat of the day, we go down from London by a late afternoon
train. It is evening when, almost _before_ the train has stopped, I
insist on jumping out at our station. Imagine if through some accident
we were carried on to the next by mistake!

Such a thing has never happened in the annals of history, but still it
_might_.

Sir Roger has some considerable difficulty in hindering me from shaking
hands with the whole staff of officials. One veteran porter, who has
been here ever since I was born, has a polite but improbable trick of
addressing _every_ female passenger as "my lady." Well, with regard to
_me_, at least, he is right now. I _am_ "my lady." Ha! ha! I have not
nearly got over the ridiculousness of this fact yet, though I have been
in possession of it now these _four_ whole weeks.

It has been a hot, parching summer day, and now that the night draws on
all the flagging flowers in the cottage-borders are straightening
themselves anew, and lifting their leaves to the dews. The pale
bean-flowers, in the broad bean-fields, as we pass, send their delicate
scent over the hedge to me, as if it were some fair and courteous
speech. To me it seems as if they were saying, as plainly as may be,
"Welcome home, Nancy!"

The sky that has been all of one hue during the live-long day--wherever
you looked, nothing but pale, _pale_ azure--is now like the palette of
some God-painter splashed and freaked with all manner of great and noble
colors--a most regal blaze of gold--wide plains of crimson, as if all
heaven were flashing at some high thought--little feathery cloud-islands
of tenderest rose-pink. We are coming very near now. There, down below,
set round its hips with tall rushes, is our pool, all blood-red in the
sunset! Can _that_ be colorless water--that great carmine fire? There
are our elms, with their heads in the sunset, too.

"General," say I, very softly, putting my hand through his arm, and
speaking in a small tone of unutterable content, "I should like to kiss
everybody in the world."

"Perhaps you would not mind beginning with _me_," returns he, gayly;
then--for I look quite capable of it--glancing slightly over his
shoulder at the vigilant couple in the dickey.

"No, I did not mean _really_."

We are trotting alongside of the park-paling. I stand up and try to
catch a glimpse between the coachman and footman, of the gate, to see
whether they have come to meet me.

We are slackening our speed; we are going to turn in; the lodge-keeper
runs out to open the gate; but no, it is needless. It is already open. I
could have told _her_ that. Here they all are!--Barbara, Algy, Bobby,
Tou Tou.

"Here they are!" cry I, in a fidgety rapture. "Oh, general, just look
how Tou Tou has grown; her frock is nearly up to her knees!"

"Do you think she _can_ have grown that much in four weeks?" asks he,
not contradictiously, but a little _doubtfully_, as Don Quixote may have
asked the Princess Micomicona her reasons for landing at Ossime. "But
pray, madam," says he, "why did your ladyship land at Ossime, seeing
that it is not a seaport town?"

"I suppose not," I reply, a little disappointed. "I suppose that her
frock must have run up in the washing."

To this day I have not the faintest idea how I got out of the carriage.
My impression is that I _flew_ over the side with wings which came to my
aid in that one emergency, and then for evermore disappeared.

I do not know _this_ time _where_ I begin, or whom I end with. I seemed
to be kissing them _all_ at once. All their arms seem to be round _my_
neck, and mine round all of theirs at the same moment. The only wonder
is that, at the end of our greetings, we have a feature left among us.
When at length they are ended--

"Well," say I, studiedly, with a long sigh of content, staring from one
countenance to another, with a broad grin on my own. "Well!" and though
I have been away _four_ weeks, and been to foreign parts, and dined at
_table d'hôtes_ and seen Crucifixions and Madonnas, and seem to have
more to tell than could be crowded into a closely-packed twelvemonth of
talk, this is all I can find to say.

"Well," reply they, nor do they seem to be much richer in conversation
than I.

Bobby is the first to regain the use of his tongue. He says, "My eye!"
(oh, dear and familiar expletive, for a whole calendar month I have not
heard you!)--"my eye! what a swell you are!"

Meanwhile Sir Roger stands aloof. If he _ever_ thought of himself, he
might be reasonably and equitably huffy at being so entirely neglected,
for I will do them the justice to say that I think they have all utterly
forgotten his existence: but, as he never does, I suppose he is not; at
least there is only a friendly entertainment, and no hurt dignity, in
the gentle strength of his face.

In the exuberance of my happiness, I have given him free leave to kiss
Barbara and Tou Tou, but the poor man does not seem to be likely to have
the chance.

"Are not you going to speak to the general?" I say, nudging Barbara.
"You have never said 'How do you do?' to him."

Thus admonished, they recover their presence of mind and turn to salute
him. There are no kissings, however, only some rather formal
hand-shakings; and then Algy, as being possessed of the nearest approach
to manners of the family, walks on with him. The other three adhere to
me.

"Well," say I, for the third time, holding Barbara by one hand, and
resting the other on Bobby's stout arm, dressed in cricketing-flannel,
while Tou Tou _backs_ before us with easy grace. "Well, and how is
everybody? How is mother?"

"She is all right!"

"And HE? Is anybody in disgrace now? At least of course _somebody_ is,
but _who_?"

"_In disgrace!_" cries Bobby, briskly. "Bless your heart, no! we are

              'Like the young lambs,
    A sporting about _by_ the side of their dams.'

_In disgrace_, indeed! we are 'Barbara, child,' and 'Algy, my dear
fellow,' and 'Bobby, love.'"

"_Bobby!_" cries Tou Tou, in a high key of indignation at this
monstrously palpable instance of unveracity, and nearly capsizing, as
she speaks, into a rabbit-hole, which, in her backward progress--we are
crossing the park--she has not perceived.

"Well," replies Bobby, candidly, "that last yarn may not be _quite_ a
fact, I own _that_; but I appeal to _you_, Barbara, is not it true _i'
the main_? Are not we all 'good fellows,' and 'dear boys?'"

"I am thankful to say that we are," replies Barbara, laughing; "but how
long we shall remain so is quite another thing."

"I have brought a present for him," say I, rather nervously; "do you
think he will be pleased?"

"He will say that he very much regrets that you should have taken the
trouble to waste your money upon _him_, as he did last birthday, when we
exerted ourselves to lay out ten shillings and sixpence on that
spectacle-case," answers Bobby, cheerfully.

"But what is it?"

"What is it?" cry Barbara and Tou Tou in a breath.

"It is a--a _traveling-bag_," reply I, with a little hesitation, looking
imploringly from Barbara to Bobby. "Do you think he will like it?"

"A _traveling-bag_!" echoes Bobby; then, a little bluntly, "but he
never travels!"

"No more he does!" reply I, feeling a good deal crestfallen. "I thought
of that myself; it was not quite my own idea--it was the general's
suggestion!"

"The general!" says Bobby, "whew--w!" (with a long whistle of
intelligence)--"well, _he_ ought to know what he likes and dislikes,
ought not he? He ought to understand his tastes, being the same age, and
having been at schoo--"

"Look!" cry I, hastily, breaking into the midst of these soothing facts,
which are daily becoming more distasteful to me, and pointing to the
windows of the house, which are all blazing in the sunset, each pane
sending forth a sheaf of fire, as if some great and mighty feast were
being held within. "I see you are having an illumination in honor of
us."

"Yes," answers Bobby, kindly entering into my humor, "and the reason why
father did not come to meet you at the gate was that he was busy
lighting the candles."

My spirits are so dashed by the more implied than expressed disapproval
of my brethren, that I resolve to defer the presentation of the bag till
to-morrow, or perhaps--to-morrow being Sunday, always rather a dark day
in the paternal calendar--till Monday.

Dinner is over, and, as it is clearly impossible to stay in-doors on
such a night, we are all out again. The three elders--father, mother,
and husband--sitting sedately on three rustic chairs on the dry
gravel-walk, and we young ones lying about in different attitudes of
restful ease, on rugs and cloaks that we have spread upon the dewy
grass. We are not far off from the others, but just so far as that our
talk should be out of ear-shot. In my own mind, I am not aware that Sir
Roger would far rather be with _us_, listening to our quick gabble, and
laughing with us at our threadbare jests, which are rewarded with mirth
so disproportioned to their size, than interchanging sober talk with the
friend of his infancy. Once or twice I see his gray eyes straying a
little wistfully toward us, but he makes no slightest movement toward
joining us. I should like, if I had my own way, to ask him to come to
us, to ask him to sit on the rugs and make jokes too, but some sort of
false shame, some sneaky shyness before the boys, hinders me. I am
leaning my elbow on the soft fur of the rug, and my head on my hand, and
am staring up at the stars, cool and throbbing, so like little
stiletto-holes pricked in heaven's floor, as they steal out in systems
and constellations on the night.

"There is dear old Charles Wain," say I, affectionately; "I never knew
where to look for him in Dresden; _how_ nice it is to be at home again!"

"Nancy!" says Algy, gravely, "do you know I have counted, and that is
the _sixteenth_ time that you have made that ejaculation since your
arrival! Do you know--I am sorry to have to say it--that it sounds as if
you had not enjoyed your honey-moon very much?"

"It sounds quite wrong, then," cry I, coming down from the stars, and
speaking rather sharply. "I enjoyed it immensely; yes, _immensely_!"

I say this with an emphasis which is calculated to convince not only
everybody else, but even myself.

"Come, now," cries Bobby, who is farthest off from me, and, to remedy
this disadvantage, begins to travel quickly, in a sitting posture, along
the rugs toward me, "tell the truth--_gospel_ truth, mind!--the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God. Would you
like to be setting off on it over again, to-morrow morning?"

"Of course not," reply I, angrily; "what a silly question! Would _any
one_ like to begin _any thing_ over again, just the very minute that
they had finished it? You might as well ask me would I like to have
dinner over again, and begin upon a fresh plate of soup."

No one is convinced.

"When _I_ marry," continues Bobby, lying flat on his back, with his
hands clasped under his head (we all laugh)--"when _I_ marry, no one
shall succeed in packing _me_ off to foreign parts, with my young woman.
I shall take her straight home, as if I was not ashamed of her, and we
will have a _dance_, and make a clean sweep of our own cake."

"Nancy!" cries Tou Tou, innocently, joining in the conversation for the
first time, "_did_ any one take him for your _grandfather_, as the Brat
said they would?"

"Of course not!" cry I, crossly, making a spiteful lunge, as I speak, at
a _startle-de-buz_, which has lumbered booming into my face. "Who on
earth supposed they would _really_?"

Tou Tou collapses, with a hazy impression of having been snubbed, and
there is a moment's silence. A faint, fire-like flush still lingers in
the west--all that is left of the dazzling pageant that the heavens sent
to welcome me home. I am looking toward it--away from my brothers and
sisters--away from everybody--across the indistinct garden-beds--across
the misty park, and the dark tree-tops, when a voice suddenly brings me
back.

"Nancy, child!" it says, "is not it rather damp for you? Would you mind
putting _this_ on?"

I look up in a hurry, and see Sir Roger stooping over me, with an
outspread cloak in his hands.

"Oh, thank you!" cry I, hurriedly, reddening--I do not quite know
why--and with that same sort of sneaky feeling, as if the boys were
laughing; "I am not one much apt to catch cold--none of us are--but I
will, if you like."

So saying, I drew it round my shoulders. Then he goes, _in a minute_,
without a second's lingering, back to the gravel-walk, to his
wicker-chair, to grave, dry talk, to the friend of his infancy! I have
an uncomfortable feeling that there is a silent and hidden laugh among
the family.

"Barbara, my treasure!" says Algy, presently, in a mocking voice,
"_might_ I be allowed to offer you our umbrella, and a pair of goloshes
to defend you from the evening dews?"

"Hush!" cries Barbara, gently pushing him away, and stretching out her
hand to me. She is the only one that understands. (Oh, why, _why_ did I
ever laugh at him with them? What is there to laugh at in him?)

"My poor Barbara!" continues Algy, in a tone of affected solicitude. "If
you had not a tender brother to look after you, your young limbs might
be cramped with rheumatism, and twitched with palsy, before any one
would think of bringing _you_ a cloak."

"Wait a bit!" say I, recovering my good-humor with an effort, reflecting
that it is no use to be vexed--that they _mean_ nothing--and that,
lastly, _I have brought it on myself_!

"Wait for _what_?" asks Barbara, laughing. "Till Toothless Jack has
grown used to his new teeth?"

"By-the-by," cries Bobby, eagerly, "that was since you went away, Nancy:
he has set up a stock of _new_ teeth--_beauties_--like Orient pearl--he
wore them in church last Sunday for the first time. We tell Barbara that
he has bought them on purpose to propose in. Now, do not you think it
looks _promising_?"

"We do not mean, however," says Algy, lighting a cigar, "to let Barbara
go _cheap_! Now that we have disposed of you so advantageously, we are
beginning to be rather ambitious even for _Tou Tou_."

"We think," says Bobby, giving a friendly but severe pull to our
youngest sister's outspread yellow locks, "that Tou Tou would adorn the
_Church_. Bishops have mostly _thin_ legs, so it is to be presumed that
they admire them: we destine Tou Tou for a bishop's lady!"

Hereupon follows a lively fire of argument between Bobby and his sister;
she protesting that she will _not_ espouse a bishop, and he asseverating
that she shall. It lasts the best part of a quarter of hour, and ends by
reducing Tou Tou to tears.

"But come," says Algy, taking his cigar out of his mouth, throwing his
head back, and blowing two columns of smoke out of his nose, "let us
take up our subject again where we dropped it. I should be really glad
if I could get you to own that you and _he_"--(indicating my husband by
a jerk of his head)--"grew rather sick of each other! Whether you own it
or not, I know you _did_; and it would give me pleasure to hear it. You
need not take it personally. I assure you that it is no slur upon
him--_everybody_ does. I have talked to lots of fellows who have gone
through it, and they all say the same."

"Nancy!" says Bobby, abandoning, at length, his persecution of Tou Tou,
and pretending not to hear her last persevering assertion of her
determination not to be episcopally wed--"tell the truth, and shame the
devil. It would be different if we were strangers, but _we_ that have
sported with you since you wore frilled trousers and a bib--come
now--did you, or did you not, kneel three times a day, like the prophet
Daniel, looking eastward or westward, or whichever way it _did_ look,
and yearn for us, and Jacky, and the bun-loaf--come, now?"

"Well, yes," say I, reluctantly making the admission. "I do not say that
I did not! Of course, after having been used to you all my life, it
would have been very odd if I had not missed you rather badly; but that
is a very different thing from being _sick of him_!"

"Well, we will not say _sick_," returns Algy, with the air of one who is
making a handsome concession, "it is a disagreeable, bilious expression,
but it would be useless to try and convince me that _any_ human
affection could stand the wear and tear of twenty-eight whole days of an
absolute duet and not be rather the worse for it!"

"But it was _not_ an absolute duet," cry I, raising my voice a little,
and speaking with some excitement; "you are talking about what you do
not know! you are quite wrong."

"Well, it is not the first time in my life that I have been that," he
says, philosophically; "but come--who did you the Christian office of
interrupting it? tell us."

"I told you in my letters," say I, rather petulantly. "I certainly
mentioned--yes, I know I did--we happened at Dresden to fall in with a
friend of the general's--at least, a person he knew."

"A person he knew? What kind of a person? Man or woman?"

"Man."

"Old or young?"

"Young."

"Ugly or pretty?"

"Pretty," answer I, laughing. "Ah! what a rage he would be in, if he
could hear such an epithet applied to him!"

"A young, well-looking, man-friend!" says Algy, slowly recapitulating
all my admissions as he lies gently puffing on the rug beside me.
"Well?"

"_Well!_" echo I, rather snappishly. "Nothing! only that I wanted to
show you that it was not quite such a _duet_ as you imagined! Of
course--Dresden is not a big place--of course we met very often, and
went here and there together."

"And where was Sir Roger meanwhile?"

"Sir Roger was there, too, of course," reply I, still a little crossly,
"except once or twice--certainly not more than twice--he said he did
not feel inclined to come, and so we went without him."

"You left him at home, in fact!" says Algy, with a rather malicious
smile, "out of harm's way, while you and the young friend marauded about
the town together; it must have been very lively for him, poor man! Oh,
fie! Nancy, fie!"

"We did not do any thing of the kind," cry I, now thoroughly vexed and
uncomfortable. "I wish you would not misunderstand things on purpose!
there is not any fun in it! _Both_ times I _wanted_ him to come! I
_asked_ him particularly!"

"And, if I may make so bold as to inquire," asks Bobby, striking in,
"how did the young friend call himself? What was his name?"

"Musgrave," reply I, shortly. "Frank Musgrave!" for the stream of my
conversation seems dried.

"Was he _nice_? Should _we_ like him?" ask Tou Tou, who has recovered
her equanimity, dried her tears, and forgotten the bishop.

"He was nice _to look at_!" reply I cautiously.

"That is a very different thing!" says Barbara, laughing. "But was he
nice in himself?"

I reflect.

"No," say I, "I do not think he was: at least, he wanted a great deal of
alteration."

"As I have no doubt that you told him," says Algy, with a smile.

"I dare say I did," reply I, distantly, for I am not pleased with Algy.

A little pause.

"I think he _was_ nice, too, _in a way_," say I, rather compunctiously.
"I used to tell him about all of you, and--I dare say it was
pretense--but he _seemed_ to like to hear about you! When I came away,
he sent his love to Barbara; he would not send any messages to you
boys--he said he hated boys!"

"Humph!"

Another short silence. The elders have gone in to tea. Through the
windows, I see the lamplight shining on the tea-cups.

"Algy!" say I, in a rather low voice, edging a little nearer to where he
lies gracefully outspread, "you did not mean it, _really_? You do not
think I--I--I--_neglected_ the general, do you?--you do not think
I--I--_liked_ to be away from him?"

"My lady!" replies he, teasingly, "I _think_ nothing! I only know what
your ladyship was good enough to tell me!"

Then we all get up, shoulder our rugs, and walk in.



CHAPTER XVI.


Well, no one will deny that Sunday comes after Saturday; and it was
Saturday evening, when the heavens painted themselves with fire, and the
sun lit up all the house-windows to welcome us home. Sunday is not
usually one of our blandest days, but we must hope for the best.

"General," say I, standing before him, dressed for morning church, after
having previously turned slowly round on the point of my toes, to favor
him with the back view of as delightful a bonnet, and as airily fresh
and fine a muslin gown, as ever young woman said her prayers
in--"by-the-by, do you like my calling you general?"

"At least I understand who you mean by it," he says, a little evasively;
"which, after all, is the great thing, is not it?"

"It is my own invention," say I, rather proudly; "nobody put it into my
head, and nobody else calls you by it, do they?"

"Not now."

"_Not now?_" cry I, surprised; "but did they ever?"

"Yes," he says, "for about a year, most people did; I was general a year
before my brother died."

"_Your brother died?_" cry I, again repeating his words, and arching my
eyebrows, which have not naturally the slightest tendency toward
describing a semicircle. "What! _you_ had a brother, too, had you? I
never knew that before."

"Did you think _you_ had a monopoly of them?" laughing a little.

"So you were not 'Sir' always?"

"No more than _you_ are," he answers, smiling. "No, I was not born in
the purple; for thirty-seven years of my life I earned my own bread--and
rather dry bread too."

"You do not say so!" cry I, in some astonishment.

"If I had come here seven years ago," he says, taking both my pale
yellow hands in his light gray ones, and looking at me with eyes which
seem darker and deeper than usual under the shade of the brim of his
tall hat--"by-the-by, you would have been a little girl then--as little
as Tou Tou--"

"Yes," interrupt I, breaking in hastily; "but, indeed, I never was a bit
like her, never. I _never_ had such legs--ask the boys if I had!"

"I did not suppose that you had," he answers, bursting into a hearty and
most unfeigned laugh! "but" (growing grave again), "Nancy, suppose that
I had come here then! I should have had no shooting to offer the
boys--no horses to mount Algy--no house worth asking Barbara to--"

"No more you would!" say I, too much impressed with surprise at this new
light on Sir Roger's past life to notice the sort of wistfulness and
inquiry that lurks in his last words; then, after a second, perceiving
it: "And you think," say I, loosing my hands from his, and growing as
pink as the delicate China rose-bud that is peeping round the corner of
the trellis in at the window, "that there would not have been as much
inducement _then_ for me to propose to you, as there was in the present
state of things!"

I am laughing awkwardly as I speak; then, eagerly changing the
conversation, and rushing into another subject: "By-the-by, I had
something to say to you--something quite important--before we
digressed."

"Yes?"

"O general!" taking hold of the lapel of his coat, and looking up at him
with appealing earnestness, "do you know that I have made up my mind to
give _him_ the _bag_ to-day! it is no use putting off the evil day--it
_must_ come, after supper--they all say _after supper_!"

"Yes?"

"Well, I want you to talk to him _all day_, and get him into a
good-humor by then, if you can, that is all!"

"_That is all!_" repeats my husband, with the slightest possible
ironical accent. Then we go to church. It is too near to drive, so we
all walk. The church-yard elms are out in fullest leaf above our heads.
There are so many leaves, and they are so close together, that they hide
the great brown rooks' nests. They do not hide the rooks themselves. It
would take a good deal to do that. Dear pleasant-spoken rooks, talking
so loudly and irreverently about their own secular themes--out-cawing
the church-bells, as we pace by, devout and smart, to our prayers. Last
time I walked up this path, it was hidden with red cloth, and flowers
were tumbling under my feet. Ah! red cloth comes but once in a lifetime.
It is only the queen who lives in an atmosphere of red cloth and cut
flowers.

We are in church now. The service is in progress. Can it be only _five_
Sundays ago that I was standing here as I am now, watching all the
little well-known incidents? Father standing up in frock-coat and
spectacles, keeping a sharp lookout over the top of his prayer-book, to
see _how_ late the servants are. The ill-behaved charity-boys emulously
trying who shall make the hind-legs of his chair squeak the loudest on
the stone floor. Toothless Jack leering distantly at Barbara from the
side aisle. Something apparently is amusing him. He is smiling a little.
I see his teeth. They, at least, are new. _They_ were not here five
weeks ago. The little starved curate--the one who tore his gloves into
strips--loses his place in the second lesson, and madly plunges at three
different wrong verses in succession, before he regains the thread of
his narrative.

We have come to the sermon. The text is, "I have married a wife, and
therefore I cannot come." No sooner is it given out than Algy, Bobby,
and Tou Tou, all look at me and grin; but father, who has a wily way of
establishing himself in the corner of the pew, so as to have a
bird's-eye view of all our demeanors, speedily frowns them down into a
preternatural gravity. Ah, why _to-day_, of all days, did they laugh?
and why _to-day_, of all days, did the servants file noisily in,
numerous and out of breath, in the middle of the psalms? I tremble when
I think of the bag.

Well, who will may laugh again now: we are out in the sunshine, with the
church-yard grass bowing and swaying in the wind, and the little
cloud-shadows flying across the half-effaced names of the forgotten
dead, who lie under their lichen-grown tombs.

"Did you see his _teeth_?" asks Tou Tou, joining me with a leap, almost
before I am outside the church-porch.

"They are not comfortable yet," remarks Bobby, gravely, as he walks
beside me carrying my prayer-book. "I could see that: he was taking them
out, and putting them in again, with his tongue all through the Litany."

"When once he has secured Barbara, I expect that they will go back with
the box for good and all--eh, Barbara?" say I, laughing, as I speak; but
Barbara is out of ear-shot. She is lingering behind to shake hands with
the curate, and ask all the poor old people after their diseases. _I_
never can recollect clearly _who_ has _what_. I always apportion the
rheumatism wrongly, but _she_ never does. There she stands just by the
church-gate, with the little sunny lights running up and down upon her
snow-white gown, shaking each grimy old hand with a kind and friendly
equality.

The day rolls by; afternoon service; walk round the grounds; early
dinner (we always embitter our lives on Sundays by dining at _six_,
which does the servants no good, and sours the tempers of the whole
family); then prayers. Prayers are always immediately followed by that
light refection which we call supper.

As the time approaches, my heart sinks imperceptibly lower in my system
than the place where it usually resides.

    "Be ready, Sister Nancy,
    For the time is drawing nigh,"

says Algy, solemnly, putting his arm round my shoulders, as, the
prayer-bell having rung, we set off for the wonted justicing-room.

"Have a pull at my flask," suggests Bobby, seriously; "there is some
cognac left in it since the day we fished the pool. It would do you all
the good in the world, and, if you took _enough_, you would feel able to
give him _ten_ bags, or, indeed, throw them at his head at a pinch."

"Have you got it?" say I, faintly, to the general, who at this moment
joins us.

"Yes, here it is."

"But what will you do with it _meanwhile_?" cry I, anxiously; "he must
not see it _first_."

"Sit upon it," suggests Algy, flippantly.

"Hang it round his neck while he is at prayers," bursts out Bobby, with
the air of a person who has had an illumination; "you know he always
pretends to have his eyes shut."

"And at 'Amen,' he would awake to find himself famous," says Algy,
pseudo-pompously.

But this suggestion, although I cannot help looking upon it as
ingenious, I do not adopt.

Prayers on Sunday are a much _finer_ and larger ceremonial than they are
on week-days. In the first place, instead of a few of the church prayers
quickly pattered, which are ended in five minutes, we have a whole long
sermon, which lasts twenty. In the second place, the congregation is so
much greater. On week-days it is only the in-door servants; on Sundays
it is the whole staff--coachman, grooms, stablemen. I think myself that
it is more in the nature of a _parade_, to insure that none of the
establishment are out _sweethearting_, than of a religious exercise.
Usually I am delighted when the sermon is ended. Even Barrow or Jeremy
Taylor would sound dull and stale if fired off in a flat, fierce
monotone, without emphasis or modulation. To-night, at every page that
turns, my heart declines lower and lower down. It is ended now; so is
the short prayer that follows it. We all rise, and father stands with
his hawk-eyes fixed on the servants, as they march out, _counting_ them.
The upper servants are all right; so are the housemaids, cookmaids, and
lesser scullions. Alas! alas! there is a helper wanting.

Having listened to and _dis_believed the explanation of his absence,
father leads the way into supper, but the little incident has taken the
bloom off his suavity.

Sir Roger has deposited the bag--still wrapped in its paper
coverings--on a chair, in a modest and unobtrusive corner of the
dining-room, ready for presentation. He did this just before prayers. As
we enter the room, father's eyes fall on it.

"What is _that_?" he cries, pointing with his forefinger, and turning
severely to the boys. "How many times have I told you that I will not
have parcels left about, littering the whole place? Off with it!"

"If you please, father," say I, in a very small and starved voice, "it
is not the boys', it is _mine_."

"_Yours_, is it?" with a sudden change of tone, and return to amenity.
"Oh, all right!" (Then, with a little accent of sudden jocosity)--"One
of your foreign purchases, eh?"

We sit round the snowy table, in the pleasant light of the shaded lamps,
eating chicken-salad, and abasing and rifling the great red pyramids of
strawberries and raspberries, but talking not much. We young ones never
_can_ talk out loud before father. He has never heard our voices raised
much above a whisper. I do not think he has an idea what fine, loud,
Billingsgate voices his children _really_ have. He has said grace--we
always have a longer, _gratefuller_ grace than usual on Sundays--and has
risen to go.

"Now for it!" cries Bobby, wildly excited, and giving me an awful dig in
the ribs with his elbow.

"Shall I get it?" asks the general, in an encouraging whisper. "Cheer
up, Nancy! do not look so _white_! it is all right."

He rises and fetches it, slips it quickly out of its coverings, and puts
it into my hand. Father has reached the door, I run after him.

"Father!" cry I, in a choked and trembling voice. "Stop!"

He turns with the handle in his grasp, and looks at me in some surprise.

"Father!" cry I, beginning again, and holding my gift out nervously
toward him, "here's--here's--here's a _bag_!"

This is my address of presentation. I hear the boys tittering at the
table behind me--a sound which, telling me how ill I am speeding, makes
my confusion tenfold worse. I murmur, helplessly and indistinctly,
something about his never traveling, and my knowing that fact--and
having been always sure that he would hate it--and then I glance
helplessly round with a wild idea of flight. But at the same moment an
arm of friendly strength comes round my shoulders--a friendly voice
sounds in my buzzing ears.

"James," it says, simply and directly, "she has brought you a present,
and she is afraid that you will not care about it."

"A _present_!" echoes my father, the meaning of the inexplicable object
which has suddenly been thrust into his grasp beginning to dawn upon
him. "Oh, I see! I am sure, my dear Nancy"--with a sort of embarrassed
stiffness that yet means to be gracious--"that I am extremely obliged to
you, extremely; and though I regret that you should have wasted your
money on me--yet--yet--I assure you, I shall always prize it very
highly."

Then he goes out rather hastily. I return to the supper-table.

"Shake hands!" cries Algy, pouring me out a glass of claret. "_Now_,
perhaps, you have some faint idea of what _I_ felt when I had to return
thanks for the bridesmaids."

"Nancy!" cries Bobby, holding out the fruit to which he alludes, and
speaking in a wobbly, quivering voice, with a painfully _literal_
imitation of my late address, "here's--here's--here's a _peach_!"

But I am burying my face in Sir Roger's shoulder, like a shy child.

"I _like_ you!" I say, creeping up quite close to him. "You were the
only one that came to help me. If it had not been for _you_, I should be
there still!"



CHAPTER XVII.


The bag-affair is quite an old one now--a fortnight old. The bag itself
has, I believe, retired into the decent privacy of a cupboard, nor is it
much more likely to reissue thence than was one of the frail nuns built
into the wall in the old times likely to come stepping out again. Bobby
has at length ceased to offer me every object which it devolves upon him
to hand me, with a quavering voice and a prolonged stammer, since,
though I was at first excellently vulnerable by this weapon of offense,
I am now becoming _hornily_ hard and indifferent to it. We have stepped
over the boundaries of June into July.

Yes, June has gone to look for all its dead brothers, wherever--since
they say nothing is ever really lost--they lie with their stored sweets.
To me, this has been as merry and good a June as any one of my nineteen.

Sir Roger is beginning to talk of going home--_his_ home, that is--but
rather diffidently and tentatively, as if not quite sure whether the
proposal will meet with favor in my eyes. He need not be nervous on this
point. I, too, am rather anxious and eager to see my house--_my_ house,
if you please!--I, who have never hitherto possessed any larger
residence than a doll's house, whose whole front wall opened at once,
giving one an improbably simultaneous view of kitchen-range, best
four-poster, and drawing-room chairs. I have, it is true, seen
photographs of my new house, photographs of its east front, of its west
front--photographs, in its park, of the great old cedar; in its gardens,
of its woody pool--but, to tell you the truth, I want to see _it_. I
have already planned a house-warming, and invited them all to it, a
house-warming in which--oh, absurd!--_I_ shall sit at the head of the
table, and father and mother only at the sides--_I_ shall tell the
people who they are to take in to dinner, and nod my head from the top
when dessert is ended.

To-day I am going to write and secure the Brat's company--that is, later
in the day--but now it is quite, _quite_ early, even the letters have
not come in. We have all--viz., the boys, the girls, and I--risen (in
pursuance of a plan made overnight) preternaturally early, almost as
early as I did on my wedding-morning, and are going out to gather
mushrooms in the meadow, by the river. Indignation against the
inhabitants of the neighboring town is what has torn us from our morning
dreams, the greedy townsfolk, by whom, on every previous occasion, we
have found our meadow rifled before we could reach it. To-day we shall,
at least, meet them on equal terms. We are all rather gapy at first,
more especially Algy, who has deferred the making of the greater part of
his toilet till his return, looks disheveled, and sounds grumbling. But
before long both gapes and grumbles depart.

Who would see the day when he is old, and stale, and shabby, when, like
us, they could come out to meet him as he walks across the meadow with a
mantle of dew wrapped round him, and a garland of paling rose-clouds,
that an hour ago were crimson, about his head?

The place toward which we tend is at some little distance, and our road
thither leads through all manner of comely rustic places, flowered
fields, where the buttercups crowd their little varnished cups, and the
vigilant ox-eyes are already wakefully staring up from among the
grass-spears; a little wood; a deep and ruddy-colored lane, along whose
unpruned hedges straggle the riches of the wild-rose, most delicately
flushed, as if God in passing had called her very good, and she had
reddened at his praise; where the honey-suckle, too, is holding stilly
aloft the open cream-colored trumpets and closed red trumpet-buds of her
heaven-sweet crown.

In an instant Tou Tou is scrawling and scrambling like a great spider up
the steep bank: in an instant more she is tugging, tearing, devastating;
while the faint petals that no mightiest king can restore, but that any
infant with a touch can destroy, are showering in scented ruin around
her. It gives me a pain to see it, as if I saw some sentient thing in
agony. I think I feel, with Walter Savage Landor--

    "I never pluck the rose; the violet's head
    Hath shaken with my breath upon its bank
    And not reproached me: the ever-sacred cup
    Of the pure lily hath between my hands
    Felt safe, unsoiled, nor lost one grain of gold."

"You will have your basket filled before we get there," I say,
remonstrating, but she does not heed me.

Hot and scratched--at least I am glad that in their death-pain they were
able to scratch her--she still tugs and mauls. I walk on. We reach the
meadow. Well, at least _to-day_ we are in time. It has the silence and
solitude of the dawn of Creation's first still day, broken only by the
sheep that are cropping

    "The slant grass, and daisies pale."

The slow, smooth river washes by, sucking in among the rushes. Our
footsteps show plainly shaped as we step along through the hoary dew. We
separate--going one this way, one that--and, in silence and gravity,
pace with bent heads and down-turned eyes through the fine, short grass.
Excitement and emulation keep us dumb, for let who will--_blasé_ and
used up--deny it, but there is an excitement, wholesome and hearty, in
_seeking_, and a joy pure and unadulterated in finding, mushrooms in a
probable field in the hopeful morning; whether the mushroom be a
patriarch whose gills are browned with age, and who is big enough to be
an umbrella for the fairy people, or a little milk-white button, half
hidden in daisies and trefoil. Sometimes a cry of rage and anguish
bursts from one or other of us who has been the dupe of a puff-ball
family, and who is satiating his or her revenge by stamping on the
deceiver's head, and reducing its fair, round proportions to a flat and
fleshy pulp. We search long and diligently, and our efforts are blessed
with an unwonted success. By the time that the sun has attained height
enough in the heavens to make his power tyrannically felt, our baskets
are filled. Tou Tou has to throw away her wild-roses, limp and flaccid,
into the dust of the lane. We walk home, singing, and making poor jokes,
as is our wont. As we draw near the house with joyful foretastes of
breakfast in our minds, with redly-flushed cheeks and merry eyes, I see
Sir Roger leaning on the stone balustrade of the terrace, looking as if
he were watching for us, and, indeed, no sooner does he catch sight of
us, than he comes toward us.

"Do you like mushrooms?" cry I, at the top of my voice, long before I
have reached him, holding up my basket triumphantly. "See, I have got
the most of anybody, except Tou Tou!"

I have met him by the end of this sentence.

"Do you like mushrooms?" I repeat, lifting the lid, and giving him a
peep into the creamy and pink-colored treasures inside, "oh, you _must_!
if you do not, I shall have a _divorce_! I could not bear a difference
of opinion upon such a subject."

I have never given him time to speak, and now I look with appealing
laughter into his silent face.

"Why, what is the matter?" I cry, with an abrupt change of tone. "What
has happened? How odd you look!"

"Nothing has happened," he answers, trying to smile, but I see that it
is quite against the grain, "only that I have had some not very pleasant
news."

"It is not any thing about--about the _Brat_!" cry I, stopping suddenly,
seizing his arm with both hands, and turning, as I feel, extremely pale,
while my thoughts fly to the only one of my beloveds that is out of my
sight.

"About the _Brat_!" he echoes in surprise, "oh, dear no! nothing!"

"Then I do not much care _who_ is dead?" I answer, unfeelingly, drawing
a long breath; "he is the only person _out_ of this house whose death
would afflict me much, and I do not think that there is any one besides
_us_ that _you_ are very devoted to, is there?"

"Why are you so determined that some one is _dead_?" he asks, smiling
again, but this time a little more naturally; "is there nothing
vexatious in the world but _death_?"

"Yes," say I, laughing, despite myself, as my thoughts revert to my late
employment, "there are _puff-balls_!"--then, ashamed of having been
flippant, and afraid of having been unsympathetic, I add hastily: "I
wish you would tell me what it is! I am sure, _when I hear_, I shall be
vexed too; but you see as long as I do not know what it is, I cannot,
can I?"

"There is no time now," he says, glancing toward father, whose head
appears through the dining-room windows. "See! they are going to
breakfast!--afterward I will tell you--afterward--and child--" (putting
his hands on my shoulders, and essaying to look at me with an altogether
cheered and careless face,) "do not you worry your head about it!--eat
your breakfast with an easy mind; after all, it is nothing very bad!--it
could not be any thing _very_ bad, as long as--." He stops abruptly, and
adds hastily, "let us have a look at your mushrooms! well, you _have_ a
quantity!"

"Yes, have not I?" say I, triumphantly, "more than any of them, except
Tou Tou--." Then, not quite satisfied with the impression our late talk
has left upon me: "General!" say I, lowering my face and reddening, "I
hope you do not think that I am _quite_ a baby because I like childish
things--gathering mushrooms--running about with the boys--talking to
Jacky. I can understand serious things _too_, I assure you. I think I
could enter into your trouble--I think, if you gave me the chance, that
you would find that I could!"

Then a sort of idiotic false shame overtakes me, and without waiting for
his answer I disappear.



CHAPTER XVIII.


I meet Bobby retiring to the kitchen to cook his mushrooms himself. He
invites me to join him, but I refuse. It is the first time in the annals
of history that I was ever known to say no to such an offer. Bobby
regards me with reproachful anger, and makes a muffled remark, the drift
of which I understand to be that, though I may _pretend_ not to be, I
_am_ grown fine, as he always said I should. To-day it seems to me as if
breakfast would _never_ end. It is one of our fixed laws that no one
shall leave the table until father gives the signal by saying grace.
Sometimes, when he is in one of his unfortunate moods, he keeps us all
staring at our empty cups and platters for half an hour. To-day I watch
with warm anxiety the progress downward of the tea in his cup. At last
he has come to the grounds. He lays down the _Times_. We all joyfully
half bow our heads, in expectation of the wonted "For what we have
received," etc., but speedily and disappointedly raise them again.

"Jane, can you spare me another cup?" and reburies himself in a long
leader. Behind the shelter of the great sheet, I make a hideous
contortion across the table at Sir Roger, who has fallen with great
docility into our ways, and is looking back at me now with that gentle,
steadfast serenity which is the leading characteristic of his face, but
which this morning is, I cannot help thinking, a good deal disturbed,
hard as he is trying to hide it. There are, thank Heaven, no more false
starts. Next time that he lays down the paper, we are all afraid to bend
our heads, for fear that the movement shall break the charm, and induce
him to send for a fourth cup--he has already had _three_--but no!
release has come at last.

"For what we have received the Lord make us truly thankful!"

Almost before we have reached "thankful," there is a noise of several
chairs pushed back. Before you could say "knife!" we are all out of the
room. All but Sir Roger! In deference, I suppose, to the feelings of the
friend of his infancy, and not to appear _too_ anxious to leave him--Sir
Roger ought to have married Barbara, they two are always thinking of
other people's feelings--he delays a little, and indeed they emerge
together and find me sitting on one of the uncomfortable, stiff
hall-chairs, on which nobody ever sits. To my dismay, I hear father say
something about the chestnut colt's legs, and I know that another delay
is in store for me. Sir Roger comes over to me, and takes his wide-awake
from the stand beside me.

"We are going to the stables," he says, patting my shoulder.

I make a second hideous face. Often have I been complimented by the
boys, on the flexibility of my features.

"I shall be back in ten minutes," he says, in a low voice; "will you
wait for me in the morning-room?"

"I suppose I must," say I, reluctantly, with a disgusted and
disappointed drawing down of the corners of my mouth.

Ten minutes pass; twenty, five-and-twenty! Still he has not come back. I
walk up and down the room; I look out the window at the gardeners
rolling the grass; I rend a large and comely rose into tatters, while
all manner of unpleasant possibilities stalk along in order before my
mind's eye. Perhaps Tempest is burnt down. Perhaps some bank, in which
he has put all his money, has broken. Perhaps he has found out that his
brother is not _really_ dead after all! I dismiss this last _worst_
suggestion as improbable. The door opens, and he enters.

"Here you are!" I cry, making a joyous rush at him. "I thought you were
never coming! Please, is _that_ your idea of ten minutes?"

"I could not help it," he answers; "he kept me talking; I could not get
away any sooner."

"Why did you go?" say I, dutifully. "Why did not you say, when he asked
you, 'No, I will not?' He would have done it to you as soon as look at
you."

"That would have been so polite to one's host and father-in-law, would
not it?" he answers, a little ironically. "After all, Nancy, where is
the use of vexing people for nothing?"

"Not _people_ generally," reply I, still chafed; "but I _should_ like
some one who was not his child, and in whom it would not be
disrespectful, to pay him out for keeping us all as he did this morning;
he knew as well as possible that we were dying to be off; _that_ was why
he had that last cup: he did not _want_ it any more than I did. He did
not drink it; did not you see? he left three-quarters of it."

Sir Roger does not answer, unless a slight shrug and a passing his hand
across his face with a rather dispirited gesture be an answer. I feel
ashamed of my petulance.

"Do you feel inclined to tell me about your ill news?" I say, gently,
going over to him, and putting my hand on his shoulder. "I have been
making so many guesses as to what it can be?"

"Have you?" he says, looking up. "I dare say. Well, I will tell you. Do
you remember--I dare say you do not--my once mentioning to you that I
had some property in the West Indies--in Antigua?"

I nod.

"To be sure I do; I recollect I had not an idea where Antigua was, and I
looked out for it at once in Tou Tou's atlas."

"Well, a fortnight--three weeks ago--it was when we were in Dresden, I
had a letter telling me of the death of my agent out there. I knew
nothing about him personally--had never seen him--but he had long been
in my poor brother's employment, and was very highly thought of by him."

"_Poor_ brother!" think I; "well, thank Heaven! at least _he_ has not
revived; he would not be 'poor' if he had," but I say only, "Yes?" with
a delicately interrogative accent.

"And to-day comes this letter"--(pulling one out of his
pocket)--"telling me that now that his affairs have been looked into,
they are found to be in the greatest confusion--that he has died
bankrupt, in fact; and not only _that_, but that he has been cheating me
right and left for years and years, appropriating the money which ought
to have been spent on the estate to his own uses; and, as misfortunes
never come single, I also hear"--(unfolding the sheet, and glancing
rather disconsolately over it)--"that there has been a hurricane, which
has destroyed nearly all the sugar-canes."

The thought of _Job_ and his successive misfortunes instantly occurs to
me--the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, the great wind from the wilderness--but
being a little doubtful as to his example having a very consoling
effect, with some difficulty, and at the cost of a great pressure
exercised on myself, I abstain from mentioning him.

"To make a long story short," continues Sir Roger, "and not to bother
you with unnecessary details--"

"But indeed they would not bother me," interrupt I, eagerly, putting my
hand through his arm, and turning my face anxiously up to him; "I should
_enjoy_ hearing them. I wish you would not think that all sensible,
sober things _bother_ me."

"My dear," he says, gently pinching my cheek, "I think nothing of the
kind, but I know that not all the explanations in the world will alter
the result, which is, that I shall not get a farthing from the property
_this_ year, and very likely not _next_ either."

"You do not say so!" cry I, trying to impart a tragic tone to my voice,
and only hoping that my face _looks_ more distressed and aghast than it
feels.

To tell you the truth, I am mightily relieved. At this period of my
history, money troubles seem to me the lightest and airiest of all
afflictions. I have sat down, and Sir Roger is walking up and down, with
a restlessness unlike his usual repose; on his face there is a vexed and
thwarted look, that is unfamiliar to me. The old parrot sits in the sun,
outside his cage, scratching his head, and chuckling to himself. Tou
Tou's voice comes ringing from the garden. It has a tone of mingled
laughter and pain, which tells me that she is undergoing severe and
searching discipline at the hands of Bobby.

"I suppose," say I, presently, speaking with some diffidence, "that
_that_ is _all_. Of course I do not mean to say that it is not very bad,
but is there nothing _worse_?"

"Is not it _bad enough_?" he asks, half laughing. "What did you expect?"

"You know," say I, still hesitatingly, "I have not an idea _how_ well
off you are; I mean, how much a year you have. Mercenary as I
am"--(laughing nervously)--"I never thought of asking you; but I
suppose, even if the earth were to open and swallow Antigua--even if
there were no such things as West Indies--we should still have money
enough to buy us bread and cheese, should not we?"

"Well, it is to be hoped so," he answers, a gleam of amusement flashing
like a little sunshiny arrow across his vexation; "it would be a bad
lookout for you and me, would not it, considering the size of our
appetites, if we should not?"

A little pause. Tou Tou's voice again. The anguish has conquered the
laughter, and is now mixed with a shrill treble wrath. Polly is
alternately barking like Vick, and laughing with a quiet amusement at
his own performance.

"Do you think," say I, still airing my opinion with timidity, as one
that has no great opinion of their worth, "that it does one much good to
be rich beyond a certain point?--that a large establishment, for
instance, gives one much pleasure? I am sure it does not in _our_ case;
if you were to know the number of nails that the servants and their
iniquities have knocked into mother's coffin--yes, and father's, too."

"Have they?" (a little absently). He is still pacing up and down
restlessly--to and fro--along and across--he that is usually so innocent
of fidget or fuss. "Nancy," he says, half seriously, half in rueful
jest, "if you want a thing done, do it yourself: mind that, all your
life. I am a standing instance of the disadvantage of having let other
people do it for me. The fact is, I ought to have gone out there long
ago, to look after things myself."

"If you _had_ been there, you could not have stopped the hurricane
coming, any more than Canute could stop the waves," say I, filching a
piece of history from "Little Arthur," and pushing it to the front.

He smiles.

"Not the hurricane--no; but the hurricane was the lesser evil. I might
have done something to avert, or, at least, lessen the greater one. To
tell the truth, I meant to have gone out there this spring--had, indeed,
almost fixed upon a day for starting, when--_you_ stopped me."

"_I!_"

"Yes," he says, pausing in his walk in front of me, and looking at me
with a face full of sunshine, content, and laughter; a face whence
hurricanes, West Indies, and agents have altogether fled; "you called me
a '_beast_', and the expression startled me so much--I suppose from not
being used to it--that it sent the West Indies, yes, and the East ones
too, clean out of my head."

"I hope," say I, anxiously, "that you will never tell any one that I
said _that_. They would think that I was in the habit of calling people
'_beasts_', and indeed--_indeed_, I very seldom use so strong a word,
_even_ to Bobby."

"Well," he says, not heeding my request, not, I am sure, hearing it, and
resuming his walk, "what is done cannot be undone, so there is no use
whining about it, Nancy" (again stopping before me, and this time taking
my face in his two hands). "Will you mind much, or will you not?--do you
ever mind _any thing much_, I wonder?" (eagerly and wistfully scanning
my face, as if trying to read my character through the mask of my pale
skin, and small and unremarkable features). "Well, there is no help for
it--as I did not go then, I must go now."

"Go!" repeat I, panting in horrid surprise, "go where?--to Antigua?"

"Yes, to Antigua."

No need now to dress my voice in the tones of factitious tragedy--no
need to lengthen my face artificially. It feels all of a sudden quite a
yard and a half long. Polly has stopped barking: he is now calling,
"Barb'ra! Barb'ra!" in father's voice, and he hits off the pompous
severity of his tone with such awful accuracy, that did not my eyes
assure me to the contrary, I could swear that my parent was in the room.

After a moment I rise, throw my arms round Sir Roger, and lay my head on
his breast--a most unwonted caress on my part, for we are not a couple
by any means given to endearments.

"Do not go!" I say in a coaxing whisper, "do nothing of the kind!--stay
at home!"

"And will _you_ go instead of me?" he asks with a gentle irony,
stroking, the while, my plaits as delicately as if he were afraid that
they would _come off_, which indeed, _indeed_, they would not.

"By myself," say I, laughing, but not raising my head. "Oh! of course;
nothing I should like better, and I should be so invaluable in mending
the sugar-canes, and keeping the new agent on his P's and Q's, should
not I?"

He laughs.

"Stay!" say I, again whispering, as being more persuasive; "where would
be the use of going _now_? It would be shutting the stable-door after
the steed was stolen, and--" (this in a still lower voice)--"we are
beginning to get on so nicely, too."

"Beginning!" he echoes, with a half-melancholy smile, "only _beginning_?
have not we always got on nicely?"

"And if we are poorer," continue I, insinuatingly, "I believe we shall
get on better still. I am sure that poor people are fonder of one
another than rich ones--they have less to distract them from each
other."

I have now raised my head, and perceive that Sir Roger does not look
very much convinced.

"But granting that poverty _is_ better than riches, do you believe that
it _is_, Nancy?--for my part I doubt it--for myself I will own to you
that I have found it pleasant not to be obliged to look at sixpence upon
both sides; but _that_," he says with straightforward simplicity, "is
perhaps because I have not long been used to it--because once, long ago,
I wanted money badly--I would have given my right hand for it, and could
not get it!"

"What did you want it for?" cry I, curiously, pricking my ears, and for
a moment forgetting my private troubles in the hope of a forthcoming
anecdote.

"Ah! would not you like to know?" he says, playfully, but he does not
explain: instead, he goes on: "Even granting that it is so, do you think
it would be very manly to let a fine estate run to ruin, because one was
too lazy to look after it? Do you think it would be quite
_honest_--quite fair to those that will come after us?"

"_Those that will come after us!_" cry I, scornfully, making a face for
the third and last time this morning. "And who are they, pray? Some
sixteenth cousin of yours, I suppose?"

"Nancy," he says, gravely, but in a tone whose gentleness takes all
harshness from the words, "you are talking nonsense, and you know as
well as I do that you are!"

Then I know that I may as well be silent. After a pause:

"And when," say I, in as lamentable a voice as King Darius sent down
among the lions in search of Daniel--"how soon, I mean, are we to set
off?"

"_We!_" he cries, a sudden light springing into his eyes, and an accent
of keen pleasure into his voice. "Do you mean to say that _you_ thought
of coming too?"

I look up in surprise.

"Do not wives generally go with their husbands?"

"But would you _like_ to come?" he asks, seizing my hands, and pressing
them with such unconscious eagerness, that my wedding-ring makes a red
print in its neighbor-finger.

O friends, I wish to Heaven that I had told a lie! It would have been, I
am sure, one of the cases in which a lie would have been
justifiable--nay, praiseworthy, too. But, standing there, under the
truth of his eyes, I have to be true, too.

"Like!" say I, evasively, casting down my eyes, and fiddling uneasily
with one of the buttons of his coat, "it is hardly a question of
'_like_,' is it? I do not imagine that you _like_ it much yourself?--one
cannot always be thinking of what one likes."

The pressure of his fingers on mine slackens; and, though, thanks to my
wedding-ring, it was painful, I am sorry. After a minute:

"But you have not," say I, trying to speak in a tone of light and airy
cheerfulness, "answered my question yet--how soon we must set off? You
know what a woman always thinks of first--her _clothes_, and I must be
seeing to my packing."

"The sooner the better," he answers, with a preoccupied look. "Not later
than ten days hence!"

"_Ten days!_"

Again my jaw falls. He has altogether loosed my hands now, and resumed
his walk. I sit down by the table, lean my elbows on it, and push my
fingers through my hair in most dejected musing. Polly has been dressing
himself; turning his head over his shoulder, and arranging his feathers
with his aquiline nose. He has finished now, and has just given vent, in
a matter-of-fact, unemotional voice, to an awful oath! There is the
sound of brisk feet on the sunny gravel outside. Bobby's face looks in
at the window--broad, sunburnt, and laughing.

"Well! what is up now?" cries he, catching a glimpse of my disconsolate
attitude. "You look as if the fungi had disagreed with you!"

"Then appearances are deceitful," reply I, trying to be merry, "for they
have not."

He has only glanced in upon us in passing: he is gone again now. I
rebury my hands in my locks, which, instead of a highly-cultivated
garden, I am rapidly making into a wilderness.

"I suppose," say I, in a tone which fitly matches the length of my face,
"that Bobby will have got a ship before I come back; I hope they will
not send him to any very unhealthy station--Hong-Kong, or the Gold
Coast."

"I hope not."

"What port shall we sail from?"

"Southampton."

"And how long--about how long will the voyage be?"

"About seventeen days to Antigua."

"And how long"--(still in the same wretched and resignedly melancholy
voice)--"shall we have to stay there?"

"It depends upon the state in which I find things?"

A good long pause. My elbows are growing quite painful, from the length
of time during which they have been digging into the hard _marqueterie_
table, and my hair is as wild as a red Indian's. _Ten_ days! ten little
galloping days, and then _seventeen_ long, slow, monstrous ones!
_Seventeen_ days at sea! seventeen days and seventeen nights, too--do
not let us forget that--of that deadly nausea, of that unspeakable
sinking of all one's inside to the very depths of creation--of the smell
of boiling oil, and the hot, sick, throbbing of engines!

"I hope," say I, in a voice so small that I hardly recognize it for my
own, "that I shall not be _quite_ as ill all the way as I was crossing
from Calais to Dover; and the steward," continue I, in miserable
meditation, "kept telling me all the while what a fine passage we were
having, too!"

"So we were!"

Another pause. I am still thinking of the horrid theme; living over
again my nearly-forgotten agonies.

"Do you remember," say I, presently, "hearing about that Lady
Somebody--I forget her name--but she was the wife of one
Governor-General of India, and she always suffered so much from
sea-sickness that she thought she should suffer less in a
sailing-vessel, and so returned from India in one, and just as she came
in sight of the shores of England _she died_!"

As I reach this awful climax, I open my eyes very wide, and sink my
voice to a tragic depth.

"The moral is--" says Sir Roger, stopping beside me, laying his hand on
my chair back, and regarding me with a mixture of pain and diversion in
his eyes, "stick to steam!"



CHAPTER XIX.


A heavy foot along the passage, a hand upon the door, a hatted head
looking in.

"Roger," says father, in that laboriously amiable voice in which he
always addresses his son-in-law, "sorry to interrupt you, but could you
come here for a minute--will not keep you long."

"All right!" cries Sir Roger, promptly.

(How _can_ he speak in that flippantly cheerful voice, with the prospect
of seventeen days' sea before him?)

"Now, where did I put my hat, Nancy? did you happen to notice?"

"It is here," say I, picking it up from the window-seat, and handing it
to him with lugubrious solemnity.

As he reaches the door, following father, he turns and nods to me with a
half-humorous smile.

"Cheer up," he says, "it shall not be a sailing-vessel."

He is gone, and I return to my former position, and my former
occupation, only that now--the check of Sir Roger's presence being
removed--I indulge in two or three good hearty groans. To think how the
look of all things is changed since this morning!

As we came home through the fields singing, if any one had given me
three wishes, I should have been puzzled what to ask--and _now_! All the
good things I am going to lose march in gloomy procession before my
mind. _No house-warming!_ It will have to be put off till we come back,
and, by the time that we come back, Bobby will almost certainly have
been sent to some foreign station for three or four years. And who knows
what may happen before he returns? Perhaps--for I am in the mood when
all adversities seem antecedently probable--he will _never_ come back.
Perhaps never again shall I be the willing victim of his buffets, never
again shall I buffet him in return.

And the _sea_! It is all very fine for Sir Roger to take it so easily,
to laugh and make unfeeling jokes at my expense! _He_ does not lie on
the flat of his back, surrounded by the horrid paraphernalia of
sea-sickness. _He_ walks up and down, with his hands in his pockets,
smoking a cigar, and talking to the captain. _He_ cares nothing for the
heaving planks. The taste of the salt air gives _him_ an appetite. An
_appetite_! Oh, prodigious! I must say I think he might have been a
_little_ more feeling, might have expressed himself a _little_ more
sympathetically.

By dint of thinking over Sir Roger's iniquities on this head, I
gradually work myself up into such a state of righteous indignation and
injury against him, that when, after a longish interval, the door again
opens to readmit him, I affect neither to see nor hear him, nor be in
any way conscious of his presence. Through the chinks of my fingers,
dolorously spread over my face, I see that he has sat down on the other
side of the table, just opposite me, and that he is smiling in the same
unmirthful, gently sarcastic way, as he was when he left me.

"Nancy," he says, "I have been thinking what a pity it is that I have
not a _yacht_! We might have taken our own time then, and done it
enjoyably--made quite a pleasure-trip of it."

I drop my hands into my lap.

"People's ideas of pleasure differ," I say, with trite snappishness.

"Yes," he answers, a little sadly, "no two people look at any thing in
_quite_ the same way, do they?--not even husband and wife."

"I suppose not," say I, still thinking of the steward.

"Do you know," he says, leaning his arms and his crossed hands on the
table between us, and steadfastly regarding me, "that I never saw you
look miserable before, never? I did not even know that you _could_!"

"I am not _miserable_," I answer, rather ashamed of myself, "that is far
too strong a word! Of course I am a little disappointed." Then I mumble
off into an indistinctness, whence the nouns "House--warming," "Bobby,"
"Gold Coast," crop out audibly.

"After all," he says, still regarding me, and speaking kindly, yet a
little coldly too, "you need not look so woebegone. They say second
thoughts are best, do not they? Well, I have been thinking second
thoughts, and--I have altered my mind."

"You are going to stay at home?" cry I, at the top of my voice, jumping
up in an ecstasy, and beginning to clap my hands.

"No," he says, gently, "not quite _that_, as I explained to you before,
that is impossible: but--do not be downcast--something nearly as good. I
am going to leave _you_ at home!"

To leave me at home! My first feeling is one of irrepressible relief. No
sea! no steward! no courtesying ship! no swaying waves after all! Then
comes a quick and strong revulsion, shame, mortification, and pain.

"To--leave--me--at home!" I repeat slowly, hardly yet grasping the idea,
"to--go--_without_--me!--by yourself?"

"By myself," he answers, gently. "You see, it is no _new_ thing to me. I
have been by myself for forty-seven years."

A quick, remorseful pain runs through my heart.

"But you are not by yourself any longer," I cry, eagerly. "Why do you
talk as if you were? Do you count _me_ for nothing?"

"For nothing?" he answers, smiling quietly. "I am glad of an excuse to
be rid of you for a bit--that is it!"

"But _is_ that it?" cry I, excitedly, rising and running round to him.
"If you are sure of that--if you will _swear_ it to me--I will not say
another word. I will hold my tongue, and try to bear as well as I can,
your having grown tired of me so soon--but--" speaking more slowly, and
hesitating, "if--if--it is that you fancied--you thought--you
imagined--that I did not _want_ to come with you--"

"My dear," he says, laughing not at all bitterly, but with a genuine
amusement, "I should have been even less bright than I am, if I had not
gathered that much."

I sink down on a chair, and cover my face with my hands. My _attitude_
is the same as it was ten minutes ago, but oh, how different are my
feelings! What bitter repentance, what acute self-contempt, invade my
soul! As I so sit, I feel an arm round my waist.

"Nancy," says Sir Roger, "it was ill-naturedly said; do not fret about
it; you were not in the least to blame. I should not like you half so
much--should not think nearly so well of you, if you had been willing to
give up all your own people, to throw them lightly over, all of a
sudden, for a comparative stranger, treble your age, too"--(with a
sigh)--"like me."

He generously ignores the selfish fear of sea-sickness, of _personal_
suffering, which had occupied the fore-front of my mind.

"It will be much, _much_ better, and a far more sensible plan for both
of us," he continues, cheerfully. "Where would be the use of exposing
you to the discomfort and misery of what you hate most on earth for no
possible profit? I shall not be long away, shall be back almost before
you realize that I am gone, and meanwhile I should be far happier
thinking of you merry, and enjoying yourself with your brothers and
sisters at Tempest, than I should be seeing you bored and suffering,
with no one but me to amuse you--you know, dear--" (smiling pensively);
"do not be angry with me, it was no fault of yours; but you _did_ grow
rather tired of me at Dresden."

"I did not! I did not!" cry I, bursting into a passion of tears, and
asseverating all the more violently because I feel, with a sting of
remorse, that there is a tiny grain of truth--not so large a one as he
thinks, but still a _grain_ in his accusations. "It seemed rather
_quiet_ at first--I had always been used to such a noisy house, and
I missed the boys' chatter a little, perhaps; but _indeed_,
INDEED, that was all!"

"Was it? I dare say! I dare say!" he says, soothingly.

"You shall _not_ leave me behind," say I, still weeping with stormy
bitterness. "I _will not_ be left behind! What business have you to go
without me? Am I to be only a fair-weather wife to you? to go shares in
all your pleasant things, and then--when any thing hard or disagreeable
comes--to be left out. I tell you" (looking up at him with streaming
eyes) "that I _will not_! I WILL NOT!"

"My darling!" he says, looking most thoroughly concerned, I do not fancy
that crying women have formed a large part of his life-experience--"you
misunderstand me! I will own to you, that five minutes ago I did you an
injustice; but _now_ I know, I am thoroughly convinced, that you would
follow me without a murmur or a sulky look to the world's end--and"
(laughing) "be frightfully sea-sick all the way; but" (kindly patting my
heaving shoulder) "do you think that I want to be hampered with a little
invalid? and, supposing that I took you with me, whom should I have to
look after things at Tempest, and keep them straight for me against I
come home?"

"I know what it is," I cry, passionately clinging round his neck, "you
think I do not like you! I _see_ it! twenty times a day, in a hundred
things that you do and leave undone! but indeed, _indeed_, you never
were more mistaken in all your life! I will own to you that I did not
care _very_ much about you at first. I thought you good, and kind, and
excellent, but I was not _fond_ of you; but _now_, every day, every hour
that I live, I like you better! Ask Barbara, ask the boys if I do not! I
like you ten thousand times better than I did the day I married you!"

"_Like_ me!" he repeats a little dreamily, looking with a strong and
bitter yearning into my eyes; then, seeing that I am going to
asseverate, "for God's sake, child," he says, hastily, "do not tell me
that you _love_ me, for I know it is not true! you can no more help it
than I can help caring for you in the idiotic, mad way, that I do!
Perhaps, on some blessed, far-off day, you may be able to say so, and I
to believe it, but not now!--_not now_!"



CHAPTER XX.


With feet as heavy and slowly-dragging as those of some unwieldy old
person, with drooped figure, and stained and swollen face, I enter the
school-room an hour later to tell my ill-news.

"Enter a young mourner!" says Algy, facetiously, in unkind allusion to
the gloom of my appearance, which is perhaps heightened by the
black-silk gown I wear.

"What _is_ up?" cries Bobby, advancing toward me with an overpowering
curiosity, not unmixed with admiration, legible on his burnt face; "what
_has_ summoned those glorious sunset tints into your eyes and nose?"

"Which of Turner's pictures," says Algy, putting up his hand in the
shape of a spy-glass to one eye, and critically regarding me through it,
"is she so like in coloring? the 'Founding of Carthage,' or 'The
Fighting Temeraire?'"

"Shame! shame!" cries Bobby, in a mock hortatory tone, trying to swell
himself out to the shape and bulk of our fat rector, and to speak in his
wheezy tone, "that a young woman so richly dowered with the good things
of this life; a young woman with a husband and a deer-park in
possession, and a house-warming in prospect--"

"But I have not," interrupt I, speaking for the first time, and with a
snuffliness of tone engendered by much crying.

"Have not? have not _what_?"

"Have not a house-warming in prospect," reply I, with distinct
malignity. A moment's silence. My bomb-shell has worked quite as much
havoc as I expected.

"But where has it gone to since this morning?" asks Algy, looking rather
blank.

"What do you mean?" cries Tou Tou, shrilly; "it was only last night that
you were asking me for the Brat's address that you might invite him."

"And tell him to bring a judiciously-selected assortment of
undergraduate friends with him," supplements Bobby, loudly.

"Yes," say I, sighing, "I know I did; but last night was last night."

"That throws a great deal of light on the matter, does it not?" says
Algy, ironically.

"Nancy!" cries Bobby, seizing both my hands, and looking me in the face
with an air of irritated determination, "if you do not _this moment_
stop sighing like a windmill and tell us what is up, I will go to Sir
Roger, hanged if I will not, and ask him what he means by making you cry
yourself to a _jelly_!"

At this bold metaphor applied to my own appearance, the tears begin
again to start to my eyes.

"Do not!" cry I, eagerly, catching at his wrists in detention, "it was
not his fault! he could not help it; but" (mopping first one eye and
then the other, and finishing by a dolorous blast on my nose) "but I am
so disappointed, every thing is _so_ changed, and I know I shall miss
him _so_ much!" I end with a break in my voice, and a long whimper.

"_Miss him!_ miss whom?"

"The ge-general!" reply I, indistinctly, from the recesses of a drenched
pocket-handkerchief.

"But what is going to happen to him? where is he going to? I wish that
you would be a little more intelligible," cry they all, impatiently.

"He is going to the West Indies, to Antigua," reply I, lifting my face
and speaking with a slow dejection.

"_To Antigua!_" cries Algy; "but what in the world is going to take him
there?"

"Perhaps," says Bobby, in a loud aside to Tou Tou, "perhaps he has got
another wife out there--a _black_ one--and he thinks it is _her_ turn
now!"

Barbara says, "Hush!" and Tou Tou is beginning to embark on a long
argument to prove that a man _cannot_ have more than one wife at a time,
when she is summarily _hustled_ into silence, for I speak again.

"He has some property in the West Indies--I knew he had before--" (with
a passing flash of pride in my superior information)--"I dare say you
did not--and he has to go out there to look after it."

"_By himself?_"

"By himself, worse luck!" reply I, despondently, reinterring my
countenance in my pocket-handkerchief.

"And you decline to accompany him? Well, I think you are about right!"
says Algy, rising, lounging over to the empty hearth, and looking at his
face with a glance of serious fondness in the glass that hangs above the
mantel-shelf.

"I do nothing of the kind!" cry I, indignantly, "I have not the chance!
he will not take me!"

I am not looking at him, nor, indeed, in his direction at all; but I am
aware that Bobby is giving Tou Tou a private and severe nudge, which
means "Attend! here is confirmation of my theory for you!" and that the
idea of the hypothetical black lady is again traversing his ingenuous
mind.

"I hope he will bring us some Jamaica ginger," he says, presently.

"I wish you would mention it, Nancy! the suggestion would come best from
_you_, would not it?"

"And you are to be left _alone_ at Tempest? Is that the plan?" asks
Algy, turning his eyes from his own face, and fixing them on the less
interesting object of mine.

It may be my imagination, but I cannot help fancying that there is a
tone of slight and repressed exultation in his voice; and also that a
look of hope and bright expectation is passing from one to another of
the faces round me. All but Barbara's! Barbara always understands.

"_All alone?_" cries Tou Tou, opening her ugly little eyes to their
widest stretch. "Nobody but the servants in the house with you? Will not
you be very much afraid of _ghosts_?"

"She need never be alone, unless she chooses," says Bobby, winking with
dexterous slightness at the others; "there is the beauty of having three
kind little brothers!"

"The moment you feel _at all_ lonely," says Algy, emphasizing his
remarks by benevolent but emphatic strokes with his flat hand on my
shoulder, "_send for us_! one of us is sure to be handy! If it will be
any comfort to Sir Roger, I shall be most happy to promise him that I
will keep _all_ his horses in exercise next winter!"

"I am sorrier than I was before," says Bobby, reflectively, "that the
heavy rains have drowned so many of the young birds."

"O Nancy!" cries Tou Tou, ecstatically clasping her hands, "_have_ a
Christmas-tree!"

"And a dance after it!" adds Bobby, beginning to whistle a waltz-tune.

"And Sir Roger's not being at home will be a good excuse for not asking
father," cries Algy, catching the prevailing excitement.

"I will not have _one_ of you!" cry I, rising with a face pale, as I
feel with anger--with flashing eyes and a trembling voice, "not _one_ of
you shall enter his doors, except Barbara!--I _hate_ you _all_!--you are
all g--g--_glad_ that he is going, and I--I never was so sorry for any
thing in my life before!"

I end in a passion of tears. There is a silence of consternation on the
late so jubilant assembly.

    "'Times is changed,' says the dog's-meat man,"

remarks Bobby, presently, veiling his discomfiture in vulgarity, and
launching into uncouth and low-lived rhyme:

    "'Lights is riz,' says the dog's-meat man!"



CHAPTER XXI.


However, not all the hot tears in the world--not all the swelled noses
and boiled-gooseberry eyes avail to alter the case. Not even all my
righteous wrath against the boys profits--and I do keep Bobby at
arms'-length for a day and a half. No one who does not know Bobby
understands how difficult such a course of proceeding is; for he is one
of those people who ignore the finer shades of displeasure. The more
delicately dignified and civilly frosty one is to him, the more grossly
familiar and hopelessly, obtusely friendly is he. I have made several
more efforts to change Sir Roger's decision, but in vain. He makes the
case more difficult by laying his refusal chiefly on his own
convenience; dilating on the much greater speed and ease with which he
will be able to transact his business, if _alone_, than if weighted by a
woman, and a woman's paraphernalia, and also on the desirability of
having in me a _locum tenens_ for himself at Tempest. But, in my soul, I
know that both these are hollow pretenses to lighten the weight on my
conscience.

"But," say I, with discontented demurring, "you have been away often
before! how did Tempest get on _then_?"

He laughs.

"Very middling, indeed! last time I was away the servants gave a ball in
the new ballroom--so my friends told me afterward, and the time before,
the butler took the housekeeper a driving-tour in my T.-cart. I should
not have minded _that_ much--but I suppose he was not a very good whip,
and so he threw down one of my best horses, and broke his knees!"

"Well, they _shall not_ give a ball!" say I, resolutely, "but"--(in a
tone of melancholy helplessness)--"they may throw down _all_ the horses,
for any thing _I_ can do to prevent them! A horse's knees would have to
be _very much broken_ before I should perceive that they were!"

"You must get Algy to help you," he says, kindly. "It is an ill wind
that blows nobody good, is not it? Poor boy!"--(laughing)--"You must not
expect _him_ to be very keen about my speedy return."

As he speaks, an arrow of animosity toward Algy shoots through my heart.

We are at Tempest--Sir Roger and I. It has been his wish to establish me
there before his departure; and now it is the gray of the evening before
his setting off, and we are strolling through the still park. Vick is
racing, with idiotic ardor, through the tall green bracken, after the
mottled deer, yelping with shrill insanity, and vainly imagining that
she is going to overtake them. The gray rabbits are scuttling across the
grass rides in the pale light: as I see them popping in and out of their
holes, I cannot help thinking of Bobby. Apparently, Sir Roger also is
reminded of him.

"Nancy," he says, looking down at me with a smile of recollected
entertainment, "have you forgiven Bobby yet for leaving you sitting on
the wall? I remember, in the first blaze of your indignation, you vowed
that never should he fire a gun in your preserves!--do you still stick
to it, or have you forgiven him?"

"_That_ I have not!" cry I, heartily. "None of them shall shoot any
thing! Why should they? Every thing shall be kept for you against you
come back!"

He raises his eyebrows a little.

"Rabbits and all?"

"Rabbits and all!" reply I, firmly.

"And what will the farmers say?" asks Sir Roger, smiling.

I have not considered this aspect of the question, so remain silent. We
walk on without speaking for some moments. The deer, in lofty pity for
Vick, have stopped to allow her to get nearer to them. With their fine
noses in the air, and their proud necks compassionately turned toward
her, they are waiting, while she pushes, panting and shrieking, through
the stout fern-stems; then, leap cruelly away in airy bounds.

"If I am not back by Christmas--" says Sir Roger, presently.

"By _Christmas_!" interrupt I, aghast, "one, two, three, four, _five_
months--but you _must_!--you MUST!" clasping both hands on his arm.

"I hope I shall, certainly," replies he; "but one never knows what may
happen! If I am _not_--"

"But you _must_," repeat I urgently, and apparently resolved that he
shall never reach the end of his sentence; "if you are not--I warn
you--you may not like it--I dare say you will not--but--I shall come to
look for you!"

"In a _sailing-vessel_, like the governor-general's wife?" asks he with
a smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now he is gone! gone in the first freshness of the morning! This
year, I seem fated to witness the childhood of many summer days. The
carriage that bears him away is lost to sight--dwindled away to nothing
among the park-trees. Five minutes ago, my arms were clinging with a
tightness of a clasp that a bear might have admired round his neck. I
was too choked with tears to say much, and kept repeating with the
persistence of a guinea-fowl, but without the distinctness, "Come back!
come back!"

"Good-by, my Nancy!" he says, holding me a little from him, that he may
the better consider my face, "be quite--_quite_ happy, while I am
away--_indeed_, that will be the way to please me best, and be a little
glad to see me when I come back!"

And now he is gone; and I am left standing at the hall-door with level
hand shading my eyes from the red sun--with a smeared face--with the
butler and two footmen respectfully regarding my affliction--(_they_ do
not like to disappear, till they have shut the door--_I_ do not like to
ask them to retire, and I do not like to lose the last glimpse) so there
I remain--nineteen--a grass widow, and--ALONE! I shall not, however, be
alone for long; for this evening Barbara is coming. Algy is to bring
her, and to stay a few days on his way to Aldershott. All day long, I
wander with restless aimlessness about the house, my big house--so
empty, so orderly in its stateliness--so frightfully silent! Ah! the
doll's house whose whole front came out at once was a better
companion--much more friendly, and not half so oppressive. In almost
every room, I cry profusely--disagreeable tears of shame and remorse and
grief--only, O friends! I will tell you _now_, what I would not tell
myself then, that the grief, though true, was not so great as either of
the other feelings. I lunch in the great dining-room, with tall
full-length Tempests eying me with constant placidity from the walls;
with the butler and footman still trying respectfully to ignore my
swelled nose and bunged-up eyes.

As evening draws on--evening that is to bring some voices, some sound of
steps to me and my great dumb house--I revive a little. If it were Bobby
that were coming, my mind would be weighted by the thought of the
repression his spirits would need, but Algy's mirth is several shades
less violent, and Barbara is never jarringly joyful. So I change my
dress, bathe my face, make my maid retwist my hair, and prepare to be
chastenedly and moderately glad to see them.

At least there will be some one to occupy two more of these numberless
chairs; two more for the stolid family portraits to eye; two voices, nay
_three_, for _I_ shall speak then, to drown the sounding silence.

It is time they should be here. The carriage went to the station more
than an hour ago. I sit down in a window-seat that commands the park,
and look along the drive by which the general went this morning.

Dear Roger! I will practise calling him "Roger" when I am by myself, and
then perhaps I may be able to address him by it when he comes home. I
will say, "How are you, Roger?"

I have fallen into a pleasant reverie, with my head leaned against the
curtain, in which I see myself giving glib utterance to this formula, as
I stand in a blue gown--Roger likes me in blue--and a blue cap--I look
older in a cap--while he precipitates himself madly--

My reverie breaks off. Some one has entered, and is standing by me. It
is a footman, with a telegram on a salver. Albeit I know the trivial
causes for which people employ the telegraph-wires nowadays, I never can
get over my primal deadly fear of those yellow envelopes, that seem
emblems and messengers of battle, murder, and sudden death. As I tear it
open, a hundred horrible impossible possibilities flash across my brain.
Algy and Barbara have both been killed in a railway-accident, and have
telegraphed to tell me so; the same fate has happened to Roger, and he
has adopted the same course.

     "_Algernon Grey to Lady Tempest._
     "Cannot come: not allowed. _He_ has turned nasty."

The paper drops into my lap, as I draw a long breath of mingled relief
and disappointment. A whole long evening--long night of this solitude
before me! perhaps much more, for they do not even say that they will
come to-morrow! I _must_ utter my disappointment to somebody, even if it
is only the footman.

"They are not coming!" say I, plaintively; then, recollecting and
explaining myself, "I mean, they need not send in dinner! I will not
have any!" I _cannot_ stand another repast--three times longer than the
last too--for one _can_ abridge luncheon, seated in lorn dignity between
the staring dead on the walls, and the obsequious living.

As soon as the man is fairly out of the room, I cry again. Yes, though
my hair is readjusted, though I spent more than a quarter of an hour in
bathing my eyes, and restoring some semblance of white to their lids,
though I had resolved--and without much difficulty, too, hitherto--to be
dry-eyed for the rest of the evening. What does it matter what color my
eyelids are? what size my nose is? or how beblubbered my cheeks? Not a
soul will see them, except my maid, and I am naturally indifferent as to
the effect I produce upon her. I look at the clock on the mantel-piece.
It has stopped--ornamental clocks mostly do--but even this trivial
circumstance adds to my affliction. I instantly take out my
pocket-handkerchief, and begin to cry again. Then I look at my watch; a
quarter-past seven only--and my watch always gains! Two hours and
three-quarters before I can, with the smallest semblance of decency, go
to bed. Meanwhile I am hungry. Though my husband has deserted me, though
my brother and sister have failed me, my appetite has done neither.

Faithful friend! never yet was it known to quit me, and here it is! I
decide to have _tea_ in my own boudoir. Tea is informal, and one need
not be waited on at it. When it comes, I try to dawdle over it as much
as possible, to sip my tea with labored slowness, and bite each mouthful
with conscientious care. When I have finished, I think with satisfaction
that I cannot have occupied less than half an hour. Again I consult my
watch. Exactly twelve minutes. It is now five minutes to eight; two
hours and five minutes more! I sigh loudly, and putting on my hat stroll
out into the wide and silent garden. It is as yet unfamiliar to me.
I do not know where half the walks lead. I have no favorite haunts,
no chosen spot of solitude and greenery, where old and pleasant
thoughts meet me. Many such have I at home, but none here. I wander
objectlessly, pleasurelessly about with Vick--apparently sharing my
depression--trotting subduedly, with tail half-mast high, at my heels,
and at length sit down on a bench under a mulberry-tree. The scentless
flame of the geraniums and calceolarias fills, without satisfying my
eyes; the gnats' officious hum offends my ears; and thoughts in
comparison of which the calceolarias are sweet and the gnats melodious,
occupy my mind.

Sir Roger will most likely be drowned on his voyage out. Bobby will
almost certainly be sent to Hong-Kong, and, as a natural consequence,
die of a putrid fever. Algy has just entered the army; there can be no
two opinions as to our going to war immediately with either Russia or
America. Algy will probably be among the first to fall, and will die,
grasping his colors, and shouting "Victory!" or "Westminster Abbey!" or
perhaps both.

I have not yet decided what he shall be shouting, when the current of my
thoughts is turned by seeing some one--thank Heaven, not a footman, this
time!--advancing across the sward toward me. Surely I know the
nonchalant lounge of that walk--the lazy self-consciousness of that
gait, though, when last I saw it, it was not on dewy English turf, but
on the baking flags of a foreign town. It is Mr. Musgrave. Until this
moment I have ungratefully forgotten his existence, and all the
interesting facts he told me connected with his existence--how his lodge
faces ours--how he has no father nor mother, and lives by himself at an
abbey. Alas! in this latter particular, can I not feel for him? Am _I_
not living by myself at a _hall_?

Vick recognizes him at about the same moment as I do. Having first
sprung at him with that volubility of small but hostile _yaps_, with
which she strikes terror into the hearts of tramps, she has now--having
_smelt_ him to be not only respectable, but an acquaintance--changed her
behavior to a little servile whine and a series of high jumps at his
hand.

"It is you, is it?" cry I, springing up and running to meet him with an
elate sensation of company and sociability; "I had quite forgotten that
you lived near here. I'm _so_ glad!"

At my happy remark as to having been hitherto oblivious of his
existence, his face falls in the old lowering way I remember so well,
and that brings back to me so forcibly the Prager Strasse, the Zwinger,
the even sunshine, that favored my honey-moon; but at the
heartily-expressed joy at seeing him, with which I conclude, he cheers
up again. If he had known that I was in so reduced a state that I should
have enjoyed a colloquy with a chimney-sweep, and not despised
exchanging opinions with a dustman, he would not have thought my
admission worth much.

"So you have come at last," he says, holding my hand, and looking at me
with those long dark eyes that I would swear were black had not a
conscientious and thorough daylight scrutiny of them assured me long ago
that they were hazel.

"Yes," say I, cheerfully; "I told you you would catch sight of us,
sooner or later, if you waited long enough."

"And your tenants never dragged you in, after all?"

"No," say I; "we did not give them the chance. But how do _you_ know?
Were you peeping out of your lodge? If I had remembered that you lived
there, I would have been on the lookout for you."

"You had, of course, entirely forgotten so insignificant a fact?" he
says, with a tone of pique.

That happy one! how well I recollect it! I feel quite fondly toward it;
it reminds me so strongly of the Linkesches Bad, of the brisk band, and
of Roger smoking and smiling at me with his gray eyes across our
Mai-trank.

"Yes," I say, contritely, "I am ashamed to say I had--_quite_; but you
see I have had a good many things to think of lately."

At this point it strikes me that he must have forgotten that he has my
hand, so I quietly, and without offense, resume it.

"And you are _alone_--Sir Roger has left you quite _alone_ here?"

"Yes," say I, lachrymosely; "is not it _dreadful_? I never was so
miserable in my life; I do not think I _ever_ was by myself for a
_whole_ night before, and"--(lowering my voice to a nervous
whisper)--"they tell me there is a ghost somewhere about. Did you ever
hear of it?--and the furniture gives _such_ cracks!"

"And--he has gone _by himself_?" he continues, still harping on the same
string, as if unable to leave it.

"Yes," reply I, laconically, hanging my head, for this is a topic on
which I feel always guilty, and never diffuse.

"H'm!" he says, ruminatingly, and as if addressing the remark more to
himself than to me. "I suppose it _is_ difficult to get out of old
habits, and into new ones, all of a sudden."

"I do not know what you mean by old habits and new habits," cry I,
angrily; "if you think he did not want me to go with him, you are very
much mistaken; he would have much rather that I had."

"But _you_," looking at me penetratingly, and speaking with a sort of
alacrity, "you did not see it? I remember of old" (with a smile) "your
abhorrence of the sea."

"You are wrong again," say I, reddening, and still speaking with some
heat, "I _wished_ to go--I begged him to take me. However sick I had
been, I should have liked it better than being left moping here, without
a soul to speak to!"

Silence for a moment. Then he speaks with a rather sarcastic smile.

"I confess myself puzzled; if _you_ were dying to go, and _he_ were
dying to take you, how comes it that you are sitting at the present
moment on this bench?"

I can give no satisfactory answer to this query, so take refuge in a
smile.

"I see," say I, tartly, "that you have still your old trick of asking
questions. I wish that you would try to get the better of it; it is very
disadvantageous to you, and very trying to other people!"

He takes this severe set-down in silence.

The trees that surround the garden are slowly darkening. The shadows
that intervene between the round masses of the sycamore-leaves deepen,
deepen. A bat flitters dumbly by. Vick, to whose faith all things seem
possible, runs sharply barking and racing after it. We both laugh at the
fruitlessness of her undertaking, and the joint merriment restores
suavity to me, and assurance to him.

"And are you to stay here by yourself _all_ the time he is away--_all_?"

"God forbid!" reply I, with devout force.

"Not? well, then--I am really afraid this is a question again, but I
cannot help it. If you will not volunteer information, I must ask for
it--who is to be your companion?"

"I suppose they will take turns," say I, relapsing into dejection, as I
think of the precarious nature of the society on which I depend;
"sometimes one, sometimes another, whichever can get away best--they
will take turns."

"And who is to have the _first_ turn?" he asks, leaning back in the
corner of the seat, so as to have a fuller view of my lamentable
profile; "when is the first installment of consolatory relatives to
arrive?"

"Algy and Barbara _were_ to have come to-day," reply I, feeling a covert
resentment against something of faintly _gibing_ in his tone, but being
conscious that it is not perceptible enough to justify another snub,
even if I had one ready, which I have not.

"And they did not?"

"Now is not that a silly question?" cry I, tartly, venting the crossness
born of my desolation on the only person within reach; "if they _had_,
should I be sitting moping here with nobody but Vick to talk to?"

"You forget _me_! may I not run in couples even with a _dog_?" he asks,
with a little bitter laugh.

"I did not forget you," reply I, coolly; "but you do not affect the
question one way or another--you will be gone directly and--when you
are--"

"Thank you for the hint," he cries springing up, picking up his little
stick off the grass and flushing.

"You are not going?" cry I, eagerly, laying my hand on his coat-sleeve,
"do not! why should you? there is no hurry. Let me have some one to help
me to keep the ghosts at bay as long as I can!" then, with a dim
consciousness of having said something rather _odd_, I add, reddening,
"I shall be going in directly, and you may go then."

He reseats himself. A tiny air is ruffling the flower-beds, giving a
separate soft good-night to each bloom.

"And what happened to Algy and Barbara?" he says presently.

"Happened? Nothing!" I answer, absently.

"Very brutal of Algy and Barbara, then!" he says, more in the way of a
reflection than a remark.

"Very brutal of _father_, you should say!" reply I, roused by the
thought of my parent to a fresh attack of active and lively resentment.

"I have no doubt I should if I knew him."

"He would not let them come!" say I, explanatorily, "for what reason?
for _none_--he never has any reasons, or if he has, he does not give
them. I sometimes think" (laughing maliciously) "that _you_ will not be
unlike him, when you grow old and gouty."

"Thank you."

"_You_ have no father, have you?" continue I, presently; "no, I remember
your telling me so at the Linkesches Bad. Well" (laughing again, with a
certain grim humor), "I would not fret about it _too_ much, if I were
you--it is a relationship that has its disadvantages."

He laughs a little dryly.

"On whatever other heads I may quarrel with Providence, at least no one
can accuse me of ever murmuring at its decrees in this respect."

We have risen. The darkness creeps on apace, warmly, without damp or
chillness; but still, on it comes! I have to face the prospect of my
great and gloomy house all through the lagging hours of the long black
night!

"They will come to-morrow, _certainly_, I suppose?" (interrogatively).

"Not _certainly_, at all!" reply I, with an energetic despondence in my
voice; "quite the contrary! most likely not! most likely not the day
after either, nor the day after that--"

"And if they do not" (with an accent of sincere compassion), "what will
you do?"

"What I have done to-day, I suppose," I answer dejectedly; "cry till my
cheeks are _sore_! You may not believe me" (passing my bare fingers
lightly over them as I speak), "but they feel quite _raw_. I wonder"
(with a little dismal laugh) "why tears were made _salt_!--they would
not blister one half so much if they were fresh water."

He has drawn a pace or two nearer to me. In this light one has to look
closely at any object that one wishes specially and narrowly to observe;
and I myself have pointed out the peculiarities of my countenance to
him, so I cannot complain if he scrutinizes me with a lengthy attention.

"It is going to be such a _dark_ night!" I say, with a slight shiver;
"and if the wind gets up, I know that I shall lie awake all night,
thinking that the gen--that Roger is drowned! Do you not think" (looking
round apprehensively) "that it is rising already? See how those boughs
are waving!"

"Not an atom!" reassuringly.

We both look for an instant at the silent flower-beds, at the sombre
bulk of the house.

"If they do not come to-morrow--" begins Frank.

"But they _will_!" cry I, petulantly; "they _must_! I cannot do without
them! I believe some people do not _mind_ being alone--not even in the
evenings, when the furniture cracks and the door-handles rattle. I dare
say _you_ do not; but I hate my own company; I have never been used to
it. I have always been used to a great deal of noise--_too_ much, I have
sometimes thought, but I am sure that I never shall think so again!"

"Well, but if they do not--"

"You have said that three times," I cry, irritably. "You seem to take a
pleasure in saying it. If they do not--well, what?"

"I will not say what I was going to say," he answers, shortly. "I shall
only get my nose bitten off if I do."

"Very well, do not!" reply I, with equal suavity.

We walk in silence toward the house, the wet grass is making my long
gown drenched and flabby. We have reached the garden-door whence I
issued, and by which I shall return.

"You must go now, I suppose," say I, reluctantly. "_You_ will be by
yourself too, will not you? Tell me" (speaking with lowered confidential
tone), "do _your_ chairs and tables ever make odd noises?"

"Awful!" he answers, laughing. "I can hardly hear myself speak for
them."

I laugh too.

"You might as well tell me before you go what the remark that I quenched
was? One always longs to hear the things that people are _going_ to say,
and do not! Have no fear! your nose is quite safe!"

"It is nothing much," he answers, with self-conscious stiffness, looking
down and poking about the little dark pebbles with his cane; "nothing
that you would care about."

"_Care about!_" echo I, leaning my back against the dusk house-wall, and
staring up at the sombre purple of the sky. "Well, no! I dare say not!
What _should_ I care to hear now? I am sure I should be puzzled to say!
But, as I have been so near it, I may as well be told."

"As you will!" he answers, with an air of affected carelessness. "It is
only that, if they _do not_ come to-morrow--"

"_Fourth time!_" interject I, counting on my fingers and smiling.

"If you _wish_--if you _like_--if it would be any comfort to you--I
shall be happy--I mean I shall be very glad to come up again about the
same time to-morrow evening."

"_Will_ you?" (eagerly, with a great accession of exhilaration in my
voice). "Are you serious? I shall be so much obliged if you will, but--"

"It is _impossible_ that any one can say any thing," he interrupts,
hastily. "There _could_ be no harm in it!"

"_Harm!_" repeat I, laughing. "Well, _hardly_! I cannot fancy a more
innocent amusement."

Though my speech is in agreement with his own, the coincidence does not
seem to gratify him.

"What did you mean, then?" he says, sharply. "You said 'but'--"

"Did I?" answer I, again throwing back my head, and looking upward, as
if trying to trace my last preposition among the clouds;
"but--_but_--where could I have put a '_but_'?--oh, I know! _but_ you
will most likely forget! Do not!" I continue, bringing down my eyes
again, and speaking in a coaxing tone. "If you do, it will be play to
you, but _death_ to me; the thought of it will keep me up all the day!"

"Will it?" in a tone of elated eagerness. "You are not _gibing_, I
suppose? it does not sound like your gibing voice!"

"Not it!" reply I, gloomily. "My gibing voice is packed away at the
bottom of my imperial. I do not think it has been out since we left
Dresden. Well, good-night! What do you want to shake hands _again_ for?
We have done that _twice_ already. You are like the man who, the moment
he had finished reading prayers to his family, began them all over
again. _Mind_ you do not forget! and" (laughing) "if you cannot come
yourself, _send some one else! any one_ will do--I am not particular,
but I _must_ have _some one_ to speak to!"

Almost before my speech is finished, Frank is out of sight. With such
rapid suddenness has he disappeared round the house-corner. I stand for
a moment, marveling a little at his hurry. Five minutes ago he seemed
willing enough to dawdle on till midnight. Then I go in, and forget his
existence.



CHAPTER XXII.


Suppose that in all this world, during all its ages, there never was a
case of a person being _always_ in an ill-humor. I believe that even
Xantippe had her lucid intervals of amiability, during which she fondled
her Socrates. At all events, father has. On the day after my
disappointment, one such interval occurs. He relents, allows Algy and
Barbara to have the carriage, and sends them off to Tempest.

Either Mr. Musgrave becomes aware of this fact, or, as I had
anticipated, he forgets his promise, for he never appears, and I do not
see him again till Sunday. By Sunday my cheeks are no longer _raw_; the
furniture has stopped cracking--seeing that no one paid any attention to
it, it wisely left off--and the ghosts await a fitter opportunity to
pounce.

I have heard from Sir Roger--a cheerful note, dated Southampton. If _he_
is cheerful, I may surely allow myself to be so too. I therefore no
longer compunctiously strangle any stray smiles that visit my
countenance. I have taken several drives with Barbara in my new
pony-carriage--it is a curious sensation being able to order it without
being subject to fathers veto--and we have skirted our own park, and
have peeped through his close wooden palings at Mr. Musgrave's, have
strained our eyes and stretched our necks to catch a glimpse of his old
gray house, nestling low down among its elms. (Was there ever an abbey
that did not live in a hollow?) With bated breath, lest the groom behind
should overhear me, I have slightly sketched to Barbara the outline of
an idea for establishing her in that weather-worn old pile--an idea
which I think was born in my mind as long ago as the first evening that
I saw its owner at the Linkesches Bad, and heard that he _had_ an abbey,
and that it was over against my future home.

Barbara does not altogether deny the desirability of the arrangement;
she is not, however, so sanguine as I as to its feasibility, and she
positively declines to consent to enter actively into it until she has
seen him. This will be on Sunday. To Sunday, therefore, I look forward
with pious haste.

Well, it is Sunday now--the Sunday of my first appearance as a bride at
Tempest church. A bride without her bridegroom! A pang of mortification
and pain shoots through me, as this thought traverses my soul. I look at
myself dissatisfiedly in the glass. Alas! I am no credit to his taste.
If, for this once. I could but look taller, personabler, _older_!

"They will all say that he has made a fool of himself," I say, half
aloud.

It is a sultry day, without wind or freshness, and with a great deal of
sun; but in spite of this, I put on a silk gown, rich and heavy, as
looking more _married_ than the cobweb muslins in which I have hitherto
met the summer heat. On my head I place a sedately feathered bonnet,
which would not have misbecome mother. I meet Algy and Barbara in my
boudoir. They are already dressed. I examine Barbara with critical care,
and with a discontented eye, though to a stranger her appearance would
seem likely to inspire any feeling rather than dissatisfaction, for she
looks as clean and fair and chastely sweet as ever maiden did. Ben
Jonson must have known some one like her when he wrote:

    "Have you seen but a bright lily grow
    Before rude hands have touched it?
    Have you marked but the fall of the snow
    Before the soil hath smutched it?
    Have you felt the wool of the beaver
    Or swan's-down ever?
    Or have smelled of the bud of the brier,
    Or the nard in the fire?
    Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
    Oh so white, oh so soft, oh so sweet is she?"

But all the same, having a bonnet on, she is distinctly less like Palma
Vecchio's St. Catherine, to which in my talk with Frank I compared her,
than she was bareheaded this morning at breakfast. Who in the annals of
history ever heard of a saint in a _bonnet_?

"I wish that people might be allowed to go to church without their
bonnets these hot Sundays," I say, grumblingly. "_You_ especially,
Barbara."

She laughs.

"I should be very glad, but I am afraid the beadle would turn me out."

"For Heaven's sake," says Algy, gravely, putting back his shoulders and
throwing out his chest, as he draws on a pair of exact gray gloves, "do
not let us make ourselves to stink in the nostrils of the inhabitants by
any eccentricities of conduct, on this our first introduction to them.
If we consulted our own comfort, there is no doubt that we should reduce
our toilets by a good many more articles than a bonnet--in fact--" (with
an air of reflection), "I shudder to think _where_ we should stop!"

We are in church now. I have run the gantlet of the observation of all
the parishioners, and have been unable to look calmly unaware of it; on
the contrary, have grown consciously rosy red, and have walked over
hastily between the open sittings. But now I have reached the shelter of
our own seat, near the top of the church, with all the gay bonnets
behind me, and only the pulpit, the spread-eagle reading-desk, and the
gaudy stained window in front. As soon as I am established--almost
sooner, perhaps--I turn my eyes in search of Mr. Musgrave. I know
perfectly where to look for him, as he drew a plan of Tempest church and
the relative position of our sittings, with the point of his stick on
the gravel in the gardens close to the Zwinger at Dresden, while we sat
under the trees by the little pool, feeding the pert sparrows and the
intimate cock-chaffinch that resort thither. He is not there!

Barbara may be crowned with any abomination, in the way of a bonnet,
that ever entered into the grotesque imagination of a milliner to
conceive--coal-scuttle, cottage, spoon--for all that it matters. The
organ strikes up, a file of chorister-boys in dirty surplices--Tempest
is a more pretentious church than ours--and a brace of clergy enter. All
through the Confession I gape about with vacant inattention--at the
grimy whiteness of the choir; at the back of the organist's head; at the
parson, a mealy-mouthed fledgling, who, with his finger on his place in
the prayer to prevent his losing it, is taking a stealthy inventory of
my charms.

Suddenly I hear the door, which has been for some time silent, creak
again in opening. Footsteps sound along the aisle. I look up. Yes, it is
he! walking as quickly and noiselessly as he can, and looking rather
ashamed of himself, while patches of red, blue, and golden light, from
the east window, dance on his Sunday coat and on the smooth darkness of
his hair. I glance at Barbara, to give her notice of the approach of her
destiny, but my glance is lost. Barbara's stooped head is hidden by her
hands, and her pure thoughts are away with God. As a _pis aller_, I look
at Algy. No absorption in prayer on _his_ part baffles me. He is leaning
his elbow on his knee, and wearily biting the top of his prayer-book. He
returns my look by another, which, though wordless, is eloquent. It
says, in raised eyebrow and drooped mouth, "Is that all? I do not think
much of him?"

The church is full and hot. The windows are open, indeed, but only the
infinitesimally small chink that church-windows ever do open. The
pew-opener sedulously closes the great door after every fresh entrance.
I kneel simmering through the Litany. Never before did it seem so long!
Never did the chanted, "We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!" appear
so endlessly numerous.

Under cover of my arched hands, shading my eyes, I peep at one after
another of the family groups. Most of them are behind me indeed, but
there are still a good many that I can get a view of sideways. Among
these, the one that oftenest engages my notice is a small white woman,
evidently a lady--and, at the moment I first catch sight of her, with
closed eyes and drawn-in nostrils, inhaling smelling-salts, as if to
her, too, church was up-hill work this morning--in a little seat by
herself. At the other pews one glance a piece satisfies me, but, having
looked at _her_ once, I look again. I could not tell you _why_ I do it.
There is nothing very remarkable about her in the matter of either youth
or beauty, and yet I look.

The service is ended at length, but eagerly as I long for the fresh air,
we are--whether to mark our own dignity, or to avoid further scrutiny on
the part of our fellow-worshipers--almost the last to issue from the
church. At the porch we find Mr. Musgrave waiting. A sort of _mauvaise
honte_ and a guilty conscience combine to disable me from promptly
introducing him to my people, and before I recover my presence of mind,
Algy has walked on with Barbara, and I am left to follow with Frank.

He does not seem in one of his most sunshiny humors, but perhaps the
long morning service, so trying in its present arrangement of lengthy
prayers, praises, and preaching, to a restless and irritable temper, is
to blame for that.

"I suppose," he says, speaking rather stiffly, "that I must congratulate
you on the arrival of the first detachment."

"First detachment of what?"

"Of your family. I understood you to say that there were to be _relays_
of them during all Sir Roger's absence."

"It is to be hoped so, I am sure," I say, devoutly; "especially" (looking
up at him with mock reproach) "considering the way in which my friends
neglect me. You never came, after all! No!" (seeing the utter
unsmilingness of his expression, and speaking hastily), "I am not
serious; I am only joking! No doubt you heard that they had come, and
thought that you would be in the way. But, indeed you would not. We had
no secrets to talk; we should not have minded you a bit."

"I _did_ hear that they had arrived," he answers, still speaking
ungraciously, "but even if I had not, I should not have come!"

I look up in his face, and laugh.

"You _forgot_? Ah, I told you you would!"

"I did _not_ forget."

Again I look up at him, this time in honest astonishment, awaiting the
solution of his enigma.

"There is no particular use in making one's self _cheap_, is there?" he
says, with a bitter little laugh. "What is the use of going to a place
where you are told that _any one else_ will do as well?"

A pause. I walk along in silent wonderment. So he actually was happy
again! We have left the church-yard. We are in the road, between the
dusty quicks of the hedgerows. The carriages bowl past us, whirling
clouds of dust down our throats. One is trotting by now, a victoria and
pair of grays, and in it, leaning restfully back, and holding up her
parasol, is the lady I noticed in church. Musgrave knows her apparently.
At least, he takes off his hat.

"Who is she?" I say, with a slightly aroused interest. "I was wondering
in church. I suppose she is delicate, as she sat down through the
psalms."

At the moment I address him, Mr. Musgrave is battling angrily with an
angrier wasp, but no sooner has he heard my question than he ceases his
warfare, and allows it to buzz within half an inch of his nose, as he
turns his hazel eyes, full of astonished inquiry, upon me.

"You _do not know_?"

"Not I," reply I lightly. "How should I? I know nobody in these parts."

"That is Mrs. Huntley."

"You do not say so!" reply I, ironically. "I am sure I am very glad to
hear it, but I am not very much wiser than I was before."

"Is it possible," he says, looking rather nettled at my tone, and
lowering his voice a little, as if anxious to confine the question to me
alone--a needless precaution, as there is no one else within
hearing--"that you have _never_ heard of her?"

"Never!" reply I, in some surprise; "why should I?--has she ever done
any thing very remarkable?"

He laughs slightly, but disagreeably.

"Remarkable! well, no, I suppose not!"

The victoria is quite out of sight now--quite out of sight the
delicately poised head, the dove-colored parasol.

"You are joking, of course," says Frank, presently, turning toward me,
and still speaking in that needlessly lowered key. "It is so long since
I have seen you, that I have got out of the habit of remembering that
you never speak seriously; but, _of course_, you have heard--I mean Sir
Roger has mentioned her to you!"

"He has not!" reply I, speaking sharply, and raising my voice a little.
"Neither has he mentioned any of the other neighbors to me! He had not
time." No rejoinder. "Most likely," continue I, speaking with quick
heat, for something in his manner galls me, "he did not recollect her
existence."

"Most likely."

He is looking down at the white dust which is defiling his
patent-leather boots, and smiling slightly.

"How do you know--what reason have you for thinking that he was aware
that there was such a person?" I ask, with injudicious eagerness.

"I have no reason--I think nothing," he answers, coldly, with an air of
ostentatious reserve.

I walk on in a ruffled, jarred silence. Presently Frank speaks again.

"Are those two"--(slightly indicating by a faint nod the figures in
front of us)--"the two you expected?--Are these--what are their
names?--_Algy_ and _Barbara_?"

"Yes," say I, smiling, with recovered equanimity; "Algy and Barbara." A
little pause. "You can judge for yourself now," say I, laughing rather
nervously, "whether I spoke truth--whether Barbara is as like the St.
Catherine as I told you." For a moment he does not answer. "Of course,"
I say, rather crestfallen, "the bonnet makes a difference; the likeness
is much more striking when it is off."

"The St. Catherine!" he repeats, with a puzzled air, "_what_ St.
Catherine? I am afraid you will think me very stupid, but I really am
quite at sea."

"Do you mean to say," cry I, reddening with mortification, "that you
forget--that you do not remember that St. Catherine of Palma Vecchio's
in the Dresden Gallery that I always pointed out to you as having such a
look of Barbara? Well, you _have_ a short memory!"

"Have I?" he answers, dryly; "perhaps for _some_ things; for _others_, I
fancy that mine is a good deal longer than yours."

"It might easily be that," I answer, recovering from my temporary
annoyance and laughing; "I suppose you mean for books and dates, and
things of that kind. Well, you may easily beat me there. The landing of
William the Conqueror, and the battle of Waterloo, were the only two
dates I ever succeeded in mastering, and that was only after the
struggle of years."

"Dates!" he says, impatiently, "pshaw! I was not thinking of _them_! I
was thinking of Dresden!"

"Are you so sure that you could beat me there?" ask I, thoughtfully; "I
do not know about that! I think I could stand a pretty stiff
examination; but perhaps you are talking of the pictures and the names
of the artists. Ah, yes! there you are right; with _me_ they go in at
one ear, and out at another. Only the other day I was racking my brain
to think of the name of the man that painted the _other_ Magdalen--not
Guido's--I was telling Algy about it. Bah! what is it? I know it as well
as my own."

His head is turned away from me. He does not appear to be attending.

"What is it?" I repeat; "have _you_ forgotten too?"

"Battoni!" he answers, laconically, still keeping his face averted.

"_Battoni!_ oh, yes! thanks--of course! so it is!--Algy" (raising my
voice a little)--"_Battoni!_"

"Well, what about him?" replies Algy, turning his head, but not showing
much inclination to slacken his speed or to join Frank and me.

"The Magdalen man--you know--I mean the man that painted the Magdalen,
and whose name I could not recollect last night, Algy. Barbara! how fast
you are walking!" (speaking rather reproachfully)--"stop a moment! I
want to introduce you to Mr. Musgrave."

Thus adjured, they have come to a halt, and the presentation is made.

"Surely," think I, glancing at Barbara's face, slightly flushed by the
heat, and still gently grave with the sobriety of expression left by
devotion, "he _must_ see the likeness now!" To insure his having the
chance of telling her that he does, I fall behind with Algy.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Claret cup has washed the dust from our throats; cold lamb and
mayonnaise have restored the force of body and equanimity of mind which
the exhausted air and long-drawn Gregorian chants of Tempest Church
destroyed. Frank is lunching with us. He had accompanied us to our own
gates, and had then made a feint of leaving, but I had pressed him, with
an eagerness proportioned to the seriousness of my design upon him, to
accompany us, and he had yielded with a willing ease.

I cannot help thinking that Algy does not look altogether pleased with
the arrangement, but after all, it is _my_ house, and not Algy's. It is
the first time that I have entertained a guest since the far-off
childish birthdays, when the neighbors' little boys and girls used to be
gathered together to drink tea out of the doll's tea service. In the
afternoon, we all walk to church again, and in the same order. Barbara
and Algy in front, Frank and I behind. I had planned differently, but
Algy is obtuse, Barbara will come into the manoeuvres, and Frank seems
simply indifferent. So it happens, that all through the park, and up the
bit of dusty white road we are out of ear-shot of the other two.

"A sky worthy of Dresden!" says Mr. Musgrave, throwing back his head and
looking up at the pale blue sultriness above our heads--the waveless,
stormless ether sea--as we pace along, with the church-bells' measured
ding-dong in our ears, and the cool ripe grasses about our feet.

"_Dear_ Dresden!" say I, pensively, with a sigh of mixed regret and
remorse, as I look back on the sunshiny hours that at the time I thought
so long, in that fair, white foreign town.

"Dear Linkesches Bad!" says Frank, sighing too.

"Dear Groosegarten!" cry I, thinking of the long pottering stroll that
Roger and I had taken one evening up and down its green alleys, and that
_then_ I had found so tedious.

"Dear Zwinger!" retorts Frank.

"Dear Weisserhirsch!" say I, half sadly. "Dear white acacias! dear
drives under the acacias!"

"_Drives under the acacias!_" echoes Frank, dropping his accent of
sentimentalism, and speaking rather sharply. "We never had any drives
under the acacias! We never had any drives at all, that I recollect!"

"_You_ had not, I dare say," reply I, carelessly, "but _we_ had. They
are the things that I look back at with the greatest pleasure of any
thing that happened there!"

Frank does not apostrophize as "_dear_" any other public resort; indeed,
he turns away his head, and we walk on without uttering a word for a few
moments.

"By-the-by," say I, with a labored and not altogether successful attempt
at appearing to speak with suddenness and want of premeditation, "what
did you mean this morning, about that la--about Mrs. Huntley?"

"I meant nothing," he answers, but the faint quiver of a smile about his
mouth contradicts his words.

"That is not true!" reply I, with impatient brusqueness; "why were you
surprised at my not having heard of her?"

"I was not surprised."

"What is the use of so many falsehoods?" cry I, indignantly; "at least I
would choose some better time than when I was going to church for
telling them. What reason have you for supposing that--that Roger knows
more about her than I--than Barbara do?"

"How persistent you are!" he says, with that same peculiar smile--not
latent now, but developed--curbing his lips and lightening in his eyes.
"There is no baffling you! Since you dislike falsehoods, I will tell you
no more. I will own to you that I made a slip of the tongue; I took it
for granted that you had been told a certain little history, which it
seems you have _not_ been told."

The blood rushes headlong to my face. It feels as if every drop in my
body were throbbing and tingling in my cheeks, but I look back at him
hardily.

"I don't believe there _is_ any such history."

"I dare say not."

More silence. Swish through the buttercups and the yellow rattle; a
lark, miles above our heads, singing the music he has overheard in
heaven. Frank does not seem inclined to speak again.

"Your story is _not_ true," say I, presently, laughing uncomfortably,
and unable to do the one wise thing in my reach, and leave the subject
alone--"but untrue stories are often amusing, more amusing than the true
ones. You may tell yours, if you like."

"I have not the slightest wish."

A few steps more. How quickly we are getting through the park! We shall
reach the church, and I shall not have heard. I shall sit and stand and
kneel all through the service with the pain of that gnawing
curiosity--that hateful new vague jealousy aching at my heart.

It is _impossible_! I stop. I stand stock-still in the summer grass.

"I _hate_ your hints! I hate your innuendoes!" I say, passionately. "I
have always lived with people who spoke their thoughts straight out!
Tell me this moment! I will not move a step from this spot till you do."

"I have nothing worth speaking of to tell," he answers, slightly. "It is
only that never having had a wife myself, I have taken an outsider's
view; I have taken it for granted that when two people marry each other
they make a clean breast of their past history--make a mutual confession
of their former--"

He pauses, as if in search of a word.

"But supposing," cry I, eagerly, "that they have nothing to tell,
nothing to confess--"

He shrugs his shoulders.

"That is so likely, is it not?"

"Likely or not," cry I, excitedly, "it was true in _my_ case. If you had
put me on the rack, I could have confessed nothing!"

"I do not see the analogy," he answers, coldly; "_you_ are--what did you
tell me? nineteen?--It is to be supposed"--(with a rather unlovely
smile)--"that your history is yet to come; and he is--_forty-seven_! We
shall be late for church!"--with a glance at Algy's and Barbara's
quickly diminishing figures.

"I do not care whether we are late or not!" cry I, vehemently, and
stamping on the daisy-heads as I speak. "I will not _stir_ until you
tell me."

"There is really no need for such excitement!" returns he with a cold
smile; "since you will have it, it is only that rumor--and you know what
a liar _rumor_ is--says that once, some years ago, they were engaged to
marry each other."

"And why did not they?" speaking with breathless panting, and forgetting
my stout asseveration that the whole tale is a lie.

"Because--mind, I _vouch_ for nothing, I am only quoting rumor
again--because--she threw him over."

"_Threw him over!_" with an accent of most unfeigned astonishment.

"You are surprised!" he says, quickly, and with what sounds to me like a
slightly annoyed inflection of voice; "it _does_ seem incredible, does
not it? But at that time, you see, he had not all the desirables--not
quite the pull over other men that he has now; his brother was not dead
or likely to die, and he was only General Tempest, with nothing much
besides his pay."

"_Threw--him--over!_" repeat I, slowly, as if unable yet to grasp
the sense of the phrase.

"We shall _certainly_ be late; the last bell is beginning," says Frank,
impatiently.

I move slowly on. We have reached the turnstile that gives issue from
the park to the road. The smart farmers' wives, the rosy farmers'
daughters, are pacing along through the powdery dust toward the
church-gate.

"Is she a _widow_?" ask I, in a low voice.

He laughs sarcastically.

"A widow indeed, and desolate, eh? No! I believe she has a husband
somewhere about, but she keeps him well out of sight--away in the
colonies. He is there now, I fancy."

"And why is not she with him?" cry I, indignantly; but the moment that
the words are out of my mouth, I hang my head. Might not _she_ ask the
same question with regard to _me_?

"She did not like the _sea_, perhaps," answers Frank, demurely.



CHAPTER XXIV.


A day--two days pass.

"More callers," say I, hearing the sound of wheels, and running to the
window; "I thought we _must_ have exhausted the neighborhood yesterday
and the day before!" I add, sighing.

"_Whoever they are_," says Barbara, anxiously, lifting her head from the
work over which it is bent, "mind you do not ask after their relations!
Think of the man whose wife you inquired after, and found that she had
run away with his groom not a month before!"

"That certainly was one of my unlucky things," answer I, gravely; then,
beginning to laugh--"and I was so _determined_ to know what had become
of her, too."

I am still looking out. It is a soft, smoke-colored day; half an hour
ago, there was a shower--each drop a separate loud patter on the
sycamore-leaves--but now it is fair again. A victoria is coming briskly
up the drive; servants in dark liveries; a smoke-colored parasol that
matches the day.

"Shall I ring, and say 'not at home?'" asks Barbara, stretching out her
hand toward the bell.

"No, no!" cry I, hurriedly, in an altered voice, for the parasol has
moved a little aside, and I have seen the face beneath.

In two minutes the butler enters and announces "Mrs. Huntley," and the
"plain woman--not very young--about thirty--who cannot be very strong,
as she sat down through the Psalms," enters.

At first she seems uncertain _which_ to greet as bride and hostess;
indeed, I can see that her earliest impulse is to turn from the small
insignificance in silk, to the tall little loveliness in cotton, and as
I perceive it, a little arrow--not of jealousy, for, thank God, I never
was jealous of our Barbara--never--but of pain at my so palpable
inferiority, shoots through all my being. But Barbara draws back, and
our visitor perceives her error. We sit down, but the brunt of the talk
falls on Barbara. I am never glib with strangers, and I throw in a word
only now and then, all my attention and observation having passed into
my eyes. A plain woman, indeed! I have always been convinced of the
unbecomingness of church, but _now_ more than ever am I fully persuaded
of it. And yet she is not pretty! Her mouth is very wide, that is
perhaps why she so rarely laughs; her nose cannot say much for itself;
her cheeks are thin, and I _think_--nay, let me tell truth--I _hope_
that in a low gown she would be _scraggy_, so slight even to meagreness
is she! But how thoroughly made the most of! What a shapeless
pin-cushion fit my gown seems beside the admirable French sit of hers!
How hard, how metallic its tint beside the indefinite softness of that
sweep of smoke-color! What a stiff British erection my hair feels beside
the careless looseness of these shining twists! What a fine, slight
hand, as if cut in faint gray stone!

At each fresh detail that I note, Musgrave's anecdote gains ever more
and more probability; and my heart sinks ever lower and more low.

_One_ hope remains to me. Perhaps she may be stupid! Certainly she is
not _affording_.

How heavily poor Barbara is driving through the fine weather and the
_Times_! and how little more than "yes" and "no" does she get! I take
heart. Roger loves people who talk--people who are merry and make jests.
It was my most worthless gabble that first drew him toward me. Cheered
and emboldened by this thought, I swoop down like a sudden eagle to the
rescue.

"You know Rog--, my husband, do not you?" I say, with an abrupt
bluntness that contrasts finely with the languid gentleness with which
her little remarks steal out like mice. _Mine_ rushes forth like a
desolating bomb-shell.

"A little--yes."

"You knew him in India, did not you?" say I, unable to resist the
temptation of seizing this opportunity to gratify my curiosity, drawing
my chair a little nearer hers, and speaking with an eagerness which I,
in vain, try to stifle.

"Yes," smiling sweetly, "in India."

"He was there a long time," continue I, communicatively.

"Yes."

(Well, she _is_ baffling! when she does not say "yes" affirmatively, she
says it interrogatively.)

"All the same he did not like it," I go on, with amicable volubility;
"but I dare say you know that. They say--" (reddening as I feel,
perceptibly, and nervously twisting my pocket-handkerchief round my
fingers)--"that people are so sociable in India: now, I dare say you saw
a good deal of him."

"Yes; we met several times."

She is smiling again. There is not a shade of hesitation or unreadiness
in her low voice, nor does the faintest tinge of color stain the fine
pallor of her cheeks.

(It _must_ have been a lie!)

"_Your_ husband, too, is out--" I pause; not sure of the locality, but
she does not help me, so I add lamely, "_somewhere_, is not he?"

"He is in the West Indies."

"In the West Indies!" cry I, with animation, drawing my chair yet a
little nearer hers, and feeling positively friendly; "why, that is where
_mine_ is too!"

"Yes?"

"We are companions in misfortune," cry I, heartily; "we must keep up
each other's spirits, must not we?"

Another smile, but no verbal answer.

A noise of feet coming across the hall--of manly whistling makes itself
heard. The door opens and Algy enters. It is clear that he is unaware of
there being any stranger present, for his hat is on his head, his hands
are in his pockets, and he only stops whistling to observe:

"Well, Nancy! any more aborigines?" then he breaks suddenly off, and we
all grow red--he himself beaming of as lively a scarlet as the new tunic
that he tried on last night. I make a hurried and confused presentation,
in which I manage to slur over into unintelligibility and utter
doubtfulness the names of the two people made known to one another.

"One more aborigine, you see!" says Mrs. Huntley, to my surprise--after
the experience I have had of her fine taste in monosyllables--beginning
the conversation. I look at her with a little wonder. Her voice is quite
as low as ever, but there is an accent of playfulness in it; and on her
face a sparkle of _esprit_, whose possible existence I had not
conjectured. Certainly, she showed no symptom of playfulness or _esprit_
during our late talk. I have yet to learn that to some women, the
presence of a man--not _the_ man, but _a_ man--any man--is what warm
rain is to flowers athirst. I am still marveling at this metamorphosis,
when the door again opens, and another guest is announced--an old man,
as great a stranger to us as is the rest of the neighborhood, but of
whom we quickly discover that he is deadly, deadly deaf. For five
minutes, I bawl at him a series of remarks, each and all of which he
misunderstands. He does it so invariably, that I come at length to the
conclusion that he is doing it on purpose, and stop talking in a huff.
Then Barbara takes her turn--Barbara can always make deaf people hear
better than I do, though she does not speak to them nearly so loud, and
I rest on my oars. Owing to my position between the two couples, I can
hear what is passing between Algy and Mrs. Huntley.

To tell the truth, I do not take much pains to avoid hearing it, for
surely they can have no secrets. They are sitting rather close together,
and speaking in a low key, but I am so used to _his_ voice, and her
articulation is so distinct, that I do not miss a word.

"I think I had the pleasure of seeing you in church, last Sunday," Algy
says, rather diffidently; not having yet quite recovered from the
humiliation engendered by his unfortunate remark.

She nods.

"And I you," with a gently reassuring smile.

"Did you, really? did you see me--I mean us?"

"Yes, I saw you," with a delicate inflection of voice, which somehow
confines the application of the remark to him. "I made up my mind--one
takes ideas into one's head, you know--I made up my mind that you were a
_soldier_; one can mostly tell."

He laughs the flattered, fluttered laugh, that _my_ rough speech was
never known to provoke in living man.

"Yes, I am; at least, I am going to be; I join this week."

"Yes?" with a pretty air of attention and interest.

"We--we--found out who _you_ were," he says, laughing again, with a
little embarrassment, and edging his chair nearer hers; "we asked
Musgrave!"

"Mr. Musgrave!" (with a little tone of alert curiosity)--"oh! you know
_him_?"

"I know him! I should think so: he is quite a tame cat here."

"Yes?"

"Have you any _children_?" cry I, suddenly, bundling with my usual fine
tact head-foremost into the conversation (where I am clearly not wanted,
and altogether forgetting Barbara's warning injunction) with my
unnecessary and malapropos query. For a moment she looks only
astonished; then an expression of pain crosses her face, and a slight
contraction passes over her features. Evidently, she _had_ a child, and
it is _dead_. She is going to _cry_! At this awful thought, I grow
scarlet, and Algy darts a furious look at me. What _have_ I said? I have
outdone myself. How far worse a case than the fugitive wife whose
destiny I was so resolute to learn from her injured husband!

"I am so sorry," I stammer--"I never thought--I did not know--"

"It is of no consequence," she answers, speaking with some difficulty,
and with a slight but quite musical tremor in her voice--very different
from the ugly gulpings and catchings of the breath which always
set off _my_ tears--"but the fact is, that I _have_ one little
one--and--and--she no longer lives with me; my husband's people have
taken her; I am sure that they meant it for the best; only--only--I am
afraid I cannot quite manage to talk of her yet" (turning away from me,
and looking up into Algy's face with a showery smile). Then, as if
unable to run the risk of any other further shock to her feelings, she
rises and takes her leave; Algy eagerly attending her to the door.

The old deaf gentleman departs at the same time, loading Barbara with
polite parting messages to her husband, and bowing distantly to _me_.
Algy reënters presently, looking cross and ruffled.

"You really are _too_ bad, Nancy!" he says, harshly, throwing himself
into the chair lately occupied by Mrs. Huntley. "You grow worse every
day--one would think you did it on purpose--riding rough-shod over
people's feelings."

I stand aghast. Formerly, I used not to mind rough words; but I think
Roger must have spoilt me; they make me wince now.

"But--but--it was not _dead_!" I say, whimpering; "it had only gone to
visit its grandmother."

"Never you mind, my Nancy!" says Barbara, in a whisper, drawing me away
to the window, and pressing her soft, cool lips, to the flushed misery
of my cheeks; "she was not hurt a bit! her eyes were as dry as a bone!"



CHAPTER XXV.


One more day is gone. We are one day nearer Roger's return. This is the
way in which I am growing to look at the flight of time; just as, in
Dresden, I joyfully marked each sunset, as bringing me twenty-four hours
nearer home and the boys. And now the boys are within reach; at a wish I
could have them all round me; and still, in my thoughts, I hurry the
slow days, and blame them for dawdling. With all their broad, gold
sunshine, and their rainbow-colored flowers, I wish them away.

Alas! that life should be both so quick and so lagging! It is afternoon,
and I am lying by myself on a cloak at the bottom of the punt--the
_unupsettable_, broad-bottomed punt. My elbow rests on the seat, and a
book is on my lap. But, in the middle of the pool, the glare from the
water is unbearably bright, but _here_, underneath those dipping,
drooped trees, the sun only filters through in little flakes, and the
shade is brown, and the reflections are so vivid that the flags hardly
know which are themselves--they, or the other flags that grow in the
water at their feet.

A while ago I tried to read; but a private vexation of my own--a small
new one--interleaved with its details each page of the story, and made
nonsense of it. I have shut the volume, therefore, and, with my hat
tilted over my eyes, and my cheek on my hand, am watching the long blue
dragon-flies, and the numberless small peoples that inhabit the summer
air. All at once, I hear some one coming, crashing and pushing through
the woody undergrowth. Perhaps it is Algy come to say that he has
changed his mind, and that he will not go after all! No! it is only Mr.
Musgrave. I am a little disappointed, but, as my fondness for my own
company is always of the smallest, I am able to smile a sincere welcome.

"It is you, is it?" I say, with a little intimate nod. "How did you know
where I was?"

"Barbara told me."

"_Barbara_, indeed!" (laughing). "I wish father could hear you."

"I am very glad he does not."

"And so you found her at home?" I say, with a feeling of pleased
curiosity, as to the details of the interview. (He cannot well have
volunteered the abbey _already_, can he?)

"I suppose I may come in," he says, hardly waiting my permission to jump
into the punt, which, however, by reason of the noble broadness of its
bottom, is enabled to bid defiance to any such shock. "She was making a
flannel petticoat for an old woman," he goes on, sitting down opposite
me, and looking at me from under his hat-brim, with gravely shining
eyes; "_herring-boning_, she called it. She has been teaching me how to
herring-bone. I like Barbara."

"How kind of you!" I say, ironically, and yet a little gratified too.
"And does she return the compliment, may I ask?"

He nods.

"Yes, I think so."

"She would like you better still if you were to lose all your money, and
one of your legs, and be marked by the small-pox," I say, thoughtfully;
"to be despised, and out at elbows, and down in the world, is the sure
way to Barbara's heart."

I had meant to have drawn for him a pleasant and yet most true picture
of her sweet disinterestedness, but his uneasy vanity takes it amiss.

"As it entails being enrolled among the blind and lame," he says,
smiling sarcastically, and flushing a little, "I am afraid I shall never
get there."

A moment ago I had felt hardly less than sisterly toward him. Now I look
at him with a disgustful and disapprobative eye. What a very great deal
of alteration he needs, and, with that face, and his abbey, and all his
rooks to back it, how very unlikely he is to get it! Well, _I_ at least
will do my best!

We both remain quiet for a few moments. Vick sits at the end of the
punt, a shiver of excitement running all over her little white body, her
black nose quivering, and one lip slightly lifted by a tooth, as she
gazes with eager gravity at the distant wild-ducks flying along in a
row, with outstretched necks, making their pleasant quacks. How low they
fly; so low that their feet splash in the water, that makes a bright
spray-hue in the sun!

"Algy is going away to-morrow!" say I, presently.

"So he told me."

"This is his last evening here!" (in a rather dolorous tone).

"So I should gather," laughing a little at the obviousness of my last
piece of information.

"And yet," say I, looking down through the clear water at a dead
tree-bough lying at the bottom, and sighing, "he is going to dine out
to-night--to dine with Mrs. Huntley."

"With Mrs. Huntley! when?" with a long-drawn whistle of intelligence.

"Tell me," cry I, impulsively, raising myself from my reclining pose,
and sitting upright, "you will understand better than I do--perhaps it
is my mistake--but, if you had seen a person only _once_ for five or ten
minutes, would you sign yourself 'Yours very sincerely' to them?"

He laughs dryly.

"Not unless I was writing _after dinner_--why?"

"Nothing--no reason!"

Again he laughs.

"I think I can guess."

"Her name is Zéphine," say I again, leaning over the boat-side and
pulling my forefinger slowly to and fro through the warm brown water.

"I am well aware of that fact" (smiling).

How near the swans are drawing toward us! One, with his neck well thrown
back, and his wings raised and ruffled, sailing along like a lovely
snow-white ship; another, with less grace and more homeliness, standing
on his head, with black webs paddling out behind.

"You were quite wrong on Sunday--_quite_," say I, speaking with sudden
abruptness, and reddening.

"On Sunday!" (throwing his luminous dark eyes upward to the light clouds
and faint blue of the August sky above us, as if to aid his
recollection), "nothing more likely--but what about?"

"About--Roger," I answer, speaking with some difficulty ("and Mrs.
Huntley," I was going to add, but some superstition hinders me from
coupling their names even in a sentence).

"I dare say"--carelessly--"but what new light have you had thrown upon
the matter?"

"I asked her," I say, looking him full in the face, with simple
directness.

"_Asked her!_" repeats he, with an accent of profound astonishment.
"Asked the woman whether she had been engaged to him, and jilted him?
Impossible!"

"No! no!" cry I, with tremulous impatience, "of course not; but I asked
her whether she used not to know him in India, and she said, 'Yes, we
met several times,' just like _that_--she no more blushed and looked
confused than _I_ should if any one asked me whether I knew you!"

He is still leaning over the punt, and has begun to dabble as I did.

"You certainly have a way of putting things very strongly," he says in a
rather low voice, "_convincingly_ so!"

"She did not even know what part of the world he was in!" I cry,
triumphantly.

"Did she say so?" (lifting up his face, and speaking quickly).

"Well, no--o--" I answer, reluctantly; "but I said, 'He is in the West
Indies,' and she answered 'Yes,' or 'Indeed,' or 'Is he?' I forget
which, but at any rate it implied that it was news to her."

A pike leaps not far from us, and splashes back again. I watch to see
whether the widening faint circles will have strength to reach us, or
whether the water's smile will be smoothed and straightened before it
gets to us.

"Did Mrs. Huntley happen to say" (leaning lazily back, and speaking
carelessly), "how she liked her house?"

"No; why?"

"She has only just got into it," he answers, slightly; "only about a
fortnight, that is."

"I wonder," say I, ruminatingly, "what brought her to this part of the
world, for she does not seem to know anybody."

He does not answer.

"We _ought_ to be friends, ought not we?" say I, beginning to laugh
nervously, and looking appealingly toward him, "both of us coming to
sojourn in a strange land! It is a curious coincidence our both settling
here in such similar circumstances, at almost the same time, is not it?"

Still he is silent.

"_Is not it?_" cry I, irritably, raising my voice.

Again he has thrown his head back, and is perusing the sky, his hands
clasped round one lifted knee.

"What _is_ a coincidence?" he says, languidly. "I do not think I quite
know--I am never good at long words--two things that happen accidentally
at the same time, is not it?"

He lays the faintest possible stress on the word accidentally.

"And you mean to say that this in not accidental?" I cry, quickly.

"I mean nothing; I only ask for information."

How still the world is to-day! The feathery water-weeds sway, indeed, to
and fro, with the motion of the water, but the tall cats'-tails, and all
the flags, stand absolutely motionless. I feel vaguely ruffled, and take
up my forgotten book. Holding it so as to hide my companion's face from
me, I begin to read ostentatiously. He seems content to be silent; lying
on the flat of his back, at the bottom of the punt, staring at the sky,
and declining the overtures, and parrying the attacks, of Vick, who,
having taken advantage of his supine position to mount upon his chest,
now stands there wagging her tail, and wasting herself in efforts,
mostly futile, but occasionally successful, to lick the end of his nose.
A period of quiet elapses, during which, for the sake of appearances, I
turn over a page. By-and-by, he speaks.

"Algy is your eldest brother, is not he?--get away, you little
beast!"--(the latter clause, in a tone of sudden exasperation, is
addressed, not to me, but to Vick, and tells me that my pet dog's
endeavors have been crowned with a tardy prosperity.)

"Yes" (still reading sedulously).

"I thought so," with a slight accent of satisfaction.

"Why?" cry I, again letting fall my volume, and yielding to a curiosity
as irresistible as unwise; for he had meant me to ask, and would have
been disobliged if I had not.

"We all have our hobbies, don't you know?" he says, shifting his eyes
from the sky, and fixing them on the less serene, less amiable object of
my face--"some people's is old china--some Elzevir editions--_I_ have a
mania for _clocks_--I have one in every room in my house--by-the-by, you
have never been over my house--Mrs. Huntley's--she is a dear little
woman, but she has her fancies, like the rest of us, and hers
is--_eldest sons_!"

"But she is married!" exclaim I, stupidly. "What good can they do her,
now?"--then, reddening a little at my own simplicity, I go on,
hurriedly: "But he is such a boy!--younger than _you_--young enough to
be her _son_--it _can_ be only out of good-nature that she takes notice
of him."

"Yes--true--out of good-nature!" he echoes, nodding, smiling, and
speaking with that surface-assent which conveys to the hearer no
impression less than acquiescence.

"Boys are not much in her way, either," he pursues, carelessly;
"generally she prefers such as are of _riper_ years--_much_ riper!"

"How spiteful you are!" I say, glad to give my chafed soul vent in
words, and looking at him with that full, cold directness which one can
employ only toward such as are absolutely indifferent to one. "How she
_must_ have snubbed you!"

For an instant, he hesitates; then--

"Yes," he says, smiling still, though his face has whitened, and a
wrathy red light has come into his deep eyes; "in the pre-Huntley era, I
laid my heart at her feet--by-the-way, I must have been in petticoats at
the time--and she kicked it away, as she had, no doubt, done--_others_."

The camel's backbone is broken. This last innuendo--in weight a
straw--has done it. I speak never a word; but I rise up hastily, and,
letting my novel fall heavily prone on the pit of its stomach at the
punt-bottom, I take a flying leap to shore--_toward_ shore, I should
rather say--for I am never a good jumper--Tou Tou's lean spider-legs can
always outstride me--and now I fall an inch or two short, and draw one
leg out booted with river-mud. But I pay no heed. I hurry on, pushing
through the brambles, and leaving a piece of my gown on each. Before I
have gone five yards--his length of limb and freedom from petticoats
giving him the advantage over me--he overtakes me.

"What _has_ happened? at this rate you will not have much gown left by
the time you reach the house."

To my excited ears, there seems to be a suspicion of laughter in his
voice. I disdain to answer. The path we are pursuing is not the regular
one; it is a short cut through the wood. At its widest it is very
narrow; and, a little ahead of us, a bramble has thrown a strong arm
right across it, making a thorny arch, and forbidding passage. By a
quick movement, Mr. Musgrave gets in advance of me, and, turning round,
faces me at this defile.

"What _has_ happened?"

Still I remain stubbornly silent.

"We are not going to fight, at this time of day, such old friends as we
are?"

The red-anger light has died out of his eyes. They look softer, and yet
less languid, than I have ever seen them before; and there is subdued
appeal and entreaty in his lowered voice. At the present moment, I
distinctly dislike him. I think him altogether trying and odious, and I
should be glad--yes, _glad_, if Vick were to bite a piece out of his
leg; but, at the same time, I cannot deny that I have seldom seen any
thing comelier than the young man who now stands before me, with the
green woodland lights flickering about the close-shorn beauty of his
face--he is well aware that his are not features that need _planting
out_--while a lively emotion quickens all his lazy being.

"We are _not_ old friends! Let me pass!"

"_New_ friends, then--_friends_, at all events!" coming a step nearer,
and speaking without a trace of sneer, sloth, or languor.

"Not friends at all! Let me pass!"

"Not until you tell me my offense--not until you own that we are
friends!" (in a tone of quick excitement, and almost of authority, that,
in him, is new to me).

"Then we shall stay here all night!" reply I, with a fine obstinacy,
plumping down, as I speak, on the wayside grass, among the St.
John's-worts, and the red arum-berries. In a moment he has stepped
aside, and is holding the stout purple bramble-stem out of my way.

"Pass, then!" he says, in a tone of impatience, frowning a little; "as
you have said it, of course you will stick to it--right or wrong--or you
would not be a woman; but, whether you confess it or not, we _are_
friends!"

"We are NOT!" cry I, resolute to have the last word, as I spring up and
fly past him, with more speed than dignity, lest he should change his
mind, and again detain me.



CHAPTER XXVI.


The swallows are gone: the summer is done: it is October. The year knows
that I am in a hurry, and is hasting with its shortened days--each
day marked by the loss of something fair--toward the glad
Christmas-time--Christmas that will bring me back my Roger--that will
set him again at the foot of his table--that will give me again the
sound of his foot on the stairs, the smile in his fond gray eyes. So I
thought yesterday, and to-day I have heard from him; heard that though
he is greatly loath to tell me so, yet he cannot be back by Christmas;
that I must hear the joy-bells ring, and see the merry Christmas cheer
_alone_. It is true that he earnestly and insistantly begs of me to
gather all my people, father, mother, boys, girls, around me. But, after
all, what are father, mother, boys, girls, to me? Father never _was_ any
thing, I will do myself that justice, but at this moment of sore
disappointment as I lean my forehead on the letter outspread on the
table before me, and dim its sentences with tears, I _belittle_ even the
boys. No doubt that by-and-by I shall derive a little solace from the
thought of their company; that when they come I shall even be inveigled
into some sort of hilarity with them; but at present, "No."

There are some days on which all ills gather together as at a meeting.
This is one. Barbara is prostrated by a violent headache, and is in such
thorough physical pain that even she cannot sympathize with me. Mr.
Musgrave never makes his now daily appearance--he comes, as I jubilantly
notice, as regularly as the postman--until late in the afternoon. All
day, therefore, I must refrain myself and be silent. And I am never one
for brooding with private dumbness over my woes. I much prefer to air
them by expression and complaint. About noon it strikes me that, _faute
de mieux_, I will go and see Mrs. Huntley, tell her _suddenly_ that
Roger is not coming back, and see if she looks vexed or confused or
grieved. Accordingly, soon after luncheon, I set off in the
pony-carriage. It is a quiet sultry-looking unclouded day. One uniform
livery of mist clothes sky and earth, dimming the glories of the dying
leaves, and making them look dull and sodden. Every thing has a drenched
air: each crimson bramble-leaf is clothed in rain-drops, and yet it is
not raining. The air is thick and heavy, and one swallows it like
something solid, but it is not raining: in fact, it is an English fine
day.

Under the delusive idea that it is warm, or at least not cold, I have
protected my face with no veil, my hands with no mittens; so that, long
before I reach the shelter of the Portugal laurels that warmly hem in
and border Mrs. Huntley's little graveled sweep, the end of my nose
feels like an icy promontory at a great distance from me, and my hands
do not feel at all. Mrs. Huntley _is_ at home. Wise woman! I knew that
she would be. I suppose that I follow on the footsteps of the butler
more quickly than is usual, for, as the door opens, and before I can get
a view of the inmate or inmates, I hear a hurried noise of scrambling,
as of some one suddenly jumping up. For a little airy woman who looks as
if one could blow her away--puff!--like a morsel of thistle-down or a
snowball, what a heavy foot Mrs. Huntley has! The next moment, I am
disabused. Mrs. Huntley has clearly not moved. It was not _she_ that
scrambled. She is lying back in a deep arm-chair, her silky head gently
denting the flowered cushion, the points of two pretty shoes slightly
advanced toward the fire, and a large feather fan leisurely waving to
and fro, in one white hand. Beyond the _fan_ movement she is not _doing_
any thing that I can detect.

"How do you do?" say I, bustling in, in a hurry to reach the fire. "How
comfortable you look! how cold it is!--Algy!!" For the enigma of the
noise is solved. It was Algy who shuffled and scuffled--yes, scuffled up
from the low stool which he has evidently been sharing with the pretty
shoes--at Mrs. Huntley's feet, on to his long legs, on which he is now
standing, not at all at ease. He does not answer.

"ALGY!" repeat I, in a tone of the profoundest, accentedest surprise,
involuntarily turning my back upon my hostess and facing my brother.

"Well, what about me?" he cries tartly, irritated (and no wonder) by my
open mouth and tragical air.

"What _has_ brought you here?" I ask slowly, and with a tactless
emphasis.

"The fly from the White Hart," he answers, trying to laugh, but looking
confused and angry.

"But I mean--I thought you told me, when I asked you to Tempest this
week, that you could not get away for an _hour_!"

"No more I could," he answers impatiently, yet stammering; "quite
unexpected--did not know when I wrote--have to be back to-night."

"Will not you come nearer the fire?" says Mrs. Huntley, in her slow
sugared tones, with a well-bred ignoring of our squabble. "I am sure
that you must be perished with cold."

I recollect myself and comply. As I sit down I catch a glimpse of myself
in the glass. It is indeed difficult to abstain from the sight of one's
self, however little fond one may be of it, so thickly is the room set
round with rose-draped mirrors. For the moment, O friends, I will own to
you that I appear to myself nothing less than _brutally_ ugly. I know
that I am not so in reality, that the disfigurement is only temporary,
but none the less does the consciousness deeply, deeply depress me. My
nose is of a lively scarlet, which the warmth of the room is quickly
deepening into a lowering purple. My quick passage through the air has
set my hat a little awry, giving me a falsely rakish air, and the wind
has loosened my hair--not into a picturesque and comely disorder, but
into mere untidiness. And, meanwhile, how admirably small and cool _her_
nose looks! What rest and composure in her whole pose! What a neat
refinement in the disposition of her hair! What a soft luxury in her
dress! Even my one indisputable advantage of _youth_ seems to me as
dirt. Looking at the completeness of her native grace, I _despise_
youth. I think it an ill and ugly thing in its green unripeness. I look
round the room. After the thick outside air, saturated with moisture, I
think that the warm atmosphere would, were my spirit less disquieted,
lull me quickly to sleep. How perfumed it is, not with any meretricious
artificial scents, but with the clean and honest smell of sweet live
flowers. Yes, though I am aware that Mrs. Huntley has no conservatory,
yet hot-house flowers and airy ferns are scattered about the room in far
greater profusion than in mine, with all Roger's imposing range of
glass--scattered about here, there, and everywhere; not as if they were
a rare and holiday treat, but a most common, every-day occurrence. There
is not much work to be seen about, and _not a book_! On the other hand,
lounging-chairs, suited to the length or shortness of _any_ back; rococo
photograph stands, framing either a great many men, or a few men in a
great many attitudes; soothing pictures--_décolleté_ Venuses, Love's
_greuze_ heads--tied up with rose-ribbon, and a sleepy half-light. On a
small table at the owner's elbow, a blue-velvet jeweler's case stands
open. On its white-satin lining my long-sighted eyes enable me to
decipher the name of Hunt and Roskell; and it does not need any long
sight to observe the solid breadth of the gold band bracelet, set with
large, dull turquoises and little points of brilliant light, which is
its occupant. As I note this phenomenon, my heart burns within me--yea,
burns even more hotly than my nose. For father keeps Algy very tight,
and I know that he has only three hundred pounds a year, besides his
pay.

"I have had such bad news to-day," I say, suddenly, looking my
_vis-à-vis_ full and directly in the face.

"Yes?"

So far she certainly shows no signs of emotion. Her fan is still waving
with slow steadiness. I see the diamonds on her hands (whence did _they_
owe their rise, I wonder?) glint in the fire-light.

"Roger is not coming back!"

"Not at all?" with a slight raising of the eyebrows.

"Not before Christmas, certainly."

"Really! how disappointing! I am very sorry!"

There is not a particle of sorrow in face or tone: only the counterfeit
grief of an utterly indifferent acquaintance. My heart feels a little
lightened.

"And have _you_ no better luck, either?" I say, more cheerfully. "Is
there no talk of your--of Mr. Huntley coming back?"

Her eyelids droop: her breast heaves in a placid sigh.

"Not the slightest, I am afraid."

What to say next? I have had enough of asking after her child. I will
not fall into _that_ error again. Ask who all the men in the rococo
frames are?--which of them, or whether any, is _Mr._ Huntley? On
consideration, I decide not to do this either; and, after one or two
more stunted attempts at talk, I take my leave. I ask Algy to accompany
me just down the drive, and with a most grudging and sulky air of
unwillingness he complies. Alas! he always used to like to be with us
girls. The ponies are fresh, and we have almost reached the gate before
I speak, with a difficult hesitation.

"Algy," say I, "did you happen to notice that--that _bracelet_?"

He does not answer. He is looking the other way, and turns only the back
of his head toward me.

"It was from Hunt and Roskell," I say.

"Oh!"

"It must have--must have--_come to_ a good deal," I go on, timidly.

He has turned his face to me now. I cannot complain, but indeed, as it
now is, I prefer the back of his head, so white and headstrong does he
look.

"I wish to God," he says, in a voice of low anger, "that you would be so
obliging as to mind your own business, and allow me to mind mine!"

"But it _is_ mine!" I cry, passionately; "what right has she to be
sitting all day with young men on stools at her feet?--she, a married
woman, with her husband--"

"This comes extremely well from _you_," he says, in a voice of
concentrated anger, with a bitterly-sneering tone; "_how is Musgrave_?"

Before I can answer, he has jumped out, and is half-way back to the
house. But indeed I am dumb. Is it possible that _he_ makes such a
mistake?--that he does not see the difference?

For the next half-mile, I see neither ponies, nor misty hedges, nor
wintry high-road, for tears. I _used_ to get on so well with the boys!



CHAPTER XXVII.


When I return home, I find that Barbara is still no better. She is still
lying in her darkened room, and has asked not to be disturbed. And even
_my_ wrongs are not such as to justify my forcing myself upon the
painful privacy of a sick-headache. How much the better am I then than I
was before my late expedition? I have brought home my old grievance
quite whole and unlightened by communication, and I have got a new and
fresh one in addition, with absolutely no one to whom to impart it; for,
even when Frank comes, I will certainly not tell _him_. I am too
restless to remain in-doors over the fire, though thoroughly chilled by
my late drive, and resolve to try and restore my circulation by a brisk
walk in the park.

The afternoon is still young, and the day is mending. A wind has risen,
and has pulled aside the steel-colored cloud-curtain, and let heaven's
eyes--blue, though faint and watery--look through. And there comes
another strong puff of autumnal wind, and lo! the sun, and the leaves
float down in a sudden shower of amber in his light. I march along
quickly and gravely through the long drooped grass--no longer sweet and
fresh and upright, in its green summer coat--through the frost-seared
pomp of the bronze bracken, till I reach a little knoll, whose head is
crowned by twelve great brother beeches. From time immemorial they have
been called the Twelve Apostles, and under one apostle I now stand, with
my back against his smooth and stalwart trunk.

How _beaming_ is death to them! Into what a glorious crimson they
decline! My eyes travel from one tree-group to another, and idly
consider the many-colored majesty of their decay. Over all the landscape
there is a look of plaintive uncontent. The distant town, with its two
church-spires, is choked and effaced in mist: the very sun is sickly and
irresolute. All Nature seems to say, "Have pity upon me--I die!"

It is not often that our mother is in sympathy with her children. Mostly
when we cry she broadly laughs; when we laugh and are merry she weeps;
but to-day my mood and hers match. The tears are as near my eyes as
hers--as near hers as mine.

    "'See the leaves around us falling!'"

say I, aloud, stretching out my right arm in dismal recitation. We had
the hymn last Sunday, which is what has put it into my head:

    "'See the leaves around us falling,
    Dry and withered to the ground--'"

Another voice breaks in:

    "'Thus to thoughtless mortals calling--.'"

"How you made me jump!" cry I, descending with an irritated leap to
prose, and at least making the leaves say something entirely different
from what they had ever been known to say before.

"Why did not you bring your sentinel, Vick?"

He--it is Musgrave, of course--has joined me, and is leaning his flat
back also against the apostle, and, like me, is looking at the mist, at
the red and yellow leaves--at the whole low-spirited panorama.

"She is ill," say I, lamentably, drawing a portrait in lamp-black and
Indian-ink of the whole family; "we are _all_ ill--Barbara is ill!"

"Poor Barbara!"

"She has got a headache."

"POOR Barbara!"

"And I have got a heartache," say I, more for the sake of preserving the
harmony of my sketch, and for making a pendant to Barbara, than because
the phrase accurately describes my state.

"Poor _you_!"

"_Poor me, indeed!_" cry I, with emphasis, and to this day I cannot make
up my mind whether the ejaculation were good grammar or no.

"I have had _such_ bad news," I continue, feeling, as usual, a sensible
relief from the communication of my grief. "Roger is not coming back!"

"_Not at all?_"

The words are the same as those employed by Mrs. Huntley; but there is
much more alacrity and liveliness in the tone.

"_Not at all!_" repeat I, scornfully, looking impatiently at him; "that
is so likely, is not it?"--then "No not _at all_"--I continue,
ironically, "he has run off with some one else--some one _black_!" (with
a timely reminiscence of Bobby's happy flight of imagination).

"Not till _when_, then?"

"Not till after Christmas," reply I, sighing loudly, "which is almost as
bad as not at all."

"I knew _that_!" he says, rather petulantly; "you told me _that_
before!"

"_I told you that before?_" cry I, opening my eyes, and raising my
voice; "why, how could I? I only heard it myself this morning!"

"It was not you, then," he says, composedly; "it must have been some one
else!"

"It _could_ have been no one else," retort I, hastily. "I have told no
one--no one at least from whom _you_ could have heard it."

"All the same, I _did_ hear it" (with a quiet persistence); "now, who
could it have been?" throwing back his head, elevating his chin, and
lifting his eyes in meditation to the great depths of burning red in the
beech's heart, above him--"ah!"--(overtaking the recollection)--"I
know!"

"Who?" say I, eagerly, "not that it _could_ have been any one."

"It was Mrs. Huntley!" he answers, with an air of matter-of-fact
indifference.

I laugh with insulting triumph. "Well, that _is_ a bad hit! What a pity
that you did not fix upon some one else! I have once or twice suspected
you of drawing the long bow--_now_ I am sure of it! As it happens, I
have just come from Mrs. Huntley, and she knew no more about it than the
babe unborn!"

I am looking him full in the face, but, to my surprise, I cannot detect
the expression of confusion and defeat which I anticipate. There is only
the old white-anger look that I have such a happy knack of calling up on
his features.

"I _am_ a consummate liar!" he says, quietly, though his eyes flash.
"Every one knows _that_; but, all the same, she _did_ tell me."

"I do not believe a word of it!" cry I, in a fury.

He makes no answer, but, lifting his hat, begins to walk quickly away.
For a hundred yards I allow him to go unrecalled; then, as I note his
quickly-diminishing figure and the heavy mists beginning to fold him, my
resolution fails me; I take to my heels and scamper after him.

"Stop!" say I, panting as I come up with him, "I dare say--perhaps--you
_thought_ you were speaking truth!--there must, must be some _mistake_!"

He does not answer, but still walks quickly on.

"Tell me!" cry I, posting on alongside of him, breathless and
distressed--"when was it? where did you hear it? how long ago?"

"I never heard it?"

"Yes, you did," cry I, passionately, asseverating what I have so lately
and passionately denied. "You know you did; but when was it? how was it?
where was it?"

"It was _nowhere_," he answers with a cold, angry smile. "I was _drawing
the long bow_!"

I stop in baffled rage and misery. I stand stock-still, with the long,
dying grass wetly and limply clasping my ankles. To my surprise he stops
too.

"I wish you were _dead_!" I say tersely, and it is not a figure of
speech. For the moment I do honestly wish it.

"Do you?" he answers, throwing me back a look of hardly inferior
animosity; "I dare say I do not much mind." A little pause, during which
we eye each other, like two fighting-cocks. "Even if I _were_ dead," he
says, in a low voice--"mind, I do not blame you for wishing
it--sometimes I wish it myself--but even if I _were_, I do not see how
that would hinder Sir Roger and Mrs. Huntley from corresponding."

"They _do not_ correspond," cry I, violently; "it is a falsehood!" Then,
with a quick change of thought and tone: "But if they do, I--I--do not
mind! I--I--am very glad--if Roger likes it! There is no harm in it."

"Not the slightest."

"Do you _always_ stay at home?" cry I, in a fury, goaded out of all
politeness and reserve by the surface false acquiescence of his tone;
"do you _never_ go away? I _wish_ you would! I wish"--(speaking between
laughing and crying)--"that you could take your abbey up on your back,
as a snail does its shell, and march off with it into another county."

"But unfortunately I cannot."

"What have I done to you?" I cry, falling from anger to reproach, "that
you take such delight in hurting me? You can be pleasant enough to--to
other people. I never hear you hinting and sneering away any one else's
peace of mind; but as for me, I never--_never_ am alone with you
that you do not leave me with a pain--a tedious long ache
_here_"--(passionately clasping my hands upon my heart).

"Do not I?"--(Then half turning away in a lowered voice)--"_nor you
me_!"

"_I!_" repeat I, positively laughing in my scorn of this accusation.
"_I_ hint! _I_ imply! why, I _could_ not do it, if I were to be shot for
it! it is not _in_ me!"

He does not immediately answer; still, he is looking aside, and his
color changes.

"Ask mother, ask the boys, ask Barbara," cry I, in great excitement,
"whether I ever _could_ wrap up any thing neatly, if I wished it ever so
much? Always, _always_, I have to blurt it out! _I_ hint!"

"Hint! no!" he repeats, in a tone of vexed bitterness. "Well, no! no one
could accuse you of _hinting_! Yours is honest, open cut and thrust!"

"If it is," retort I, bluntly, still speaking with a good deal of heat,
"it is your own fault! I have no wish to quarrel, being such near
neighbors, and--and--altogether--of course I had rather be on good terms
than bad ones! When you _let_ me--when you leave me alone--I
_almost_--sometimes I _quite_ like you. I am speaking seriously! I
_do_."

"You do not say so?" again turning his head aside, and speaking with the
objectionable intonation of irony.

"At home," pursue I, still chafing under the insult to my amiability, "I
never was reckoned quarrelsome--_never_! Of course I was not like
Barbara--there are not many like her--but I did very well. Ask _any one_
of them--it does not matter which--they will all tell you the
same--whether I did not!"

"You were a household angel, in fact?"

"I was nothing of the kind," cry I, very angry, and yet laughing: the
laughter caused by the antagonism of the epithet with the many
recollected blows and honest sounding cuffs that I have, on and off,
exchanged with Bobby.

A pause.

The sun has quite gone now: sulky and feeble, he has shrunk to his cold
bed in the west, and the victor-mist creeps, crawls, and soaks on
unopposed.

"Good-night!" cry I, suddenly. "I am going!" and I am as good as my
word.

With the triple agility of health, youth, and indignation, I scurry away
through the melancholy grass, and the heaped and fallen leaves, home.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Ding-dong bell! ding-dong bell! The Christmas bells are ringing.
Christmas has come--Christmas as it appears on a Christmas card, white
and hard, and beset with puffed-out, ruffled robins. Only Nature is wise
enough not to express the ironical wish that we may have a "merry one."

For myself, I have but small opinion of Christmas as a time of jollity.
Solemn--_blessed_, if you will--but no, not jovial. At no time do the
dead so clamor to be remembered. Even those that went a long time ago,
the regret for whose departure has settled down to a tender, almost
pleasant pain; whom at other times we go nigh to forget; even they cry
out loud, "Think of us!"

When all the family is gathered, when the fire burns quick and clear,
and the church-bells ring out grave and sweet, neither will _they_ be
left out. But, on the other hand, to one who has paid his bills, and in
whose family Death's cannon have as yet made no breaches, I do not see
why it may not be a season of moderate, placid content.

Festivity! jollity! _never!_ I have paid my bills, and there are no gaps
among my people. Sometimes I tremble when I think how many we are; one
of us must go soon. But, as yet, when I count us over, none lacks.
Father, mother, Algy, Bobby, the Brat, Tou Tou. Slightly as I have
spoken of them to myself, and conscientiously as I have promised myself
to derive no pleasure from their society, and even to treat them with
distant coolness, if they are, any of them, and Bobby especially--it is
he that I most mistrust--more joyfully disposed than I think fitting,
yet my heart has been growing ever warmer and warmer at the thought of
them, as Christmas-time draws nigh; and now, as I kiss their firm, cold,
healthy cheeks--(I declare that Bobby's cheeks are as hard as marbles),
I know how I have lied to myself.

Father is not in quite so good a humor as I could have wished, his man
having lost his hat-box _en route_, and consequently his nose is rather
more aquiline than I think desirable.

"Do not be alarmed!" says Bobby, in a patronizing aside, introducing me,
as if I were a stranger, to father's peculiarities; "a little infirmity
of temper, but the _heart_ is in the right place."

"Bobby," say I, anxiously, in a whisper, "has he--has he brought the
_bag_?"

Bobby shakes his head.

"I _knew_ he would not," cry I, rather crestfallen. Then, with sudden
exasperation: "I wish I had not given it to him; he always _hated_ it. I
wish I had given it to Roger instead."

"Never you mind!" cries Bobby, while his round eyes twinkle
mischievously; "I dare say he has got one by now, a nice one, all beads
and wampums, that the old Begum has made him."

I laugh, but I also sigh. What a long time it seems since I was jealous
of Bobby's Begum! We are a little behind father, whispering with our
heads together, while he, in his raspingest voice, is giving his
delinquent a month's warning. That tone! it still makes me feel sneaky.

"Bobby," say I, putting my arm through his substantial one, and speaking
in a low tone of misgiving, "how is he? how has he been?"

"We have been a little fractious," replies Bobby, leniently--"a little
disposed to quarrel with our bread-and-butter; but, as you may remember,
my dear, from _your_ experience of our humble roof, Christmas never was
our happiest time."

"No, never," reply I, pensively.

The storm is rising: at least father's voice is. It appears that the
valet is not only to go, but to go without a character.

"Never you mind," repeats Bobby, reassuringly, seeing me blench a little
at these disused amenities, pressing the hand that rests on his arm
against his stout side; "it is nothing to _you_! bless your heart, you
are the apple of his eye."

"Am I?" reply I, laughing. "It has newly come to me, if I am."

"And I am his 'good, brave Bobby!'--his 'gallant boy!'--do you know
why?"

"No."

"Because I am going to Hong-Kong, and he hears that they are keeping two
nice roomy graves open all the time there!"

"You are _not_?" (in a tone of keen anxiety and pain); then, with a
sudden change of tone to a nervous and constrained amenity: "Yes, it
_is_ a nice-sized room, is not it? My only fault with it is, that the
windows are so high up that one cannot see out of them when one is
sitting down."

For father, having demolished his body-servant, and reduced mother to
her usual niche-state, now turns to me, and, in his genialest, happiest
society-manner, compliments me on my big house.

That is a whole day ago. Since then, I have grown used to seeing
father's austere face, unbent into difficult suavity, at the opposite
end of the dinner-table to me, to hearing the well-known old sound of
Tou Tou's shrieks of mixed anguish and delight, as Bobby rushes after
her in headlong pursuit, down the late so silent passages; and to
looking complacently from one to another of the holiday faces round the
table, where Barbara and I have sat, during the last noiseless month, in
stillest dialogue or preoccupied silence.

I _love_ noise. You may think that I have odd taste; but I _love_
Bobby's stentor laugh, and Tou Tou's ear-piercing yells. I even forget
to think whether their mirth passes the appointed bounds I had set it. I
have mislaid my receipt of cold repression. My heart goes out to them.

I have been a little disturbed as to how to dispose of father during the
day, but he mercifully takes that trouble off my hands. Providence has
brought good out of evil, congenial occupation out of the hat-box. He
has spent all the few daylight-hours in telegraphing for it to every
station on the line; in telling several home-truths to the porters at
our own station, which--it being Christmas-time, and they consequently
all more or less tipsy--they have taken with a bland playfulness that he
has found a little trying; and, lastly, in writing a long letter to the
_Times_. And I, meanwhile, being easy in my mind on his score, knowing
that he is happy, am at leisure to be happy myself. In company with my
brother, I have spent all the little day in decorating the church,
making it into a cheerful, green Christmas bower. We always did it at
home.

The dusk has come now--the quick-hurrying, December dusk, and we have
all but finished. We have had to beg for a few candles, in order to put
our finishing touches here and there about the sombre church. They
flame, throwing little jets of light on the glossy laurel-leaves that
make collars round the pillars' stout necks; on the fresh moss-beds,
vividly green, in the windows; on the dull, round holly-berries. In the
glow, the ivy twines in cunning garlands round the rough-sculptured
font, and the oak lectern; and, above God's altar, a great white cross
of hot-house flowers blooms delicately, telling of summer, and matching
the words of old good news beneath it, that brought, as some say,
summer, or, at least, the hope of summer, to the world.

Yes, we have nearly done. The Brat stands on the top of a step-ladder,
dexterously posing the last wintry garland; and all we others are
resting a moment--we and our coadjutors. For we have _two_ coadjutors.
Mr. Musgrave, of course. Now, at this moment, through the gray light,
and across the candles, I can see him leaning against the font, while
Barbara kneels with bent head at his feet, completing the ornamentation
of the pedestal. I always knew that things would come right if we waited
long enough, and _coming_ right they are--_coming_, not _come_, for
still, he has not spoken. I have consulted each and all of my family,
father excepted, as to the average length of time allotted to _unspoken_
courtship, and each has assigned a different period; the _longest_,
however, has been already far exceeded by Frank. Tou Tou, indeed,
adduces a gloomy case of a young man, who spent two years and a half in
dumb longing, and broke a blood-vessel and died at the end of them; but
this is so discouraging an anecdote, that we all poo-poohed it as
unauthentic.

"Perhaps he does not mean to speak at all!" says the Brat, starting a
new and hazardous idea; "perhaps he means to take it for granted!"

"Walk out with her, some fine morning," says Algy, laughing, "and say,
like Wemmick, 'Hallo! here's a church! let's have a wedding!'"

"It would be a good thing," retorts the Brat, gravely, "if there were a
printed form for such occasions; it would be a great relief to people."

This talk did not happen in the church, but at an evening _séance_
overnight. Our second coadjutor is Mrs. Huntley.

"I am afraid I am not very efficient," she says, with a pathetic smile.
"I can't _stand_ very long, but, if I might be allowed to sit down now
and then, I might perhaps be some little help."

And sat down she has, accordingly, ever since, on the top pulpit-step.
It seems that Algy cannot stand very long, either; for he has taken
possession of the step next below the top one, and there he abides.
Thank Heaven! they are getting dark now! If _legitimate_ lovers, whose
cooing is desirable and approved, are a sickly and sickening spectacle,
surely the sight of illegitimate lovers would make the blood boil in the
veins of Moses, Miriam, or Job.

Bobby, Tou Tou, and I, having no one to hang over us, or gawk amorously
up at us, are sitting in a row in our pew. Bobby has garlanded Tou Tou
preposterously with laurel, to give us an idea, as he says, of how he
himself will look by-and-by, after some future Trafalgar. Now, he is
whispering to me--a whisper accompanied by one of those powerful and
painful nudges, with which he emphasizes his conversation on his
listener's ribs.

"Look at him!" indicating his elder brother, and speaking with a tone of
disgust and disparagement; "did you ever see such a _beast_ as he
looks?"

"Not often!" reply I, readily, with that fine intolerance which one
never sees in full bloom after youth is past.

"I say, Nancy!" with a second and rather lesser nudge, "if ever you see
any symptoms of--of _that_--" (nodding toward the pulpit) "in me--"

"If--" repeat I, scornfully, "of course I shall!"

"Well, that is as it may be, but if you _do_, mind what I tell you--do
not say any thing to anybody, but--_put an end to me_! it does not
matter _how_; smother me with bolsters; run your bodkin up to its hilt
in me--"

"Even if I _did_," interrupt I, laughing, "I should never reach any
vital part--you are _much_ too fat!"

"I should not be so fat then," returns he, gravely, amiably overlooking
the personality of my observation; "love would have pulled me down!"

The Brat has nearly finished. He is nimbly descending the ladder, with a
long, guttering dip in his right hand.

"The other two--" begins Bobby, thoughtfully, turning his eyes from
pulpit to font.

"I do not mind _them_ half so much," interrupt I, indulgently; "they are
not half so disgusting."

"Has he done it yet?" (lowering his cheerful loud voice to an important
whisper).

I shake my head.

"Not unless he has done it since luncheon! he had not _then_; I asked
her."

"I am beginning to think that _your_ old man's plan was the best, after
all," continues Bobby, affably. "I thought him rather out of date, at
the time, for applying to your parents, but, after all, it saved a great
deal of trouble, and spared us a world of suspense."

I am silent; swelling with a dumb indignation at the epithet bestowed on
my Roger; but unable to express it outwardly, as I well know that, if I
do, I shall be triumphantly quoted against myself.

"Who will break it to Toothless Jack?" says Bobby, presently, with a
laugh; "after all the expense he has been at, too, with those teeth! it
is not as if it were a beggarly two or three, but a whole complete new
set--thirty-two individual grinders!"

"Such beauties, too!" puts in Tou Tou, cackling.

"It is a thousand pities that they should be allowed to go out of the
family," says Bobby, warmly. "Tou Tou, my child--" (putting his arm
round her shoulders)--"a bright vista opens before you!--your charms are
approaching maturity!--with a little encouragement he might be induced
to lay his teeth--two and thirty, mind--at your feet!"

Tou Tou giggles, and asserts that she will "kick them away, if he does."
Bobby mildly but firmly remonstrates, and points out to her the
impropriety and ingratitude of such a line of conduct. But his
arguments, though acute and well put, are not convincing, and the
subject is continued, with ever-increasing warmth, all the way home.



CHAPTER XXIX.


It is Christmas-day--a clean white Christmas, pure and crisp. Wherever
one looks, one's eyes water cruelly. For my part, I am very thankful
that it did not occur to God to make the world always white. I hate
snow's blinding livery. Each tiniest twig on the dry harsh trees is
overladen with snow. It is a wonder that they do not break under it; nor
is there any wind to shake down and disperse it. Tempest is white; the
church is white: the whole world colorless and blinding. I have been in
the habit of looking upon Vick as a white dog; to-day she appears
disastrously dark--dirty brunette. Soap-and-water having entirely failed
to restore her complexion. Bobby kindly proposes to _pipeclay_ her.

We have all been to church, and admired our own decorations. And
through all the prayer and the praise, and the glad Christmas singing,
my soul has greatly hungered for Roger. Yes, even though all the boys
are round me--Bobby on this side, the Brat on that--Algy directly in
front; all behaving nicely, too; for are not they right under father's
eyes? Yes, and, for the matter of that, under the rector's too, as he
towers straight above us, under his ivy-bush--the ivy-bush into which
Bobby was so anxious yesterday to insert some misletoe.

Church is over now, and the short afternoon has also slipped by. We are
at dinner; we are dining early to-night--at half-past six o'clock, and
we are to have a dance for the servants afterward. Any hospitality to my
equals I have steadily and stoutly declined, but it seems a shame to
visit my own loneliness on the heads of the servants, to whom it is
nothing. They have always had a Christmas-dance in Roger's reign, and so
a dance they are to have now. We have religiously eaten our beef and
plum-pudding, and have each made a separate little blue fire of burnt
brandy in our spoon.

It is dessert now, and father has proposed Roger's health. I did not
expect it, and I never was so nearly betrayed into feeling fond of
father in my life. They all drink it, each wishing him something good.
As for me, I have been a fool always, and I am a fool now. I can wish
him nothing, my voice is choked and my eyes drowned in inappropriate
tears; only, from the depths of my heart, I ask God to give him every
thing that He has of choicest and best. For a moment or two, the
wax-lights, the purple grapes, the gleaming glass and shining silver,
the kindly, genial faces swim blurred before my vision. Then I hastily
wipe away my tears, and smile back at them all. As I raise my glistening
eyes, I meet those of Mr. Musgrave fixed upon me--(he is the only
stranger present). His look is not one that wishes to be returned; on
the contrary, it is embarrassed at being met. It is a glance that
puzzles me, full of inquiring curiosity, mixed with a sort of mirth. In
a second--I could not tell you why--I look hastily away.

"I wonder what he is doing _now, this very minute_!" says Tou Tou, who
is dining in public for the first time, and whose conversation is
checked and her deportment regulated by Bobby, who has been at some
pains to sit beside her, and who guides her behavior by the help of many
subtle and unseen pinches under the table; from revolting against which
a fear of father hinders her, a fact of which Bobby is most basely
aware.

"Had not you better telegraph?" asks Algy, with languid irony (Algy
certainly is not quite so nice as he used to be). "Flapping away the
blue-tailed fly, with a big red-and-yellow bandana, probably."

"Playing the banjo for a lot of little niggers to dance to!" suggests
the Brat.

"They are all wrong, are not they, Nancy?" says Bobby, in a lowered
voice, to me, on whose left hand he has placed himself; "he is sitting
in his veranda, is not he? in a palm hat and nankeen breeches, with his
arm around the old Wampoo."

"I dare say," reply I, laughing. "I hope so," for, indeed, I am growing
quite fond of my dusky rival.

The ball is to be in the servants' hall; it is a large, long room, and
thither, when all the guests are assembled, we repair. We think that we
shall make a greater show, and inspire more admiration, if we appear in
pairs. I therefore make my entry on father's arm. Never with greater
trepidation have I entered any room, for I am to open the ball with the
butler, and the prospect fills me with dismay. If he were a venerable
family servant, a hoary-headed old seneschal, who had known Roger in
petticoats, it would have been nothing. I could have chattered filially
to him; but he is a youngish man, who came only six months ago. On what
subjects can we converse? I feel small doubt that his own sufferings
will be hardly inferior in poignancy to mine.

The room is well lit, and the candles shine genially down from the
laurel garlands and ivy festoons which clothe the walls. They light the
faces and various dresses of a numerous assembly--every groom, footman,
housemaid, and scullion, from far and near. The ladies seem largely to
preponderate both in number and _aplomb_; the men appearing, for the
more part, greatly disposed to run for shelter behind the bolder
petticoats; particularly the stablemen. The footmen, being more
accustomed to ladies' society, are less embarrassed by their own hands,
and by the exigencies of chivalry. This inversion of the usual attitude
of the sexes, will, no doubt, be set more than right when we have
retired. The moment has arrived. I quit father's arm--for the first time
in my life I am honestly sorry to drop it--and go up to my destined
partner.

"Ashton," say I, with an attempt at an easy and unembarrassed smile,
"will you dance this quadrille with me?"

"Thank you, my lady."

How calm he is! how self-possessed. Oh, that he would impart to me the
secret of his composure! I catch sight of the Brat, who is passing at
the moment.

"Brat!" cry I, eagerly, snatching at his coat-sleeve, like a drowning
man at a straw. "Will _you_ be our _vis-à-vis_?"

"All right," replies the Brat, gayly, "but I have not got a partner
yet."

Off he goes in search of one, and Ashton and I remain _tête-à-tête_. I
suppose I ought to take his arm, and lead him to the top of the room.
After a moment of hot hesitation, I do this. Here we are, arrived. Oh,
why did I ask him so soon? Two or three minutes elapse before the Brat's
return.

"How nicely you have all done the decorations!"

"I am glad you think so, my lady."

"They are better than ours at the church."

"Do you think so, my lady?"

A pause. Everybody is choosing partners. Tou Tou, grinning from ear to
ear, is bidding a bashful button-boy to the merry dance. Father--do my
eyes deceive me?--father himself is leading out the housekeeper.
Evidently he is saying something dignifiedly humorous to her, for she is
laughing. I wish that he would sometimes be dignifiedly humorous to us,
or even humorous without the dignity. Barbara, true to her life-long
instincts, is inviting the clergyman's shabby, gawky man-of-all-work, at
whom the ladies'-maids are raising the nose of contempt. Mr. Musgrave is
soliciting a kitchen-wench.

"Are there as many here as you expected?"

"Quite, my lady."

Another pause.

"I hope," with bald affability, in desperation of a topic, "that you
will all enjoy yourselves!"

"Thank you, my lady!"

Praise God! here is the Brat at last! Owing, I suppose, to the
slenderness and fragile tenuity of his own charms, the Brat is a great
admirer of fine women, the bigger the better; quantity, not quality;
and, true to his colors, he now arrives with a neighboring cook, a lady
of sixteen stone, on his arm.

We take our places. While chassezing and poussetting, thank Heaven, a
very little talk goes a very long way. My mind begins to grow more easy.
I am even sensible of a little feeling of funny elation at the sound of
the fiddles gayly squeaking. I can look about me and laugh inwardly at
the distant sight of Tou Tou and the button-boy turning each other
nimbly round; of father, in the fourth figure, blandly backing between
Mrs. Mitchell and a cook-maid.

We have now reached the fifth. At the few balls I have hitherto
frequented it has been a harmless figure enough; hands all round, and a
repetition of _l'été_. But _now_--oh, horror! what do I see? Everybody
far and near is standing in attitude to gallopade. The Brat has his
little arm round the cook's waist--at least not all the way round--it
would take a lengthier limb than his to effect _that_; but a bit of the
way, as far as it will go. An awful idea strikes me. Must Ashton and I
gallopade too? I glance nervously toward him. He is looking quite as
apprehensive at the thought that I shall expect him to gallopade with
me, as I am at the thought that he will expect me to gallopade with him.
I do not know how it is that we make our mutual alarm known to each
other, only I know that, while all the world is gallopading round us, we
gallopade not. Instead, we take hands, and jig distantly round each
other.

The improvised valse soon ends, and I look across at the Brat. Gallant
boy! the beads of perspiration stand on his young brow, but there is no
look of blenching! When the time comes he will be ready to do it again.

As I stand in silent amusement watching him, having, for the moment, no
dancing duties of my own, I hear a voice at my elbow, Bobby's, who,
having come in later than the rest of us, has not been taking part in
the dance.

"Nancy! Nancy!" in a tone of hurried excitement, "for the love of Heaven
look at _father_! If you stand on tiptoe you will be able to see him; he
has been _gallopading_! When I saw his venerable coat-tails flying, a
feather would have knocked me down! You really ought to see it"
(lowering his voice confidentially), "it might give you an idea about
your own old man, and the old Wam--"

"_Hang_ the old Wampoo!" cry I, with inelegant force, laughing.

The duty part of the evening is over now. We have all signalized
ourselves by feats of valor. I have scampered through an unsociable
country-dance with the head coachman, and have had my smart gown of
faint pink and pearl color nearly torn off my back by the
ponderous-footed pair that trip directly after me. We have, in fact,
done our duty, and may retire as soon as we like. But the music has got
into our feet, and we promise ourselves one valse among ourselves before
we depart.

The Brat is the only exception. He still cleaves to his cook; dancing
with her is a _tour de force_, on which he piques himself. Mrs. Huntley
and Algy are already flying down the room in an active, tender embrace.
I have been asked as long ago as before dinner by Mr. Musgrave. I was
rather surprised and annoyed at his inviting _me_ instead of Barbara;
but as, with this exception, his conduct has been unequivocally
demonstrative, I console myself with the notion that he looks upon me as
the necessary pill to which Barbara will be the subsequent jam.

The first bars of the valse are playing when Bobby comes bustling up.
Healthy jollity and open mirth are written all over his dear, fat face.

"Come along, Nancy! let us have _one_ more scamper before we die!"

"I am engaged to Mr. Musgrave," reply I, with a graceless and
discontented curl of lip, and raising of nose.

"All right!" says Bobby, philosophically, walking away; "I am sure I do
not mind, only I had a fancy for having _one_ more spin with you."

"So you shall!" cry I, impulsively, with a sharp thought of Hong-Kong,
running after him, and putting his solid right arm round my waist.

Away we go in mad haste. Like most sailors, Bobby dances well. I am
nothing very wonderful, but I suit _him_. In many musicless waltzings of
winter evenings, down the lobby at home, we have learned to fit each
other's step exactly. At our first pausing to recover breath, I become
sensible of a face behind me, of a fierce voice in my ear.

"I had an idea, Lady Tempest, that this was _our_ dance!"

"So it was!" reply I, cheerfully; "but you see I have cut you!"

"So I perceive!"

"Had not you better call Bobby out!" cry I, with a jeering laugh, tired
of his eternal black looks. "You really are _too_ silly! I wish I had a
looking-glass here to show you your face!"

"Do you?" (very shortly).

Repartee is never Frank's forte. This is all that he now finds with
which to wither me. However, even if he had any thing more or more
pungent to say, I should not hear him, for I am beginning to dance off
again.

"What a fool he is to care!" says Bobby, contemptuously; "after all, he
is an ill-tempered beast! I suppose if one kicked him down-stairs it
would put a stop to his marrying Barbara, would not it?"

I laugh.

"I suppose so."

It is over now. The last long-drawn-out notes have ceased to occupy the
air. As far as _we_ are concerned, the ball is over, for we have quitted
it. We have at length removed the _gêne_ of our presence from the
company, and have left them to polka and schottische their fill until
the morning. We have reached our own part of the house. My cheeks are
burning and throbbing with the quick, unwonted exercise. My brain is
unpleasantly stirred: a hundred thoughts in a second run galloping
through it. I leave the others in the warm-lit drawing-room, briskly
talking and discussing the scene we have quitted, and slip away through
the door, into a dark and empty adjacent anteroom, where the fire lies
at death's door, low and dull, and the candles are unlighted.

I draw the curtains, unbar the shutters, and, lifting the heavy sash,
look out. A cold, still air, sharp and clear, at once greets my face
with its frosty kisses. Below me, the great house-shadow projects in
darkness, and beyond it lies a great and dazzling field of shining snow,
asleep in the moonlight.

Snow-trees, snow-bushes, sparkle up against the dusk quiet of the sky.
No movement anywhere! absolute stillness! perfect silence! It is broken
now, this silence, by the church-clock with slow wakefulness chiming
twelve. Those slow strokes set me a thinking. I hear no longer the loud
and lively voices next door, the icy penetration of the air is unfelt by
me, as I lean, with my elbow on the sill, looking out at the cold grace
of the night. My mind strays gently away over all my past life--over the
last important year. I think of my wedding, of my little live wreath of
sweet Nancies, of our long, dusty journey, of Dresden.

With an honest, stinging heart-pang, I think of my ill-concealed and
selfish weariness in our twilight walks and scented drives, of the look
of hurt kindness on his face, at his inability to please me. I think of
our return, of the day when he told me of the necessity for his voyage
to Antigua, and of my own egotistic unwillingness to accompany him. I
think of our parting, when I shed such plenteous tears--tears that seem
to me now to have been so much more tears of remorse, of sorrow that I
was not sorrier, than of real grief. In every scene I seem to myself to
have borne a most shabby part.

My meditations are broken in upon by a quick step approaching me, by a
voice in my ear--Algy's.

"You are _here_, are you? I have been looking for you everywhere! Why,
the window is _open_! For Heaven's sake let me get you a cloak! you know
how delicate your chest is. For _my_ sake, _do_!"

It is too dark to see his face, but there is a quick, excited tenderness
in his voice.

"_My_ chest delicate!" cry I, in an accent of complete astonishment.
"Well, it is news to me if it is! My dear boy, what has put such an idea
into your head? and if I got a cloak, I should think it would be for my
_own_ sake, not yours!"

He has been leaning over me in the dusk. At my words he starts violently
and draws back.

"It is _you_, is it?" he says, in an altered voice of constraint, whence
all the mellow tenderness has fled.

"To be sure!" reply I, matter-of-factly. "For whom did you take me?"

But though I ask, alas! I know.



CHAPTER XXX.


How are unmusical people to express themselves when they are glad?
People with an ear and a voice can sing, but what is to become of those
who have not? Must they whoop inarticulately? For myself, I do not know
one tune from another. I am like the man who said that he knew two
tunes, one was "God save the Queen," and the other was not. And yet
to-day I have as good a heart for singing as ever had any of the most
famous songsters. In tune, out of tune, I must lift up my voice. It is
as urgent a need for me as for any mellow thrush. For my heart--oh, rare
case!--is fuller of joy than it can hold. It brims over. Roger is coming
back. It is February, and he has been away nearly seven months. All
minor evils and anxieties--Bobby's departure for Hong-Kong, Algy's
increasing besotment about Mrs. Huntley, and consequent slight
estrangement from me--(to me a very bitter thing)--Frank's continued
silence as regards Barbara--all these are swallowed up in gladness.

When _he_ is back, all will come right. Is it any wonder that they have
gone wrong, while _I_ only was at the helm? My good news arrived only
this morning, and yet, a hundred times in the short space that has
elapsed since then, I have rehearsed the manner of our meeting, have
practised calling him "Roger," with familiar ease, have fixed upon my
gown and the manner of my coiffure, and have wearied Barbara with
solicitous queries, as to whether she thinks that I have grown
perceptibly plainer in the last seven months, whether she does not think
one side of my face better looking than the other, whether she
thinks--(with honest anxiety this)--that my appearance is calculated to
repel a person grown disused to it. To all which questions, she with
untired gentleness gives pleasant and favorable answers.

The inability under which I labored of refraining from imparting _bad_
news is tenfold increased in the case of good. I must have some one to
whom to relate my prosperity. It will certainly _not_ be Mrs. Huntley
this time. Though I have struggled against the feeling as unjust, and
disloyal to my faith in Roger, I still cannot suppress a sharp pang of
distrust and jealousy, as often as I think of her, and of the relation
made to me by Frank, as to her former connection with my husband.
Neither am I in any hurry to tell Frank. To speak truth, I am in no
good-humor with him or with his unhandsome shilly-shallying, and
unaccountable postponement of what became a duty months ago.

Never mind! this also will come right when Roger returns. The delightful
stir and hubbub in my soul hinder me from working or reading, or any
tranquil in-door occupation; and, as afternoon draws on, fair and not
cold, I decide upon a long walk. The quick exercise will perhaps
moderately tire me, and subdue my fidgetiness by the evening, and nobody
can hinder me from thinking of Roger all the way.

Barbara has a cold--a nasty, stuffy, choky cold; so I must do without
her. Apparently I must do without Vick too. She makes a feint, indeed,
of accompanying me half-way to the front gate, then sits down on her
little shivering haunches, smirks, and when I call her, looks the other
way, affecting not to hear. On my calling more peremptorily, "Vick!
Vick!" she tucks her tail well in, and canters back to the house on
three legs.

So it comes to pass that I set out quite alone. I have no definite idea
where to go--I walk vaguely along, following my nose, as they say,
smiling foolishly, and talking to myself--now under my breath--now out
loud. A strong southwest wind blows steadily in my face: it sounded
noisy and fierce enough as I sat in the house; but there is no vice or
malevolence in it--it is only a soft bluster.

Alternate clouds and sunshine tenant the sky. The shadows of the
tree-trunks lie black and defined across the road--branches, twigs,
every thing--then comes a sweep of steely cloud, and they disappear,
swallowed up in one uniform gray: a colorless moment or two passes, and
the sun pushes out again; and they start forth distinct and defined,
each little shoot and great limb, into new life on the bright ground. I
laugh out loud, out of sheer jollity, as I watch the sun playing at
hide-and-seek with them.

What a good world! What a handsome, merry, sweetly-colored world!
Unsatisfying? disappointing?--not a bit of it! It must be people's own
fault if they find it so.

I have walked a mile or so before I at length decide upon a goal, toward
which to tend--a lone and distant cottage, tenanted by a very aged,
ignorant, and feudally loyal couple--a cottage sitting by the edge of a
brown common--one of the few that the greedy hand of Tillage has yet
spared--where geese may still stalk and hiss unreproved, and
errant-tinker donkeys crop and nibble undisturbed--

    "Where the golden furze
    With its green thin spurs
    Doth catch at the maiden's gown."

It is altogether a choice and goodly walk; next to nothing of the tame
high-road. The path leads through a deep wooded dell; over purple
plough-lands; down retired lanes.

After an hour and a quarter of smartish walking, I reach the door. There
are no signs of ravaging children about. Long, long ago--years before
this generation was born--the noisy children went out; some to the
church-yard; some, with clamor of wedding-bells, to separate life. I
knock, and after an interval hear the sound of pattens clacking across
the flagged floor, and am admitted by an old woman, dried and pickled,
by the action of the years, into an active cleanly old mummy, and whose
fingers are wrinkled even more than time has done it, by the action of
soapsuds. I am received with the joyful reverence due to my exalted
station, am led in, and posted right in front of the little red fire and
the singing kettle, and introduced to a very old man, who sits on the
settle in the warm chimney-corner, dressed in an ancient smock-frock,
and with both knotted hands clasped on the top of an old oak staff. He
is evidently childish, and breaks now and then into an anile laugh at
the thought, no doubt, of some dead old pot-house jest. A complication
arises through his persisting in taking me for a sister of Roger's, who
died thirty years ago, in early girlhood, and addressing me accordingly.
I struggle a little for my identity, but, finding the effort useless,
resign it.

"This poor ould person is quoite aimless," says his wife with
dispassionate apology; "but what can you expect at noinety-one?"

(Her own years cannot be much fewer.)

I say tritely that it is a great age.

"He's very fatiguin' on toimes!--that he is!" she continues, eying him
with contemplated candor--"he crumbles his wittles to that extent that I
'ave to make him sit upo' the _News of the World_."

As it seems to me that the conversation is taking a painful direction, I
try to divert it by telling my news; but the bloom is again taken off it
by the old man, who declines to be disabused of the idea that the
Peninsular is still raging, and that it is Roger's _grandfather_ who is
returning from that field of glory. After a few more minutes, during
which the old wife composedly tells me of all the children she has
buried--she has to think twice before she can recollect the exact
number--and in the same breath remarks, "How gallus bad their 'taters
were last year," I take my departure, and leave the old man still
nodding his weak old head, and chuckling to the kettle.

On first leaving the house, I feel dashed and sobered. The inertness and
phlegmatic apathy of dry and ugly old age seem to weigh upon and press
down the passionate life of my youth, but I have not crossed a couple of
ploughed fields and seen the long slices newly ploughed, lying rich and
thick in the sun; I have not heard two staves of the throstle's loud
song, before I have recovered myself. I also begin to sing. I am not
very harmonious, perhaps, I never am; and I wander now and then from the
tune; but it is good enough for the stalking geese, my only audience,
except a ragged jackass, who, moved by my example, lifts his nose and
gives vent to a lengthy bray of infinite yearning.

I am half-way home now. I have reached the wood--Brindley Wood;
henceforth I am not very likely to forget its name. The path dips at
once and runs steeply down, till it reaches the bottom of the dell,
along which a quick brook runs darkling. In summer, when the leaves are
out, it is twilight here at high noonday. Hardly a peep of sky to be
seen through the green arch of oak and elm; but now, through the
net-work of wintry twigs one looks up, and sees the faint, far blue, for
the loss of which no leafage can compensate. Winter brownness above, but
a more than summer green below--the heyday riot of the mosses. Mossed
tree-trunks, leaning over the bustling stream; emerald moss carpets
between the bronze dead leaves; all manner of mosses; mosses with little
nightcaps; mosses like doll's ferns; mosses like plump cushions; and
upon them here and there blazes the glowing red of the small
peziza-cups.

I am still singing; and, as no wind reaches this shadowed hollow, I have
taken off my hat, and walk slowly along, swinging it in my hand. It is a
so little-frequented place, that I give an involuntary start, and my
song suddenly dies, when, on turning a corner, I come face to face with
another occupant. In a moment I recover myself. It is only Frank,
sitting on a great lichened stone, staring at the brook and the trees.

"You seem very cheerful!" he says, rising, stretching out his hand, and
not (as I afterward recollect) expressing the slightest surprise at our
unlikely rencontre. "I never heard you lift up your voice before."

"I seem what I am," reply I, shortly. "I _am_ cheerful."

"You mostly are."

"That is all that _you_ know about it," reply I, brusquely, rather
resenting the accusation. "I have not been _at all_ in good spirits all
this--this autumn and winter, not, that is, compared to what I usually
am."

"Have not you?"

"I _am_ in good spirits to-day, I grant you," continue I, more affably;
"it would be very odd if I were not. I should jump out of my skin if I
were quite sure of getting back into it again; I have had _such_ good
news."

"Have you? I wish _I_ had" (sighing). "What is it?"

"I will give you three guesses," say I, trying to keep grave, but
breaking out everywhere, as I feel, into badly-suppressed smiles.

"Something about the boys, of course!"--(half fretfully)--"it is always
the boys."

"It is nothing about the boys--quite wrong. That is _one_."

"The fair Zéphine is no more!--by-the-by, I suppose I should have heard
of that."

"It is nothing about the fair Zéphine--wrong again! That is _two_!"

"Barbara has got leave to stay till Easter!"

"Nothing about Barbara!"--(with a slight momentary pang at the ease and
unconcern with which he mentions her name).--"By-the-by, I wish you
would give up calling her 'Barbara;' she never calls you 'Frank!' There,
you have had your three guesses, and you have never come within a mile
of it--I shall have to tell you--_Roger is coming back!_" opening my
eyes and beginning to laugh joyously.

"_Soon?_" with a quick and breathless change of tone, that I cannot help
perceiving, turning sharply upon me.

"_At once!_" reply I, triumphantly; "we may expect him _any day_!"

He receives this information in total silence. He does not attempt the
faintest or slightest congratulation.

"I wish I had not told you!" cry I, indignantly; "what a fool I was to
imagine that you would feel the slightest interest in any thing that did
not concern yourself personally! Of course" (turning a scarlet face and
blazing eyes full upon him), "I did not expect you to _feel_ glad--I
have known you too long for that--but you might have had the common
civility to _say_ you were!"

We have stopped. We stand facing each other in the narrow wood-path,
while the beck noisily babbles past, and the thrushes answer each other
in lovely dialogue. He is deadly pale; his lips are trembling, and his
eyes--involuntarily I look away from them!

"I am _not_ glad!" he says, with slow distinctness; "often--often you
have blamed me for _hinting_ and _implying_ for using innuendoes and
half-words, and once--_once_, do you recollect?--you told me to my face
that I _lied_! Well, I will not _lie_ now; you shall have no cause to
blame me to-day. I will tell you the truth, the truth that you know as
well as I do--I am _not_ glad!"

Absolute silence. I could no more answer or interrupt him than I could
soar up between the dry tree-boughs to heaven. I stand before him with
parted lips, and staring eyes fixed in a stony, horrid astonishment on
his face.

"Nancy," he says, coming a step nearer, and speaking in almost a
whisper, "_you_ are not glad either! For once speak the truth! Hypocrisy
is always difficult to you. You are the worst actress I ever saw--speak
the truth for once! Who is there to hear you but me? I, who know it
already--who have known it ever since that first evening in Dresden! Do
you recollect?--but of course you do--why do I ask you? Why should you
have forgotten any more than I?"

Still I am silent. Though I stand in the free clear air of heaven, I
could not feel more choked and gasping were I in some close and stifling
dungeon, hundreds of feet underground. I think that the brook must have
got into my brain, there is such a noise of bubbling and brawling in it.
Barbara, Roger, Algy, a hundred confused ideas of pain and dismay jostle
each other in my head.

"Why do you look at me so?" he says, hoarsely. "What have I done? For
God's sake, do not think that I blame you! I never have been so sorry
for any one in my life as I have been for you--as I was for you from the
first moment I saw you! I can see you now, as I first caught sight of
you--weariness and depression in every line of your face--"

I can bear no more. At his last words, a pain like a knife, sharp to
agony, runs through me. It is the grain of truth in his wicked, lying
words that gives them their sting. I _was_ weary; I _was_ depressed; I
_was_ bored. I fling out my arms with a sudden gesture of despair, and
then, throwing myself down on the ground, bury my face in a great moss
cushion, and put my fingers in my ears.

"O my God!" I cry, writhing, "what _shall_ I do?--how _can_ I bear it?"

After a moment or two I sit up.

"How _shameful_ of you!" I cry, bursting into a passion of tears. "What
sort of women can you have lived among? what a hateful mind you must
have! And I thought that you were a nice fellow, and that we were all so
comfortable together!"

He has drawn back a pace or two, and now stands leaning against one of
the bent and writhen trunks of the old trees. He is still as pale as the
dead, and looks all the paler for the burning darkness of his eyes.

"Is it possible," he says, in a low tone of but half-suppressed fury,
"that you are going to _pretend_ to be surprised?"

"_Pretend!_" cry I, vehemently; "there is no pretense about it! I never
was so horribly, miserably surprised in all my life!"

And then, thinking of Barbara, I fall to weeping again, in utter
bitterness and discomfiture.

"It is _impossible_!" he says, roughly. "Whatever else you are, you are
no fool; and a woman would have had to be blinder than any mole not to
see whither I--yes, and _you_, too--have been tending! If you meant to
be _surprised_ all along when it came to this, why did you make yourself
common talk for the neighborhood with me? Why did you press me, with
such unconventional eagerness to visit you? Why did you reproach me if I
missed one day?"

"_Why did I?_" cry I, eagerly. "Because--"

Then I stop suddenly. How, even to clear myself, can I tell him my real
reason?

"And now," he continues, with deepening excitement, "now that you reap
your own sowing, you are _surprised--miserably surprised_!"

"I am!" cry I, incoherently. "You may not believe me, but it is true--as
true as that God is above us, and that I never, _never_ was tired of
Roger!"

I stop, choked with sobs.

"Yes," he says, sardonically, "about as true. But, be that as it may,
you must at least be good enough to excuse me from expressing _joy_ at
his return, seeing that he fills the place which I am fool enough to
covet, and which, but for him, _might_--yes, say what you please, deny
it as much as you like--_would_ have been mine!"

"It _never_ would!" cry I, passionately. "If you had been the last man
in the world--if we had been left together on a desert island--I _never_
should have liked you, _never_! I _never_ would have seen more of you
than I could help! There is _no one_ whose society I grow so soon tired
of. I have said so over and over again to the boys."

"Have you?"

"What good reason can you give me for preferring you to him?" I ask, my
voice trembling and quivering with a passionate indignation; "I am here,
ready to listen to you if you can! How are you such a desirable
substitute for him? Are you nobler? cleverer? handsomer?
unselfisher?--if you are" (laughing bitterly), "you keep it mighty well
hid."

No reply: not a syllable.

"It is a _lie_," I cry, with growing vehemence, "a vile, base,
groundless lie, to say that I am not glad he is coming back! Barbara
knows--they _all_ know how I have been _wearying_ for him all these
months. I was not _in love_, as you call it, when I married him--often I
have told him that--and perhaps at Dresden I missed the boys a
little--he knows that too--he understands! but now--_now_--" (clasping
my hands upon my heart, and looking passionately upward with streaming
eyes), "I want no one--_no one_ but him! I wish for nothing better than
to have _him--him only_!--and to-day, until I met _you_--till you made
me loathe myself and you, and every living thing--it seemed to me as if
all the world had suddenly grown bright and happy and good at the news
of his coming."

Still he is silent.

"Even if I had not liked _him_," pursue I, finding words come quickly
enough now, and speaking with indignant volubility, as, having risen, I
again face him--"even if I had wanted to flirt with some one, why on
earth should I have chosen _you_?" (eying him with scornful slowness,
from his wide-awake to his shooting-boots), "_you_, who never even
_amused_ me in the least! Often when I have been talking to you, I have
yawned till the tears came into my eyes! I have been afraid that you
would notice it. If I had known" (speaking with great bitterness), "I
should have taken less pains with my manners."

He does not answer a word. What answer _can_ he make? He still stands
under the wintry tree, white to lividness; drops of cold sweat stand on
his brows; and his fine nostrils dilate and contract, dilate and
contract, in an agony of anger and shame.

"What _could_ have put such an idea into your head?" cry I, clasping my
hands, while the tears rain down my cheeks, as--my thoughts again flying
to Barbara--I fall from contempt and scorn to the sharpest reproach.
"Who would have thought of such a thing? when there are so many better
and prettier people who, for all I know, might have liked you. What
wicked perversity made you fix upon _me_ who, even if I had not belonged
to any one else, could never, _never_ have fancied you!"

"Is that true?" he says, in a harsh, rough whisper; "are you sure that
you are not deceiving yourself? are you sure that under all your rude
words you are not nearer loving me than you think?--that it is not
that--with that barrier between us--you cannot reconcile it to your
conscience--"

"Quite, _quite_ sure!" interrupt I, with passionate emphasis, looking
back unflinchingly into the angry depths of his eyes, "it has nothing to
say to conscience! it has nothing to say to the _wrongness_ of it"
(crimsoning as I speak). "If it were quite right--if it were my
_duty_--if it were the only way to save myself from _hanging_" (reaching
after an ever higher and higher climax), "I _never_, NEVER could say
that I was fond of you! I do not see what there is to be fond of _in_
you! before God, I do not!"

"There!" he says, hoarsely stretching out his hand, as if to ward off a
blow, "that will do!--stop!--you will never outdo that!"

A moment's pause.

Down in the loneliness of this dell, the twilight is creeping quickly
on: when once it begins it tarries not. Out in the open country I dare
say that it is still broad daylight; but here, the hues of the moss
carpet are growing duller, and the brook is darkening. In a sudden
panic, I hastily catch up my hat, which has fallen to the ground, and
without a word or look of farewell, begin to run fast along the homeward
path. Before I have gone ten yards he has overtaken me. His face is
distorted by passion out of all its beauty.

"Nancy," he says, in a voice rendered almost unrecognizable by extreme
agitation, walking quickly alongside of me, "we are not going to part
like this!"

"Do not call me Nancy!" cry I, indignantly; "it makes me _sick_!"

"What does it matter what I call you?" he cries, impatiently; "of what
consequence is such a trifle? I will call you by what name you please,
but for this once you _must_ listen to me. I know, as well as you do,
that it is my last chance!"

"_That_ it is!" put in I, viciously.

The path is beginning to rise. After mounting the slope, we shall soon
be out of the wood, and in the peopled open again.

"How can I help it, if I have gone mad?" he cries violently, evidently
driven to desperation by the shortness of the time before him.

"Mad!" echo I, scornfully, "not a bit of it! you are as sane as I am!"

All this time we are posting along in mad haste. Thank God! the
high-road is in sight, the cheerful, populous, light high-road. The
trees grow thinner, and the path broadens. Even from here, we can
plainly see the carts and carters. He stops, and making me stop, too,
snatches both my hands.

"Nancy!" he says, harshly, stooping over me, while his eyes flame with a
haggard light. "Yes, I _will_ call you so this once--to me now you _are_
Nancy! I will _not_ call you by _his_ name! Is it _possible_? You may
say that it is my egotism; but, at a moment like this, what is the use
of shamming--of polite pretense? Never, _never_ before in all my life
have I given love without receiving it, and I _cannot_ believe"--(with
an accent of passionate entreaty)--"that I do now! Feeling for you as I
do, do you feel absolutely _nothing_ for me?"

"_Feel_!" cry I, driven out of all moderation by disgust and
exasperation. "Would you like to know how I feel? I feel _as if a slug
had crawled over me_!"

His face contracts, his eyes darken with a raging pain. He _throws_ my
hands--the hands a moment ago so jealously clasped--away from him.

"Thank you!" he says, after a pause, in a stiff voice of constraint. "I
am satisfied!"

"And a very good thing too!" say I, sturdily, still at boiling-point,
and diminishing with quick steps the small space still intervening
between me and the road.

"Stay!" he says, overtaking me once again, as I reach it, and laying his
hand in detention on my arm. "One word more! I should be sorry to part
from you--such friends as we have been"--(with a sneer)--"without _one_
good wish. Lady Tempest, I hope"--(smiling with malevolent irony)--"that
your fidelity will be rewarded as it deserves."

"I have no doubt of it!" reply I, steadily; but even as I speak, a sharp
jealous pain runs through my heart. Thank God! he cannot see it!



CHAPTER XXXI.


Yes, here out in the open it is still quite light; it seems two hours
earlier than it did below in the dark dingle--light enough as plainly to
see the faces of those one meets as if it were mid-day. I suppose that
my late companion and I were too much occupied by our own emotions to
hear, or at least notice the sound of wheels approaching us; but no
sooner have I turned and left him, before I have gone three paces, than
I am quickly passed by an open carriage and pair of grays--_quickly_,
and yet slowly enough for me to recognize the one occupant. As to
her--for it is Mrs. Huntley--she must have seen me already, as I stood
with Mr. Musgrave on the edge of the wood, exchanging our last bitter
words.

It is impossible that she could have helped it; but even had it been
possible--had there been any doubt on the subject, that doubt would be
removed by the unusual animation of her attitude, and the interest in
her eyes, that I have time to notice, as she rolls past me.

I avert my face, but it is too late. She has seen my hat thrown on
anyhow, as it were with a pitchfork--has seen my face swollen with
weeping, and great tears still standing unwiped on my flushed cheeks.
What is far, _far_ worse, she has seen him, too. This is the last drop
in an already over-full cup.

There is nothing in sight now--not even a cart--so I sit down on a heap
of stones by the road-side, and, covering my hot face with my hands, cry
till I have no more eyes left to cry with. Can _this_ be the day I
called good? Can _this_ be that bright and merry day, when I walked
elate and laughing between the deep furrows, and heard the blackbird and
thrush woo their new loves, nor was able myself to refrain from singing?

My brain is a black chaos of whirling agonies, now together, now
parting; so that each may make their separate sting felt, and, in turn,
each will have to be faced. Preëminent among the dark host, towering
above even the thought of Barbara, is the sense of my own degradation.
There must have been something in my conduct to justify his taking me so
confidently for the bad, light woman he did. One does not get such a
character for nothing. I have always heard that, when such things happen
to people, they have invariably brought them on themselves. In
incoherent misery, I run over in my head, as well as the confusion of it
will let me, our past meetings and dialogues. In almost all, to my
distorted view, there now seems to have been an unseemly levity. Things
I have said to him; easy, familiar jokes that I have had with him; not
that _he_ ever had much sense of a jest--(even at this moment I think
this incidentally)--course through my mind.

Our many _tête-à-têtes_ to which, at the time, I attached less than no
importance: through many of which I unfeignedly, irresistibly _gaped_;
our meetings in the park--accidental, as I thought--our dawdling
saunters through the meadows, as often as not at twilight; all, _all_
recur to me, and, recurring, make my face burn with a hot and stabbing
shame.

And _Roger_! This is the way in which I have kept things straight for
him! This is the way in which I have rewarded his boundless trust! he,
whose only fear was lest I should be dull! lest I should not amuse
myself! Well, I have amused myself to some purpose now. I have made
myself _common talk for the neighborhood_! _He_ said so. I have brought
discredit on Roger's honored name! Not even the consciousness of the
utter cleanness of my heart is of the least avail to console me. What
matter how clean the heart is, if the conduct be light? None but God can
see the former; the latter lies open to every carelessly spiteful,
surface-judging eye. And Barbara! Goaded by the thought of her, I rise
up quickly, and walk hastily along the road, till I reach a gate into
the park. Arrived there, and now free from all fear of interruption from
passers-by, I again sit down on an old dry log that lies beneath a great
oak, and again cover my face with my hands.

What care I for the growing dark? the darker the better! Ah! if it were
dark enough to hide me from myself! How shall I break it to her--I, who,
confident in my superior discernment, have always scouted her misgivings
and turned into derision her doubts? If I thought that she would rave
and storm, and that her grief would vent itself in _anger_, it would not
be of half so much consequence. But I know her better. The evening has
closed in colder. The birds have all ceased their singing, and I still
sit on, in the absolute silence, unconscious--unaware of any thing round
me; living only in my thoughts, and with a resolution growing ever
stronger and stronger within me. I will _not_ tell her! I will _never_
tell _any one_. I, that have hitherto bungled and blundered over the
whitest fib, will wade knee-deep in falsehoods, before I will ever let
any one guess the disgrace that has happened to me. Oh that, by long
silence, I could wipe it out of my own heart--out of the book of
unerasable past deeds!

Of course, by the cessation of his visits, Barbara will learn her fate
in time. _In time._ Yes! but till then--till the long weeks in their
lapse have brought the certainty of disappointment and mistake? How can
I--myself knowing--watch her gentle confidence (for latterly her
doubts--and whose would not?--have been set at rest) decline through all
the suffering stages of uneasy expectation and deferred hope, to the
blank, dull sickness of despair? How, without betraying myself, see her
daily with wistful eyes looking--with strained ears listening--for a
face and a step that come not? If she were one to love lightly, one of
the many women who, when satisfied that it is no longer any use to cry
and strive for the unattainable, the out of reach, clip and pare their
affections to fit the unattainable, the within reach--! But I know
differently.

Hitherto, whenever love has been offered to her--and the occasions have
been not few--she has put it away from her; most gently, indeed, with a
most eager desire to pour balm and not vinegar into the wounds she has
made; with a most sincere sorrow and a disproportioned remorse at being
obliged to cause pain to any living thing; yet, with a quiet and
indifferent firmness, that left small ground for lingering hopes. And
now, having once loved, she will be slow to unlove again.

It is quite dark now--as dark, at least, as it will be all night--and
two or three stars are beginning to quiver out, small and cold, in the
infinite distances of the sky. The sight of them, faintly trembling
between the bare boughs of the trees, is the first thing that calls me
back to the consciousness of outward things. Again I rise, and begin to
walk, stumbling through the long wet knots of the unseen grass, toward
the house. But when I reach it--when I see the red gleams shining
through the chinks of the window-shutters--my heart fails me. Not yet
can I face the people, the lights--Barbara! I turn into the garden, and
pace up and down the broad, lonely walks: I pass and repass the cold
river-gods of the unplaying fountain. I stand in the black night of the
old cedar's shade. On any other day no possible consideration would have
induced me to venture within the jurisdiction of its inky arms after
nightfall; to-day, I feel as if no earthly or unearthly thing would have
power to scare me. How long I stay, I do not know. Now and then, I put
up my hands to my face, to ascertain whether my cheeks and eyes feel
less swollen and burning; whether the moist and searching night-air is
restoring me to my own likeness. At length, I dare stay no longer for
fear of being missed, and causing alarm in the household. So I enter,
steal up-stairs, and open the door of my boudoir, which Barbara and I,
when alone, make our usual sitting-room. The candles are unlit; and the
warm fire--evidently long undisturbed--is shedding only a dull and
deceiving light on all the objects over which it ranges. So far, at
least, Fortune favors me. Barbara and Vick are sitting on the
hearth-rug, side by side. As I enter, they both jump up, and run to meet
me. One of them gives little raptured squeaks of recognition. The other
says, in a tone of relief and pleasure:

"Here you are! I was growing so frightened about you! What can have made
you so late?"

"It was so--so--pleasant! The thrushes were singing so!" reply I, thus
happily inaugurating my career of invention.

"But, my dear child, the thrushes went to bed two hours ago!"

"Yes," I answer, at once entirely nonplussed, "so they did!"

"Where _have_ you been?" she asks, in a tone of ever-increasing
surprise. "Did you go farther than you intended?"

"I went--to see--the old Busseys," reply I, slowly; inwardly pondering,
with a stupid surprise, as to whether it can possibly have been no
longer ago than this very afternoon, that the old man mistook me for the
dead Belinda--and that I held the old wife's soapy hand in farewell in
mine; "the--old--Busseys!" I repeat, "and it took--me a long--_long_
time to get home!"

I shiver as I speak.

"You are cold!" she says, anxiously. "I hope you have not had a
chill--" (taking my hands in her own slight ones)--"yes--_starved_!--poor
dear hands; let me rub them!" (beginning delicately to chafe them).

Something in the tender solicitude of her voice, in the touch of her
gentle hands, gives me an agony of pain and remorse. I snatch away my
hands.

"No! no!" I cry, brusquely, "they do very well!"

Again she looks at me, with a sort of astonishment, a little mixed with
pain; but she does not say any thing. She goes over to the fire, and
stoops to take up the poker.

"Do not!" cry I, hastily, "there is plenty of light!--I
mean--" (stammering) "it--it--dazzles me, coming in out of the dark."

As I speak, I retire to a distant chair, as nearly as possible out of
the fire-light, and affect to be occupied with Vick, who has jumped up
on my lap, and--with all a dog's delicate care not to hurt you
_really_--is pretending severely to bite every one of my fingers.
Barbara has returned to the hearth-rug. She looks a little troubled at
first; but, after a moment or two, her face regains its usual serene
sweetness.

"And I have been here ever since you left me!" she says, presently, with
a look of soft gayety. "I have had _no_ visitors! Not even"--(blushing a
little)--"the usual one."

"No?" say I, bending down my head over Vick, and allowing her to have a
better and more thorough lick at the bridge of my nose than she has ever
enjoyed in her life before.

"_You_ did not meet him, I suppose?" she says, interrogatively.

"_I!_" cry I, starting guiltily, and stammering. "Not I! Why--why should
I?"

"Why should not you, rather?" she says, laughing a little. "It is not
such a _very_ unusual occurrence?"

"Do you think not?" I say, in a voice whose trembling is painfully
perceptible to myself. "You do not think I--I--" ("You do not think I
meet him on purpose," I am going to say; but I break off suddenly, aware
that I am betraying myself).

"He will come earlier to-morrow to make up for it"--she says, in a low
voice, more to herself than to me--"yes"--(clasping her hands lightly in
her lap, while the fire-light plays upon the lovely mildness of her
happy face, and repeating the words softly)--"yes, he will come earlier
to-morrow!"

I _cannot_ bear it. I rise up abruptly, trundling poor Vick, to whom
this reverse is quite unexpected, down on the carpet, and rushing out of
the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is evening now--late evening, drawing toward bedtime. I am sitting
with my back to the light, and have asked for a shade for the lamp, on
the plea that the wind has cut my eyes--but, in spite of my precautions,
I am well aware that the disfigurement of my face is still unmistakably
evident to the most casual eye; and, from the anxious care with which
Barbara looks _away from me_, when she addresses me, I can perceive that
she has observed it, as, indeed, how could she fail to do? If Tou Tou
were here, she would overwhelm me with officious questions--would stare
me crazy, but Barbara averts her eyes, and asks nothing.

We have been sitting in perfect silence for a long while; no noise but
the click of Barbara's knitting-pins, the low flutter of the fire-flame,
and the sort of suppressed choked _inward_ bark, with which Vick attacks
a phantom tomcat in her dreams.

Suddenly I speak.

"Barbara!" say I, with a hard, forced laugh, "I am going to ask you a
silly question: tell me, did you ever observe--has it ever struck you
that there was something rather--rather _offensive_ in my manner to
men?"

Her knitting drops into her lap. Her blue eyes open wide, like
dog-violets in the sun; she is _obliged_ to look at me now.

"_Offensive!_" she echoes, with an accent of the most utter surprise and
mystification. "Good Heavens, no! What has come to the child?
Oh!"--(with a little look of dawning intelligence)--"I see! You mean, do
not you smite them too much? Are not you sometimes a little too _hard_
upon them?"

"No," say I, gravely; "I did not mean that."

She looks at me for explanation, but I can give none. More silence.

Vick is either in hot pursuit of, or hot flight from, the tomcat; all
her four legs are quivering and kicking in a mimic gallop.

"Do you remember," say I, again speaking, and again prefacing my words
by an uneasy laugh, "how the boys at home used always to laugh at me,
because I never knew how to flirt, nor had any pretty ways? Do you
think"--(speaking slowly and hesitatingly)--"that boys--one's brothers,
I mean--would be good judges of that sort of thing?"

"As good as any one else's brothers, I suppose," she says, with a low
laugh, but still looking puzzled; "but why do you ask?"

"I do not know," reply I, trying to speak carelessly; "it came into my
head."

"Has any one been accusing you?" she says, a little curiously, "But no!
who _could_? You have seen no one, not even--"

"No, no!" interrupt I, shrinking from the sound of the name that I know
is coming; "of course not; no one!"

The clock strikes eleven, and wakes Vick. Barbara rises, rolls up her
knitting, and, going over to the fireplace, stands with one white elbow
resting on the chimney-piece, and slender neck drooped, pensively gazing
at the low fire.

"Do you know," she says, with a half-confused smile, that is also tinged
with a little anxiety, "I have been thinking--it is the first time for
three months that he has not been here at all, either in the morning,
the afternoon, or the evening!"

"Is it?" say I, slightly shivering.

"I think," she says, with a rather embarrassed laugh, "that he must have
heard _you_ were out, and that that was why he did not come. You know I
always tell you that he likes you best."

She says it, as a joke, and yet her great eyes are looking at me with a
sort of wistfulness, but neither to _them_ nor to her words can I make
any answer.



CHAPTER XXXII.


Next morning I am sitting before my looking-glass--never to me a
pleasant article of furniture--having my hair dressed. I am hardly awake
yet, and have not quite finished disentangling the real live
disagreeables which I have to face, from the imaginary ones from which
my waking has freed me. At least, in real life, I am not perpetually
pursued, through dull abysses, by a man in a crape mask, from whom I am
madly struggling to escape, and who is perpetually on the point of
overtaking and seizing me.

It was a mistake going to sleep at all last night. It would have been
far wiser and better to have kept awake. The _real_ evils are bad
enough, but the dream ones in their vivid life make me shiver even now,
though the morning sun is lying in companionable patches on the floor,
and the birds are loudly talking all together. Do _no_ birds ever
listen?

Distracted for a moment from my own miseries, by the noise of their soft
yet sharp hubbub, I am thinking this, when a knock comes at the door,
and the next moment Barbara enters. Her blond hair is tumbled about her
shoulders; no white rose's cheeks are paler than hers; in her hand she
has a note. In a moment I have dismissed the maid, and we are alone.

"I want you to read this!" she says, in an even and monotonous voice,
from which, by an effort whose greatness I can dimly guess, she keeps
all sound of trembling.

I have risen and turned from the glass; but now my knees shake under me
so much that I have to sit down again. She comes behind me, so that I
may no longer see her: and putting her arms round my neck, and hiding
her face in my unfinished hair, says, whisperingly:

"Do not fret about it, Nancy!--I do not mind much."

Then she breaks into quiet tears.

"Do you mean to say that he has had the _insolence_ to write to you," I
cry, in a passion of indignation, forgetting for the moment Barbara's
ignorance of what has occurred, and only reminded of it by the look of
wonder that, as I turn on my chair to face her, I see come into her
eyes.

"Have not you been expecting him every day to write to me?" she asks,
with a little wonder in her tone; "but _read_!" (pointing to the note,
and laughing with a touch of bitterness), "you will soon see that there
is no _insolence_ here."

I had quite as lief, in my present state of mind, touch a yard-long
wriggling ground-worm, or a fat wood-louse, as paper that his fingers
have pressed; but I overcome my repulsion, and unfold the note.

     "DEAR MISS GREY:

     "Can I do any thing for you in town? I am going up there to-morrow,
     and shall thence, I think, run over to the Exhibition. I have no
     doubt that it is just like all the others; but _not_ to have seen
     it will set one at a disadvantage with one's fellows. I am afraid
     that there is no chance of your being still at Tempest when I
     return. I shall be most happy to undertake any commissions.

     "Yours sincerely,

     "F. MUSGRAVE"

The note drops from my fingers, rolls on to my lap, and thence to the
ground. I sit in stiff and stupid silence. To tell the truth, I am
trying strongly to imagine how I should look and what I should say, were
I as ignorant of causes as Barbara thinks me, and to look and speak
accordingly.

She kneels down beside me, and softly drawing down my face, till it is
on a level with hers, and our cheeks touch, says in a tone of gentle
entreaty and compassion, as if _I_ were the one to be considered--the
prime sufferer:

"Do not fret about it, Nancy! it is of no--no consequence!--there is no
harm done!"

I struggle to say _something_, but for the life of me I can frame no
words.

"It was my own fancy!" she says, faltering, "I suppose my vanity misled
me!"

"It is all my fault!" cry I, suddenly finding passionate words, starting
up, and beginning to walk feverishly to and fro--"_all!_--there never
was any one in all this world so blind, so ill-judging, so miserably
mistaken! If it had not been for me, you never would have thought twice
of him--never; and I"--(beginning to speak with weeping
indistinctness)--"I thought it would be so nice to have you near me--I
thought that there was nothing the matter with him, but his temper;
_many_ men are ill-tempered--nearly _all_. If" (tightly clinching my
hands, and setting my teeth) "I had had any idea of his being the
_scoundrel_ that he is--"

"But he is not," she interrupts quickly, wincing a little at my words;
"indeed he is not! What ill have we heard from him? If you do not mind"
(laying her hand with gentle entreaty on my arm), "I had rather, _far_
rather, that you did not say any thing hard of him! I was always so glad
that you and he were such friends--always--and I do not know why--there
is no sense in it; but I am glad of it still."

"We were _not_ friends," say I, writhing a little; "why do you say so?"

She looks at me with a great and unfeigned astonishment.

"_Not friends!_" she echoes, slowly repeating my words; then, seeing the
expression of my face, stops suddenly.

"Are you _sure_," cry I, feverishly snatching her hands and looking with
searching anxiety into her face, "that you spoke truth just now?--that
you do not mind much--that you will get over it!--that it will not
_kill_ you?"

"_Kill_ me!" she says, with a little sorrowful smile of derision; "no,
no! I am not so easily killed."

"Are you _sure_?" persist I, with a passionate eagerness, still reading
her tear-stained face, "that it will not take the taste out of every
thing?--that it will not make you hate all your life?--it would me."

"_Quite_ sure!--certain!" she says, looking back at me with a steady
meekness, though her blue eyes brim over; "because God has taken from me
_one_ thing--one that I never had any right to expect--should I do well,
do you think, to quarrel with all that He has left me?"

I cannot answer; her godly patience is too high a thing for me.

"Even if my life _were_ spoilt," she goes on, after a moment or two, her
voice gaining firmness, and her face a pale serenity, "even if it
were--but it is _not_--indeed it is not. In a very little while it will
seem to me as good and pleasant and full as ever; but even if it _were_"
(looking at me with a lovely confidence in her eyes), "it would be no
such very great matter--_this_ life is not every thing!"

"Is not it?" say I, with a doubting shiver. "Who can tell you that? who
knows?"

"_No one_ has been to blame," she continues, with a gentle
persistence. "I should like you to see that! There has been only
a--a--_mistake_"--(her voice failing a little again), "a mistake that
has been corrected in time, and for which no one--_no one_, Nancy, is
the worse!"



CHAPTER XXXIII.


So this is the way in which Barbara's hope dies! Our hopes have as many
ways of dying as our bodies. Sometimes they pine and fall into a slow
consumption, we nursing, cockering, and physicking them to the last.
Sometimes they fall down dead suddenly, as one that in full health, with
his bones full of marrow, and his eyes full of light, drops wordless
into the next world unaware. This last has been Barbara's case. When she
thought it healthiest, and most vigorous in its stalwart life, then the
death-mark was on it. To most of us, O friends, troubles are as great
stones cast unexpectedly on a smooth road; over which, in a dark night,
we trip, and grumblingly stumble, cursing, and angrily bruising our
limbs. To a few of us, they are ladders, by which we climb to God;
hills, that lift us nearer heaven--that heaven, which, however
certainly--with whatever mathematical precision--it has been
demonstrated to us that it exists not here, nor there, nor yet anywhere,
we still dimly, with yearning tears and high longings, grasp at. Barbara
has always looked heavenward. In all her mirth, God has mixed. Now,
therefore, in this grief that He has sent her--this ignoble grief, that
yet cuts the none less deeply for being ignoble, and excluding the
solace of human sympathy, she but thrusts her hand with a fuller
confidence in his, and fixes her sweet eyes with a more reverent surety
on the one prime consoler of humankind, who, from his Cross, has looked
royally down the toiling centuries--the king, whom this generation,
above all generations, is laboring--and, as not a few think,
_successfully_--to discrown. To her, his kingship is as unquestioned as
when heretics and paynims burnt to prove it.

Often, since then, in those vain longings that come to each of us, I
suppose, I tried in after-days--sometimes I try now, to stretch my arms
out wide-backward toward the past--to speak the words that would have
been as easily spoken then as any other--that no earthly power can ever
make spoken words now, of sympathy and appreciation to Barbara.

I did say loving things, but they seem to me now to have been but scant
and shabby. Why did not I say a great many more? Oh, all of you who live
with those that are dearer to you than they seem, tell them every day
how much you love them! at the risk of _wearying_ them, tell them, I
pray you: it will save you, perhaps, many after-pangs.

I think that, at this time, there are in me _two_ Nancys--Barbara's
Nancy, and Roger's Nancy; the one so vexed, thwarted, and humiliated in
spirit, that she feels as if she never could laugh quite heartily again;
the other, so utterly and triumphantly glad, that any future tears or
trials seem to her in the highest degree improbable. And Barbara herself
is on the side of this latter. From her hopeful speech and her smiles,
you would think that some good news had come to her--that she was on the
eve of some long-looked-for, yet hardly-hoped prosperity. Not that she
is unnaturally or hysterically lively--an error into which many, making
such an effort and struggle for self-conquest, would fall. Barbara's
mirth was never noisy, as mine and the boys' so often was. Perhaps--nay,
I have often thought since, _certainly_--she weeps as she prays, in
secret; but God is the only One who knows of her tears, as of her
prayers. She has always been one to go halves in her pleasures, but of
her sorrows she will give never a morsel to any one.

Her very quietness under her trouble--her silence under it--her
equanimity--mislead me. It is the impulse of any hurt thing to cry out.
I, myself, have always done it. Half unconsciously, I am led by this
reasoning to think that Barbara's wound cannot be very deep, else would
she shrink and writhe beneath it. So I talk to her all day, with
merciless length, about Roger. I go through all the old queries. I again
critically examine my face, and arrive--not only at the former
conclusion, that one side is worse-looking than the other, but also that
it looks ten years older.

I have my flax hair built in many strange and differing fashions, and
again _un_built: piled high, to give me height; twisted low, in a vain
endeavor to liken me to the Greeks; curled, plaited, frizzed, and again
unfrizzed. I institute a searching and critical examination of my
wardrobe, rejecting this and that; holding one color against my cheek,
to see whether my pallor will be able to bear it; turning away from
another with a grimace of self-disgust.

And this is the same "_I_," who thought it so little worth while to win
the good opinion of father's blear-eyed old friend, that I went to my
first meeting with him with a scorched face, loose hair, tottering, all
through prayers, on the verge of a descent about my neck, and a large
round hole, smelling horribly of singeing, burnt in the very front of my
old woolen frock.

His coming is near now. This _very_ day I shall see him come in that
door. He will sit in that chair. His head will dent that cushion. I
shall sit on a footstool at his feet. The better to imagine the
position, I push a footstool into the desired neighborhood to Roger's
arm-chair, and already see myself, with the eye of faith, in solid
reality occupying it. I rehearse all the topics that will engage my
tongue. The better to realize their effect upon him, I give utterance
out loud to the many greetings, to the numberless fond and pretty things
with which I mean to load him.

He always looked so very joyful when I said any little civil thing to
him, and I so seldom, _seldom_ did. Ah! we will change all that! He
shall be nauseated with sweets. And then, still sitting by him, holding
his hand, and with my head (dressed in what I finally decide upon as the
becomingest fashion) daintily rested on his arm, I will tell him all my
troubles. I will tell him of Algy's estrangement, his cold looks and
harsh words. Without any outspoken or bitter abuse of her, I will yet
manage cunningly to set him on his guard against Mrs. Huntley. I will
lament over Bobby to him. Yes, I will tell him _all_ my troubles--_all_,
that is, with one reservation.

Barbara is no longer here. She has gone home.

"You will be better by yourselves," she says, gently, when she announces
her intention of going. "He will like it better. I should if I were he.
It will be like a new honey-moon."

"_That_ it will not," reply I, stoutly, recollecting how much I yawned,
and how largely Mr. Musgrave figured in the first. "I have no opinion of
honey-moons; no more would _you_ if you had _had_ one."

"_Should_ not I?" speaking a little absently, while her eyes stray
through the window to the serene coldness of the sky, and the pallid
droop of the snow-drops in the garden-border.

"You are sure," say I, earnestly, taking her light hand in mine, "that
you are not going because you think that you are not _wanted_ now--that
now, that I have my--my own property again" (smiling irrepressibly), "I
can do very well without you."

"_Quite_ sure, Nancy!" looking back into my eager eyes with confident
affection.

"And you will come back _very_ soon? _very?_"

"When you quarrel," she answers, her face dimpling into a laugh, "I will
come and make it up between you."

"You must come before _then_," say I, with a proud smile, "or your visit
is likely to be indefinitely postponed."

Roger and I quarrel! We both find the idea so amusing that we laugh in
concert.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

     "_Gertrude._ Is my knight come? O the Lord, my band! Sister, do my
     cheeks look well? Give me a little box o' the ear, that I may seem
     to blush."--EASTWARD HOE.


She is gone now. The atmosphere of the house seems less clear, less
pure, now that she has left it. As she drives away, it seems to me,
looking after her, that no flower ever had a modester face, a more
delicate bloom. If I had time to think about it, I should fret sorely
after her, I should grievously miss her; but I have none.

The carriage that takes her to the station is to wait half an hour, and
then bring back Roger. There is, therefore, not more than enough time
for me to make the careful and lengthy toilet, on which I have expended
so much painstaking thought. I have deferred making it till now, so that
I may appear in perfect dainty freshness, as if I had just emerged from
the manifold silver papers of a bandbox, before him when he
arrives--that not a hair of my flax head may be displaced from its silky
sweep; that there may be no risk of Vick jumping up, and defiling me
with muddy paws that know no respect of clothes.

I take a long time over it. I snub my maid more than I ever did in my
life before. But I am complete now; to the last pin I am finished.
Perhaps--though this does not strike me till the last moment--perhaps I
am rather, nay, more than _rather_, overdressed for the occasion. But
surely this, in a person who has not long been in command of fine
clothes, and even in that short time has had very few opportunities of
airing them, is pardonable.

You remember that it is February. Well, then, this is the warm splendor
in which I am clad. Genoa velvet, of the color of a dark sapphire,
trimmed with silver-fox fur; and my head crowned with a mob-cap,
concerning which I am in doubt, and should be nervously glad to have the
boys here to enlighten me as to whether it is very becoming or rather
ridiculous. The object of the mob-cap is to approximate my age to
Roger's, and to assure all such as the velvet and fur leave in doubt,
that I am entitled to take my stand among the portly ranks of British
matrons.

"Algy was right," say I, soliloquizing aloud, as I stand before the long
cheval glass, with a back-hair glass in one hand, by whose aid I correct
my errors in the profile, three-quarters or back view; "mine is not the
most hopeless kind of ugliness. It is certainly modifiable by dress."

So saying, I lay down the hand-glass, and walk sedately down-stairs,
holding my head stiffly erect, and looking over my shoulder, like a
child, at the effect of my blue train sweeping down the steps after me.

Arrived in my boudoir, I go and stand by the window, though there are
yet ten minutes before he is due. Once I open the casement to listen,
but hastily close it again, afraid lest the wintry wind should ruffle
the satin smoothness of my hair, or push the mob-cap awry. Then I sit
carefully down, and, harshly repulsing an overture on the part of Vick
to jump into my lap, fix my eyes upon the dark bare boughs of the tall
and distant elms, from between which I shall see him steal into sight.
The time ticks slowly on. He is due now. Five more lame, crawling
minutes--ten!--no sign of him. Again I rise, unclose the casement, and
push my matronly head a little way out to listen. Yes! yes! there is the
distant but not doubtful sound of a horse's four hoofs smartly trotting
and splashing along the muddy road. Three minutes more, and the sun
catches and brightly gleams on one of the quickly-turning wheels of the
dog-cart as it rolls toward me, between the wintry trees.

At first I cannot see the occupants; the boughs and twigs interpose to
hide them; but presently the dog-cart emerges into the open. There is
only one person in it!

At first I decline to believe my own eyes. I rub them. I stretch my head
farther out. Alas! self-deception is no longer possible: the groom
returns as he went--alone. Roger has _not_ come!

The dog-cart turns toward the stables, and I run to the bell and pull it
violently. I can hardly wait till it is answered. At last, after an
interval, which seems to me like twenty minutes, but which that false,
cold-blooded clock proclaims to be _two_, the footman enters.

"Sir Roger has not come," I say more affirmatively than interrogatively,
for I have no doubt on the subject. "Why did not the groom wait for the
next train?"

"If you please, my lady, Sir Roger _has_ come."

"_Has come!_" repeat I, in astonishment, opening my eyes; "then where is
he?"

"He is walking up, my lady."

"What! all the way from Bishopsthorpe?" cry I, incredulously, thinking
of the five miry miles that intervene between us and that station.
"_Impossible!_"

"No, my lady, not all the way; only from Mrs. Huntley's."

I feel the color rushing away from my cheeks, and turn quickly aside,
that my change of countenance may not be perceived.

"Did he get out there?" I ask, faintly.

"Mrs. Huntley was at the gate, my lady, and Sir Roger got down to speak
to her, and bid James drive on and tell your ladyship he would be here
directly."

"Very well," say I, unsteadily, still averting my face, "that will do."

He is gone, and I need no longer mind what color my face is, nor what
shape of woeful jealousy my late so complacent features assume.

So _this_ is what comes of thinking life such a grand and pleasant
thing, and this world such a lovely, satisfying paradise! Wait long
enough--(I have not had to wait very long for my part)--and every sweet
thing turns to gall-like bitterness between one's teeth! The experience
of a few days ago might have taught me _that_, one would think, but I
was dull to thick-headedness. I required _two_ lessons--the second, oh
how far harsher than even the first!

In a moment I have taken my resolution. I am racing up-stairs. I have
reached my room. I do not summon my maid. One requires no assistance to
enable one to _un_build, deface, destroy. In a _second_--in much less
time than it takes me to write it--I have torn off the mob-cap, and
thrown it on the floor. If I had done what I wished, if I had yielded to
my first impulse, I should also have trampled upon it; but from the
extremity of petulance, I am proud to be able to tell you that I
refrain. With rapid fingers I unbutton my blue-velvet gown, and step out
of it, leaving it in a costly heap on the floor. Then I open the high
folding-doors of the wardrobe, and run my eye over its contents; but the
most becoming is no longer what I seek. For a moment or two I stand
undecided, then my eye is caught by a venerable garment, loathly and
ill-made, which I had before I married, and have since kept, more as a
relic than any thing else--a gown of that peculiar shade of sallow,
bilious, Bismarck brown, which is the most trying to the paleness of my
skin. Before any one could say "Jack Robinson," it is down, and I am in
it. Then, without even a parting smooth to the hair, which the violent
off-tearing of my cap must have roughened and disheveled, I go
down-stairs and reënter the boudoir. As I do so, I catch an accidental
glimpse of myself in a glass. Good Heavens! Can three minutes (for I
really have not been longer about it) have wrought such a monstrous
metamorphosis? Is every woman as utterly dependent for her charms upon
her _husk_ as I am? Can this sad, sallow slip of a girl be the beaming,
shapely, British matron I contemplated with so innocently pleased an eye
half an hour ago? If, in all my designs, I could have the perfect
success which has crowned my efforts at self-disfigurement, I should be
among the most prosperous of my species.

I sit down as far from the window as the dimensions of the room will
allow, call Vick, who comes at first sneakingly and doubtful of her
reception, up on my lap, and take a book. It is the one nearest to my
hand, and I plunge into it haphazard in the middle.

This is the sentence that first greets me: "Her whole heart was in her
boy. She often feared that she loved him too much--more than God
himself--yet she could not bear to pray to have her love for her child
lessened."

Not a very difficult one to construe, is it? and yet, having come to the
end, and found that it conveyed no glimmering of an idea to my mind, I
begin it over again.

"Her whole heart was in her boy. She often feared that she loved him too
much--more than God himself--yet she could not bear to pray to have her
love for her child lessened."

Still no better! What _is_ it all about?

I begin over again.

"Her whole heart was in her boy," etc. I go through this process ten
times. I should go through it twenty, or even thirty, for I am resolved
to go on reading, but at the end of the tenth, my ear--unconsciously
strained--catches the sound of a step at the stair-foot. It is not the
footman's. It is firmer, heavier, and yet quicker.

Eight weary months is it since I last heard that footfall. My heart
pulses with mad haste, my cheeks throb, but I sit still, and hold the
book before my eyes. I will _not_ go to meet him. I will be as
indifferent as he! When he opens the door, I will not even look round, I
will be too much immersed in the page before me.

"Her whole heart was in her boy. She often feared that--"

The door-handle is turning. I _cannot_ help it! Against my will, my head
turns too. With no volition of my own--against my firmest intention--my
feet carry me hastily toward him. My arms stretch themselves out. Thank
God! thank God! whatever happens afterward, I shall still thank God, and
call him good for allowing it. I am in Roger's embrace. No more
mistakes! no more delays! he is here, and I am kissing him as I never
kissed any one--as I certainly never kissed _him_ in my life before.

Well, I suppose that in every life there are _some_ moments that are
_absolutely_ good--that one could not mend even if one were given the
power to try! I suppose that even those who, looking back over their
history, say, most distinctly and certainly, "It was a failure," can yet
lay the finger of memory on _some_ such gold minutes--it may be only
half a dozen, only four, only _two_--but still on some.

This is one of my gold moments, one of those misplaced ones
that have strayed out of heaven, where, perhaps, they are _all_
such--_perhaps_--one can't be _sure_, for what human imagination can
grasp the idea of even a _day_, wholly made of such minutes?

I have forgotten Mrs. Huntley--Mr. Musgrave. Every ill suspicion, every
stinging remembrance, is dead or fallen into a trance. All bad thoughts
have melted away from the earth. Only joyful love and absolute faith
remain, only the knowledge that Roger is mine, and I am his, and that we
are in each other's arms. I do not know how long we remain without
speaking. I do not imagine that souls in bliss ever think of looking at
the clock. He is the first to break silence. For the first time for
eight months I hear his voice again--the voice that for so many weeks
seemed to me no better than any other voice--whose tones I _now_ feel I
could pick out from those of any other living thing, did all creation
shout together.

"Let me look at my wife!" he says, taking my countenance in his tender
hands, as if it were made of old china, and would break if he let it
fall. "I feel as if I had never _had_ a wife before, as if it were quite
a new plaything."

I make no verbal answer. I am staring up with all my eyes into his face,
thinking, with a sort of wonder, how much goodlier, younger, statelier
it is than it has appeared to me in any of those dream-pictures, which
yet mostly flatter.

"My wife! my wife!" he says, speaking the words most softly, as if they
greatly pleased him, and replacing with carefullest fingers a stray and
arrant lock that has wandered from its fellows into my left eye. "What
has come to you? Had I forgotten what you were like? How pretty you are!
How well you look!"

"Do I?" say I, with a pleasant simper; then, with a sudden and
overwhelming recollection of the bilious gingery frock, and the tousled
hair, "No, nonsense!" I say, uneasily, "impossible! You are laughing at
me! Ah!"--(with a sigh of irrepressible regret and back-handed
pride)--"you should have seen me half an hour ago! I _did_ look nice
_then_, if you like."

"Why nicer than now?"--(with a puzzled smile that both plays about his
bearded lips and gayly shines in his steel-gray eyes).

"Oh, never mind! never mind!" reply I, in some confusion, "it is a long
story; it is of no consequence, but I _did_."

He does not press for an explanation, for which I am obliged to him.

"Nancy!" he says, with a sort of hesitating joy, a diffident triumph in
his voice, "do you know, I believe you have kept your promise! I
believe, I _really_ believe, that you are a little glad to see me!"

"Are _you_ glad to see _me_, is more to the purpose?" return I,
descending out of heaven with a pout, and returning to the small
jealousies and acerbities of earth, and to the recollection of that yet
unexplained alighting at Aninda's gate.

"_Am I?_"

He seems to think that no asseverations, no strong adjectives or
intensifying adverbs, no calling upon sun and moon and stars to bear
witness to his gladness, can increase the force of those two tiny words,
so he adds none.

"I wonder, then," say I, in a rather sneaky and shamefaced manner,
mumbling and looking down, "that you were not in a greater hurry to get
to me?"

"_In a greater hurry!_" he repeats, in an accent of acute surprise.
"Why, child, what are you talking about? Since we landed, I have neither
slept nor eaten. I drove straight across London, and have been in the
train ever since."

"But--between--this--and the--station?" suggest I, slowly, having taken
hold of one of the buttons of his coat; the very one that in former
difficulties I used always to resort to.

"You mean about my walking up?" he says readily, and without the
slightest trace of guilty consciousness, indeed with a distinct and open
look of pleasure; "but, my darling, how could I tell how long she would
keep me? poor little woman!" (beginning to laugh and to put back the
hair from his tanned forehead). "I am afraid I did not bless her when I
saw her standing at her gate! I had half a mind to ask her whether
another time would not do as well, but she looked so eager to hear about
her husband--you know I have been seeing him at St. Thomas--such a
wistful little face--and I knew that she could not keep me more than ten
minutes; and, altogether when I thought of her loneliness and my own
luck--"

He breaks off.

"Are you so sure she _is_ lonely?" I say, with an innocent air of asking
for information, and still working hard at the button; "are people
always lonely when their husbands are away?"

He looks at me strangely for a moment; then, "Of course she is lonely,
poor little thing!" he says, warmly; "how could she help it?"

A slight pause.

"_Most_ men," say I, jealously, "would not have thought it a hardship to
walk up and down between the laurustinus with Mrs. Zéphine, I can tell
you!"

"Would not they?" he answers, indifferently. "I dare say not! she always
_was_ a good little thing!"

"Excellent!" reply I, with a nasty dryness, "bland, passionate, and
deeply religious!"

Again he looks at me in surprise--a surprise which, after a moment's
reflection, melts and brightens into an expression of pleasure.

"Did you care so much about my coming that ten minutes seemed to make a
difference?" he asks, in an eager voice. "Is it possible that you were
_in a hurry_ for me?"

Why cannot I speak truth, and say yes? Why does an objectlessly lying
devil make its inopportune entry into me? Through some misplaced and
crooked false shame I answer, "Not at all! not at all! of course a few
minutes one way or the other could not make much difference; I was only
puzzled to know what had become of you?"

He looks a shade disappointed, and for a moment we are both silent. We
have sat down side by side on the sofa. Vick is standing on her hinder
legs, with her forepaws rested on Roger's knee. Her tail is wagging with
the strong and untiring regularity of a pendulum, and a smirk of welcome
and recognition is on her face. Roger's arm is round me, and we are
holding each other's hands, but we are no longer in heaven. I could not
tell you _why_, but we are not. Some stupid constraint--quite of
earth--has fallen upon me. Where are all those most tender words, those
profuse endearments with which I meant to have greeted him?

"And so it is actually true!" he says, with a long-drawn sigh of relief;
his eyes wandering round the room, and taking in all the familiar
objects; "there is no mistake about it! I am actually holding your real
live hand" (turning it gently about and softly considering the long
slight fingers and pink palm)--"in mine! Ah! my dear, how often, how
often I have held it so in my dreams! Have you ever" (speaking with a
sort of doubtfulness and uncertain hope)--"have you ever--no, I dare say
not--so held mine?"

The diffident passion in his voice for once destroys that vile
constraint, dissipates that idiotic sense of bashfulness.

"_Scores_ of times!" I answer, letting my head drop on his shoulder, and
not taking the trouble to raise it again.

"I never _used_ to think myself of a very nervous turn!" he says,
presently, with a smile. "Nancy, you will laugh at me, but I assure you
upon my honor that all the way home I have been in the most abject and
deadly fright: at every puff of wind I thought we were infallibly going
to the bottom: whenever the carriage rocked in the least to-day on the
way down, I made up my mind we were going to smash! Little woman, what
can a bit of a thing like you have done to me to make me seem so much
more valuable to myself than I have ever done these eight-and-forty
years?"

I think no answer to this so suitable and seemly as a dumb friction of
my left cheek against the rough cloth of the shoulder on which it has
reposed itself.

"Talk to me, Nancy!" he says, in a quiet half-whisper of happiness. "Let
me hear the sound of your voice! I am sick of my own; I have had a glut
of that all these weary eight months; tell me about them all! How are
they all? how are the boys?" (with a playful smile of recollection at
what used to be my _one_ subject, the one theme on which I was wont to
wax illimitably diffuse). But now, at the magic name no pleasant
garrulity overcomes me; only the remembrance of my worries; of all those
troubles that I mean now to transfer from my own to Roger's broad
shoulders, swoop down upon me.

I raise my head and speak with a clouded brow and a complaining tone.

"The Brat has gone back to Oxford," I say, gloomily; "Bobby has gone to
Hong-Kong, and Algy has gone to _the dogs_--or at least is going there
as hard as he can!"

"_To the dogs?_" (with an accent of surprise and concern); "what do you
mean? what has sent him there?"

"You had better ask Mrs. Zéphine," reply I, bitterly, thinking, with a
lively exasperation, of the changed and demoralized Algy I had last
seen--soured, headstrong, and unhinged.

"_Zéphine!_" (repeating the name with an accent of thorough
astonishment), "what on earth can _she_ have to say to it?"

"Ah, _what_?" reply I, with oracular spite; then, overcome with remorse
at the thought of the way in which I was embittering the first moments
of his return, I rebury my face in his shoulder.

"I will tell you about that to-morrow," I say; "to-day is a good day,
and we will talk only of good things and of good people."

He does not immediately answer. My remark seems to have buried him in
thought. Presently he shakes off his distraction and speaks again.

"And Barbara? how is she? _She_ has not" (beginning to laugh)--"_she_
has not gone to the dogs, I suppose!"

"No," say I, slowly, not thinking of what I am saying, but with my
thoughts wandering off to the greatest and sorest of my afflictions,
"not yet."

"And" (smiling) "your plan. See what a good memory I have--your plan of
marrying her to Musgrave, how does that work?"

"_My_ plan!" cry I, tremulously, while a sudden torrent of scarlet pours
all over my face and neck. "I do not know what you are talking about! I
never had any such plan! Phew!" (lifting up the arm that is round my
waist, hastily removing it, rising and going to the window), "how hot
this room grows of an afternoon!"



CHAPTER XXXV.


So the king enjoys his own again, and Roger is at home. Not yet--and now
it is the next morning--has his return become _real_ to me. Still there
is something phantom and visionary about it: still it seems to me open
to question whether, if I look away from him for a moment, he may not
melt and disappear into dream-land.

All through breakfast I am dodging and peeping from behind the urn to
assure myself of the continued presence and substantial reality of the
strong shoulders and bronze-colored face that so solidly and certainly
face me. As often as I catch his eye--and this is not seldom, for
perhaps he too has his misgivings about me--I smile, in a manner, half
ashamed, half sneaky, and yet most wholly satisfied.

The sun, who is not by any means _always_ so well-judging, often hiding
his face with both hands from a wedding, and hotly and gaudily flaming
down on a black funeral, is shining with a temperate February comeliness
in at our windows, on our garden borders; trying (and failing) to warm
up the passionless melancholy of the chilly snow-drop families, trying
(and succeeding) to add his quota to the joy that already fills and
occupies our two hearts.

"How fine it is!" I cry, flying with unmatronly agility to the window,
and playing a waltz on the pane. "That is right! I should have been so
angry if it had rained; let us come out at once--I want to hear your
opinion about the laurels; they want cutting badly, but I could not have
them touched while you were away, though Bobby's fingers--when he was
here--itched to be hacking at them. Come, I have got on my strong boots
on purpose!--_at once_."

"_At once?_" he repeats, a little doubtfully turning over the letters
that lie in a heap beside his plate. "Well, I do not know about
_that_--duty first, and pleasure afterward. Had not I better go to
Zéphine Huntley's _first_, and get it over?"

"To _Zéphine Huntley's_?" repeat I, my fingers suddenly breaking off in
the middle of their tune, as I turn quickly round to face him; the smile
disappearing from my face, and my jaw lengthening; "you do not mean to
say that you are going there _again_?"

"Yes, _again_!" he answers, laughing a little, and slightly mimicking my
tragic tone; "why not, Nancy?"

I make no answer. I turn away and look out; but I see a different
landscape. It looks to me as if I were regarding it through dark-blue
glass.

"I have got a whole sheaf of letters and papers from her husband for
her," pursues Roger, apparently calmly, and utterly unaware of my
discomfiture, "and I do not want to keep her out of them longer than I
can help."

Still I make no rejoinder. My fingers stray idly up and down the glass;
but it is no longer a giddy waltz that they are executing--if it is a
tune at all, it is some little dirge.

"What has happened to you, Nancy?" says Roger, presently, becoming aware
of my silence, rising and following me; "what are you doing--catching
flies?"

"No," reply I, with an acrid smartness, "not I! I leave that to Mrs.
Zéphine."

Once again he regards me with that look of unfeigned surprise, tinged
with a little pain which yesterday I detected on his face. When I look
at him, when my eyes rest on the brave and open honesty of his, my ugly,
nipping doubts disappear.

"Do not go," say I, standing on tiptoe, so that my hands may reach his
neck, and clasp it, speaking in my most beguiling half-whisper; "why
should you fetch and carry for her? let John or William take her
letters. Are you so sure" (with an irresistible sneer) "that she is in
such a hurry for them?--stay with me this _one first_ day!--_do,
please--Roger._"

It is the first time in all my history that I have succeeded in
delivering myself of his Christian name to his face--frequently as I
have fired it off in dialogues with myself, behind his back. It shoots
out now with the loud suddenness of a mismanaged soda-water cork.

"_Roger!_" he repeats, in an accent of keen pleasure, catching me to his
heart; "what! I am _Roger_, after all, am I? The 'general' has gone to
glory at last, has he?--thank God!"

"I will ring and tell John at once," say I, with subtile amiability,
disengaging myself from his arms, and walking quickly toward the bell.

"Stay!" he says, putting his hand on me in detention, before I have made
two steps; "you must not! it is no use! John will not do, or William
either: it is a matter of business. I have" (sighing) "to go through
many of these papers with her."

"_You?_"

"Yes, _I_; why is that so surprising?"

"What possible concern is it of _yours_?" ask I, throwing the reins on
the neck of my indignation, and urging that willing steed to a sharp
gallop, crimsoning as I speak, and raising my voice, as has ever been
our immemorial wont in home-broils. "For my part, I never saw any good
come of people putting their fingers into their neighbors' pies!"

"Not even if those neighbors are the oldest friends they have in the
world?" he says, gently, yet eying with some wonder--perhaps
apprehension, for odd things frighten men--the small scarlet scold who
stands swelling with ruffled feathers, and angry eyes, winking to keep
the tears out of them, before him.

"I thought _father_ was the oldest friend you had in the world!" say I,
with a jealous tartness; "you always _used_ to tell us so."

"_Some_ of my oldest friends, then," he answers, looking a little
amused, "since you will have me so exact."

"If Mrs. Huntley is the oldest friend you have in the world," say I,
acrimoniously, still sticking to his first and most offensive form of
expression, and _heavily_ accenting it, "I wonder that you never
happened to mention her existence before you went."

"So do I," he says, a little thoughtfully. "I am not much of a friend,
am I? but--" (looking at me with that sincere and hearty tenderness
which, as long as I am under its immediate influence, always disarms me)
"my head was full of other things; and people drop out of one's life so;
I had neither seen nor heard of her since--since she married."

("Since she was engaged to you," say I, mentally interlining this
statement, "and threw you over because you were not rich enough! why
cannot you be honest and say so?") but aloud I give utterance to nothing
but a shrewish and disbelieving "Hm!"

A pause. I do not know what Roger is thinking of, but I am following out
my own train of thought; the fruit of which is this observation, made
with an air of reflection:

"Mr. Huntley is a very rich man, I suppose?"

Roger laughs.

"_Rich!_ poor Huntley! that is the very last thing his worst enemy could
accuse him of! why, he was obliged to run the constable two years ago."

"But I suppose," say I, slowly, "that he was better off--_well_ off
once--when she married him, for instance?"

"How did you know that?" he asks, a little surprised. "Who told you?
Yes; at that time he was looked upon as quite a _parti_."

"Better off than _you_, I suppose?" say I, still speaking slowly, and
reading the carpet. "I mean than you were then?"

Again he laughs.

"He might easily have been that? I had nothing but my younger son's
portion and my pay; why, Nancy, I had an idea that I had told you that
before."

"I dare say you did," reply I, readily, "but I like to hear it again."

Yet another pause.

"He is badly off _now_, then," say I, presently, with a faintly
triumphant accent.

"About as badly off as it is possible to be," answers Roger, very
gravely; "that is my business with his wife; she and I are trying to
make an arrangement with his creditors, to enable him to come home."

"To come home!" echo I, raising my eyebrows in an artless astonishment;
"but if he _does_ come home, what will become of Algy and the _rest of
them_?"

"The rest of _whom_?" asks Roger, but there is such a severity in his
eye as he puts the question that it is not too much to say I _dare not_
explain. The one thing hated of Roger's soul--the one thing for which he
has no tolerance, and on which he brings to bear all the weight of his
righteous wrath, is _scandal_. Not even me will he allow to nibble at a
neighbor's fame.

"Is she much changed since you saw her last?" pursue I presently, with
infantile guilelessness; "was her hair _red_ then? some people say it
_used_ to be black!"

I raise my eyes to his face as I put this gentle query, in order the
better to trace its effect; but the concern that I see in his
countenance is so very much greater than any that I had intended to have
summoned that I have no sooner hurled my dart than I repent me of having
done it.

"Nancy!" he says, putting one hand under my chin, and stroking my hair
with the other--"am I going to have a _backbiting_ wife? Child! child!
there was neither hatred nor malice in the little girl I found sitting
at the top of the wall."

I do not answer.

"Nancy," he says again, in a voice of most thorough earnestness, "I have
a favor to ask of you--I know when I put it _that way_, that you will
not say 'No;' if you do not mind, I had rather you did not abuse Zéphine
Huntley!--for the matter of that, I had rather you did not abuse any
one--it does not pay, and there is no great fun in it; but Zéphine
_specially_ not."

"Why _specially_?" cry I, breathing short and speaking again with a
quick, raised voice. "I know that it is a bad plan abusing people, you
need not tell me _that_, I know it as well as you do, and I never did it
at home, before I married, _never_!--none of them ever accused me of
it--I was always quite good-natured about people, _quite_; but why _she
specially_? why is she to be more sacred than any one else?"

"It is an old story," he answers, passing his hand across his forehead
with what looks to me like a rather weary gesture and sighing, "I do not
know why I did not tell you before--did not I ever?--no, by-the-by, I
remember I never did; well, I will tell you now, and then you will
understand!"

"Do not!" cry I, passionately, putting my fingers in my ears, and
growing scarlet, while the tears rush in mad haste to my eyes, for I
imagine that I well know what is coming. "I do not want to hear! I had
rather not! I _hate_ old stories." He looks at me in silent dismay. "I
mean," say I, seeing that some explanation is needed, "that I know all
about it!--I have heard it already! I have been told it."

"Been told it? By whom?"

"Never mind by whom!" reply I, removing my fingers from my ears, and
covering with both hot hands my hotter face. "I _have_ been told it! I
_have_ heard it, and, what is more, I _will not hear it again_!"



CHAPTER XXXVI.


When I rose this morning, I did not think that I should have cried
before night; indeed, nothing would have seemed to me so unlikely. Cry!
on the day of Roger's first back-coming! absurd! And yet now the morning
is still quite young, and I have wept abundantly.

I am always rather good at crying. Tears with me do not argue any very
profound depth of affliction. My tears have always been somewhat near my
eyes, a fact well known to the boys, whom my pearly drops always leave
as stolid and unfeeling as they found them. But the case is different
with Roger. Either he is ignorant, or he has forgotten the facility with
which I weep, and his distress is proportioned to his ignorance.

My eyes are dried again now, though they and my nose still keep a brave
after-glow; and Roger and I are at one again. But, for my part, on this
first day, I think it would have been pleasanter if we had never been at
two. However, smiling peace is now again restored to us, and no one, to
look at us, as we sit in my boudoir after breakfast, would think that
we, or perhaps I should say I, had been so lately employed in chasing
her away. As little would any one, looking at the blandness of Vick's
profile, as she slumbers on the window-seat in the sun, conjecture of
her master-passion for the calves of strangers' legs.

"So you see that I _must_ go, Nancy," says Roger, with a rather wistful
appeal to my reason, of whose supremacy he is not, perhaps, quite so
confident as he was when he got up this morning. "You understand, don't
you, dear?"

I nod.

"Yes, I understand."

I still speak in a subdued and snuffly voice, but the wrath has gone out
of me.

"Well, you--would you mind," he says, speaking rather hesitatingly, as
not quite sure of the reception that his proposition may meet
with--"would you mind coming with me as far as Zéphine's?"

"Do you mean come all the way, and go in with you, and stay while you
are there?" cry I, with great animation, as a picture of the strict
supervision which, by this course of conduct, I shall be enabled to
exercise over Mrs. Zéphine's oscillades, poses, and little verbal
tendernesses, flashes before my mind's eye.

Roger looks down.

"I do not know about _that_," he says, slowly. "Perhaps she would not
care to go into her husband's liabilities before a--a str--before a
third person!"

"Two is company and three is none, in fact," say I, with a slight
relapse into the disdainful and snorting mood.

He looks distressed, but attempts no argument or explanation.

"How far did you mean me to come, then?" say I, half ashamed of my
humors, but still with an after-thought of pettishness in my voice.
"Escort you to the hall-door, I suppose, and kick my heels among the
laurestines until such time as all Mr. Huntley's bills are paid?"

He turns away.

"It is of no consequence," he says, with a slight shade of impatience,
and a stronger shade of disappointment in his voice. "I see that you do
not wish it, but what I meant was, that you might have walked with me as
far as the gate, so that on this first day we might lose as little of
each other's society as possible."

"And so I will!" cry I, impulsively, with a rush of tardy repentance.
"I--I--_meant_ to come all along. I was only--only--_joking_!"

But to both of us it seems but a sorry jest. We set forth, and walk side
by side through the park. Both of us are rather silent. Yes, though we
have eight months' arrears of talk to make up, though it seemed to me
before he came that in a whole long life there would scarce be time for
all the things I had to say to him, yet, now that we are reunited, we
are stalking dumbly along through the withered white grass, pallid from
the winter storms. Certainly, we neither of us could say any thing so
well worth hearing as what the lark, in his most loud and godly joy, is
telling us from on high. Perhaps it is the knowledge of this that ties
our tongues.

The sun shines on our heads. He has not much power yet, but great
good-will. And the air is almost as gentle as June. We have left our own
domain behind us, and have reached Mrs. Huntley's white gate. Through
the bars I see the sheltered laurestines all ablow.

"May I wait for you here?" say I, with diffident urgency, reflecting
hopefully, as I make the suggestion, on the wholesome effect, on the
length of the interview that the knowledge of my being, flattening my
nose against the bars of the gate all through it, must necessarily have.

Again he looks down, as if unwilling to meet my appealing eyes.

"I think not, Nancy," he answers, reluctantly. "You see, I cannot
possibly tell how long I might be obliged to keep you waiting."

"I do not mind waiting at all," persist I, eagerly. "I am not very
impatient; I shall not expect you to be very quick, and" (going on very
fast, to hinder him from the second refusal which I see hovering on his
lips), "and it is not at all cold; just now you yourself said that you
had felt many a chillier May-day, and I am so warmly wrapped up, pet!"
(taking hold of one of his fingers, and making it softly travel up and
down the fur of my thick coat).

He shakes his head, with a gesture unwilling, yet decided.

"No, Nancy, it could not be! I had rather that you would go home."

"I have no doubt you would!" say I, turning sharply and huffily away;
then, with a sudden recollecting and repenting myself, "May I come back,
then?" I say, meekly. "Come and fetch you, I mean, after a time--any
long time that you like!"

"_Will_ you?" he cries, with animation, the look of unwilling refusal
vanishing from his face. "Would you _like_? would not it be too much
trouble?"

"Not at all! not at all!" reply I, affably. "How soon, then?" (taking
out my watch); "in half an hour?"

Again his face falls a little.

"I think it must be longer than _that_, Nancy."

"An hour, then?" say I, lifting a lengthened countenance wistfully to
his; "people may do a good deal in an hour, may not they?"

"Had not we better be on the safe side, and say an hour and a half?"
suggests he, but somewhat apprehensively--or I imagine so. "I shall be
sure not to keep you a minute then--I do not relish the notion of my
wife's tramping up and down this muddy road all by herself."

"And I do not relish the notion of my husband--" return I, beginning to
speak very fast, and then suddenly breaking off--"Well, good-by!"

"Say, good-by, Roger," cries he, catching my hand in detention, as I
turn away. "Nancy, if you knew how fond I have grown of my own name! In
despite of Tichborne, I think it _lovely_."

I laugh.

"Good-by, _Roger_!"

He has opened the gate, and turned in. I watch him, as he walks with
long, quick steps, up the little, trim swept drive. As I follow him with
my eyes, a devil enters into me. I cry--

"Roger!"

He turns at once.

"Ask her to show you Algy's bracelet," I say, with an awkward laugh; and
then, thoroughly afraid of the effect of my bomb-shell, and not daring
to see what sort it is, I turn and run quickly away.

The end of the hour and a half finds me punctually peering through the
bars again. Well, I am first at the rendezvous. This, perhaps, is not
very surprising, as I have not given him one moment's law. For the first
five minutes, I am very fairly happy and content. The lark is still
fluttering in strong rapture up in the heights of the sky; and for these
five minutes I listen to him, soothed and hallowed. But, after they are
past, it is different. God's bird may be silent, as far as I am
concerned: not a verse more of his clear psalm do I hear. An uneasy
devil of jealousy has entered into me, and stopped my ears. I take hold
of the bars of the gate, and peer through, as far as my head will go:
then I open it, and, stealing on tiptoe up the drive a little way, to
the first corner, look warily round it. Not a sign of him! Not a sound!
Not even a whisper of air to rustle the glistening laurel-leaves, or
stir the flat laurestine-sprays.

I return to the road, and inculcate patience on myself. Why may not I
take a lesson in easy-mindedness from Vick? Was not it Hartley Coleridge
who suggested that perhaps dogs have a language of smell; and that what
to us is a noisome smell, is to them a beautiful poem? If so, Vick is
searching for lyrics and epics in the ditch. I stroll along the wintry
brown hedge-row, and begin to pick Roger a little, scant nosegay. He
shall see how patient I am! how _un_sulky! with what sunny mildness I
can wait his leisure! I have already two or three snow-drops in my
breast, that I picked as I came through the garden. To these I add a
drooping hazel-tassel or two, and a little bit of honeysuckle-leaf, just
breaking greenly into life. This is all I can find--all the scentless
first-fruits of the baby year.

It is ten minutes past the due time now. Again I listen intently, as I
listened yesterday, for his coming. There is a sound now; but, alas! not
the right one! It is the rumbling of an approaching carriage. A
pony-chaise bowls past. The occupants are acquaintances of mine, and we
bow and smile to each other. As long as they are in sight, I affect to
be diligently botanizing in the hedge. When they have disappeared, I sit
down on a heap of stones, and take out my watch for the hundredth time;
a whole quarter of an hour!

"He does not relish the notion of his wife's tramping up and down this
muddy road by herself, does not he?" say I, speaking out loud, and
gnashing my teeth.

Then I hurl my little posy away from me into the mud, as far as it will
go. What has become of my patience? my sunny mildness? Then, as the
recollection of the velvet-gown and mob-cap episode recurs to me, I
repent me, and, crossing the road, pick up again my harmless catkins and
snow-drops, and rearrange them. I have hardly finished wiping the mire
from the tender, lilac-veined snow-drop petals, before I hear his voice
in the distance, in conversation with some one. Clearly, Delilah is
coming to see the last of him! I expect that she mostly escorts them to
the gate. In my present frame of mind, it would be physically impossible
for me to salute her with the bland civility which society enjoins on
people of our stage of civilization. I therefore remain sitting on my
heap.

Presently, Roger emerges alone. He does not see me at first, but looks
up the road, and down the road, in search of me. When, at last, he
perceives me, no smile--(as has ever hitherto been his wont)--kindles
his eyes and lips. With unstirred gravity, he approaches me.

"Here you are _at last_!" cry I, scampering to meet him, but with a
stress, from which human nature is unable to refrain, on the last two
words.

"At last?" he repeats in a tone of surprise; "am I over
time?--Yes"--(looking at his watch)--"so I am! I had no idea of it; I
hope you have not been long waiting."

"_I_ was here to the minute," reply I, curtly; and again my tongue
declines to refrain from accentuation.

"I beg your pardon!" he says, still speaking with unnecessary
seriousness, as it seems to me, "I really had no idea of it."

"I dare say not," say I, with a little wintry grin; "I never heard that
they had a clock in paradise."

"_In paradise!_" he repeats, looking at me strangely with his keen,
clear eyes, that seem to me to have less of a caress in them than they
ever had before on meeting mine. "What has _paradise_ to say to it? Do
you imagine that I have been in _paradise_ since I left you here?"

"I do not know, I am sure!" reply I, rather confused, and childishly
stirring the stiff red mud with the end of my boot, "I believe _they_
mostly do; Algy does--" then afraid of drawing down the vial of his
wrath on me a second time for my scandal-mongering propensities, I go on
quickly; "Were you talking to yourself as you came down the drive? I
heard your voice as if in conversation. I sometimes talk to myself when
I am by myself, quite loud."

"Do you? I do not think I do; at least I am not aware of it; I was
talking to Zéphine."

"Why did not she come to the gate, then?" inquire I, tartly; "did she
know I was there? did not she want to see me?"

"I do not know; I did not ask her."

I look up at him in strong surprise. We are in the park now--our own
unpeopled, silent park, where none but the deer can see us; and yet he
has not offered me the smallest caress; not once has he called me
"Nancy;" he, to whom hitherto my homely name has appeared so sweet. It
is only an hour and three-quarters since I parted from him, and yet in
that short space an indisputable shade--a change that exits not only in
my imagination, but one that no most careless, superficial eye could
avoid seeing--has come over him. Face, manner, even gait, are all
altered, I think of Algy--Algy as he used to be, our jovial pet and
playfellow, Algy as he now is, soured, sulky, unloving, his very beauty
dimmed by discontent and passion. Is this the beginning of a like change
in Roger?

A spasm of jealous agony, of angry despair, contracts my heart as I
think this.

"Well, are all Mr. Huntley's debts paid?" I ask, trying to speak in a
tone of sprightly ease; "is there a good hope of his coming back soon?"

"Not yet a while; in time, perhaps, he may."

Still there is not a vestige of a smile on his face. He does not look at
me as he speaks; his eyes are on the long, dead knots of the colorless
grass at his feet; in his expression despondency and preoccupation
strive for supremacy.

"Have you made your head ache?" I say, gently stealing my hand into his;
"there is nothing that addles the brains like muddling over accounts, is
there?"

_Am_ I awake? _Can_ I believe it? He has dropped my hand, as if he
disliked the touch of it.

"No, thanks, no. I have no headache," he answers, hastily.

Another little silence. We are marching quickly along, as if our great
object were to get our _tête-à-tête_ over. As we came, we dawdled, stood
still to listen to the lark, to look at the wool-soft cloud-heaps piled
in the west--on any trivial excuse indeed; but now all these things are
changed.

"Did you talk of business _all_ the time?" I ask, by-and-by, with timid
curiosity.

It is _not_ my fancy; he does plainly hesitate.

"Not quite _all_," he answers, in a low voice, and still looking away
from me.

"About _what_, then?" I persist, in a voice through whose counterfeit
playfulness I myself too plainly hear the unconquerable tremulousness;
"may not I hear?--or is it a secret?"

He does not answer; it seems to me that he is considering what response
to make.

"Perhaps," say I, still with a poor assumption of lightness and gayety,
"perhaps you were talking of--of old times."

He laughs a little, but _whose_ laugh has he borrowed? in that dry,
harsh tone there is nothing of my Roger's mellow mirth!

"Not we; old times must take care of themselves; one has enough to do
with the new ones, I find."

"Did she--did she say any thing to you about--about _Algy_,
then?"--hesitatingly.

"We did not mention his name."

There is something so abrupt and trenchant in his tone that I have not
the spirit to pursue my inquiries any further. In deep astonishment and
still deeper mortification, I pursue my way in silence.

Suddenly Roger comes to a stand-still.

"Nancy!" he says, in a voice that is more like his own, stopping and
laying his hands on my shoulders; while in his eyes is something of his
old kindness; yet not quite the old kindness either; there is more of
unwilling, rueful yearning in them than there ever was in that--"Nancy,
how old are you?--nineteen, is it not?"

"Very nearly twenty," reply I, cheerfully, for he has called me "Nancy,"
and I hail it as a sign of returning fine weather; "we may call it
twenty; will not it be a comfort when I am well out of my teens?"

"And I am forty-eight," he says, as if speaking more to himself than to
me, and sighing heavily; "it is a _monstrous_, an _unnatural_
disparity!"

"It is not nearly so bad as if it were _the other way_," reply I,
laughing gayly; "I forty-eight, and _you_ twenty, is it?"

"My child! my child!"--speaking with an accent of, to me, unaccountable
suffering--"what possessed me to _marry_ you? why did not I _adopt_ you
instead? It would have been a hundred times more seemly!"

"It is a little late to think of that now, is not it?" I say, with an
uncomfortable smile; then I go on, with an uneasy laugh, "that was the
very idea that occurred to us the first night you arrived; at least, it
never struck us as possible that you would take any notice of _me_, but
we all said what a good thing it would be for the family if you would
adopt Barbara or the Brat."

"Did you?" (very quickly, in a tone of keen pain); "it struck you all in
the same light then?"

"But that was before we had seen you," I answer, hastily, repenting my
confession as soon as I see its effects. "When we _had_, we soon changed
our tune."

"_If_ I _had_ adopted you," he pursues, still looking at me with the
same painful and intent wistfulness, "if I had been your father, you
would have been fond of me, would not you? Not _afraid_ of me--not
afraid to tell me any thing that most nearly concerned you--you would
perhaps"--(with a difficult smile)--"you would perhaps have made me your
_confidant_, would you, Nancy?"

I look up at him in utter bewilderment.

"What are you talking about? Why do I want a confidant? What have I to
confide? What have I to tell any one?"

Our eyes are resting on each other, and, as I speak, I feel his go with
clean and piercing search right through mine into my soul. In a moment I
think of Musgrave, and the untold black tale now forever in my thought
attached to him, and, as I so think, the hot flush of agonized shame
that the recollection of him never fails to call to my face, invades
cheeks, brow, and throat. To hide it, I drop my head on Roger's breast.
Shall I tell him _now_, this instant? Is it possible that he has already
some faint and shadowy suspicion of the truth--some vague conjecture
concerning it, as something in his manner seems to say? But no! it is
absolutely impossible! Who, with the best will in the world, could have
told him? Is not the tale safely buried in the deep grave of Musgrave's
and my two hearts?

I raise my head, and twice essay to speak. Twice I stop, choked. How can
I put into words the insult I have received? How can I reveal to him the
slack levity, the careless looseness, with which I have kept the honor
confided to me?

As my eyes stray helplessly round in a vain search for advice or help
from the infinite unfeeling apathy of Nature, I catch sight of the
distant chimneys of the abbey! How near it is! After all, why should I
sow dissension between such close neighbors? why make an irreparable
breach between two families, hitherto united by the kindly ties of
mutual friendship and good-will?

Frank is young, very young; he has been--so Roger himself told me--very
ill brought up. Perhaps he has already repented, who knows? I try to
persuade myself that these are the reasons--and sufficient reasons--of
my silence, and I take my resolution afresh. I will be dumb. The flush
slowly dies out of my face, and, when I think it is almost gone, I
venture to look again at Roger. I think that his eyes have never left
me. They seem to be expecting me to speak, but, as I still remain
silent, he turns at length away, and also gently removes his hands from
my shoulders. We stand apart.

"Well, Nancy," he says, sighing again, as if from the bottom of his
soul, "my poor child, it is no use talking about it. I can never be your
father now."

"And a very good thing too!" rejoin I, with a dogged stoutness. "I do
not see what I want with _two_ fathers; I have always found _one_ amply
enough--quite as much as I could manage, in fact."

He seems hardly to be listening to me. He has dropped his eyes on the
ground, and is speaking more to himself than to me.

"Husband and wife we are!" he says, with a slow depression of tone,
"and, as long as God's and man's laws stand, husband and wife we must
remain!"

"You are not very polite," I cry, with an indignant lump rising in my
throat; "you speak as if you were _sorry_ for it--_are_ you?"

He lifts his eyes again, and again their keen search investigates the
depths of my soul; but no human eye can rightly read the secrets of any
other human spirit; they find what they expect to find, not what is
there. Clear and cuttingly keen as they are, Roger's eyes do not read my
soul aright.

"Are _you_, Nancy?"

"If _you_ are, I am," I reply, with a half-smothered sob.

He makes no rejoinder, and we begin again to walk along homeward, but
slowly this time.

"We have made a mistake, perhaps," he says, presently, still speaking
with the same slow and ruminating sadness in his tone. "The inscrutable
God alone knows why He permits his creatures to mar all their seventy
years by one short false step--yes--a _mistake_!"

(Ah me! ah me! I always mistrusted those laurestines! They sent me back
my brother churlish and embittered, but oh! that in my steadfast Roger
they should have worked such a sudden deadly change!)

"Is it more a mistake," I cry, bursting out into irrepressible anger,
"than it was two hours ago, when I left you at that gate? You did not
seem to think it a mistake _then_--at least you hid it very well, if you
did"--(then going on quickly, seeing that he is about to interrupt
me)--"have you been _comparing notes_, pray? Has _she_ found it a
mistake, too?"

"Yes, _that_ she has! Poor soul! God help her!" he answers,
compassionately.

Something in the pity of his tone jars frightfully on my strung nerves.

"If God has to help all the poor souls who have made mistakes, He will
have his hands full!" I retort, bitterly.

Another silence. We are drawing near the pleasure-grounds--the great
rhododendron belt that shelters the shrubbery from the east wind.

"Nancy," says Roger, again stopping, and facing me too. This time he
does not put his hands on my shoulders; the melancholy is still in his
eyes, but there is no longer any harshness. They repossess their natural
kindly benignity. "Though it is perhaps impossible that there should be
between us that passionate love that there might be between people that
are nearer each other in age--more fitly mated--yet there is no reason
why we should not _like_ each other very heartily, is there, dear? why
there should not be between us absolute confidence, perfect
frankness--that is the great thing, is not it?"

He is looking with such intense wistfulness at me, that I turn away. Why
should not there be passionate love between us? Who is there but himself
to hinder it? So I make no answer.

"I dare say," he says, taking my right hand, and holding it with a cool
and kindly clasp, "that you think it difficult--next door to
impossible--for two people, one at the outset, one almost on the
confines of life, to enter very understandingly into each other's
interests! No doubt the thought that I--being so much ahead of you in
years"--(sighing again heavily)--"cannot see with your eyes, or look at
things from your stand-point--would make it harder for you to come to me
in your troubles; but indeed, dear, if you believe me, I will _try_,
and, as we are to spend our lives together, I think it would be better,
would not it?"

He speaks with a deprecating humility, an almost imploring gentleness,
but I am so thoroughly upset by the astounding change that has come over
the tone of his talk--by the clouds that have suddenly darkened the
morning sunshine of my horizon--that I cannot answer him in the same
tone.

"Perhaps we shall not have to spend all our lives together!" I say,
with a harsh laugh. "Cheer up! One of us may _die_! who knows?"

After that we neither of us say any thing till we reach the house.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

    "Yea, by God's rood, I trusted you too well!"


In the hall we part without a word, and I, spiritlessly, mount the
staircase alone. How I flew down it this morning, three steps at a time,
and had some ado to hinder myself from sliding down the banisters, as we
have all often, with dangerous joy, done at home! Now I crawl up, like
some sickly old person. When I reach my bedroom, I throw myself into the
first chair, and lie in it--

      "... quiet as any water-sodden log
    Stayed in the wandering warble of a brook."

I do not attempt to take off my hat and jacket. Of what use is it to
take them off more than to leave them on, or to leave them on more than
to take them off? Of what use is _any thing_, pray? What a weary round
life is! what a silly circle of unfortunate repetitions! eating only to
be hungry again; waking only to sleep; sleeping only to wake!

At first I am too inert even to think, even to lift my hand to protect
my cheek from Vick's muddy paws, who, annoyed at my evident inattention
to her presence, is sitting on my lap, making little impatient
_clawings_ at my defenseless countenance. But gradually on the river of
recollection all the incidents of the morning flow through my mind. In
more startling relief than ever, the astounding change in Roger, wrought
by those ill-starred two hours, stands out. Is it possible that I may
have been attributing it to a wrong cause? Doubtless, the first
interview with the woman he had loved, and who had thrown him over
(by-the-by, how forgiving men are!)--yes, the first, probably, since
they had stood in the relation of betrothed people to each other--must
have been full of pain. Doubtless, the contrast between the crude
gawkiness of the raw girl he has drifted into marrying--for I suppose it
was more accident than any thing else--with the mature and subtile
grace, the fine and low-voiced sweetness of the woman whom his whole
heart and soul and taste chose and approved, must have struck him with
keen force. I expected _that_: it would not have taken me by surprise.
If he had emerged from among the laurestines, depressed, and vainly
struggling for a factitious cheerfulness, I think I could have
understood it. I think I could have borne with it, could have tried
meekly to steal back into his heart again, to win him back, in despite
of ignorance, gawkiness, and all other my drawbacks, by force of sheer
love.

But the change was surely too abrupt to be accounted for on this
hypothesis. Would _Roger_, my pattern of courtesy--Roger, who shrinks
from hurting the meanest beggar's feelings--would he, in such plain
terms, have deplored and wished undone our marriage, if it were only
suffering to _himself_ that it had entailed? Has his unselfish chivalry
gone the way of Algy's brotherly love? Impossible! the more I think of
it, the more unlikely it seems--the more certain it appears to me that I
must look elsewhere for the cause of the alteration that has so heavily
darkened my day.

I have risen, and am walking quickly up and down. I have shaken off my
stolid apathy, or, rather, it has fallen off of itself. Can she have
told him any ill tales of me? any thing to my disadvantage? Instantly
the thought of Musgrave--the black and heavy thought that is never far
from the portals of my mind--darts across me, and, at the same instant,
like a flash of lightning, the recollection of my meeting her on the
fatal evening, just as (with tear-stained, swollen face) I had parted
from Frank--of the alert and lively interest in her eyes, as she bowed
and smiled to me, flames with sudden illumination into my soul. Still I
can hardly credit it. It would, no doubt, be pleasant to her to sow
dissension between us, but would even _she_ dare to carry ill tales of a
wife to a husband? And even supposing that she had, would he attach so
much importance to my being seen with wet cheeks? I, who cry so
easily--I, who wept myself nearly blind when Jacky caught his leg in the
snare? If he thinks so much of that part of the tale, _what would he
think of the rest_?

As I make this reflection I shudder, and again congratulate myself on my
silence. For beyond our parting, and my tears, it is _impossible_ that
she can have told him aught.

Men are not prone to publish their own discomfitures; even _I_ know that
much. I exonerate Mr. Musgrave from all share in making it known--and
have the mossed tree-trunks lips? or the loud brook an articulate
tongue? Thank God! thank God! _no!_ Nature never blabs. With infinite
composure, with a most calm smile she _listens_, but she never tells
again.

A little reassured by this thought, I resolve to remain in doubt no
longer than I can help, but to ascertain, if necessary, by direct
inquiry, whether my suspicions are correct. This determination is no
sooner come to than it puts fresh life and energy into my limbs. I take
off my hat and jacket, smooth my hair, and prepare with some alacrity
for luncheon.

It is evening, however, before I have an opportunity of putting my
resolve in practice. At luncheon, there are the servants; all afternoon,
Roger is closeted with his agent: before we set off this morning, he
never mentioned the agent: he never figured at all in our day's plan--(I
imagined that he was to be kept till to-morrow); and at dinner there are
the servants again. Thank God, they are gone now! We are alone, Roger
and I. We are sitting in my boudoir, as in my day-dreams, before his
return, I had pictured us; but, alas! where is caressing proximity which
figured in all my visions? where is the stool on which I was to sit at
his feet, with head confidently leaned on his arm? As it happens, Vick
is sitting on the stool, and we occupy two arm-chairs, at civil distance
from each other, much as if we had been married sixty years, and had
hated each other for fifty-nine of them. I am idly fiddle-faddling with
a piece of work, and Roger--is it possible?--is stretching out his hand
toward a book.

"You do not mean to say that you are going to _read_?" I say, in a tone
of sharp vexation.

He lays it down again.

"If you had rather talk, I will not."

"I am afraid," say I, with a sour laugh, "that you have not kept much
conversation _for home use_! I suppose you exhausted it all, this
morning, at Laurel Cottage!"

He passes his hand slowly across his forehead.

"Perhaps!--I do not think I am in a very talking vein."

"By-the-by," say I, my heart beating thick, and with a hurry and tremor
in my voice, as I approach the desired yet dreaded theme, "you have
never told me what it was, besides Mr. Huntley's debts, that you talked
of this morning!--you owned that you did not talk of business _quite_
all the time!"

"Did I?"

He has forgotten his book now; across the flame of the candles, he is
looking full and steadily at me.

"When I asked you, you said it was not about old times?--of
course--" (laughing acridly)--"I can imagine your becoming illimitably
diffuse about _them_, but you told me, that, 'No,' you did not mention
them."

"I told truth."

"You also said," continue I, with my voice still trembling, and my
pulses throbbing, "that it was not _Algy_ that you were discussing!--if
_I_ had been in your place, I could, perhaps, have found a good deal to
say about _him_; but you told me that you never mentioned him."

"We did not."

"Then what _did_ you talk about?" I ask, in strong excitement; "it must
have been a very odd theme that you find such difficulty in repeating."

Still he is looking, with searching gravity, full in my face.

"Do you _really_ wish to know?"

I cannot meet his eyes: something in me makes me quail before them. I
turn mine away, but answer, stoutly:

"Yes, I _do_ wish. Why should I have asked, if I did not?"

Still he says nothing: still I feel, though I am not looking at him,
that his eyes are upon me.

"Was it--" say I, unable any longer to bear that dumb gaze, and
preferring to take the bull by the horns, and rush on my fate--"was it
any thing about _me_? has she been telling you any tales of--of--_me_?"

No answer! No sound but the clock, and Vick's heavy breathing, as she
peacefully snores on the footstool. I _cannot_ bear the suspense. Again
I lift my eyes, and look at him. Yes, I am right! the intense
anxiety--the overpowering emotion on his face tell me that I have
touched the right string.

"Are there--are there--are you aware that there are any tales that she
_could_ tell of you?"

Again I laugh harshly.

"Ha! ha! if we came to mutual anecdotes, I am not quite sure that I
might not have the best of it!"

"That is not the question," he replies, in a voice so exceedingly stern,
so absolutely different from any thing I have ever hitherto contemplated
as possible in my gentle, genial Roger, that again, to the depths of my
soul, I quail; how could I ever, in wildest dreams, have thought I
should dare to tell him?--"it is nothing to me what tales _you_ can tell
of _her_!--_she_ is not my wife!--what I wish to know--what I _will_
know, is, whether there is any thing that she _could_ say of you!"

For a moment, I do not answer. I cannot. A coward fear is grasping my
heart with its clammy hands. Then--

"_Could!_" say I, shrugging my shoulders, and feebly trying to laugh
derisively; "of course she could! it would be difficult to set a limit
to the powers of a lady of her imagination!"

"What do you mean?" he cries, quickly, and with what sounds like a sort
of hope in his voice; "have you any reason--any grounds for thinking her
inventive?"

I do not answer directly.

"It is true, then," I cry, with flashing eyes, and in a voice of great
and indignant anguish. "I have not been mistaken! I was right! Is it
possible that _you_, who, only this morning, warned me with such
severity against backbiting, have been calmly listening to scandalous
tales about me from a stranger?"

He does not interrupt me: he is listening eagerly, and that sort of hope
is still in his face.

"I _knew_ it would come, sooner or later," I continue, speaking
excitedly, and with intense bitterness, "sooner or later, I knew that it
would be a case of Algy over again! but I did not--did not think that it
would have been quite so soon! Great Heaven!" (smiting my hands sharply
together, and looking upward), "I _have_ fallen low! to think that I
should come to be discussed by _you_ with _her_!"

"I have _not_ discussed you with her," he answers, very solemnly, and
still looking at me with that profound and greedy eagerness in his eyes;
"with _no_ living soul would I discuss my wife--I should have hardly
thought I need tell you that! What I heard, I heard by accident. She--as I
believe, in all innocence of heart--referred to--the--the--circumstance,
taking it for granted that I knew it--that _you_ had told me of it, and
I--_I_--" (raising his clinched right hand to emphasize his speech)--"I
take God to witness, I had no more idea to what she was alluding--as soon
as I understood--she must have thought me very dull--" (laughing
hoarsely)--"for it was a long time before I took it in--but as soon as I
understood to what manner of anecdote it was that she was referring--then,
_at once_, I bade her be silent!--not even with _her_, would I talk over
my wife!"

He stops. He has risen from his chair, and is now standing before me.
His breath comes quick and panting; and his face is not far from being
as white as mine.

"But what I have learned," he continues presently, in a low voice, that,
by a great effort, he succeeds in making calm and steady, "I cannot
again unlearn! I would not if I could!--I have no desire to live in a
fool's paradise! I tried hard this morning--God knows what constraint I
had to put upon myself--to induce you to tell me of your own accord--to
_volunteer_ it--but you would not--you were _resolutely_ silent. Why
were you? Why were you?" (breaking off with an uncontrollable emotion).
"I should not have been hard upon you--I should have made allowances.
God knows we all need it!"

I sit listening in a stony silence: every bit of me seems turned into
cold rock.

"But _now_," he says, regathering his composure, and speaking with a
resolute, stern quiet; "I have no other resource--you have left me
none--but to come to you, and ask point-blank, is this true, or is it
false?"

For a moment, my throat seems absolutely stopped up, choked; there seems
no passage for my voice, through its dry, parched gates. Then at length
I speak faintly: "Is _what_ true? is what false? I suppose you will not
expect me to deny it, before I know what it is?"

He does not at once answer. He takes a turn once or twice up and down
the silent room, in strong endeavor to overcome and keep down his
agitation, then he returns and speaks; with a face paler, indeed, than I
could have imagined any thing so bronzed could be; graver, more austere
than I ever thought I should see it, but still without bluster or
hectoring violence.

"Is it true, then?" he says, speaking in a very low key. "Great God!
that I should have to put such a question to my wife; that one evening,
about a week ago, on the very day, indeed, that the news of my intended
return arrived, you were seen parting with--with--_Musgrave_" (he seems
to have an intense difficulty in pronouncing the name) "at or after
nightfall, on the edge of Brindley Wood, _he_ in a state of the most
evident and extreme agitation, and _you_ in floods of tears!--is it
true, or is it false?--for God's sake, speak quickly!"

But I cannot comply with his request. I am _gasping_. His eyes are upon
me, and, at every second's delay, they gather additional sternness. Oh,
how awful they are in their just wrath! When was father, in his worst
and most thunderous storms, half so dreadful? half so awe-inspiring?

"What sort of an interview could it have been to which there was such a
close?" he says, as if making the reflection more to himself than to me;
"speak! is it true?"

I can no longer defer my answer. One thing or another I must say: both
eyes and lips imperatively demand it. Twice, nay _thrice_ I
struggle--struggle mightily to speak, and speak well and truly, and
twice, nay, three times, that base fear strangles my words. Then, at
length--O friends! do not be any harder upon me than you can help, for
indeed, _indeed_ I have paid sorely for it, and it is the first lie that
ever I told; then, at length, with a face as wan as the ashes of a dead
fire--with trembling lips, and a faint, scarcely audible voice, I say,
"No, it is not true!"

"_Not true?_" he echoes, catching up my words quickly; but in his voice
is none of the relief, the restored amenity that I had looked for, and
for the hope of which I have perjured myself; equally in voice and face,
there is only a deep and astonished anger.

"_Not true!_--you mean to say that it is _false_!"

"Yes, false!" I repeat in a sickly whisper. Oh, why, if I _must_ lie, do
not I do it with a bold and voluble assurance? whom would my starved
pinched falsehood deceive?

"You mean to say," speaking with irrepressible excitement, while the
wrathful light gathers and grows intenser in the gray depths of his
eyes, "that this--this _interview_ never took place? that it is all a
delusion; a mistake?"

"Yes."

I repeat it mechanically now. Having gone thus far, I must go on, but I
feel giddy and sick, and my hands grasp the arms of my chair. I feel as
if I should fall out of it if they did not.

"You are _sure_?" speaking with a heavy emphasis, and looking
persistently at me, while the anger of his eyes is dashed and crossed by
a miserable entreaty. Ah! if they had had that look at first, I could
have told him. "Are you _sure_?" he repeats, and I, driven by the fates
to my destruction, while God hides his face from me, and the devil
pushes me on, answer hazily, "Yes, quite sure!"

Then he asks me no more questions; he turns and slowly leaves the room,
and I know that I have lied in vain!



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


And thus I, ingenious architect of my own ruin, build up the barrier of
a lie between myself and Roger. It is a barrier that hourly grows
higher, more impassable. As the days go by, I say to myself in
heart-sickness, that I shall never now cross it--never see it leveled
with the earth. Even when we too are dead it will still rise between us
in the other world; if--as all the nations have agreed to say--there
_be_ another. For my part, I think at this time that, if there is any
chance of its bearing aught of resemblance to this present world, I had
far fainer there were none.

With all due deference to Shakespeare--and I suppose that even the one
supreme genius of all time must, in his day, have made a mistake or
two--I have but faint belief in the "sweet uses of adversity." I think
that they are about as mythical as the jewels in the toad's ugly skull,
to which he likened them. It is in _prosperity_ that one looks up, with
leaping heart and clear eyes, and through the clouds see God sitting
throned in light. In adversity one sees nothing but one's own dunghill
and boils.

At least such has been my experience. I think I could have borne it
better if I had not looked forward to his return so much--if he had been
an austere and bitter tyrant, to _whose coming_ I had looked with dread,
I could have braced my nerves and pulled myself together, to face with
some stoutness the hourly trials of life. But when one has counted the
days, hours, and moments, till some high festival, and, when it comes,
it turns out a drear, black funeral, one cannot meet the changed
circumstances with any great fortitude.

It is the horrible contrast between my dreams and their realization that
gives the keenest poignancy to my pangs.

To his return I had referred the smoothing of all my difficulties, the
clearing up of all my doubts, the sweeping of all clouds from my sky;
and now he is back! and, oh, how far, _far_ gloomier than ever is my
weather! What a sullen leaden sky overhangs me!

I never tell him about Algy after all! I do not often laugh now; but I
_did_ laugh loudly and long the other day, although I was quite alone,
when I thought of my wily purpose of setting Roger on his guard against
Mrs. Huntley's little sugared unveracities.

No, I never tell him about Algy! Why should I? it would be wasted
breath--spent words. He would not believe me. In the more important case
has not he taken her word in preference to mine? Would not he in _this_
too? For I know that he knows, as well as I know it myself, that in that
matter I lied.

Sometimes, when I am by myself, a mighty yearning--a most constraining
longing seizes me to go to him--fall at his feet, and tell him the truth
even yet. After all, God knows that I have no ugly fault to confess to
him--no infidelity even of thought. But as soon as I am in his presence
the desire fades; or at least the power to put it in practice melts
away. For he never gives me an opening. After that first evening never
does he draw nigh the subject: never once is the detested name of
Musgrave mentioned between us. If he had been one most dear to us both
and had died untimely, we could not avoid with more sacred care any
allusion to him. And, even if, by doing infinite violence to myself, I
could bring myself to overcome the painful steepness of the hill of
difficulty that lies between me and the subject, and tell the tardy
truth, to what use, pray? Having once owned that I had lied, could I
resent any statement of mine being taken with distrust? Would he believe
me? Not he! He would say, "If you were as innocent as you say, why did
you _lie_? If you were innocent, what had you to fear?" So I hold my
peace. And, as the days go, and the winter wanes, it seems to me that I
can plainly see, with no uncertain or doubtful eyes, Roger's love wane
too.

After all, why should I wonder? I may be sorry, for who ever saw gladly
love--the one all-good thing on this earth, most of whose good things
are adulterated and dirt-smirched--who ever saw it _gladly_ slip away
from them? But I cannot be surprised.

With Roger, love and trust must ever go hand-in-hand; and, when the one
has gone, the other must needs soon follow.

After all, what he loved in me was a delusion--had never existed. It was
my blunt honesty, my transparent candor, the open-hearted downrightness
that in me amounted to a misfortune, that had at first attracted him.
And now that he has found that the unpolished abruptness of my manners
can conceal as great an amount of deception as the most insinuating
silkiness of any one else's, I do not see what there is left in me to
attract him. Certainly I have no beauty to excite a man's passions, nor
any genius to enchain his intellect, nor even any pretty accomplishment
to amuse his leisure.

Why _should_ he love me? Because I am his wife? Nay, nay! who ever loved
because it was their duty? who ever succeeded in putting love in
harness, and _driving_ him? Sooner than be the object of such up-hill
conscientious affection, I had far rather be treated with cold
indifference--active hatred even. Because I am young? That seems no
recommendation in his eyes! Because I love him? He does not believe it.
Once or twice I have tried to tell him so, and he has gently pooh-poohed
me.

Sometimes it has occurred to me that, perhaps, if I had him all to
myself, I might even yet bring him back to me--might reconcile him to my
paucity of attractions, and persuade him of my honesty; but what chance
have I, when every day, every hour of the day if he likes to put himself
to such frequent pain, he may see and bitterly note the contrast between
the woman of his choice and the woman of his fate--the woman from whom
he is irrevocably parted, and the woman to whom he is as irrevocably
joined. And I think that hardly a day passes that he does not give
himself the opportunity of instituting the comparison.

Not that he is unkind to me; do not think that. It would be impossible
to Roger to be unkind to any thing, much more to any weakly woman thing
that is quite in his own power. No, no! there is no fear of that. I have
no need to be a grizzle. I have no cross words, no petulances, no
neglects even, to bear. But oh! in all his friendly words, in all his
kindly, considerate actions, what a _chill_ there is! It is as if some
one that had been a day dead laid his hand on my heart!

How many, _many_ miles farther apart we are now, than we were when I was
here, and he in Antigua; albeit then the noisy winds roared and sung,
and the brown billows tumbled between us! If he would but _hit_ me, or
box my ears, as Bobby has so often done--a good swinging, tingling box,
that made one see stars, and incarnadized all one side of one's
countenance--oh, how much, _much_ less would it hurt than do the frosty
chillness of his smiles, the uncaressing touch of his cool hands!

I have plenty of time to think these thoughts, for I am a great deal
alone now. Roger is out all day, hunting or with his agent, or on some
of the manifold business that landed property entails, or that the
settlement of Mr. Huntley's inextricably tangled affairs involves. Very
often he does not come in till dressing-time. I never ask him where he
has been--never! I think that I know.

Often in these after-days, pondering on those ill times, seeing their
incidents in that duer proportion that a stand-point at a little
distance from them gives, it has occurred to me that sometimes I was
wrong, that not seldom, while I was eating my heart out up-stairs, with
dumb jealousy picturing to myself my husband in the shaded fragrance,
the dulcet gloom of the drawing-room at Laurel Cottage, he was in the
house with me, as much alone as I, in the dull solitude of his own room,
pacing up and down the carpet, or bending over an unread book.

I will tell you why I think so. One day--it is the end of March now, the
year is no longer a swaddled baby, it is shooting up into a tall
stripling--I have been straying about the brown gardens, _alone_, of
course. It is a year to-day since Bobby and I together strolled among
the kitchen-stuff in the garden at home, since he served me that ill
turn with the ladder. Every thing reminds me of that day: these might be
the same crocus-clumps, as those that last year frightened away winter
with their purple and gold banners. I remember that, as I looked down
their deep throats, I was humming Tou Tou's verb, "J'aime, I love; Tu
aimes, Thou lovest; Il aime, He loves."

I sigh. There was the same purple promise over the budded woods; the
same sharpness in the bustling wind. Since then, Nature has gone through
all her plodding processes, and now it is all to do over again. A sense
of fatigue at the infinite repetitions of life comes over me. If Nature
would but make a little variation! If the seasons would but change their
places a little, and the flowers their order, so that there might be
something of unexpectedness about them! But no! they walk round and
round forever in their monotonous leisure.

I am stooping to pick a little posy of violets as these languid thoughts
dawdle through my mind--blue mysteries of sweetness and color, born of
the unscented, dull earth. As I pass Roger's door, having reëntered the
house, the thought strikes me to set them on his writing-table. Most
likely he will not notice them, not be aware of them: but even so they
will be able humbly to speak to him the sweet things that he will not
listen to from me. I open the door and listlessly enter. If I had
thought that there was any chance of his being within, I should not have
done so without knocking; indeed, I hardly think I should have done it
at all, but this seems to me most unlikely. Nevertheless, he is.

As I enter, I catch sudden sight of him. He is sitting in his arm-chair,
his elbows leaned on the table before him, his hand passed through his
ruffled hair, and his gray eyes straying abstractedly away from the
neglected page before him. I see him before he sees me. I have time to
take in all the dejection of his attitude, all its spiritless idleness.
At the slight noise my skirts make, he looks up. I stop on the
threshold.

"I--I thought you were out," say I, hesitatingly, and reddening a
little, as if I were being caught in the commission of some little
private sin.

"No, I came in an hour ago."

"I beg your pardon," I say, humbly; "I will not disturb you; I would
have knocked if I had known!"

He has risen, and is coming toward me.

"Knock! why, in Heaven's name, _should_ you knock?" he says, with
something of his old glad animation; then, suddenly changing his tone to
one of courteous friendly coldness, "Why do you stand out there? will
not you come in?"

I comply with this invitation, and, entering, sit down in another
arm-chair not far from Roger's, but, now that I am here, I do not seem
to have much to say.

"You have been in the gardens?" he says, presently, glancing at my
little nosegay, and speaking more to hinder total silence from reigning,
than for any other reason.

"Yes," I reply, trying to be cheerful and chatty, "I have been picking
_these_; the Czar have not half their perfume, though they are three
times their size! _these_ smell so good!"

As I speak, I timidly half stretch out the little bunch to him, that he,
too, may inhale their odor, but the gesture is so uncertain and faint
that he does not perceive it--at least, he takes no notice of it, and I
am sure that if he had he would; but yet I am so discouraged by the
failure of my little overture that I have not resolution enough to tell
him that I had gathered them for him. Instead, I snubbedly and
discomfortedly put them in my own breast.

Presently I speak again.

"Do you remember," I say--"no, I dare say you do not, but yet it is
so--it is a year to-day since you found me sitting on the top of the
wall!--such a situation for a person of nineteen to be discovered in!"

At the recollection I laugh a little, and not bitterly, which is what I
do not often do now. I can only see his profile, but it seems to me that
a faint smile is dawning on his face, too.

"It was a good jump, was not it?" I go on, laughing again; "I still
wonder that I did not knock you down."

He is certainly smiling now; his face has almost its old, tender mirth.

"It will be a year to-morrow," continue I, emboldened by perceiving
this, and beginning to count on my fingers, "since Toothless Jack and
the curates came to dine, and you staid so long in the dining-room that
I fell asleep; the day after to-morrow, it will be a year since we
walked by the river-side, and saw the goslings flowering out on the
willows; the day after that it will be a year since--"

"Stop!" he cries, interrupting me, with a voice and face equally full of
disquiet and pain; "do not go on, where is the use?--I hate
anniversaries."

I stop, quenched into silence; my poor little trickle of talk
effectually dried. After a pause, he speaks.

"What has made you think of all these dead trivialities?" he asks in a
voice more moved--or I think so--less positively steady than his has
been of late; "at your age, it is more natural to look on than to look
back."

"Is it?" say I, sadly, "I do not know; I seem to have such a great deal
of time for _thinking_ now; this house is so _extraordinarily_ silent!
did you never notice it?--of course it is large, and we are only two
people in it, but at home it never seemed to me so _deadly_ quiet, even
when I was alone in the house."

"_Were_ you ever alone?" he asks, with a smile. He is thinking of the
noisy multitude that are connected in his memory with my father's
mansion; that, during all his experience of it, have filled its rooms
and passages with the hubbub of their strong-lunged jollity.

"Yes, I have been," I reply; "not often, of course! but several times,
when the boys were away, and father and mother and Barbara had gone out
to dinner; of course it seemed still and dumb, but not--" (shuddering a
little)--"not so _aggressively loudly_ silent as this does!"

He looks at me, with a sort of remorseful pain.

"It _is_ very dull for you!" he says, compassionately; "shut up in
endless duet, with a person treble your age! I ought to have thought of
that; in a month or so, we shall be going to London, _that_ will amuse
you, will not it? and till then, is there any one that you would like to
have asked here?--any friend of your own?--any companion of your own
age?"

"No," reply I, despondently, staring out of the window, "I have no
friends."

"The boys, then?" speaking with a sudden assurance of tone, as one that
has certainly hit upon a pleasant suggestion.

I shake my head.

"I could not have Bobby and the Brat, if I would, and I would not have
Algy if I could!" I reply with curt dejection.

"Barbara, then?"

Again I shake my head. Not even Barbara will I allow to witness the
failure of my dreams, the downfall of my high castles, the sterility of
my Promised Land.

"No, I will not have Barbara!" I answer; "last time that she was
here--" but I cannot finish my sentence. I break away weeping.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

    "I think you hardly know the tender rhyme
    Of 'Trust me not at all or all in all!'"


There are some wounds, O, my friends, that Time, by himself, with no
clever physician to help him, will surely cure. You all know that, do
not you? some wounds that he will lay his cool ointment on, and
by-and-by they are well. Among such, are the departures hence of those
we have strongly loved, and to whom we have always been, as much as in
us lay, tender and good.   But there are others that he only
worsens--yawning gaps that he but widens; as if one were to put one's
fingers in a great rent, and tear it asunder. And of these last is mine.

As the year grows apace, as the evenings draw themselves out, and the
sun every day puts on fresh strength, we seem to grow ever more
certainly apart. Our bodies, indeed, are nigh each other, but our souls
are sundered. It never seems to strike any one, it is true, that we are
not a happy couple; indeed, it would be very absurd if it did. We never
wrangle--we never contradict each other--we have no tiffs; but we are
_two_ and not _one_. Whatever may be the cause, whether it be due to his
shaken confidence in me, or (I myself assign this latter as its chief
reason) to the constant neighborhood of the woman whom I know him to
have loved and coveted years before he ever saw me; whatever may be the
cause, the fact remains; I no longer please him. It does not surprise me
much. After all, the boys always told me that men would not care about
me; that I was not the sort of woman to get on with them! Well, perhaps!
It certainly seems so.

I meet Mrs. Huntley pretty often in society nowadays, at such staid and
sober dinners as the neighborhood thinks fit to indulge in, in this
lenten season; and, whenever I do so, I cannot refrain from a stealthy
and wistful observation of her.

She is ten--twelve years older than I. Between her and me lie the ten
years best worth living of a woman's life; and yet, how easily she
distances me! With no straining, with no hard-breathed effort, she
canters lightly past me. So I think, as I intently and curiously watch
her--watch her graceful, languid silence with women, her pretty,
lady-like playfulness with men. And how successful she is with them! how
highly they relish her! While I, in the uselessness of my round, white
youth, sit benched among the old women, dropping spiritless, pointless
"yeses" and "noes" among the veteran worldliness of their talk, how they
crowd about her, like swarmed bees on some honeyed, spring day! how they
scowl at each other! and _finesse_ as to who shall approach most nearly
to her cloudy skirts!

Several times I have strained my ears to catch what are the utterances
that make them laugh so much, make them look both so fluttered and so
smoothed. Each time that I succeed, I am disappointed. There is no touch
of genius, no salt of wit in any thing she says. Her utterances are
hardly more brilliant than my own.

You will despise me, I think, friends, when I tell you that in these
days I made one or two pitiful little efforts to imitate her, to copy,
distantly and humbly indeed, the fashion of her clothes, to learn the
trick of her voice, of her slow, soft gait, of her little, surprised
laugh. But I soon give it up. If I tried till my death-day, I should
never arrive at any thing but a miserable travesty. Before--ere Roger's
return--I used complacently to treasure up any little civil speeches,
any small compliments that people paid me, thinking, "If such and such a
one think me pleasing, why may not Roger?" But now I have given this up,
too.

I seem to myself to have grown very dull. I think my wits are not so
bright as they used to be. At home, I used to be reckoned one of the
pleasantest of us: the boys used to laugh when I said things: but not
even the most hysterically mirthful could find food for laughter in my
talk now.

And so the days pass; and we go to London. Sometimes I have thought that
it will be better when we get there. At least, _she_ will not be there.
How can she, with her husband gnashing his teeth in lonely discomfiture
at his exasperated creditors, and receiptless bills, in sultry St.
Thomas? But, somehow, she is. What good Samaritan takes out his twopence
and pays for her little apartment, for her stacks of cut flowers, for
her brougham and her opera-boxes, is no concern of mine. But, somehow,
there always _are_ good Samaritans in those cases; and, let alone
Samaritans, there are no priests or Levites stonyhearted enough to pass
by these dear, little, lovely things on the other side.

We go out a good deal, Roger and I, and everywhere he accompanies me. It
bores him infinitely, though he does not say so. One night, we are at
the play. It is the Prince of Wales's, the one theatre where one may
enjoy a pleasant certainty of being rationally amused, of being free
from the otherwise universal dominion of _Limelight_ and _Legs_. The
little house is very full; it always is. Some of the royalties are here,
laughing "_à gorge déployée!_" I have been laughing, too; laughing in my
old fashion; not in Mrs. Zéphine's little rippling way, but with the
thorough-paced, unconventional violence with which I used to reward the
homely sallies of Bobby and the Brat. I am laughing still, though the
curtain has fallen between the acts, and the orchestra are fiddling
gayly away, and the turned-up gas making everybody look pale. My
opera-glasses are in my hand, and I am turning them slowly round the
house, making out acquaintances in the stalls, prying into the secrets
of the boxes, examining the well-known features of my future king.

Suddenly my smile dies away, and the glasses drop from my trembling
hands into my lap. Who is it that has just entered, and is slipping
across the intervening people in the stalls to his own seat, one of the
few that have hitherto remained vacant beneath us? Can I help
recognizing the close-shorn, cameo-like beauty--to me _no_ beauty; to me
deformity and ugliness--of the dark face that for months I daily saw by
my fireside? Can there be _two_ Musgraves? No! it is _he_! yes, _he_!
though now there is on his features none of the baffled passion, none of
the wrathful malignity, which they always wear in my memory, as they
wore in the February dusk of Brindley Wood. Now, in their handsome
serenity, they wear only the look of subdued sadness that a male Briton
always assumes when he takes his pleasure. Do you remember what
Goldsmith says?--"When I see an Englishman laugh, I fancy I rather see
him hunting after joy than having caught it."

As soon as my eyes have fallen upon, and certainly recognized him, by a
double impulse I draw back behind the curtain of the box, and look at
Roger. He, too, has seen him; I can tell it in an instant by his face,
and by the expression of his eyes, as they meet mine. I try to look back
unflinchingly, indifferently, at him. I would give ten years of my life
for an unmoved complexion, but it is no use. Struggle as I will against
it, I feel that rush, that torrent of vivid scarlet, that, retiring,
leaves me as white as my gown. Oh! it _is_ hard, is not it, that the
lying changefulness of a deceitful skin should have power to work me
such hurt?

"Are you faint?" Roger asks, bending toward me, and speaking in a low
and icy voice; "shall I get you a glass of water?"

"No, thank you!" I reply, resolutely, and with no hesitation or stammer
in my tone, "I am not at all faint."

But, alas! my words cannot undo what my false cheeks, with their
meaningless red and their causeless white, have so fully done.

The season is over now; every one has trooped away from the sun-baked
squares, and the sultry streets of the great empty town. I have never
_done_ a season before, and the heat and the late hours have tired me
wofully. Often, when I have gone to a ball, I have longed to go to bed
instead. And, now that we are home again, it would seem to me very
pleasant to sit in leisurely coolness by the pool, and to watch the
birth, and the prosperous short lives, of the late roses, and the great
bright gladioli in the garden-borders. Yes, it would have seemed very
pleasant to me--if--(why is life so full of _ifs_? "Ifs" and "Buts,"
"Ifs" and "Buts," it seems made up of them! Little ugly words! in heaven
there will be none of you!)--if--to back and support the outward good
luck, there had been any inward content. But there is none! The trouble
that I took with me to London, I have brought back thence whole and
undiminished.

It is September now; so far has the year advanced! We are well into the
partridges. Their St. Bartholomew has begun. Roger is away among the
thick green turnip-ridges and the short white stubble all the day. I
wish to Heaven that I could shoot, too, and hunt. It would not matter if
I never killed any thing--indeed, I think--of the two--I had rather not;
I had rather have a course of empty bags and blank days than snuff out
any poor, little, happy lives; but the occupation that these amusements
would entail would displace and hinder the minute mental torments I now
daily, in my listless, luxurious idleness, endure. I am thinking these
thoughts one morning, as I turn over my unopened letters, and try, with
the misplaced ingenuity and labor one is so apt to employ in such a
case, to make out from the general air of their exteriors--from their
superscriptions--from their post-marks, whom they are from. About one
there is no doubt. It is from Barbara. I have not heard from Barbara for
a fortnight or three weeks. It will be the usual thing, I suppose.
Father has got the gout in his right toe, or his left calf, or his
wrist, or all his fingers, and is, consequently, fuller than usual of
hatred and malice; mother's neuralgia is very bad, and she is sadly in
want of change, but she cannot leave him. Algy has lost a lot of money
at Goodwood, and they are afraid to tell father, etc., etc. Certainly,
life is rather up-hill! I slowly tear the envelope open, and languidly
throw my eyes along the lines. But, before I have read three words, my
languor suddenly disappears. I sit upright in my chair, grasp the paper
more firmly, bring it nearer my eyes, which begin greedily to gallop
through its contents. They are not very long, and in two minutes I have
mastered them.

     "MY DEAREST NANCY:

     "I have _such_ a piece of news for you! I cannot help laughing as I
     picture to myself your face of delight; I would make you guess it,
     only I cannot bear to keep you in suspense. _It has all come right!
     I am going to marry Frank, after all!_ What _have_ I done to
     deserve such luck! How can I ever thank God enough for it? Do you
     know that my very first thought, when he asked me, was, '_How_
     pleased Nancy will be!' You dear little soul! I think, when he went
     away that time from Tempest, that you took all the blame of it to
     yourself! O Nancy, do you think it is wrong to be so _dreadfully_
     happy? Sometimes I am afraid that I love him _too_ much! it seems
     so hard to help it. I have no time for more now; he is waiting for
     me; how little I thought, a month ago, that I should be ending a
     letter to you for such a reason! When all is said and done, what a
     pleasant world it is! Do not think me quite mad. I know I _sound_
     as if I were!

     "Yours, BARBARA."

My hand, and the letter with it, fall together into my lap; my head
sinks back on the cushion of my chair; my eyes peruse the ceiling.

"Engaged to Musgrave! engaged to Musgrave! engaged to Musgrave!"

The words ring with a dull monotony of repetition through my brain. Poor
Barbara! I think she would be surprised if she were to see my "_face of
delight!_"



CHAPTER XL.


My eyes are fixed on the mouldings of the ceiling, while a jumble of
thoughts mix and muddle themselves in my head. Was Brindley Wood a
dream? or is this a dream? Surely one or other must be, and, if this is
not a dream, what is it? Is it reality, is it truth? And, if it is, how
on earth did any thing so monstrous ever come about? How did he dare to
approach her? How could he know that I had not told her? Is it possible
that he cares for her really?--that he cared for her all along?--that he
only went mad for one wicked moment? Is he sorry? how soon shall I have
to meet him? On what terms shall we be? Will Roger be undeceived at
last? Will he believe me? As my thoughts fall upon him, he opens the
door and enters.

"Well, I am off, Nancy!" he says, speaking in his usual cool, friendly
voice, to which I have now grown so accustomed that sometimes I could
almost persuade myself that I had never known any lovinger terms; and
standing with the door-handle in his hand.

He rarely kisses me now; never upon any of these little temporary
absences. We always part with polite, cold, verbal salutations. Then,
with a sudden change of tone, approaching me as he speaks.

"Is there any thing the matter? have you had bad news?"

My eyes drop at length from the scroll and pomegranate flower border of
the ceiling. I sit up, and, with an involuntary movement, put my hand
over the open letter that lies in my lap.

"I have had news," I answer, dubiously.

"If it is any thing that you had rather not tell me!" he says, hastily,
observing my stupid and unintentional gesture, and, I suppose, afraid
that I am about to drift into a second series of lies--"please do not. I
would not for worlds thrust myself on your confidence!"

"It is no secret of mine," I answer, coldly, "everybody will know it
immediately, I suppose: it is that Barbara--" I stop, as usual choked as
I approach the abhorred theme. "Will you read the letter, please? that
will be better!--yes--I had rather that you did--it will not take you
long; yes, _all_ of it!" (seeing that he is holding the note in his hand
and conscientiously looking away from it as if expecting limitation as
to the amount he is to peruse).

He complies. There is silence--an expectant silence on my part. It is
not of long duration. Before ten seconds have elapsed the note has
fallen from his hand; and, with an exclamation of the profoundest
astonishment, he is looking with an expression of the most keenly
questioning wonder at me.

"To MUSGRAVE!"

I nod. I have judiciously placed myself with my back to the light, so
that, if that exasperating flood of crimson bathe my face--and bathe it
it surely will--is not it coming now?--do not I feel it creeping hotly
up?--it may be as little perceptible as possible.

"It must be a great, great _surprise_ to you!" he says, interrogatively,
and still with that sound of extreme and baffled wonder in his tone.

"Immense!" reply I.

I speak steadily if low; and I look determinedly back in his face.
Whatever color my cheeks are--I believe they are of the devil's own
painting--I feel that my eyes are honest. He has picked up the note, and
is reading it again.

"She seems to have no doubt"--(with rising wonder in face and
voice)--"as to its greatly pleasing _you_!"

"So it would have done at one time," I answer, still speaking (though no
one could guess with what difficulty), with resolute equanimity.

"And does not it now?" (very quickly, and sending the searching scrutiny
of his eyes through me).

"I do not know," I answer hazily, putting up my hand to my forehead. "I
cannot make up my mind, it all seems so sudden."

A pause. Roger has forgotten the partridges. He is sunk in reflection.

"Was there ever any talk of this before?" he says, presently, with a
hesitating and doubtful accent, and an altogether staggered look. "Had
you any reason--any ground for thinking that he cared about her?"

"Great ground," reply I, touching my cheeks with the tips of my fingers,
and feeling, with a sense of self-gratulation, that their temperature is
gradually, if slowly, lowering, "_every_ ground--at _one_ time!"

"At _what_ time!"

"In the autumn," say I, slowly; my mind reluctantly straying back to the
season of my urgent invitations, of my pressing friendlinesses, "and at
Christmas, and after Christmas."

"Yes?" (with a quick eagerness, as if expecting to hear more).

"The boys," continue I, speaking without any ease or fluency, for the
subject is always one irksome and difficult to me, "the boys took it
quite for granted--looked upon it as a certain thing that he meant
seriously until--"

"Until what?" (almost snatching the words out of my mouth).

"Until--well!" (with a short, forced laugh), "until they found that he
did not."

"And--do you know?--but of course you do--can you tell me how they
discovered that?"

He is looking at me with that same greedy anxiety in his eyes, which I
remember in our last fatal conversation about Musgrave.

"He went away," reply I, unable any longer to keep watch and ward over
my countenance and voice, rising and walking hastily to the window.

The moment I have done it, I repent. _However_ red I was, _however_
confused I looked, it would have been better to have remained and faced
him. For several minutes there is silence. I look out at the stiff
comeliness of the variously tinted asters, at the hoary-colored dew that
is like a film along the morning grass. I do not know what _he_ looks
at, because I have my back to him, but I think he is looking at
Barbara's note again. At least, I judge this by what he says next--"Poor
little soul!" (in an accent of the honestest, tenderest pity), "how
happy she seems!"

"Ah!" say I, with a bitter little laugh, "she will mend of _that_, will
not she?"

He does not echo my mirth; indeed, I think I hear him sigh.

    "'Romances paint at full length people's wooings,
    But only give a bust of marriages!'"

say I, in soft quotation, addressing rather myself and my thoughts than
my companion.

He has joined me; he, too, is looking out at the serene aster-flowers,
at the glittering glory of the dew.

"Since when you have learned to quote 'Don Juan?'" he asks, with a sort
of surprise.

"Since _when_?" I reply, with the same tart playfulness--"oh! since I
married! I date all my accomplishments from then!--it is my anno
Domini."

Another silence. Then Sir Roger speaks again, and this time his words
seem as slow and difficult of make as mine were just now.

"Nancy!" he says, in a low voice, not looking at me, but still facing
the flowers and the sunshiny autumn sward, "do you believe
that--that--_this fellow_ cares about her really?--she is too good to be
made--to be made--a mere _cat's-paw_ of!"

"A _cat's-paw_!" cry I, turning quickly round with raised voice; the
blood that so lately retired from it rushing again headlong all over my
face; "I do not know--what you mean--what you are talking about!"

He draws his breath heavily, and pauses a moment before he speaks.

"God knows," he says, looking solemnly up, "that I had no wish to broach
this subject again--God knows that I meant to have done with it
forever--but now that it has been forced against my will--against both
our wills--upon me, I must ask you this one question--tell me,
Nancy--tell me truly _this_ time"--(with an accent of acute pain on the
word "_this_")--"can you say, _on your honor--on your honor_,
mind--that you believe this--this man loves Barbara, as a man should
love his wife?"

If he had worded his interrogation differently, I should have been
sorely puzzled to answer it; as it is, in the form his question takes, I
find a loop-hole of escape.

"As a man should love his wife?" I reply, with a derisive laugh, "and
how is that? I do not think I quite know!--very dearly, I suppose, but
not quite so dearly as if she were his neighbor's--is that it?"

As I speak, I look up at him, with a malicious air of pseudo-innocence.
But if I expect to see any guilt--any conscious shrinking in his face--I
am mistaken. There is pain--infinite pain--pain both sharp and
long-enduring in the grieved depths of his eyes; but there is no guilt.

"You will not answer me?" he says, in an accent of profound
disappointment, sighing again heavily. "Well, I hardly expected
it--hardly hoped it!--so be it, then, since you will have it so; and
yet--" (again taking up the note, and reading over one of its few
sentences with slow attention), "and yet there is one more question I
must put to you, after all--they both come to pretty much the same
thing. Why"--(pointing, as he speaks, to the words to which he
alludes)--"why should _you_ have taken on yourself the blame of--of his
departure from Tempest? what had _you_ to say to it?"

In his voice there is the same just severity; in his eyes there is the
same fire of deep yet governed wrath that I remember in them six months
ago, when Mrs. Huntley first threw the firebrand between us.

"I do not know," I reply, in a half whisper of impatient misery, turning
my head restlessly from side to side; "how should I know? I am _sick_ of
the subject."

"Perhaps!--so, God knows, am I; but _had_ you any thing to say to it?"

He does not often touch me now; but, as he asks this, he takes hold of
both my hands, more certainly to prevent my escaping from under his
gaze, than from any desire to caress me.

It is my last chance of confession. I little thought I should ever have
another. Late as it is, shall I avail myself of it? Nay! if not before,
why _now_? Why _now_?--when there are so much stronger reasons for
silence--when to speak would be to knock to atoms the newly-built
edifice of Barbara's happiness--to rake up the old and nearly dead ashes
of Frank's frustrated, and for aught I know, sincerely repented sin? So
I answer, faintly indeed, yet quite audibly and distinctly:

"Nothing."

"NOTHING?" (in an accent and with eyes of the keenest, wistfulest
interrogation, as if he would wring from me, against my will, the
confession I so resolutely withhold).

But I turn away from that heart-breaking, heart-broken scrutiny, and
answer:

"Nothing!"



CHAPTER XLI.

    "She dwells with beauty--beauty that must die,
    And joy whose hand is ever at his lips
    Bidding adieu!"


Thus I accomplished my second lie: I that, at home, used to be a proverb
for blunt truth-telling. They say that "_facilis descensus Averni_." I
do not agree with them. I have not found it easy. To me it has seemed a
very steep and precipitous road, set with sharp flints that cut the
feet, and make the blood flow.

I think the second falsehood was almost harder to utter than the first:
but, indeed, they were both very disagreeable. I cannot think why any
one should have thought it necessary to invent the doctrine of a future
retribution for sin.

It appears to me that, in this very life of the present, each little
delinquency is so heavily paid for--so exorbitantly overpaid, indeed.
Look, for instance, at my own case. I told a lie--a lie more of the
letter than the spirit--and since then I have spent six months of my
flourishing youth absolutely devoid of pleasure, and largely penetrated
with pain.

I have stood just outside my paradise, peeping under and over the
flaming sword of the angel that guards it. I have been near enough to
smell the flowers--to see the downy, perfumed fruits--to hear the song
of the angels as they go up and down within its paths; but I have been
outside.

Now I have told another lie, and I suppose--nay, what better can I
hope?--that I shall live in the same state of weary, disproportioned
retribution to the end of the chapter.

These are the thoughts, interspersed and diversified with loud sighs,
that are employing my mind one ripe and misty morning a few days later
than the incidents last detailed.

Barbara is to arrive to-day. She is coming to pay us a visit--coming,
like the lady mentioned by Tennyson, in "In Memoriam"--not, indeed, "to
bring her babe," but to "make her boast." And how, pray, am I to listen
with complacent congratulation to this boast? For the first time in my
life I dread the coming of Barbara. How am I, whose acting, on the few
occasions when I have attempted it, has been of the most improbably
wooden description--how am I, I say, to counterfeit the extravagant joy,
the lively sympathy, that Barbara will expect--and naturally
expect--from me?

I get up and look at myself in the glass. Assuredly I shall have to take
some severe measures with my countenance before it falls under my
sister's gaze. Small sympathy and smaller joy is there in it now--it
wears only a lantern-jawed, lack-lustre despondency. I practise a
galvanized smile, and say out loud, as if in dialogue with some
interlocutor:

"Yes, _delightful_!--I am _so_ pleased!" but there is more mirth in the
enforced grin of an unfleshed skull than in mine.

That will never take in Barbara. I try again--once, twice--each time
with less prosperity than the last. Then I give it up. I must trust to
Providence.

As the time for her coming draws nigh, I fall to thinking of the
different occasions since my marriage, on which I have watched for
expected comings from this window--have searched that bend in the drive
with impatient eyes--and of the disappointment to which, on the two
occasions that rise most prominently before my mind's eye, I became a
prey.

Well, I am to be subject to no disappointment--if it _would_ be a
disappointment--to-day.

Almost before I expect her--almost before she is due--she is here in the
room with me, and we are looking at one another. I, indeed, am staring
at her with a black and stupid surprise.

"Good Heavens!" say I, bluntly; "what _have_ you been doing to yourself?
_how_ happy you look!"

I have always known theoretically that happiness was becoming; and I
have always thought Barbara most fair.

    "Fairer than Rachel by the palmy well,
    Fairer than Ruth among the fields of corn,
    Fair as the angel that said, 'Hail!' she seemed,"

but _now_, what a lovely brightness, like that of clouds remembering the
gone sun, shines all about her! What a radiant laughter in her eyes!
What a splendid carnation on her cheeks! (How glad I am that I did not
tell!)

"Do I?" she says, softly, and hiding her face, with the action of a shy
child, on my shoulders. "I dare say."

"_Good_ Heavens!" repeat I, again, with more accentuation than before,
and with my usual happy command and variety of ejaculation.

"And _you_?" she says, lifting her face, and speaking with a joyful
confidence of anticipation in her innocent eyes, "and _you_? you are
pleased too, are not you?"

"Of course," reply I, quickly calling to my aid the galvanized smile and
the unnatural tone in which I have been perfecting myself all the
forenoon, "_delighted_! I never was so pleased in my life. I told you so
in my letters, did not I?"

A look of nameless disappointment crosses her features for a moment.

"Yes," she says, "I know! but I want you to tell me again. I thought
that you--would have such a--such a great deal to say about it."

"So I have!" reply I, uncomfortably, fiddling uneasily with a
paper-knife that I have picked up, and trying how much ill-usage it will
bear without snapping, "an immensity! but you see it is--it is difficult
to begin, is not it? and you know I never was good at expressing myself,
was I?"

We have sat down. I am not facing her. With a complexion that serves
one such ill turns as mine does, one is not over-fond of _facing_
people. I am beside her. For a moment we are both silent.

"Well," say I, presently, with an unintentional tartness in my tone,
"why do not you begin? I am waiting to hear all about it! Begin!"

So Barbara begins.

"I am afraid," she says, smiling all the while, but growing as red as
the bunch of late roses in my breast, "that I looked horribly _pleased_!
One ought to look as if one did not care, ought not one?"

"Ought one?" say I, with interest, then beginning to laugh vociferously.
"At least you were not as bad as the old maid who late in life received
a very wealthy offer, and was so much elated by it that she took off all
her clothes, and kicked her bonnet round the room!"

Barbara laughs.

"No, I was not quite so bad as that."

"And how did he do it?" pursue I, inquisitively. "Did he write or speak"

"He spoke."

"And what did he say? How did he word it? Ah!"--(with a sigh)--"I
suppose you will not tell me _that_?"

She has abandoned her chair, and has fallen on her knees before me,
hiding her face in my lap. Delicious waves of color, like the petals of
a pink sweet-pea, are racing over her cheeks and throat.

"Was ever any one known to tell it?" she says, indistinctly.

"Yes," reply I, "_I_ was. I told you what Roger said, word for word--all
of you!"

"_Did_ you?"--(with an accent of astonished incredulity).

"Yes," say I, "do not you remember? I promised I would before I went
into the drawing-room that day, and, when I came out, I wanted the boys
to let me off, but they would not."

A pause.

"I wish," say I, a little impatiently, "that you would look up! Why need
you mind if you _are_ rather red? What do _I_ matter? and so--and
so--you are _pleased_!"

"_Pleased!_"

She has raised her head as I bid her, and on her face there is a sort of
scorn at the poverty and inadequacy of the expression, and yet she
replaces it with no other; only the sapphire of her eyes is dimmed and
made more tender by rising tears.

Clearly we were never meant to be joyful, we humans! In any bliss
greater than our wont, we can only hang out, to demonstrate our
felicity, the sign and standard of woe.

"Nancy!"--(taking my hand, and looking at me with wistful
earnestness)--"do you think it _can_ last? Did ever any one feel as I do
for _long_?"

"I do not know--how can I tell?" reply I, discomfortably, as I absently
eye the two halves of my paper-knife, which, after having given one or
two warning cracks, has now snapped in the middle. Then Roger enters,
and our talk ends.



CHAPTER XLII.

    "God made a foolish woman, making me!"


"Have you any idea whom we shall meet?"

It is Barbara who asks this one morning at breakfast. The question
refers to a three days' visit that it has become our fate to pay to a
house in the neighborhood--a house not eight miles distant from Tempest,
and over which we are grumbling in the minute and exhaustive manner
which people mostly employ when there is a question of making merry with
their friends.

I shake my head.

"I have not an idea, that is to say, except Mrs. Huntley, and she goes
without saying!"

"Why?"

"We are known to be such inseparables, that she is always asked to meet
us," reply I, with that wintry smile, which is my last accomplishment.
"We pursue her round the country, do not we, Roger?"

Barbara opens her great eyes, but, with her usual tact, she says
nothing. She sees that she has fallen on stony ground.

"She is _the oldest friend that we have in the world_!" continue I,
laughing pleasantly.

Roger does not answer, he does not even look up, but by a restless
movement that he makes in his chair, by a tiny contraction of the brows,
I see that my shot has told. I am becoming an adept in the infliction of
these pin-pricks. It is one of the few pleasures I have left.

The day of our visit has come. We have relieved our feelings by
grumbling up to the hall-door. Our murmuring must per force be stilled
now, though indeed, were we to _shout_ our discontents at the top of our
voices, there would be small fear of our being overheard by the master
of the house, he being the boundlessly deaf old gentleman who paid his
respects at Tempest on the day of Mrs. Huntley's first call, and
insisted on mistaking Barbara for me. Whether he is yet set right on
that head is a point still enveloped in Cimmerian gloom.

It is a bachelor establishment, as any one may perceive by a cursory
glance at the disposition of the drawing-room furniture, and at the
unfortunate flowers, tightly jammed, packed as thickly as they will go
in one huge central bean-pot.

As we arrived rather late and were at once conducted to our rooms, we
still remain in the dark as to our co-guests. Personally, I am not much
interested in the question. There cannot be anybody that it will cause
me much satisfaction to meet. It would give me a faint relief, indeed,
to find that there were some matron of exalteder rank than mine to save
me from my probable fate of bowling dark sayings at our old host,
General Parker, from the season of clear soup to that of peaches and
nuts. I dress quickly. The toilet is never to me a work of art. It is
not that from my lofty moral stand-point I look down upon meretricious
aids to faulty Nature. If I thought that it would set me on a fairer
standing with Mrs. Zéphine, I would paint my cheeks an inch thick; would
prune my eyebrows; daub my eyes, and make my hair yellower than any
buttercups in the meadow; but I know that it would be of no avail. I
should still be, compared to her, as a sign-painting to a Titian. For a
long time now I have cared naught for clothes. I used greatly to respect
their power, but they have done _me_ no good; and so my reverence for
them is turned into indifference and contempt.

I think that I must be late. Roger went down some minutes ago, at my
request, so that there might be _one_ representative of the family in
time.

I hasten down-stairs, fastening my last bracelet as I go, and open the
drawing-room door. I was wrong. There is no one down yet: even Roger has
disappeared. I am the first. This is my impression for a moment: then I
perceive that there is some one in the bow-window, half hidden by the
drooped curtains; some one who, hearing my entry, is advancing to meet
me. It is Musgrave! My first impulse, a wrong one, I need hardly say, is
to turn and flee. I have even laid hold of the just abandoned handle,
when he speaks.

"Are you going?" he says in a low voice, marked by great and evidently
ungovernable agitation; "do not! if you wish, I will leave the room."

I look at him, and our eyes meet. He always was a pale young man--no
bucolic beef-and-beer ruddiness about him--always of a healthy swart
pallor; but now he is deadly white!--so, by-the-by, I fancy am I! His
dark eyes burn with a shamed yet eager glow.

With the words and tones of our last parting ringing in our ears, we
both feel that it would be useless affectation to attempt to meet as
ordinary acquaintance.

"No," say I, faintly, almost in a whisper, "it--it does not matter! only
that I did not know that you were to be here!"

"No more did I, until this morning!" he answers, eagerly; "this
morning--at the last moment--young Parker asked me to come down with
him--and I--I knew we must meet sooner or later--that it could not be
put off forever, and so I thought we might as well get over it here as
anywhere else!"

Neither of us has thought of sitting down. He is speaking with rapid,
low emotion, and I stand stupidly listening.

"I suppose so," I answer lazily. I cannot for the life of me help it,
friends. I am back in Brindley Wood. He has come a few steps nearer me.
His voice is always low, but now it is almost a whisper in which he is
so rapidly, pantingly speaking.

"I shall most likely not have another opportunity, probably we shall not
be alone again, and I _must_ hear, I _must_ know--have you forgiven me?"

As he speaks, the recollection of all the ill he has done me, of my lost
self-respect, my alienated Roger, my faded life, pass before my mind.

"_That_ I have not!" reply I, looking full at him, and speaking with a
distinct and heavy emphasis of resentment and aversion, "and, by God's
help, I never will!"

"You will _not_!" he cries, starting back with an expression of the
utmost anger and discomfiture. "You will _not_! you will carry vengeance
for one mad minute through a whole life! It is _impossible! impossible!_
if _you_ are so unforgiving, how do you expect God to forgive you your
sins?"

I shrug my shoulders with a sort of despairing contempt. God has seemed
to me but dim of late.

"He may forgive them or leave them unforgiven as He sees best; but--_I
will never forgive you!_"

"What!" he cries, his face growing even more ash-white than it was
before, and his voice quivering with a passionate anger; "not for
_Barbara's_ sake?"

I shudder. I hate to hear him pronounce her name.

"No," say I, steadily, "not for Barbara's sake!"

"You will have to," he cries violently; "it is nonsense! think of the
close connection, of the _relationship_ that there will be between us!
think of the remarks you will excite! you will defeat your own object!"

"I will excite no remark!" I reply resolutely. "I will be quite civil to
you! I will say 'good-morning' and 'good-evening' to you; if you ask me
a question I will answer it; but--I will _never_ forgive you!"

We are standing, as I before observed, close together, and are so
wholly occupied--voices, eyes, and ears--with each other, that we do not
perceive the approach of two hitherto unseen people who are coming
dawdling and chatting up the conservatory that opens out of the room;
two people that I suppose have been there, unknown to us, all along.
They have come quite close now, and we must needs perceive them.

In a second our eager talk drops into silence, and we look with
involuntary, startled apprehension toward them. They are Roger and Mrs.
Huntley. This is why he acceded with such alacrity to my request. This
is why he was so afraid of being late. He has been helping her to smell
the jasmine, and to look down the datura's great white trumpet-throats.

Even at this agitated moment I have time to think this with a jeering
pain. The next instant all other feelings are swallowed up in breathless
dread as to how they will meet. My fears are groundless. On first
becoming aware, indeed, whose _tête-à-tête_ it is that he has
interrupted, whose low, quick voices they are that have dropped into
such sudden, suspicious silence at his approach--I can see him start
perceptibly, can see his gray eyes dart with lightning quickness from
Musgrave to me, and from me to Musgrave; and in his voice there is to me
an equally perceptible tone of ice-coldness; but to an ordinary observer
it would seem the greeting, neither more nor less warm, exchanged
between two moderately friendly acquaintances meeting after absence.

"How are you, Musgrave? I had no idea that you were in this part of the
world!"

"No more had I!" answers Musgrave, with an exaggerated laugh. "No more I
was, until--until _to-day_."

He has not caught the infection of Roger's stately calm. His face has
not recovered a _trace_ of even its usual slight color, and his eyes are
twitching nervously. Mrs. Huntley appears unaware of any thing. Her
artistic eye has been caught by the tight bean-pot, and her fingers are
employed in trying to give a little air of ease and liberty to its
crowded inmates. Then, thank God, the others come in, and dinner is
announced, and the situation is ended.

The old host, still under the influence of his hallucination, is bearing
down like a hawk (with his old bent elbow extended) on Barbara, until
intercepted and redirected by a whispered roar and graphic pantomime on
the part of his nephew. Then, at last, he realizes Roger's bad taste,
and we go in.

As soon as we are seated, I look about me. It is a round table. For my
part, I hate a round table. There is no privacy in it. Everybody seems
eavesdropping on everybody else.

There are only eight of us in all--those I have enumerated, and Algy.
Yes, he is here. Bellona is a goddess who can always spare her sons when
there is any chance of their getting into mischief. Roger has taken Mrs.
Huntley. _That_, poor man, he could hardly help, his only alternative
being his own sister-in-law. Musgrave has taken Barbara. He is still as
white as the table-cloth, and hardly speaks. It is clear that _he_ will
not get up his conversation again, until after the champagne has been
round. Algy has taken no one; and, consequently, a bear is an amiable
and affable beast in comparison of him. I am placed between our host and
his nephew. The latter comes in for a good deal of my conversation, as
most of my remarks have to be taken up and rebellowed by him with a loud
emphasis, that contrasts absurdly with their triviality; and even then
they mostly miscarry, and turn into something totally different.

Talking to the old man is not a dialogue, but a couple of soliloquies,
carried on mostly on different subjects, which in vain try to become the
same, between two interlocutors. Through soup we prospered--that is to
say, we talked of the weather; and though I said several things about it
that surprised me a good deal, yet we both knew that we _were_ talking
of the weather. But since then we have been diverging ever more and more
hopelessly. _He_ is at the shah's visit, and so he imagines am I. I, on
the contrary, am at the Bishop of Winchester's death, and, for the last
five minutes have been trying, with all the force of my lungs, and with
a face rendered scarlet by the double action of heat and of the
consciousness of being the object of respectful attention to the whole
company, to convey to him that, in my opinion, the deceased prelate
ought to have been buried in Westminster Abbey. I have at last
succeeded, at least in so far as to make him understand that I wish
_somebody_ to be buried in Westminster Abbey; but, as he still persists
in thinking it the shah, we are perhaps not much better off than we were
before. I lean back with a sense of despairing defeat, and, behind my
fan, turn to the young man on the other side. He is a jolly-looking
fellow, with an aureole of fiery red hair.

"Would you mind," say I, with panting appeal, "trying to make him
understand that it _is not_ the shah?"

He complies, and, while he is trying to make it clear to his uncle that
he wrongs me in crediting me with any wish to thrust the Persian monarch
among the ashes of the Plantagenets, I take breath, and look round
again. Algy is eating nothing, and is drinking every thing that is
offered to him. His face is not much redder than Musgrave's, and he is
glancing across the table at Mrs. Huntley, with the haggard anger of his
eyes. Of this, however, she seems innocently unaware. She is leaning
back in her chair; so is Roger. They are talking low and quickly, and
looking smilingly at each other. When does his face ever light up into
such alert animation when he is talking to me? There can be no doubt of
it! Why blink a thing because it is unpleasant? I _bore him_.

I have no intention of listening, and yet I hear some of their
words--enough to teach me the drift of their talk. "Residency!"
"Cawnpore!" "Simlah!" "_Cursed_ Simlah!" "_Cursed_ Cawnpore!" My
attention is recalled by the voice of my old neighbor.

"Talking of that--" he says--(talking of _what_, in Heaven's name?)--"I
once knew a man--a doctor, at Norwich--who did not marry till he was
seventy-eight, and had four as fine children as any man need wish to
see."

By the extraordinary irrelevancy of this anecdote, I am so taken aback
that, for a moment, I am unable to utter. Seeing, however, that some
comment is expected from me, I stammer something about its being a great
age. He, however, imagines that I am asking whether they were boys or
girls.

"Three boys and a girl, or three girls and a boy!" he answers, with loud
distinctness--"I cannot recollect which; but, after all--" (with an
acrid chuckle)--"that is not the point of the story!"

I sink back in my chair, with a slight shiver.

"Give it up!" says my other neighbor, with a compassionate smile, and
speaking in a voice not a whit lower than usual--"_I_ would!--it really
is no good!"

"Why does not he have a _trumpet_?" ask I, with a slight accent of
irritation, for I have suffered much, and it is hot.

"He had one once," replies my companion, still pityingly regarding the
flushed discomposure of my face; "but people _would_ insist on bawling
so loudly down it, that they nearly broke the drum of his ear, and so
_he_ broke _it_."

I laugh a little, but in a puny way. There is not much laugh in me.
Again I look round the table. Musgrave is better; he is a better color
than he was. Under the influence of Barbara's gentle talk, his features
have reassumed almost serenity. Algy is _no_ better. I see him lean
back, and speak to the servant behind him. He is asking for more
champagne. I wish he would not. He has had quite enough already. Roger
and Mrs. Huntley are much as they were. They are still leaning back in
their chairs--still looking with friendly intimacy into each other's
eyes--still smiling. Again a few words of their talk reach me.

"Do you recollect?"

"Do you remember?"

"Have you forgotten?"

Clearly, they have fallen upon old times. I wish--I dearly wish--that I
might bite a piece out of somebody.



CHAPTER XLIII.

    "I saw pale kings, and princes, too;
      Pale warriors, death-pale were they all,
    They cried, 'La Belle Dame, sans merci,'
      Hath thee in thrall."


The long penance of dinner is over at last, thank God! I may intermit my
hopeless roarings, melancholy as those of any caged zoological beast.
Roger and Zéphine must also fain suspend their reminiscences. There
being no lady of the house, I have taken upon myself to hasten the date
of our departure. Before Mrs. Zéphine has finished her last grape, I
have swept her incontinently away into the drawing-room. But I might as
well have let it alone: almost before you could say "Knife" they are
after us. I suppose that when three are eager to come, and only two
anxious to stay--(I acquit my old friend and his nephew of any
over-hurry to rejoin us)--the three must needs get their way. Anyhow,
here they all five are! I am so hot! so hot! Nothing heats one like
bellowing and being miserable and a failure. I have again taken
advantage of the mistressless condition of the establishment, have drawn
back the window-curtains, and lifted the heavy sash. The night always
soothes me. There is something so stilling in the far placidity of the
high stars--in the sweet sharpness of the night winds. I have sat down
on a couch in the embrasure, alone.

When the men come in, I remain alone. It does not at all surprise or
much vex me. I have nothing pleasant to say to any one. Also, I think I
must be almost hidden by the droop of the curtains. Roger, indeed, sent
his eyes round the room on his first entry, as if searching for
something or somebody. It cannot be Mrs. Huntley, who is right under his
nose, and who is, indeed, saying something playful to him over the top
of her black fan. For once, he does not hear her. He is still looking.
Then he catches a glimpse of my skirts, and comes straight toward me.
Thank God! it _was_ me he was looking for. I feel a little throb of
disused gladness, as I realize this.

"Are not you cold?" he says, perceiving the open window.

"Not I!" reply I, brusquely--"naught never comes to harm."

"I wish you would have a shawl!" he says, as the evening wind comes,
with the tartness of autumn, to his face.

"Why do not you say, '_do, for my sake!_' as Algy once said to me, when
he mistook me in the dark for Mrs. Huntley?" reply I, with a mocking
laugh--"I am not sure that he did not add _darling_, but I will excuse
_that_!"

At the mention of Algy, a shade crosses his face, and his eye travels to
where, in the dignified solitude of a corner, my eldest brother is
sitting, biting his lips, and reading "Alice Through the Looking-glass,"
upside down.

"Foolish fellow! I wish he had not come!"

"I dare say he returns the compliment."

"I wish she would leave him alone!" he says, with an accent of
impatience, more to himself than to me.

"That is so likely," say I, quickly, "so much her way, is not it?"

I suppose that something in the exceeding bitterness of my tone strikes
him, for his eyes return from Algy to me.

"Nancy," he says, speaking with a sort of hesitating impulse, while a
dark flush crosses his face, "it has occurred to me once or twice--if
the idea had been less unspeakably absurd, it would have occurred to me
many times--that you are--are _jealous_ of Zéphine and me!--YOU jealous
of ME!!"

There is such a depth of emphasis in his last words--such a wealth of
reproachful appeal in the eyes that are bent on me--that I can answer
nothing. I say neither yea nor nay. He has sat down on the couch beside
me.

"Tell me," he says, with low, quick excitement--"and for God's sake do
not grow scarlet, and turn your head aside as you mostly have done--did
you, or did you not know that--that _Musgrave_ was to be here to-day?"

"I _did not_--_indeed_ I _did not_!" I cry, with passionate eagerness;
thankful for once to be able to tell the truth; "we none of us did--not
even Barbara!"

He repeats my last words with a slightly sarcastic inflection, "_not
even Barbara_!"

A moment's pause.

"Why did you stop talking so suddenly, the moment that we interrupted
you?" he asks, with an abruptness that is almost harsh--"what were you
talking about?"

Phew! how hot it is! even though one is by the open window!--even
despite the cool moistness of the night wind.

"I was--I was--I was--congratulating him!" I say, doing the very thing
he has forbidden me, reddening and turning half away. He makes no
rejoinder; only I hear him sigh, and put his hand with a quick,
impatient movement to his head.

"You believe me?" I ask, timidly, laying my hand on his arm.

"No, _I do not_!" he replies, shaking off my touch, and turning his
stern and glittering eyes full upon me. "I should be a _fool_ and an
_idiot_ if I did!"

Then he rises hastily and leaves me. I watch him as he joins the other
men. They are _all_ round her now--all but Musgrave.

Algy has left his corner and his reversed picture-book, moved thereto by
the unparalleled audacity of young Parker, who has pulled one of the
sofa-cushions down on the floor, and is squatting on it, like a great
toad at her feet, examining a gnat-bite on her sacred arm.

Even the old host is doing the agreeable according to his lights. In a
very loud voice he is narrating a long anecdote about a pretty girl that
he once saw at a windmill near Seville, during the Peninsular. With a
most unholy chuckle he is trying to hint that there was more between him
and the young lady than it well beseems him to tell; but fortunately no
one, but I, is listening to him.

I turn away my head, and look out of the window up at Charles's Wain,
and all my other bright old friends. No one is heeding me--no one sees
me; so I drop my hot cheek on the sill.

Suddenly I start up. Some one is approaching me: some one has thrown
himself with careless freedom on the couch beside me. It is Algy.

Having utterly failed in dislodging Mr. Parker from his cushion--having
had a suggestion on his part, on the treatment of the gnat-bite, passed
over in silent contempt--he has retired from the circle in dudgeon.

"This is lively, is not it?" he says, in an aggressively loud voice, as
if he were quarrelsomely anxious to be overheard.

I say "Hush!" apprehensively.

"As no one makes the slightest attempt to entertain _us_, we must
entertain each other, I suppose!"

"Yes, dear old boy!" I say, affectionately, "why not?--it would not be
the first time by many."

"That does not make it any the more amusing!" he says, harshly.--"I say,
Nancy"--his eyes fixing themselves with sullen greediness on the central
figure of the group he has left--on the slight round arm (after all, not
half so round or so white as Barbara's or mine)--which is still under
treatment, "_is_ eau de cologne good for those sort of bites?--her arm
_is_ bad, you know!"

"_Bad!_" echo I, scornfully; "_bad!_ why, I am _all_ lumps, more or
less, and so is Barbara! who minds _us_!"

"You ought to make your old man--'_auld Robin Gray_'--mind you," he
says, with a disagreeable laugh. "It is _his_ business, but he does not
seem to see it, does he? ha! ha!"

"I _wish_!" cry I, passionately; then I stop myself. After all, he is
hardly himself to-night, poor Algy!

"By-the-by," he says, presently, with a wretchedly assumed air of
carelessness, "is it true--it is as well to come to the fountain-head at
once--is it true that _once_, some time in the dark ages,
he--he--thought fit to engage himself to, to _her_?" (with a fierce
accent on the last word).

A pain runs through my heart. Well, that is nothing new nowadays. He too
has heard it, then.

"I do not know!" I answer, faintly.

"What! he has not told you? _Kept it dark!_ eh?" (with the same hateful
laugh).

"He has kept nothing dark!" I answer, indignantly. "One day he began to
tell me something, and I stopped him! I would not hear; I did not want
to hear, I believe; I am sure that they are--only--only--old friends."

"_Old friends!_" he echoes, with a smile, in comparison of which our
host's satyr-leer seems pleasant and chaste. "_Old friends!_ you call
yourself a woman of the world" (indeed I call myself nothing of the
kind), "you call yourself a woman of the world, and believe _that_! They
looked like _old friends_ at dinner to-day, did not they? A little less
than kin, and more than kind! Ha! ha!"



CHAPTER XLIV.


Partridges are not General Parker's strong point, and the few he ever
had his nephew has already shot. Roger must, therefore, for one day
abstain from the turnip-ridges. To amuse us, however, and keep us all
sociably together, and bridge the yawning gulf between breakfast and
dinner, we are to be sent on an expedition. Not only an expedition, but
a picnic. This is perhaps a little risky in such a climate as ours, and
in a month so doubtfully hovering on the borders of winter as September;
but the sun is shining, and we therefore make up our minds, contrary to
all precedent, that he must necessarily go on shining.

Some ten miles away there is a spot whence one can see seven counties,
not to speak of the sea, a mountain or two, and some other trifles; and
thither Mr. Parker is kindly going to bowl us down on his coach.

A drive on a coach is always to me a most doubtful joy; the ascent,
labor; the drive itself, long anxiety and peril; the descent, agony, and
sometimes shame. However, that is neither here nor there. I am going. It
is still half an hour till the time appointed for our departure, and I
am sitting alone in my room when Roger enters.

"Nancy," he says, coming quickly toward me, "have you any idea what sort
of a whip that boy is?"

"Not the slightest!" reply I, shortly.

I feel as hard as a flint to-day. Algy's words last night seem to have
confirmed and given a solider reality to my worst fears. He has walked
to the window and is looking out.

"Are you _nervous_?" say I, with a slightly sarcastic smile.

He does not appear to notice the sarcasm.

"Yes," he says, "that is just what I am. He is a mad sort of fellow, and
a coach is not a thing to play tricks with!"

"No," say I, indifferently. It seems to me of infinitely little
consequence whether we are upset or not.

"That is what I came to speak to you about!" he says, still looking out
of the window.

"Zéphine--"

"Is nervous, too?" ask I, smiling disagreeably. "What a curious
coincidence!"

"I do not know whether she is nervous or not!" he answers, quickly; "I
never asked her, but it seems that Huntley never would let her go on a
drag; he had seen some bad accident, and it had given him a fright--"

"And so you and she are going to stay at home?" say I, coldly, but
breathing a little heavily, and whitening.

"Stay at home!" he echoes, impatiently, "of course not; why should we?
The fact is" (beginning to speak quickly in clear and eager explanation)
"that I heard them talking of this plan yesterday, and so I thought I
would be on the safe side, and send over to Tempest for the
pony-carriage, and it is here now, and--"

"And you are going to drive her in it?" I say, still speaking quietly,
and smiling. "I see! nothing could be nicer!"

"I wish to Heaven that you would not take the words out of my mouth," he
cries, losing his temper a little; while his brows contract into a
slight and most unwonted frown. "What I wish to know is, will _you_
drive her?"

"I!!"

"Yes, _you_; I know--" (speaking with a sort of hurried deprecation) "I
know that you are not fond of her; she is not a woman that other women
are apt to get on with; but it would not be for long! I tell you
candidly" (with a look of sincere anxiety) "I do not half like trusting
you to Parker!--I think you are as likely as not to come to grief."

"To come to grief!" repeat I, with a harsh, dry laugh; "ha! ha! perhaps
I have done that already!"

"But will you?" he asks, eagerly; not heeding my sorry mirth, and taking
my hand. "I would drive you myself, if I could, and if--" (almost humbly)
"if it would not bore you; but you see--" (rather slowly) "about the
carriage, she--she _asked_ me, and one does not like to say 'No' to such
an old friend!"

_Old friend!_ At the phrase, Algy's sneering white face rises before my
mind's eye.

"Will you?" he repeats, looking pleadingly at me, with the gray darkness
of his eyes.

"No, I will not!" I reply, resolutely, and still with that unmirthful
mirth; "what ever else I may be, I will not be a _spoil-sport_!"

"A _spoil-sport_!" he echoes, passionately, while his face darkens, and
hardens with impatient anger; "good God! will you _never_ understand?"

Then he hastily leaves the room. And so it comes to pass that, half an
hour later, I am crawling up with a sick heart to the box-seat,
piteously calling on all around me to hold down my garments during my
ascent. The grooms have let go the horses' heads, and have climbed up in
dapper lightness at the back: we are through the first gate! Bah! that
was a near shave of the post; yes, we are off, off for a long day's
pleasuring! The very thought is enough to put any one in low spirits, is
not it?

Barbara and Musgrave are behind us; and at the back, our old host and
Algy. The two latter are, I think, specially likely to enjoy themselves;
as the raw morning air has got down the old gentleman's throat, and he
is coughing like a wheezy old squirrel; and Algy is in a dumb frenzy. I
am no great judge of coachmanship, but we have not gone a quarter of a
mile, before it is borne in on my mind that Mr. Parker has about as much
idea of driving as a tomcat. The team do what is good in their eyes; we
must throw ourselves on their clemency and discretion, for clearly our
only hope is in them. He has not an idea of keeping them together; they
are all over the place; the wheelers' reins are all loose on their
backs. We seem to have an irresistible tendency toward bordering to the
right which keeps us hovering over the ditch. However, fortunately, the
road is very broad--one of the old coach-roads--and the vehicles we meet
are few and anxious to get out of our way. Such as they are, I will do
ourselves the justice to say that we try our best to run down each and
all of them.

It is September, as I have before said. The leaves are still all green,
only a stray bramble reddening here and there; but most of the midsummer
hedge-row peoples are gathered to their rest. Only a lagging few, the
slight-throated blue-bell, the uncouth ragwort, the little, tight
scabious, remain. At least, the berries are here, however. While each
red hip shows where a faint rose blossomed and fell; while the elder
holds stoutly aloft her flat, black clusters; while the briony clasps
the hawthorn-hedge, we cannot complain. Not only the _main_ things of
Nature, but all her odds and ends, are so exceedingly fair and daintily
wrought.

It is one of those days that look charming, when seen through the
window; bright and sunny, with lights that fly, and shadows that pursue;
but it is a very different matter when one comes to _feel_ it. There is
a bleak, keen wind, that sends the clouds racing through the heavens,
and that blows right in our teeth; nearly strangling me by the violence
with which it takes hold of my head.

There has been no rain for a week or two, and it is a chalky country.
The dust is waltzing in white whirlwinds along the road. High up as we
are, it reaches us, and thrusts its fine and choking powder up our
noses.

"I suppose," say I, doubtfully, looking up at the shifting uncertainty
of the heavens, and trying to speak in a sprightly tone, a feat which I
find rather hard of accomplishment, with such a blast cutting my eyes,
and making me gasp--"I suppose that it will not rain!"

"_Rain!_ not it!" replies our coachman, with contemptuous cheerfulness.

"The glass was going down!" I say, humbly, "and I think I felt a drop
just now!"

"_Impossible!_ it _could_ not rain with this wind."

He says this with such a jovial and robust certainty of scorn, that I am
half inclined to distrust the sky's evidence--to disbelieve even in the
big drop that so indisputably splashed into my eye just now. "But in
case it _does_ rain," continue I, pertinaciously, "I suppose that there
is a house near, or some place where we can take refuge?"

"No, there is no house nearer than a couple of miles"--making the
statement with the easiest composure--"but it will not rain."

"Perhaps"--say I, with a sinking heart--"there is a wood--trees?"

"Well, no, there is not much in the way of trees--except Scotch
firs--there are plenty of them--it is a bare sort of place--that is the
beauty of it, you know"--(with a tone of confident pride)--"there is a
monstrously fine view from it!--one can see _seven_ counties!"

"Yes," say I, faintly, "so I have heard!"

At this point, the old gentleman is understood to be bawling something
from the back. By the utter morosity of Algy's face--faintly seen in the
distance--I conjecture that it is a joke; and, by the chuckling agony of
zest with which the old man is delivered of it, I further conclude that
it is something slightly unclean, but, thanks to the wind, none of us
overtake a word of it. The wind's spirits are rising. Its play is
becoming ever more and more boisterous. It would be difficult to imagine
any thing disagreeabler than it is making itself; but perhaps it _will_
keep off the rain. Thinking this, I try to bear its blows and
buffets--its slaps on the face--its boxes on the ear--with greater
patience. We have left the broad and safe high-road; Mr. Parker having,
in an evil moment, bethought himself of a short-cut. We are, therefore,
entangled in a labyrinth of cross-roads--finger-postless, guideless,
solitary. _So_ solitary, indeed, that we meet only one vacant boy of
tender years, of whom, when we inquire the way, the wind absolutely
refuses to allow us to hear a word of the broad Doric of his answer. At
last--after many bold and stout declarations on the part of Mr. Parker,
that he _will not_ be beaten--that he knows the way as well as he does
his A B C--and that he will find it if he stays till midnight--he is
compelled, by the joint and miserable clamor of us all, to turn back--(a
frightful process, as the road is narrow, and the coach will not
lock)--to retrace our steps, and take up again the despised high-road,
where we had left it. These manoeuvres have naturally taken some time.
It is three o'clock in the afternoon before we at length reach the great
spread of desolate, broad, moorland, which is our destination. For more
than an hour, absolute silence has fallen upon us. Like poor Yorick, we
are "quite, quite chapfallen!" Even the gallant old gentleman could not
make a dirty jest if he were to be shot for it. Mr. Parker alone
maintains his exasperating good spirits. We find Roger and Mrs. Huntley
sitting on the heather waiting for us. There is a good deal of
relief--as it seems to me--in the former's eye, as he sees us appear on
the scene; and a good deal of another expression, as he watches the
masterly manner in which we pull up: all the four horses floundering
together on their haunches; the leaders, moreover, exhibiting a
mysterious desire to turn round and look in the wheelers' faces.

"Here we are!" cries Mr. Parker, joyously; "I have brought you along
capitally, have not I?--but I am afraid we are a little late--eh, Mrs.
Huntley? I hope we have not kept you long."

"_Is_ it late?" she replies, with a smile and a fine hypocrisy--for she
_looks_ hungry--"I did not know; we have been quite happy!"

Roger has risen, and is coming to help me down, but I say, crossly, "Do
not, please; Algy manages best!" Algy, however, has no intention of
helping anybody down. He has helped _himself_ down; and, without a word
or a look to any of his fellow-travellers, has thrown himself down on
the heather at Mrs. Huntley's feet, and is relieving his mind by audible
animadversions on our late triumphal progress. I am therefore left to
the tender mercies of the grooms; at least, I should have been, if Mr.
Musgrave had not taken pity on me, and guided my uncertain feet and the
petticoats, which Zephyr is doing his playful best to turn over my head,
down the steep declivity of the ladder. This, as you may guess, does not
help to restore my equanimity. However, I am down now, on firm ground;
and, at least, we are rid of the dust. My eyes are still full of grit,
but I suppose they will get over that. I turn them disconsolately about.

On a fine sunny day--with butterflies hovering over the heather-flowers,
and bees sucking honey from the gorse--with little mild airs playing
about, and a torquoise sky shining overhead--it might be a spot on which
to lie and dream dreams of paradise; but _now_! The sun has finally
retired, and hid his sulky face for the day; the heather is over; and,
though the gorse is not, yet it gives no fragrance to the raw air. All
over the great rolling expanse there is a heavy, leaden look, caught
from the angry heavens above. The great clouds are gathering themselves
together to battle; and the mighty wind, with nothing to check its
progress, is sweeping over the great plain, and singing with eerie, loud
mournfulness.

I shudder.

"Where are the Scotch firs?" (I say, querulously, to Mr. Parker, who by
this time had joined me); "you said there were plenty of them! where are
they?"

"_Where?_" (looking cheerfully round), "oh, _there_!" (pointing to where
one lightning-riven little wreck bends its sickly head to the gale).
"Ah! I see there is only _one_, after all. I thought that there had been
more."

My heart sinks. Is that one withered, scathed little stick to be our
sole protection against the storm, so evidently quickly coming up?

"Fine view, is not it?" pursues my companion, not in the least
perceiving my depression, and complacently surveying the prospect. "Of
course it might have been clearer, but, after all, you get a very good
idea of it."

I turn my faint eyes in the same direction as his. Down on the horizon
the sullen rain-clouds are settling, and, to meet them, there stretches
a dead, colorless flat, dotted with little round trees, little
church-spires, little houses, little fields, little hedges--one of those
mappy views, that lack even the beauties of a map--the nice pink and
green and blue lines which so gayly define the boundaries of each
county.

"Very extensive, is not it?" he says, proudly; "you know you can see--"

"Seven counties!" interrupt I, sharply, snapping the words out of his
mouth. "Yes, I know; you told me."

The horses have been led away to the distant ale-house. The coach stands
forlorn and solitary on the moor. Some of us, looking at the threatening
aspect of the weather, have suggested that _we_ too should make for
shelter; but this suggestion is indignantly vetoed by Mr. Parker.

"_Rain!_ not a bit of it! It is not _thinking_ of raining! The wind!
what is the matter with the wind? Nice and fresh! Much better than one
of those muggy days, when you can hardly breathe!"



CHAPTER XLV.


The cloth is therefore laid, with the dead heather-flowers beneath it,
and the low leaden sky above. As large stones as can be found have to be
sought on the moorland road to weight it, and hinder our banquet from
flying bodily away. It is at last spread--cold lamb, cold partridges,
chickens, _mayonnaise_, cakes, pastry--they have just been arranged in
their defenceless nakedness under the eye of heaven, when the rain
begins. And, when it begins, it begins to some purpose. It deceives us
with no false hopes--with no breakings in the serried clouds--with no
flying glimpses of blue sky. Down it comes, straight, _straight_ down,
on the lamb, on the _mayonnaise_, splash into the bitter. Each of us
seizes the viand dearest to his or her heart, and tries to shelter it
beneath his or her umbrella. But in vain! The great slant storm reaches
it under the puny defense. Even Mr. Parker has to change the _form_ of
his consolation, though not the spirit. He can no longer deny that it is
raining; but what he now says is that it will not last--that it is only
a shower--that he is very glad to see it come down so hard at first, as
it is all the more certain to be soon over.

Nobody has the heart to contradict him, though everybody knows that it
is a lie. Mrs. Huntley, at the first drop, has made for the coach, and
now sits in it, serene and dry. Algy follows her, with a chicken and a
champagne bottle. I sit doggedly still, where I am, on the cold moor.

Roger has not spoken to me since my rude reception of him on arriving,
but he now comes up to me.

"Had not you better follow her example?" he asks, speaking rather
formally, and looking toward the coach, where with smiling profile and
neat hair, my rival is sitting, reveling among the flesh-pots.

Something in the sight of her sleek, smooth tidiness, joined to the
consciousness of my own miserable, blowsed disorder, stings me more even
than the rain-drops are doing.

"Not I!" I answer, brusquely; "that is what I trust I shall never do!"

He passes by my sneer without notice.

"In this rain you will be drenched in two minutes."

"Après!"

"_Après!_" he repeats, impatiently, "_après?_ you will catch your death
of cold!"

"And you will be a widower!" reply I, with a bitter smile.

Barbara is as obstinate as I am. She, too, seems to prefer the spite of
the elements to disturbing the _tête-à-tête_ in the coach. Musgrave has
made her as comfortable as he can, with her back against the poor little
Scotch fir, and a plaid over both their heads.

The feast proceeds in solemn silence. Even if we had the heart to talk,
the difficulty of making ourselves heard would quite check the
inclination.

There are little puddles in all our plates--the bread and cakes are
_pap_--the lamb is damp and flabby, and the _mayonnaise_ is reduced to a
sort of watery whey.

Mr. Parker is the only one who, under these circumstances, makes any
attempt to pretend that we are enjoying ourselves.

"This is not so bad, after all," he says, still with that same
unconquerable accent of joviality. He has to say it three times, and to
put up his hands to his mouth like a speaking-trumpet, before any one
hears him. When they do, "answer comes there none!"

I, indeed, am not in a position for conversation at the exact moment
that the demand is made upon me. I have just come to the end of a long
wrestle with my umbrella. It has at last got its wicked will, and has
turned right inside out! All its whalebones are aspiring heavenward. It
is transformed into a melancholy _cup_--like a great ugly flower, on a
bare stalk. I lay the remains calmly down beside me, and affront the
blast and the tempest alone! I have a brown hat on--at least it _was_
brown when we set off--I am just wondering, therefore, with a sort of
stupid curiosity, why the _rill_ that so plenteously distills from its
brim, and so madly races down my cold nose, should be _sky blue_, when I
perceive that Barbara has left her shelter, and her lover, and is
standing beside me.

"Poor Nancy!" she says, with a softly compassionate laugh, "how wet you
are! come under the plaid with me! you have no notion how warm it keeps
one; and the tree, though it does not _look_ much, saves one a bit,
too--and Frank does not mind being wet--come quick!"

I am too wretched to object. No water-proof could stand the deluge to
which mine has been subjected. My shoulder-blades feel moist and
_sticky_: my hair is in little dismal ropes, and dreadful runlets are
coursing down my throat, and under my clothes.

Without any remonstrance, I snuggle under the plaid with Barbara--with a
little of the feeling of soothing and dependence with which, long ago,
in the dear old dead days at home, I used, when I was a naughty child,
or a bruised child--and I was very often both--to creep to her for
consolation.

Thanks to the wind, and to our proximity, we are able to talk without a
fear of being overheard.

"You are wrong!" Barbara says, glancing first toward the coach, and then
turning the serene and limpid gravity of her blue eyes on me; "you are
making a mistake!"

I do not affect to understand her.

"_Am I?_" I say, indignantly; "I am doing nothing of the kind! it is not
only my own idea!--ask Algy!"

"_Algy!_" (with a little accent of scorn), "poor Algy!--he is in such a
fit state for judging, is not he?"

We both involuntarily look toward him.

It is _his_ turn now, and his morosity is exchanged for an equally
uncomfortable hilarity. His cheeks are flushed; he is laughing loudly,
and going in heavily for the champagne. The next moment he is scowling
discourteously at his old host, who, with his poor old chuckle entirely
drowned, and overcome by an endless sort of choking monotony of cough,
is clambering on tottery old legs into the coach, to try and get his
share of shelter.

We both laugh a little; and then Barbara speaks again.

"Nancy, I want to say something to you. Just now I heard Roger ask
whether there was a fly to be got at the public-house where the horses
are put up, and it seems there _is_; and he has sent for it. You may
think that it is for _her_, but it is not--it is for _you_! Will you
promise me to go home in it, if he asks you?"

I am silent.

"Will you?" she repeats, taking hold of one of my froggy hands, while
her eyes shine with a soft and friendly urgency; "you know you always
used to take my advice when we were little--will you?"

Somehow, at her words, a little warmth of comfortable reassurance steals
about my heart. At home she always used to be right: perhaps she is
right now--perhaps _I_ am wrong. I will be even better than her
suggestion.

Roger is standing not far from us. The rain has drenched his beard and
his heavy mustache: the great drops stand on his eyelashes, and on his
straight brows. Perhaps I only imagine it, but to me he looks sad and
out of heart. It is not the weather that makes him so, if he is. Much he
cares for that!

I call him "Roger!" My voice is small and low, and the wind is large and
loud, but he hears me.

"Yes?" (turning at the sound with a surprised expression).

"May I go home in the fly?" I ask impulsively, yet humbly, "I mean
with--with _her_!" (a gulp at the pronoun), then, under the influence of
a fear that he may think that I am driven by a hankering after creature
comforts to this overture, I go on quickly, "it is not because I want to
be kept dry--if I were to be dragged through the sea I could not be
wetter than I am--but if you wish--Barbara thought--Barbara said--"

I mumble off into shy incoherency.

"_Will_ you?" he says, with a tone of eagerness and pleasure, which, if
not real, is at least admirably feigned. "It is what I was just wishing
to ask you, only" (laughing with a sort of constraint and a touch of
bitterness) "I really was _afraid_!"

"Am I such a _shrew_?" I say, looking at him with a feeling of growing
light-heartedness. "Ah! I always was! was not I, Barbara?" Then, a
moment after, in a tone that is almost gay, I say, "May Barbara come,
too? is there room?"

"Of course!" he answers readily; "surely there is plenty of room for
all!"

While the words are yet on his lips, while I am still smiling up at him,
under the soaked tartan there comes a voice from the coach.

"Roger!"

He obeys the summons. It is just five paces off, and I hear each of the
slow and softly-enunciated words that follow.

"I hear that you have sent for a fly! how very thoughtful of you! did
you ever forget _any thing_, I wonder? I was--no--not _dreading_ my
drive home; but now I am _quite_ looking forward to it. Why did you not
bring a pack of cards? we might have had a game of bézique."

"I think we have made another arrangement," he answers, quietly. "I
think Nancy will be your companion instead of me."

"_Lady Tempest!_" (with a slight but to me quite perceptible raising of
eyebrows, and accenting of words).

"Yes, Nancy."

I can see her face, but not his. To my acutely listening, sharply
jealous ears there sounds a tone of faint and carefully hidden annoyance
in his voice. It seems to me, too, that her features would not dare to
wear such an expression of open disappointment if they were not answered
and meeting something in his. I therefore take my course. I jump up
hastily, flinging off the plaid, and advance toward the interlocutors.

She is just saying, "Oh, I understand! very nice!" in a little formal
voice when I break in.

"I am going to do nothing of the kind!" I cry, hurriedly. "I have
altered my mind; I shall keep to the coach, that is" (with a nervous
laugh, and a miserable attempt at coquetry), "if Mr. Parker is not tired
of me."

This is the way in which I take Barbara's advice. The fly arrives
presently, and the original pair depart in it. Roger neither looks at
nor speaks to me again; in fact, he ignores my existence; although,
under the influence of one of those speedy and altogether futile
repentances which always follow hard on the heels of my tantrums, I have
waylaid him once or twice in the hope that he would be induced to
recognize it. But no! this time I have outdone myself. I have tried his
patience a little too far. I am in disgrace.

It is long, _long_ after their departure before _we_ get under way. The
grooms have either misunderstood Mr. Parker's directions, or are
enjoying their mulled beer over the pot-house fire too much to be in any
violent haste again to meet the raw air and the persisting deluge.

It is past six o'clock before the horses arrive on the ground; it is
half-past before we are off.

And meanwhile Mr. Parker has been rivaling Algy in the ardor with which
he calls in the aid of the champagne to keep out the wet. At each fresh
tumbler his joviality goes up a step, until at length it reaches a pitch
which produces an opposite effect on me, and engenders a depressed
fright.

"Barbara," say I, in a low voice, when at length the moment of departure
draws near, and only Musgrave is within ear-shot--"Barbara, has it
struck you? do not you think he is rather--"

Barbara, however, is diffident of her own opinion, and repeats my
question to her lover.

He shrugs his shoulders.

"Is he? I have not noticed him; nothing more likely; last time I saw him
he was _flying_! It was in India at a great pig-sticking meeting, and
after dinner he got up to the top of a big mango-tree, and tried to
_fly_! Of course he fell down, but he was so drunk that he was not in
the least hurt."

Mr. Musgrave seems to think this an amusing anecdote; but we do not.

"Why do not _you_ drive?" I ask, contrary to all my resolutions
addressing my future brother-in-law, and indeed forgetting in my alarm
that I had ever made such. I am reminded of it, however, by the look of
gratification that flashes--for only one moment and is gone--but still
flashes into the depths of his great dark eyes.

"It is so likely that he would let me!" he says, laughing.

"I would not mind so much if I were at the _back_!" I say, piteously,
turning to Barbara. "At the back one does not know what is coming, but
on the box one sees whatever is happening."

"That is rather an advantage I think," she answers, laughing. "I do not
mind; I will go on the box."

"Will you?" say I, eagerly. "_Do!_ and I will take care of the old
general at the back."

So it is settled. We are on the point of starting now. Mr. Parker is up
and is already beginning to struggle with the hopeless muddle of his
reins. I think we have perhaps done him an injustice; at all events, his
condition is not at all what it must have been when he mounted the
mango. Algy's morosity has returned tenfold, and he is performing the
evolution familiarly known as "pulling your nose to vex your face." That
is to say, he is standing about in the pouring rain utterly unprotected
from it. He entirely declines to put on any mackintosh or overcoat. Why
he does this, or how it punishes Mrs. Huntley, I cannot say, but so it
is.

We are off at last. I, in accordance with my wishes, up at the back,
facing the grooms; but not at all in accordance with my wishes, Mr.
Musgrave, and not the old host, is my companion.

"This is all wrong!" I cry, with vexed abruptness, as I see who it is
that is climbing after me. "Where is the general? We settled that he--"

"I am afraid you will have to put up with me!" interrupts Musgrave,
coldly, with that angry and mortified darkening of the whole face, and
sudden contraction of the eye-balls that I used so well to know. "We
could not make him hear; we all tried, but none of us could make him
understand." So I have to submit.

Well, we are off now. The night is coming quickly down: it will be
_quite_ dark an hour sooner than usual to-night, so low does the great
black cloud-curtain stoop to the earth's wet face. Ink above us, so
close above us, too, that it seems as if one might touch it with lifted
hand; ink around us; a great stretch of dull and sulky heather; and,
maddening around us with devilish glee, hitting us, buffeting us,
bruising us, taking away our breath, and making our eyelids smart, is a
wind--such a wind! I should have laughed if any one had told me an hour
ago that it would rise. I should have said it was impossible, and yet it
certainly has.

The wind which turned my umbrella inside out was a zephyr compared to
that which is now _thundering_ round us. Sometimes, for one, for two
false moments, it lulls (the lulls are almost awfuller than the
whirlwind that follows them), then with gathered might it comes tearing,
howling, whooping down on us again, gnashing its angry teeth; bellowing
with a voice like ten million lost devils. And on its pinions what rain
it brings; what stinging, lacerating, bitter rain! And now, to add to
our misfortunes, to pile Pelion on Ossa, we _lose our way_. Mr. Parker
cannot be persuaded to abandon the idea of the short-cut. The natural
result follows.

If we were hopelessly bewildered--utterly at sea among the maze of
lonely roads into which he has again betrayed us at high noon--what must
we be now in the angry dark of the evening? This time we have to go into
a field to turn, a field full of tussocks, which in the dark we are
unable to see, and over which the horses flounder and stumble. However,
now at length--now that we have wasted three-quarters of an hour, and
that it is quite pitch dark--(I need hardly say that we have no
lamps)--we have at length regained the blessed breadth of the high-road,
and I think that not even our coachman, to whose faith most things seem
possible, will attempt to leave it a second time. I give a sigh of
relief.

"It is all plain sailing now!" Musgrave says, reassuringly.

"There is one bad turn," reply I, gloomily--"very bad, at the bottom of
the village by the bridge."

We relapse into silence, and into our unnatural battle with the
elements. I have to grasp my hat firmly with one hand, and the side of
the coach with the other, to prevent being blown off. If my companion
were any one else, I should grasp _him_.

We are only a mile and a half from our haven now; the turn I dread is
nearing.

"Are you frightened?" asks Musgrave, in a pause of the storm.

"_Horribly!_" I answer.

I have forgotten Brindley Wood--have forgotten all the mischief he has
done. I recollect only that he is human, and that we are sharing what
seems to me a great and common peril.

"Do not be frightened!" he says, in an eager whisper--"you need not. I
will take care of you!"

Even through all the preoccupation of my alarm something in his tone
jars upon and angers me.

"_You_ take care of me!" I cry, scornfully. "How could you? I wish you
would not talk nonsense."

We have reached the turn now! Shall we do it? One moment of breathless
anxiety. I set my teeth and breathe hard. No, we shall not! We turn too
sharp, and do not take a wide-enough sweep. The coach gives a horrible
lurch. One side of us is up on the hedge-bank!--we are going over! I
give a little agonized yell, and make a snatch at Frank, while my
fingers clutch his nearest hand with the tenacity of a devil-fish. If it
were his hair, or his nose, I should equally grasp it. Then, somehow--to
this moment I do not know how--we right ourselves. The grooms are down
like a shot, pulling at the horses' heads, and in a second or two--how
it is done I do not see, on account of the dark--but with many bumpings,
and shouts and callings, and dreadful jolts, we come straight again, and
I drop Frank's hand like a hot chestnut.

In ten minutes more we are briskly and safely trotting up to the
hall-door. Before we reach it, I see Roger standing under the lit
portico, with level hand shading his eyes, which are intently staring
out into the darkness.

"All right? nothing happened?" he asks, in a tone of the most poignant
anxiety, almost before we have pulled up.

"All right!" replies Barbara's voice, softly cheerful. "Are you looking
for Nancy? She is at the back with Frank."

Roger makes no comment, but this time he does not offer to lift me down.

"Well, here we are!" cries Mr. Parker, coming beaming into the hall,
with his mackintosh one great drip, laughing and rubbing his hands. "And
though I say it that should not, there are not many that could have
brought you home better than I have done to-night, and, I declare, in
spite of the rain, we have not had half a bad day, have we?"

But we are all strictly silent.



CHAPTER XLVI.

    "... Peace, pray you, now,
    No dancing more. Sing sweet, and make us mirth.
    We have done with dancing measures; sing that song
    You call the song of love at ebb."


Yesterday it had seemed impossible that we could ever be dry again, and
yet to-day we are. Even our hair is no longer in dull, discolored ropes.
A night has intervened between us and our sufferings. We have at last
got the sound of the hissing rain and the thunder of the boisterous wind
out of our ears. We have all got colds more or less. I am among the
_less_; for rough weather has never been an enemy to me, and at home I
have always been used to splashing about in the wet, with the native
relish of a young duck. Mrs. Huntley is (despite the fly) among the
_more_. She does not appear until late--not until near luncheon-time.
Her cold is in the head, the _safest_ but unbecomingest place,
producing, as I with malignant joy perceive, a slight thickening and
swelling of her little thin nose, and a boiled-gooseberry air in her
appealing eyes.

The old gentleman is--with the exception, perhaps, of Algy--the most
dilapidated among us. He has not yet begun one anecdote, whose point was
not smothered and effaced by that choking, goat-like cough. This is
perhaps a gain to _us_, as one is not expected to laugh at a _cough_;
nor does its _dénoûment_ ever put one to the blush.

Mr. Parker has no cold at all, and has even had the shameless audacity
to propose _another_ expedition to-day. But we all rise in such loud and
open revolt that he has perforce to withdraw his suggestion.

He must save his superfluous energy for the evening, when the neighbors
are to come together, and we are to dance. This fact is news to most of
us, and I think we hardly receive it with the elation he expects. There
seems to be more of rheumatism than of dance in many of our limbs, and
our united sneezes will be enough to drown the band. However, revolt in
this case is useless. We must console ourselves with the notion that at
least in a ballroom there can be neither rain nor wind--that we cannot
lose our way or be upset, at least not in the sense which had such
terror for us yesterday. Roger has gone over to Tempest on business, and
is away all day. Mrs. Huntley sits by the fire, with a little fichu over
her head, sipping a tisane; while Algy, in undisturbed possession, and
with restored but feverish amiability, stretches his length on the rug
at her feet, and looks injured if Barbara or I, or even the footman with
coals, enters the room.

As the day goes on, there is not much to do; a new idea takes possession
of Mr. Parker's active mind.

Why should not we all be in fancy-dress to-night? Well, not all of us,
then--not his uncle, of course, nor Sir Roger, but any of us that liked.
_Trouble!_ Not a bit of it. Why, the ladies need only rouge a bit, and
put some flour on their heads, and there they are; and, as for the men,
there is a heap of old things up in the lumber-room that belonged to his
great-grandfather, and among them there is sure to be something to fit
everybody. If they do not believe him, they may come and see for
themselves.

Such is the force of a strong will, that he actually carries off the
deeply unwilling Musgrave to inspect his ancestor's wardrobe. At first
we have treated his proposal only with laughter, but he is so profoundly
in earnest about it, and dwells with such eagerness on the advantage of
the fact that not a soul among the company will recognize us--he can
answer for _himself_ at least--it is always by his _hair_ (with a laugh)
that people know _him_--that we at length begin to catch his ardor.

To tell truth, from the beginning the idea has approved itself to
Barbara and me, only that we were ashamed to say so--carrying us back in
memory as it does to the days when we dressed the Brat up in my clothes
as _me_, and took in all the maid-servants. I think, too, that I have a
little of the feeling of faint hope that inspired Balak when he showed
Balaam the Israelites from a fresh point of view. Perhaps, in carmine
cheeks and a snow-white head, I may find a little of my old favor in
Roger's eyes.

Human wills are mostly so feeble and vacillating, that if one
thorough-going determined one sticks to _any_ proposition, however
absurd, he is pretty sure to get the majority round to him in time; and
so it is in the present case. Mr. Parker succeeds in making us all,
willing and unwilling, promise to travesty ourselves. We are not to
dress till after dinner; that is over now, and we are all adorning
ourselves.

For once I am taking great pains, and--for a wonder--pleasant pains with
my toilet. It is slightly delayed by a variety of unwonted
interruptions--knocks at the door, voices of valets in interrogation,
and dialogue with my maid.

"If you please, Mr. Musgrave wants to know has Lady Tempest done with
the rouge?"

(There is only one edition of rouge, which is traveling from room to
room.)

Five minutes more, another knock.

"If you please, Mr. Parker's compliments, and will Lady Tempest lend him
a hair-pin to black his eyelashes?"

I am finished now, quite finished--metamorphosed. I have suffered a
great deal in the process of powdering, as I fancy every one must have
done since the world began; the powder has gone into my eyes, up my
nose, down into my lungs. I have breathed it, and sneezed it, and
swallowed it, but "_il faut souffrir pour être belle_," and I do not
grumble; for I _am_ belle! For once in my life I know what it feels like
to be a pretty woman. My uninteresting flax-hair is hidden. Above the
lowness of my brow there towers a great white erection, giving me height
and dignity, while high aloft a little cap of ancient lace and soft pink
roses daintily perches. On my cheeks there is a vivid yet delicate
color; and my really respectable eyes are emphasized and accentuated by
the dark line beneath them. To tell you the truth, I cannot take my eyes
off myself. It is _delightful_ to be pretty! I am simpering at myself
over my left shoulder, and heartily joining in my maid's encomiums on
myself, when the door opens, and Roger enters. For the first instant I
really think that he does not recognize me. Then--

"_Nancy!_" he exclaims, in a tone of the most utter and thorough
astonishment--"_is_ it Nancy?"

"_Nancy_, at your service!" reply I, with undisguised elation, looking
eagerly at him, with my blackened eyes, to see what he will say next.

"But--what--_has_--happened--to you?" he says, slowly, looking at me
exhaustively from top to toe--from the highest summit of my floured head
to the point of my buckled shoes. "What have you got yourself up like
this for?"

"To please Mr. Parker," reply I, breaking into a laugh of excitement.
"But I have killed two birds with one stone; I have pleased _myself_,
too! Did you ever see any thing so nice as I look?" (unable any longer
to wait for the admiration which is so justly my due).

"Not often!" he answers, with emphasis.

We had parted rather formally--rather _en délicatesse_--this morning,
but we both seem to have forgotten this.

"I must not dance _much_!" say I, anxiously turning again to the glass,
and closely examining my complexion--"must I?--or my rouge will _run_!"

After a moment--

"You must be sure to tell me if I grow to look at all _smeary_, and I
will run up-stairs at once, and put some more on."

He is looking at me, with an infinite amusement, and also commendation,
in his eyes.

"Why, Nancy," he says, smiling--"I had no idea that you were so vain!"

"No," reply I, bubbling over again into a shamefaced yet delighted
laughter--"no more had I! But then I had no idea that I was so pretty,
either."

My elation remains undiminished when I go down-stairs. Yes, even when I
compare myself with Mrs. Huntley, for, _for once_, I have beaten her! I
really think that there can be no two opinions about it! indeed, I have
the greatest difficulty in refraining from asking everybody whether
there can.

She is not in powder. Her hair, in its present color, is hardly dark
enough to suit the high comb, and black lace mantilla which she has
draped about her head, and the red rose in her hair is hardly redder
than the catarrh has made her eyelids. A cold always comes on more
heavily at night; and no one can deny that her whole appearance is
stuffy and choky, and that she speaks through her nose.

As for me, I am not sure that I do not beat even _Barbara_. At least,
the idea has struck me; and, when she herself suggests, and with hearty
satisfaction, and elation not inferior to my own, insists upon it, I do
not think it necessary to contradict her.

None of the three young men have as yet made their appearance; and the
guests are beginning quickly to arrive. All the neighbors--all the
friends who are staying with the neighbors to shoot their
partridges--some soldiers, some odds and ends, _bushels_ of girls--there
always are bushels of girls somehow; here they come, smiling, settling
their ties, giving their skirts furtive kicks behind, as their different
sex and costume bid them.

All the duties of reception fall upon the poor old gentleman, and drive
him to futile wrath, and to sending off many loud and desperate messages
to his truant heir. However, to do him justice, the poor old soul is
hospitality itself, and treats his guests, not only to the best food,
drink, and fiddling in his power, but also to all his primest anecdotes.
No less than _three_ times in the course of the evening do I hear him go
through that remarkable tale of the doctor at Norwich, of the age of
seventy-eight, and the four fine children.

To my immense delight, hardly anybody recognizes me. Many people look
_hard_--really _very_ hard--at me, and I try to appear modestly
unconscious.

We are all in the dancing-room. The sharp fiddles are already beginning
to squeak out a gay galop, and I am tapping impatient time with my foot
to that brisk, emphasized music which has always seemed to Barbara and
me exhilarating past the power of words to express.

I think that Roger perceives my eagerness, for he brings up a, to me,
strange soldier, who makes his bow, and invites me.

I comply, with contained rapture, and off we fly. For I have pressingly
consulted Roger as to whether I may, with safety to my complexion, take
a turn or two, and he has replied strongly in the affirmative. He has,
indeed, maintained that I may dance all night without seeing my rosy
cheeks dissolve, but I know better.

The room is almost lined with mirrors. I can even perceive myself over
my partner's shoulder as I dance. I can ascertain that my loveliness
still continues.

How pleasant it is, after all, to be young! and how _delightful_ to be
pretty!

Does Barbara _always_ feel like this? It seems to me as if I had never
danced so lightly--on so admirably slippery and springy a floor, or with
any one whose step suited mine better. His style of dancing is, indeed,
very like Bobby's. I tell him so. This leads to an explanation as to who
Bobby is, which makes us extremely friendly.

We are standing still for a moment or two to take breath--we are
long-winded, and do not _often_ do it; but still, once in a way, it is
unavoidable--and everybody else is whirling and galloping, and prancing
round us, like Bacchantes, or tops, or what you will, when, looking
toward the door, I catch a glimpse of the three missing young men. They
are dodging behind one another, and each nudging and pushing the other
forward. Clearly, they are horribly ashamed of themselves; and, from the
little I see of them, _no wonder_!

"Here they are!" I cry, in a tone of excitement. "Look! do look!" for,
having at length succeeded in urging Mr. Parker to the front, they are
making their entry, hanging as close together as possible, and with an
extremely hang-dog air.

My partner has opened his eyes and his mouth.

"_What_ are they?" he says, in a tone of extreme disapprobation. "_Who_
are they? Are they _Christy Minstrels_?"

"Oh, do not!" cry I, in a choked voice, "I do not want to laugh, it will
make them so angry--at least not Mr. Parker, but the others."

As I speak, they reach me, that is, Algy and Mr. Parker do. Musgrave has
slunk into a corner, and sits there, glaring at whoever he thinks shows
a disposition to smile in his direction.

I have done Mr. Parker an injustice in accrediting him with any
_mauvaise honte_. On the contrary, he clearly glories in his shame.

"Not half so bad, after all, are they?" he says in a voice of loud and
cheerful appeal to me, as he comes up. "I mean considering, of course,
that they were not _meant_ for one, they really do very decently, do not
they?"

I have put up my fan to hide the irresistible contortions which lips and
mouth are undergoing.

"Very!" I say, indistinctly.

Almost everybody has stopped dancing, and is staring with unaffected
wonder at them. Their heads are heavily floured, and their cheeks
rouged. They have also greatly overdone the burnt hair-pin, as a huge
smouch of black under each of their eyes attests.

They have all three got painfully tight knee-breeches, white stockings,
and enormously long, broad-skirted coats, embroidered in tarnished gold.
Algy's is plum-color. The arms of all three are very, _very_ tight. Had
our ancestors indeed such skinny limbs, and such prodigious backs?

Algy is a tall young man, but the waist of his coat is somewhere about
the calves of his legs. It has told upon his spirits; he looks
supernaturally grave.

Mr. Parker is differently visited. He has an apparently unaccountable
reluctance to turning his back to me. I put it down at first to an
exaggerated politeness; but, when, at last, in walking away, he
unavoidably does it, I no longer wonder at his unwillingness, as his
coat-tails decline to meet within half a mile. His forefathers must have
been oddly framed.

"_Poor fellows!_" says my partner, in a tone of the profoundest
compassion, as he puts his arm round me, and prepares to whirl me again
into the throng, "_how_ I pity them! What on earth did they do it for?"

"Oh, I do not know," I reply; "for _fun_ I suppose!"

But I think that except in the case of Mr. Parker, who really enjoys
himself, and goes about making jovial jests at his own expense, and
asking everybody whether he is not immensely improved by the loss of his
red hair, that there is not much fun in it.

Algy is as sulky and shamefaced as a dog with a tin kettle tied to his
tail, and Mr. Musgrave has altogether disappeared.

The evening wears on. I forget my cheeks, and dance every thing. _How_ I
_am_ enjoying myself! Man after man is brought up to me, and they all
seem pleased with me. At many of the things I say, they laugh heartily,
and I do not wonder--even to myself my speeches sound pleasant. What a
comfort it is that, for once in his life, Roger may be honestly proud of
me! And he is.

It is surely pride, and also something better and pleasanter than pride,
that is shining in the smile with which he is watching me from the
door-way. At least, during the first part of the evening he _was_
watching me.

Is not he still? I look round the room. No, he is not here! he has
disappeared! By a sudden connection of ideas I turn my eyes in search of
the high comb and mantilla. Neither are they here. Last time I saw them,
they were sitting on the stairs, pathetically observing to their
companion how hard it was that one might not feel cool without looking
as if one were flirting.

Perhaps they are on the stairs still; perhaps she has gone to bed as she
threatened. Somehow my heart misgives me. I become rather absent: my
partners grow seldomer merry at my speeches. Even my feet feel to fly
less lightly, and I forget to look at myself in the glass. Then it
strikes me suddenly that I will not dance any more. The sparkle seems to
have gone out of the evening since I missed Roger's face from the
door-way.

I decline an overture on the part of my first friend to trip a measure
with me--we have already tripped several--and, by the surprise and
slight mortification which I read on his face as he turns away, I think
I must have done it with some abruptness.

I decline everybody. I stand in the door-way, whence I can command both
the ballroom and the passages. They are not on the stairs.

A moment ago Mr. Parker came up to me, and told me in his gay, loud
voice how much he would like to have a valse with me, but that his
clothes are so tight, he really _dare not_. Then he disappears among the
throng, with an uncomfortable sidelong movement, which endeavors to
shield the incompleteness of his back view.

I am still smiling at his dilemma, when another voice sounds in my ears.

"You are not dancing?"

It is Musgrave. He has had the vanity to take off his absurd costume,
and to wash the powder from his hair, and the rouge from his cheeks. He
stands before me now, cool, pale, and civilized, in the faultless
quietness of his evening dress.

"No," reply I, shortly, "I am not!"

"Will you dance with me?"

I am not looking at him; indeed, I never look at him now, if I can help;
but I hear a sort of hesitating defiance in his tone.

"No, thank you"--(still more shortly)--"I might have danced, if I had
liked: it is not for want of asking"--(with a little childish
vanity)--"but I do not wish."

"Do not you mean to dance any more this evening, then?"

"I do not know; that is as may be!"

I have almost turned my back upon him, and my eyes are following--not
perhaps quite without a movement of envy--my various acquaintances,
scampering, coupled in mad embraces. I think that he is gone, but I am
mistaken.

"Will you at least let me take you in to supper?" in a tone whose
formality is strongly dashed with resentment.

I wish that I did not know his voice so hatefully well: all its
intonations and inflections are as familiar to me as Roger's.

"I do not want any supper," I answer, petulantly, turning the back of my
head and all my powdered curls toward him; "I never eat supper at a
ball; I like to stand here; I like to watch the people--to watch
Barbara!"

This at least is true. To see Barbara dance has always given, and does
even now give, me the liveliest satisfaction. No one holds her head so
prettily as Barbara; no one moves so smoothly, and with so absolutely
innocent a gayety. The harshest, prudishest adversary of valsing, were
he to see Barbara valse, would be converted to thinking it the most
modest of dances. Mr. Musgrave is turning away. Just as he is doing so,
an idea strikes me. Perhaps they are in the supper-room.

"After all," say I, unceremoniously, and forgetting for the moment who
it is that I am addressing, "I do not mind if I do have something;
I--I--am rather hungry."

I put my hand on his arm, and we walk off.

The supper-room is rather full--(when, indeed, was a supper-room known
to be empty?)--some people are sitting--some standing--it is therefore a
little difficult to make out who is here, and who is not. In total
absolute forgetfulness of the supposed cause that has brought me here, I
stand eagerly staring about, under people's arms--over their shoulders.
So far, I do not see them. I am recalled by Mr. Musgrave's voice, coldly
polite.

"Will not you sit down?"

"No, thank you," reply I, bending my neck back to get a view behind an
intervening group; "I had rather stand."

"Are you looking for any one?"

Again, I wish that I did not know his voice so well--that I did not so
clearly recognize that slightly guardedly malicious intonation.

"Looking for any one?" I cry, sharply, and reddening even through my
rouge--"of course not!--whom should I be looking for?--but, after all, I
do not think I care about having any thing!--there's--there's nothing
that I fancy."

This is a libel at once upon myself and on General Parker's hospitality.
He answers nothing, and perhaps the smile, almost imperceptible--which I
fancy in his eyes, and in the clean curve of his lips--exists only in my
imagination. He again offers me his arm, and I again take it. I have
clean forgotten his existence. His arm is no more to me than if it were
a piece of wood.

"Where are they? where can they be?" is the thought that engrosses all
my attention.

I hardly notice that he is leading me away from the ballroom--down the
long corridor, on which almost all the sitting-rooms open. They are, one
and all, lit up to-night; and in each of them there are guests. I glance
in at the drawing-room: they are not there! We take a turn in the
conservatory. We find Mr. Parker sitting very carefully upright, for his
costume does not allow of any lolling, or of any tricks being played
with it under a magnolia, with a pretty girl--(I wonder, have _my_
cheeks grown as streaky as his?)--but they are not there. We go back to
the corridor. We peep into the library: two or three bored old
gentlemen--martyrs to their daughters' prospects--yawning over the
papers and looking at their watches. They are not here. Where _can_ they
be? Only one room yet remains--one room at the very end of the
passage--the billiard-room, shut off by double doors to deaden the sound
of the balls. One of the double doors is wide open, the other
closed--not absolutely _shut_, but not ajar. Musgrave pushes it, and we
look in. I do not know why I do. I do not expect to see any one. I
hardly think it will be lit, probably blank darkness will meet us. But
it is not so. The lamps above the table are shining subduedly under
their green shades; and on a couch against the wall two people are
sitting. They _are_ here. I found them at last.

Evidently they are in deep and absorbing talk. Roger's elbow rests on
the top of the couch. His head is on his hand. On his face there is an
expression of grave and serious concern; and she--she--is it
_possible_?--she is evidently--plainly weeping. Her face is hidden in
her handkerchief, and she is sobbing quietly, but quite audibly. In an
instant, with ostentatious hurry, Musgrave has reclosed the door, and we
stand together in the passage.

I am not mistaken now: I could not be: that can be no other expression
than triumph that so darkly shines in his great and eager eyes.

"You _knew_ they were there!" I cry in a whisper of passionate
resentment, snatching my hand from his arm; "you brought me here _on
purpose_!"

Then, regardless of appearances, I turn quickly away, and walk back down
the passage alone!



CHAPTER XLVII.


This is how the ball ends for me. As soon as I am out of sight, I
quicken my walk into a run, and, flying up the stairs, take refuge in my
bedroom. Nor do I emerge thence again. The ball itself goes on for
hours. The drawing-room is directly beneath me. It seems to me as if the
sound of the fiddling, of the pounding, scampering feet would never,
never end.

I believe, at least I hear afterward, that Mr. Parker, whose spirits go
on rising with the steady speed of quicksilver in fine weather, declines
to allow his guests to depart, countermands their carriages, bribes
their servants, and, in short, reaches the pitch of joyfully confident
faith to which all things seem not only _possible_, but extremely
desirable, and in whose eyes the mango-tree feat would appear but a
childish trifle.

The room is made up for the night; windows closed, shutters bolted,
curtains draped. With hasty impatience I undo them all. I throw high the
sash, and lean out. It is not a warm night; there is a little frosty
crispness in the air, but I am _burning_. I am talking quickly and
articulately to myself all the time, under my breath; it seems to me to
relieve a little the inarticulate thoughts. I will not wink at it any
longer, indeed I will not; nobody could expect it of me. I will not be
taken in by that transparent fallacy of old friends! Nobody but me is.
They _all_ see it; Algy, Musgrave, all of them. At the thought of the
victory written in Musgrave's eyes just now--at the recollection of the
devilish irony of his wish, as we parted in Brindley Wood--

"I hope that your fidelity may be rewarded as it deserves--"

I start up, with a sort of cry, as if I had been smartly stung, and
begin to walk quickly up and down the room. I will not storm at
Roger--no, I will not even raise my voice, if I can remember, and, after
all, there is a great deal to be said on his side; he has been very
forbearing to me always, and I--I have been trying to him; most petulant
and shrewish; treating him to perpetual, tiresome tears, and peevish,
veiled reproaches. I will only ask him quite meekly and humbly to let me
go home again; to send me back to the changed and emptied school-room;
to Algy's bills and morosities; to the wearing pricks of father's little
pin-point tyrannies.

I have lit the candles, and am looking at myself in the cheval-glass.
What has become of my beauty, pray? The powder is shaken from my hair;
it no longer rises in a white and comely pile; the motion of dancing has
loosened and tossed it; it has a look of dull, gray dishevelment. The
rouge has almost disappeared; melted away, or sunk in; there never was a
great deal of it, never the generous abundance that adorned Mr. Parker's
face. I cannot help laughing, even now, as I think of the round red
smouch that so artlessly ornamented each of his cheeks.

I neither ring for my maid, nor attempt to undress myself. I either keep
walking restlessly to and fro, or I sit by the casement, while the cold
little wind lifts my dusty hair, or blows against my hot, stiff eyes; or
I stand stupidly before the glass; bitterly regarding the ruins of my
one night's fairness. I do not know for how long; it must be hours, but
I could not say how many.

The fiddles' shrill voices grow silent at last; the bounding and
stamping ceases; the departing carriage-wheels grind and crunch on the
gravel drive. I shall not have much longer to wait; he will be coming
soon now. But there is yet another interval. In ungovernable impatience,
I open my door and listen. It seems to me that there reaches me from the
hall, the sound of voices in loud and angry altercation; it is too far
off for me to distinguish to whom they belong. Then there is silence
again, and then at last--at last Roger comes. I hear his foot along the
passage, and run to the door to intercept him, on his way to his
dressing-room. He utters an exclamation of surprise on seeing me.

"Not in bed yet? Not undressed? They told me that you were tired and had
gone to bed hours ago!"

"Did they?"

I can say only these two little words. I am panting so, as if I had run
hard. We are both in the room now, and the door is shut. I suppose I
look odd; wild and gray and haggard through the poor remains of my
rouge.

"You are late," I say presently, in a voice of low constraint, "are not
you? everybody went some time ago."

"I know," he answers, with a slight accent of irritation; "it is Algy's
fault! I do not know what has come to that boy; he hardly seems in his
right mind to-night; he has been trying to pick a quarrel with Parker,
because he lit Mrs. Huntley's candle for her."

"Yes," say I, breathing short and hard. Has not he himself introduced
her name?

"And you know Parker is always ready for a row--loves it--and as he is
as screwed to-night as he well can be, it has been as much as we could
do to make them keep their hands off each other!" After a moment he
adds: "Silly boy! he has been doing his best to fall out with _me_, but
I would not let him compass that."

"Has he?"

Roger has begun to walk up and down, as I did a while ago; on his face a
look of unquiet discontent.

"It was a mistake his coming here this time," he says, with a sort of
anger, and yet compassion, in his tone. "If he had had a grain of sense,
he would have staid away!"

"It is a thousand pities that you cannot send us _all_ home again!" I
say, with a tight, pale smile--"send us packing back again, Algy and
Barbara and _me_--replace me on the wall among the broken bottles, where
you found me."

My voice shakes as I make this dreary joke.

"Why do you say that?" he cries, passionately. "Why do you _torment_ me?
You know as well as I do, that it is impossible--out of the question!
You know that I am no more able to free you than--"

"You _would_, then, if you _could_?" cry I, breathing short and hard.
"You _own_ it!"

For a moment he hesitates; then--

"Yes," he says firmly, "I would! I did not think at one time that I
should ever have lived to say it, but I _would_."

"You are at least candid," I answer, with a sort of smothered sob,
turning away.

"Nancy!" he cries, following me, and taking hold of my cold and clammy
hands, while what _looks_--what, at least, I should have once said
_looked_--like a great yearning fills his kind and handsome eyes; "we
are not very happy, are we? perhaps, child, we never shall be now--often
I think so. Well, it cannot be helped, I suppose. We are not the first,
and we shall not be the last! (with a deep and bitter sigh). But indeed,
I think, dear, that we are unhappier than we need be."

I shrug my shoulders with a sort of careless despair.

"Do you think so? I fancy not. Some people have their happiness thinly
spread over their whole lives, like bread-and-scrape!" I say, with a
homely bitterness. "Some people have it in a _lump_! that is all the
difference! I had mine in a _lump_--all crowded into nineteen years that
is, nineteen _very good years_!" I end, sobbing.

He still has hold of my hands. His face is full of distress; indeed,
distress is too weak a word--of acute and utter pain.

"What makes you talk like this _now_, to-night?" he asks, earnestly. "I
have been deceiving myself with the hope that you were having _one_
happy evening, as I watched you dancing--did you see me? I dare say
not--of course you were not thinking of me. You looked like the old
light-hearted Nancy that lately I have been thinking was gone forever!"

"Did I?" say I, dejectedly, slowly drawing my hands from his, and wiping
my wet eyes with my pocket-handkerchief.

"_Any one_ would have said that you were enjoying yourself," he pursues,
eagerly--"_were_ not you?"

"Yes," say I, ruefully, "I was very much." Then, with a sudden change of
tone to that sneering key which so utterly--so unnaturally misbecomes
me--"And _you_?"

"_I!_" He laughs slightly. "I am a little past the age when one derives
any very vivid satisfaction from a ball; and yet," with a softening of
eye and voice, "I liked looking at you too!"

"And it was pleasant in the billiard-room, was not it?" say I, with a
stiff and coldly ironical smile--"so quiet and shady."

"_In the billiard room?_"

"Do you mean to say," cry I, my factitious smile vanishing, and flashing
out into honest, open passion, "that you mean to deny that you were
there?"

"Deny it!" he echoes, in a tone of the deepest and most displeased
astonishment; "of course not! Why should I? What would be the object?
And if there _were_ one--have _I_ ever told _you_ a lie?" with a
reproachful accent on the pronouns. "I was there half an hour, I should
think."

"And why were you?" cry I, losing all command over myself. "What
business had you? Were not there plenty of other rooms--rooms where
there were lights and people?"

"Plenty!" he replies, coldly, still with that look of heavy displeasure;
"and for my part I had far rather have staid there. I went into the
billiard-room because Mrs. Huntley asked me to take her. She said she
was afraid of the draughts anywhere else."

"Was it the _draughts_ that were making her cry so bitterly, pray?" say
I, my eyes--dry now, achingly dry--flashing a wretched hostility back
into his. "I have heard of their making people's eyes run indeed, but I
never heard of their causing them to sob and moan."

He has begun again to tramp up and down, and utters an exclamation of
weary impatience.

"How could I help her crying?" he asks, with a tired irritation in his
tone. "Do you think I _enjoyed_ it? I _hate_ to see a woman weep! it
makes me _miserable_! it always did; but I have not the slightest
objection--why, in Heaven's name, should I?--to tell you the cause of
her tears. She was talking to me about her child."

"Her _child_!" repeat I, in an accent of the sharpest, cuttingest scorn.
"And you were taken in! I knew that she made capital out of that child,
but I thought that it was only neophytes like Algy, for whose benefit it
was trotted out! I thought that _you_ were too much of a man of the
world, that she knew _you_ too well--" I laugh, derisively.

"Would you like to know the true history of the little Huntley?" I go
on, after a moment. "Would you like to know that its grandmother,
arriving unexpectedly, found it running wild about the lanes, a little
neglected heathen, out at elbows, and with its frock up to its knees,
and that she took it out of pure pity, Mrs. Zéphine not making the
slightest objection, but, on the contrary, being heartily glad to be rid
of it--do you like to know _that_?"

"How do _you_ know it?" (speaking quickly)--"how did _you_ hear it?"

"I was told."

"But _who_ told you?"

"That is not of the slightest consequence."

"I wish to know."

"Mr. Musgrave told me."

I can manage his name better than I used, but even now I redden. For
once in his life, Roger, too, sneers as bitterly as I myself have been
doing.

"Mr. Musgrave seems to have told you a good many things."

This is carrying the war into the enemy's quarters, and so I feel it.
For the moment it shuts my mouth.

"Who is it that has put such notions into your head?" he asks, with
gathering excitement, speaking with rapid passion. "_Some one_ has! I am
as sure as that I stand here that they did not come there of themselves.
There was no room for such suspicions in the pure soul of the girl I
married."

I make no answer.

"If it were not for the _misery_ of it," he goes on, that dark flush
that colored his bronzed face the other night again spreading over it,
"I could _laugh_ at the gross absurdity of the idea! To begin such
fooleries at _my_ age! Nancy, Nancy!" his tone changing to one of
reproachful, heart-rending appeal--"has it never struck you that it is a
little hard, considering all things, that _you_ should suspect _me_?"

Still I am silent.

"Tell me what you wish me to do!" he cries, with passionate emphasis.
"Tell me what you wish me to leave undone! I will do it! I will leave it
undone! You are a little hard upon me, dear: indeed you are--some day I
think that you will see it--but it was not your own thought! I know that
as well as if you had told me! It was suggested to you--_by whom_ you
best know, and whether his words or mine are most worthy of credit!"

He is looking at me with a fixed, pathetic mournfulness. There is in his
eyes a sort of hopelessness and yet patience.

"We are _miserable_, are not we?" he goes on, in a low voice--"_most_
miserable! and it seems to me that every day we grow more so, that every
day there is a greater dissonance between us! For my part, I have given
up the hope that we can ever be happier! I have wondered that I should
have entertained it. But, at least, we might have _peace_!"

There is such a depth of depression, such a burden of fatigue in his
voice, that the tears rise in my throat and choke the coming speech.

"At least you are undeceived about me, are not you?" he says, looking at
me with an eager and yet almost confident expectation. "At least, you
believe me!"

But I answer nothing. It is the tears that keep me dumb, but I think
that he thinks me still unconvinced, for he turns away with a groan.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

    "I made a posy while the day ran by,
    Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
      My life within this band;
    But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they
    By noon most cunningly did steal away,
      And withered in my hand!"


We are home again now; we have been away only three days after all, but
they seem to me like three years--three disastrous years--so greatly
during them has the gulf between Roger and me widened and deepened.
Looking back on what it was before that, it seems to me now to have been
but a shallow and trifling ditch, compared to the abyss that it is now.
We left Mr. Parker standing at the hall-door, his red hair flaming
bravely in the morning sun, loudly expressing his regret at our
departure, and trying to extract an unlikely promise from us that we
will come back next week.

During the drive home we none of us hardly speak. Roger and I are
gloomily silent, Barbara sympathetically so. Barbara has the happiest
knack of being in tune with every mood; she never jostles with untimely
mirth against any sadness. I think she sees that my wounds are yet too
fresh and raw to bear the gentlest handling, so she only pours upon them
the balm of her tender silence. There is none of the recognized and
allowed selfishness of a betrothed pair about Barbara. Sometimes I
almost forget that she _is_ engaged, so little does she ever bring
herself into the foreground; and yet, if it were not for us, I think
that to-day she could well find in her heart to be mirthful.

After all is said and done, I _still_ love Barbara. However much the
rest of my life has turned to Dead Sea apples, I still love Barbara;
and, what is more, I shall always love her now. Is not she to live at
only a stone's-throw from me? I do not think that I am of a very gushing
nature generally, but as I think these thoughts I take hold of her
slight hand, and give it a long squeeze. Somehow the action consoles me.

Two more days pass. It is morning again, and I am sitting in my boudoir,
doing nothing (I never seem to myself to do any thing now), and
listlessly thinking how yellow the great horse-chestnut in the garden is
turning, and how kindly and becomingly Death handles all leaves and
flowers, so different from the bitter spite with which he makes havoc of
_us_, when Roger enters. It surprises me, as it is the first time that
he has done it since our return.

We are on the formalest terms now; perhaps so best; and, if we have to
address each other, do it in the shortest little icy phrases. When we
are _obliged_ to meet, as at dinner, etc., we both talk resolutely to
Barbara. He does not look icy now; disturbed rather, and anxious. He has
an open note in his hand.

"Nancy," he says, coming quickly up to me, "did you know that Algy was
at Laurel Cottage?"

"Not I!" I answer, tartly. "He does not favor me with his plans;
tiresome boy. He is more bother than he is worth."

"Hush!" he says, hastily yet gently. "Do not say any thing against him;
you will be sorry if you do. He is _ill_."

"_Ill!_" repeat I, in a tone of consternation, for among us it is a new
word, and its novelty is awful. "What is the matter with him?"

Then, without waiting for an answer, I snatch the note from his hand. I
do not know to this day whether he meant me to read it or not, but I
think he _did_, and glance hastily through it. I am well into it before
I realize that it is from my rival.

     "MY DEAR ROGER:

     "My hand is trembling so much that I can hardly hold the pen, but,
     _as usual_, in my troubles, I turn to you. Algy Grey is here. You,
     who always understand, will know how much against my will his
     coming was, but he _would_ come; and you know, poor fellow, how
     headstrong he is! I am grieved to tell you that he was taken ill
     this morning; I sadly fear that it is this wretched low fever that
     is so much about. It makes me _miserable_ to leave him! If I
     consulted my own wishes, I need not tell _you_ that I should stay
     and nurse him; but alas! I know by experience the sharpness of the
     world's tongue, and in my situation I dare not brave it; nor would
     it be fair upon Mr. Huntley that I should. Ah! what a different
     world it would be if one might follow one's own impulses! but one
     may not, and so I am leaving at once. I shall be gone before this
     reaches you."

I throw the letter down on the floor with a gesture of raging disgust.

"Gone!" I say, with flashing eyes and lifted voice; "is it possible
that, after having decoyed him there, she is leaving him now to die,
_alone_?"

"So it seems," he answers, looking back at me with an indignation hardly
inferior to my own. "I could not have believed it of her."

"He will die!" I say a moment after, forgetting Mrs. Huntley, and
breaking into a storm of tears. "I _know_ he will! I always said we were
too prosperous. Nothing has ever happened to us. None of us have ever
gone! I _know_ he will die; and I said yesterday that I liked him the
least of all the boys. Oh, I _wish_ I had not said it.--Barbara!
Barbara! I _wish_ I had not said it."

For Barbara has entered, and is standing silently listening. The roses
in her cheeks have paled, indeed, and her blue eyes look large and
frightened; but, unlike me, she makes no crying fuss. With noiseless
dispatch she arranges every thing for our departure. Neither will she
hear of Algy's dying. He will get better. We will go to him at once--all
three of us--and will nurse him so well that he will soon be himself
again; and whatever happens (with a kindling of the eye, and godly
lightening of all her gentle face), is not _God_ here--God _our friend_?
This is what she keeps saying to me in a soft and comforting whisper
during our short transit, with her slight arm thrown round me as I sob
in helpless wretchedness on her shoulder. It is very foolish, very
childish of me, but I cannot get it out of my head, that I said I liked
him the least. It haunts me still when I stand by his bedside, when I
see his poor cheeks redder than mine were when they wore their rouge,
when I notice the hot drought of his parched lips. It haunts me still
with disproportioned remorse through all the weeks of his illness.

For the time stretches itself out to weeks--abnormal, weary weeks, when
the boundaries of day and night confound themselves--when each steps
over into his brother's territories--when it grows to feel natural,
wakefully, to watch the candle's ghostly shadows, flickering at
midnight, and to snatch fitful sleeps at noon! to watch the autumnal
dawns coldly breaking in the gloom of the last, and to have the stars
for companions.

His insane exposure of himself to the rage of the storm, on the night of
the picnic, has combined, with previous dissipation, to lower his system
so successfully as to render him an easy booty to the low, crawling
fever, which, as so often in autumn, is stealing sullenly about, to lay
hold on such as through any previous cause of weakness are rendered the
more liable to its attacks. Slowly it saps the foundations of his being.

But Algy has always loved life, and had a strong hold on it; neither
will he let go his hold on it now, without a tough struggle; and so the
war is long and bitter, and we that fight on Algy's side are weak and
worn out.

Sometimes the silence of the night is broken by the boy's voice calling
strongly and loudly for Zéphine. Often he mistakes me for her--often
Barbara--catches our hands and covers them with insane kisses.

Sometimes he appeals to her by the most madly tender names--names that I
think would surprise Mr. Huntley a good deal, and perhaps not altogether
please him; sometimes he alludes to past episodes--episodes that perhaps
would have done as well to remain in their graves.

On such occasions I am dreadfully frightened, and very miserable; but
all the same, I cannot help glancing across at Roger, with a sort of
triumph in my eyes--sort of _told-you-so_ expression, from which it
would have required a loftier nature than mine to refrain.

And so the days go on, and I lose reckoning of time. I could hardly tell
you whether it were day or night.

My legs ache mostly a good deal, and I feel dull and drowsy from want of
sleep. But the brunt of the nursing falls upon Barbara.

When he was well--even in his best days--Algy was never very
reasonable--very considerate--neither, you may be sure, is he so now.

It is always Barbara, Barbara, for whom he is calling. God knows I do my
best, and so does Roger. No most loving mother could be gentler, or
spare himself less, than he does; but somehow we do not content him.

It is not to every one that the gift of nursing is vouchsafed. I think I
am clumsy. Try as I will, my hands are not so quick and light and deft
as hers--my dress rustles more, and my voice is less soothing.

And so it is always "Barbara! Barbara!" And Barbara is always
there--always ready.

The lovely flush that outdid the garden-flowers has left her cheeks
indeed, and her eyelids are drooped and heavy; but her eyes shine with
as steady a sweetness as ever; for God has lit in them a lamp that no
weariness can put out.

Sometimes I think that if one of the lovely spirits that wait upon God
in heaven were sent down to minister here below, he would not be very
different in look and way, and holy tender speech, from our Barbara.

Whether it be through her nursing, or by the strength of his own
constitution, and the tenacious vitality of youth, or, perhaps, the help
of all three, Algy pulls through.

I think he has looked Death in the face, as nearly as any one ever did
without falling utterly into his cold embrace, but he pulls through.

By very slow, small, and faltering steps, he creeps back to
convalescence. His recovery is a tedious business, with many tiresome
checks, and many ebbings and flowings of the tide of life; but--he
lives. Weak as any little tottering child--white as the sheets he lies
on; with prominent cheek-bones, and great and languid eyes, he is given
back to us.

Life, worsted daily in a thousand cruel fights, has gained one little
victory. To-day, for the first time, we all three at once leave
him--leave him coolly and quietly asleep, and dine together in Mrs.
Huntley's little dusk-shaded dining-room.

We are quite a party. Mother is here, come to rejoice over her restored
first-born son; the Brat is here; he has run over from Oxford. Musgrave
is here. I am in such spirits; I do not know what has come to me. It
seems to me as if I were newly born into a fresh and altogether good and
jovial world.

Not even the presence of Musgrave lays any constraint upon my spirits.

For the first time since the dark day in Brindley Wood, I meet him
without embarrassment. I answer him: I even address him now and then.

All the small civilizations of life--the flower-garnished table; the
lamps softly burning; the evening-dresses (for the first time we have
dressed for dinner)--fill me with a keen pleasure, that I should have
thought such little etceteras were quite incapable of affording.

I seem as if I could not speak without broad smiles. I am tired, indeed,
still, and my eyes are heavy. But what does that matter? Life has won!
Life has won! We are still all six here!

"Nancy!" says the Brat, regarding me with an eye of friendly criticism,
"I think you are _cracked_ to-night!--Do you remember what our nurses
used to tell us? 'Much laughing always ends in much crying.'"

But I do not heed: I laugh on. Barbara is not nearly so boisterously
merry as I, but then she never is. She is more overdone with fatigue
than I, I think; for she speaks little--though what she does say is full
of content and gladness--and there are dark streaks of weariness and
watching under the serene violets of her eyes. She is certainly very
tired; as we go to bed at night she seems hardly able to get up the
stairs, but leans heavily on the banisters--one who usually runs so
lightly up and down.

Yes, _very_ tired, but what of that? it would be unnatural, _most_
unnatural if she were not; she will be all right to-morrow, after a good
long night's rest--yes, all right. I say this to her, still gayly
laughing as I give her my last kiss, and she smiles and echoes, "All
right!"



CHAPTER XLIX.

    "So mayst thou die, as I do; fear and pain
    Being subdued. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!"


All right! Yes, for Barbara it _is_ all right. Friends, I no more doubt
that than I doubt that I am sitting here now, with the hot tears on my
cheeks, telling you about it; but oh! not--_not_ for us!

"Much laughing will end in much crying." The Brat was right. God knows
the old saw has come true enough in my case. I exulted too soon. Too
soon I said that the all-victor was vanquished. He might have left us
our one little victory, might not he?--knowing that at best it was but a
reprieve, that soon or late--soon or late, Algy--we all, every human
flower that ever blossomed out in this world's sad garden, must be
embraced in the icy iron of his arms.

I always said that we were too many and too prosperous; long ago I said
it. I always wondered that he had so long overlooked us. And now that he
comes, he takes our choicest and best. With nothing less is he content.
Barbara sickens. Not until the need for her tender nursing is ended, not
until Algy can do without her, does she go; and then she makes haste to
leave us.

On the morning after my mad and premature elation, it is but too plain
that the fever has laid hold of her too, and in its parching, withering
clasp, our unstained lily fades. We take her back to Tempest at her
wish, and there she dies--yes, _dies_.

Somehow, I never thought of Barbara dying. Often I have been nervous
about the boys; out in the world, exposed to a hundred dangers and rough
accidents, but about Barbara--_never_, hardly more than about myself,
safely at home, scarcely within reach of any probable peril. And now the
boys are all alive and safe, and Barbara is going. One would think that
she had cared nothing for us, she is in such a hurry to be gone; and yet
we all know that she has loved us well--that she loves us still--none
better.

Alas! we have no long and tedious nursing of her. She has never given
any trouble in her life, and she gives none now. Almost before we
realize the reality and severity of her sickness, she is gone. Neither
does she make any struggle. She never was one to strive or cry; never
loud, clamorous, and self-asserting, like the boys and me; she was
always most meek, and with a great meekness she now goes forth from
among us--meekness and yet valor, for with a full and collected
consciousness she looks in the face of Him from whom the nations
shuddering turn away their eyes, and puts her slight hand gently into
his, saying, "Friend, I am ready!"

And the days roll by; _but_ few, _but_ few of them, for, as I tell you,
she goes most quickly, and it comes to pass that our Barbara's death-day
dawns. Most people go in the morning. God grant that it is a good omen,
that for them, indeed, the sun is rising!

We are all round her--all we that loved her and yet so lightly--for
every trivial thing called upon her, and taxed her, and claimed this and
that of her, as if she were some certain common thing that we should
always have within our reach. Yes, we are all about her, kneeling and
standing in a hallowed silence, choking back our tears that they may not
stain the serenity of her departure.

Musgrave is nearest her; her hand is clasped in his; even at this sacred
and supreme moment a pang of most bitter earthly jealousy contracts my
heart that it should be so. What is he to her? what has he to do with
our Barbara?--_ours, not his, not his!_ But it pleases her.

_She_ has never doubted him. Never has the faintest suspicion of his
truth dimmed the mirror of her guileless mind, nor will it ever now. She
goes down to the grave smiling, holding his hand, and kissing it. Now
and then she wanders a little, but there is nothing painful or uneasy in
her wanderings.

Her fair white body lies upon the bed, but by the smile that kindles all
the dying loveliness of her face, by the happy broken words that fall
from her sweet mouth, we know that she is already away in heaven. Now
and again her lips part as if to laugh--a laugh of pure pleasantness.

"As the man lives, so shall he die!" As Barbara has lived, so does she
die--meekly, unselfishly--with a great patience, and an absolute peace.
O wise man! O philosophers! who would take from us--who have all but
taken from us--our Blessed Land, the land over whose borders our
Barbara, at that smile, seems setting her feet--you _may_ be right--I,
for one, know not! I am weary of your pros and cons! But when you take
it away, for God's sake give us something better instead!

Who, while they kneel, with the faint hand of their life's life in
theirs, can be satisfied with the _probability_ of meeting again? God!
God! give us _certainty_.

The night has all but waned, the dawn has come. God has sent his
messenger for Barbara. An awful hunger to hear her voice once more
seizes me, _masters_ me. I rise from my knees, and lean over her.

"Barbara!" I say, in a strangling agony of tears, "you are not _afraid_,
are you?"

_Afraid!_ She has all but forgotten our speech--she, who is hovering on
the confines of that other world, where our speech is needed not, but
she just repeats my word, "_Afraid!_"

Her voice is but a whisper now, but in all her look there is such an
utter, tender, joyful disdain, as leaves no room for misgiving.

Nay, friends, our Barbara is not at all afraid. She never was reckoned
one of the bravest of us--never--timorous rather! Often we have laughed
at her easy fears, we bolder ones. But which of us, I pray you, could go
with such valiant cheer to meet the one prime terror of the nations as
she is doing?

And it comes to pass that, about the time of the sun-rising, Barbara
goes.

"She is gone! God bless her!" Roger says, with low and reverent
tenderness, stooping over our dead lily, and, putting his arm round me,
tries to lead me away. But I shake him off, and laugh out loud.

"Are you _mad_?" I cry, "she is _not_ dead! She is no more dead than
_you_ are! Only a moment ago, she was speaking to me! Do dead people
speak?"

But rave and cry as I may, she _is_ dead. In smiling and sweetly
speaking, even while yet I said "She is here!" yea, in that very moment
she went.

Our Barbara is asleep!--to awake--when?--where?--we know not, only we
altogether hope, that, when next she opens her blue eyes, it will be in
the sunshine of God's august smile--God, through life and in death, _her
friend_.



CHAPTER L.

    "Then, breaking into tears, 'Dear God,' she cried, 'and must we see,
    All blissful things depart from us, or e'er we go to Thee;
    We cannot guess Thee in the wood, or hear Thee in the wind:
    Our cedars must fall round us e'er we see the light behind.
    Ay, sooth, we feel too strong in weal to need Thee on that road;
    But, woe being come, the soul is dumb that crieth not on God.'"


I am twenty years old now, barely twenty; and seventy is the appointed
boundary of man's date, often exceeded by ten, by fifteen years. During
all these fifty--perhaps sixty--years, I shall have to do without
Barbara. I have not yet arrived at the _pain_ of this thought: _that_
will come, quick enough, I suppose, by-and-by!--it is the _astonishment_
of it that is making my mind reel and stagger!

I suppose there are few that have not endured and overlived the
frightful _novelty_ of this idea.

I am sitting in a stupid silence; my stiff eyes--dry now, but dim and
sunk with hours of frantic weeping--fixed on vacancy, while I try to
think _exactly_ of her face, with a greedy, jealous fear lest, in the
long apathy of the endless years ahead of me, one soft line, one lovely
line, may become faint and hazy to me.

How often I have sat for hours in the same room with her, without one
glance at her! It seems to me, now, _monstrous_, incredible, that I
should ever have moved my eyes from her--that I should ever have ceased
kissing her, and telling her how altogether beloved she was by me.

If all of us, while we are alive, could stealthily, once a year, and
during a moment long enough to exchange but two words with them, behold
those loved ones whom we have lost, death would be no more death.

But, O friends, that one moment, for whose sake we could so joyfully
live through all the other minutes of the year, to us never comes.

I suppose trouble has made me a little light-headed. I think to-day I am
foolisher than usual. Thoughts that would not tease other people, tease
me.

If I ever see her again--if God ever give me that great felicity--I do
not quite know why He should, but if--if--(ah! what an if it is!)--my
mind misgives me--I have my doubts that it will not be _quite_
Barbara--not the Barbara that knitted socks for the boys, and taught Tou
Tou, and whose slight, fond arms I can--now that I have shut my eyes--so
plainly feel thrown round my shoulders, to console me when I have broken
into easy tears at some silly tiff with the others. Can even the
omnipotent God remember all the unnumbered dead, and restore to them the
shape and features that they once wore, and by which they who loved them
knew them?

The funeral is over now--over two days ago. She lies in Tempest
church-yard, at her own wish. The blinds are drawn up again; the sun
looks in; and life goes on as before.

Already there has grown a sacredness about the name of Barbara--the name
that used to echo through the house oftener than any other, as one and
another called for her. Now, it is less lightly named than the names of
us live ones.

I shall always _wince_ when I hear it. Thank God! it is not a common
name. After a while, I know that she will become a sealed subject, never
named; but as yet--while my wound is in its first awful rawness, I must
speak of her to some one.

I am talking of her to Roger now; Roger is very good to me--very! I do
not seem to care much about him, nor about anybody for the matter of
that, but he is very good.

"You liked her," I say, in a perfectly collected, tearless voice, "did
not you? You were very kind and forbearing to them all, always--I am
very grateful to you for it--but you liked _her_ of your own accord--you
would have liked her, even if she had not been one of us, would not
you?"

I seem greedy to hear that she was dear to everybody.

"I was very fond of her," he answers, in a choked voice.

"And you are _sure_ that she is happy now?" say I, with the same keen
agony of anxiety with which I have put the question twenty times
before--"well off--better than she was here--you do not say so to
comfort me, I suppose; you would say it even if I were talking--not of
her--but of some one like her that I did not care about?"

He turns to me, and clasps my dry, hot hands.

"Child!" he says, looking at me with great tears standing in his gray
eyes--"I would stake all my hopes of seeing His face myself, that she
has gone to God!"

I look at him with a sort of wistful envy. How is it that he and Barbara
have attained such a certainty of faith? He can _know_ no more than I
do. After a pause--

"I think," say I, "that I should like to go home for a bit, if you do
not mind. Everybody was fond of her there. Nobody knew any thing about
her, nobody cared for her here."

So I go home. As I turn in at the park-gates, in the gray, wet gloom of
the November evening, I think of my first home-coming after my
wedding-tour.

Again I see the divine and jocund serenity of the summer evening--the
hot, red sunset making all the windows one great flame, and they all,
Barbara, Algy, Bobby, Tou Tou, laughing welcome to me from the opened
gate. To-night I feel as if they were _all_ dead.

I reach the house. I stand in the empty school-room!--I, alone, of all
the noisy six. The stains of our cookery still discolor the old carpet;
there is still the great ink-splash on the wall, that marks the spot
where the little inkstand, aimed by Bobby at my head, and dodged by me,
alighted.

How little I thought that those stains and that splash would ever speak
to me with voices of such pathos! I have asked to be allowed to sleep in
Barbara's and my old room. I am there now. I have thrown myself on
Barbara's little white bed, and am clasping her pillow in my empty arms.
Then, with blurred sight and swimming eyes, I look round at all our
little childish knick-knacks.

There is the white crockery lamb that she gave me the day I was six
years old! Poor little trumpery lamb! I snatch it up, and deluge its
crinkly back, and its little pink nose, with my scalding tears.

At night I cannot sleep. I have pulled aside the curtains, that through
the windows my eyes may see the high stars, beyond which she has gone.
Through the pane they make a faint and ghostly glimmer on the empty bed.

I sit up in the dead middle of the night, when the darkness and
so-called silence are surging and singing round me, while the whole room
feels full of spirit presences. _I alone!_ I am accompanied by a host--a
bodiless host.

I stretch out my arms before me, and cry out:

"Barbara! Barbara! If you are here, make some sign! I _command_ you,
touch me, speak to me! I shall not be afraid!--dead or alive, can I be
afraid of _you_?--give me some sign to let me know where you
are--whether it is worth while trying to be good to get to you! I
_adjure_ you, give me some sign!"

The tears are raining down my cheeks, as I eagerly await some answer.
Perhaps it will come in the cold, _cold_ air, by which some have known
of the presence of their dead; but in vain. The darkness and the silence
surge round me. Still, still I feel the spirit-presences; but Barbara is
dumb.

"You have been away such a short time!" I cry, piteously. "You cannot
have gone far! Barbara! Barbara! I _must_ get to you! If _I_ had died,
and _you_ had lived, a hundred thousand devils should not have kept me
from you. I should have broken through them all and reached you. Ah!
cruel Barbara! you do not _want_ to come to me!"

I stop, suffocated with tears; and through the pane the high stars still
shine, and Barbara is dumb!



CHAPTER LI.

    "The last touch of their hands in the morning, I keep it by day
       and by night.
    Their last step on the stairs, at the door, still throbs through
       me, if ever so light.
    Their last gift which they left to my childhood, far off in the
       long-ago years,
    Is now turned from a toy to a relic, and seen through the crystals
       of tears.
    'Dig the snow,' she said,
    'For my church-yard bed;
    Yet I, as I sleep, shall not fear to freeze,
    If one only of these, my beloveds, shall love with heart-warm tears,
    As I have loved these.'"


It seems to me in these days as if, but for the servants, I were quite
alone in the house. Father is ill. We always thought that he never would
care about any thing, or any of us, but we are wrong. Barbara's death
has shaken him very much. Mother is with him always, nursing him, and
being at his beck and call, and I see nothing of her.

Tou Tou has gone to school, and so it comes to pass that, in the late
populous school-room, I sit alone. Where formerly one could hardly make
one's voice heard for the merry clamor, there is now no noise, but the
faint buzzing of the house-flies on the pane, and now and again, as it
grows toward sunset, the loud wintry winds keening and calling.

The Brat indeed runs over for a couple of days, but I am so glad when
they are over, and he is gone. I used to like the Brat the best of all
the boys, and perhaps by-and-by I shall again; but, for the moment, do
you know, I almost hate him.

Once or twice I _quite_ hate him, when I hear him laughing in his old
thorough, light-hearted way--when I hear him jumping up-stairs three
steps at a time, whistling the same tune he used to whistle before he
went.

Poor boy! He would be always sorrowful if he could, and is very much
ashamed of himself for not being, but he cannot.

Life is still pleasant to him, though Barbara is dead, and so I unjustly
hate him, and am glad when he is gone. Have not I come home because here
she was loved, here, at least, through all the village--the village
about which she trod like one of God's kind angels--I shall be certain
of meeting a keen and assured sympathy in my sorrow.

    "... Where indeed
    The roof so lowly but that beam of heaven
    Dawned some time through the door-way?"

And yet, now that I am here, the village seems much as it was. Still the
same groups of fat, frolicking children about the doors; still the same
busy women at the wash-tub; about the house still the same coarse
laughs.

It would be most unnatural, impossible that it should not be so, and yet
I feel angry--sorely angry with them.

One day when this sense of rawness is at its worst and sharpest, I
resolve that I will pay a visit to the almshouse. There, at least, I
shall find that she is remembered; there, out of mere selfishness, they
must grieve for her. When will they, in their unlovely eld, ever find
such a friend again?

So I go there. I find the old women, some crooning over the fire, half
asleep, some squabbling. I suppose they are glad to see me, though not
_so_ glad when they discover that I have brought no gift in my hand, for
indeed I have forgotten--no quarter-pounds of tea--no little
three-cornered parcels of sugar.

They begin to talk about Barbara at once. Among the poor there is never
any sacredness about the names of the dead, and though I have hungered
for sorrowful talk about her, for assurance that by some one besides
myself the awful emptiness of her place is felt, yet I wince and shrink
from hearing her lightly named in common speech.

They are sorry about her, certainly--quite sorry--but it is more what
they have lost by her, than her that they deplore. And they are more
taken up with their own little miserable squabbles--with detracting
tales of one another--than with either.

"Eh? she's a bad 'un, she is! I says to her, says I, 'Sally,' says I,
'if you'll give yourself hully and whully to the Lord for one week, I'll
give you a _hounce_ of baccy,' and she's that wicked, she actilly would
not."

Is _this_ the sort of thing I have come to hear? I rise up hastily, and
take my leave.

As I walk home again through the wintry roads, and my eyes fix
themselves with a tired languor on the green ivy-flowers--on the little
gray-green lichen-cups on the almshouse-wall, I think, "Does _no one_
remember her? Is she already altogether forgotten?"

It is still early in the afternoon when I reach home. The dark is
_coming_ indeed, for it comes soon nowadays, but it has not yet come.

I go into the garden, and begin to pace up and down the gravel walks,
under the naked lime-trees that have forgotten their July perfume, and
are tossing their bare, cold arms in the evening wind.

Only _one_ of my old playfellows is left me. Jacky still stands on the
gravel as if the whole place belonged to him; still stands with his head
on one side, roguishly eying the sunset.

Thank Heaven, Jacky is still here, sly and nefarious, as when I bent
down to give him my tearful good-by kiss on my wedding-morning. I kneel
down, half laughing, half crying, on the damp walk, to stroke his round
gray head, and hear his dear cross croak. Whether he resents the
blackness of my appearance as being a mean imitation of his own, I do
not know, but he will not come near me; he hops stiffly away, and stands
eying me from the grass, with an unworthy affectation of not knowing who
I am. I am still wasting useless blandishments on him, when my attention
is distracted by the sound of footsteps on the walk.

I look up. Who is this man that is coming, stepping toward me in the
gloaming?

I am not long left in doubt. With a slight and sudden emotion of
surprised distaste, I see that it is Musgrave. I rise quickly to my
feet.

"It is you, is it?" I say, with a cold ungraciousness, for I have not
half forgiven him yet--still I bear a grudge against him--still I feel
an angry envy that Barbara died with her hand in his.

"Yes, it is I!"

He is dressed in deep mourning. His cheeks are hollow and pale; he looks
dejected, and yet fierce. We walk alongside of each other in silence for
a few yards.

"Why do not you ask what has brought me here?" he asks suddenly, with a
harsh abruptness. "I know that that is what you are thinking of."

"Yes," I reply, gravely, without looking at him, "it is!--what has?"

"I have come to bid you all good-by," he answers, in a low, quick voice,
with his eyes bent on the ground; "you know"--raising them, and
beginning to laugh hoarsely--"if--if--things had gone right--you would
have been my nearest relation by now."

I shudder.

"Yes," say I, "I know."

"I am going away," he goes on, raising his voice to a louder tone of
reckless unrest, "_where?_--God knows!--_I_ do not, and do not care
either!--going away for good!--I am going to let the abbey."

"To _let_ it!"

"You are _glad_!" he cries in a tone of passionate and sombre
resentment, while his great eyes, lifted, flash a miserable resentment
into mine; "I _knew_ you would be! I have not given you much pleasure
very often, have I?"--(still with that same harsh mirth).--"Well, it is
something to have done it _once_!"

I clasp my down-hanging hands loosely together. I lift my eyes to the
low, dark sky.

"_Am_ I glad?" I say, hazily. "I do not know!--I do not think I am!--I
do not think I care one way or another!"

"Nancy!" he says, presently, in a tone no longer of counterfeit mirth,
but of deep and serious earnestness, "I do not know why I told you just
now that I had come to bid them all good-by--it was not true--you know
it was not. What are they to me, or I to them, now? I came--"

"For what did you come, then?" cry I, interrupting him, pantingly, while
my eyes, wide and aghast, grow to his face. What is it that he is going
to say? He--from whose clasp Barbara's dead hand was freed!

"Do not look at me like that!" he cries, wildly, putting up his hands
before his eyes. "It reminds me--great God! it reminds me--"

He breaks off; then goes on a little more calmly:

"You need not be afraid! Brute and blackguard as I am, I am not quite
brute and blackguard enough for _that_!--that would be past _even_ me! I
have come to ask you once again to forgive me for that--that old
offense" (with a shamed red flush on the pallor of his cheeks); "I asked
you once before, you may remember, and you answered"--(recalling my
words with a resentful accuracy)--"that you _'would not, and, by God's
help, you never would'_!"

"Did I?" say I, with that same hazy feeling. Those old emotions seem
grown so distant and dim. "I dare say!--I did not recollect!"

"And so I have come to ask you once again," he goes on, with a heavy
emphasis--"it will do me no great harm if you say 'No' again!--it will
do me small good if you say 'Yes.' And yet, before I go away
_forever_--yes"--(with a bitter smile)--"cheer up!--_forever!_--I must
have one more try!"

I am silent.

"You may as well forgive me!" he says, taking my cold and passive hand,
and speaking with an intense though composed mournfulness. "After all, I
have not done you much harm, have I?--that is no credit to me, I know. I
would have done, if I could, but I could not! You may as well forgive
me, may not you? God forgives!--at least"--(with a sigh of heavy and
apathetic despair)--"so they say!--would _you_ be less clement than He?"

I am looking back at him, with a quiet fixedness. I no longer feel the
slightest embarrassment in his presence; it no longer disquiets me, that
he should hold my hand.

"Yes," say I, speaking slowly, and still with my sunk and tear-dimmed
eyes calmly resting on the dull despair of his, "yes--if you wish--it is
all so long ago--and _she_ liked you!--yes!--I forgive you!"



CHAPTER LII.

    "Love is enough."


And so, as the days go by, the short and silent days, it comes to pass
that a sort of peace falls upon my soul; born of a slow yet deep
assurance that with Barbara it is well.

One can do with probabilities in prosperity, when to most of us careless
ones it seems no great matter whether there be a God or no? When all the
world's wheels seem to roll smoothly, as if of themselves, and one can
speculate with a confused curiosity as to the nature of the great far
cause that moves them; but in grief--in the destitute bareness, the
famished hunger of soul, when "one is not," how one craves for
_certainties_! How one yearns for the solid heaven of one's childhood;
the harping angels, the never-failing flowers; the pearl gates and
jeweled walls of God's great shining town!

They may be gone; I know not, but at least _one_ certainty
remains--guaranteed to us by no outside voice, but by the low yet plain
tones that each may listen to in his own heart. That, with him who is
pure and just and meek, who hates a lie worse than the sharpness of
death, and loves others dearer than himself, it shall be well.

Do you ask where? or when? or how? We cannot say. We know not; only we
know that it shall be well.

Never, never shall I reach Barbara's clear child-faith; Barbara, to whom
God was as real and certain as I; never shall I attain to the steady
confidence of Roger. I can but grope dimly with outstretched hands;
sometimes in the outer blackness of a moonless, starless night;
sometimes, with strained eyes catching a glimpse of a glimmer in the
east. I can but _feel_ after God, as a plant in a dark place feels after
the light.

And so the days go by, and as they do, as the first smart of my despair
softens itself into a slow and reverent acquiescence in the Maker's
will, my thoughts stray carefully, and heedfully back over my past life:
they overleap the gulf of Barbara's death and linger long and
wonderingly among the previous months.

With a dazed astonishment I recall that even then I looked upon myself
as one most unprosperous, most sorrowful-hearted.

What in Heaven's name ailed me? What did I lack? My jealousy of Roger,
such a living, stinging, biting thing _then_; how dead it is now!

Barbara always said I was wrong; always!

As his eyes, in the patient mournfulness of their reproachful appeal,
answer again in memory the shrewish violence of my accusation on the
night of the ball--the last embers of my jealousy die. He does not love
me as he did; of that I am still persuaded. There is now, perhaps, there
always will be, a film, a shade between us.

By my peevish tears, by my mean and sidelong reproaches, by my sulky
looks, I have necessarily diminished, if not quite squandered the stock
of hearty, wholesome, honest love that on that April day he so
diffidently laid at my feet. I have already marred and blighted a year
and three-quarters of his life. I recollect how much older than me he
is, how much time I have already wasted; a pang of remorse, sharp as my
knife, runs through my heart; a great and mighty yearning to go back to
him at once, to begin over again _at once, this very minute_, to begin
over again--overflows and floods my whole being. Late in the day as it
is--doubly unseemly and ungracious as the confession will seem now--I
will tell him of that lie with which I first sullied the cleanness of
our union. With my face hidden on his broad breast, so that I may not
see his eyes, I will tell him--yes, I will tell him. "I will arise, and
go to him, and say, 'I have sinned against Heaven and before thee.'"

So I go. I am nearing Tempest: as I reach the church-yard gate, I stop
the carriage, and get out.

Barbara was always the one that, after any absence from home, I used
first to run in search of. I will go and seek her now.

It is drawing toward dusk as I pass, in my long black gown, up the
church-path, between the still and low-lying dead, to the quiet spot
where, with the tree-boughs waving over her, with the ivy hanging the
loose luxuriance of its garlands on the church-yard wall above her head,
our Barbara is taking her rest.

As I near the grave, I see that I am not its only visitor. Some one, a
man, is already there, leaning pensively on the railings that surround
it, with his eyes fixed on the dark and winterly earth, and on the
newly-planted, flagging flowers. It is Roger. As he hears my approaching
steps, the swish of my draperies, he turns; and, by the serene and
lifted gravity of his eyes, I see that he has been away in heaven with
Barbara. He does not speak as I come near; only he opens his arms
joyfully, and yet a little diffidently, too, and I fly to then.

"Roger!" I cry, passionately, with a greedy yearning for human love
here--at this very spot, where so much of the love of my life lies in
death's austere silence at my feet--"love me a little--_ever so little_!
I know I am not very lovable, but you once liked me, did not you?--not
nearly so much as I thought, I know, but still _a little_!"

"_A little!_"

"I am going to begin all over again!" I go on, eagerly, speaking very
quickly, with my arms clasped about his neck, "quite all over again;
indeed I am! I shall be so different that you will not know me for the
same person, and if--if--" (beginning to falter and stumble)--"if you
still go on liking _her_ best, and thinking her prettier and pleasanter
to talk to--well, you cannot help it, it will not be your fault--and
I--I--will try not to mind!"

He has taken my hands from about his neck, and is holding them warmly,
steadfastly clasped in his own.

"Child! child!" he cries, "shall I _never_ undeceive you? are you still
harping on that old worn-out string?"

"_Is_ it worn out?" I ask, anxiously, staring up with my wet eyes
through the deep twilight into his. "Yes, yes!" (going on quickly and
impulsively), "if you say so, I will believe it--without another word I
will believe it, but--" (with a sudden fall from my high tone, and lapse
into curiosity)--"you know you must have liked her a good deal once--you
know you were engaged to her."

"_Engaged to her?_"

"Well, _were not_ you?"

"I never was engaged to any one in my life," he answers with solemn
asseveration; "odd as it may seem, I never in my life had asked any
woman to marry me until I asked you. I had known Zéphine from a child;
her father was the best and kindest friend ever any man had. When he was
dying, he was uneasy in his mind about her, as she was not left well
off, and I promised to do what I could for her--one does not lightly
break such a promise, does one? I was fond of her--I would do her any
good turn I could, for old sake's sake, but _marry_ her--be _engaged_ to
her!--"

He pauses expressively.

"Thank God! thank God!" cry I, sobbing hysterically; "it has all come
right, then--Roger!--Roger!"--(burying my tear-stained face in his
breast)--"I will tell you _now_--perhaps I shall never feel so brave
again!--do not look at me--let me hide my face; I want to get it over in
a hurry! Do you remember--" (sinking my voice to an indistinct and
struggling whisper)--"that night that you asked me about--about
_Brindley Wood_?"

"Yes, I remember."

Already, his tone has changed. His arms seem to be slackening their
close hold of me.

"Do not loose me!" cry I, passionately; "hold me tight, or I can _never_
tell you--how could you expect me? Well, that night--you know as well as
I do--I _lied_."

"You _did_?"

How hard and quick he is breathing! I am glad I cannot see his face.

"I _was_ there! I _did_ cry! she _did_ see me--"

I stop abruptly, choked by tears, by shame, by apprehension.

"Go on!" (spoken with panting shortness).

"He met me there!" I say, tremulously. "I do not know whether he did it
on purpose or not, and said dreadful things! must I tell you them?"
(shuddering)--"pah! it makes me sick--he said" (speaking with a
reluctant hurry)--"that he loved me, and that I loved him, and that I
_hated_ you, and it took me so by surprise--it was all so horrible, and
so different from what I had planned, that I cried--of course I ought
not, but I did--I _roared_!"

There does not seem to me any thing ludicrous in this mode of
expression, neither apparently does there to him.

"Well?"

"I do not think there is any thing more!" say I, slowly and timidly
raising my eyes, to judge of the effect of my confession, "only that I
was so _deadly, deadly_ ashamed; I thought it was such a shameful thing
to happen to any one that I made up my mind I would never tell anybody,
and I did not."

"And is that _all_?" he cries, with an intense and breathless anxiety in
eyes and voice, "are you sure that that is _all_?"

"All!" repeat I, opening my eyes very wide in astonishment; "do not you
think it is _enough_?"

"Are you sure," he cries, taking my face in his hands, and narrowly,
searchingly regarding it--"Child! child!--to-day let us have
nothing--_nothing_ but truth--are you sure that you did not a little
regret that it must be so--that you did not feel it a little hard to be
forever tied to my gray hairs--my eight-and-forty years?"

"Hush!" cry I, snatching away my hands, and putting them over my ears.
"I will not listen to you!--what do I care for your forty-eight
years?--If you were a hundred--two hundred--what is it to me?--what do I
care--I love you! I love you! I love you--O my darling, how stupid you
have been not to see it all along!"

And so it comes to pass that by Barbara's grave we kiss again with
tears. And now we are happy--stilly, inly happy, though I, perhaps, am
never quite so boisterously gay as before the grave yawned for my
Barbara; and we walk along hand-in-hand down the slopes and up the hills
of life, with our eyes fixed, as far as the weakness of our human sight
will let us, on the one dread, yet good God, whom through the veil of
his great deeds we dimly discern. Only I wish that Roger were not
nine-and-twenty years older than I!

THE END.



Other Works Published by D. APPLETON &. CO.


"GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART!"

    D. APPLETON & CO.
    _Have recently published_,
    GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART!

By RHODA BROUGHTON,

AUTHOR OF "RED AS A ROSE IS SHE," "COMETH UP AS A FLOWER," ETC.

"Good-bye, Sweetheart!" is certainly one of the brightest and most
entertaining novels that has appeared for many years. The heroine of the
story, Lenore, is really an original character, drawn only as a woman
could draw her, who had looked deeply into the mysterious recesses of
the feminine heart. She is a creation totally beyond the scope of a
man's pen, unless it were the pen of Shakespeare. Her beauty, her
wilfulness, her caprice, her love, and her sorrow, are depicted with
marvellous skill, and invested with an interest of which the reader
never becomes weary. Miss Broughton, in this work, has made an immense
advance on her other stories, clever as those are. Her sketches of
scenery and of interiors, though brief, are eminently graphic, and the
dialogue is always sparkling and witty. The incidents, though sometimes
startling and unexpected, are very natural, and the characters and
story, from the beginning to the end, strongly enchain the attention of
the reader. The work has been warmly commended by the press during its
publication, as a serial, in APPLETONS' JOURNAL, and, in its book-form,
bids fair to be decidedly THE novel of the season.

    _D. A. & Co. have now ready, New Editions of_

    COMETH UP AS A FLOWER
    NOT WISELY, BUT TOO WELL
    RED AS A ROSE IS SHE

    BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

       *       *       *       *       *

BRESSANT.

A NOVEL.

By JULIAN HAWTHORNE.


_From the London Examiner._

"We will not say that Mr. Julian Hawthorne has received a double portion
or his father's spirit, but 'Bressant' proves that he has inherited the
distinctive tone and fibre of a gift which was altogether exceptional,
and moved the author of the 'Scarlet Letter' beyond the reach of
imitators.

"Bressant, Sophie, and Cornelia, appear to us invested with a sort of
enchantment which we should find it difficult to account for by any
reference to any special passage in their story."

_From the London Athenæum._

"Mr. Hawthorne's book forms a remarkable contrast, in point of power and
interest, to the dreary mass of so-called romances through which the
reviewer works his way. It is not our purpose to forestall the reader,
by any detailed account of the story; suffice it to say that, if we can
accept the preliminary difficulty of the problem, its solution, in all
its steps, is most admirably worked out."

_From the Pall Mall Gazette._

"So far as a man may be judged by his first work, Mr. Julian Hawthorne
is endowed with a large share of his father's peculiar genius. We trace
in 'Bressant' the same intense yearning after a high and spiritual life,
the same passionate love of nature, the same subtlety and delicacy of
remark, and also a little of the same tendency to indulge in the use of
a half-weird, half-fantastic imagery."

_From the New York Times._

"'Bressant' is, then, a work that demonstrates the fitness of its author
to bear the name of Hawthorne. More in praise need not be said; but, if
the promise of the book shall not utterly fade and vanish, Julian
Hawthorne, in the maturity of his power, will rank side by side with him
who has hitherto been peerless, but whom we must hereafter call the
'Elder Hawthorne.'"

_From the Boston Post._

"There is beauty as well as power in this novel, the two so pleasantly
blended, that the sudden and incomplete conclusion, although ending the
romance with an abruptness that is itself artistic, comes only too soon
for the reader."

_From the Boston Globe._

"It is by far the most original novel of the season that has been
published at home or abroad, and will take high rank among the best
American novels ever written."

_From the Boston Gazette._

"There is a strength in the book which takes it in a marked degree out
or the range of ordinary works of fiction. It is substantially an
original story. There are freshness and vigor in every part."

_From the Home Journal._

"'Bressant' is a remarkable romance, full of those subtle touches of
fancy, and that insight into the human heart, which distinguish genius
from the mere clever and entertaining writers of whom we have perhaps
too many."

       *       *       *       *       *

NOW READY, A NEW EDITION OF

_THE HOUSEHOLD OF BOUVERIE._

BY THE AUTHOR OF "MIRIAM MONFORT."


_From Gail Hamilton, author of "Gala Days," etc._

"'The Household of Bouverie' is one of those nuisances of books that
pluck out all your teeth, and then dare you to bite them. Your interest
is awakened in the first chapter, and you are whirled through in a
lightning-express train that leaves you no opportunity to look at the
little details of wood, and lawn, and river. You notice two or three
little peculiarities of style--one or two 'bits' of painting--and then
you pull on your seven-leagued boots, and away you go."

_From John G. Saxe, the Poet._

"It is a strange romance, and will bother the critics not a little. The
interest of the book is undeniable, and is wonderfully sustained to the
end of the story. I think it exhibits far more power than any lady-novel
of recent date, and it certainly has the rare merit of entire
originality."

_From Marion Harland, author of "Alone," "Hidden Path," etc._

"As to Mrs. Warfield's wonderful book, I have read it twice--the second
time more carefully than the first--and I use the term 'wonderful'
because it best expresses the feeling uppermost in my mind, both while
reading and thinking it over. As a piece of imaginative writing, I have
seen nothing to equal it since the days of Edgar A. Poe, and I doubt
whether he could have sustained himself and reader through a book of
half the size of the 'Household of Bouverie.' I was literally hurried
through it by my intense sympathy, my devouring curiosity--it was more
than interest. I read everywhere--between the courses of the
hotel-table, on the boat, in the cars--until I had swallowed the last
line. This is no common occurrence with a veteran romance-reader like
myself."

_From George Ripley's Review of "The Household of Bouverie," in Harper's
Magazine, November, 1860._

"Everywhere betraying a daring boldness of conception, singular
fertility of illustration, and a combined beauty and vigor of
expression, which it would be difficult to match in any recent works of
fiction. In these days, when the most milk-and-watery platitudes are so
often welcomed as sibylline inspirations, it is somewhat refreshing to
meet with a female novel-writer who displays the unmistakable fire of
genius, however terrific its brightness."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Warfield's New Novel.

MIRIAM MONFORT.

by the author of "THE HOUSEHOLD OF BOUVERIE."

The _N. Y. Evening Post_ says of "Miriam Monfort:" "Mrs. Warfield's new
novel has freshness, and is so far removed from mediocrity as to entitle
it to respectful comment. Her fiction calls for study. Her perception is
deep and artistic, as respects both the dramatic side of life and the
beautiful. It is not strictly nature, in the general sense, that forms
the basis of her descriptions. She finds something deeper and more
mystic than nature in the sense in which the term is usually used by
critics, in the answer of the soul to life--in the strange, weird, and
lonesome music (though now and then broken by discords) of the still
small voices with which human nature replies to the questions that
sorely vex her. She has the analytic capacity in the field of
psychology, which enables her to trace phenomena in a story without
arguing about them, and to exhibit the dramatic side of them without
stopping to explain the reasons for it. In a word, her hand is as sure
as that of a master, and if there were more such novels as this simple
semi-biographical story of Miriam Monfort, it would not be necessary so
often to put the question, 'Is the art of fiction extinct?'"

The _Cincinnati Daily Gazette_ says: "'Miriam Monfort,' which now lies
before us, is less sensational in incident than its predecessor, though
it does not lack stirring events--an experience on a burning ship, for
example. Its interest lies in the intensity which marks all the
characters good and bad. The plot turns on the treachery of a pretended
lover, and the author seems to have experienced every emotion of love
and hate, jealousy and fear, that has inspired the creations of her pen.
There is a contagion in her earnestness, and we doubt not that numerous
readers will follow the fortunes of the beautiful but much-persecuted
Miriam with breathless interest."

The _All Day City Item_ says: "It is a work of extraordinary merit. The
story is charmingly told by the heroine. It is admirable and original in
plot, varied in incident, and intensely absorbing in interest; besides,
throughout the volume, there is an exquisite combination of sensibility,
pride, and loveliness, which will hold the work in high estimation. We
make a quotation from the book that suits the critic exactly. 'It is
splendid; it is a dream, more vivid than life itself; it is like
drinking champagne, smelling tuberoses, inhaling laughing-gas, going to
the opera, all at one time.' We recommend this to our young lady friends
as a most thoughtfully and delightfully written novel."

       *       *       *       *       *

APPLETONS' (so-called) PLUM-PUDDING EDITION OF THE WORKS OF CHARLES
DICKENS.


LIST OF THE WORKS.

    Oliver Twist                  172 pp.
    American Notes                104  "
    Dombey and Son                356  "
    Martin Chuzzlewit             341  "
    Our Mutual Friend             340  "
    Christmas Stories             183  "
    Tale of Two Cities            144  "
    Hard Times, and Additional
      Christmas Stories           202  "
    Nicholas Nickleby             388  "
    Bleak House                   352  "
    Little Dorrit                 343  "
    Pickwick Papers               326  "
    David Copperfield             351  "
    Barnaby Rudge                 257  "
    Old Curiosity Shop            221  "
    Great Expectations            183  "
    Sketches                      194  "
    Uncommercial Traveller,
      Pictures of Italy, etc.     300  "

Any person ordering the entire set, and remitting $5, will receive a
Portrait of Dickens, suitable for framing. The entire set will be sent by
mail or express, at our option, postage or freight prepaid, to any part
of the United States.

_Single copies of any of the above sent to any address in the United
States on the receipt of the price affixed._

           *       *       *       *       *

GRACE AGUILAR'S WORKS.


HOME INFLUENCE. A Tale for Mothers and Daughters.
THE MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE. A Sequel to Home Influence.
WOMAN'S FRIENDSHIP. A Story of Domestic Life.
THE VALE OF CEDARS; or, the Martyr.
THE DAYS OF BRUCE. A Story from Scottish History. 2 vols.
HOME SCENES AND HEART STUDIES. Tales.
THE WOMEN OF ISRAEL. Characters and Sketches from the Holy Scriptures.
  Two vols.


CRITICISMS ON GRACE AGUILAR'S WORKS.

_HOME INFLUENCE._--"Grace Aguilar wrote and spoke as one inspired;
she condensed and spiritualized, and all her thoughts and feelings were
steeped in the essence of celestial love and truth. To those who really
knew Grace Aguilar, all eulogium falls short of her deserts, and she has
left a blank in her particular walk of literature, which we never expect
to see filled up."--_Pilgrimages to English Shrines, by Mrs. Hall._

_MOTHER'S RECOMPENSE._--"'The Mother's Recompense' forms a fitting close
to its predecessor. 'Home Influence.' The results of maternal care are
fully developed, its rich rewards are set forth, and its lesson and its
moral are powerfully enforced."--_Morning Post._

_WOMAN'S FRIENDSHIP._--"We congratulate Miss Aguilar on the spirit,
motive, and composition of this story. Her alms are eminently moral, and
her cause comes recommended by the most beautiful associations. These,
connected with the skill here evinced in their development, insure the
success of her labors."--_Illustrated News._

_VALE OF CEDARS._--"The authoress of this most fascinating volume has
selected for her field one of the most remarkable eras in modern
history--the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella. The tale turns on the
extraordinary extent to which concealed Judaism had gained footing at
that period in Spain. It is marked by much power of description, and by
a woman's delicacy of touch, and it will add to its writer's well-earned
reputation."--_Eclectic Rev._

_DAYS OF BRUCE._--"The tale is well told, the interest warmly sustained
throughout, and the delineation of female character is marked by a
delicate sense of moral beauty. It is a work that may be confided to the
hands of a daughter by her parent."--_Court Journal._

_HOME SCENES._--"Grace Aguilar knew the female heart better than any
writer of our day, and in every fiction from her pen we trace the same
masterly analysis and development of the motives and feelings of woman's
nature."--_Critic._

_WOMEN OF ISRAEL._--"A work that is sufficient of itself to create and
crown a reputation."--_Mrs. S. C. Hall._

           *       *       *       *       *

Sir HENRY HOLLAND'S RECOLLECTIONS.

    RECOLLECTIONS OF PAST LIFE
    _By Sir HENRY HOLLAND, Bart._,
    1 vol., 12mo, Cloth. 350 pp.


_From The London Lancet._

"The 'Life or Sir Henry Holland' is one to be recollected, and he has
not erred in giving an outline of it to the public. In the very nature
of things it is such a life as cannot often be repeated. Even if there
were many men in the profession capable of living to the age of
eighty-four, and then writing their life with fair hope of further
travels, it is not reasonable to expect that there could ever be more
than a very few lives so full of incidents worthy of being recorded
autographically as the marvellous life which we are fresh from perusing.
The combination of personal qualities and favorable opportunities in Sir
Henry Holland's case is as rare as it is happy. But that is one reason
for recording the history of it. Sir Henry's life cannot be very closely
imitated, but it may be closely studied. We have found the study of it,
as recorded in the book just published, one of the most delightful
pieces of recreation which we have enjoyed for many days.... Among his
patients were pachas, princes, and premiers. Prince Albert, Napoleon
III., Talleyrand, Pozzo di Borgo, Gulzot, Palmella, Bulow, and Drouyn de
Lhuys, Jefferson Davis, Lord Sidmouth, Lord Stowell, Lord Melbourne,
Lord Palmerston, Lord Aberdeen, Lord Lansdowne. Lord Lyndhurst, to say
nothing of men of other note, were among his patients."

_From the London Spectator._

"We constantly find ourselves recalling the Poet Laureate's modernized
Ulysses, the great wanderer, insatiate of new experiences, as we read
the story of the octogenarian traveller and his many friends in many
lands:

                    'I am become a name;
    For always roaming with a hungry heart,
    Much have I seen and known. Cities of men
    And manners, climates, councils, governments,
    Myself not least and honored of them all.'

You see in this book all this and more than this--knowledge of the
world, and insatiable thirst for more knowledge of it, great clearness
of aim and exact appreciation of the mind's own wants, precise knowledge
of the self-sacrifices needed to gratify those wants and a readiness for
those sacrifices, a distinct adoption of an economy of life, and steady
adherence to it from beginning to end--all of them characteristics which
are but rare in this somewhat confused and hand-to-mouth world, and
which certainly when combined make a unique study of character, however
indirectly it may be presented to us and however little attention may be
drawn to the interior of the picture."

_From The New York Times._

"His memory was--is, we may say, for he is still alive and in possession
of all his faculties--stored with recollections of the most eminent men
and women of this century. He has known the intimate friends of Dr.
Johnson. He travelled in Albania when Ali Pacha ruled, and has since
then explored almost every part of the world, except the far East. He
has made eight visits to this country, and at the age of eighty-two (in
1869) he was here again--the guest of Mr. Evarts, and, while in this
city, of Mr. Thurlow Weed. Since then he has made a voyage to Jamaica
and the West India Islands, and a second visit to Iceland. He was a
friend of Sir Walter Scott, Lockhart, Dugald Stewart, Mme. de Staël,
Byron, Moore, Campbell, Rogers, Crabbe, Wordsworth, Coleridge,
Talleyrand, Sydney Smith, Macaulay, Hallam, Mackintosh, Malthus,
Erskine, Humboldt, Schlegel, Canova, Sir Humphry Davy, Joanna Baillie,
Lord and Lady Holland, and many other distinguished persons whose names
would occupy a column. In this country he has known, among other
celebrated men, Edward Everett, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Abraham
Lincoln, Seward, etc. He was born the same year in which the United
States Constitution was ratified. A life extending over such a period,
and passed in the most active manner, in the midst of the best society
which the world has to offer, must necessarily be full of singular
interest; and Sir Henry Holland has fortunately not waited until his
memory lost its freshness before recalling some of the incidents in it."





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