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Title: Alas! - A Novel
Author: Broughton, Rhoda, 1840-1920
Language: English
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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.

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                               ALAS!

                              A Novel

                         BY RHODA BROUGHTON

AUTHOR OF 'COMETH UP AS A FLOWER,' 'RED AS A ROSE IS SHE,' 'SECOND
THOUGHTS,' 'GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART!,' 'NANCY,' 'DOCTOR CUPID,' ETC.


    _A NEW EDITION_

    LONDON
    RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON
    Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen
    1891
    [_All rights reserved_]

    _TO
    MRS. ANDREW SPOTTISWOODE_



ALAS!



PART I.

Amelia.



CHAPTER I.


"If you will allow me, I shall have the pleasure of reading aloud to you
some passages from 'Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings,' by Charles Dickens. I do
not know much about the book myself, as I have never read it. I dare say
that you know more about it than I do; but I am given to understand"
(with a glance at the page before him) "that Mrs. Lirriper was a
lodging-house-keeper, that she kept lodgings in London. She was a very
good sort of woman, I believe" (another hasty glance), "but she
sometimes had trouble with her servants. I am told that servants are
troublesome sometimes" (a slight nervous laugh, the more nervous because
it does not seem to be followed by any echo from the audience). "If you
will allow me then, as I say, and if you think it will amuse you, I will
read you a little of what she says about these troubles."

The foregoing remarks are uttered in a loud, shy, dogged voice by James
Burgoyne to the "Oxford Women's Provident Association." His voice is
loud because, being quite unused to public reading, he does not know how
to modulate it; it is shy from the same cause of unaccustomedness; it is
dogged because he is very much displeased with his present occupation,
and has not been successful in concealing that displeasure. When a man
runs down to Oxford for a couple of nights, to see how the six years
that have passed since he turned his undergraduate back upon the old
place have treated her--runs down to a college chum unseen for the same
six years--this is certainly not the way in which he expects to spend
one of his two evenings.

"I hope you will not mind, Jim"--ominous phrase--the college friend has
said; "but I am afraid we shall have to turn out for half an hour after
dinner. It is rather a nuisance, particularly as it is such a wet night;
but the fact is, I have promised to read to the 'Oxford Women's
Provident Association.' Ah, by-the-bye, that is new since you were
here--we had no Provident Women in your day!"

"On the other hand, we had a great many improvident men," returns Jim
dryly.

"Well, the fact is, my wife is on the committee, and a good deal
interested in it, and we give them a sort of entertainment once a month
through the winter terms--tea and buns, that kind of thing, sixpence a
head; they enjoy it far more than if we gave it them for nothing; and
after tea we get people to recite and read and sing to them. I am sure I
wish them joy of my reading to-night, for I do not see how I am to make
myself audible; I am as hoarse as a crow."

"I know those Oxford colds of old," returns Burgoyne, with that
temperate compassion in his voice which we accord to our neighbours'
minor diseases. He is sorry that his friend has a cold; but he little
knows how much sorrier he will be in the course of the next hour as he
adds: "Do not distress yourself about me; I shall be quite happy in your
den with a book and a cigarette. Mrs. Brown does not object, does she?
And I dare say you will not be very long away."

As he speaks he realizes, with a sort of pang--the pang we pay sometimes
to our dead pasts--that, though it is only three hours since he was
reunited to his once inseparable Brown, he is already looking forward
with relief to the prospect of an hour's freedom from his society--so
terribly far apart is it possible to grow in six years. But, before his
half-fledged thought has had time to do more than traverse his brain,
Brown has broken into it with the eager remonstrances of a mistaken
species of hospitality.

"Leave you behind? Could not hear of such a thing! Of course you must
come too! It will be a new experience for you; a wholesome change. Ha!
ha! and we can talk all the way there and back; we have had no talk
worth speaking of yet."

Again it flashes across the other's mind, with the same pensive regret
as before, that talk worth speaking of is for ever over between them;
but, seeing that further attempts at evasion will seriously hurt the
good-natured Brown, he acquiesces, with as fair a grace as he may.

While putting on his own mackintosh, he watches, with a subdued wonder,
his friend winding himself into a huge white woollen comforter, and
stepping into a pair of goloshes (he had been rather a smart
undergraduate in his day), while outside the opened hall door the rain
is heard to swish, and the wind to bellow.

"Had not we better have a hansom?" suggests Burgoyne, blinking, as the
slant gust sends two or three stinging drops into his eyes.

"A hansom! nonsense!" returns the other, laughing, and with difficulty
unfurling an umbrella in the teeth of the blast. "It is all very well
for a bloated bachelor like you; but a man whose family is increasing at
the rate mine is cannot afford himself such luxuries; come along, you
are not sugar or salt."

Burgoyne feels that at this moment he can at all events conscientiously
disclaim affinity with the first of the two.

It is indeed a wet night, wet as the one immortalized by Browning in
"Christmas Eve and Easter Day;" and who ever brought a wet night and wet
umbrellas "wry and flapping" so piercingly home to us as he? The talk so
cheerfully promised by Burgoyne's sanguine friend is rendered absolutely
impossible by the riot of the elements. It is a good step from the
suburban villa, which is the scene of Brown's married joys, to the room
in the heart of the town where the Provident Matrons hold their
_sabbat_; and by the time that the two men have reached that room there
is, despite his mackintosh, little of Burgoyne left dry except his
speech. They are under shelter at last, however, have entered the
building, added their umbrellas to many other streaming wrecks of
whalebone huddled in a corner, and exchanged the dark blustering drench
for a flare of gas, a reek of tea, and a sultry stream of wet clothes
and humanity. The tea, indeed, is a thing of the past--all its apparatus
has been removed. The rows of chairs are all set to face the platform,
and on those chairs the Provident Women sit, smiling, if damp, with here
and there a little boy, evidently too wicked to be left at home,
comfortably wedged between a couple of matronly figures.

The entertainment has already begun, and an undergraduate--damp, like
everyone else--is singing, in a booming bass voice, something of a
vaguely boastful nature about what he once did "In Bilboa's Bay."
Burgoyne has for the moment lost sight of his chaperon, and remains
standing near the door, looking upon the scene around him with an eye
from which philanthropy is all too criminally absent. About him are
grouped a few ladies and gentlemen--more of the former than the
latter--who are obviously about to give their services, judging by their
rolls of music and the books in their hands. His look passes over them
indifferently--he has no acquaintance among them. He had never known
many of the Oxford householders, and there is no place where a man
becomes superannuated after so short a lapse of years.

Here are new arrivals. He turns his head mechanically as the opening
door reveals the advent of more umbrellaed and mackintoshed waterfalls.
Two men and a lady. As his eye alights on the woman, he does not
start--we Anglo-Saxons are not apt to make our slow grave bodies the
indexes of our emotions--but he is conscious of an odd and puzzling
sensation. Where has he seen that face before?

"Bilboa's Bay" has come to an end without his perceiving it. He is
putting his memory through her paces, trying to find some niche in his
three happy Oxford years in which to place that strangely known yet
unknown figure. There is no such niche. It is not an Oxford memory at
all. What is it then? An earlier or a later one? His eyebrows are drawn
together in the effort of recollection, making him look, if possible,
crosser than before, when he is made aware of the return of Brown by
finding his arm seized, and his friend's voice--a good deal hoarser even
than when they left home--in his ear, "Jim, do you feel inclined to do a
very good-natured thing?"

"Not in the least," replies Burgoyne promptly; "if anyone wishes to
borrow £5 from me, I should advise him to choose a moment when I am
drier about the legs."

Burgoyne has very often stood up to and over his knees in water for
hours, watching for ducks among whistling reeds on winter mornings, and
never thought himself at all to be pitied; but he is thoroughly vexed
now at his moist trousers. Brown, however, is not so easily rebuffed.

"I should be awfully obliged to you," he says croakily; "you would be
laying me under a very real obligation if you would----" He stops to
cough.

"If I would what?" returns the other curtly, and looking apprehensively
at a book which Brown is expanding before his eyes.

"If you would read instead of me."

"I!"

"Why, the fact is"--coughing noisily again as if to show that there is
no imposition--"I suppose the fog must have got down my throat; but I
find I cannot speak above a whisper. I should not be heard beyond the
front row; come, old man, do a good-natured thing for once in your
life."

There is a pause; Burgoyne is not very fond of being asked to do a
good-natured thing. He can do a big one every now and then, but he is
not particularly fond of being asked to do a small one.

"Surely there must be many people here much better suited for it than I
am," he says presently, looking uncomfortably round in search of the
little group of booked and musicked persons whom he had seen but now
standing near him, but it had melted.

"That is just what there are not," rejoins Brown, pressing his point
with the more eagerness, as he thinks he sees signs of yielding; "we are
very short of hands to-night, and my wife has just heard that the girl
upon whom she was counting for a couple of songs is in bed with
influenza."

"Happy girl! I wish I too was in bed with influenza," says Jim
sardonically, for he sees his fate about to overtake him.

And so it comes to pass that, five minutes later, as described at the
opening of this chapter, he is seated on the platform with "Mrs.
Lirriper's Lodgings" before him, rows of Provident Matrons' eyes
fastened expectantly upon him, and horrid qualms of strange shyness
racing over him.

Brown has indicated by a dog's-ear the page at which he is to begin; so
he is spared indecision on this head. But has Brown indicated the page
at which he is to stop? He is gnawed by a keen anxiety as to this point
all through his performance. It is hot upon the platform, the smell of
tea potent, and the naked gas-jets close above his head throw an ugly
yellow glare upon his book.

Having offered his prefatory observations in the manner I have
indicated, he rushes _in media res_. "Girls, as I was beginning to
remark, are one of your first and your lasting troubles, being like your
teeth, which begin with convulsions, and never cease tormenting you from
the time you cut them till they cut you, and then you do not want to
part with them, which seems hard, but we must all succumb, or buy
artificial." (Do his ears deceive him? Is there already a slight titter?
Have the simile of the convulsions and the necessity for a _râtelier_
already struck a chord in the matrons' breasts?) "And, even where you
get a will, nine times out of ten you get a dirty face with it, and
naturally lodgers do not like good society to be shown in with a smear
of black across the nose, or a smudgy eyebrow!" (Is he managing his
voice alright? Is he mumbling, or is he bellowing? He rather inclines to
a suspicion of the latter. Why did not they laugh at the "smudgy
eyebrow"? They ought to have done so, and he had paused to give them the
opportunity. Perhaps it is among them too familiar a phenomenon to
provoke mirth.) "Where they pick the black up is a mystery I cannot
solve, as in the case of the willingest girl that ever came into a
house, half-starved, poor thing; a girl so willing that I called her
'Willing Sophy;' down upon her knees scrubbing early and late, and ever
cheerful, but always with a black face. And I says to Sophy, 'Now,
Sophy, my good girl, have a regular day for your stoves, and do not
brush your hair with the bottoms of the saucepans, and do not meddle
with the snuffs of the candles, and it stands to reason that it cannot
be.'" (Ah! what welcome sound is this? "Willing Sophy" has produced an
undoubted giggle, which Burgoyne hears spreading and widening through
the room. Heartened by this indication, he goes on in a more emphatic
and hilarious voice:) "Yet there it was, and always on her nose, which,
turning up, and being broad at the end, seemed to boast of it, and
caused warning from a steady gentleman, an excellent lodger, with
breakfast by the week."

There can be no mistake about it now; the giggle has changed into a
universal resonant laugh, which goes on swelling and rising, until, in
the final roar of approbation which greets the concluding paragraph, the
reader's voice is drowned. The matrons have all along been ready to be
amused; it is only that, owing to the gravity of his face and solemnity
of his manner, it was some time before they recognised that his
intention was comic. As soon as they do so, they reward that intention
with more than adequate mirth. Burgoyne has reached the second
dog's-ear, that dog's-ear which his eye has been earnestly searching for
throughout. His task then is ended. He heaves a deep sigh of relief,
and, with a reflection that, after all, he is glad he was obliging, is
preparing to shut the volume, when he feels the inevitable Brown's hand
on his shoulder, and his husky voice in his ear.

"Capital! you got on capitally! Could not be better; but you will not
mind going on a little longer, will you? You have only read for ten
minutes. I want you to try something different this time--a little
pathos, for a change. I have marked the page. Here!"

What is there to do but acquiesce? Burgoyne, complying, finds himself at
once in the middle of a melancholy tale of a poor young woman left
ruined and deserted in Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings, and only rescued from
suicide by the efforts of that good lady, who, however, is unable to
save her from a tragic and premature death. The reader has reached the
point at which Mrs. Lirriper has met the poor creature on her way to the
river.

"'Mrs. Edson, I says, my dear, take care! However, did you lose your
way, and stumble in a dangerous place like this? No wonder you're lost,
I'm sure.'" (What is this sound? Is it possible that the giggle is
rising again? the giggle which he was so glad to welcome a little while
ago, but which is so disastrously out of place here. He redoubles his
efforts to put an unmistakably serious and pathetic tone into his
voice.) "She was all in a shiver, and she so continued till I laid her
on her own bed, and up to the early morning she held me by the hand and
moaned, and moaned, 'Oh, wicked, wicked, wicked!----'"

What can the Provident Matrons be made of? They are laughing
unrestrainedly. Too late Burgoyne realizes that he had not made it
sufficiently clear that his intention is no longer comic. The idea of
his being a funny man has so firmly rooted itself in his hearers' minds,
that nothing can now dislodge it. Such being the case, he feels that the
best thing he can do is to reach the end as quickly as possible. He
begins to read very fast, which is taken for a new stroke of
facetiousness, the result of which is that the last sigh of the poor
young would-be suicide is drowned in a storm of hilarity even heartier
and more prolonged than that which greeted "Willing Sophy's" smudged
nose. In much confusion, greatly abashed by the honours so mistakenly
heaped upon him, Burgoyne hastily leaves the platform. Twenty thousand
Browns shall not keep him there!



CHAPTER II.

    "Tell me now in what hidden way is
      Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
    Where is Hipparchia, and where is Thais?
      Neither of them the fairer woman.
    Where is Echo beheld of no one,
      Only heard on river and mere?
    She whose beauty was more than human,
      But where are the snows of yester-year?"


"There is no reason why we should not go home now; are you ready?" cries
Brown, bustling up to his friend, who has not waited for this question
to make straight, as the needle to the pole, for the corner where the
collected umbrellas stand in their little area of lake.

Burgoyne would probably have laughed at the unconscious irony of this
inquiry if he had heard it; but he has not, his attention being
otherwise directed. On the same umbrella quest as himself, being helped
on with her mackintosh by one of the two men who had accompanied her, a
pepper-and-salt-haired, sturdy gentleman of an obviously unacademic cut,
is the lady whose face had flashed upon him with that puzzling sense of
unfamiliar familiarity. Since they are now in close proximity, and both
employed alike in struggling into their wraps, there is nothing more
natural than that she should turn her eyes full upon him. They are very
fine eyes, though far from young ones. Is it a trick of his imagination,
or does he see a look of half-recognition dawn in them, such as must
have been born in his own when they first alighted on her? At all
events, if there is such a look of half-recognition in her eyes, she is
determined that it shall not have a chance of becoming a whole one.
Either he is mistaken, and she has not recognised him, or she is
determined not to acknowledge the acquaintance, for she looks away again
at once, nor does she throw another glance in his direction. Indeed, it
seems to him that she hurries on her preparations with added speed, and
walks out into the night accompanied by her double escort before him.

The weather has changed, and for the better. The rollicking wind has
lulled, the pattering rain ceased. Between the ragged, black
cloud-sheets star-points shine, and a shimmering moon shows her wet face
reflected in the puddles. Talk, which had been impossible on their way
to the meeting, is not only possible but easy now, and Brown is
evidently greatly inclined for it. Burgoyne, on the other hand, had
never felt more disinclined. It is not so much that he is out of humour
with his tiresome friend, though he is that too, as that his whole mind
is centred on making his memory give up the secret of that face that has
come back to him out of some vague cavern of his past.

Who is the woman whom he knows, and who knows him (for on reflection he
is sure that that look of hers was one of half--of more than
half--recognition), and yet whose place in his history, whose very name,
he seeks so vainly? She does not belong to his Oxford days, as he has
already ascertained. He has learnt from Brown that she does not belong
to the Oxford of to-day, being apparently a stranger, and, with her
husband, a visitor to the Warden of ---- College, in whose company they
had arrived. He explores the succeeding years of his life. In vain; she
has no place there; in vain he dives and plunges into the sea of his
memory; he cannot fish up the pearl he seeks. He must hark back to
earlier days--his school-time, the six months he spent in Devonshire
with a coach before he came up to New. Ah! he has it--he has it at last!
just as they have reached Brown's door, while he is fumbling with his
latch-key for the keyhole, imprecating the moon for withdrawing her
shining at the very instant he most needs her, Burgoyne has come up with
the shy object of his chase. It is conjured back into his mind by the
word Devonshire.

"I have it," he says to himself; "her hair has turned white, that was
why I did not recognise her; it used to be raven-black. But it is
she--of course it is she! To think of my not knowing her again! Of
course it is Mrs. Le Marchant."

What a door into the distance that name has opened!--a door through
which he passes into a Devonshire garden, and romps with rose-faced
Devonshire children. The very names of those children are coming back to
him. Tom and Charles, those were the schoolboys; Rose and Miriam,
and--Elizabeth. He recalls--absurd trick of freakish memory--those
children's pets. Tom and Charles had guinea-pigs; Miriam had a white
rat; Rose--what had Rose? Rose must have had something; and Elizabeth
had a kangaroo. Elizabeth's kangaroo was short-lived, poor beast, and
died about hay-time; the guinea-pigs and the white rat have been dead
too for ages now, of course. And are Tom and Charles, and Rose and
Miriam, and bright Elizabeth dead also? Absurd! Why should they be?
Nothing more unlikely! Why, it is only ten years ago, after all.

He is roused from his meditations by Brown's voice, to find himself in
Brown's study, where its owner is filling himself a pipe, and festally
offering him whisky-and-water. But it is only an abstracted attention
that Burgoyne lends, either to the whisky or the whisky's master; and
his answers are sometimes inattentively beside the mark, to talk, which
indeed is not without some likeness to the boasted exploits in Clement's
Inn, and the affectionate inquiries after Jane Nightwork, of a more
famous fool than he.

It is a relief to the guest when, earlier than he had expected--a
blessing he, no doubt, owes to Mrs. Brown--his host breaks up the
séance, and he is free to retire to his own room. At once he is back in
that Devonshire garden, he is there almost all night, between sleep and
wake. It is strange that persons and circumstances banished from his
memory for ten long years should rush back with such tyrannous
insistence now.

Such silly recollected trifles crowd back upon his mind. The day on
which Tom nearly choked himself by swallowing a barley beard; the day on
which the lop-eared rabbit littered--ah, rabbits, of course! those were
what Rose had!--the day on which Tom pushed Miriam into the moat, and
Elizabeth fell in, too, in trying to fish her out. Elizabeth, the
eldest, the almost grown-up one, embarrassed by her newly lengthened
petticoats, so harassing at cricket, in races, in climbing apple-trees.
Elizabeth was sixteen; he remembers the fact, because her birthday had
fallen two days before his own departure. He had given her a gold
thimble set with turquoises upon the occasion; it was not a surprise,
because he recalls measuring her finger for the size. He can see that
small middle finger now. Elizabeth must now be twenty-six years of age.
Where is she? What is she--maid, wife, or widow?

And why has Mrs. Le Marchant's hair turned snow-white? Had it been
merely gray he would not have complained, though he would have deplored
the loss of the fine smooth inky sweep he remembers. She has a fair
right to be gray; Mrs. Le Marchant must be about forty-six or
forty-seven, bien sonné. But white, snow-white--the hue that one
connects with a venerable extremity of age. Can it be bleached? He has
heard of women bleaching their hair; but not Mrs. Le Marchant, not the
Mrs. Le Marchant he remembers. She would have been as incapable of
bleach as of dye. Then why is she snow-haired? Because Providence has so
willed it is the obvious answer. But somehow Burgoyne cannot bring
himself to believe that she has come fairly by that white head.

With the morning light the might of the Devonshire memories grows
weaker; and, as the day advances, the Oxford ones resume their sway. How
can it be otherwise, when all day long he strays among the unaltered
buildings in the sweet sedate college gardens, down the familiar "High,"
where, six years ago, he could not take two steps without being hailed
by a jolly fresh voice, claiming his company for some new pleasure; but
where now he walks ungreeted, where the smooth-faced boys he meets, and
who strike him as so much more boyish than his own contemporaries had
done, pass him by indifferently, unknown to the whole two thousand as he
is. He feels a sort of irrational anger with them for not recognising
him, though they have never seen him before.

Yes, there is no place where a man is so quickly superannuated as in
Oxford. He is saying this to himself all day, is saying it still as he
strolls in the afternoon down Mesopotamia, to fill up the time before
the hour for college chapel. Yes, there is no place where men so soon
turn into ghosts. He has been knocking up against them all day at every
street-corner; they have looked out at him from every gray window in the
Quad at New--jovial, athletic young ghosts, so much painfuller to meet
than rusty, century-worn old ones. They are rather less plentiful in
Mesopotamia than elsewhere; perhaps, because in his day, as now,
Mesopotamia on Sundays was given over to the mechanic and the
perambulator. Oh, that Heaven would put it into the head of some
Chancellor of the Exchequer to lay a swingeing tax upon that
all-accursed vehicle! But not even mechanic and perambulator can hinder
Mesopotamia from being fair on a fine February day, when the beautiful
floods are out, the floods that the Thames Conservators and the Oxford
authorities have combined to put down, as they have most other beautiful
things within their reach. But they have not yet quite succeeded.
To-day, for instance, the floods are out in might.

Burgoyne is pacing along a brown walk, like a raised causeway, with a
sheet of white water on either hand, rolling strong ripples to the bank.
Gnarled willows stand islanded in the coldly argent water. A blackbird
is flying out of the bushes, with a surprised look at finding himself
turned into a sea-bird. No sun; an even sweep of dull silver to right
and left. No sun; and yet as he looks, after days of rain, the "_grand
décorateur_," as someone happily called him, rides out in royalty on a
cleared sky-field, turning the whole drenched country into
mother-of-pearl--a sheet of opal stretched across the drowned meadows;
the distance opal too, a delicate, dainty, evanescent loveliness
snatched from the ugly brown jaws of winter.

Burgoyne is leaning over the wooden bridge beneath which, in its normal
state, the water of the lasher rushes down impetuously; but it is now
raised to such a height that it lies level, almost flush with the
planking. He is staring across the iridescent water-plain to where, in
the poetic atmosphere of sun and mist, dome, and schools and soaring
spires stand etherealized.

"Dear old place!" he says, under his breath, "everybody is dead; and I
am dead; and Brown is deader than anyone. I am glad that you, at least,
are still alive!"

Are these more ghosts coming round the corner? A man and a woman ghost
strolling along, and looking about them as strangers look. When they are
within a pace or two of him the woman says something--something about
the floods--to her companion, and at the sound Burgoyne starts.

"She did not speak last night; if she had spoken I should have known her
at once. She always had such a sweet voice."

He raises his arms from the bridge-top, and, turning, meets them face to
face, eye to eye, and in an instant he has seen that both recognise him.
At the same instant he is aware of a simultaneous inclination on the
part of man and wife to avert their heads, and pass him without claiming
his acquaintance. Perhaps, if he had had time to reflect, he would have
allowed them to do so, but the impulse of the moment forbids it. Why
should they wish to cut him? What has he done to deserve it? Ten years
ago, they were his very good friends, and he was the familiar comrade of
their children, the daily guest at their table. What has the unavoidable
lapse of those years done to make him less fit for their company at
twenty-nine than he was at nineteen? There must be some misconception,
which a moment will set right.

"I am afraid that you do not remember me, Mrs. Le Marchant," he says,
lifting his hat.

This is not quite true, as he is perfectly convinced that they are as
much aware of his identity as he is of theirs. But what formula has a
man to employ in such a case? They both look back at him with a sort of
irresolution. To his astonishment, in their eyes is a velleity of
flight, but apparently she--women's minds moving more quickly than
men's--is the first to realize that flight is out of the question.

"I am sure that you have no intention of cutting me," Jim goes on, with
a smile, seeing that she is apparently struggling with a difficulty in
utterance; "at least, you must be very much changed from what you were
ten years ago if you have. My name is----"

"I know--I know!" she interrupts, finding speech at last--speech low and
hurried. "I remember perfectly. You are Mr. Burgoyne."

Her confusion--she used always to be such a placid, even-mannered
woman--is so patent, born of whatever unaccountable feeling it may be,
that he now heartily wishes he had let the poor woman pass unmolested.
But such repentance is too late. He has arrested her; she is standing on
the gravel path before him, and though he feels that her extraordinary
shyness--_mauvaise honte_, whatever it may be--has infected himself, he
must make some further remark to her. Nothing better occurs to him than
the obvious one:

"It is a long time--it is ten years since we met."

"Yes, ten years; it must be quite ten years," she assents, evidently
making a great effort to regain composure.

She does not feign the slightest pleasure in the meeting, and Burgoyne
feels that the one thought that occupies her mind is how she can soonest
end it. But his roused curiosity, together with the difficulty of
parting without further observation after having forced his presence
upon them, combine to prevent her succeeding.

"And how is the Moat?" he asks, reflecting that this, at least, is a
safe question; a brick and mortar house, at all events, cannot be dead.
"How is Devonshire?"

Apparently it is not so harmless a question as he had imagined; at
least, Mrs. Le Marchant is obviously quite incapable of answering it.
Her husband, for the first time, comes to her rescue.

"The Moat is let," he says, in a dry voice; "we have left Devonshire a
long while--nine, nine and a half years ago."

The Moat let! Judging by the light of Burgoyne's recollections, it would
have seemed less surprising to him to hear that Windsor Castle had been
turned into a Joint Stock Company Hotel. It is probably, then, some
money trouble that has turned Mrs. Le Marchant's hair white--snow white,
as he now sees it to be. But no; he rejects the explanation as
insufficient. She is not the woman to have taken a diminished income so
much to heart.

Good manners forbid him to ask, "Why is the Moat let?" so all that he
says is, "Nine and a half years ago? Why, that must have been very soon
after I left Devonshire."

He addresses his remark involuntarily rather to the wife than the
husband, but she does not answer it. Her eyes are fixed upon the bubbles
sailing so fast upon the swollen river, which is distinguishable only by
its current from the sameness of the surrounding water. A lark--there is
always a lark in Mesopotamia--a tiny, strong-throated singer, that never
seems to have to stop to take breath, fills up the silence, shouting
somewhere out of sight among the black clouds, in and out of which the
uncertain sun is plunging. Whether of a moneyed nature or not, there is
evidently something very unpleasant connected with their leaving their
native county and their immemorial home, so he had better get away from
the subject as fast as possible.

"Anyhow," he says, with a rather nervous smile, "I hope that the world
has been treating you kindly--that things have gone well with you since
those dear old days when you were so good to me."

There is an instant's pause--perhaps he would not have noticed it had
not his suspicions been already roused--before the husband, again taking
upon him the task of replying, answers, with a sort of laboured
carelessness:

"Oh, yes, thanks; we do not complain. It has not been a very rosy time
for landlords lately, as you are aware."

"And _you_?" cries the wife, striking in with a species of hurry in her
voice--a hurry due, as his instinct tells him, to the fact of her fear
of his entering into more detailed inquiries. "And _you_? We must not
forget you. Have you been well, flourishing, all this long time? Do you
still live with your----"

She stops abruptly. It is apparent that she has entirely forgotten what
was the species of relation with whom he lived. There is a little tinge
of bitterness in his heart, though not in his tone, as he supplies the
missing word "aunt." After all, he had forgotten _her_ name; why should
not she forget his aunt?

"With my aunt? Well, I never exactly lived with her; I made, and make my
headquarters there when I am in England, which is not very often. I have
been a rolling stone; I have rolled pretty well round the world since we
parted."

They do not care in the least where he has rolled, nor how much nor how
little moss he has collected in the process. They are only thinking how
they can best get rid of him. But the past is strong upon him; he cannot
let them slide out of his life again for another ten--twenty years
perhaps, without finding out from them something about his five merry
playmates. His inquiry must needs be a vague one. Who dares ask
specifically after this or that man, woman, or even child, when ten
years have rolled their tides between?

"And you are all well?" he says, with a certain wistfulness lurking in
the indifferent _banal_ phrase. "Dear me, what a jolly party we used to
be! I suppose that--that they are all out in the world now?"

His eyes are fixed apprehensively upon the mother of those young
comrades, to whom he thus cautiously alludes. Perhaps, carefully as he
has worded his question, he may have touched some terrible raw. Her face
is turned aside, presenting only its profile to him, but she answers
almost at once:

"Yes; we are all scattered now. Charlie is planting oranges in
Florida--he does not mind the heat; you know he always said no weather
could be too hot for him; and Tom has an ostrich farm in Australia; and
Rose has been married two years--she has a dear little baby; and Miriam
is married too; we have just come down from her wedding."

"Miriam married!" repeats Burgoyne in a tone of wonder. "Miriam with a
husband instead of a white rat!"

The mother laughs. It is the first time that he has heard her laugh, and
she used to laugh so often.

"I think she likes the exchange."

There is another little pause, again filled by the lark's crowding
notes. There are two words battering against the gate of Burgoyne's lips
for egress--two words that he dares not utter.

"And Elizabeth?" She was the eldest. She would naturally have been
mentioned first; but neither first nor last is there any speech of her.
She must, then, be dead--dead long ago, too; for there is no trace of
mourning in her parents' dress. Elizabeth is dead--bright Elizabeth, the
beauty and the pet! Charles Lamb's tender lines come pensively back to
him--

    "My sprightly neighbour gone before
    To that unknown and silent shore,
    Shall we not meet as heretofore,
      Some summer morning?"

Is it only fancy that he sees in the eye of Elizabeth's mother a dread
lest he shall ask tidings of her, as she says, hastily, and with a
smile, "Well, I am afraid we must be going; it has been very pleasant
meeting you again, but I am afraid that the Warden will be expecting
us"?

She adds to her parting hand-shake no wish for a repetition of that
meeting, and he watches them down the Willow Walk with a sort of sadness
in his heart.

"Elizabeth is dead! Elizabeth is undoubtedly dead!"



CHAPTER III.


"Do you know that Willy has been sent down again?"

Six weeks have passed since Burgoyne's eye followed his quondam friends
down Mesopotamia, and he is not in Oxford now. He left it, indeed,
twenty-four hours after the rencounter described; left it with something
of a determination never to revisit it. This, too, in spite of the good
Brown's vociferously reiterated invitation to him to run down for
another Sunday, whenever he should feel inclined, and which he accepted
civilly, knowing that he should never feel inclined.

At the present moment he is pacing up and down the still wintry,
north-windswept walks of a country-house garden in Shropshire, in the
company of a lady whom he has known as long as he can remember; a lady
who would have been a friend of circumstance, even if she had not been
one of choice, since her home has been in the immediate neighbourhood of
the only one he has ever had; a lady whose friendship he has tested by
letters on thin paper from New Guinea and Central Africa all about
himself; at whose feet he has laid on his return more heads, and skins,
and claws than she has well known what to do with; whose husband he
thought a very good fellow, and to whom he wrote a very nice letter on
that husband's death; lastly, concerning whose only child has been made
the communication that opens this chapter--"Do you know that Willy has
been sent down again?"

"I did not know it; but I am very sorry now that I do know."

"You need not be," returns she cheerfully; "he does not mind it in the
least; indeed, happily for him, most of his friends have been sent down
too."

"What has he been doing this time? Putting the porter into the fountain?
or screwing up the Dean? or what other playful little pleasantry?"

"You need not speak in that nasty sarcastic voice," says she, half
laughing and half vexed. "After all, you must know that young men will
be young men, or, at least, if you do not know it now, you must have
known it once."

"If you take that tone to me," retorts Burgoyne, smiling, "I shall have
to souse your gardener in your fountain, to prove my juvenility; but
come, what has he done?"

"Absolutely nothing, as far as I can make out," replies she, spreading
out her hands as if to emphasize the statement.

"Do you mean to say that the authorities have sent him down _de gaieté
de coeur_, without any provocation at all?" asks Burgoyne, in a tone
out of which he is unable to keep a shade of incredulity.

"I mean to say," replies she, nettled, "that he had a few men to supper,
and I suppose they were making a little noise; did you ever in your day
hear of an undergraduate supper where there was not noise? However, in
this case, from what he tells me, Willy was taking positively no part in
it."

"He was sitting in a corner, with cotton-wool in his ears, reading
Aristotle," suggests Burgoyne teasingly.

"And it seems," continued she, not deigning to notice the interruption,
"that the Proctor came in, and was very rude, and Willy was told to go
to the Dean next morning, and he either was a little late, or mistook
the hour, or some trifle of that sort; and when he did go he was told
that he was sent down. However"--with some triumph in her voice--"it did
not matter in the least--he did not mind; in fact, he was rather glad,
as he has long wanted to go to Italy in the spring."

"To Italy? Then perhaps we shall meet; I too am going to Italy."

"Are you?" she says. "Why should you go to Italy? There is nothing to
kill there, is there? Is not it at Naples that they go out in full
chasseur uniform to shoot tomtits?" Which speech is her revenge for his
sarcasms upon her son.

But Burgoyne's face has taken on a rather careworn look; and her little
arrow misses its mark.

"You see, Amelia is at Florence," he says explanatorily; "her father,
Mr. Wilson, had a clergyman's throat in the autumn, and was obliged to
give up duty, so they all went abroad. They have been abroad all the
winter; you know that I have not seen her since I came back from the
Rockies."

They are now walking in a winding shrubbery path, whose laurels protect
them from the pinching wind. They have turned several corners, and
traversed half a quarter of a mile before either again breaks silence.
It is the lady who does so finally.

"Jim, how long have you been engaged to Amelia?"

There is a sigh mixed with his answer.

"Eight years--eight years this next June; it was the second summer term
after I came up."

"And as far as you can see, you are likely to be engaged for another
eight years?"

"As far as I can see--yes; but then I cannot see far."

Perhaps his companion is a fanciful woman; but she notices that this
time he does not sigh.

"Poor Amelia!" she says, half under her breath.

"Poor Amelia!" repeats he sharply; "why poor?--for being engaged to me?
You are not very complimentary, Mrs. Byng."

She looks up friendlily at him. "For being engaged to you, or being only
engaged to you?--which? I leave you a choice of interpretation."

But either Jim is too ruffled by the pity expressed in her tone towards
his betrothed, or her remarks have provoked in him a train of thought
which does not tend towards loquacity. The loud rooks, balancing
themselves on improbably small twigs above their heads, and, hoarsely
melodious, calling out their airy vernal news to each other, make for
some time the only sound that breaks the silence of the cold spring
afternoon. It is again Mrs. Byng who at last infringes it.

"If you and Willy are both going to Italy, why should not you go
together?"

Jim does not immediately answer; the project is sprung upon him with
such suddenness that he does not at once know whether it is agreeable to
him or the reverse.

"You do not like the idea?" continues the mother, trying, not very
successfully, to keep out of her tone the surprise she feels at his not
having jumped at a plan so obviously to his own advantage.

"I did not say so. I did not even think so."


"Willy is an ideal fellow-traveller," says she, "excepting in the matter
of punctuality; I warn you"--laughing--"that you would always have to
drag him out of bed."

"But," suggests Jim slowly, "even supposing that I embraced your design
with the warmth which I see you think it deserves, how can you tell that
it would meet with his approbation? He has probably made up a party with
some of the other innocent victims of a corrupt University system."

"No, he has not; the friend with whom he was to have gone has thrown him
over; at least, poor man, that is hardly the way to express it, for he
has broken his leg; but anyhow he is _hors de combat_. If you went with
Willy," she adds, after a pause, and with a rather wistful air, "I
should be sure of knowing if anything went wrong."

"I am to dry-nurse him, in fact, only I stipulate that, if he brings you
home a Contadina daughter-in-law, or 'commits himself with a countess,'
like the commercial gentleman at Todgers's, you are not to hold me
responsible."

And so it came to pass that a fortnight later, while April is still
young, Burgoyne, _en route_ to his Amelia, is standing at a window of
the Hotel de Gênes at Genoa, noisiest of hotels, though, to be sure,
that is its only fault. He is looking out at the gay market that is held
in the piazza below--the gay market that is over and gone by nine
o'clock.

It seems odd that so many women, so many umbrellas, so many baskets, so
many oranges and lemons--each lemon with a glossy green leaf still
adhering to its inch of stalk--so many fresh vegetables can be swept
away in so short a time. But they are; all the gay kerchiefs are fled,
and have been replaced by a row of fiacres with sad droop-headed horses,
a good hour before Byng appears--appears radiantly well washed and
apologetic.

"How many morning chapels did you attend last term?" asks Burgoyne with
some dryness.

"It is a vile habit," replies the other sweetly, sitting down at a
little table, and unfolding his breakfast napkin. "I do not mean going
to chapel, but being so late; however, I really am improving. I am a
quarter of an hour--twenty minutes earlier than I was yesterday, and,
thank God, we have no train to catch to-day."

Burgoyne is rather inclined to echo the thanksgiving a little later in
the day, as they stroll with the pleasant vagueness with which one
strays about a little-known foreign town, not exactly knowing whither,
through the streets of the queenly city, with which neither of them has
much acquaintance; Byng's twenty-two years of school and college, of
cricket, and grouse, and stalking, having left not much margin for aught
else; and Burgoyne being in the case of some widely-wandered shots and
explorers, to whom the Nyanza Lake and the Australian Bush are more
familiar than Giotto's Campanile or the Lagoons. There is a
grayish-looking English sky, with now and then little sprays of rain,
and now and then flashes of warm sun.

Neither of the young men knows much Italian, and such as they possess
they are ashamed to air before each other in asking their way, so they
wander wherever chance or fancy leads them. They look curiously into
churches, they walk down deep narrow streets, whose houses have for
three centuries been threatening to embrace each other across the strait
sky strip far, far above their heads. They glance at palace-fronts, and
wonder at the sculptured portals where fresco and fruit garland and fine
tracery speak of a time at more leisure for delicate work that has no
end but beauty, than this breathless one. Everywhere in the gardens they
see budding green, untrained roses making bowers, ripe oranges hanging
over the walls. They jostle against women, each made charming, even the
ugliest of them, by the black lace kerchief tied about her head.

"Henry James says that an English crowd is the best-looking in the
world," says Byng, in a tone of strong dissent, following with his eyes
a little tripping figure, and with an expression of pronounced
approbation in those eyes, which gives Burgoyne a momentary twinge of
misgiving as to his chaperonship. "I should put it the other way up, and
say that they are the ugliest."

"All crowds are ugly, and most individuals," replies Burgoyne,
misanthropically looking up from his guide-book.

They are sauntering down the Via Garibaldi, street of palaces that
deserves an antiquer name than that of the somewhat shoddy and recent
hero who has god-fathered it. Noblest Via, down whose stately length
great towering bulks succeed each other in solid majesty on either hand;
bulks on whose high fronts, lofty-portaled, o'errun with fresco,
glorified by brush and chisel, strength and beauty take hands in
unending wedlock. Into the noblest of all, up the echoing stone stairs,
down which the feet of the masters have for ever ceased to tread, they
enter. As we all know, it has been given to the city of Genoa--lovely
queen-city meriting so great a gift--by the dying hand of its latest
possessor, the last of that high and beautiful race--if we may judge of
the dead by their pictures--who paced its floors, and went forth in
final funeral pomp through its worthy-to-be-imperial portals.

Burgoyne and Byng are standing before the great Vandyke. The custode,
opening a shutter, and throwing wider a door, casts a brighter ray of
light for the staring Britons--several others have joined themselves to
our friends--to gape at it by. What does the stately gentleman on his
great white horse, whom Vandyke has made able to set at naught death's
effacement, think of them, as the custode slowly swings him forward on
his hinges, so that the day-beams may bring out more clearly still the
arresting charm of his serious face, his outstretched arm, and grave,
gallant bearing? Looking at him, whose heart among us is not besieged by
an ache of longing that that "young and princely" gentleman on the brave
white charger should ride down to us out of his frame, and bring back
his world with him? probably not a better world than ours, but surely,
surely a handsomer one.

After awhile the other tourists drift away, but the two men still stand
and gaze. Into Burgoyne's mind has come a sense of disgust with the
present, a revolt against steam trams and the Cromwell Road--most
perfect symbol of that bald, unending, vulgar ugliness, which, in some
moods, must seem to everyone the dominant note of nineteenth-century
life. The light-hearted Byng, who always takes his colour from his
surroundings, is hushed into a silence that is almost reverent too.

"What a difference there is between his Italian and his English
pictures," he says presently. "Do you remember the Marchesa Balbi, and
those divine Balbi children in the Grosvenor, last year? Oh, no!
by-the-bye, you were in America. The fog seemed to get into his brush
whenever he painted an Englishwoman, always excepting Henrietta Maria,
who was not an Englishwoman, and whom he was obviously rather in love
with."

"Is that a piece of scandal of your own invention, or is it founded on
fact?" asks Burgoyne, rousing himself, and looking over his shoulder
towards the entrance to the next frescoed, mirrored, pictured room,
whence he hears the sound of approaching voices. In his eye is an idle
and mechanical curiosity, mixed with vexation that his short respite
from his fellow-countrymen is ended; in this case, it is
fellow-countrywomen, for the tones that are nearing are those of a
woman, a woman who is saying in a key of satisfaction, "Oh, here it is!
I thought I remembered that it was in this room."

At the same moment the speaker, as well as the person addressed, came
into sight; and in an instant out of Burgoyne's eye has raced away the
lack-lustre curiosity, and has given way to an expression of something
beyond surprise, of something more nearly verging on consternation; and
yet, after all, there is nothing very astonishing in the fact that it is
Mrs. Le Marchant who is the woman in search of the Vandyke. There is
nothing more surprising in her being at Genoa than in his being there
himself. At that mart of nations it can never be matter for wonder to
meet anyone; but who is this to whom her observation is addressed? It is
not Mr. Le Marchant, it is not a man at all; it is a slight woman--

    "White as a lily, and small as a wand"--

like Lance's sister, dressed with that neat, tight, gray-tinted
simplicity, severe yet smart, which marks the well-bred Englishwoman on
her travels. Is it one of the younger ones, who has grown up so
startlingly like her? Miriam? Rose? or is it, can it be, the dead
Elizabeth?



CHAPTER IV.


In a ripe civilization such as ours there are formulas provided to meet
the requirements of every exigency that may possibly arise; but amongst
them there is not one which teaches us how to greet a person come back
from the dead, because it is held impossible that such a contingency can
occur. Perhaps this is the reason why Jim Burgoyne, usually a docile and
obedient member of the society to which he belongs, now flies in the
face of all the precepts instilled into him by that society's code. At
the sight of Elizabeth Le Marchant entering the room, clad in a very
neat tailor gown, instead of the winding-sheet with which he had
credited her, he at first stands transfixed, staring at her with a
hardness of intensity which is allowed to us in the case of Titian's
"Bella," or Botticelli's "Spring," but has never been accounted
permissible in the case of a more living loveliness. Then, before he can
control, or even question the impulse that drives him, it has carried
him to her.

"Elizabeth!" he says, in that sort of awed semi-whisper with which one
would salute a being plainly returned from the other side, fearing that
the fulness of a living voice might strike too strongly on his disused
ear--"is it really Elizabeth?"

Had Burgoyne been quite sure, even now, of that fact; if he had had his
wits well about him, he would certainly not have addressed her by her
Christian name. But from the dead the small pomps and ceremonies of
earth fall off. We think of them by their naked names--must we not then
appeal to them by the same when they reappear before us?

The girl--for she does not look much more--thus rudely and startlingly
bombarded, drops her Baedeker out of her slim-gloved hand, and with a
positive jump at the suddenness of the address, looks back
apprehensively at her interlocutor. In her eyes is, at first, only the
coldly frightened expression of one discourteously assailed by an
insolent stranger; but in a space of time as short as had served him to
note the same metamorphosis in the case of her parents, he sees the look
of half--three-quarter--whole recognition dawn in her eyes,
followed--alas! there can be no mistake about it--by the same aspiration
after flight. There is no reason why she should not recognise him again
at once. He has fallen a prey neither to hair nor fat--the two main
disguisers and disfigurers of humanity. His face is as smooth and his
figure as spare as when, ten years ago, he had given the pretty tomboy
of sixteen lessons in jumping the ha-ha. And as to her identity, no
shadow of doubt any longer lingers in his mind.

The violence and shock of his attack have made her crimson, have matched
her cheeks with those long-withered damasks in the Moat garden, with
which they used to vie in bloomy vividness. But even yet he does not
treat her quite as if she were really and veritably living; he has not
yet got back his conventional manners.

"I thought you were dead," he says, his voice not even yet raised to its
ordinary key, some vague awe still subduing it.

It must be a trick of his excited imagination that makes it seem to him
as if she said under her breath, "So I am!"

But before he has had time to do more than distrust the testimony of his
ears, Mrs. Le Marchant strikes in quickly--

"We cannot help what Mr. Burgoyne thinks," says she, with a constrained
laugh; "but you are not dead, are you, Elizabeth? We are neither of us
dead; on the contrary, we are very much alive. Who can help being alive
in this heavenly place? And you? When did you come? What hotel are you
at? Have you been here long? Do you make a long stay?"

She pours out her questions with such torrent-force and rapidity, as
gives to her auditor the conviction that it is her aim to have a
monopoly of them.

After one look of unbounded astonishment at his companion's onslaught,
Byng has withdrawn to a discreet distance.

"You never mentioned her when I met you in Oxford," says Burgoyne,
disregarding her trivial and conventional questions, and turning his
eyes away with difficulty from his old playfellow.

Mrs. Le Marchant laughs again, still constrainedly.

"Probably you never asked after her."

"I was afraid," he says solemnly; "after ten years one is afraid; and as
you did not mention her--you know you mentioned all the others--I
thought you had lost her!"

A sort of slight shiver passes over the woman's frame.

"No, thank God! No!"

During the foregoing little dialogue about herself, Elizabeth has stood
with her eyes on the ground; but at the end of it she lifts them to
smile lovingly at her mother. They are very pretty eyes still, but
surely they seem to have cried a good deal; and now that the hurrying
blood has left her cheek again, Burgoyne sees that she looks more nearly
her age than he had imagined at the first glance. He has not heard her
voice yet; she has not spoken, unless that first shaken whisper--so much
more likely to be the freak of his own heated fancy--could count for
speech. He must hear her tones. Do they keep an echo of the other world,
as he still imagines that he sees a shade from it lying lingeringly
across her face?

"Do you ever climb apple-trees now?" he asks abruptly. She starts
slightly, and again, though with a weaker red wave, her rather thin
cheeks grow tinged.

"Did I ever climb them?" she says, with a bewildered look, and speaking
in a somewhat tremulous voice. "Yes"--slowly, as if with an effort of
memory--"I believe I did."


"You have forgotten all about it?" cries Jim, in an accent of absurdly
disproportioned disappointment. "Have you forgotten the kangaroo too?
have you forgotten everything?"

Perhaps she is putting her memory to the same strain as he had done his
in the case of her mother's name on the occasion of their Oxford
meeting. At all events, she leaves the question unanswered, and the
elder woman again hurries to her help against this persistent claimant
of reminiscences.

"You must not expect us all to have such memories as you have," she says
with a touch of friendliness in her look.

"I must own that I too had quite forgotten the kangaroo; and so I fear
had Robert, until you reminded us of it in Mesopotamia."

"How is Mr. Le Marchant?" inquires Jim, thus reminded to put his tardy
query--"is he with you?"

"No, he is not very fond of being abroad; it is not"--smiling--"'dear
abroad' to him, but I think that he will very likely come out to
Florence to fetch us."

"You are going to Florence?" cries the young man eagerly. "So am I! oh,
hurrah! then we shall often meet."

But the touch of friendliness, whose advent he had hailed so joyfully,
has vanished out of Mrs. Le Marchant's voice, or, at least, is overlaid
with a species of stiffness, as she answers distantly, "We do not intend
to go out at all in Florence--I mean into society."

"But I am not society," replies he, chilled, yet resolute. "I
wish"--glancing rather wistfully from one to the other--"that I _could_
give you a little of my memory. If I could, you would see that, after
being so infinitely good to me at the Moat, you cannot expect me to meet
you as total strangers now."

In the sense of ill-usage that fills his breast, the fact of how almost
entirely oblivious he had been of the persons before him, during the
greater part of the long interval that had parted them, has--such is
human nature--quite slipped his recollection. It is brought back to him
in some degree with a twinge by Mrs. Le Marchant saying in a relenting
tone, and with an accent of remorse, "And you have remembered us all
these years?"

He cannot, upon reflection, conscientiously say that he has; but is yet
disingenuous enough to allow a speaking silence to imply acquiescence.

"And you are on your way to Florence too?" continues she, mistaking the
cause of his dumbness; the tide of compunction evidently setting more
strongly towards him, in her womanly heart, at the thought of the entire
want of interest she has manifested in the case of one whose long
faithfulness to her and her family had deserved a better treatment.

"Yes."

His face clouds so perceptibly as he pronounces this monosyllable, that
his interlocutor inquires, with a growing kindness:

"Not on any unpleasant errand, I hope?"

He laughs the uneasy laugh of an Anglo-Saxon obliged to tell, or at all
events telling, some intimate detail about himself.

"I am going to see my young woman--the girl I am engaged to."

"Well, that is a pleasant errand, surely?" (smiling).

"_C'est salon!_" replies Jim gloomily. "I have a piece of ill-news to
tell her;" then, with a half-shy effort to escape into generalities,
"which way do you think that ill-news read best--on paper or _vivâ
voce_?"

She shivers a little.


"I do not know. I do not like them either way."

Then, taking out her watch, with the evident determination to be
surprised at the lateness of the hour, she cries, "It is actually a
quarter to two! Are not you famished, Elizabeth? I am!"

There is such apparent and imminent departure in her eye that Burgoyne
feels that there is no time to be lost.

"Have you decided upon your hotel in Florence?" he asks precipitately.

"We have decided against them all," is her answer. "We have taken a
little apartment--a poor little _entresol_; but it is such a poor little
one, that I should be ashamed to ask any of my friends to come and see
me there."

She accompanies the last words, as if to take the sting out of them,
with as sweet and friendly a smile as any he remembers in the Devonshire
days. But the sting is not taken out, all the same; it lingers, pricking
and burning still, after both the tall, thin, black figure, and the
slim, little gray one have disappeared.

The moment that this is the case, Byng rejoins his friend; a curiosity
and alert interest in his young eyes, which his companion feels no
desire to gratify. He is unable, however, to maintain the entire silence
he had intended upon the subject, since Byng, after waiting for what, to
his impatience, appears a more than decent interval, is constrained to
remark--

"Did I hear you tell that lady, when first you spoke to her, that she
was dead?"

"I thought she was."

"Had you heard it?"

"No."

"Did you see it in the papers?"

"No."

A pause.

"I wonder why you thought she was dead."

The other makes a rather impatient movement.

"I had no reason--none whatever. It was an idiotic inference."

Byng draws a long breath of satisfaction.

"Well, at all events, I am very glad that she is not."

Jim turns upon him with something of the expression of face worn by Mrs.
Sarah Gamp on hearing Mrs. Prig express her belief that it was not by
Mrs. Harris that her services would be required. "Why should you be glad
of that, Betsy? She is unbeknown to you except by hearing. Why should
you be glad?"

As Byng's case is a more aggravated one than Mrs. Prig's, seeing that
Elizabeth Le Marchant is 'unbeknown' to him even by hearing, so is the
warmth, or rather coldness, with which his friend receives his remark
not inferior to that of "Sairey."

"I do not quite see how it affects you. Why are you glad?"

"_Why am I glad?_" replies the younger man, with a lightening eye. "For
the same reason that I am glad that Vandyke painted that
picture"--pointing to it--"or that Shakespeare wrote _As You Like It_.
The world is the richer by them all three."

But to this poetic and flattering analogy, Jim's only answer is a surly
"Humph!"



CHAPTER V.

     "There are no more by-path meadows where you may innocently
     linger, but the road lies long and straight and dusty to the
     grave. You may think you had a conscience and believed in God;
     but what is conscience to a wife?.... To marry is to
     domesticate the Recording Angel. Once you are married, there is
     nothing left for you--not even suicide--but to be good."


There is no particular reason why Burgoyne should not impart to his
companion what he knows--after all it is not very much--about their two
countrywomen. Upon reflection he had told himself this, and conquered a
reluctance, that he cannot account for, to mentioning their name; and to
relating the story of those shadowy idyllic two months of his life,
which form all of it that has ever come into contact with theirs. So
that by the time--some thirty-six hours later--when they reach Florence,
the younger man is in possession of as much information about the
objects of their common interest as it is in the power of the elder one
to impart.

To neither of them, meanwhile, is any second glimpse vouchsafed of those
objects, eagerly--though with different degrees of overtness in that
eagerness--as they both look out for them among the luggage-piles and
the tweed-clad English ladies at the station. It had been the intention
of Burgoyne that he and his friend should put up at the same hotel as
that inhabited by his betrothed and her family; hut, finding that it is
full, he orders rooms at the Minerva, and in the fallen dusk of a rather
chill spring night, finds himself traversing the short distance from the
railway to that hotel.

As he and Byng sit over their coffee after dinner in the _salle à
manger_, almost its only tenants at that late hour, the younger man
remarks matter-of-factly, as if stating a proposition almost too obvious
to be worth uttering--

"I suppose you are off to the Anglo-Américain now."

"I think not," replies Jim slowly; "it is past ten, you see, and they
are early people." He adds a moment later, as if suspecting his own
excuse of insufficiency, "Mr. Wilson is rather an invalid, and there is
also an invalid or semi-invalid sister; I think that I had better not
disturb them to-night."

Byng has never been engaged to be married, except in theory, and it is
certainly no business of his to blow his friend's flagging ardour into
flame, so he contents himself with an acquiescent observation to the
effect that the train must have been late. But at all events the next
morning finds Burgoyne paying his fiacre at the door of the
Anglo-Américain, with the confidence of a person who is certain of
finding those he seeks, a confidence justified by the result; for,
having followed a waiter across a courtyard, and heard him knock at a
door on the ground-floor, that door opens with an instantaneousness
which gives the idea of an ear having been pricked to catch the expected
rap, and the next moment, the intervening _garçon_ having withdrawn, Jim
stands face to face with his Amelia. Her features are all alight with
pleasure, but her first words are not particularly amorous.

"Would you mind coming into the dining-room? Sybilla is in the
drawing-room already this morning. She said she was afraid it was going
to be one of her bad days, so I thought" (rather regretfully) "that
possibly she would be a little later than usual in coming down; but, on
the contrary, she is much earlier."

It is possible that an extremely ardent love may be independent of
surroundings; may burn with as fierce a flame, when its owner or victim
is seated on a hard horsehair chair beside a dining-room table, in a
little dull hotel back room, as when the senses are courted by
softly-cushioned lounges, penetrating flower-scents, and cunningly
arranged _bric-à-brac_; but perhaps Jim's passion is not of this intense
and Spartan quality. At all events a chill steals over him as Amelia
leads the way into that small and uncheerful chamber where the Wilson
family daily banquet. He is not so lost to all sense of what England and
Amelia expect of him as not to take her in his arms and kiss her very
kindly and warmly, before they sit down on two hard chairs side by side;
and even when they have done so, he still holds her hand, and kisses it
now and then. He has a great many things to say to her, but "out of the
abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" is not invariably true.
Sometimes that very abundance clogs the utterance, and, after a ten
months' separation, the hinges of even lovers' tongues are apt at first
to be somewhat rusty.

"And are you really glad to see me again?" asks the woman--she is
scarcely a girl, having the doubtful advantage of being her betrothed's
senior by two years. The horsehair chairs are obviously powerless to
take the edge off her bliss; and she can scarcely command her voice as
she asks the question.

"I decline to answer all such futile inquiries," replies he, smiling not
unkindly; but there is no tremor in his voice. "Even if I did not
discourage them on principle, I should have no time to answer them
to-day; I have so much to say to you that I do not know where to begin."

"After ten months that is not very surprising," rejoins she, with a
stifled sigh. There is no sentimental reproach in her words or tone; but
in both lurks a note of wistfulness which gives his conscience a prick.

"Of course not! of course not!" he rejoins hastily; "but it is not
really ten months--no, surely----"

"Ten months, one week, two days, four hours and a half!"

Against such exactitude of memory what appeal has he? He attempts none,
and only thinks with a faint unjust irritation that she might have
spared him the odd hours.

"And how are things going? How are you all getting on?" he asks,
precipitating himself upon a fresh subject, since he feels prevented by
circumstances from saying anything likely to bring him much distinction
upon the old one. "Your father?"

"His throat is better"--with an accent of hesitating filial piety, as if
there were something else about him that was not better.

"And Sybilla?"

"Oh, poor Sybilla! she has her bad days now and then."

"And, like the early Christians, she resolves to have all things in
common. I expect that her family have their bad days too," says Jim
dryly.

"Well, we do sometimes," replies Amelia with reluctant admission; "but
she really does try to control herself, poor thing; she is hardly ever
unbearable now."

"And Cecilia?"

"She is rather in trouble just now; I fear there is no doubt that the
man she was engaged to has thrown her over. You never saw him? Oh no! Of
course, the affair came on after you left England."

Burgoyne's eyebrows have gone up, and his face has assumed an expression
less of surprise than admiration at this piece of news.

"How many does that make? Four? Well, courage! There is luck in odd
numbers; perhaps she will land the fifth."

"She will tell you about it herself," says Amelia; "she tells everybody;
she likes talking about it--it is very odd, but she does. When you throw
me over"--rubbing his hand which she holds, with shy and deprecating
caressingness, against her own cheek--"I shall tell nobody; I shall keep
my misfortune very dark."

"When I do!" repeats he with laughing emphasis; but to his own ear both
the emphasis and the laughter sound flat. This is perhaps the cause why
he, a second time, runs away from his subject; or, more probably, he is
really in haste to get to the new one. "Meanwhile," he says, his eyes
involuntarily dropping to the carpet, as if he had rather not see the
effect of his words upon her; "meanwhile, someone has thrown me over."

"You?"

"Yes, me; I did not write it to you, because I do not see much use in
putting down bad news in black and white, and even with this little
delay, I am afraid," with a dry smile, "that you will have plenty of
time to enjoy it."

He pauses for an instant, and she does not hurry him with any teasing
questions; but waits, with meek patience, till he feels inclined to go
on.

"My aunt is going to be married."

If he has wished that his news shall produce the effect of a torpedo, he
has no cause to complain of his want of success. His placid Amelia
vaults to her feet.

"Married!" she repeats with a gasp. "Why, she is quite, quite old!"

"She is sixty-five!"

The colour has flooded all Amelia's face; the blazing colour that means
not pleasure, but consternation. It is some moments before she can frame
her next query.

"And is he?--do you?--has she chosen wisely, I mean?"

Jim laughs again.

"Can one choose wisely at sixty-five? Well, whether she has or no is a
matter of opinion; she has chosen the curate of the parish, who, by
reason of his extreme juvenility, is still in deacon's orders."

Miss Wilson's limbs are shaking so that she cannot maintain her standing
attitude. She sinks down by the dining-table again in her hard chair. It
is a very hard chair on which to receive such ill news.

"And cannot you hinder it, cannot you dissuade her?" she asks
falteringly.

"I shall not try; poor old woman! After all, she has a right to pursue
her own happiness in her own way, only I wish that she had made up her
mind twenty years ago; though, to be sure, how could she?"--with another
smile--"since, at that time, her bridegroom was not much more than
born."

A dead silence supervenes--a silence of shocked stupefaction on the one
side, of rather dismal brooding on the other. At length Amelia nerves
herself to put a question upon which it seems to her, not very
incorrectly, that her whole future hangs. She does it in such a low
voice that none but very sharp ears could have caught it. Jim's ears are
so; practised as they are in listening for the stealthy tread of wild
animals, and for the indescribable sounds of mountain solitudes at
night.

"Will it--will it--make a great difference to you?"

Burgoyne lifts his eyes, which have been idly bent on the floor, and
looks straight and full at her across the corner of the table.

"It will make all the difference!" he answers slowly.

Poor Amelia is holding her handkerchief in her hand. She lifts it to her
mouth and bites a corner of it to hide the quivering of her lips and
chin. She does not wish to add to his pain by any breakdown on her own
part. But Jim divines the quivering even under the morsel of cambric,
and looks away again.

"Her money is almost entirely in her own power," he continues, in an
unemotional voice; "and when she announced her marriage to me, she also
announced her intention of settling the whole of it upon her--her"--he
pauses a second, as if resolved to keep out of his voice the accent of
satire and bitterness that pierces through its calm--"her husband."

Amelia has dropped both shielding hand and handkerchief into her lap.
She has forgotten her effort to conceal the blankness of her dismay.
Unless she conceals the whole of her face, indeed, the attempt would be
in vain, since each feature speaks it equally.

"Her whole fortune?" she repeats, almost inaudibly. "_All?_"

    "What, all my pretty chickens and their dam?"

says Jim, oppressed by her overwhelmed look into an artificial and
dreary levity, and in not particularly apt quotation. "My dear, do not
look so broken-hearted. I am not absolutely destitute; I need not become
a sandwich man. I have still got my £800 a year, my very own, which
neither man nor mouse, neither curate nor vicar, can take from me. I can
still go on rioting upon that; the question is"--his words coming more
slowly, and his tone growing graver--"have I any right to ask you to
riot on it too?"

Her hand has gone in feverish haste out to his for answer, and her eyes,
into which the tears are welling, look with an intense dumb wistfulness
into his; but, for the moment, it remains dumb. There is something
painful to Burgoyne in that wistfulness, almost more painful than the
telling of that news which has produced it. He looks down upon the
tablecloth, and, with his disengaged hand, the one not imprisoned in his
betrothed's fond hold, draws patterns with a paper-knife accidentally
left there.

"The one thing that I blame her for," he continues, not following up the
branch of the subject that his last speech had begun to open up, and
speaking with a composure which, to the stricken Amelia, appears to
evidence his attainment of the highest pinnacle of manly fortitude, "the
only thing I blame her for, is her having hindered my adopting any
profession. Poor old woman, it was not malice prepense, I know; she had
not seen her Jessamey then, probably had not even a prophetic instinct
of him, but as things turned out"--stifling a sigh--"it would have been
kinder to have put me in the way of earning my own living."

Amelia's head has sunk down upon his hand--he feels her hot tears upon
it; but now that the theme has no longer reference to herself, she can
speak. She straightens herself, and there is a flash, such as he has
very seldom seen there, in her rather colourless orbs.

"It was monstrous of her!" she cries, with the almost exaggerated
passion of a usually very self-controlled person. "After having always
told you that you were to be her heir!"

"But _had_ she told me so?" replies Jim, passing his hand with a
perplexed air over his own face. "That is what I have been trying to
recall for the last few days. I never remember the time when I did not
believe it, so I suppose that someone must have told me so; but I could
not swear that she herself had ever put it down in black and white.
However," tossing his head back with a gesture as of one who throws off
his shoulders a useless burden, "what does that matter now? I am not her
heir, I am nobody's heir; we must look facts in the face! Amelia,
dear"--in a tone of reluctant tender affection, as of one compelled, yet
most unwilling, to give a little child, or some other soft, helpless
creature, pain--"we must look facts in the face!" There is something in
his voice that makes Amelia's heart stand still; but she attempts no
interruption.

"It is very hard for me, dear, after all these"--he pauses a second; he
is about to say "weary years' waiting," but his conscience arrests him;
to him they have not been weary, so, after a hardly-perceptible break,
he goes on--"after all these many years' waiting, to have come to this,
is not it?"

He had not calculated on the effect which would be produced by his
melancholy words and his caressing tone. She buries her face on his
shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably.

"They were not long!" she murmurs brokenly. "Nothing is, nothing can be,
long to me as long as I have you, or the hope of you!"



CHAPTER VI.


It is, perhaps, fortunate for Amelia that she cannot see the expression
of the face which looks out above her prostrate head into space, with a
blankness equal to what has been her own, a blankness streaked, as hers
was not, with remorse. He would give anything to be able to answer her
in her own key, to tell her that, as long as he can keep her, the going
or coming of any lesser good hurts him as little as the brushing past
his cheek of a summer moth or windblown feather. But when he tries to
frame a sentence of this kind, his tongue cleaves to the roof of his
mouth. He can only hold her to him in an affectionate clasp, whose
dumbness he hopes that she attributes to silencing emotion. She herself
indulges in no very prolonged manifestation of her passion. In a few
moments she is again sitting up beside him with wiped eyes, none the
handsomer, poor soul, for having cried, and listening with a deep
attention to an exposition of her lover's position and prospects, which
he is at no pains to tinge with a factitious rose colour.

"Have you realized," he says, "that I shall never be better off than I
am now? never! _never!_ For though of course I shall try to get work,
one knows how successful that quest generally is in the case of a man
with no special aptitudes, no technical training, and who starts in the
race handicapped by being ten years too late!"

But the dismalness of this panorama raises no answering gloom in the
young woman's face. She nods her head gently.

"I realize it."

"And this is what I have brought you to, after all these years'
waiting," he continues, in a tone of profound regret. "All I can offer
you at the end of them is a not particularly genteel poverty, not even a
cottage with a double coach-house!"--laughing grimly.

"I do not want a double coach-house, nor even a single one!" replies
Amelia stoutly, and laughing too, a little, through returning tears. "Do
not you know that I had rather drive a costermonger's barrow with you
than go in a coach and six without you!"

This is the highest flight of imagination of which Jim has ever known
his matter-of-fact Amelia guilty, and he can pay her his thanks for it
only in compunctious kisses. Perhaps it is they, perhaps it is the
thought which dictates her next hesitating speech, that bring a light
into Amelia's tear-reddened eyes.

"If you will never be better off----" She stops.

"Yes, dear, go on; 'if I shall never be better off'--I certainly never
shall; I feel sure that you will be able to put my earnings for the next
ten years into your eye, and see none the worse for them!"

"If--you--will--never--be--better--off----" she repeats again, more
slowly, and breaking off at the same place.

"Well, dear?"

"If you will never be better off"--this time she finishes her sentence;
but it is rendered almost inaudible by the fact of her flushed face and
quivering lips being pressed against his breast--"why should we wait any
longer?"

_Why should we wait any longer?_ To most persons, granted the usual
condition of feeling of a betrothed couple, this would seem a very
natural and legitimate deduction from the premises; but, strange to say,
it comes upon Burgoyne with the shock of a surprise. He has been
thinking vaguely of his change of fortune as a cause for unlimited
delay, perhaps for the rupture of his engagement, never as a reason for
its immediate fulfilment.

He gives a sort of breathless gasp, which is happily too low for Amelia
with her still hidden face to hear. To be married at once! To sit down
for all time to Amelia and £800 a year! To forego for ever the thrilling
wandering life; the nights under the northern stars, the stealthy
tracking of shy forest creatures; the scarce coarse delicious food, the
cold, the fatigue, the hourly peril, that, since its probable loss is
ever in sight, make life so sweetly worth having--all, in short, that
goes to make up so many an Englishman's ideal of felicity; that has
certainly hitherto gone to make up Jim's. To renounce it all! There is
no doubt that the bitterness of this thought comes first; but presently,
supplanting it, chasing it away, there follows another, a
self-reproachful light flashing over his past eight years, showing him
his own selfishness colossal and complete for the first time. In a
paroxysm of remorse, he has lifted Amelia's face, and, framing it with
his hands, looks searchingly into it.


"I believe," he says in a shaken voice, "that you would have married me
eight years ago, on my pittance, if I had asked you!"

No "Yes" was ever written in larger print than that which he read in her
patient pale eyes. Even at this instant there darts across him a wish
that they were not quite so pale, but he detests himself for it.

"And I never suspected it!" he cries compunctiously. "I give you my word
of honour, I never suspected it! I thought you looked upon my poverty in
as prohibitory a light as I did myself."

"I do not call it such great poverty," replies Amelia, her practical
mind resuming its habitual sway over her emotions. "Of course, it is an
income that would require a little management; but if we cut our coat
according to our cloth, and did not want to move about too much, we
might live either in a not very fashionable part of London, or in some
cheap district in the country very comfortably."

Despite his remorse, a cold shiver runs down Burgoyne's spine at the
picture that rises, conjured up with too much distinctness by her words,
before his mind's eyes; the picture of a snug Bayswater villa, with a
picturesque parlour-maid, or the alternative cottage in some dreary
Wiltshire or Dorsetshire village, with a shrubbery of three aucuba
bushes, and a kitchen-garden of half an acre. It may be that, her frame
being in such close proximity to his, she feels the influence of his
shiver, and that it suggests her next sentence, which is in a less
sanguine key.

"But it would not be fair; it would be asking you to give up too much."

The meek abnegation of her rather worn voice brings his remorse
uppermost again on the revolving wheel of his feelings.

"Is not it my turn to give up something?" he asks tenderly; "and
besides, it is time for me to settle! I am--I am tired of wandering!"

As this atrocious lie passes his lips, he catches his breath. Tired of
the Sierras! Tired of the bivouacs among the dazzling snow! Tired of the
august silence of the ever-lasting hills! Heaven forgive him for saying
so! Perhaps there is no great air of veracity in his assertion, for she
looks at him distrustfully; so distrustfully that he reshapes his
phrase: "At least, if I am not, I ought to be!"

But still she gazes at him with a wistful and doubting intentness.

"If I could only believe that that was true!"

"It is true," replies he, evading her look; "at least, true enough for
all working purposes; we all know that life is a series of compromises,
a balancing of gain and loss. I shall lose something, I do not deny
that, but I gain more--I gain _you_!"

"That is such a mighty gain, is it not?" she says with a melancholy
smile, as that intuition of the truth which sometimes comes to unloved
or tepidly loved women flashes upon her.

"A matter of taste--a mere matter of taste!" rejoins he hurriedly; aware
of the unreal ring in his own words, and trying, with all his might, to
feel as well as speak light-heartedly.

She shakes her head in a way which tells him how poorly he has
succeeded. In a desperate if not very well-judged attempt to convince
her of his sincerity, his next speech is uttered.

"Why should not we be married at once? to-morrow? the day after
to-morrow? at the Consulate--of course there _is_ a Consulate--or the
English church; I suppose there are half a dozen English churches. Why
not? We have nothing to wait for, and we are both of age!"

He has had no unkindly intention in the last words, but the moment that
these are out of his mouth, a glance at Amelia's unblooming face and
unyouthful figure tell him that they were not happily chosen. At the
first instant that the suggestion of an immediate marriage reaches the
hearer's brain, it sends a dart of joy over her features. To be married
at once! To put an end for ever to the interminable waiting, to enter at
last--at last upon the possession of the so long deferred Canaan. But in
a second, that first bright flash is chased away, and gives place to a
look of almost humiliation.

"You must be making fun of me, to suggest such a thing!" she says in a
wounded voice; "you know how wildly impossible it would be that I should
leave them all--my father--Sybilla--without any preparation."

"Without any preparation!" replies Jim, raising his eyebrows. "Have not
you been preparing them for the last eight years?"

He feels a vague unjust irritation with her for opposing his
proposition, though deep down in his heart he knows that he would have
felt a much greater annoyance had she eagerly closed with it. As she
does not answer a question, which the moment that it is uttered he feels
to have been rather brutal, he goes on, against his will, in the same
sarcastic key:

"I am afraid that you will have to leave them all some day; I am afraid
that our Bayswater mansion--by-the-bye, I am sure it will not be a
mansion, for I am sure it will not have a back-door--will not be likely
to contain all. Your father--Sybilla--Sybilla and her physic bottles
take up a good deal of room, do not they?"

It is fortunate for Amelia that she is too preoccupied by the thought of
her own next speech to take in the full acerbity of the last remark.

"If you would consent to wait till we get home--father does not mean to
stay in Italy beyond the end of next month--we might be married in June;
that" (with a pink flush of happiness) "would not be so long to wait."

In a second a sum of the simplest description executes itself in
Burgoyne's head. It is now the second week of April; they are to be
married in June, he has then eight weeks left. It shocks himself to find
that this is the way in which he puts it. All the overt action that he
permits himself, however, is to say with a shrug:

"As you will, then, as you will!" adding, since he feels that there is
something discourteous even to unchivalry in so bald an acquiescence in
his prospective bliss, "Of course, dear, the sooner I get you the better
for me!"

No lover could have been overheard giving utterance to a more proper or
suitable sentiment; so that it is lucky that this is just the moment
that Cecilia chooses for entering.

"Do not be afraid," she says, with a laugh. "I will not stay a minute,
but I just wanted to say 'How do you do?' How well you are looking! and
how young!"--with an involuntary glance of comparison from him to her
sister; a glance of which they are both rather painfully conscious.
"Ah!" (sighing) "with all your Rocky Mountain experiences, it is evident
that you have been having an easier time than we have!"

"Are you alluding to Sybilla?" asks Jim gravely. "I have no doubt, from
what I know of her powers in that line, that she has been extremely
trying."

"Yes, partly," replies the girl doubtfully; "but I have had troubles of
my own too. I dare say that Amelia has told you, or probably" (with a
second and heavier sigh) "you have been more pleasantly employed."

"Amelia did hint at some disaster," replies Jim, struggling to conceal
the rather grim smile which is curving his mouth, a feat the more
difficult since he has no moustache to aid him; "but I have been waiting
to hear all the details from yourself."

"I know that you are apt to think I fancy things," says Cecilia, sitting
down on a third hard chair, "but there could be no fancy in this case; I
am sure I was as much engaged as any girl ever was. I had chosen the
drawing-room paper and bought the dining-room grate!"

"That is further than we ever got, is not it, Amelia?" says Jim,
breaking, at the relation of this prosaic fact, into the laugh he has
been with difficulty swallowing; "but, Cis, if I were you, I should keep
the grate; one does not know how soon its services may be required
again!"

"It is all very well for you to joke," returns Cecilia, with an offended
air; "it may be play to you, but it is----"

"Not death, not quite death to you!" interrupts Burgoyne, glancing with
an expressive smile at her buxom outline. "I think you will live to
fight another day, will not you? But I really am extremely sorry; tell
me all about it."

"He was perfectly right when we left England," says Cecilia, mollified
at once, and apparently relieved by the invitation to unbosom herself of
her woes; "nobody could have been more so; he came to see us off at
Folkestone, and the tears were in his eyes; they were really, it was not
my imagination, was it, Amelia? And at first he wrote all right, and
said all the usual things; but then his letters gradually grew fewer and
fewer, and after I had written and telegraphed a great many times--I do
not know how many times I did not telegraph to ask whether he was ill,
and you know how expensive foreign telegrams are--he sent me a few
lines, oh, such cruel lines, were not they, Amelia? to say that, on
reflection, he feared that the feeling he had for me was not such as to
justify his entering on so sacred an engagement as marriage with me; but
he ought to have thought of that before, ought not he?"

"Undoubtedly!"

"I will never engage myself to a clergyman again," says Cecilia
pensively.

Burgoyne's thoughts have strayed at the mention of the cloth of his
sister-in-law elect's truant admirer, to that member of the same
profession who has lately robbed him of his heritage, and he replies
with a good deal of feeling:

"They do play one dirty turns now and then, do not they? Yes, Cis, stick
to laymen for the future!"

Cecilia receives this counsel with a melancholy sigh, fixing her large
eyes on the carpet, but presently resumes the conversation in a livelier
key.

"Let us talk about something pleasanter," she says. "Had you a good
journey? Do you like your travelling companion? Why did not you bring
him with you? Is he nice?"

"At all events, he is not a clergyman," replies Jim, with a rather
malicious smile; "but no, my dear, do not let your thoughts turn in that
direction! You must look at him as poor women look at diamonds!"

"I am sure I do not know what you mean!" replies Cecilia, reddening. "I
have not the slightest wish to look at him! I am not in spirits to
'look,' as you call it, at anyone!"

A moment later, she adds, with a suspicion of malice in her tone:

"We are certainly an unlucky family in our loves! I, heartlessly thrown
over, and Amelia engaged for eight years!"

Burgoyne smiles. "Amelia is not going to be engaged any longer," he
says, putting his arm round his betrothed. "Amelia is going to be
married at once!"



CHAPTER VII.


It would seem natural that, after so long a separation, Burgoyne should
dine and spend the evening with his betrothed; but such is not the case.
For this, however, he is not to blame; he is quite prepared to stay with
her until she turns him out. Had he not better school himself to
domestic habits, since he is so soon to assume them for life? But in
consideration for Sybilla he is dismissed undined. It is not that she
ever shares the family dinner at their table _à part_ in the _salle à
manger_, but the thought of their entertaining a guest with a
conviviality far greater in her imagination than would be the case in
reality, while she herself lies lonely on her couch of suffering, preys
upon her spirits so much that her family have to abandon the idea. So,
towards sunset, Jim is dismissed. He has no opportunity for any parting
endearments to his lady-love, as the whole family are in the room, and
it is Cecilia, not Amelia, who volunteers to walk across the hotel
courtyard with him, for the advantage of a last word. What that last
word is he is not slow to learn.

"You will take us some excursions, will not you?" she says, with a
persuasive air, putting her arm through his. "Father is so
unenterprising, we have really seen scarcely anything; but you will take
us some excursions now, will not you?"

"Are you sure that your spirits are equal to them?" inquires Burgoyne
unkindly.

"I do not know about that, I am sure," replies she, growing pink at his
tone; "but one must make an exertion sometime, and I think a little
distraction would do me good, and so I am sure it would to poor Amelia!"

"Poor Amelia will shortly have the distraction of being married,"
rejoins the young man, who feels as if he could not repeat the statement
of this fact too often to himself and others.

"And I think it would be only civil," continues Cecilia persistently,
"in fact, I do not see how you could avoid it, if you invited your
friend to join us."

But Jim escapes without having committed himself to this promise, and
wanders about the town in the lovely, lowering light; finds himself on
the Lung Arno, strolling along with the leisurely loiterers, among whom,
for every two soft Tuscan voices, there is a loud metallic Anglo-Saxon
one. He watches the carriages rolling back from their drive on the
Cascine; the river falling over the weir; the river yellow as Tiber
yesterday, and to day shot with blue and green and silver, as it tumbles
with a pleasant noise. The houses on either side of the Arno, the domes
and roofs, are all clothed in a strange serenity of yellow light; a
golden air so transparent and line and crystal clear, so free from the
soft blur of mist--lovely too--through which we see objects in our wet
green home, that Jim feels as if he could stretch out his hand and touch
the hill that backs gold towers and bridges, and see whether it really
is made out of one whole amethyst, as it looks. The beauty of the world
has always been very much to Burgoyne, though hitherto it has been
chiefly in the austerity of her high and desert places that he has bowed
the knee before the Universal Mother. This little gold evening city,
sunset clad in the colours of the New Jerusalem, lifting her heavenly
campanile to as heavenly a sky, is to him a new and wonderful thing. Her
loveliness sinks into his soul, and with it a companion sadness as deep.
From henceforth the sight of earth's fair shows will be, for the most
part, forbidden him. He has always loved to look and adore in silence
and alone; henceforth he will never have the right to be alone;
henceforth he will never have the right to go anywhere without his wife.
Strange and terrible word to which he tries in vain to accustom his
mental ears; and, thanks to the narrowness of their means, neither of
them will be able to stir from the strait precincts of their pinched
home.

He comes back to his hotel, through the Piazza of the Duomo. All the
infinite richness of cupola and arch, high up, are still wrapped in the
fiery rose cloak of sunset, while below the body of the great church,
with all its marbles and traceries and carved wonders, is clad in the
sobriety of twilight.

On reaching the Minerva, he finds that Byng has not yet returned, or
rather that he has been in and gone out again. He waits dinner
half-an-hour for him, and then dines without him; dines in solitude,
since it is not till his cup of coffee is before him, and his cigarette
between his lips, that his young friend appears. It is evidently no
unpleasant errand that has detained him, for he arrives beaming, and too
excited even to perceive the _menu_ which a waiter offers him.

"They have arrived!" he cries. Oddly enough it never occurs to Burgoyne
to inquire who "they" may be; it seems as much a matter-of-course to him
as to the handsome pink and white boy before him, that the pronoun must
relate to Elizabeth Le Marchant and her mother.

His only answer, however, is an "Oh!" whose tone is rather more eagerly
interested than he could have wished.

"I thought that they could not stay more than another day in Genoa,"
continues Byng, at length becoming aware of the _menu_ at his elbow; but
only to wave it impatiently away. "So I thought I would just run down to
the station to meet the evening train, the one we came by last night;
however, it must have been more punctual than yesterday, for before I
reached the station, I met them; I mean they passed me in a fiacre. I
only caught a glimpse of her face, but I saw her hand; it was lying on
the carriage door like a snow-flake."

"Like my grandmother!" cries Burgoyne in a rage, for which he cannot
quite account to himself, at this ingenious and novel simile.

Byng laughs; the laugh of a thoroughly sweet-natured person, who, in
addition, has some special cause for good-humour.

"I do not know what colour your grandmother was; but she must have been
very unlike most people's if she was like a snow-flake."

Jim's cross mouth unbends into a reluctant smile. It is not the first
time that he has discovered how useless, and also impossible, it is to
be out of humour with Byng.

"I had a good mind to tell my fiacre man to follow them," continued
Byng, in an excited voice; "but, in the first place, I did not know how
to say it--really, Jim, we must get up a little of the lingo--and, in
the second place, I thought it would perhaps be rather too much in the
private detective line."

"I think it would have been extremely ungentlemanlike!" rejoins Jim
severely.

Byng reddens; but still without losing his temper.

"That is coming it rather strong, is not it? but anyhow, I did not do
it." And then, by tacit agreement, they both drop the subject.

During the next three or four days it is not named between them, nor
indeed do they see much of each other. Burgoyne spends the greater part
of his days with Amelia. Whatever cause for the accusation he may have
given during the previous eight years, nobody can say that he neglects
her now. He passes long hours at her side, on the same hard chair that
had supported him on their first interview, in the little dismal
dining-room; going into calculations of house-rent and taxes, drawing up
lists of necessary furniture. He even makes a bid for Cecilia's
drawing-room grate; but that young lady, whose forecasting mind can look
beyond present grief to future sunshine, refuses to part with it. The
lovers are not always, however, studying Maple's and Oetzmann's lists.
Sometimes Jim varies the diversion by taking his future wife to
picture-galleries and churches, to the Uffizi, the Accademia, San
Lorenzo. It is doubtful whether Amelia enjoys these excursions as much
as she does the selection of bedsteads and saucepans, her pleasure being
in some degree marred by a feverish anxiety to say what she thinks her
lover expects of her as they stand before each immortal canvas. In her
heart she thinks the great statues in the Medici Chapel frightful, a
heresy in which she is kept in countenance by no less a light than
George Eliot, who in one of her letters dares to say of them, "they
remained to us as affected and exaggerated in the original, as in copies
and casts." To Amelia many of the frescoes appear lamentably washed out,
nor are her efforts to hide these sentiments attended with any
conspicuous success, since nothing is more hopeless than for one utterly
destitute of a feeling for works of art to feign it, without having the
imposture at once detected.

Burgoyne's mind during these expeditions is a battle-ground for pity and
rage; pity at the pathos of his poor love's endeavours; rage at their
glaring failure. Cecilia sometimes accompanies the lovers, but this does
not make matters much better. Cecilia devotes but a very cursory notice
to the pictures; her attention being almost wholly centred on the
visitors, and on finding resemblances for them among the inhabitants of
her own village at home, for the accuracy of which she appeals at every
moment to her sister. Every day she asks Burgoyne to fulfil his
promise--a promise which he as punctually assures her that he never
made--to introduce his friend to her. He has a strangely strong
reluctance to comply with this simple request, which yet, he knows, will
have to be complied with some day. When Amelia is his wife, Byng will
have to know Cecilia, for she will probably spend a great deal of her
time with them--make their house a second home, in fact.

And meanwhile Jim is keenly, and for some reason sorely, conscious of
the fact that, during the hours in which he is stooping his weary head
over catalogues of fenders and fire-irons, carving-knives and
fish-slices, blankets and ticking, Byng is searching Florence through
her length and breadth for their two countrywomen. It is not indeed
necessary to credit his friend with any special quest to account for his
wanderings through the "adorable little city," as Henry James most truly
calls it, since he is a young man of a wide and alert curiosity, with a
large appetite for pleasure both intellectual and the reverse. Jim,
whose acquaintance with him has chiefly been with his rowdy
undergraduate side, bear-fighting, and proctor-defying, is astonished at
his almost tremulous appreciation of the Ghirlandajos, the Lorenzo di
Credis, the Giottos, that in a hundred chapels, from a hundred walls,
shine down in their mixed glory of naïve piety and blinding colour upon
him.

One day the elder man is sitting in his bedroom with a despatch-box and
a sheet of paper before him. He is embarked upon a dreary calculation as
to what his guns will fetch. He has made up his mind to sell them. Of
what further use can they be to him? He will not be allowed to shoot at
the Bayswater omnibuses, which will be the only game henceforth within
his reach. While he is thus employed upon an occupation akin to, and
about as cheerful as, that of Rawdon Crawley before Waterloo, Byng
enters.

"You look as if you had a headache, old chap," he says, sitting down
upon his friend's bed.

"If you had been going through as many kitchen-ranges as I have this
morning, perhaps you would have a headache," replies Jim gravely. "You
know that I am going to be married as soon as I get home."

Byng nods; and Burgoyne, while inwardly blessing the tact that spares
him any congratulations, takes himself to task for having made the
announcement so lugubriously as to render felicitation obviously
inapplicable.

"When are you going to introduce me to Miss Wilson?" asks Byng
presently. "If you shirk it much longer, I shall think that you are
ashamed of me."

Jim glances affectionately, yet not quite comfortably, at his young
friend, and the thought dashes across his mind that, in his last remark,
the latter has put the saddle on the wrong horse.

"You have so large an acquaintance in Florence already," he says, with
some stiffness, "that I did not know that you would care to add to it."

"One cannot have too much of a good thing," replies the other joyously.
"You know I love my fellow-creatures; and in this case," he adds
civilly, "I do care very much."

Burgoyne's eyes are bent on the paper before him, which contains the
melancholy enumeration of his firearms--"A 500 double-barrelled express,
by Henry, of Edinburgh; a 450 single-barrelled ditto, by same maker,"
etc., etc.--as he says slowly:

"I shall be very happy."

His acceptance of the proposition can hardly be called eager; but of
this Byng appears unawares.

"When shall it be, then? To-day--this afternoon?"

"No-o-o; not to-day, I think. It has been arranged that we are to go to
San Miniato--Amelia, her sister, and I."

"Three of you?" cries Byng, raising his eyebrows. "Then why not four?
Why may not I come too?"

There being, in point of fact, no reason why he should not, and
Cecilia's morning prayer being still ringing in her future
brother-in-law's ears, he gives a dull and lagging assent; so that at
about three o'clock the two men present themselves at the door of the
Wilsons' apartment at the Anglo-Américain Hotel. That Sybilla is not
expecting visitors is evident by the fact that, at the moment of their
entrance, she is taking her own temperature--a very favourite relaxation
of hers--with a clinical thermometer. She removes the instrument from
her mouth without indecent haste, and holds out a languid white hand to
Byng.

"So you are going off on a long afternoon's pleasuring?" she says, with
a pathetic smile. "I am so glad that neither of my sisters is going to
stay at home with me. We invalids must guard against growing selfish,
though I think that is perhaps more the danger with _malades
imaginaires_; we real ones have learnt our lesson of suffering better, I
hope."

"You do not look so very ill," replies Byng, in his sympathetic voice,
letting his eyes rest caressingly on the prostrate figure, which has yet
no smallest sign of emaciation about it.

"Ah, that is because of my colour," replies Sybilla, with an animation
slightly tinged with resentment. "You, too, fall into that common error.
My London doctor tells me that there is no such unerring indication of
radical delicacy of constitution as a fixed pink colour like mine; the
more feverish I am, the deeper it grows. It is very hard"--smiling again
sadly--"for one gets no pity!"

"Where is Cecilia?" cries Jim brusquely, and fidgeting in his chair.
"Why is not she ready?"

As he speaks, the young lady in question enters--so obviously arrayed
for conquest, in so patently new a hat, and such immaculate pale gloves,
that across Burgoyne's mind there flashes, in vexed mirth, the
recollection of the immortal caution addressed by Major O'Dowd to his
friend and comrade, "Moind your oi, Dob, my boy!" Would he not do well
to repeat it to his friend?



CHAPTER VIII.


They are off now, there being nothing further to retard them, leaving
Sybilla _tête-à-tête_ with her thermometer. They are off, sociably
packed in one fiacre--

    "Four precious souls, and all agog
    To dash thro' thick and thin."

Not, indeed, that there is much dash about the Florentine
cab-horses--saddest among God's many sad creatures--with not a sound leg
among them, with staring coats and starting ribs, and poor broken knees;
and with their sadness emphasized by the feathers stuck in their tired
heads, as if to mock their wretchedness by a sort of melancholy
smartness! Sad as they are, it must be owned that they are the only sad
things in the cheerful Florentine streets, where no one seems over-busy,
where, out of the deep-eaved, green-shuttered houses, people lean,
talking to acquaintances on the shadowed pavement below. All the narrow
thorough-fares are full of bustling life; but there is no haggard
squalor apparently, no dreadful gin-palace gaiety. It does not follow
here that a man must be drunk because he sings. And down the strait,
colourful streets one looks--down a vista of houses diversely tall, each
with its cream-yellow face and its green shutters, varied here and there
by the towering bulk of some giant-blocked mountain-palace, through
whose grim, barred windows a woman peeps, or a little dog shows his
pointed nose--looks to where, in dwindling perspective, the view is
closed by a narrow picture of lucent purple hill, Fiesole or
Bellosguardo--names to which the tongue cleaves lovingly. Through the
gay streets, over bridge and blue Arno, our travellers go; their driver
cracking a prodigious whip, and with a tiny red dog, absurdly shaven,
and with nothing but a small woolly head and tail left of the original
design, seated gravely beside him. Away they go, pleasuring; but
pleasure and pleasuring are not always identical.

Burgoyne sits opposite Amelia; and as for Cecilia, it is to be supposed
that her heartache is for the moment dulled, since the same carriage-rug
covers her knees and those of Byng. Burgoyne does not look at Amelia;
nor, though his eyes are fixed upon the passing objects, does he at
first see aught of them. His vision is turned inwards, and to his own
soul he is mechanically repeating in dismal recitative, "A
double-barrelled, central fire, breech-loading gun, by Lancaster; made
strong enough at the breech to shoot a spherical bullet."

As for Amelia, her features are not of a build to express any emotion
with much brilliancy; but over them lies a deep and brooding content.
Amelia has not had much undiluted happiness in her life, but she is
exceedingly happy to-day. She is even strangely free from the carking
fear which usually assails her, of praising mistakenly, of being
enthusiastic in the wrong places, and passing over the right ones
unnoticed. If she keep to a vague generality of handsome adjectives, she
will surely do well enough, and, on this high holiday that her heart is
holding, he cannot be cross to her.

As to Byng, he is emphatically of the school of divinity taught by Tommy
Moore, nor was he ever known, when lacking "the lips that he loved," to
fail to make love to "the lips that are near." His taste is too good for
him to have chosen Cecilia as a companion; but, since fate has allotted
her to him for the afternoon, he finds no difficulty in making the best
of her. Nor, to do her justice, is she destitute of charms of a certain
kind, though her face has the inevitable air of commonness incident upon
a very short nose and a very long upper lip. But she has a good deal of
bloom, and of crisp, showy-coloured hair, and a very considerable
eye-power. Byng's attachment to the fair sex being of far too stout a
quality to be blunted by such trifles as an inch too much or too little
of nose or lip, he also, like Amelia, is thoroughly prepared to enjoy
himself.

Up the turning Via Galileo they climb, to the Basilica at the
top--stock-drive of all tourists--hackneyed as only Yankeedom and
Cockneydom, rushing hand in hand through all earth's sacredness, can
hackney. But even hackneying is powerless to take off the freshness to
the eye that sees it for the first time, of that view when he beholds
the Lily City lying close at his feet, so close that it seems he could
throw a stone into her Arno.

They have left their fiacre, and, as naturally happens in a _partie
carrée_--more especially when one couple are betrothed lovers--have
broken into pairs. Burgoyne leans pensively on the terrace parapet, and
his sombre eyes rest on the band of sister hills, joining hands in
perpetual watch round valley and town; hills over which, in this late
spring, there is more a promise than a performance of that green and
many-coloured wealth of verdure and blossom that one associates with
Firenze's fair name. But it is a promise that is plainly on the verge of
a bounteous fulfilment. Then his look drops slowly to the city herself.
In what a little space comparatively does the Florence that is immortal
lie! The Duomo, the lily Campanile "made up of dew and sunshine," the
Baptistery, Santa Croce, the Palazzo Vecchio; he could compass them in a
ten minutes' walk. And around this small nucleus of the undying dead and
their work, what a nation of gleaming villas of the polyglot living--a
nation of every tongue, and people, and language! All over the hills is
the sheen of white walls, the verdure of tended gardens; they stretch
away almost to where the Apennines raise their cold white fronts against
the sky.

He rouses himself to remember that Amelia is beside him, and that he
ought to say something to her. So he makes a rather _banal_ observation
upon the smallness of the _enceinte_ that encloses so much loveliness.

"Yes, is not it tiny?" replies she, with the eager pleasure of having a
remark made to her which she cannot go wrong in answering. "Think of
London! Why, the whole thing is not as big as South Kensington or
Bayswater!"

He shudders. Must the accursed suburb pursue him even here?

"Let us go into the church," he says, in a tone that a little dulls his
companion's buoyancy.

She follows him crestfallenly, asking herself whether she has answered
amiss here also. She does not trust herself to any comment upon the
interior.

Byng and Cecilia are standing before the high altar, from over which a
mosaic Madonna stiffly beams upon them; and as the other couple approach
them, Burgoyne hears the words "drawing-room grate" issue from his
future sister-in-law's lips.

"Bravo, Cis!" he says in a dry aside; "you are getting on nicely! I did
not think that you would have reached the drawing-room grate till
to-morrow."

To avoid intruding further on her delicate confidences, and also to
escape from two Americans, who are nasally twanging Hare and Horner at
each other, varied by trips into Baedeker, he passes into a side chapel
made famous by one of the loveliest tombs that ever feigned to simulate
in marble death's ugliness. The Yankee voices are high and shrill, but
they had need to be higher and shriller still before they could break
the slumber of him whose resting-place Jim has invaded in his flight
from Cecilia and New York. Was ever rest so beautiful as this of the
young sleeper? A priest he was, nay cardinal, and youthful and lovely
and chaste! and now in how divine a slumber is he lapt! But how should
that four hundred years' slumber not be divine, watched by such a gentle
Mary-mother as is watching his; smiling as if to tell him that he does
well to sleep, that sleep is better than waking, that death is better
than life! There is a sunken look about his fair eyelids, as if he had
gone through suffering to his rest; and his reposeful hands are thin;
but below him, as he lies in his spotless marble tranquillity, upon his
sarcophagus, the rose garlands wave in lovely frieze, and the riotous
horses rear and plunge in fulness of life.

Burgoyne has not perceived that Amelia did not follow him. She has, in
point of fact, remained in the body of the church, immersed in her
guide-book, steadily working through the marble screen and pulpit, and
still five good minutes off the side chapel, in which her lover stands
in so deeply brown a study, that he is not aware of the intrusion upon
his solitude of two women, until he is roused with a leap by the voice
of one of them addressing--not him, of whose presence she is obviously
as unaware as was he of hers, until this moment--but her companion.

"Oh, mother! am I not a fool, at my age, too? but I cannot help it, it
makes me cry so!"

Burgoyne does not need the evidence of his eyes. His ears and his
startled heart have enough assured him whose are the tears called forth
by that indeed most touching effigy at which he himself has been so
pensively staring.

The mother's answer is inaudible; and then again comes the voice of
Elizabeth Le Marchant, tearful and vibrating.

"You know I have seen so few beautiful things in my life, I shall get
used to them presently; it is only sheer happiness that makes me----"

She stops abruptly, having evidently discovered for herself, or been
made aware by her mother of his vicinity; and even if she had not done
so, he feels that he must lose no time in announcing himself.

"Florence is a place that does make one often choky," he says, eagerly
taking the hand which she hesitatingly, and with some confusion, offers
him.

It is not quite true; Florence has never made him feel choky; and, if he
is experiencing that sensation now, it is certainly not the dead
cardinal of Portugal who is giving it to him.

"I am a fool, a perfect fool!" replies Elizabeth, hastily and
shamefacedly wiping away her tears.

To give her time to recover herself, and also because he has not yet
greeted the girl's mother, Jim turns to her.

"Did not I tell you that we should meet here?"

There is such undisguised joy and triumph in his tone, that perhaps Mrs.
Le Marchant has not the heart to dash his elation; at all events, he is
conscious in her tone of a less resolute determination to keep him at
arm's-length, than on their two last meetings.

"I do not think that I contradicted you," she answers, smiling.

He may steal another look at Elizabeth now. She is not crying any
longer. Indeed, despite the real moisture on her cheeks, she strikes him
as looking happier than at their last meeting; and though the interval
between now and then is too short for any such alteration to have taken
place in reality, yet he cannot help imagining that the hollows in those
very cheeks are less deep than when they stood together before the great
Vandyke in the Brignoli Sala Palace.

"And the _entresol_? is it all your fancy painted it?" he asks quickly,
feeling a sort of panic fear, that if he stops putting questions for one
minute they will slip out of his grasp again, as they did in the Genoese
Palace.

Elizabeth's face breaks into a soft bright smile. She has a dimple in
one cheek and not in the other. She must have had it ten years ago; how
comes he to have forgotten so sweet and strange a peculiarity?

"It is delightful--perfectly delightful!"

"Large enough to receive your friends in, after all?"

But the moment that the words are out of his mouth, he perceives that he
has made a false step, and is somehow treading dangerous ground.
Elizabeth's smile goes out, like a light blown into nothingness by a
sudden wind.

"We have not many friends," she murmurs; "we--we are not going out at
all."

He hastens to change his cue.

"Byng and I are at the Minerva," he says, beginning to talk very fast;
"I wonder if, by any chance, you are in our neighbourhood; have I
forgotten, or did you never tell me where the _entresol_ lies? Where is
it, by-the-bye?"

Ensnared by the wily and brazen suddenness of this demand, Miss Le
Marchant has evidently no evasion ready, and, after an almost
imperceptible pause of hesitation, answers:

"We are at 12 bis, Piazza d'Azeglio."

She is looking doubtfully and half uneasily in his face, as she gives
this answer, but he has scarcely time for a flash of self-congratulation
at having obtained the information, which he had never realized the
eagerness of his desire for until this moment, before he becomes aware
that his interlocutor's eyes are no longer meeting his, but have
wandered to some object over his shoulder. What that object is he is not
long left in doubt. Whether it is a genuine accident, or one of those
spurious ones, of which those who profit by them are the artificers, Jim
does not know; and, as he is at the time, and will be when he thinks of
the circumstance to the end of his life, too angry to question Byng on
the subject, it is pretty certain that he never _will_ know; but so it
is that at this moment the voice of his _protégé_ breaks upon his ear:

"You are not going to give us the slip like this, old chap--oh! I beg
your pardon!"

But begging pardon ever so sweetly does not alter the fact that he has
rushed, like a bull in a china shop, into the middle of the dialogue.
All four look at each other for a second; then, since there is no help
for it, Jim presents his disciple, and the next moment the latter has
slid into talk with Elizabeth, and she is responding with an ease and
freedom from embarrassment such as had never marked her sparse and
hardly won utterances to the elder man.

Byng has the advantage of him, as he somewhat bitterly thinks. Byng has
no connection with "old times;" those poor old times which she and her
mother have so unaccountably taken _en grippe_. He seems suddenly
relegated, as by some natural affinity, to the mother. On their two last
meetings the eagerness to converse has been all on his side; yet now he
has nothing to say to her. It is she who addresses him.

"I hope that you found your young lady flourishing," she says civilly.

He gives a slight inward start, though--as he is thankful to feel--his
body is quiet. "His young lady!" Yes, of course he has a young lady! Has
there been any danger during the last five minutes of his forgetting
that fact? and has Mrs. Le Marchant done him an unnecessary service in
recalling it?

"Oh, yes, thanks, she is all right!"

"Is she still in Florence?"

"Yes, she is here; by-the-bye"--looking round with a sudden sense that
he ought to have missed her--"what has become of her? Oh, here she is!"

For even while the words are on his lips, Amelia and Cecilia come into
sight. Amelia with a shut Baedeker, and the serene look of an easy
conscience and a thoroughly performed duty on her amiable face; Cecilia
with a something of search and disquiet in her large rolling eye, which
would have made him laugh at another time.

A sudden instinct, with which his will has nothing to do, makes him
flash a look back at Mrs. Le Marchant, as if to gauge the effect
produced upon her by his betrothed; and, following her glance, he finds
that it is resting on Cecilia. She thinks that he is engaged to Cecilia.
The mistake is intolerable to him, and yet a second's reflection tells
him that it is a natural one. In a second he sees his Amelia as she
presents herself to a strange eye. Miss Wilson is only thirty-one, but
upon her has already come that set solid look of middle age, which
overtakes some women before they are well over the borders of youth, and
which other women manage to stave off till they are within near hail of
forty. Yes; the mistake is quite a natural one. Most people would
suppose that the showy Cecilia, still fairly youthful, and with so many
obvious and well-produced "points," must be his choice; and yet, as I
have said, the idea that anyone should credit him with her ownership is
intolerable to him.

"Here she is!" he cries precipitately. "The one to the right side, the
other is her sister; may I--may I present them to you?"

Perhaps it is his irritated fancy that dictates the idea, but it seems
to him as if he detected a sort of surprise in Mrs. Le Marchant's face,
when he effects the introduction he has proposed, and to which she
accedes courteously, after a pause of hesitation about as long as had
followed his inquiry of Elizabeth as to their address.

Five minutes later they have all sauntered out again on the terrace, and
Burgoyne is again leaning on the wall; but this time he has no fear of
hearing of Bayswater, for it is Elizabeth who is beside him. Since last
he looked at it half an hour ago, a sort of glorification has passed
over the divine view. Down where the river twists through the plain
country, there is a light, dainty mist, but the mountains have put on
their fullest glory. They are not green, or brown, or purple, or blue;
but clad in that ineffable raiment woven by the sun, that defies our
weak vocabulary to provide it with a name. A little snow-chain lies on
the sun-warmed neck of Morello, and along the tops of the further
Apennines, right against the acute blue of the heavens, lies a line of
snow, that looks like a fleece-soft cloud resting from its journeyings
on their crests; but it is no cloud, nor is there any speck upon the
gigantic complete arch that over-vaults town and valley and radiant
mountains. In the folds of these last, the shadows slumber; but over all
the city is the great gold glory of spring. The one thing in Florence
that frowns among so many smiles is the scowling Pitti, and that, from
here, is invisible. Nearer to him, against the azure, stand the solemn
flame-shaped cypresses arow, and beside them--as unlike as life to
death--a band of quivering poplars, a sort of transparent gold-green in
their young spring livery. The air is so clear that one can go nigh to
counting the marbles on the Duomo walls. In a more transparent amber
light, fuller of joy and gaiety, cannot the saved be dancing around, as
in Fra Angelico's divine picture? cannot they be walking in the New
Jerusalem of St. John's great dream? Only in the New Jerusalem there are
no galled and trembling-kneed fiacre horses.

Elizabeth is sitting on the wall, her light figure--is it possible that
it has been in the world only four years less than Amelia's solid
one?--half-supported by one small gray hand outspread on the stone; her
little fine features all tremulous with emotion, and half a tear
gathered again in each sweet eye. As Jim looks at her, a sort of cold
covetous gripe pinches his heart.

"What a woman with whom to look at all earth's loveliness--with whom to
converse without speech!"

Even as he so thinks, she turns her head towards him, and, drawing in
her breath with a long low sigh, says:

"Oh, how glad I am I did not die before to-day!"

Her eyes are turned towards him, and yet, as once before, he realizes
that it is not to him that either her look or her thoughts are directed.
Both are aimed at an object over his shoulder, and, as before, that
object is Byng. Byng, too, has been gazing at the view. There are tears
in Byng's eyes also. Stevenson says that some women like a man who
cries. Byng cries easily and genuinely, and enjoys it; and, as he is a
remarkably fine young man, there is something piquant in the contrast
between his wet blue orbs and his shoulders.

As Burgoyne rolls home that afternoon in his fiacre, as before, placed
opposite Amelia, his mental vision is no longer fixed upon a
"double-barrelled, central fire, breech-loading gun;" it is fixed with a
teasing tenacity upon the figure of a smallish woman, perennially
looking, through brilliant tears, over his shoulder at somebody else.



CHAPTER IX.


"Was it 12, or 12 bis, Piazza d'Azeglio?"

There are no tears in Byng's eyes as he asks this question next
morning--asks it of his friend, as the latter sits in the Fumoir, with
an English paper in his hands, and a good cigar between his clean-shaven
lips. It has struck him several times lately that he will have to give
up good cigars, and take to a churchwarden pipe and shag instead. But,
so far, the churchwarden and the shag remain in the future.

"12, or 12 bis, Piazza d'Azeglio?" inquires Byng.

"Was _what_ 12 or 12 bis?" replies his friend, with a somewhat obviously
intentional obtuseness; but Byng is far too thoroughly healthy and happy
a young animal this morning to take offence easily.

"I mean Miss Le Marchant's address," he answers, explaining as amiably
as if he had not been perfectly aware that it was only "cussedness" that
had dictated the query.

There is a slight pause. Burgoyne would like to answer that he does not
remember--would like still more to answer that he does not see what
business it can be of Byng's; but, since he is not destitute of
common-sense, a second's reflection shows him that he has no good reason
for either the lie or the incivility, so he replies, pretty calmly, with
his eyes still on his leading article:

"I believe Miss Le Marchant said 12 bis."

Having obtained the information he wanted, and finding his companion not
conversationally disposed, Byng is moving away again, when he is
arrested by Jim's voice, adding to the intelligence he has just given
the monosyllable:

"Why?"

"Why what?" asks Byng, returning readily, and laughingly mimicking the
intentional obtuseness so lately practised on himself by the other.

"Why did you ask?"

"I am thinking of paying my respects there this afternoon, and I did not
want to ring at the wrong bell."

A short silence. Jim's head is partly hidden by his _Galignani_.

"Did Miss or Mrs. Le Marchant ask you to call?"

Byng laughs.

"Both of them are as innocent of it as the babe unborn!"


"You asked yourself then?" (in a snubbing voice).

Byng nods.

"And she said yes?"

The plural pronoun has dropped out of sight, but neither of them
perceives it. The younger man shakes his sleek head. Jim lays down his
paper with an air of decision.

"If she did not say 'Yes'--if she said 'No,'" he begins, with an accent
of severity, "I fail to understand----"

"She did not say 'No,'" interrupts Byng, still half laughing, and yet
reddening as well. "She began to say it; but I suppose that I looked so
broken-hearted--I am sure I felt it--that she stopped."

As Jim makes no rejoinder, he continues by-and-by:

"After all, she can but send me away. One is always being sent away"
(Jim wishes he could think this truer than he does); "but now and again
one is not sent, and those are the times that pay for the others! I'll
risk it."

There is a hopeful ring in his voice as he ends, and again a pause
comes, broken a third time by the younger man.

"Come now, Jim"--looking with a straight and disarming good humour into
his friend's overcast countenance--"speak up! Do you know of any cause
or impediment why I should not?"

Thus handsomely and fairly appealed to, Burgoyne, who is by nature a
just man, begins to put his conscience through her paces as to the real
source of his dislike to the idea of his companion's taking advantage of
that introduction which he himself has been the means--however
unwillingly--of procuring for him. It is true that Byng's mother had
adjured him, with tears in her eyes, to preserve her boy from
undesirable acquaintances; but can he, Burgoyne, honestly say that he
looks upon Elizabeth Le Marchant as an undesirable acquaintance for
anyone? The result of his investigations is the discovery of how
infinitesimal a share in his motives regard for his young friend's
welfare has had. The discovery is no sooner made than he acts upon it.

"My dear boy," he says--and to his credit says it heartily--"I see no
earthly reason why you should not go; you could not make nicer friends."

"Then why will not you come too?" asks Byng, with boyish generosity.

The other shakes his head. "They had much rather I stayed away; they
have taken me _en grippe_."

"Pooh! Nonsense! You fancy it."

"I think not"--speaking slowly and thoughtfully--"I am not a fanciful
person, nor apt to imagine that my acquaintances bother their heads
about me one way or another; but when people try their best, in the
first instance, to avoid recognising you at all, and on every subsequent
occasion endeavour to disappear as soon as you come in sight, it is not
a very forced assumption that they are not exactly greedy for your
society."

This reasoning is so close that Byng is for the moment silenced; and it
is the other who shortly resumes:

"I think it is because I remind them of the past; they have evidently
some unpleasant association of ideas with that past. I wonder what it
is."

The latter clause is addressed more to himself than to Byng.

"Perhaps some of them have died, or come to grief, and they are afraid
of your asking after them," suggests the younger man.

"On the contrary--they are all--one more flourishing than another."

"Well, I would give them one more trial, anyhow; I am sure they would
come round. Give them time, and I am sure they would come round!" cries
Byng sanguinely; adding, "What could have been pleasanter than Mrs. Le
Marchant's manner when you presented her to Miss Wilson?"

The mention of Miss Wilson recalls to Jim the extremely unpleasant
moment of that presentation, thus brought back to him--the moment when
Amelia had looked so middle-aged, and Cecilia so flashy; recalls to him
also the conviction that has been growing upon him since yesterday, of
the more than wisdom, the absolute imperative duty on his part, of
avoiding a repetition of that comparison which had forced itself upon
his notice in the church of San Miniato.

"You had better come," persists Byng still, like a magnanimous child,
holding out half his cake to his friend; whether, like the same child,
with a semi-hope that it may be refused, or whether, on the other hand,
it may have crossed his mind that, where there are two visitees, the
chances of a _tête-à-tête_ are improved by there being also two
visitors.

"My dear boy," returns Jim, this time with a testiness handsomely
streaked with irony, "you are really too obliging; but, even if I wished
it--which I do not--or even if _they_ wished it--which they do _not_--it
is in this case quite impossible, as I am engaged to go shopping with
Amelia."

Probably the blow is not a knockdown one to Byng; at all events, he
bears the rebuff with his habitual healthy good temper, and goes off to
put on a smarter tie. Burgoyne, thinking no such improvement in his
toilette necessary, strolls away to the Anglo-Américain. It is true that
he has covenanted to escort Amelia to the shop for Cantagalli ware,
though there is no particular reason why, had he so wished it, the
purchase of the dinner-service that is to grace their Bayswater symposia
might not have been deferred for twenty-four hours; and indeed, as
things turn out, it has to be so deferred.

As he opens the door of the Wilson sitting-room his future father-in-law
brushes past him, with evident signs of discomposure all over his
clerical figure and spectacled face; and, on entering, he finds equal,
if not superior, marks of upset equanimity on the countenances of the
three women that are the room's occupants. Over the wood fire--Sybilla
alternately roasts and freezes her family, and this is one of her
roasting days--Cecilia is stooping, in evident search for some object
that has been committed, or tried to be committed, to the flames. The
other two are looking on with an air of vexed interest. Sybilla is the
first to address him.

"You have appeared at a not very happy moment," she says, with a sigh;
"we have been having a family breeze; it has sent my temperature up
nicely! It is 100, 100, Point 2."

The mention of Sybilla's temperature is always enough to put Jim in a
rage. It is therefore in no very feeling tone that he returns:

"If it were 1,000, Point 99, I should not be surprised, in this
atmosphere! Good Heavens, Cis, are not you hot enough already?"

The young lady thus apostrophised rises, with some precipitation, and
with a very heated complexion, from her knees, holding in her hand,
however, the object of her quest--a rather charred small parcel, done up
in white paper, and with a fragment of white ribbon still adhering here
and there to it.

"Father behaves so childishly," she says, with irritated undutifulness.

"You must own that it was enough to provoke him," strikes in Amelia's
mild voice.

"What was enough to provoke him? How has he shown his childishness? For
Heaven's sake, some of you explain!" cries Jim impatiently, looking from
one to the other.

But with this request none of the three appears in any hurry to comply.
There is a distinct pause before Cecilia, seeing neither of her seniors
shows any signs of relieving her of the burden of explanation, takes
that burden upon herself.

"The fact is," she says, setting her little rescued packet on the table
beside her, and beginning to fan herself, "that Mr. Dashwood, the man to
whom I was engaged, has chosen to marry. I am sure"--with a shrug--"no
one has the least desire to deny his perfect right to do so; and this
morning there arrived by post a bit of his wedding-cake! I suppose he
meant it civilly; but father chose to take it as an insult to himself,
and though it was addressed to me, he threw it into the fire. I am very
fond of wedding-cake; so, as soon as father's back was turned, I fished
it out again!"

Jim laughs, with more vigour perhaps than heartfelt amusement.

"Bravo, Cis! You are a real philosopher! We might all learn a lesson
from you."

"What have you done with your nice friend?" asked Sybilla languidly.
"Amelia, dear, this _couvre-pied_ is slipping off me again. What a
sympathetic voice he has! I am sure he has been a great deal with sick
people."

"I left him putting on his best tie to go out calling. No, calm
yourself, Cecilia, not on you; it is not your turn to-day."

"Whose turn is it then?" asks the girl, with an interest not at all
blunted by the mortifying incident of the cake, which, indeed, she has
begun to nibble with apparent relish.

Jim hesitates a second--a second during which it strikes him with a
shock that he already finds a difficulty in pronouncing Elizabeth Le
Marchant's name. He manages to evade the necessity even now by a
circumlocution.

"I believe it is the Piazza d'Azeglio upon which that luminary is to
shine."

"Is he going to see that lovely creature to whom you introduced me
yesterday?" cries Amelia, with good-natured enthusiasm. "I heard her
telling him that she lived in the Piazza d'Azeglio. Oh, Jim, how pretty
she is! One ought to pay for being allowed to look at her."

Many women, whose plainness is incontestable, are able to be just to
their better favoured sisters; but Amelia is more than just--she is
lavishly generous.

Burgoyne rewards her with an affectionate look--a look such as would
make her swear that, beside Miss Le Marchant, as beside Dumain's fair
love,

    "Juno but an Ethiop were!"

"She looks as if she had had a history; that always improves a woman's
appearance," says Cecilia pensively, holding a fragment of the fateful
cake suspended in air, and regarding it with a melancholy eye. "Has
she?"

"I never asked her."

"Why did not you go too?" inquires Amelia, judiciously striking in, as
is her habit, as often as she perceives that her younger sister is
beginning to get too obviously upon her own _fiancé's_ nerves; a
catastrophe which something in the tone of his last remark tells
her--though she does not quite understand why it should--is imminent.
"They are old friends of yours, are not they? They may be hurt if they
find that a perfect stranger like Mr. Byng is in a greater hurry to
visit them than you are."

Before Burgoyne's mental vision rises a picture of Elizabeth's heavenly
eye wandering indifferently over the dear old friend's shoulder to find
its home in that of the perfect stranger. But he says kindly, and even
playfully:

"Why did not I go too? Because I was under the impression that I was
engaged to go with another lovely being to choose crockery, was I not?
Am I not?"

Amelia's answer is conveyed by a series of nods and winks executed
behind her sisters' backs, which he presently understands to imply that
she desires a private interview. It is not immediately that he grasps
what she is driving at, since dumb-show is often puzzling to the person
at whom it is aimed, though clear as day to the dumb-shower. As soon,
however, as he masters what her wish is, he hastens to comply with it;
and five minutes later finds them _tête-à-tête_ in the hideous little
dining-room which had been the scene of their reunion, and of many
after-meetings.

"I could not say so, of course, before _her_," remarks Miss Wilson, as
soon as they are out of earshot, "or she might have insisted upon my
going. She is very unselfish sometimes; but the fact is, I do not think
I ought to leave Sybilla again to-day. You see, she was alone the whole
of yesterday afternoon; and when we came back we found her in a very low
way. She had been reading her book of prescriptions--you know the book;
all the prescriptions which she has had for the last ten years bound up
together--and we rather dread her bringing it out, as she always fancies
that she is going to have the disease prescribed for."

"Humph!"

"And, after all, happiness ought not to make one selfish, ought it?"
says Amelia, with a gentle sigh of abnegation, as she ruffles her
pale-haired head against his coat-sleeve. "I have so much of you
now--oh, so much!--not to speak of----"

"Cecilia, of course, is incapacitated by grief?" interrupts Jim
brusquely. "She will be going up and down upon the mountains like
another unfortunate fair one. But your father? He will be at home, will
he not?"

"Yes, he will be at home," replies Amelia, slowly and doubtfully, as if
not finding a very satisfactory solution in this suggested arrangement;
"but, as you know, it never answers to leave father and Sybilla alone
together for long. You see, he does not believe that there is anything
the matter with her; he thinks that she is as well as you or I" (a gush
of warm feeling towards his father-in-law rushes over Jim's heart); "and
though he tries to prevent himself from showing it to her, yet I am
afraid, poor dear, that he is not very successful."

Jim laughs.

"And to-day," continues Amelia, "he is naturally a good deal upset about
Cecilia and that wedding-cake; it _was_ very impertinent to send it--was
not it?--though she does not seem to see it. I hope"--with a wistful
smile, and a repetition of the fond friction of her head against his
sleeve--"that when _you_ throw _me_ over----"

This is a hypothesis, suggested with perhaps unwise frequency by poor
Miss Wilson, which never fails to exasperate Jim.

"If we are going to talk nonsense," he breaks in brusquely, and with no
attempt to return or reward her caressing gesture, "I may as well go."

"Go to the Piazza d'Azeglio," says she coaxingly, her spirits raised by
the harshness of tone of his interruption of her speech, and half
persuading herself that it owes its birth to the supposition being too
painful to be faced by him.

He looks at her strangely for a moment, then--"Why do you wish me to go
to the Piazza d'Azeglio?" he asks, in a tone that is no longer overtly
cross, only constrained and odd. "Why are you driving me there?"

"Because I think you would like it," she answers; "because"--taking his
hand and passing her lips, which he feels to be trembling a little, very
gently over the back of it--"because all through your life I want you to
have exactly what you like, always."

He draws his hand away; not unkindly, but as if shocked at the humility
of her action.

"That is so likely," he says mournfully.



CHAPTER X.


There is no particular mirth in Burgoyne's mind as he mounts the stone
stairs of the house which announces itself as 12 bis, in the commonplace
new square of the Piazza d'Azeglio. But yet it is evident that, if he
wishes to be in tune with the mood of the family to whom he is going to
pay his respects, he must be not only mirthful, but musical. As the door
of the _entresol_, to which he is directed by the porter, opens in
answer to his ring, bursts of laughter, among which he can plainly
detect the voice of Byng, assail his ear, mingled with music, or rather
noise of a sort, but what sort his ear, without fuller evidence than is
yet before it, is unable to decide. The person who has admitted him is
an elderly Englishwoman, whose features at once strike him as
familiar--so familiar that it needs scarcely one reaching back of
memory's hand to capture the fact of her having filled the office of
nurse at the Moat, at the period when the nursery there had been the
scene of those frantic romps in which he himself had taken a prominent
part, and in which Elizabeth had been to him by turns so able a second,
or so vigorous an adversary. He would like to claim acquaintance with
her, and, perhaps, if she had made any difficulty as to admitting him,
might have screwed up his courage to do so; but as she lets him in
without delay or hesitation, he follows her in silence along the passage
of a by no means imposing little _entresol_--they are not so well off as
they used to be, is his passing thought--is ushered into a small
sitting-room, and, entering behind his own name, which has been
completely drowned by the din issuing from within, has time, before the
consciousness of his own appearance has disturbed it, to take in the
details of a group which his entry naturally breaks up. Set slantwise
across one angle of the room is an open cottage-piano, and beside it
stands Elizabeth, her elbow resting on the top, and all her pensive face
convulsed with helpless laughter. Upon the music-stool is seated a large
collie dog, supported from behind in an upright position by Byng. Before
him is a score of music, from which he is obviously supposed to be
playing, as indeed he is doing in a sense--that is to say, he is
bringing down first one large paw and then another heavily on the keys,
accompanying each crash with a short howl to express the agony inflicted
upon his nerves by his own performance. The scene is so entirely
different a one from what he had expected: the immoderately laughing
Elizabeth has so much more kinship with the sweet hoyden of the Moat
than with the pale woman with a history of his two last meetings, that
for a second or two Burgoyne stands in the doorway as if stunned. It is
not till Mrs. Le Marchant, coming out of an inner room, advances to
greet him, that he recovers himself.

"How do you do?" she says, smiling, and with less constraint than he has
of late learnt to expect. "Are you fond of music?" (putting, as she
speaks, her hands up to her ears). "I hope so! Did you ever hear such a
shocking noise?"

"I do not know which I admire most, the vocal or the instrumental part
of the performance," replies he, laughing; but even as he speaks both
cease.

Elizabeth lifts her elbow from the piano, and Byng removes his hands
from under the dog's arms, who at once, joyful and released, jumps down,
upsetting his music-stool with the impetus of his descent, and yet
immediately, with all a dog's real good-heartedness, begins to swing a
handsome tail, to show that he bears no real malice for the odious
practical joke that has been played upon him. The clamorous fall of dog
and music-stool reveals an object which had been hidden behind both, in
the shape of a little boy, in whose behalf, as it darts across Jim's
mind, the eccentric concert, for which he has come in, must have been
got up.

"Oh, _do_ go on!" cries the child shrilly. "Oh, _do_ make him do it
again! Oh, why do you stop?"

And indeed through the whole of the ensuing conversation this cry recurs
at short intervals with the iteration of a guinea-hen. But none of the
three performers seems disposed to comply with this request. Two of them
sit down decorously on chairs, and the third throws himself upon the
floor panting, showing a fine red tongue, and dragging himself
luxuriously along on his stomach to show his relief at his _corvée_
being ended. The child has followed Elizabeth, and now stands beside
her, tiresomely pulling at her white hands.

"Bertie has come to spend the day with us," she says, looking
explanatorily up at Jim, but speaking with a formality very different,
as he feels, from the exuberant ease and mirth that had marked her
intercourse with Byng.

Jim had already had a flash of speculation about the child, as to
whether he might be a late-come little brother, arrived on the scene at
a period subsequent to his own connection with the family; since plainly
the span of his small life did not stretch to a decade.

"Bertie is a new friend," he says kindly. "I do not know Bertie."

"His mother, Mrs. Roche, is a cousin of ours; she has a villa on
Bellosguardo. Perhaps you know her?"

"I am going to a party at her house on Wednesday," cries Jim, in a tone
of eager pleasure at the discovery of this fresh link, and of the vista
of probable meetings which it opens up. "I shall meet you there?"

Elizabeth turns her head slightly aside and shakes it as slightly.

"No?"

"We are not going out."

The formula implies mourning, and yet the clothes both of Elizabeth and
her mother are unmistakably coloured ones, and give no indication of an
even moderately recent loss. But it is so clear that Miss Le Marchant
means to add no explanation that he has to change the subject.

"Though Bertie is not an old friend," he says, smiling, "yet I have come
across one here to-day--she opened the door to me; I should have liked
to shake hands with her, only she looked so haughty--she never used to
look haughty at the Moat."

"Do you mean nurse?" she asks.

"Yes, I knew her in an instant; she is not in the least changed, less
even"--hesitating a little, as if doubtful whether the stiffness of
their new relations warranted a personality--"less even than you."

She snatches a hasty look at him, a look upon which he sees, to his
surprise, imprinted a character of almost fear.

"You must be laughing at me," she says, in a voice in which he detects
an undoubted tremor; "I am very much changed."

There is such obvious apprehension in her whole manner, that his one
thought--after a first flash of astonishment--is to reassure her.

"Of course I was only speaking of externals," he says quickly; "ten
years could hardly be expected to leave any of us quite where we were as
to our inner selves;" then, seeing her still look flurried, and becoming
himself nervous, he adds, rather stupidly, the hackneyed Swinburnian
couplet--

    "'Time turns the old days to derision,
    Our loves into corpses or wives!'

though I never could see that that was quite a necessary alternative!"

Ere the words are out of his mouth she has risen with precipitation, and
begun hurriedly to re-arrange the branches of lilac in a scaldino on the
table near her. She is apparently so awkward about it that one odorous
white bough falls out on the floor. Before Jim can stoop to pick it up,
Byng has rushed to the rescue. In eagerly thanking him, in receiving it
back from him, and accepting his services in replacing it among its
perfumed brothers, the girl, perhaps involuntarily, turns her back upon
her former interlocutor, who sits for a moment staring rather blankly at
her, and wondering what sting there could have lurked in his apparently
harmless words to drive her away so abruptly. Whatever may have driven
her away, there is certainly no doubt as to her being gone. Nor as Jim
sees her moving about the room, followed by Byng, and showing him her
treasures--the little wild red and yellow tulips she plucked in the
field this morning; the chicken-skin box she bought at Ciampolini's
yesterday, and mixing all that she shows with her delicate light
laughter--can he buoy himself up with any reasonable hope of her ever,
with her own good will, returning. He must be looking more blank than he
is conscious of, for Mrs. Le Marchant's voice sounds quite apologetic in
his ears, when, having been, like himself, deserted by her companion,
she takes a seat near him.

"Elizabeth is so proud of her bargains," she says, glancing with a
lenient smile towards her daughter; "she must show them to everybody."

"She never offered to show them to me," replies Jim, rather morosely;
then, becoming aware of the almost puerile jealousy evidenced by his
last remark, he adds:

"I am afraid I said something that annoyed Miss Le Marchant; I cannot
think what it could have been. I told her how wonderfully little changed
I thought her in the last ten years; but it could not have been that,
could it?"

The mother's eye is still following her child, and, if it were not an
absurd assumption, Burgoyne could have fancied that there was a sudden
moisture in it.

"She is very sensitive," Mrs. Le Marchant answers slowly; "perhaps it
would be safer not to say anything about herself to her."

"Perhaps it would be safer," rejoins Jim, with some ill-humour, "if you
were to draw up a list of subjects for me to avoid; I have no wish to
play the part of bull in a china shop; and yet I seem to be always doing
it; imprimis" (striking the forefinger of his left hand with the right),
"imprimis the Moat."

He pauses, as if expecting a disclaimer, but none such comes--"The past
generally" (moving on to the second finger and again halting; but with
no more result than before). "Yourselves" (reaching the third finger).
Still that silence, which, if it mean anything, must mean assent. He
looks impatiently in her face, to seek the response which her lips
refuse him.

"On your own showing," she says gently, though in a rather troubled
voice, "you have the whole field of the present and the future left you;
are not they wide enough for you?"

His brows draw together into a painful frown.

"Perhaps I have as little cause to be fond of them as you have of the
past."

It is a random shot, a bow drawn at a venture; but it could not have hit
more true apparently had it been levelled with the nicest aim.

As her daughter had done before her, Mrs. Le Marchant rises hastily, and
leaves him--leaves him to reflect ironically upon how wisely Amelia had
acted in insisting upon his visiting these "dear old friends," upon whom
the effect of his conversation is so obviously exhilarating.

"I wish I had not come; I wish it was time to go home!"

The small fractious voice that wails the two preceding sentences seems
to be Jim's own mouthpiece. It is, in point of fact, the voice of
Bertie, who, tired of uttering his unregarded request for the repetition
of the concert which had filled him with such delight, has of late been
trying the effect of his unassisted powers to bring about the desired
consummation, by putting his arms as far as he can round the dog's body,
and endeavouring to lug him towards the music-stool. The collie has been
enduring this treatment for five minutes--enduring it with an expression
of magnanimous patience, which seems to say, that, though it is
undoubtedly an unpleasant experience, yet, as it is inflicted upon him
by one of his own family, he must of course put up with it, when
Elizabeth goes to the rescue. Elizabeth goes alone, since Byng is held
in converse by her mother at the other side of the room. Verbal
persuasions having entirely failed, she tries to loosen the child's
arms; but his grasp, though puny, is obstinate, and the only perceptible
result of her endeavours is the utterance by her young friend of the two
polite aspirations above recorded.

"He does not want to sing any more to-day," Jim hears her saying in her
gentle voice; "you really are hurting him; he is too polite to say so;
but you are squeezing him so tight that you really _are_ hurting him.
Why now" (with a little accent of pain), "you are hurting _me_."

Jim has been looking with a lack-lustre eye out of the open window at
the young plane trees exchanging their frowsy buds for infant leaves; at
the one Judas tree pranking in its purple blossoms in the Piazza; but at
that low complaint he makes one step across the room, and, whipping off
Master Bertie alike from long-enduring dog and plaintive woman, stoops
over the latter as she sits upon the floor, passing one hand over the
other, upon which the child's angry fingers, transferred from his first
victim, have left rosy prints of pain.

"I wish I had not come; I wish it was time to go home!" whimpers the
little boy.

"Since he is so anxious to go home, I will take him, if you like," says
Jim in a stiff voice; "I must be going myself."

She looks up at him from her lowly posture, a charming, half-apologetic,
wholly peace-making smile fleeting across her small face, while she
still chafes her hand--that little pinched hand which makes him feel so
ridiculously tender.

"Are you, too, sorry that you came?" she asks.

The question takes him by surprise. He is not prepared for so friendly
and almost intimate a sequel to her short, shy answers, and her abrupt
quitting of him. He hesitates how to answer it; and as he hesitates, she
rises and stands beside him. It is not easy for a grown person to rise
gracefully from a seat on the floor. Jim catches himself thinking with
what a roll and a flounder Cecilia would have executed the same
manoeuvre; but Elizabeth, supple and light, rises as smoothly as an
exhalation from a summer meadow.

"If I was rude to you just now," she says, rather tremulously; "if I am
ever rude to you in the future, I hope you will understand--I hope you
will put it down to the fact that I--I--am very ignorant of--that I know
very little of the world."

       *       *       *       *       *

The two men are gone; so is the child; so is the dog; and Elizabeth is
shutting up the piano and removing the score.

"What a noise we made!" she says, smiling at the recollection.

"If you make such a shocking noise again, the signora and the other
lodgers will infallibly interfere."

Mrs. Le Marchant has followed her daughter, and now throws one arm about
her slight neck, with a gesture of passionate affection.

"If you knew," she says, in a voice of deep and happy agitation, "what
it was to me to hear you laugh as you did to-day!"

"I have a good many arrears in that way to make up, have not I, mammy?
And so have you too," answers the younger woman, laying her sleek head
down caressingly on her mother's shoulder; then, in a changed and
restless voice: "Oh, if we could stop that man talking about the Moat!
Why does he go on hammering about it?"

"Why indeed?" replies Mrs. Le Marchant with a shrug. "Men are so
thick-skinned; but it is rather touching, his having remembered us all
these years, is not it? For my part, I had almost entirely forgotten his
existence--had not you?"

"Absolutely!" replies Elizabeth, with emphasis; "and if he will only let
me, I am more than willing to forget it over again. Oh, mammy" (turning
her face round, and burying it on her mother's breast), "why can't we
forget everything? begin everything afresh from now--this delightful
_now_?"



CHAPTER XI.


A reconciliation is seldom effected without some price being paid for
it. Jim's with Elizabeth, if it can be called such, is bought at the
cost of a small sacrifice of principle on his part. No later than this
morning he had laid it down as a Median rule that he should avoid
opportunities of finding himself in Miss Le Marchant's company; and yet,
not only has he spent the major part of the afternoon in her society,
but, as he walks away from her door, he finds that he has engaged
himself to help Byng, on no distant day, in doing the honours of the
Certosa Monastery to her and her mother. On reflection, he cannot quite
explain to himself how the arrangement has come about. The proposal
certainly did not originate with him, and still less with the two ladies
so strangely shy of all society. The three have somehow been swept into
it by Byng, who, either with the noblest altruism, or because he feels
justly confident that he has no cause for jealousy of his friend (Jim's
cynical reflection is that the latter is the much more probable reason),
has insisted on drawing him into the project.

Jim Burgoyne is not a man whom, as a rule, it is easy either to wile or
cudgel into any course that does not recommend itself to his own
judgment or taste--a fact of which he himself is perfectly aware, and
which makes him remorsefully acknowledge that there must indeed have
been a traitor in the citadel of his own heart before he could have so
weakly yielded at the first push to what his reason sincerely
disapproves. But yet it is not true that remorse is the leading feature
of his thoughts, as he walks silently beside his friend down the Via di
Servi. It ought to be, perhaps; but it is not. The picture that holds
the foreground of his memory is that of Elizabeth sitting on the floor,
and sending him peace-offerings from her pathetic eyes and across her
sensitive lips. It was very sweet of her to think it necessary to make
him amends at all for her trifling incivility, and nothing could be
sweeter than the manner of it. How gladly would he buy some little
rudeness from her every day at such a price! But yet, as he thinks it
over, the manner of it, the ground on which she rested her excuse, is
surely a strange one. That she should attribute her light lapse from
courtesy to want of knowledge of the world comes strangely from the
mouth of a woman of six-and-twenty. If it be true--and there was a naïve
veracity in lip and eye as she spoke--how is it to be accounted for? Has
her mind, has her experience of life, remained absolutely stationary
during the last ten years? Her tell-tale face, over which some pensive
story is so plainly written, forbids the inference. It is no business of
his, of course. Amelia, thank Heaven! has no story; but, oh! if someone
would tell him what that history is! And yet, three days later, he
voluntarily puts away from himself the opportunity of hearing it.

During those three days he sees no more of her. He does not again seek
her out, and accident does not throw her in his way. He buys his
Cantagalli dinner-service in company with Amelia; chooses the
soup-tureen out of which he is to ladle mutton broth for the inhabitants
of Westbourne Grove; he tastes of the wedding-cake that has cost Cecilia
so dear, and he avoids Byng. On the third day he can no longer avoid
him, since he is to occupy, as on the San Miniato occasion, the fourth
seat in the fiacre which conveys himself and the Misses Wilson to the
garden-party at the villa in Bellosguardo inhabited by Mrs. Roche, the
mother of the amiable Bertie. The Wilsons' acquaintances in Florence are
few, and, as far as Burgoyne has at present had the opportunity of
judging, evil. It is, therefore, with a proportionate elation that
Cecilia dresses for a party at which she will meet the bulk, or at least
the cream, of the English society. It is to Byng's good nature that she
and her sister owe the introduction to a hostess whose acquaintance is
already too large to make her eager for any causeless addition to it;
but whose hand has been forced by Byng, in the mistaken idea that he is
doing a service to his friend Jim.

They are late in setting off, as Amelia is delayed by the necessity of
soothing Sybilla, who has been reduced to bitter tears by a
_tête-à-tête_ with her father, in which that well-intentioned but
incautious gentleman has been betrayed into suggesting to her that she
may possibly be suffering from biliousness. The administering of
bromide, to calm her nerves under such a shock; the reiterated
assurances that every member of the family except its head realizes the
monstrosity of the suggestion, take up so much time that Amelia herself
has to reduce to a minimum the moments allotted to her own toilette. She
has cried a little with Sybilla, for company partly, and partly out of
weariness of spirit. That and hurry have swollen her eyelids, and
painted her cheeks with a hard, tired red, so that it is an even more
homespun figure and a homelier face than usual, that seat themselves
opposite Burgoyne, when at length they get under weigh.

He, Burgoyne, has been impatient of the delay, impatient to set off and
to arrive; yet he would be puzzled to say why. He knows, on no less
authority than her own word, that he shall not meet Elizabeth; and yet
the mere feeling that the mistress of the house to which he is going is
of the same blood as she; that he shall see the rude, spoilt child,
whose ill-tempered pinch made her utter that low cry of pain, suffice to
give a tartness to his tone, as he inquires the cause of her lagging, of
the panting, flushed, apologetic Amelia. Byng and Cecilia have been
sitting waiting for some time in the _salon_, from which Sybilla has
removed her prostrate figure and tear-stained face; but they have been
entertaining each other so well--she in paying him a series of marked
attentions, and he in civilly and pleasantly accepting them--that the
half-hour has not seemed long to either. But the party, in motion at
last, has passed the Roman Gate, and is climbing up and up between the
high walls, each step giving it a greater vantage ground over the Flower
City, before Burgoyne recovers his equanimity.

The spring comes on apace. In the gardens above their heads laurestinus
bushes, with all their flowers out (as they are never seen in England,
where always the east wind nips half the little round buds before they
can expand into blossom), stand in white and green; rosemary trees,
covered with gray bloom, hang down; and against the azure of the high
heaven purple irides stand up arow. It is one of those days on which one
can with bodily eyes see the Great Mother at her quickening work; can
see her flushing the apple-boughs, unfolding the fig-leaves, and driving
the lusty green blood through the sappy vines. And in the slow creeping
of the fiacre up the twisting white road, each turn lays the divine
Tuscan city before them in some new aspect of arresting loveliness.

At Florence, one is like Balaam with the Israelites. One is taken to see
her from one point after another, each point seeming fairer than the
last; but the likeness ends there, for no wish to curse the sweet town
could ever arise in even the morosest heart. The hills have put on their
summer look of dreamy warmth and distance. Before they have reached the
hilltop the boon Italian air has kissed most of the creases out of Jim's
temper, and the brick-red from Amelia's cheek-bones. He looks
remorsefully from the triumphant beauty around, into the poor, fond face
opposite to him--looks at her with a sort of compassion for being so
unlovely, mixed with a compunctious admiration and tenderness for her
gentle qualities. He may touch her hand without fear of observation, so
wholly is Byng enveloped in the mantle of Cecilia's voluble tenderness.

"Have you forgiven me?" he asks, smiling; "I will make any apologies,
eat any dirt, say anything, short of allowing that Sybilla is not
bilious."

They have reached the villa, and turned out of the dusty highway into a
great cool courtyard, that has a Moorish look, with its high arches,
over which the Banksia roses tumble in cascades of yellow and white. It
seems wrong that the voices which come from the tea-tables under the
Loggia should be chattering English or Yankee, instead of cooing that
"sweet bastard Latin" that better suits place and day.

The hostess shakes hands absently with Burgoyne, offers his fair charges
iced coffee, and then, having discharged her conscience towards them,
draws Byng away for an intimate chat. From her hands he passes into
those of several other willing matrons and maids, and it seems likely
that the party who brought him will see him no more. Amelia, unused to,
and unexpectant of attention, is perfectly content to sit silent,
sipping her cold coffee; but Cecilia is champing her bit in a way which
frightens her future brother-in-law so much that he cowardly takes the
opportunity of her looking in another direction to lure his docile
_fiancée_ on to the broad terrace, whence all the young green glory of
the Arno's plain, and the empurpled slopes and dreamful breast of
Morello, are to be seen by the looker's beauty-drunk eye. Upon this
terrace many people are walking and sitting in twos and threes, and in
one of the little groups Amelia presently discovers a female
acquaintance, who at once fastens upon her, and happening to be
afflicted with a relative visited by a disorder of something the same
nature as Sybilla's, subjects her to a searching and exhaustive
catechism as to the nature of her sister's symptoms. Sybilla's symptoms,
whether at first or second hand, have invariably the property of driving
Jim into desert places; and, in the present instance, seeing no
likelihood of an end to the relation of them, he turns impatiently away,
and, without much thought of where he is going, follows a steep downward
path that ends in a descent of old stone steps, between whose crevices
green plants and little hawkweed blow-balls flourish undisturbed, to a
large square well, framed by a low broad parapet, with flower-beds set
around it, and the whole closed in by rugged stone walls. No one
apparently has had the same impulse as he, for, at first, he has the
cool solitude to himself. He sits down on the parapet of the still well,
and drops in pebbles to see how deep the water is; and anon lifts his
idle look to the empty niches in the crumbling wall--niches where once
wood-god, or water-nymph, or rural Pan stood in stone, now empty and
forsaken. Out of the wall two ilexes grow, and lift themselves against
the sapphire arch, which yet is no sapphire, nor of any name that
belongs to cold stone; a blue by which all other blues are but feeble
colourless ghosts of that divinest tint.

He is roused from the vague reverie into which the cool silence and the
brooding beauty around have lulled him, by the sound of approaching
voices. He is not to have his well any longer to himself. He looks up
with that scarcely latent hostility in his eye with which one regards
the sudden intruder into a railway carriage, when--counting on keeping
it to one's self for a long night journey--one has diffused limbs and
parcels over its whole area. The owners of the voices, having descended,
as he had done, the age-worn steps, come into sight. They are both men,
and one of them he recognises at once as a Mr. Greenock, a well-known
stock figure in Florentine society, a mature bachelor diner-out, a not
ill-natured retailer of news, collector of _bons-mots_, and harmless
appendage of pretty women. Of the other, at whom he scarcely glances,
all he grasps is the fact that he is dressed in clerical attire, and
that the first words audible of his speech, as he comes within hearing,
is the name of an English county--Devonshire. The answer comes in a tone
of keen interest:

"Ah, I thought there must be a screw loose!"

As the new arrivals become aware of the presence of a third person, they
pause in their talk; but presently, Mr. Greenock having recognised Jim
and greeted him with a friendly nod and a trivial remark upon the
splendour of the day, they resume their interrupted theme, standing
together a few yards distant from him on the walk--resume it in a rather
lower but still perfectly audible key.

"I thought there must be some reason for their shutting themselves up so
resolutely," continues Mr. Greenock in the gratified tone of one who has
at length solved a long-puzzling riddle. "I thought that there must be a
screw loose, in fact; but are you quite sure of it?"

The other gives a sigh and a shrug.

"Unfortunately there can be no doubt on that head; the whole lamentable
occurrence took place under my own eyes; the Moat is in my parish."

"Devonshire!" "A screw loose!" "The Moat!" Burgoyne is still sitting on
the well-brim; but he no longer sees the lapis vault above, nor the
placid dark water below. A sort of horrible mist is swimming before his
eyes; it is of Elizabeth Le Marchant that they are speaking. Through
that mist he snatches a scared look at the speaker; at him whom but two
minutes ago he had glanced at with such a cursory carelessness. Does he
recognise him? Alas! yes. Though changed by the acquisition of a bald
head and a grizzled beard, he sees him at once to be the man who, at the
time of his own acquaintance with the Le Marchant family, had filled the
office of vicar of their parish; under whom he had sat on several drowsy
summer Sunday mornings, trembling at the boys' perilous antics in the
great curtained pew, and laughing inwardly at Elizabeth's
mirth-struggling efforts to control them.

"And you say that they never held up their heads again afterwards?"
pursues Mr. Greenock in a tone of good-natured compassion, that is yet
largely tinged with gratified curiosity.

"They left the neighbourhood at once," returns the clergyman. "Dear me,
how time flies! it must be ten years ago now, and I never saw them again
until I met the unhappy girl and her mother yesterday, driving in the
Via Tornabuoni; but"--lowering his voice a little more--"you will
understand that this is strictly _entre nous_; that it must not go any
further."

"What do you think I am made of?" cries Mr. Greenock in a burst of
generous indignation; "but"--stepping a pace or two nearer to his
interlocutor--"I am not quite sure that I have got the details of the
story right; would you mind just running it over to me again?"

Jim has been sitting in such a stunned stillness that it is perhaps no
wonder that they have forgotten his neighbourhood. At all events, the
clergyman is evidently about to comply with his companion's request and
recapitulate the tale. If Jim preserves his motionless attitude but five
minutes longer, he will be put into possession of that story whose
existence he has already heavily conjectured, and the imagining of which
has made him often, within the last week or two, turn with nausea from
his food, and toss restlessly upon his bed. Without any trouble on his
part, without any possible blame attaching to him, he will learn the
poor soul's secret. Never! If the devil wish to tempt him with a
prospect of success, it must be with a less unhandsome bait. Almost
before the two startled scandalmongers have recalled the fact of his
existence by the abrupt noise of his departure, he is half-way back to
the terrace, that mist still before his eyes, and a singing in his ears.



CHAPTER XII.

     "A merry going out bringeth often a mournful return home; and a
     joyful evening makes many times a sad morning."


The return drive, as it is quicker, being all downhill, so is it a more
silent one than that to the villa had been. Byng, indeed, is as gaily
willing to be fondled by Cecilia as he was on his way up; but there is a
mixture of maidenly reserve and sub-tender reproach in her manner which
makes their relations somewhat strained. The afternoon's pleasuring has
had a jading effect upon Amelia's spirits, as, after having been sucked
dry on the subject of Sybilla's maladies, and afterwards at once shaken
off, by her female acquaintance, she has not been fortunate enough to
meet with anyone else to exchange talk with, and has sat in disconsolate
yet patient loneliness on a stone bench, afraid to stir from the spot
where he had left her, lest she might miss her lover, of whom, however,
she has unaccountably seen nothing, until when the Angelus is ringing,
and the shadows spreading, he has come to give her curt notice, with
half-averted face, that the fiacre is at the door. In point of fact, he
has been too conscious of the disorder of his features to dare to expose
them sooner than he can help to her fond scrutiny. He would give
anything to be able to sit beside, instead of opposite to her during
their drive home, as a profile is a much less tell-tale and more
governable thing than a full face; and he is painfully conscious that as
often as she imagines she can do it without being detected by him, she
is stealing looks of inquiring anxiety at him. He tries to put her off
the scent by spasmodic comments upon the entertainment that they have
just quitted; and she does her best to keep up the ball of conversation,
since she sees that it is his wish. But in vain. Each forced remark
falls still-born, leading to nothing. It is Cecilia who at last succeeds
in giving a fillip to the languid talk.

"I did not know that Mrs. Roche was a cousin of your beauty, Miss Le
Marchant," she says suddenly, growing tired of her pensive attitude, and
addressing herself to Jim.

He starts guiltily. "Did not you?"

He must look odd; for even Cecilia's large and preoccupied cow eyes rest
upon him with an expression of surprise.

"I wonder why she was not there to-day."

It is not exactly a question, yet her great shallow orbs do not seem to
be going to leave his face until he makes some response. He forces
himself to do so.

"I understood Miss Le Marchant to say that they are not going out just
now."

"And why are not they, pray?" inquires Cecilia, in an injured voice, as
if the retirement from the world of the two ladies in question were a
personal injury to herself; "they are not in mourning, all their gowns
are coloured ones, and they do not look as if they had bad
health--perhaps, however" (after a moment's thoughtful attempt to find a
solution)--"perhaps, however, they may have something--one never
knows--people have such unexpected diseases nowadays--hysteria, perhaps,
or fits."

At this ingenious suggestion Jim is conscious of a writhing motion
passing over the stalwart form of Byng beside him. In his own brain, if
there is room for anything but the desire to evade Amelia's eyes, is a
dim sense of relief at a suggestion so grotesquely wide of the mark as
that made by the younger Miss Wilson. In perfect innocence of the effect
produced upon her companions by her bright hypothesis, Cecilia goes on
to remind her sister of the parallel case of a very handsome girl whom
they had once reckoned among their acquaintance, and who was
periodically being found by her family with her head under the fender.
But Amelia rises but faintly to the reminiscence, and the remainder of
the drive is accomplished in a general silence.

The next day is the one which had been fixed upon for the expedition to
Certosa. It was only with a very large admixture of wormwood in his
prospective pleasure that Jim had ever looked forward to this party, but
now he anticipates it with absolute dread. How can he face Elizabeth and
her mother, with that ominous phrase of the "screw loose" still ringing
in his ears? He feels a traitor towards them, in that he has, however
unwillingly, overheard it. To add to his mental uneasiness is the fact
of his having as yet not broken to Amelia his intentions with regard to
the disposal of his afternoon. Amelia's eyes have for years had the
habit of covertly watching him to read his wishes almost before they
rose; but in their gaze yesterday he had, unless misled by his guilty
conscience, detected a new quality, a quality of alarm and
enlightenment. He will get over the communication of his piece of news
as early in the day as may be; so, having finished breakfast before Byng
has put in his, as usual, tardy appearance, he takes his hasty way to
the Anglo-Américain. He finds the family there in a more placid frame of
mind than that which they had presented on one or two of his recent
visits. Sybilla is expecting her doctor, on which occasions she always
likes to have a more lacy coverlet than usual thrown over her languid
feet; a greater efflorescence of pink ribbons about her thin throat, and
a disposition of pots of lilies about her wan head. Amelia, active and
long-suffering as usual, is moving about in patient execution of her
vain and tiresome whimsies. Cecilia sits tranquilly in the window,
knitting an elaborate pair of men's woollen gloves, not indeed--to do
her justice--for anyone in particular, but with a wise forethought for
the accidents and possibilities of life. Since, on this occasion, his
sweetheart shows no inclination to draw him away into the dining-room
for a _tête-à-tête_, Jim has to take the bull by the horns, and rush
into his subject in a more public manner than he had intended. But the
one desire to get it over outbalances all minor considerations.

"Amelia," he begins suddenly, and even to himself his voice sounds
discourteous and abrupt, "shall you want me this afternoon?"

The moment that the words are out of his mouth it strikes him that the
form into which he has thrown his question is more than necessarily
untender. She stops in the patting of Sybilla's smart pillows, and
perhaps there is something a little abrupt too in her monosyllabic
"Why?"

"Because," standing before the fireplace, with his back to the three
women, and throwing the words over his shoulder, "because, if you do
not, Byng and I were thinking of going to Certosa."

There is a pause. He hears that Cecilia's needles have stopped clicking;
her work has dropped into her lap. In another moment she will have
proposed to come too. "With the Le Marchants," he goes on, shooting out
the fateful words like bullets; "a _partie carrée_."

Still silence behind him. He cannot go on staring for ever at the
billets of wood of the unlit fire. He has to turn round and face his
companions. The only one of them whose pleasure or displeasure in his
announcement he at all heeds--Amelia--is stooping over Sybilla,
rearranging in a high, picturesque tier behind the invalid's long back,
three cushions, and her face is almost entirely hidden from him by her
attitude.

"Of course if it is in the least inconvenient, if you have made any
other plans for me--if, in fact, you want me," he continues in a tone
that is at once apologetic and dogged.

"But I do not," cries she, answering at last, and with a distinct laugh
in her voice, a laugh into whose quality he is not anxious too curiously
to inquire. "You must not be so conceited as to think that I always want
you! In point of fact, you could not have hit upon a day that suited me
better. I am really rather 'throng' to-day, as they say in Yorkshire. I
have quite a hundred things to do, and father wants me to help him to
correct the proofs of his sermon, the sermon he preached at Mr. Moffat's
church on the Holy Innocents' Day. He has been asked to publish it--is
not that flattering? Poor father, I believe he will end by being a
popular preacher--in fact" (laughing again), "the whole family is going
up in the world!"

There is such a forced mirth in her tone that Jim feels much more
guiltily uncomfortable than if she had treated him to hysterics or
sulks. Nor does his satisfaction with himself increase, when, upon his
rising to depart, she runs out of the room after him, to say to him,
while her homely face twitches against her will, how much she hopes that
he will enjoy himself; how perfectly happy she shall be without him; and
how eagerly she shall look forward to hearing all about it from him
to-morrow. "It will be almost better than going to Certosa herself," she
ends.

But against the unnatural altitude of this last flight of abnegation
nature revolts, and, becoming conscious of a break in her voice, she
hastily retreats and gets back into the _salon_, in time to see Cecilia
shaking her elaborate head, and to hear her remarking with slow
emphasis, "Mark my words! There is something odd about those people, and
it is not hysteria!"

With spirits sensibly worsened by his interview, Burgoyne returns to the
Minerva, and, mounting to Byng's bedroom, finds that young gentleman
stretched upon his bed, gloom in his usually jocund eye, and an open
letter lying on the floor beside him. But Jim is far too preoccupied to
notice anybody's gloom but his own.

"I came to ask at what hour we are to set off this afternoon?" he says
with a sort of flat moroseness in his tone.

"_We_, indeed!" rejoins the other with a groan, and rolling over with a
sort of petulance on the bed, dishevelling the neatly-smoothed pillow by
burrowing his ruffled head in it--"we!"

There is such a heart-rent woe in the accent with which the last
monosyllable is pronounced that for a moment Burgoyne has no other idea
but that his young friend, too, has become aware of the "screw loose,"
has heard, perhaps in detail, that story from before whose ominous
opening he himself had fled. The thought sends his heart into his
throat, so as to render him incapable of asking an explanation of the
other's affliction.

"We!" repeats Byng for the third time, and very indistinctly, as he is
now lying entirely on his face.

"Why do you go on saying '_we_' in that idiotic way?" asks Jim at last,
recovering his voice--recovering it only to employ it in imitating the
younger man's accents, in a manner which displays more exasperation than
natural talent for mimicry. It is not a politely-worded inquiry, but it
has the desired result of acting as a tonic on him at whom it is aimed,
making him not only roll over once again, but actually sit up.

"Why do I say _we_?" repeats he, his young eyes looking lamentably out
from under the fall of his tumbled hair--"because it is not _we_! it is
_you_! You lucky dog, you will have her all to yourself!"

Jim heaves an inaudible sigh of relief. Whatever may be the cause of his
companion's enigmatical conduct, it is evidently not what he had feared.
There is, however, no evidence of relief or any other mild quality in
his next remark.

"If you would talk less like an ass, I should have a better chance of
knowing what you are driving at!"

The query seems only to renew and deepen the other's tribulation. He
falls back into his former attitude.

"You will hold the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand!" he groans. "No,
do not go" (with a sudden and startling change of tone, springing off
the bed, as he becomes aware that his friend is making for the door,
unable to bear those rhapsodies, whose full distastefulness to their
hearer the utterer little conjectures). "I'll tell you! I'll explain.
Why are you in such a deuce of a hurry? I cannot go to Certosa because I
have just heard from my mother that she is to arrive to-day. She will be
here in another hour."

Jim's fingers are already on the door handle, but this piece of news
arrests him.

"Your mother? I did not know that she was coming abroad."

"No more did I!"

"It must have been a very sudden thought!"

"Very!"

"What a delightful surprise for you!"

"Delightful!" There is so ludicrous a discrepancy between the adjective
and the accent with which it is rendered that Jim bursts into a bitter
laugh.

"She would be flattered if she could see your elation at the prospect of
meeting her!"

Byng's blood rushes up under his clear smooth skin at his friend's jeer,
but he answers, with some dignity:

"I do not think you have any right to imply that I am not always glad to
see my mother; I do not deny that, if it had been equally convenient to
her, I had rather she should have come twenty-four hours later."

Jim feels ashamed of himself, though, being an Anglo-Saxon, he has far
too much false shame to confess it directly, and what he means for an
_amende_, when it comes, is of an oblique nature.

"I think far the best plan will be to put off the excursion altogether;
I am sure that I am not particularly keen about it."

The indignant red has rapidly died out of Byng's face; his placability
being only to be surpassed by his slowness to take offence.

"Is it possible?" he asks in a tone of stupefaction; then, with a sudden
tardy recollection of the rosy fetters in which his friend is held by
another lady, he adds--"But, of course, you are not--I was forgetting!"

Jim winces.

"As it is your party, you had better send up a note at once to the
Piazza d'Azeglio."

"No, do not let us both throw them over!" cries Byng eagerly. "Heaven
knows it was hard enough to persuade them to accept in the first
instance. If you go we shall at all events keep our communications open;
and you--you will say something to her for me?"

"What kind of something?" inquires the older man carpingly. "Am I to
tell her only what a fine fellow you are in general, or anything more
circumstantial?"

"Tell her----" begins Byng in a rapt voice; but apparently the sight of
his companion, who has somewhat ostentatiously pulled out a note-book
and pencil, and assumed the patient air of one about to write to
dictation, dries the stream of his young eloquence; "tell
her--_nothing_."

    "'Nothing speaks our grief like to speak nothing!'"

replies Jim, leaving the room with this quotation on his lips, rather
hastily, for fear lest the other should change his mind.



CHAPTER XIII.


It is five o'clock, the hour fixed for the expedition to Certosa, and in
the _entresol_ of 12 bis, Piazza d'Azeglio, Mrs. and Miss Le Marchant
are sitting--hatted, gloved, and _en-tout-cas-ed_--in expectation of the
arrival of their double escort. Elizabeth's afternoon has, so far, not
been a lazy one, as her little cousin Bertie and his dog have again been
good enough to pay her a lengthy visit, and the former has insisted upon
a repetition of the musical performance of the other day, though with
truncated rites. Without the powerful aid of Byng, Elizabeth has found
it a task considerably beyond her strength to hold a large collie,
poised on his hind-legs, on a music-stool. He has jumped down
repeatedly, and now lies on his back--an attitude in which experience
has taught him he is less attackable than in any other--sawing the air
with his fore-paws, and lifting his lip in a deprecating grin.

"Where is Mr. Byng?" cries Bertie fretfully, baulked in his efforts to
make his wily victim resume the perpendicular. "I want Mr. Byng! Why
does not Mr. Byng come?"

"Perhaps if you went to the window," suggests Mrs. Le Marchant, in that
patiently coaxing voice in which we are wont to address a tiresome child
on a visit, instead of the buffet which we should bestow upon it were it
resident--"perhaps if you went to the window and looked out, you would
see him coming round the corner of the Piazza."

The suggestion is at once accepted, and the child, balancing his fidgety
body on a chair, and craning his neck over the window-ledge, is shouting
shrill pieces of information as to the passers-by to his friends within
the room. Presently he shrieks out in triumph:

"I see him! He is just coming into sight! He is walking so fast! No!"--a
moment later, with a changed and disgusted note, as a nearer view
corrects the first impression--"it is not he at all! It is only the
other one!"

"_Only the other one!_" It is quite impossible that the sound of the
child's voice can reach down to the open portal of No. 12 bis, at which
Jim has now arrived, and it is also certain that neither of the ladies
whom he has come to visit is likely to word her surprise at his having
arrived alone with the frank brutality which is confined to the
utterances of infancy; and yet Jim, as he presents himself, announced by
Annunziata, the hard-featured possessor of a lovely name, is quite as
conscious, as if he had overheard the boy's slighting remark, of being
"only the other one!"

Before he can begin his apologies, the eager little boy has run up to
him.

"Where is Mr. Byng? I want Mr. Byng! Why has not he come? Elizabeth
wants Mr. Byng!"

At this last clause Burgoyne is conscious of a dark, hot flush rising to
his face, and, partly to hide it, partly to avoid seeing what the effect
of his communication may be upon her for whom it is meant, he stoops
over the child, addressing his answer to him:

"Mr. Byng is very sorry, very sorry indeed, but he cannot come."

"Cannot come! Why cannot he come?"

"Because he has gone to meet his mammy," replies Jim, trying to speak in
a light and playful voice; "she is to arrive unexpectedly in Florence
to-day; no good boy would leave his mammy when she had come all the way
from England to see him, would he?"

But to this fustian and copy-book generality the young gentleman
addressed is too angry to reply.

"It is a great disappointment to Byng; he bid me tell you what a great
disappointment it is to him!" says Jim, turning to the two ladies, and
looking apologetically from one to the other.

Elizabeth's head is averted; but on her mother's features he sees, or
fancies he sees, slight evidences of a feeling not unlike relief.

"It is not of the least consequence," she says cheerfully; "we can go
any other day just as well."

Burgoyne's heart sinks. In these last sentences he too surely traces
signs of the evasive and would-be-retrograde nature which has all along
characterized Mrs. Le Marchant's relations with him. It has seemed to
him that he has been looking forward to the expedition with sensations
of almost unmixed dread, and yet, now that he seems to be going to be
delivered from it, what he experiences certainly does not come under the
head of elation.

"You wish to give up the excursion?" he asks, in a tone which he
honestly tries to make as neutral and colourless as he can.

"Well, I thought so--we thought so, did not we, Elizabeth?"

The person thus addressed lifts her head, and all over her features he,
eagerly scanning them, sees written a warm acquiescence in her motherly
decision, an acquiescence which, as her eyes meet his--his, in which his
disappointment is written a good deal more plainly than he is
aware--changes slowly and sweetly into indecision.

"I do not know," she answers, her gentle look clouded a little, and yet
kindly interrogating his; "if Mr. Burgoyne is willing to burden himself
with us; and Bertie must play at being a grown-up gentleman, and help to
take care of us! Bertie, will you play at being a grown-up gentleman?"

To this proposition Bertie assents warmly, and begins thrasonically to
recount to inattentive ears the high and singular deeds with which he
will celebrate his arrival at maturity. But, as Mrs. Le Marchant puts a
strenuous veto upon his adoption as escort, and as his nurse appears at
the same juncture to fetch him, he and his dog are presently removed;
and the other three set off without him.

Burgoyne has chartered a fiacre, with a horse as little lame as is ever
to be found in Florence, and in this vehicle they are presently rolling
along. None of them are in very exuberant spirits. Burgoyne is as well
aware as if her sensitive lips had put the fact into words, that for
Elizabeth the pleasure of the outing has evaporated with the absence of
Byng, and that it is only the soft-hearted shrinking of a sweet nature
from inflicting mortification on a fellow-creature that has set her
opposite to him in her white gown. He has never seen her dressed in
white before, and says to himself that it was for Byng's sake that she
has made herself so summer-fine. But even if it be so, it is not Byng
who is profiting by it. It is for him, not Byng, that the large Italian
light is glorifying its thin fabric. Lily-pure, snow-clean she looks,
sitting under her sunshade; and he sits over against her in a stupid
silence. It seems to him as if his only safety were in silence, as if,
did he speak at all, he must put into brutal words the brutal questions
that are dinging in his head, that seem knocking for utterance against
the gate of his set teeth.

"What is the 'screw loose'? How is she an 'unfortunate girl'? Why have
they 'never held up their heads since'? Since what?" He looks, in a
fierce perplexity, from one to the other of those delicately poised
heads, held aloft with such modest dignity. Surely it is beyond the
bounds of possibility that any heavily hideous shame or leaden disgrace
can ever have weighed upon them! Probably the intensity of his thought
has given an intensity to his look, of which he is unaware; for he
presently finds the soft veiled voice of Elizabeth--Elizabeth who has
hitherto been as mute as himself--addressing him:

"How very grave you look! I wonder what you are thinking of?"

The question, striking in so strangely pat, brings him back with a
start. For a second an almost overpowering temptation assails him to
tell her what is the object of his thought, to answer her with that
whole and naked truth which we can so seldom employ in our intercourse
with our fellow-men. But one glance at her innocent face, which has a
vague trouble in it, chases the lunatic impulse, though he dallies with
the temptation to the extent of saying:

"Would you really like to know? Do you really wish me to tell you?"

He looks at her penetratingly as he puts the question. Before either his
eyes or his manner she shrinks.

"Oh, no--no!" she cries with tremulous haste, "of course not! I was only
joking. What business have I with your thoughts? I never wish to know
people's thoughts; if their looks and words are kind, that is all that
concerns me!"

He relapses into silence; but her words, and still more the agitated
manner in which they are pronounced, make a vague yet definite addition
to the disquiet of his soul.

By setting off at so judiciously late an hour as five o'clock, they have
avoided the greater part of the flood of tourists which daily sets
towards Certosa, and which they meet, tightly packed in crowded
vehicles, sweeping Florence-wards in a choking cloud of white dust; so
that on reaching the Certosa Monastery, sitting so grandly on its
hilltop, they have the satisfaction of finding that it is temporarily
all their own--all their own but for the few white-frocked figures and
tonsured heads which an economico-democratic Government has left to hint
what in its palmy days was the state of that which is now only a
Government museum.

A burly monk receives them. He does not look at all a prey to the
pensive sorrow one would expect at the desecration of his holy things
and the dispersion of his fraternity. Probably, in his slow peasant mind
there is room for nothing but self-congratulation at his being one of
the few--only fifteen in all--left to end their days in the old home. He
leads them stolidly through chapels and refectory--the now too roomy
refectory, where the poor remnant of Carthusians dine together only on
Sundays--through meagrely furnished cells, in one of which he
matter-of-factly lets down the front flap of a cupboard to show what
forms his daily dining-table except on the happy Sunday, to which he
must look forward so warmly.

"Must not he love Sunday!" cries Elizabeth, with sparkling eyes. "Do not
you long to know what they have for dinner on Sundays? Do you think he
would mind telling us?"

Elizabeth's spirits are going up like quicksilver. It is evident,
despite the delicate melancholy of her face, that she is naturally of an
extremely joyous and enjoying nature, and gifted with a freshness of
sensation which belongs ordinarily rather to the green age at which Jim
first remembers her, than to the mature one which he knows for a
certainty that she has now reached. She is filled with such a lively and
surprised delight at all the little details of arrangement of the
monastic life that he is at last impelled to say to her, something
wonderingly:

"But you must have seen hundreds of monasteries before?"

"Not one."

"But there are, or were, such swarms of them all over Italy."

"I dare say. I was never in Italy before."

"Not really?"

She lifts up her hand, and waves it at him with an air of hasty
deprecation of further question, growing suddenly grave.

"Don't ask me whether I have been here or there, or whether I have done
this or that. I have never been anywhere or done anything."

Her desire for a cessation of all inquiries as to her doings is
obviously so earnest that Jim of course complies with it. Once or twice
before he has been struck by her strange want of acquaintance with facts
and phenomena, which would have come as a matter of course within the
range of observation of every woman of her age and station. Against his
will, a horrid recollection flashes upon him of a novel he had once
read, in which the hero exhibits a singular ignorance of any events or
incidents that had occurred within the ten years preceding the opening
of the story--an ignorance which towards the end of the third volume was
accounted for by its transpiring that he has spent the intervening
period in a convict prison! He drives the grotesque and monstrous idea
with scourges out of his mind; but it recurs, and recurs to be displaced
by another hardly less painful, if in some degree more probable. Can it
be possible that the crushing blow which has fallen upon the Le Marchant
family, and upon Elizabeth in particular, whitening the mother's hair,
and giving that tear-washed look to the daughter's sweet eyes--can it be
possible that that heavy stroke was insanity? Can Elizabeth have been
out of her mind? Can she have spent in confinement any of that past,
from all allusion to which she shies away with a sensitiveness more
shrinking than that of

    "The tender horns of cockled snails"?

He is so much absorbed in his tormenting speculations about her that for
the moment he forgets her bodily presence; and it is only her voice, her
soft sane voice, that brings him back to a consciousness of it. They
have been led into a _salon_, in which, as their guide tells them, the
confraternity used to receive any "personage" that came to visit them.
Alas, no personage ever visits the poor frocked remnant now! It is a
charming lightsome room, that gives one no monastic idea, with pretty
airy fancies of flower-wreaths and arabesques, and dainty dancing
figures painted on wall and ceiling and doors. One of these latter is
half open, and through it comes an exquisite sudden view of the hills,
with their sharp-cut shadows and their sunlit slopes; of shining
Florence at their feet, of the laugh of young verdure, and the wedded
gloom and glory of cypress and poplar filling the foreground. Upon
Elizabeth's small face, turned suddenly towards him, seems reflected
some of the ineffable radiance of the Tuscan light.

"When next I dream of heaven," she says, in her tender, vibrating voice,
"it will be like this. Do you ever dream of heaven? I often do, and I
always wake crying because it is not true; but"--with a joyful change of
key--"I will not cry any more without better cause. Since I came here I
have found earth beautiful and delightful enough for me!"

He looks back at her, hardly hearing her words, but chiding himself
fiercely for the disloyal thought which he has entertained, however
unwillingly; the thought that the foul fiend of madness could ever, even
temporarily, have defiled the temple of those eyes whence reason and
feeling, so sweetly wedded, are shining out upon him, unworthy as he is
of their rays.

"Since you came here?" he repeats in a sort of dreamy interrogation;
"only since you came here?"

"You must not take me up so sharply!" she cries in a voice of playful
remonstrance, in which there is a lilt of young gaiety. "I warn you that
I will not be taken up so sharply! I did not say, '_only_ since I came
here!' I said, 'Since I came here!'"



CHAPTER XIV.


Presently they pass into the still, cloistered garden, in whose unmown
grass-squares gray-blue flowers are blowing, beside whose walks pale
pink peonies are flushing, and round whose well the grave rosemary
bushes are set. Through the whole place is an atmosphere of deep peace,
of silence, leisure, dignity. It is virtually a _tête-à-tête_, as their
tonsured guide, seeing their evident harmlessness, has left them to
their own devices; and Mrs. Le Marchant has sat down to rest upon a
camp-stool which Elizabeth has been carrying ever since they left the
carriage. It has fidgeted Jim to see her burdened with it; for let a man
be ever so little in love with a woman, his tendency always is to think
her as brittle as spun glass, to believe that any weight, however light,
will bruise her arm--any pebble, however tiny, wound her tender foot. He
has offered to relieve her of it, but she has refused--playfully at
first--telling him she is sure that he will lose it; and afterwards,
when he insists, more gravely, though with gentle gratitude, saying that
it would never do for her to get into the habit of being waited upon,
and that she always carries mammy's things. It is perhaps absurd that a
woman of six-and-twenty should speak of her mother as "mammy," yet the
homely and childish abbreviation seems to him to come "most fair and
featously" from her lips.

They stay a long time in the sun-kissed garden, considering that there
is after all not very much to see there. But Elizabeth's light steps,
that to-day seem set to some innocent dancing-tune, are loath to leave
it; she must smell the great new peonies, monthly-rose-coloured, faintly
perfumed; she must steal a sprig of rosemary "to put into her coffin
when she dies," at which he catches his breath, shuddering; she must
peep into the well. He insists on her holding his hand for safety as she
leans over to do so; her little fingers grip his tight as she cranes her
neck and bends her lissom body. But what a small handful they are,
compared to those other fingers--those kind, useful, but undoubtedly
solid fingers--which he has held perfunctorily through many a
matter-of-fact hour. By-and-by they stray away together out of the
bounteous air of the hilltop into a semi-underground church, to see the
fifteenth and sixteenth century monuments, which look as fresh as if
their marble had left its home in Carrara but yesterday. They stand
looking down at those three kin who lie side by side before the high
altar, each with head dropped a little sideways on the shoulder, as if
overcome by sudden sleep. They step on into the side chapel, where that
yet nobler mitred figure, fashioned by Donatello's hand, stretches his
prone length above his border of fruit and flowers, among which lies a
carved skull, through whose empty eye-holes--strange and grisly fancy
contrasting with so much beauty--a mocking ribbon runs. Elizabeth is
perfectly silent the whole time, but no flood of talk could make Jim
half so conscious of her presence, palpitating with sympathy and
feeling, could give half the confidence he enjoys that she will
introduce no allusion to either Kensal Green or Woking, as it is but too
probable that the excellent companion of most of his Florentine rambles
would have done.

Elizabeth has been perfectly silent, yet at last she speaks. It is in
the Chapter House, where, as most of us have done, they have suddenly
come upon another tomb, the tomb of one lying full-length on the
pavement before the altar, with no separating edge of marble or
wrought-iron railing to keep him from the foot of the passer-by. He lies
there, portrayed with such an extraordinary vividness of life about his
prostrate figure and his severe, powerful face, that one feels inclined
to speak low, lest he should lift his white lids and look rebuke at us.
In the lines about his mouth there is a hint of sardonic mirth. Is
he--hearing our foolish chatter--touched with a grave contemptuous
amusement at it? Or is he keeping in his sleep the memory of some four
hundred years old jest? Elizabeth has involuntarily crept close to
Burgoyne's side, with the gesture of a frightened child.

"Are you sure that he did not stir?" she asks tremulously under her
breath. Her next thought is that her mother must see him too, this
wonderful living dead man, and they presently set forth to return to the
garden to fetch her. But apparently she has grown tired of waiting for
them, for, as they enter the cloistered _enceinte_, they see her
advancing to meet them.

"I would not be left alone with him at night for the wealth of the
Indies," Elizabeth is saying, with a half-nervous laugh. "Oh, mammy, you
would never have forgiven me if I had let you go without seeing him!
Why, what is this?"--with a sudden change of key--"what has happened?"
For as they draw near to Mrs. Le Marchant they see that her walk is a
staggering one, and that the usually healthy, clear pallor of her face
is exchanged for a livid whiteness. "What is it, darling?" cries
Elizabeth in an accent of terror. "Oh, Jim, she is going to faint!" In
the agitation of the moment she has unconsciously returned to the
familiar address which she used always to employ towards him in their
boy-and-girl days. "Put your arm round her on that side, I can hold her
up on this. Let us get her back to the camp-stool."

A camp-stool is neither an easy nor a luxurious seat upon which to
deposit a half-swooning woman, but the joint exertions of her daughter
and of Burgoyne presently succeed in replacing her on her rickety
resting-place; their arms interlace each other behind her back, and
their anxious eyes look interrogation at one another above her head,
half dropped on Elizabeth's slight shoulder.

"Does she often faint? Is she apt to do it?" asks Jim, in a whisper.

"Never--never!" replies the girl in a heart-rent voice, raining kisses
on her mother's white face. "Oh, darling, darling, what has happened to
you?"

Perhaps it is through the vivifying rain of those warm kisses, but a
little colour is certainly beginning to steal back into the elder
woman's cheek, and she draws a long breath.

"Oh, if she could have a glass of water!" cries Elizabeth, greedily
verifying these slight signs of returning consciousness. "Get her a
glass of water! Oh, please get her a glass of water--quick! quick!"

Burgoyne complies, though it is not without reluctant misgivings that he
withdraws the efficacious support of his own solid arm, and leaves
Elizabeth's poor little limb to bear the whole weight of her mother's
inert body.

Their guide has, as before mentioned, disappeared; and Jim has not the
slightest idea in which direction to seek him. It is five good minutes
before he discovers him, standing near the door of the monastery, in
conversation with a visitor who is apparently just in the act of
departure. The stranger is in clerical dress; and, as he turns to nod
farewell to the monk, Jim recognises in his features those of the
Devonshire clergyman, whom he had last seen, and so unwillingly heard,
by the well-brim of the Bellosguardo villa. In a second a light has
flashed into his mind. Mrs. Le Marchant, too, has seen that
stranger--has seen him for the first time for ten years, since it is
evident that the recognition of mother and daughter in the Via
Tornabuoni, to which the Moat's late rector had referred, could not have
been reciprocal. It is to the fact of her having been brought suddenly
and unpreparedly face to face with that mysterious past, which seems to
be always blocking his own path to her friendship, that is to be
attributed the poor woman's collapse. A rush of puzzled compassion flows
over him as he realizes the fact, and his one impatient wish is to
return with all the speed he may to the forlorn couple he has left, to
reassure them as to the removal (even though it may only be a temporary
one) out of their path of the object of their unexplained terror. Will
the mother have imparted to her child the cause of her fainting, or will
she have tried to keep it from her?

The first glimpse he gets when, having at length procured the desired
glass of water, he comes into sight of them, answers the question for
him. Mrs. Le Marchant is evidently partially recovered. She is sitting
up, no longer supported by her daughter's arm, and that daughter is
lying on her knees, with her head buried in her mother's lap. As he
nears them, he sees the elder woman hurriedly pressing her daughter's
arm to warn her of his approach, and Elizabeth obediently lifts her
face. But such a face! He can scarcely believe it is the same that laid
itself--hardly less bloomily fair than they--against the faint peony
buds half an hour ago; a face out of which the innocent glad shining has
been blown by some gust of brutal wind--scared, blanched, miserable.

"Oh, yes, I am better, much better--quite well, in fact," says Mrs. Le
Marchant, pushing away the offered glass, and speaking with a ghastly
shadow of her former even cheerfulness. "Give it to Elizabeth, she needs
it more than I do! You see, I gave her a terrible fright!"

He silently holds out the water to Elizabeth, and she, without
attempting to take the tumbler into her own trembling hand, drinks. He
looks with impotent pity from the bent blonde head to the prematurely
snow-white one. How can he word his reassurance to them without
appearing to thrust himself with officious insolence into their
confidence? It seems to himself that he solves the problem very
clumsily.

"I am afraid you must have thought me but slow," he says, feeling that
he is dragging in the piece of information he is anxious to give them
with an awkward head-and-shoulder-ness: "but at first I couldn't find
our monk, and when I did, he was engaged--he was talking to a visitor--a
clergyman."

He pauses, conscious that at the last word a tremulous shiver has passed
over the kneeling figure.

"Yes, a clergyman," he goes on with nervous haste, hurrying to put them
out of their pain; "an elderly, gray-haired, English clergyman, who was
just in the act of going away; indeed, before I left, he had gone. I saw
him drive off!"

Ere he has finished his sentence, he is seized by the apprehension that
there must appear to his listeners something suspicious in the laboured
details into which he is entering; presupposing, as they do, that he is
aware of there being for them an interest attaching to the fact of the
stranger's departure. And indeed, as he speaks, he is conscious that
Mrs. Le Marchant's frightened eyes, which have been taking surreptitious
trips round the peaceful garden, now come home with a no less alarmed
look to his face.

"Was he--was he--an acquaintance of yours?" she asks, with an attempt at
a laugh--"this clergyman, I think you said he was--that you noticed him
so particularly?"

"An acquaintance?" repeats Jim doubtfully; "what is an acquaintance? a
man whom one knew very little, and disliked a good deal, ten years ago;
and who passes one by without a gleam of recognition now--is that an
acquaintance?"

Elizabeth's hat has fallen on the ground, and hitherto she has seemed
unconscious of the evening sunbeams smiting her uncovered head; now she
stoops and picks it up.

"And you did not make yourself known to him then?" continues Mrs. Le
Marchant, still with that painful effort at lightness of tone. "You let
him drive off without telling him who you were? or asking him where he
was staying? or how long his visit to Florence is to last? or--or
anything?"

Jim's eyes are fixed on her as she speaks with a compassionate
steadiness, under which hers quail waveringly. Is it possible that she
can imagine that she is deceiving him by this miserable pretence of
indifference?

"I have no doubt that I shall be able to find out if you wish to know,"
he answers gravely; "for I think he must be as much an acquaintance of
yours as of mine, since it was only at the Moat that I ever met him."

He had thought that Mrs. Le Marchant was already as colourless as a
woman could be; but as he speaks, he sees her face take on a new degree
of pallor. She struggles unsteadily to her feet.

"It is--it is getting late!" she says indistinctly; "we--ought--to
be--going home!"

Even as she speaks she makes an uncertain step forward, but it is so
uncertain that he catches her by the arm.

"You are not fit to move yet," he says with kind imperativeness; "rest
five minutes longer; it is not late, really--the sun is quite high
still."

Convinced, either by the young man's eloquence, or, as is more likely,
by the shaking of her own limbs, Mrs. Le Marchant sits down again.
Elizabeth has risen to her feet, and now stands beside her mother. She
has said nothing, but he can see her trembling from head to heel. He
hears her voice now addressing him, but in so subdued a key that her
words are almost lost in the low blowing of the faint south wind that is
fondling the blades of the unshorn grass.

"Did you say that he was gone? Are you sure of it?"

"Yes, yes, quite sure! I saw him go."

"Did you--did you happen to hear where he was staying?"

"No, but"--with the greatest eagerness--"I can easily find out; nothing
can be simpler."

Elizabeth is standing quite close to him, so close that he can see her
poor little heart leaping under the thin white gown, whose simple finery
had piqued him earlier in the day. She has apparently, in her new
terror, forgotten that there is any cause for concealing from him the
occasion of it. She turns instinctively to him, as a hurt child to the
nearest bystander. It seems to him the most natural thing in the world
that she should. They are both recalled to themselves by her mother's
voice.

"You must think that we have lost our wits," she says with a sickly
smile; "but even if we have, I do not know what right we have to impose
upon a--a comparative stranger like you, the task of helping us to
gratify our--our idle curiosity."

"But I am not a comparative stranger!" cries Jim vehemently; by this
time--he does not know how--he is holding a hand of each of the
trembling women in his. "I am not a stranger at all! I am a friend! Why
will not you treat me as one? Why will not you let me help you?"

He glances with pitying, affectionate eagerness from one to other of the
woebegone faces on either side of him. The tears have come in sudden
flood to the elder woman, and are pouring over her white cheeks,
stopping the passage of her voice; but Elizabeth's fair eyes are
drearily dry, and speech comes clear and hopeless from her.

"You are very good to us!" she says, giving the hand that holds hers a
little pressure, which he feels to be as cold as it is grateful; "at
least, I see that you want to be very good to us if we would let you;
but as to helping us"--with a slight despairing shrug--"no one can do
that; no one but God, and sometimes"--drawing a long, half-sobbing
breath--"I think that it would pass even His power."



CHAPTER XV.


There are few things more difficult than when one's mind is full of the
interests, cares, and sorrows of one set of friends, to have to empty it
suddenly of them, and refill it as suddenly with the entirely different,
and perhaps discrepant interests, cares, and sorrows of an altogether
alien set.

Seldom in the course of their old and tried friendship has Jim Burgoyne
felt less disposed for the company and conversation of his valued ally,
Mrs. Byng, than when he knocks at the door of her sitting-room on the
morning following the excursion to Certosa. He cannot talk to her about
the Le Marchants, seeing that she has never even heard of their
existence; and if out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,
his talk upon any other topic must be scant and jejune indeed. The only
cheerful side which his prospective visit turns to him is, that if he
were not with Mrs. Byng, he would be with Amelia; and that the
friendlily indifferent eyes of the former will, at all events, be less
likely than the hungrily loving ones of the latter to detect that he has
not slept a wink, and that he has not the remotest idea what he is
talking about. If he were to follow his inclination, he would be
bestowing his company this morning upon neither friend nor sweetheart,
but would be ransacking Florence for the piece of information he had
yesterday promised those two woebegone women to procure for them. Even
into the very midst of his heartfelt sore compassion for them, there
pierces a shamed unwilling flash of elation at the thought of what a
stride to intimacy his being entrusted with this commission implies, of
what an opening to indefinitely numerous future visits it affords. His
determination to conduct the search is at present a good deal more
clearly defined than the method in which that search is to be effected.
He can consult _Galignani_ as to the names and whereabouts of new
arrivals; but they could do that much for themselves. He could examine
the visitors' books of the different hotels; but Florence, though a
little city, is rich in hostelries, and this course would take time. He
could consult Mr. Greenock, the head and fount of all Florentine gossip,
and who, since he had seen him in conversation with the object of his
inquiries, would probably be able to satisfy them; but his acquaintance
with the good-natured newsmonger is not sufficiently intimate for him to
be able to pay him a morning visit with any air of probability of having
been impelled thereto by a desire for his company; and, moreover, he
shrinks with a morbid fear from any action which may lead, however
obliquely, to his being himself apprised of the terrible secret
which--it is no longer mere matter of conjecture--lies couched somewhere
in those two poor creatures' past.

And meanwhile he knocks at Mrs. Byng's door, and is quickly bidden enter
by a cheerful English voice, the welcoming alacrity of whose tones
shames his own want of pleasure in the meeting. But he is too
unfortunately honest to express a joy he does not experience, and only
says, with a slight accent of reproach as he takes her ready hand,
heartily held out:

"You should not spring these surprises upon us."

She laughs a little guiltily.

"It--it was a sudden thought; you see I--I had never seen Perugia."

He laughs too. "Poor Perugia! I think it would have blushed unseen for a
good many more years if you had not begun to doubt the efficiency of my
chaperonage. Confess! you have come to look after the precious baby-boy,
have not you?"

His tone is, as he himself feels, not quite a pleasant one; but the
mother is scarcely more prone to take offence than the son; and she
answers with an amiably hasty disclaimer:

"It was not that I felt the least want of confidence in you--you must
not think that; but--but I had one of my presentiments! you know that I
am always a little superstitious; and three nights running an owl came
and hooted quite close under my window!"

"As long as I have known your wood, it has had owls; and as long as I
have known them, they have hooted."

"In the wood, yes, of course, and I like to hear them; but this one was
close under my window."

Jim's only answer is to lift his hands and shoulders in protest against
his friend's weak-mindedness.

"I had quite made up my mind that something had happened," continues
she, not much abashed by his scorn; "and it was the greatest relief when
I first caught sight of him at the station yesterday, looking just as
usual, a little thinner perhaps--does not he strike you as a little
thin? Has he been weighed lately? He gives me the idea of having lost a
pound or two since I last saw him. Is there a weighing-machine in the
hotel?"

"It will be very easy to ascertain."

"And how is Amelia?"--her cheerful eyes resting in friendly and
half-inquisitive interest on his sombre face.

"Amelia is very well, thank you."

"Amelia Wilson still?"

"Yes."

"For how long?"--laughing--"another ten years, I suppose?"

"For three months, I believe; we are to be married as soon as they
return to England."

"You do not say so?"--with an accent of lively and delighted
incredulity--"hurrah! poor Amelia! '_Tout vient à point à qui sait
attendre_;' and she has _su attendre_ with a vengeance, has not she?"

"She is not going to _attendre_ any more," replies Jim dryly.

"Then I shall have to give you a present, I suppose!" cries Mrs. Byng,
still with that delighted accent. "Something useful, I have no doubt. I
feel sure that Amelia would like something useful; why should not we
choose it to-day? Florence is an ideal place for buying presents; do you
think that Amelia would spare you to me for a whole morning?"

Jim hesitates. It is not that he has any doubt as to Amelia's cheerful
renunciation of any portion of his time that he may see fit to abstract
from her; but the occupation suggested--that of squiring Mrs. Byng--is
not that to which he had purposed devoting his forenoon. She sees his
unreadiness to answer, and attributes it to a wrong cause.

"Amelia will not?" cries she in a tone of surprise and disappointment.
"Well, I could not have believed it of her! Not even if you told her
that it is on purpose to buy her a present?"

Jim breaks into an unavoidable smile. "How frightfully quickly your mind
moves! It leaps like a kangaroo! I never said that she would not resign
the precious boon of my society; on the contrary, I am sure that nothing
would give her greater pleasure, but--but--what will Willy say to my
monopolizing you?"

At the excessive disingenuousness of this speech his conscience gives
him a severe prick, recalling to his mind the attitude of prostrate
affliction--stretched face downwards on his bed--in which his young
friend had received the news of his parent's prospective approach. A
light cloud passes over that parent's sunny face.

"Willy has an engagement this morning," she answers more slowly, and
with less radiance than has hitherto marked her utterances; "nothing
could be sweeter and dearer than he was, and he is going to take me
somewhere this afternoon--to Fiesole or Petraia, or somewhere else
delightful; but this morning he has an engagement. He did not tell me
what it was, and I did not like to tease him with questions. You"--with
a rather wistful glance of interrogation at her companion--"do not
happen to know what it is?"

Jim shakes his head, while a rather deeper shade than habitually lies
upon it settles on his careworn forehead. It is perfectly true that he
knows nothing of young Byng's engagement, but yet he has a shrewd
suspicion to what quarter of the town that engagement will lead him.

"So that I rather counted upon you," continues Mrs. Byng, turning with a
somewhat crestfallen air to the window.

"And you did not count in vain," replies Burgoyne, with a sort of forced
gallantry. It has flashed upon him that he will have to consent under
penalty of giving a detailed account of the reasons for his inability,
and that therefore he had better make a virtue of necessity, and do it
with a good grace. After all, the deferring for a couple of hours of his
researches cannot be of any great consequence to the persons in whose
behalf those researches are set on foot. To a suspicious ear there might
be something dubious in the sudden and galvanized alacrity of his
assent; but not a shadow of doubt crosses Mrs. Byng's mind as to her old
and tried ally being as pleased to avail himself of an opportunity for
enjoying her society as he has always showed himself during the twenty
years and more of their acquaintance.

Protected by this happy misconception, she sets off, all smiles, though
at the outset of the expedition she finds that she has to modify her
project; and that Burgoyne shows himself restive as to _bric-à-brac_
shops, and declines peremptorily to be any party to buying himself a
wedding present. He puts his objection upon the semi-jocose ground that
he shall be unable to avoid overhearing the price of her intended gift,
and that his modesty could not stand the strain of helping her to haggle
over it. Perhaps, however, deep in his heart is an unconscious feeling
that to receive nuptial offerings gives an almost greater body and
certainty to his on-striding fate than even the buying of
dinner-services and saucepans. So they go to the Accademia delle Belli
Arti instead, it having occurred to Jim that in a picture-gallery there
will be less opportunity for conversation, less opening for interested
inquiries on his companion's part as to Amelia and the minutiæ of his
future life with her, than there would be in the green walks of the
Cascine, or on the slopes of Fiesole.

To Mrs. Byng, who is of almost as enjoying a nature as her son, and
whose spirits have been raised to a pitch even higher than their usual
one, by the disproof of her presentiments, it is all one where she goes,
so that she is taken somewhere, to see something. They stare up at the
big young David, and stand before Fra Angelico's ineffably happy
Paradiso, which yet brings the tears to the looker's eyes, perhaps out
of sheer envy of the little blissful saints dancing and frolicking so
gaily, or pacing so softly in the assured joy of the heavenly country.
They look at Botticelli's "Spring," fantastic wanton, with her
wildly-flowered gown, and her lapful of roses. The room in which she and
her joyous mates stand, with their odd smiles, is one of the smaller of
the gallery. It is rather a narrow one, and has an open window, giving
upon a little court, where, in a neglected garden-close, wallflowers are
growing, and sending in their familiar perfume. The sweet Francia saints
in the picture hung on the wall directly opposite, and the rapt Madonna,
must surely smell them. If they do not, it must be because a young
couple, he and she, who are leaning out in their eagerness to enjoy it,
have intercepted all the homely fragrance. Jim's eyes are still on the
"Spring," and he is thinking half absently how little kinship she has
with the goitred green women, whom his nineteenth-century disciples
present to the confiding British public as representatives of Sandro
Botticelli's manner, when his attention is diverted by hearing the voice
of Mrs. Byng at his elbow addressing him in an excited tone:

"Why, there's Willy! Do not you see? There! leaning out of that window,
and who--who is the lady whom he has with him?"

Jim looks quickly in the direction indicated, and at once recognises a
slender gray figure which to-day has not assumed its white holiday gown.
Elizabeth, whom he had been pitifully picturing lying heart-struck on a
sofa in the seclusion of her own little _entresol_, probably with
lowered blinds and tear-smarting eyes, is leaning on the window-ledge
with her back to the pictures--she whom he had always credited with so
delicate a sensibility for Art, with her back to the pictures, as if the
live picture which Byng's eager face presents to her pleases her better.
A sense of indignation at having been tricked out of his compassion--who
had ever seemed to need it less than the suave little figure about whose
blonde head a Tuscan sunbeam, stolen through the easement, is amorously
playing?--makes him forget to answer the question addressed to him,
until it is repeated in a still more urgent key.

"Who _is_ she? Who _can_ she be? Have not you an idea? He has not seen
us! Had not we better creep quietly away? Most likely he would rather
not meet me; I could not bear to make him look foolish!"

The suggestion that there can be anything calculated to put Willy to the
blush in being discovered in conversation with Miss Le Marchant has the
effect of giving Burgoyne rapidly back his power of speech.

"What nonsense!" he cries almost rudely; "I wish you would not let your
imagination run away with you so, and of course I know who she is; she
is an--an acquaintance of mine. I--I presented Willy to her; she is Miss
Le Marchant."

"Miss Le Who?" repeats the mother eagerly, catching the name
imperfectly, as we usually do a name that is unfamiliar to us, proving
how much of imagination and memory must go to eke out all our
hearing--"an acquaintance of yours, is she? Oh, then, of course"
(drawing a long breath of relief), "she is all right."

"All right!" echoes Jim, with an unconscious snappishness of tone,
greater than he would have employed in defence of the reputation of any
other lady of his acquaintance, probably because, ever since the day
when he stood an unwilling eaves-dropper by that well on Bellosguardo, a
hideous low voice has been whispering to his own sick heart that perhaps
she is not "all right!" "All right! of course she is all right."

"But she is lovely!" cries Mrs. Byng, not paying much heed to the testy
emphasis of her companion's asseveration, and continuing to stare at the
unwitting girl; "what a dear little face! but," the alarm returning
again into her voice, "is it possible that she is here alone with him?
If so, of course she is American. Oh! do not say that she is American."

"Of course she is not," answers Burgoyne, half laughing at the plaintive
intensity of this last appeal; "of course she is all that there is of
most English, and there is her mother, as large as life, within a yard
and a half of her; there, do not you see? looking at the Ghirlandajo."

Mrs. Byng removes her eyes from the daughter, and fixes them with a
scarcely less degree of interest upon the then indicated parent.

"So that is the mother, is it? a very nice-looking woman, and what
beautiful white hair! Mrs. Le----what did you say their name was? Ah!
Willy has seen us, poor boy!"--laughing--"how guilty he looks! here he
comes!"

And in point of fact the young man, having given a very indubitable
start and said something hurried to his companion, is seen advancing
quasi-carelessly to meet the two persons, the object of whose
observation he has for some minutes so unconsciously been.

"Is not this a coincidence?" cries Mrs. Byng, with a rather
nervously-playful accent; "it _is_ a coincidence, though it may not look
like one! But do not be afraid; we know our places, we are not going to
offer to join you!"

"What should I be afraid of?" replies the young man, the colour--always
as ready as a school miss's to put him to shame--mantling in his
handsome smooth cheeks. "I am like the Spanish hidalgo, who never knew
what fear was till he snuffed a candle with his fingers. So you and Jim
are having a happy day among the pictures. Do not you like 'Spring'? I
love her, though I am sure she was a real baggage!"

But this ingenious attempt to divert the current of his parents' ideas
into another channel is scarcely so successful as it deserves.

"Will not you introduce me to her?" she asks eagerly, and not heeding,
evidently not even hearing, the empty question contained in the last
half of his speech; "does she know that I am your mother? Will not you
introduce me to her?"

It seems a simple and natural request enough, and yet the young man
perceptibly hesitates. He even tries to turn it off by a clumsy and
entirely pointless jest.

"Introduce you to her? to whom? to 'Spring'? I am really afraid that my
acquaintance with her scarcely justifies such a liberty!"

A look of surprise and of natural annoyance clouds the cheerful
eagerness of Mrs. Byng's face.

"Is that a joke, dear?" she asks, with a rather vexed smile; "it is not
a very good one, is it? Well, Jim, I must apply to you then; _you_ can
have no objection to presenting me to your friends?"

"Of course not, of course not," replies he, with a stammering
unreadiness, which contrasts somewhat ludicrously with the acquiescence
conveyed by his words, "I shall be delighted, only----"

"Only what? Ah, here they come! they save us the trouble of going after
them."

As she speaks, indeed, Mrs. Le Marchant and Elizabeth are seen nearing
the little group; but it is soon apparent that this movement on their
part is by no means owing to any wish or even willingness to make Mrs.
Byng's acquaintance. It is indeed solely due to there being no egress
from the room at that end of it where they have been standing, so that,
if they wish to leave it, they must necessarily retrace their steps and
pass the three persons who are so busily discussing them. They do this
so quickly and with so resolute an air of not wishing to be delayed in
their exit, bestowing a couple of such smileless and formal bows upon
the two men, that it would have needed a much more determined
obstruction than either of those gentlemen is prepared to offer to
arrest their progress. In a moment they are through the doorway and out
of sight. Mrs. Byng looks after them, with her mouth open.

"They--they--are obliged to go home, they--they are in a great hurry!"
says the younger man, observing the displeased astonishment expressed by
his mother's countenance, and with a lame effort at explanation.

"So they seemed when first we caught sight of them," retorts she dryly.

"They--they are not going out at all at present, they--they do not wish
to make any fresh acquaintance: oh, by-the-bye, I forgot something I had
to say to--I will be back in a moment!"

So saying, he shoots off in pursuit of the retreated figures, and Mrs.
Byng and her escort are again left _tête-à-tête_.

"Are you quite sure that she is all right?" asks the lady, looking at
Jim with a penetrating glance that he does not enjoy; "because, if so,
why was she so determined not to know me?"

"How can I tell?" answers he testily. "Perhaps--who knows?"--laughing
unmirthfully--"perhaps she was not sure that _you_ were all right!"



CHAPTER XVI.

     "Tous les hommes se haïssent naturellement. Je mets en fait que
     s'ils savaient exactement ce qu'ils disent, les uns des autres,
     il n'y aurait pas quatre amis dans le monde."



Although Mrs. Byng always speaks of Miss Wilson as "Amelia," and is
acquainted with every detail of that young lady's uneventful
history--thanks to a long series of direct and interested questions,
addressed through a considerable number of years, to her friend Jim, as
to his betrothed--she has no personal acquaintance with the latter. She
is so determined, however, to repair this omission, now that so highly
favourable an opportunity is presented as their common stay in the same
small city, that Jim is powerless to hinder her from arranging a joint
expedition of the two parties--herself and her son on the one side, and
Jim with his future wife and sister-in-law on the other, to Careggi, on
the afternoon of the same day as he had witnessed her abortive attempt
to add Elizabeth Le Marchant and her mother to the list of her
acquaintances.

Amelia, is, for a wonder, free from home claims, Sybilla being more than
usually bright, a kind friend having lately provided her with a number
of the _Lancet_, containing a detailed account of an operation, which it
seems not over-sanguine to expect she may herself be able to undergo. We
all have our Blue Roses, and to "undergo operation," as she technically
phrases it, is Sybilla Wilson's Blue Rose. Cecilia is likewise
disengaged. The latter circumstance is matter for not unmixed rejoicing
to Jim, Cecilia's future connection with himself being too close for him
to relish the thought of her somewhat pronounced wooing of Byng being
exposed in all its _naïveté_ to the clear if good-humoured eyes of
Byng's mother. But in this he wrongs Cecilia. The garden-party at the
villa on Bellosguardo had proved to her that the fruit is hung too high
for her fingers to reach, and that philosophy, which had enabled her
genuinely to relish the wedding-cake of the man who had jilted her, now
teaches her to lay to heart the sarcastic advice offered her by Jim, to
look at the young man as poor women look at diamonds. Beyond one or two
trifling gallantries, for which no one can judge her harshly, she leaves
him alone, even though out of good-nature, and from inveterate force of
habit, he gives her several openings to make love to him.

The day is one of even Italy's best, an air as soft as feathers, and
full of April odours--a bright gay sun. The vines are rushing into leaf;
they that ten days ago looked such hopeless sticks; little juicy leaves
uncurling and spreading on each, and the mulberry trees, round which
they twine, are rushing out too, at the triumphant call of the spring.

The party being of the unmanageable number five, has to be divided
between two fiacres, whereof Mrs. Byng, in pursuance of her
determination to know Amelia, insists upon occupying the first in
_tête-à-tête_ with Miss Wilson, while Cecilia and the two men fill the
other. The latter makes but a silent load. Byng is, for him, out of
spirits, and finding that Cecilia has virtually abandoned her suit, is
glad to lapse into his own reflections. His example is followed by Jim,
whose temper is ruffled by being again obliged to defer the quest he is
still feverishly anxious to pursue, despite the shock of the morning's
meeting at the Accademia.

They reach the villa, and leave their vehicles, glad to think that two
of the perennially tired Florentine cab-horses will have a pause of
rest, and, having shaken off a tiresome would-be _laquais de place_,
desirous to embitter for them the sweet day and place, they stray at
will through the garden among the clipped laurels, the cypresses, the
gorgeous red rhododendrons, while beds of mignonette send forth such a
steady wave of poignant sweetness as makes the sense ache with ecstasy
of pleasure; and over the conservatory hangs a wistaria so old, so
magnificent, with such a Niagara of giant flower bunches, as takes an
English breath away. They go over the villa itself, pass through the
room, and by the bed where Lorenzo, with the grotesque grim face,
Lorenzo the Magnificent, gave his last sigh. It would make Death even
more difficult to face than he is already, if one thought one should
have to meet him under such a catafalque.

As they issue out again from the house's shadow into the sun-drenched
garden, Mrs. Byng joins Burgoyne, who is walking a little apart.

"I like Amelia," she says confidentially, "such a nice _pillowy_ sort of
woman; not too clever, and oh, Jim, poor soul, how fond she is of you!"

It must always be pleasant to hear that the one absolutely good thing
which this life has to offer is lavishly heaped upon us by the person
with whom we are to pass that life; and perhaps pleasure is the emotion
evidenced by the silent writhe with which Jim receives this piece of
information.

"Not, of course, that she told me so in so many words," continues his
friend, perceiving that her speech is received in a silence that may
mean disapproval of any intrusion into the sanctuary of his affections;
"but one can see with half an eye: poor Amelia, she beamed all over when
I said one or two little civil things about you! She worships the very
ground you tread on!"

He writhes again. "I hope that that is one of your figures of speech,"
he answers constrainedly.

The not unnatural result of the tone in which he utters this sentence,
no less than the words themselves, is to quench the fire of Mrs. Byng's
benevolent eulogies; and, as she cannot at once hit upon another topic,
and is by no means sure that her countenance does not betray the rather
snubbed dismay produced by the reception of her amenities, she is not
sorry when Jim presently leaves her. Being, however, of a very sanguine
disposition, and seeing him a little later sitting peacefully on a
garden-seat beside his _fiancée_, she hopes that her words, though not
very handsomely received at the time, may bear fruit later for Amelia's
benefit. "And he always was very undemonstrative," she adds to herself
consolatorily. "Nobody would have guessed that he was delighted to see
me this morning; and yet, of course, he was."

The sun is growing visibly lower, and the Ave Maria comes ringing
solemnly from the city. The seat to which Jim has somewhat remorsefully
led his lady-love is a stone bench, shaded by a honeysuckle bower, close
to a fountain. The fountain is not playing now; but round about it first
a marten wheels, dipping in the water the end of her fleet wings; then a
little bat prematurely flits, for it is still broad daylight. Broad
indeed and bounteous is the daylight of Italy. Around them is the lush
unmown grass; full of homely field-flowers, buttercups, catch-flies,
daisies, ragged robins, while from some bush near by a nightingale is
pouring out all the infinite variety of her ravishing song. She says so
many different things that one never can feel sure that one has heard
all that she has to say. Jim leans back listening, with his hands behind
his head, steeped in a half-voluptuous sadness. He is oppressed by the
thought of Amelia's great love. Is the nightingale's splendid eloquence
really the voice of the poor dumb passion beside him, lent to Amelia to
plead her cause? The high-flown poetry of the idea fills his heart with
an imaginative yearning kindness towards her. He is in the act of
turning to face her, with a more lover-like speech on his lips than has
hovered there for years, when Amelia herself anticipates him.

"And to think that it is only April!" she says, with an air of prosaic
astonishment. "Last April we had four inches of snow on the front drive.
It was when Cecilia had the mumps."

"When Cecilia had the mumps?" repeats Burgoyne in a rather dazed voice.
"I did not know that Cecilia had ever had the mumps."

This is the form into which are frozen the love-words that the
nightingale and the perfume of the Tuscan flowers and the Ave Maria had
so nearly brought to his tongue. Had Amelia known what an unwonted burst
of tenderness her unlucky reminiscence had choked, she would have
regretted it probably with a good deal deeper bitterness than would many
a woman with a happier gift of utterance. But she is blessedly ignorant
of what Cecilia's mumps have robbed her, and presently again strikes
athwart the nightingale's song with the placid remark:

"I like your friend very much; I think that she is a very nice woman."

This time Burgoyne has no difficulty in responding immediately. Miss
Wilson's first speech had so effectually chased his dreams that he can
now reply with commonplace kindliness:

"She has just been button-holing me to make the same confidence about
you."

"And she is so fond of you," continues Amelia.

He laughs.

"She has just confided to me that so are you;" then, with a hurried
change of tone, in dread lest the last speech shall call out some
expression of the mute pent passion always lurking in her patient eyes,
he adds lightly, "I seem to be very generally beloved!"

What effect the flat fatuity, as it seems to Jim himself, of this last
observation has upon Amelia, does not appear, since she receives it in
silence; and again the Ave Maria and the bird divide between them the
province of sound.

As the great sun droops, the honeysuckle above their heads seems to give
out more generously its strong clean sweetness. The rest of the party
have drifted away out of sight and hearing; but by-and-by their voices
are again heard and their returning forms seen. As they draw near, it
appears that their original number of three has been augmented by the
addition of two men; and a still nearer approach reveals who the two men
are. Mrs. Byng leads the way, talking animatedly to Mr. Greenock, who is
evidently an old acquaintance. Byng trails after them by himself, and
the rear is brought up by Cecilia and a portly clerically-dressed
figure, whom Jim at once recognises as the Devonshire clergyman, his
failure in obtaining information about whom has embittered and fidgeted
his whole day. Here then is the opportunity he has sought brought to his
very hand. And yet his first feeling, as he sees the complacent priestly
face, and the deliberate black legs pacing beside Cecilia, is one of
dismay. There is nothing unlikely in the supposition that he may have
been presented to her at the garden-party at the Bellosguardo villa; and
yet he now realizes with a shock of surprise that they are acquainted,
and, if acquainted, then at liberty to converse upon whatever subject
may best recommend itself to them. He is absolutely powerless to put any
check upon their talk, and yet at this very moment he may be narrating
to her that story which his own loyalty had forbidden him to overhear.
The first couple has passed, so absorbed in eager question and answer
that they do not even see Burgoyne and his betrothed. Mrs. Byng left
London only three days ago, and Mr. Greenock might return thither at any
moment that he chooses; and yet they are talking of it with a wistful
fondness that might have beseemed Dante questioning some chance wayfarer
to Ravenna as to the prosperity of his Florence. The second pair's
voices are lower pitched, and their topics therefore less easy to
ascertain; yet by Cecilia's gratified and even hopeful air they are
evidently agreeable ones. But though agreeable, there is no evidence of
their being, by their riveting ear and eye, of the nature he dreads.
They also are so absorbed in each other as to have no attention to spare
for the quiet silent persons sitting on the stone bench.

Amelia looks after them with a benevolent smile. Her sense of humour is
neither keen nor quick, but there is a touch of very mild sarcasm in her
voice, as she says, watching her sister's retreating figure:

"Cecilia has found a new friend, a clergyman again; do you know what his
name is?"

"I believe it is Burton or Bruton, or something of the sort," replies
Jim reluctantly, feeling as if even in admitting knowledge of the
stranger's surname he were letting out a dangerous secret. "I should
have thought that she had had enough of the Church," he adds with a very
much more pronounced accent of satire than Miss Wilson's. "She has not
taken my advice of sticking to the laity. Shall we--shall we follow
them?"

This last suggestion is the result of a vague, uneasy feeling that, by
keeping within earshot, he may exercise some check upon their
conversation.

"Why should we?" replies Amelia, for once in her life running counter to
a proposition of her lover's, and turning her meek eyes affectionately
upon him; "we are so well here, are not we? and"--laughing--"we should
spoil sport."

As Jim can allege no adequate reason for pursuing Cecilia and her latest
spoil, he has unwillingly to acquiesce, and to content himself with
following them with his eyes, to gain what reassurance he can from the
expression of their backs. But the peaceful if melancholy restfulness
that had marked the first part of his abode on the stone seat is gone,
past recall. He moves his feet fidgetily on the gravel; he gets up, and
throws pebbles into the fountain; he snubs an officious little Italian
boy who brings Amelia a small handful of flowers plucked out of the
emerald grass.

Amelia does not share her lover's uneasiness, as indeed why should she?
She puts the expected tip into the young Tuscan's dirty brown hand, and
leans her head enjoyingly on the back of the stone seat.

"I think I like to come to these sort of places with you even better
than to picture-galleries," she says with an intonation of extreme
content.

"Do you, dear?" replies he absently, with his uneasy eyes still
searching the spot at which Cecilia and her escort had disappeared. "Of
course you are quite right: 'God made the country, and man made the----'
Ah!"

The substitution of this ejaculation for the noun which usually
concludes the proverb is due to the fact of the couple he is interested
in having come back into sight, retracing their steps, and again
approaching. It is clear as they come near that the desire to explore
the villa grounds has given way, in this case, to the absorption of
conversation. With a pang of dread, Jim's sharpened faculties realize,
before they are within earshot, that they have exchanged the light and
_banal_ civilities which had at first employed them for talk of a much
more intimate and interesting character. Cecilia is generally but an
indifferent listener, greatly preferring to take the lion's share in any
dialogue; but now she is all silent attention, only putting in, now and
again, a short eager question, while her companion is obviously
narrating--narrating gravely, and yet with a marked relish. Narrating
what? Jim tells himself angrily that there are more stories than one in
the world; that there is no reason why, because Cecilia's clerical
friend is relating to her something, it must necessarily be that
particular something which he dreads so inexpressibly; but he strains
his ears as they pass to catch a sentence which may relieve or confirm
his apprehensions. He has not to strain them long. It is Cecilia who is
speaking, and in her eagerness she has raised her voice.

"You may depend upon me; I assure you I am as safe as a church; if I had
chosen I might have made a great deal of mischief in my day, but I never
did. I always said that she had a history. I do not pretend to be a
physiognomist, but I said so the first time I saw her. I knew that they
came from Devonshire. I assure you I am as safe as a church!"

It is clear that the clergyman's hesitation, already perhaps more coy
than real, is unable to withstand the earnestness of Cecilia's
asseverations of her own trustworthiness. He has already opened his
mouth to respond when an unexpected interruption arrests the stream of
his eloquence. Jim has sprung from his bench, and thrust himself
unceremoniously between the two interlocutors.

"Come and see the wistaria," he says, brusquely addressing the girl;
"you were not with us when we were looking at it, were you? You were
maintaining the other day that wistaria has no scent; come and smell
it!"

It is in vain that Cecilia protests that she has already seen quite as
much of the wistaria as she wishes; that she had never denied the
potency of its perfume; that her legs are giving way beneath her from
fatigue. Jim marches her relentlessly away, nor does he again quit her
side until he sees her safely seated in the fiacre which is to carry her
home. It is indeed his portion to have a _tête-à-tête_ drive back to
Florence with her, Byng having absently stepped into the vehicle which
bears the other ladies. He draws a long breath as they jog slowly away
from the villa, leaving the clergyman taking off his tall hat, with a
baffled and offended air of farewell. He is conscious that Cecilia is
swelling beside him with feelings no less wounded, even for some moments
before she speaks.

"You rather cut your own throat," she says, in an affronted voice, "when
you interrupted me and Mr. Burton so rudely; he was on the point of
telling me something very interesting about your dear friends the Le
Marchants; he knows all about them; he has known Elizabeth ever since
she was a child."

Even across Jim's alarm and anxiety there comes a flash of indignation
and distaste at the familiar employment of the name that even to himself
he only pronounces on his heart's knees.

"Who is Elizabeth? Do you mean Miss Le Marchant?"

"Mr. Burton talked of her as 'Elizabeth,'" replies Cecilia, with a still
more offended accent at the rebuke implied in his words; "one naturally
would of a person whom one had known in short frocks."

"And he--he told you something very interesting about her?"

"No, he did not," returns Cecilia snappishly, "he had not the chance; he
was just beginning when you rushed in like a bull in a china shop, and
now"--in a key of excessive vexation--"I shall probably never have
another chance of hearing, as he leaves Florence to-morrow."

Jim's heart gives a bound. "Leaves Florence to-morrow, does he?" he
repeats eagerly.

"I do not know why you should seem so delighted to hear it," rejoins
Cecilia, looking at him from under her smart hat with a mixture of
surprise and resentment. "I do not see anything particularly
exhilarating in losing an agreeable acquaintance almost as soon as one
has made it!"

"Perhaps--perhaps it was a false alarm," says Jim, set, to some extent,
on his guard by her evident astonishment at the keenness of his interest
in the subject; "perhaps"--beginning to laugh--"he only said it to
frighten you; why do you think that he is leaving Florence to-morrow?"

"Because he told me so," answers she impatiently; "he is at the Grande
Bretagne, and he was complaining of not being comfortable there, and I
was advising him to move to another hotel, and he said, 'Oh no, it was
not worth while, as he was leaving Florence to-morrow.'"

Jim draws a long breath, and leans back in his corner of the fiacre. He
has gained the information he sought. It has come to his hand at the
very time he was chafing most at his inability to go in quest of it.

"So your interruption was the more provoking," continues Cecilia, her
indignation puffing out and ruffling its feathers at the recollection of
her wrongs, "as it was our last chance of meeting; however, you cut your
own throat, as he evidently knew something very interesting about your
dear friends; something which he does not generally tell people, and
which he would not have told me only that he saw at once I was no blab."

Jim shivers. He had only just been in time then--only just in time to
stop the mouth of this blatant backbiter in priest's raiment. His
companion looks at him curiously.

"Are you cold," she asks, "or did a goose walk over your grave? Why did
you shiver?"

He pulls himself together. "I was shivering," he says, compelling
himself to assume the rallying tone in which he is apt to address the
girl beside him, "at the thought of the peril I had saved you from. My
poor Cis, have not you and I suffered enough already at the hands of the
Church?"

She reddens. "Though I do not pretend to any great sensitiveness on the
subject, I think you have worn that old joke nearly off its legs."

But during the rest of the drive she utters no further lament over her
lost clergyman.



CHAPTER XVII.


It is past seven o'clock by the time that the party breaks up at the
door of the Anglo-Américain, and the dusk is gaining even upon the red
west that, in the upper sky, is insensibly melted into that strange
faint green that speaks, in so plain a language, of past and future fine
weather.

"Are you coming to look in upon us to-night?" asks Amelia, with a rather
wistful diffidence, as her lover holds out his hand in farewell to her.

He hesitates. In his own mind he had planned another disposition of his
evening hours to that suggested by her.

"What do you advise?" he asks. "Shall you spend the evening in the usual
way?"

"I suppose so," she answers. "I suppose we shall read aloud; you know
father likes to make our evenings as like our home ones as possible, and
Sybilla----"

"Then it is no use my coming," interrupts he hastily. "I should have no
good of you;" then, seeing her face fall at his alacrity in seizing a
pretence for escape, he adds, "but, of course, if you wish it, dear--if
it would give you any satisfaction----"

"But it would not," cries she precipitately, anxious as usual to be, if
possible, beforehand with his lightest wish; "when you are by, I always
lose my place"--laughing tremulously--"and father scolds me! No, you had
far better not come. I must not be greedy"--in a lower key. "I had quite
half an hour, nearly three-quarters, of you this afternoon."

Without trusting herself to any further speech, she disappears, and he,
with a sigh that is only half of relief, turns away from the hotel door,
and, after a moment's hesitation, a moment's glance at the suave
darkening sky, and another at his watch, begins to walk briskly--not in
the direction of the Minerva. It is really not late, not much beyond
canonical calling hours, and he is almost sure that they dine at eight.
His face is set in the direction of the Piazza d'Azeglio, as he
addresses these reassuring remarks to himself. This is no case of
self-indulgence, or even of friendly civility. It is a question of
common humanity. Why should he leave them to endure their suspense for a
whole night longer than they need, merely to save himself the trouble of
a walk beneath the darkly splendid sky-arch, through the cheerful
streets, still full of leisurely foot-passengers, of the sound of
cracking whips and rolling carriages?

He reaches No. 12 bis, and finds the porter's wife sitting at the door
of her _loge_, and smiling at him with all her white teeth, as if she
knew that he had come on some pleasant errand. He climbs the naked stone
stairs, and rings the bell. It is answered by Annunziata, who, smiling
too, as if she were saying something very agreeable, conveys to him that
the signora and the signorina are out.

The intelligence baffles him, as he had not at all expected it. Probably
his disconcertment is written not illegibly on his features, as
Annunziata begins at once to inform him that the signore are gone to
drive in the Cascine, and that she expects them back every moment. It is
a good while before he quite masters her glib explanation, his Italian
being still at that stage when, if the careful phrase-book question does
not receive exactly the phrase-book answer, the questioner is at fault.
But the smiling invitation of the amiable ugly face, and the hospitably
open door--so different a reception from what the old bull-dog of an
English nurse would have accorded him--need no interpreter. After a
moment's hesitation he enters. He will wait for them.

It is not until he has been left alone for a quarter of an hour in the
little _salon_ that he has time to ask himself nervously whether the
amount of his acquaintance with them, or the importance of the tidings
he brings, justifies his thus thrusting himself upon their evening
privacy. The table--since they have obviously but one sitting-room--is
spread for their simple supper--a coarse white cloth, a wicker-covered
bottle of rough Chian wine, and a copper pot full of delicately odorous
Freesias. He wanders restlessly about the room, looking at the
photographs.

Tom--can it be Tom?--with a moustache, Charles with a beard and a
bowie-knife, Rose dandling her baby, Miriam hanging over her new
husband--all his little playfellows! How far the wave of time has rolled
them away from him! He strolls to the window whence, at sunset, the
green shutters have been thrown back, and stares out at the Piazza
garden, where the twilight is taking all the colour out of the Judas
flowers, thence to the piano upon which Schubert's "Trockne Blumen"
stands open. Absently he repeats aloud the song's joyous words:

    "Der Lenz wird kommen, der Winter ist aus!"

Is her "Winter aus"? Judging by the look in her eyes, it has been a long
and cruel one. If he wishes to put the question to her, she comes in
just in time to answer it--enters laggingly, as one tired, blinking a
little from the sudden crude lamplight after the soft feather-handed
dusk. She is evidently unprepared to find anyone in the room, and gives
a frightened jump when she sees a man's figure approaching her. Even
when she recognises him the scared look lingers. It is clear that in her
sad experience surprises have been always synonymous with bad news. The
white apprehension written on her small face makes him so cordially
repent of his intrusion, that his explanation of his presence is at
first perfectly unintelligible.

"I hope you will excuse my taking such a liberty. I know that I had no
business to come in when I was told you were out," he says incoherently,
"but--I thought--I hoped--I had an idea--that you might be glad to
hear----"

He stops, puzzled how to word his piece of intelligence, whether or not
to name the person whose presence, whose very existence had yesterday
seemed to inspire with such terror the woman before him. She has sunk
down upon a chair, holding her hat, which she had taken off on entering
the room, nervously clutched in her hands, the little waves of her hair,
straightened out by the night wind, invading her forehead more than
their wont and giving her an unfamiliar look.

"To hear what?" asks Mrs. Le Marchant, who, following her daughter more
leisurely, has come in just in time to catch the last few words of
Burgoyne's speech dissevered from their context. He begins that speech
again, still more stammeringly than before.

"I thought you might be glad to hear that the--the inquiries you asked
me--I mean that I promised to make--that the person relating to whom
I--I made inquiries, leaves Florence to-morrow."

He hears a long sighing breath that may mean relief that may mean only
distress at the introduction of the subject, from the chair beside him,
while the elder woman says in a low abrupt voice:

"To-morrow? Are you sure? How do you know?"

"He said so himself to-day."

"Have you met him? Have you been talking to him?"

It seems to Jim as if there were a sharp apprehension mixed with the
abruptness of her tone, as she puts the two last questions. He makes a
gesture of eager denial.

"Heaven forbid! I have taken great care to avoid recalling myself to his
memory. I have no desire to renew my acquaintance with him. I--I--hate
the sight of him!"

To an uninterested bystander there would have been something ludicrous
in the boyish virulence of the expression of hatred coming from so
composed and mature a man's mouth as Jim's. But neither of the two
persons who now hear it is in a position of mind to see anything
ridiculous in it.

"Then how do you know that it is true?"

"He told an--an acquaintance of mine; he was complaining of the
discomfort of his hotel, and, on her recommending him to change it, he
answered that it was not worth while, as he was leaving Florence
to-morrow."

Again from the chair beside him comes that long low sigh. This time
there can be no question as to its quality. It is as of a spirit lifting
itself from under a leaden load. For a few moments no other sound breaks
the stillness. Then Mrs. Le Marchant speaks again in a constrained
voice:

"We are extremely obliged to you for having taken so much trouble for
us, and it must seem very strange to you that we should be so anxious to
hear that this--this person has left Florence; but in so small a place
one is sure to be always coming into collision with those whom one would
rather avoid, and there are reasons which--which make it very--painful
to us to meet him."

So saying, she tums away precipitately, and leaves the room hastily, by
another door from that by which they both entered, and which evidently
communicates with an adjoining bedroom. Elizabeth remains lying back in
her chair, looking as white as the tablecloth. She is always white, but
usually it is a creamy white, like meadow-sweet. Out of her eyes,
however, has gone the distressed look of fear, and in them is dawning
instead a little friendly smile.

"You must have thought us rather impostors when you saw us at the
Accademia this morning, after leaving us apparently so shattered
overnight," she says, with a somewhat deprecating air.

"I was very glad to find you so perfectly recovered," he replies, but he
does not say it naturally. When a person, habitually truthful, slides
into a speech not completely true, he does it in a bungling journeyman
fashion; nor is Burgoyne any exception to this rule.

"I think we are a little like india-rubber balls, mammy and I,"
continues Elizabeth; "we have great recovering powers; if we had not"
(stopped for a second by a small patient sigh) "I suppose that we should
not be alive now."

He does not interrupt her. She must be a much less finely-strung
instrument than he takes her for if she does not divine the sympathy of
his silence, and sympathy so much in the dark as to what it sympathizes
with as his, must needs walk gropingly, if it would escape gins and
pitfalls.

"But we should not have gone out sight-seeing this morning--we were not
at all in a junketing mood--if it had not been for Mr. Byng; he came in
and took us both by storm. It is difficult," her face dimpling and
brightening with a much more confirmed smile than the tiny hovering one
which is all that Jim has been able to call forth--"it is difficult to
resist a person who brings so much sunshine with him--do not you find it
so? He is so very sunshiny, your Mr. Byng. We like sunshine; we--we have
not had a great deal of it."

It is on the very edge of his lip to tell her that when he had known her
she had had and been nothing but sunshine. But he recollects in time her
prohibition as to the past, and restrains himself.

"When you look so kind and interested," she cries impulsively, sitting
up in her chair, with a transparent little hand on each arm of it, "I
feel a fraud."

She stops.

"I look interested because I feel interested," returns he doggedly;
"fraud or not--but" (in a distressed voice) "do not, even in joke, call
yourself ugly names--fraud or not, you cannot hinder me."

"Do not be interested in me," says she, in her plaintive cooing voice;
"we are very bad people to get interested in, we are not repaying people
to be interested in. I think--that perhaps" (slowly and dreamily) "under
other circumstances we might have been pleasant enough. Mammy has
naturally excellent spirits, and so have I; it does not take much to
make us happy, and even now I often feel like poor little Prince
Arthur--

                        "'By my Christendom,
    So I were out of prison and kept sheep,
    I should be as merry as the day is long.'

But then," sighing profoundly, "the moment that we begin to feel a
little cheerful, something comes and knocks us down again."

There is such a blank hopelessness in the tone with which she pronounces
the last words, and, in his almost total ignorance of the origin of her
despair, it is so impossible to put his compassion into fit words, that
he can think of nothing better than to pull his chair two inches nearer
her, to assure her by this dumb protest of how little inclined he is to
accept her warning.

"Are you sure that he is really gone--going, I mean," she asks, in an
excited low voice, "going to-morrow morning, as you say? Oh, I wish it
were to-morrow morning! But perhaps when to-morrow morning comes, he
will have changed his mind. Was he quite, quite sure about it?"

"He said he was going to-morrow morning," replies Jim, repeating
Cecilia's quotation from her new friend's conversation with
conscientious exactness; "that it was not worth while to change his
hotel, as he was leaving Florence to-morrow morning."

"He will not go," she says, shaking her head with restless dejection;
"nobody but would be loth to leave this heavenly place"--glancing out
affectionately through the open window, even at the commonplace and now
almost night-shaded Piazza garden--"we shall find that he is not gone
after all."

"Nothing will be easier to ascertain than that fact," says Burgoyne,
eagerly catching at so easy an opportunity for help and service; "now
that I know which is his hotel, I can inquire there to-morrow morning,
and bring you word at once."

"Could you, would you?" cries she, life and light springing back into
her dejected eyes at his proposal; "but no," with an accent of remorse,
"why should you? Why should we keep you running upon our errands? What
right have we to take up your time?"

"_My time_," repeats he ironically. "I am like the German Prince
mentioned by Heine, who spent his leisure hours--hours of which he had
twenty-four every day--in----"

"But if we do not rob you," interrupts Elizabeth, looking at him in some
surprise, "we rob Miss--Miss Wilson. What will she say to us?"

"She will be only too glad," replies he stiffly, a douche of cold water
thrown on his foolish heart by the little hesitation which had preceded
her pronunciation of Amelia's name, showing that her interest in him had
not had keenness enough even to induce her to master his betrothed's
appellation.

"Will she?" rejoins Elizabeth, quite ignorant of having given offence,
and with her eyes fixed rather wistfully upon his. "How good of her! and
how unlike most very happy people! Happy people are generally rather
exacting; but she looks good. She has a dear face!"

He is silent. To hear the one woman's innocent and unconscious encomiums
of the other fills him with an emotion that ties his never ready tongue.
She mistakes the cause of his muteness.

"I am afraid I have vexed you," she says, sweetly and humbly. "I had no
business to praise her to you; it was like praising a person to himself;
but do not be angry with me--I did not mean to be impertinent!"

One small fragile hand is hanging over the arm of her hard lodging-house
arm-chair, and before he has an idea of what his own intentions are, it
is lying, without any asking of its consent, in his.

"I will not--I will not let you say such things," he says, trembling.
"She _is_ good: she _has_ a dear face: and I love to hear you say so!
May I--may I bring her to see you?"

As he makes this request, he feels the little fingers that are lying in
his palm give a nervous start; and at once, quietly but determinedly,
the captive hand is withdrawn. It and its fellow fly up to her face, and
together quite cover it from his view. Though, as I have said, they are
small, yet, it being small too to match them, they conceal it entirely.

"You will not say no?" he cries anxiously. "I am sure you will not say
no. I shall feel very much snubbed if you do."

Still no answer. Still that shielded face, and the ominous silence
behind it. He rises, a dark red spreading over his features.

"I must apologize for having made the suggestion. I can only beg you to
forget that it was ever made. Good-bye!"

He has nearly reached the door, when he hears the _frou-frou_ of her
gown, and turning, sees that her unsteady feet have carried her after
him, and that her face is changing from crimson to white and back again
with startling rapidity.

"I thought you would have understood," she says faintly. "I thought that
you were the one person who would not have misunderstood."

His conscience pricks him, but he is never very quick to be able to own
himself in the wrong, and before he can bring himself to frame any
sentence that smacks of apology and regret, she resumes, with a little
more composure and in a conventional voice:

"You know--we told you--even at Genoa--that--that we are not going out,
that we do not wish to make any new acquaintances!"

"I know," replies he, with some indignation, "that that is the hollow
formal bulletin you issue to the world in general, but I thought--I
hoped----"

"Do not bring her to see me," she interrupts, abandoning her effort for
composure, and speaking in a broken voice, while her eyes swim in tears.
"She--she might be sorry--she--she might not like it--afterwards!"

He looks back at her with an almost terrified air. Is the answer to her
sad riddle coming to him thus? Has he had the brutality to force her
into giving it?

"You have been so kind in not asking me any questions, you have even
given up alluding to old times since you saw that it hurt me; but you
must see--of course you do--that--that there is something--in me--not
like other people; something that--that prevents--my--having any
friends! I have not a friend in the world" (with a low sob) "except my
mother--except mammy! Do you think" (breaking into a watery smile) "that
it is very silly of me, at my age, to call her 'mammy' still?"

"I think," he says, "that I am one of the greatest brutes out, and that
I should be thankful if someone would kick me downstairs."

And with this robust expression of self-depreciation, he takes his hat
and departs.



CHAPTER XVIII.

    "Ihr Blumen alle, Heraus! Heraus!"


It was to German flowers that the above hest was addressed. If they obey
it, with how much more alacrity do the Italian ones comply with its glad
command. It is a week later, and now no one can say that "the spring
comes slowly up this way." Vines, figs, and mulberries, all are
emulously racing out, and the corn has added two emerald inches to its
juicy blades. The young plane-trees in the Piazza d'Azeglio, so skimpily
robed when first Jim had rung the _entresol_ bell of No. 12, are
exchanging their "unhandsome thrift" for an apparel of plenteous green,
and a wonderful Paulownia is beginning to hold up her clusters of
gloccinia bells.

Jim has watched the daily progress of the plane-leaves from the low
window of No. 12's _entresol_. The daily progress? Is it possible that
he has been there every day during the past week? He asks himself this,
with a species of shock; and it is with a sense of relief that he finds
that one whole day has intervened, during which he had not heard the
sound of the electric bell thrilling through the apartment under the
touch of his own fingers. What can have taken him there, every day but
one? He runs over, in his mind, with a misgiving as to their
insufficiency, the reasons of his visit. For the first he had had an
excellent excuse. Surely it would have been barbarous not to have
imparted to the anxiously-watching pair the good news that the object of
their mysterious terror had really and authentically gone! On the second
day it seemed quite worth while to take the walk, in order to tell them
that he had accidentally learned the clergyman's destination to be
Venice, and his intention to return _viâ_ Milan and the St. Gothard. On
the third day, being as near to them as San Annunziata, it had seemed
unfriendly not to inquire after Mrs. Le Marchant's neuralgia. On the
fourth----He is pulled up short in his reminiscences. Why had he gone on
the fourth day? He can give no answer to the question, and slides off
from it to another. Which was the fourth day? Was it--yes, it was the
one on which the wind blew as coldly east as it might have done across
Salisbury Plain's naked expanse, and he had found Elizabeth sitting on a
milking-stool shivering over a poor little fire of green wood, and
blowing it with a pair of bellows. He had helped her to blow, and
between them they had blown the fire entirely away, as often happens in
the case of unskilled handlers of bellows, and Elizabeth had laughed
till she cried.

And meanwhile, how many times has he been within the portals of the
Anglo-Américain? With all his arithmetic he cannot make it more than
twice. This neglect of his betrothed, however, is not of quite so
monstrous a cast as at the first blush it may appear. It is she herself
who, true to her life-long principle of shielding him from all
disagreeable experiences, has forbidden him her door. He can aid her
neither to bandage her father's swollen foot in the severe gout-fit
under which he is groaning, nor to allay Sybilla's mysterious
sufferings, which always display a marked increase in acuteness whenever
any other member of the family shows a disposition to set up claims as
an invalid. Cecilia, indeed, is ready enough to give her help in nursing
her father, but she has on former occasions shown such an unhappy
aptitude for tumbling over his swathed and extended leg, and upsetting
his physic all over him, that she is received with such objurgations as
his cloth will permit, so often as she shows her short nose within his
sick-room. Only twice in a whole week. Can Amelia have wished to be
taken quite so literally when she had bidden him stay away? There is
only one answer possible to this question, and he shows his
consciousness of it by at once raising himself out of the chair in which
he is sunk, and turning his steps hastily towards her.

It is morning. The east wind is clean gone, and the streets are full of
the scent of the innumerable lilies of the valley, of which everybody's
hands are full. He stops a minute and buys a great sheaf for a
miraculously small sum, from one of the unnumbered sellers. It shall
make his peace for him, if indeed it needs making, which it has never
done yet. He almost smiles at the absurdity of the suggestion. He finds
Cecilia alone in the sitting-room, Cecilia sitting by the window reading
the _Queen_. Upon her large pink face there is a puzzled expression,
which is perhaps to be accounted for by the fact that the portion of the
journal which she is perusing is that entitled "Etiquette," and under it
are the answers to last week's questions, upon nice points of social
law, which, if you do not happen to have read the questions, have
undoubtedly an enigmatical air, as in the following instances: "Your
husband takes the Baronet's daughter, and you follow with the
Prince."--"We do not understand your question--babies never dine out,"
etc.

Upon Jim's entrance Cecilia lays down her paper, and at once offers to
go in search of her sister, with whom she shortly returns. He had been
quite right. There is no peace to make. Amelia greets him with her usual
patient and perfectly unrancorous smile, but his second glance at her
tells him that she is looking old and fagged. It is only in very early
youth that vigils and worries and self-denials do not write their names
upon the skin.


"How--how pale you are!" he says. If he had given utterance to the word
that hovered on his lips, he would have cried, "how yellow!"

"It would be very odd if she did not," says Cecilia with a shrug,
looking up from her "Etiquette," to which she has returned; "she has sat
up three nights with father, and last evening Sybilla bid us all
good-bye. You know she never can bear anybody else to be ill, and when
father has the gout she bids us all good-bye--and Amelia is always taken
in and sheds torrents of tears--do not you, Amelia?"

Amelia has subsided rather wearily into a chair. "She really thinks that
she is dying," says she apologetically--"and who knows? some day perhaps
it may come true."

"Not it," rejoins her sister, with an exasperated sniff "she will see us
all out--will not she, Jim?"

"I have not the remotest doubt of it," replies he heartily; and then his
conscience-struck eyes revert to his betrothed's wan face, all the
plainer for its wanness. "No sleep, no fresh air," in an injured tone,
checking off the items on his fingers.

"But I have had fresh air," smiling at him with pale affection; "one day
Mrs. Byng took me out for a drive. Mrs. Byng has been very kind to me."

She does not lay the faintest invidious accent on the name, as if
contrasting it with another whose owner had been so far less kind; it is
his own guilty heart that supplies the emphasis. His only resource is an
anger which--so curiously perverse is human nature--is not even feigned.

"You can go out driving with Mrs. Byng then, though you could not spare
time to come out with me," he says in a surly voice.

She does not defend herself but her lower lip trembles.

"Come out with me now," he cries, remorse giving a harshness even to the
tone of the sincerely-meant invitation. "You look like a geranium in a
cellar; it is a divine day, a day to make the old feel young, and the
young immortal; come out and stay out with me all day. I will take you
wherever you like. I will----"

The genuine eagerness of his proposal has tinged her sickly-coloured
cheek with a healthier hue for the moment, but she shakes her head.

"I could not leave father this morning; he will not take his medicine
from anyone else, and he likes me to sit with him while he eats his
arrowroot."

The only sign of approval of this instance of filial piety given by Jim
is that he rises and begins to stamp irritably about the room.

"He is really not at all exacting," continues Amelia in anxious
deprecation; "he was quite pleased just now when I told him that Mrs.
Byng was going to take me to a party at the Villa Schiavone this
afternoon. He said----"

"Mrs. Byng! Mrs. Byng again!"

This is not what Mr. Wilson said, but is the expression of the unjust
wrath which Burgoyne, feeling it much pleasanter to be angry with
someone else than himself is artificially and not unsuccessfully
fostering. Again Amelia's lip quivers.

"I thought," she says gently, "if--if you have no other engagement this
afternoon; if--if you are free----"

Nothing can be milder than the form which this suggestion takes, and yet
there is something in its shape that provokes him.

"Free!" he interrupts tartly, "of course I am free! Have I a gouty
father and a hysteric sister? Why should not I be free?"

"I am very glad to hear it," rejoins she--the light that his first
proposal to take her out had brought into her face growing brighter and
more established--"because in that case there is nothing to prevent your
meeting us at the villa, and----"

"And seeing you and Mrs. Byng walking about with your arms round each
other's necks, like a couple of schoolgirls," cries he, with a sort of
spurious grumpiness.

"I can't think why you should object to Amelia walking about with her
arm round _Mrs._ Byng's neck," says Cecilia, whose attention to her
"Etiquette" is apparently not so absorbing but that she has some to
spare for the conversation going on in her neighbourhood.

They all laugh a little; and harmony being restored, and Jim graciously
vouchsafing to forgive Amelia for having ignored her for a sennight, she
returns to her patient, and he to his hotel, where he is at once,
contrary to his wish, pounced upon by Byng.

For some reason, which he would be puzzled to explain to himself, he has
for the last week rather avoided his friend's company--a task rendered
easier by the disposition manifested by the young man's mother to
monopolize him, a disposition to which Burgoyne has felt no inclination
to run counter. It is without enthusiasm that he receives Byng's
expressions of pleasure in their accidental meeting.

"I have been searching for you, high and low."

"Have you?"

"Where have you been?"

"I have been to the Anglo-Américain"--with a flash of inward
self-congratulation at this query having been put to-day, instead of
yesterday, or the day before. The other looks disappointed.

"To the Anglo-Américain? I thought--I hoped; have you--seen _them_
lately?"

Burgoyne has ceased to feign lack of understanding to whom the personal
pronoun refers, and he answers with as much carelessness as at a
moment's notice he can put on: "Why, yes, I have, once or twice."

"Do they--do not they think it strange of me not to have been near them
all this time?"

"They may do"--dryly.

"They did not say so?"

"They did not; perhaps"--sarcastically--"the subject was too acutely
painful for them to allude to."

Frequently as he has exposed himself to them, his Mentor's sneers never
fail to send the crimson racing into Byng's face, and it finds its way
there now. It does not, however, prevent his proceeding, after a
confused moment or two, with his anxious catechism.

"She--she has not referred to the subject?"

"What subject?"

"To--to me?"

"She has never mentioned your name. Stay"--his veracity winning a
reluctant victory over his ill-nature--"one day she said that you were
sunshiny, and that she liked sunshine."

As he speaks he looks down at his boots, too unaffectedly annoyed at the
justification of Elizabeth's epithet which its retailing has worked on
Byng's countenance to be able to contemplate him with any decent
patience. But there is enough evidence in the boy's voice of the effect
wrought upon him by Miss Le Marchant's adjective to make his comrade
repent very heartily of having repeated it.

"I should have been over," says Byng in a low eager way, "every day,
every hour, as often as they would have received me, only that I could
not leave my mother; and she--she has taken them _en grippe_!"

"_En grippe?_ Your mother?" repeats Jim, too honestly and disagreeably
startled by this piece of news to be able any longer to maintain his
ironical manner; "why?"

The other shrugs his shoulders dispiritedly.

"I have not an idea; it cannot be because they did not seem to wish to
be introduced to her at the Accademia the other day; she is quite
incapable of such pettiness, and she admired HER so tremendously at
first, did not she? You heard her; but since then she has taken it into
her head that there is something--I cannot bear even to say it"--dashing
his hat and gloves vehemently upon the table--"something _louche_, as
she calls it, about her. Mother thinks that she--she--she"--sinking his
voice to an indistinct half-whisper--"has--has gone off the rails some
time or other. Can you conceive?"--raising his tone again to one of the
acutest pain and indignation--"that anyone--any human being could look
in her face and harbour such a notion for a single instant?"

He stares with eyes ablaze with wrathful pity at his friend's face,
expecting an answering outbreak to his own; but none such comes.
Burgoyne only says, in a not much more assured key than that which the
young man had employed:

"How--how can such an idea have got into your mother's head?"

"I do not know, but it is there; and what I wanted you, what I have been
searching everywhere for you for, is to ask you to--to set her right, at
once, without any delay. It is unbearable that she should go on thinking
such things, and nothing could be easier for you, who know them so well,
who know all about them!"

Burgoyne is at first too much stupefied by this appeal, and by the
impossibility of answering it in a satisfactory manner, to make any
response at all; but at length:

"Know all about them?" he says, in a voice whose surface impatience
hides a much profounder feeling. "Who dares ever say that he knows all
about any other living soul? How many times must I tell you that, until
we met at Genoa, I had not set eyes on Miss Le Marchant for ten good
years?"

At the tone of this speech, so widely different from the eager
acceptance of the suggested task which he had expected, Byng's face
takes on a crestfallen, almost frightened look.

"But when you knew them," he says, "in Devonshire, they--they were all
right then, were not they? they were well thought of?--there was nothing
against them?"

"Good Heavens--no!" replies Jim heartily, thankful that the appeal is
now so worded as to enable him to give a warm testimony in favour of his
poor friends. "There was not a family in all the neighbourhood that
stood so high. Everybody loved them; everybody had a good word for
them."

Byng's countenance clears a little.

"And there is no reason--you have no reason for supposing anything
different now?"

Jim stirs uneasily in his chair. Can he truthfully give the same
convinced affirmative to this question as to the last? It is a second or
two before he answers it at all.

"The facts of life are enough for me; I do not trouble myself with its
suppositions."

He gets up and walks towards the door as he speaks, resolved to bring to
an end this to him intolerable catechism.

"But you must have an opinion--you must think," cries the other's voice,
persistently pursuing him. He turns at bay, with the door-handle in his
hand, his eyes lightening.

"I asked her permission to bring Amelia to see her," he says, in a low
moved voice; "if I had thought as ill of her as your mother does, do you
think I should have done that?"



CHAPTER XIX.

     CAMILLE.--"Que me conseilleriez-vous de faire le jour où je
     verrais que vous ne m'aimez plus?"


There is no greater fiction than that for time to go quickly implies
that it must needs go pleasantly. Jim has seldom spent a more
disagreeable period than the hours which follow his conversation with
Byng, and which he passes in his own bedroom, with his elbows on the
window-ledge, looking blankly out at the Piazza, and at the great
"Bride" of Arnolpho's planning, the church of Santa Maria Novella. And
yet, when the city clocks, which have chimed unnoticed by him several
times, at length convey to his inattentive ear what the hour is, he
starts up, shocked and confused at its lateness. He had meant to have
reached the Villa Schiavone in time to receive Amelia, and now she must
have long preceded him, and be attributing his tardiness to some fresh
neglect and indifference. In five minutes he has rearranged his dress,
and jumped into a fiacre. Through the Porta Romana, and up between the
straight row of still and inky cypresses, up and up to where the villa
door, promising so little and performing so much, opens as so many do,
straight upon the road.

The day has changed its ravishing blue gaiety for a pensive cloudy
gloom, and the guests at the villa are walking about without any
sunshades. They are numerous, though few indeed in comparison of the
Banksia roses on the laden wall, over which, too, a great wistaria--put
in, as the host with a just pride relates, only last year--is hanging
and flinging its lilac abundance. And seen above its clusters, and above
the wall, what a view from this raised terrace! Jim is really in a hurry
to find Amelia, and yet he cannot choose but stop to look at it--from
Galileo's tower on the right, to where, far down the plain of the Arno,
Carrara loses itself in mist. It is all dark at first, sullen,
purple-gray, without variation or stir--city, Duomo, Arno, Fiesole, and
all her chain of sister-hills--one universal frown over every slope and
jag, over street and spire, over Campanile with its marbles, and Santa
Croce with its dead. But now, as it draws on towards sun-setting, in the
western sky there comes a beginning of light, a faint pale tint at
first, but quickly broadening across the firmament, while the whole huge
cloud canopy is drawn aside like a curtain, and, as a great bright eye
from under bent brows, the lowering sun sends arrows of radiance over
plain, and river, and city. All of a sudden there is a vertical rain of
dazzling white rays on the plain, and the olive shadows, merged all the
afternoon in the universal gray, fall long and soft upon the blinding
green of the young corn. He has forgotten Amelia. Oh, that that other,
that creature herself made out of sun-rays and sweet rain-drops, were
beside him, her pulses beating, as they so surely would, to his tune,
her whole tender being quivering with delicate joy at this heavenly
spectacle.

Someone touches him on the shoulder, and he starts violently. Has the
intensity of his invocation called her spirit out of her light body, and
is she indeed beside him?

"What a bad conscience you must have! Did you think that I was a
bailiff?" cries Mrs. Byng, laughing.

"Where is Amelia?" he asks, rather curtly, the memory of Byng's
communication about his mother being too fresh in his mind to make it
possible for him to answer her in her own rallying key. "What have you
done with Amelia?"

"What a 'Stand-and-deliver' tone!" says she, laughing still, but looking
not unnaturally surprised. "Well, where is she?" glancing round. "She
was here five minutes ago with Willy. Poor Amelia!" lowering her voice
to a more confidential key. "I am so glad you have come at last; she is
patience personified. I must congratulate you upon the excellent
training into which you have got her, but I think that she was beginning
to look a little anxious."

"And _I_ think that you have been giving the reins to your imagination,
as usual," replies he, walking off in a huff.

There is another delightful garden at the back of the villa, and there,
having failed to find her in the first, he now with growing irritation
at her for not being more immediately conspicuous, seeks Amelia. It is a
sheltered leisurely paradise, where white rose-trees, with millions of
bursting buds, are careering over the walls in leafy luxuriance, where
double wallflowers--bloody warriors, one should call them, if one could
connect any warlike idea with this Eden of scented peace--stocks in
fragrant row are flowering as we Britons never see them flower in our
chary isle, save in the plates of a Gardeners' Chronicle. But among them
he finds no trace of his homely English blossom. He finds, indeed, him
who had been named as her late companion, Byng; but it is not with
Amelia, but with one of the pretty young daughters of the house that he
is pacing the straight walk in lively dialogue. Jim accosts him
formally:

"I understood that Miss Wilson was with you? Do you happen to know where
she is?"

Byng stops short in his leisurely pacing.

"Why, where is she?" he says, looking round, as his mother had done, but
with a more guilty air. "She was here five minutes ago. Where can she
have disappeared to?"

It is but too obvious that in greeting and being greeted by their
numerous acquaintances, both poor Amelia's chaperon and that chaperon's
son have completely forgotten her existence. Always nervously afraid of
being burdensome, Jim feels convinced from what he knows of her
character that she is going about in unobtrusive forlornness, the
extreme smallness of her Florentine acquaintances making it unlikely
that she has found anyone to supply the place of the friends who have
become so entirely oblivious of her. The conviction, pricking his
conscience as he hastens contritely away from the vainly-repentant Byng,
lends speed and keenness to his search. But thorough and earnest as it
is, it is for some time quite unsuccessful. She makes one of no group,
she loiters under no Banksia rose-bower, she is no gazer from the
terrace at gold-misted valley or aureoled town, she is to be found
neither in hidden nook, nor evident path. She is not beneath the loggia,
she is nowhere out-of-doors. She must then, in her loneliness, have
taken refuge in the house. He finds himself in a long, noble room, with
a frescoed ceiling, a room full of signs of recent habitation and recent
tea, but which has apparently been deserted for the sunset splendours on
the terrace. He can see no single occupant. He walks slowly down it to
assure himself of the fact of its entire emptiness.

By a singular and unaccountable freak of the builders, the windows are
set so high in the wall that each has had to have a little raised daïs
erected before it to enable the inmates to look comfortably out. Upon
each small platform stands a chair or two, and low over them the
curtains sweep. As he passes one recess, he notices that the drapery is
stirring a little, and examining more closely, sees the tail of a
well-known gown--of that gown which has met with his nearest approach to
approval among Amelia's rather scanty stock--peeping from beneath the
stiff rich folds of the old Italian brocade. It is the work of a second
to sweep the latter aside, and discover his poor _fiancée_ all alone,
and crouching desolately in a low arm-chair. There is something so
unlike her in the attitude, something so different from her usual
uncomplaining, unpretending fortitude, something so disproportioned to
the cause--his own careless but not criminal delay, as he supposes--in
the despair evidenced by her whole pose, that he feels at once terrified
and angry. In a second he, too, has stepped up on to the little platform
beside her.

"Amelia!" he cries. "Amelia! What are you doing up here? With whom are
you playing hide-and-seek?"

Her words and her smiles are apt to be prompt enough, Heaven knows, to
spring out, answering his least hint; but now she neither speaks nor
moves a muscle of her face. She scarcely starts at all at his sudden
apparition and address, and no light comes across her features--those
features which, now that he looks at them more closely, he sees to be
set in a much more pinched pallor than even three watching nights and a
week of airless worry can account for.

"Are you ill?"

"No; I am not ill."

The sting of irritation which, mixed with genuine alarm, had besieged
Jim's mind on his first realizing her crouched and unnatural attitude,
now entirely supersedes any other feeling. Is the accidental delay of
half an hour, an hour, say even an hour and a half, enough to justify
such a parade of anguish as this?

"Is it possible," he inquires, in a tone of cold displeasure, "that I am
to attribute this--this state of things--to my being accidentally late?
It was a mere accident: it is not like you to make a scene. I do not
recognise you; I am very sorry that I was late, and that I have made you
angry."

The chill reproach of his words seems to rouse her to a state more akin
to her natural one, to the humble and unexacting one which is habitual
to her.

"Angry!" she repeats: "angry with you for being late? Oh, you are quite
mistaken! In all these years how often have I been angry with you?"

There is such a meek upbraiding in her tone that his ill-humour gives
way to a vague apprehension.

"Then what is it?" he cries brusquely; "what is it all about? I think I
have a right to ask you that; since I saw you last something must have
happened to you to produce this extraordinary change."

She heaves a long dragging sigh.

"Something has happened to me; yes, something has happened!"

"But what--what kind of a something? I have a right to know--I insist
upon knowing; tell me!"

He has grasped both her hands, whose unnatural coldness he feels even
through her rather ill-fitting gloves. So strange and mean a thing is
human nature that even at this moment it flashes across him, with a
sense of annoyance, what bad gloves Amelia always wears. However, he is
not troubled with them long, for she takes them and her cold hands
quietly back.

"I will tell you, there is no question of insisting. I should have told
you anyhow; but not _here_"--glancing nervously round the dropped
curtains--"not now!"

"Why not here? Why not now?"

Her face quivers.

"I could not," she says piteously. "I do not quite know how I shall get
through telling it; it must be somewhere--somewhere where it will not
matter if I do break down!"

He stares at her in an unfeigned bewilderment, again slightly streaked
with wrath.

"Have you gone mad, Amelia? or are you taking a leaf out of Sybilla's
book? If you do not clear up this extraordinary mystification at once, I
shall be compelled to believe either the one or the other."

Again her face contracts with pain.

"Oh, if it were only a mystification!" she says, with a low cry. "I
cannot tell you here; it is physically impossible to me. But do not be
afraid"--with an accent of bitterness, which he is quite at a loss to
account for--"you shall not have long to wait; I will tell you, without
fail, to-morrow; to-morrow morning, if you like. Come as early as you
please, I shall be ready to tell you; and now would you mind leaving me?
I want to have a few moments to myself before I see anybody--before I
see Mrs. Byng; will you please leave me?"

It is so apparent that she is in deadly earnest, and resolute to have
her request complied with, that he can do nothing but step dizzily down
off the little daïs, feeling as if the world were turning round with
him.

A quarter of an hour later he sees her leaving the party with Mrs. Byng,
looking as simple, as collected, and not very perceptibly paler than
usual.



CHAPTER XX.


There is always something in the nature of a mountain in a night that is
interposed between us and either any promised pleasure or any threatened
pain. In the case of pleasure, we are naturally in a hurry to scale it,
in order to see how full of sunshine and flowers is the happy valley on
the other side; and in the case of pain, we are all scarcely less eager
to ascertain how deep is the abyss, how choking the swamp, how angry the
waves that wait us beyond the dusty hill.

Burgoyne has no expectation of finding anything agreeable on the further
slope of his mountain, and yet the time seems long to him, till he has
climbed its crest, and slidden down its other side. Early and splendid
as is the new light that takes possession of him and his shutterless
bedroom, he upbraids it as a laggard; and the hours that pace by till
the one appointed for the explanation of yesterday's mystery seem to him
to hobble on crutches. What can Amelia have to say to him that needs
such a pomp of preparation? What can have turned Amelia into a Tragedy
Queen? What miracle can have made her take the imperative mood? For it
was the imperative mood unquestionably which, contrary to all precedent,
she had made use of when she had commanded him, most gently it is true,
since, being by her nature gentle, she can do nothing ungently, to leave
her. He absolutely laughs at the topsy-turviness of the idea. What can
she have to say that requires so carefully selected a spot to say it
in?--a spot where "it does not matter if she does break down." What, in
Heaven's name, can she be going to say that inspires her with such a
cold-blooded intention beforehand of breaking down?

Jim's state of mind is something that of the Baron's in "On ne badine
pas avec l'amour," on hearing that his daughter's governess had been
turning somersaults in a field of luzerne. "Non, en vérité, non, mon
ami, je n'y comprends absolûment rien. Tout cela me paraît une conduite
désordonnée, il est vrai, mais sans motif comme sans excuse." If she
were any other woman, he should ascribe her behaviour to some tiresome
but passing tantrum, evoked by his delay in appearing? But in the past
eight years how many hundred times has he kept her waiting? and has she
ever failed to meet him with the same meek good-humour that has not had
even a tinge of reproachful forgiveness in it. As she herself had said,
"In all these years how often have I been angry with you?" He has been
angry with her times out of mind, angry with her on a thousand unjust
and unkind counts; angry with her for her slowness, her bad complexion,
her want of a sense of humour; for a hundred things that she cannot
help, that she would have altered--oh, how gladly!--if she could! But
how often has she been angry with him? In vain he searches his memory,
hoping to overtake some instance of ill-humour, or even pettishness,
that may make the balance between them hang a little more equal. But in
vain. She has never been angry with him. And even now neither her face
nor her manner--whatever else of strange and unparalleled they may have
conveyed--have conveyed the idea of anger.

But if not anger, what then can be the cause that has produced a change
so startling in one so little given to impulsive action or
eccentricities of emotion? Can she have heard anything about him?
anything to his discredit? He searches his conscience, but whether it be
that that organ is not a particularly sensitive one, or that it really
has no damaging facts to give up, it is silent, or almost so. He has
perhaps been rather slack in his attendance upon her of late, but at her
own bidding. At his visits to the Le Marchants' no one could take
exception, dictated as they so obviously have been by philanthropy, and
his conversations with Elizabeth--how few and scant! his heart heaves a
rebellious sigh at their paucity--might be proclaimed without excision
at the market cross. Our thoughts are our own, and are, moreover, so
safely padlocked in our minds that he does not think it worth while to
inquire whether, if his future wife could have looked in and seen the
restive fancies capering, saddleless and bridleless, there, she might
have been justified in assuming a crouching attitude and a sorrowfully
commanding manner.

He is as far as ever from solving the problem, when--for once in his
life before his time at the rendezvous--he presents himself at the
familiar door. It is opened to him by Amelia herself. She has often done
it before, seeming to know by instinct his ring from that of any other
person, but to-day the familiar action disconcerts him. He had expected
to be received with a formality and pomp of woe such as yesterday had
seemed to threaten; and here is Amelia looking exactly like her ordinary
self, except that she is perhaps rather more carefully dressed than
usual; but that may be due to the fact of her having, for the first
time, assumed the fresh calico gown, which the high summer of the
Italian April morning seems to justify. Whether it be due to the calico
gown or not, there is an indisputable air of gala about her, and she is
smiling. A revulsion of feeling comes over the man, to whom her tragic
semi-swooning airs had given a wakeful night. It was a tantrum after
all, then; a storm in a teacup. And now her common sense has come to the
rescue, and she has seen the folly of quarrelling with her bread and
butter. These reflections naturally do not translate themselves into
responsive smiles on his face, but she does not seem to notice his dour
looks.

"I have a proposal to make to you," she says, still smiling. "Father is
so well this morning, quite easy, and he has been wheeled into the
sitting-room to see Sybilla. She has been very good about him this time,
and quite believes that he has been really bad."

"How good of her!" comments Jim grimly; "it would be so easy and so
amusing to play at having a swollen toe, would not it?"

"And so," continues Miss Wilson, wisely ignoring his fleer at her
sister, "I am perfectly free, and I want you to take me somewhere, some
little drive or expedition; you see," with a conciliatory glance at her
own modest finery, "I counted upon your saying 'yes'; I dressed so as
not to keep you waiting."

Every word of this sentence confirms Burgoyne in the idea implanted by
her first address. This is her _amende_, and she is quite right to make
it. But she would have been more right still if her conduct had not
rendered it necessary.

Amelia is not the type of woman who through life will gain much by
pouts. Perhaps, by-and-by, very kindly and delicately, he may obliquely
hint this to her. But all that he says aloud is the rather stiff
acquiescence conveyed in the words:

"By all means. I am quite at your service."

"And now where shall we go?" continues Amelia, shutting the door behind
her and beginning to cross the hotel courtyard at his side; "that is the
next thing--not to any gallery or church, I think, if you do not mind; I
say such stupid things about Art, and the more I try, the stupider they
are; let us go somewhere into the country--I can understand the country.
I am not afraid of saying stupid things about it."

Into Burgoyne's mind comes the odious thought that he would not put it
past his betrothed to say stupid things even about the Tuscan landscape,
but he only awaits her decision in a respectful silence while helping
her into a fiacre.

"It would be a sin to be under any roof to-day but this one," she says,
looking up to the immeasurable azure bridge above her head; "would you
mind--could you spare time to go to Fiesole?"

His only answer is to repeat the word Fiesole to the driver, who, with
the inevitable tiny poodle-shaven dog beside him, is awaiting the order
as to his destination. It is but a little way to Fiesole, as we all
know, but yet, as the slow hired vehicle crawls up the steep ascent,
with the driver walking alongside, or even lagging behind, there would
be time and opportunity to say a good deal. But Amelia says next to
nothing. Perhaps the heat makes her sleepy, for it is so hot, so hot
between the garden walls, where the rose hedges are beginning to show a
pale flush of plenteous pink among their multitude of green buds. Young,
indeed, just born as the roses are, the highway dust has already
powdered them with its ash-toned white. He does not know it at the time,
but those dust-filmed rosebuds have found a home in his memory from
which no after-sights, however numerous, will dislodge them. They have
reached the village, and left their carriage, and begun, silently still,
to ascend the steep lane up which the feet of most of Europe and America
have in turn climbed to see the famous view that rewards the little
effort. Past the cottages, whose inmates, tranquilly sitting in their
doorways, or leaning idly against their door-posts, have probably seen
all that is illustrious, notorious, history-making of the day, pass
pantingly. Is there a prime minister, a princess, a poet, a prima donna,
of the time, that has not toiled up the steep path to the welcome rest
of the bench on the high plateau, on the hillside? Jim and Amelia are
certainly not likely to figure in the annals of their time, but the
peasants look at them with as much or as little interest as if they
were. An immortal, unless his immortality is printed on his back in
letters as large as those that announce Colman's mustard to the world,
has, to the vulgar, very much the air of one of themselves.

Our friends have reached the haven of the stone seat, and, thanks to the
earliness of the hour, have it all to themselves, save for a trio of
sunburnt women of the people, with handkerchiefs tied over their tanned
heads, who tease them to buy straw hand-screens. And when they have
bought a couple, and made it kindly but distinctly evident that no
amount of worrying will induce them to buy any more, even these leave
them in peace and descend the hill again, in search of newer victims.
They are alone under the sky's warm azure. Beneath their eyes spreads
one of those nobly lovely spectacles that Italy and spring, hand in
hand, alone can offer. To some, indeed, it may seem that the prospect
from the Bellosguardo side of the valley is even more beautiful, since
Fiesole, sitting so high as she does, dwarfs the opposite hills, and
makes the looker lose their wavy line. They seem flat in comparison, the
plain appears wider, the beloved city more distant, and does not show
the same exquisite distinctness of separate tower and spire and palace.
But yet such comparison is mere carping. Who can wish for a sight more
divinely suave and fair than this from the bench above Fiesole? Not a
breath of smoke dares to hang about the glorious old town, dimming its
lustre, and between them and it what a spread of manifold colour, of
more "mingled hue" than the rainbow's "purfled scarf doth show!" The
moon-tinted olives, twilight and ghostly, even in the dazzling radiance
of this superb morning hour, with the blinding green of the young corn
about their gray feet, the cypress taper-flames, the gay white houses,
terrace gardened, and, above all, the vast smile of the Tuscan heaven.

At first Amelia's muteness seems natural and grateful to Jim, as the
outcome of the awe and hush that exceeding beauty breathes on the human
heart, but by-and-by, as it is prolonged beyond the limits that seem to
him fit or agreeable, it begins to get on his nerves. After having so
genuinely and wantonly alarmed him, has she brought him here, without
any expressions of regret or remorse, simply to steep herself in a
silent luxury of selfish enjoyment? After brooding resentfully on this
idea for a considerable time, he translates it into speech.

"I thought that you had something to say to me?"

It seems as if her soul had gone out into the sun and April-painted
champaign country, and that it is only with an effort and a sigh that
she fetches it home again:

"So I have."

"And how much longer am I to wait for it?"

There is no indication of any capacity for patience in his tone.

She brings her look back from the shining morning city, and fixes it
wistfully upon him.

"Are you in such a hurry to hear?"

The pathetic streak in her voice, instead of conciliating, chafes him.
What is the sense of this paraphernalia of preliminaries? Why not come
to the point at once? if indeed there is a point--a fact of which he
begins to entertain grave doubts.

"I do not know what you call hurry," he replies drily; "I have been
awaiting this mystic utterance for sixteen or seventeen hours."

Her sallow cheek takes on a pinky tinge of mortification at his accent.

"You are quite right," she answers quickly; "I have no business to keep
you waiting. I meant to tell you as soon as we got here; I asked you to
bring me here on purpose, only----"

"You told me that you must make the communication at some place where it
would not matter if you did break down," says he, rather harshly helping
her memory; "you must allow that that was not an encouraging exordium.
Do you look upon this"--glancing ironically round--"as a particularly
suitable place for breaking down?"

Again that pain-evidencing wave of colour flows into her face. There is
such an unloving mockery in his displeased voice.

"I shall not break down," she replies, forcing herself to speak with
quiet composure; "you need not be afraid that I shall. I know that
yesterday I was foolish enough to say the very words you quote, but I
was not quite myself then; I did not quite know what I was saying; I had
only just heard it."

"_It?_ What IT? Is this a new riddle? For Heaven's sake let us hear the
answer to the first before we embark on any fresh one!"

"It is no riddle," replies she, her low patient tones contrasting with
his exasperated ones, "nothing could be plainer; it was only that I
happened to overhear something rather--rather painful--something that
was not intended for me."

His angry cheek blanches as his thought flies arrow-quick to the one
subject of his perennial apprehension. Someone has been poisoning her
ear with cowardly libels, or yet more dreadful truths about Elizabeth Le
Marchant. For a moment or two his tongue cleaves to the roof of his
mouth, then he says in a tone which he uselessly tries to make one of
calm contempt alone:

"If you had lived longer in Florence, you would know how much importance
to attach to its tittle-tattle and _cancans_."

She shakes her head with a sorrowful obstinacy.

"This was no tittle-tattle--no _cancan_."

Her answer seems but to confirm him in this first horrible suspicion.

"It is astonishing," he says, in a strangled voice, "how ready even the
best women are to believe evil; what--what evidence have you of the
truth of--of these precious stories?"

"What evidence?" she repeats, fastening her sad eyes upon him--"the
evidence of my own heart. I realize now that I have known it all along."

Read by the light of his fears, this response is so enigmatic that it
dawns upon him with a flash of inexpressible solace that perhaps he may
be on the wrong track after all. His ideas are precipitated into such a
state of confusion by this blessed possibility that he can only echo in
a stupefied tone:

"Have known what all along?"

She has turned round on the stone bench upon which they have hitherto
been sitting side by side, and, as he in the eagerness of his listening
has done the same thing, they are now opposite to one another, and he
feels as well as sees her hungry eyes devouring his face.

"That you are sick of me," she answers, in a heart-wrung whisper, "sick
to death of me--that was what she said."

It is impossible to deny that Burgoyne's first impulse is one of relief.
He has been mistaken, then. Elizabeth's secret is in the same state of
precarious safety as her enemy's departure from Florence had left it in.
His second impulse--our second impulses are mostly our best ones,
equally free from the headlongness of our first, and the cold worldly
wisdom of our third--is one of genuine indignation, concern, and
amazement.

"What who said?"

"Mrs. Byng."

His stupefaction deepens.

"_Mrs. Byng_--Mrs. Byng told you that I was sick of you? Sick to death
of you?"

"Oh, no," she cries, even her emotion giving way to her eagerness to
correct this misapprehension, "she did not tell _me_ so! How could you
imagine such a thing? She is far, far too kind-hearted; she would not
hurt a fly intentionally, and would be exceedingly pained if she thought
I had overheard her."

He shrugs his shoulders despairingly.

"_Je m'y perds!_ She told you, and she did not tell you; you heard, and
you did not hear."

"I am telling it very stupidly, I know," she says apologetically, "very
confusedly; and of course I can't expect you to understand by instinct
how it was." She sighs profoundly, and then goes on quickly, and no
longer looking at him. "You know she took me to the party, but when we
reached the villa, I found that she knew so many people, and I so few,
that I should only be a burden to her if I kept continually by her side,
and as I was rather tired--you know that I had not been in bed for two
or three nights--I thought I would go into the house and rest, so as to
be quite fresh by the time you came. I fancied it was not unlikely you
might be a little late."

His conscience, at the unintentional reproach of this patient
supposition, reminds him of its existence by a sharp prick. How many
times has her poor vanity suffered the bruise of being long first at the
rendezvous?

"I discovered that chair by the window under the curtain, the one where
you found me."

"Well?"

"It was so quiet there, as everybody was in the garden, that I suppose I
fell asleep; at least I remember nothing more until suddenly I heard
Mrs. Byng's voice saying----"

"Saying what?"

"Her son was with her--he had brought her in to have some tea; it was to
him that she was speaking; she was asking him about me, where I was?
where he had left me? whether he had seen me lately? And then she said,
'Poor Amelia, Jim really does neglect her shamefully; and yet one cannot
help being sorry for him, too; it was such child-stealing in the first
instance, and he is evidently dead-sick of her! It is so astonishing
that she does not see it!'"

There is something almost terrible in the calm distinctness with which
Amelia repeats the sentences that had laid the card-house of her
happiness in the dust. Certainly she keeps her promise to him to the
letter; she gives no lightest sign of breaking down. There is not a tear
in her eye, not a quiver in her voice. After a moment's pause, she
continues:

"And then he, Mr. Byng, answered, 'Poor soul, it--it _is_ odd! She must
have the hide of a hippopotamus.'"

Amelia has finished her narrative, repeating the young man's galling
comment, with the same composure as his mother's humiliatingly
compassionate ones; and for a space her sole auditor is absolutely
incapable of making any criticism upon it. He is forbidden, if he had
wished it, to offer her even the mute amends of a dumb endearment, by
the reappearance on the scene of a couple of the sun-scorched peasant
torments with their straw hand-screens. It is not likely that those so
lately bought should have worn out already; but yet they renew their
importunities with such a determined obstinacy, as if they knew this to
be the case; and it is not until they are lightened of two more, that
they consent once again to retire, leaving the warm bright plateau to
the lovers--if indeed they can be called such.



CHAPTER XXI.

    "True, be it said, whatever man it said,
    That love with gall and honey doth abound;
    But if the one be with the other way'd,
    For every dram of honey therein found
    A pound of gall doth over it redound."


"She was perfectly right," says Amelia, still speaking quite quietly;
"it is astonishing that I should not have seen it; and it _was_
child-stealing; you were barely twenty-one, and I--I was not very young
for a woman even then--I was twenty-three. I ought to have known
better."

For once in his life Burgoyne is absolutely bereft of speech. It is
always a difficult matter to rebut a charge of being dead sick of a
woman without conveying an insult in the very denial; and when there
lies a horrid substratum of truth under the exaggeration of the
accusation, the difficulty becomes an impossibility.

"However, it might have been much worse," continues Miss Wilson; "just
think if I had overheard it only after I had married you, when I knew
that there was nothing but death that could rid you of me. I thank God I
have heard it in time."

His throat is still too dry for him to speak; but he stretches out his
arm to encircle her in a mute protest at that thanksgiving over her own
shipwreck; but, for the first time in her life, she eludes his caress.

"Child-stealing," she repeats, under her breath; "and yet"--with a
touching impulse of apology and deprecation--"you seemed old for your
age; you seemed so much in earnest; I think you really were;"--a wistful
pause--"and afterwards, though of course I could not help seeing that I
was not to you what you were to me, yet I thought--I hoped that if I
waited--if I was patient--if no one else--no one more worthy of you came
between us"--another and still wistfuller delay in her halting
speech--"you might grow a little fond of me, out of long habit; I never
expected you to be more than a little fond of me!"

He has entirely hidden his face in his two hands, so that she is without
that index to guide her as to the effect produced by her words, and he
continues completely silent. Whether, even after her rude awakening, she
still, deep in her heart, cherishes some pale hope of a denial, an
explaining away of the reported utterances, who shall say? It is with a
half-choked sigh that she goes on:

"But you could not; I am not so unjust as not to know that you tried
your best. Poor fellow! it must have been uphill work for you"--with a
first touch of bitterness--"_labouring_ to love me, for eight years; is
it any wonder that you failed? and I was so thick-skinned I did not see
it--the '_hide of a hippopotamus_' indeed! There could not be a juster
comparison; and now all I can do is to beg your pardon for having spoilt
eight of your best years--_your best years_"--with slow iteration; "but
come"--more lightly--"you have some very good ones left too; you are
still quite young; for a man you are quite young; the harm I have done
you is not irreparable; I think"--with an accent of reproach--"you might
ease my mind by telling me that the harm I have done you is not
irreparable!"

Thus appealed to, it is impossible for him any longer to maintain his
attitude of disguise and concealment. His hands must needs be withdrawn
from before his face; and, as he turns that face towards her, she
perceives with astonishment, almost consternation, that there is an
undoubted tear in each of his hard gray eyes.

"And what about the harm I have done to you?" he asks under his breath,
as if having no confidence in his voice; "what about the eight best
years of _your_ life?"

A look of affection, so high and tender and selfless, as to seem to
remove her love out of the category of the mortal and the transitory,
dawns and grows in her wan face.

"Do not fret about them," she answers soothingly, "they were--they
always will have been--the eight best years of my life. They were full
of good and pleasant things. Do not forget--I would not for worlds have
you forget--I shall never forget myself--that they all came to me
through you!"

At her words, most innocent as they are of any intention of producing
such an effect, a hot flush of shame rises to his very forehead, as his
memory presents to him the successive eras into which these eight good
years had divided themselves: six months of headlong boyish passion; six
months of cooling fever; and seven years of careless, intermittent,
matter-of-course, half-tenderness.

"Through _me_?" he repeats, with an accent of the deepest
self-abasement; "you do not mean to be ironical, dear; you were never
such a thing in your life; you could not be if you tried; but if you
knew what a _sweep_ you make me feel when you say the sort of thing you
have just said!--and so it is all to come to an end, is it? Good as
these eight years have been, you have had enough of them? You do not
want any more like them?"

She says neither yes nor no. He remains unanswered, unless the faint
smile in her weary eyes and about her drooped mouth can count for a
reply.

"And all because you have heard some fool say that I was tired of you?"

The tight smile spreads a little wider, and invades her pale cheeks.

"Worse than tired! _sick! sick to death!_"

She is looking straight before her, at the landscape simmering in the
climbing sun, the divine landscape new and young as it was before duomo
and bell-tower sprang and towered heavenwards. Why should her gaze dwell
any more upon him? She has renounced him, her eyes must fain renounce
him too. As he hears her words, as he watches her patient profile, the
sole suffering thing in the universal morning joy, a great revulsion of
feeling, a great compassion mixed with as large a remorse pours in
torrent over his heart. These emotions are so strong that they make him
deceive even himself as to their nature. It seems to him as if scales
had suddenly fallen from his eyes, showing him how profoundly he prizes
the now departing good, telling him that life can neither ask nor give
anything better than the undemanding, selfless, boundless love about to
withdraw its shelter from him. His arm steals round her waist, and not
once does it flash across his mind--as, to his shame be it spoken, it
has often flashed before--what a long way it has to steal!

"Am I sick of you, Amelia?"

She makes no effort to release herself. It does him no harm that she
should once more rest within his clasp. But she still looks straight
before her at lucent Firenze and her olives, and says three times,
accompanying each repetition of the word with a sorrowful little
head-shake:

"Yes! _yes!_ YES!"

He will compel her to look at him, his own Amelia. Have not all her
tender looks been his for eight long years? He puts out his disengaged
hand, and with it determinately turns her poor quivering face round so
as to meet his gaze.

"Am I sick of you, Amelia?"

In the emotion of the moment, it appears to him as if there were
something almost ludicrously improbable and lying about that accusation,
in which, when first brought against him, his guilty soul had admitted
more than a grain of truth. Her faded eyes turn to his, like flowers to
their sun; the veracity of his voice and of his eager gray orbs--still
softened from their habitual severity by the tears that had so lately
wet them--making such a hope, as, five minutes ago, she had thought
never again to cherish, leap into splendid life in her sick heart.

"Is it possible?" she murmurs, almost inaudibly, "do you mean--that you
are _not_?"

       *       *       *       *       *

They go down the hill, past the cottages, and the incurious peasants,
hand in hand, her soul running over with a deep joy; and his occupied by
an unfamiliar calm, that is yet backed by an ache of remorse, and
by--what else? That "else" he himself neither could nor would define. He
spends the whole of that day with Amelia, both lunching and dining with
her and her family; a course which calls forth expressions of unaffected
surprise, not at all tinctured with malice--unless it be in the case of
Sybilla, who has never been partial to him--from each of them.

"We have been thinking that Jim was going to jilt you, Amelia!" Cecilia
has said with graceful badinage; nor, strange to say, has she been at
all offended when Jim has retorted, with equal grace and much superior
ill-nature, that on such a subject no one could speak with more
authority than she.

The large white stars are making the nightly sky almost as gorgeous as
the day's departed majesty had done, ere Jim finds himself back at his
hotel. His intention of quietly retreating to his own room is traversed
by Byng, who, having evidently been on the watch for him, springs up the
stairs, three steps at a time, after him.

"Where have you been all day?" he inquires impatiently.

"At the Anglo-Américain. I wonder you are not tired of always asking the
same question and receiving the same answer to it."

"I am not so sure that I should always receive the same answer," replies
the other, with a forced laugh--"but stop a bit!"--seeing a decided
quickening of speed in his friend's upward movements--"my mother is
asking for you; she has been asking for you all the afternoon; she wants
to speak to you before she goes."

"_Goes?_"

"Yes, she is off at seven o'clock to-morrow morning--back to England:
she had a telegram to-day to say that her old aunt, the one who brought
her up, has had a second stroke. No!"--seeing Jim begin to arrange his
features in that decorous shape of grave sympathy which we naturally
assume on such occasions--"it is no case of great grief; the poor old
woman has been quite silly ever since her last attack; but mother thinks
that she ought to be there, at--at the end; to look after things, and so
forth."

There is an alertness, a something that expresses the reverse of regret
in the tone employed by Mrs. Byng's son in this detailed account of the
causes of her imminent departure, which, even if his thoughts had not
already sprung in that direction, would have set Burgoyne thinking as to
the mode in which the young man before him is likely to employ the
liberty that his parent's absence will restore to him.

"I offered to go with her," says Byng, perhaps discerning a portion at
least of his companion's disapprobation.

"And she refused?"

Byng looks down, and begins to kick the banisters--they are still on the
stairs--idly with one foot.

"Mother is so unselfish that it is always difficult to make out what she
really wishes; but--but I do not quite see of what use I should be to
her if I did go."

There is a moment's pause; then Burgoyne speaks, in a dry, hortatory
elder brother's voice:

"If you take my advice you will go home."

The disinterested counsel of wise elder brothers is not always taken in
the spirit it merits; and there is no trace of docile and unquestioning
acquiescence in Byng's monosyllabic--

"Why?"

"Because, if you stay here, I think you will most likely get into
mischief."

The young man's usually good-humoured eyes give out a blue spark that
looks rather like fight.

"The same kind of mischief that you have been getting into during the
past week?" he inquires slowly.

The acquaintance with his movements evidenced by this last sentence, no
less than the light they throw upon his own motives, stagger Jim, to the
extent of making him accept the sneer in total silence. Is not it a
richly deserved one? But the sweet-natured Byng is already repenting it;
and there is something conciliatory and almost entreating in the spirit
of his last remark:

"I do not know what has happened to my mother," he says, lowering his
voice; "there is no one less of a _mauvaise langue_ than she, as you
know; but in the case of----"--he breaks off and begins his sentence
afresh; "she has been warning me against _them_ again; I can't find that
she has any reason to go upon; but she has taken a violent prejudice
against _her_. She says that it is one of her instincts; and you--you
have done nothing towards setting her right?"

Perhaps it may be that his young friend's reported metaphor of the
"hippopotamus hide" has not served to render him any dearer to Jim; but
there is certainly no great suavity in his reply:

"Why should I?--it is no concern of mine."

"No concern of yours to stand by and see an angel's white robe
besmirched by the foul mire of slander?" cries Byng indignantly, and
lapsing into that high-flown mood which never fails to make his more
work-a-day companion "see blood."

"When I come across such a disagreeable sight it will be time enough to
decide whether I will interfere or not. At present I have not met with
anything of the kind," returns he, resolutely putting an end to the
dialogue by knocking at Mrs. Byng's portal, within which he is at once
admitted.

The door of the bedroom communicating with the _salon_ is open, and
through it he sees the lady he has come to visit standing surrounded by
gaping dress-baskets, strewn raiment, and scattered papers; all the
uncomfortable litter that speaks of an imminent departure. She joins him
at once, and, shutting the door behind her, sits down with a fagged air.

"I hear," he begins--"Willy tells me--I am very sorry to hear----"

"Oh, there is no great cause for sorrow," rejoins she quickly, as if
anxious to disclaim a grief which might be supposed to check or limit
her conversation--"poor dear old auntie!--the people who love her best
could not wish to keep her in the state she has been in for the last
year; oh, dear!"--sighing--"how very dismal the dregs of life are! do
not you hope, Jim, that we shall die before we come to be 'happy
releases'?"

"I do indeed," replies he gravely; "I expect to be sick--dead-sick of
life long before I reach that stage of it."

He looks at her resentfully as she speaks, but she has so entirely
forgotten her own application of the accented adjectives to his feelings
for Amelia, that she replies only by a rather puzzled but perfectly
innocent glance.

"I never was so unwilling to leave any place in my life," she goes on
presently, pursuing her own train of thought; "I do not know how to
describe it--a sort of presentiment."

He smiles.

"And yet I do not think that there are any owls in the Piazza to hoot
under your windows!"

"Perhaps not," rejoins she, with some warmth; "but what is still more
unlucky than that happened to me last night; they passed the wine the
wrong way round the table at the MacIvors. I was on thorns!"

"And you think that the wine going the wrong way round the table gave
your aunt a stroke?" inquires Jim, with an irritating air of asking for
information.

Mrs. Byng reddens slightly.

"I think nothing of the kind; I draw no inference; I only state a fact;
it _is_ a very unlucky thing to send the wine round the wrong way: if
you had not spent your life among grizzly bears and cannibals you would
have known it too!"

"There are no cannibals in the Rocky Mountains," corrects Jim quietly;
and then they both laugh, and recommence their talk on a more friendly
footing.

"I am not at all happy about Willy."

"No?"

"It is not his health so much--his colour is good, and his appetite not
bad."

"Except the Fat Boy in 'Pickwick,' I never heard of anyone who had a
better."

"But he is not himself; there is something odd about him!"

"Indeed!"

"Have not you noticed it yourself?--do not you think that there is
something odd about him? Does not he strike you as odd?"

"_Odd?_" repeats Burgoyne slowly, reflecting in how extremely
commonplace a light both the virtues and vices of his fellow-traveller
have always presented themselves to him; "it would never have occurred
to me that Willy was _odd_; I cannot"--smiling--"encourage you in the
idea that you have added one to the number of the world's eccentrics."

She sighs rather impatiently at his apparently intentional
misunderstanding of her drift.

"'Children are avenues to misfortune,' as somebody said, and I think
that, whoever he was, he was right. 'If Jacob take a wife of the
daughters of Heth, such as are those in the land, what good shall my
life do to me?'"

"Why should you credit Jacob with any such intention?"

"I do not half like leaving him here by himself."

"_By himself?_ You count me as no one then?"

"Oh yes, I do--I count you as a great deal; that is why I was so anxious
to speak to you before I went; of course I do not expect you to take
upon yourself the whole responsibility of him, but you might keep an eye
upon him."

He shrugs his shoulders.

"As I have to keep the other eye upon myself, I am afraid that the
effort would but make me squint."

"It is his own generosity that I am afraid of--his self-sacrificing
impulses; I am always in terror of his marrying someone out of pure
good-nature, just to oblige her, just because she looked as if she
wished it."

"Stevenson thinks that it does not much matter whom we marry, whether
'noisy scullions,' or 'acidulous vestals.'"

"I do not care what Stevenson thinks: ever since Willy was in Eton
jackets, I have had a nightmare of his bringing me home as
daughter-in-law some poor little governess with her nose through her
veil, and her fingers through her gloves!"

Burgoyne smiles involuntarily as a vision of Elizabeth's daintily-clad
hands flashes before his mental eye.

"I think you overrate his magnanimity; I never saw him at all tender to
anyone whose gloves were not beyond suspicion."

Mrs. Byng laughs constrainedly.

"Well, if she has not holes in her gloves, she may have holes in her
reputation, which is worse."

Jim draws in his breath hard. The tug of war is coming, as the preceding
leading remark, lugged in by the head and shoulders, sufficiently
evidences. At all events he will do nothing to make its approach easier
or quicker. He awaits it in silence.

"These Le Marchants--as they are friends of yours--I suppose that I
ought not to say anything against them?"

"I am sure that you are too well-bred to do anything of the kind,"
replies he precipitately, with a determined effort to stop her mouth
with a compliment, which she is equally determined not to deserve.

"I do not think I am; I am only well-bred now and then, when it suits
me; I am not going to be well-bred to-night."

"I am sorry to hear it."

"Whether they are friends of yours or not, I do not like them."

"I do not think that that matters much, either to you or to them."

"I have an instinct that they are adventuresses."

"I know for a certainty "--with growing warmth--"that they are nothing
of the kind."

"Then why do not they go out anywhere?"

"Because they do not choose."

"Because no one asks them, more likely! Why were they so determined not
to be introduced to me?"

"How can I tell? Perhaps"--with a wrathful laugh--"they did not like
your looks!"

She echoes his false mirth with no inferior exasperation.

"Who is ill-bred now?"

Her tone calls him back to a sense of the ungentleman-likeness and
puerility of his conduct.

"I!"--he replies contritely--"undoubtedly I! but----"

"Do not apologize," interrupts she, recovering her equanimity with that
ease which she has transmitted to her son; "I like you for standing up
for them if they _are_ your friends; and I hope that you will do the
same good office for me when someone sticks pins into me behind my back;
but come now, let us be rational; surely we may talk quietly about them
without insulting each other, may not we?"

"I do not know; we can try."

"I suppose"--a little ironically--"that you are not so sensitive about
them but that you can bear me to ask a few perfectly harmless
questions?"

He writhes. "Of course! of course! what are they to me?--they are
nothing to me!"

A look of incredulity, which she perhaps does not take any very great
pains to conceal, spreads over her face.

"Then you really will be doing me a great service if you tell me just
exactly all you know about them, good and bad."

"All I know about them," replies Jim in a rapid parrot-voice, as if he
were rattling over some disagreeable lesson--"is that they were
extremely kind to me ten years ago; that they had a beautiful place in
Devonshire, and were universally loved and respected: I hear that they
have let their place; so no doubt they are not so much loved and
respected as they were; and now you know as much about the matter as I
do!"



CHAPTER XXII.

    "Welcome ever smiles; and Farewell goes out sighing."


This last clause is not always true. For example, there is very little
sighing in the farewells made to Mrs. Byng by the two young men who see
her off at the Florence Railway Station. And Mrs. Byng herself has been
too much occupied in manoeuvring to get a few last private words with
each of her escort to have much time for sighing either.

She would have been wounded if her old friend Jim had not come to see
the last of her, and she would have been broken-hearted if her son had
not paid her this final attention; and yet each necessarily destroys the
_tête-à-tête_ she is burning to have with the other. It is indelicate to
implore your adored child not to go to the devil in the presence of an
intimate friend, and it would give a not unnatural umbrage to that child
if you urged the guardian friend to check his downward tendency while he
himself is standing by. Nor do her two companions at all aid her in her
strategy; rather, they show a tendency to unite in baffling her, hanging
together round her like a bodyguard, and effectually hindering the last
words which she is pining to administer. Only once for a very few
minutes does she succeed in outwitting them, when she despatches Willy
to the bookstall to buy papers for her--an errand from which he returns
with an exasperating celerity. The instant that his back is turned, Mrs.
Byng addresses her companion in an eager voice of hurry and prayer:

"You will keep an eye upon him?"

Silence.

"You will keep an eye upon him--promise?"

"I do not know what 'keeping an eye upon him' means in your vocabulary;
often you and I do not use the same dictionary; until I know, I will not
promise."

"You will look after him; _do_, Jim!"

"My dear madam"--with irritation--"let me go and buy your papers; and
meanwhile urge _him_ to look after _me_; I assure you that it is quite
as necessary."

"Fiddlesticks, with your unimaginative, unemotional nature----"

"H'm!"

"Your head will always take care of your heart."

"Will it?"

"While he--promise me at least that, if you see him rushing to his ruin,
you will telegraph to me?"

"Certainly, if you wish it; I will telegraph, 'Willy rushing Ruin.' At
five-and-twenty centimes a word, it will cost you sevenpence halfpenny;
not dear at the price, is it?"

The mother reddens.

"You have become a very _mauvais plaisant_ of late, Jim; oh dear me!
here he is back again, tiresome boy!"

It is with feelings tied into a knot of complications, which he scarcely
seeks to unravel, that Burgoyne walks away from the station, and from
the good-natured staunch woman, whose last few moments in fair Firenze
he has done his best to embitter. He is glad that she is gone, and he is
sorry that she is gone. He is remorseful at his gladness, and he is
ashamed of his sorrow, knowing and acknowledging that it results from no
regret for her companionship, which he had been wont to prize; but to
the consciousness that she had stood like an angel with a drawn sword
between her son and the Piazza d'Azeglio. Both angel and drawn sword are
steaming away now, covered by a handsome travelling cloak down to the
heels in a _coupé toilette_, and the road to the Piazza lies naked and
undefended, open to the light feet that are so buoyantly treading the
flags beside him.

The step of youth is always light, but there is something aggressively
springy in Byng's this morning; and though he does not _say_ anything
offensively cheerful, there is a ring in his voice that makes his kind
friend long to hit him. He, the kind friend, is thankful when their ways
part, without his having done him any bodily violence.

"You are late to-day," says Cecilia, as he enters the _salon_, giving
him a nod of indifferent friendliness, while Sybilla crossly asks him to
shut the door more quietly, and Amelia lays her hand lingeringly in his,
with a silent smile of rapture; "we began to think you had had a
relapse. I was just telling Amelia that the pace had been too good to
last--ha, ha!"

Burgoyne has always found it difficult to laugh at Cecilia's jokes, and
his now perfect intimacy with her relieves him from the necessity of
even feigning to do so.

"I have been seeing Mrs. Byng off," he replies, with that slight shade
of awkwardness in his tone which has accompanied his every mention of
the mother or son since his explanation with his betrothed.

"You let her go without getting that wedding present out of her, after
all?" cries Cecilia, who is in a rather tryingly playful mood.

"Gone, is she?" says Sybilla, with a somewhat ostentatious sigh of
resentful relief; "well, I, for one, shall not cry. I am afraid that she
was not very _simpatica_ to me; she was so dreadfully robust. Perhaps,
now that she is no longer here to monopolise him, we shall be allowed to
see something more of that nice boy."

No one answers. Not one of her three listeners is at the moment disposed
to chant or even echo praises of the "nice boy." Sybilla perversely
pursues the subject.

"I dare say that he has a delicacy about coming without a special
invitation," she says, "where there is an invalid; but you might tell
him that on my good days no one is more pleased to see their friends
than I; it does not even send my temperature up; you might tell him that
on my good days Dr. Coldstream says it does not even send my temperature
up!"

Again no one answers.

"You do not seem to be listening to what I am saying," cries Sybilla
fractiously; "will you please tell him, Jim?"

Jim lifts his heavy eyes from the ugly carpet on which they have been
resting, and looks distastefully back at her.

"I do not think that I will, Sybilla," he replies slowly; "I do not
think he cares a straw whether your temperature goes up or down. I think
that he does not come here because--because he has found metal more
attractive elsewhere."

He makes this statement for no other reason than because it is so
intensely unpleasant to him, because he realizes that he must have to
face the fact it embodies, and to present it not only to himself, but to
others. And each day that passes proves to him more and more
conclusively that it _is_ a fact. He asks Byng no question as to the
disposition of his day. He sees but little of him, having, indeed,
changed the hours of his own breakfast and dinner in order to avoid
having his appetite spoilt by the sight of so much unnecessary radiance
opposite him; but he knocks up against him, flower-laden, at the Strozzi
steps; he notes the splendour of his ties and waistcoats; he grows to
know the _Elizabeth-look_ on his face, when he comes singing home at
evening, as one knows the look of the western clouds that the sun's red
lips have only just ceased to kiss, though no sun is any longer in
sight; and yet he does not interfere. He has received from the young
man's mother a hasty letter, pencilled in the train, not an hour after
she had quitted him; another more leisurely, yet as anxious, from Turin;
a third from Paris, and lastly a telegram from Charing Cross. All bear
the same purport.

"Write; keep an eye upon him!" "Write; keep an eye upon him! Write!"

And yet, though a full week has passed, though he sees the son of his
old ally drifting, faster than ever autumn leaf drifted on a flush
October river, to the whirlpool she had dreaded for him, yet he sends
her never a word. He writes her long letters, it is true, covers
telegram-forms with pregnant messages, but they all find their ultimate
home in the wood fire. When the moment comes, he finds it impossible to
send them, since, upon searching his heart for the motives that have
dictated them, he finds those motives to be no fidelity to an ancient
friendship, no care for the boy's welfare, but, simply and nakedly, the
satisfaction of his own spite, the easing of his own bitter jealousy.

So the Florentine post goes out daily, bearing no tale of Byng's
backslidings to his native land, and Jim, brushing past him, answering
him curtly, never going nearer to the Piazza d'Azeglio than the
Innocenti--a good long street off--devotes himself to the frantic
prosecution of a suit long since won, to the conquest of a heart for
eight weary years hopelessly, irrecoverably, pitiably his. His presence
at the Anglo-Américain is so incessant, and his monopolizing of Amelia
so unreasonable, that Sybilla--for the first time in her life really a
little neglected--alternately runs up her pulse to 170 and drops it to
40.

"And then you wonder that I am anxious to be married," says Cecilia,
accompanying her future brother-in-law to the door, on the day on which
the latter phenomenon has occurred, and wiping the angry tears from her
plump cheeks. "I make no secret of it, I _am_ madly anxious, I would
marry anyone, I am desperate. Just think what my life will be when
Amelia is gone; and though of course I shall be a great deal with
her--she has promised that I shall be almost always with her" (Jim
winces)--"yet of course it can't be the same thing as having a home of
your own."

"We will do our best for you," replies he, with a rather rueful smile
and a sense of degradation; "but you know, my dear Cis, anybody can lead
a horse to the water, but it is not so easy to make him drink."

"That is quite true," replies Cecilia, one of whose most salient merits
is an extreme unreadiness to be affronted, wiping her eyes as she
speaks, "and I have no luck; such promising things turn up, and then
come to nothing. Now, that clergyman the other day, whom we met at the
Villa Careggi--such a pleasant gentlemanlike man--he was on the look-out
for a wife, he told me so himself, and I know so much about the working
of a parish, and next day he was off, Heaven knows where!"

Jim gives a slight shudder.

"I do not think you had any great loss in him," he says hastily; then,
seeing her surprised air, "I mean, you know, that it is always said that
a man is a better judge of another man than a woman is, and I did not
like his looks; give us time, and we will do better for you than that."

Cecilia can no longer accuse her future relation of any slackness in the
matter of expeditions. There is something of fever in the way in which
he arrives each morning, armed with some new plan for the day, giving no
one any peace until his project is carried out. It seems as if he must
crowd into the last fortnight of Amelia's stay in Florence all the
sight-seeing, all the junkets, all the enjoyment which ought to have
been temperately spread over the eight years of their engagement.

One day--all nearer excursions being exhausted--they drive to Monte
Senario, that sweet and silent spot, happily too far from Florence for
the swarm of tourists to invade, where earth-weary men have set up a
rest scarcely less dumb than the grave in a lonely monastery of the
Order of La Trappe. Through the Porta San Gallo, along the Bologna Road
they go. It is a soft summer morning, with not much sun. Up, past the
villas and gardens, where the Banksia roses and wistarias are rioting
over wall, and berceau and pergola, climbing even the tall trees. Round
the very head of one young poplar two rose-trees--a yellow and a white
one--are flinging their arms; flowered so lavishly that hardly a pin's
point could be put between the blossoms. Up and up, a white wall on
either hand. The dust lies a foot thick on the road; thick too on the
monthly roses, just breaking into full pink flush; thick on themselves
as the endless mulecarts come jingling down the hill with bells and red
tassels, and a general air of what would be jollity were not that
feeling so given the lie to by the poor jaded, suffering beasts. Up and
up, till they leave stone walls and villas and oliveyards behind them,
and are away among the mountains. At a very humble little house that has
no air of an inn they leave the carriage, and climb up a rocky road, and
through a perfumed pine-wood, to where the Trappist Monastery stands, in
its perfect silence and isolation, on its hilltop, looking over its
fir-woods at the ranges of the Apennines, lying one behind the other in
the stillness of the summer-day; looking to distant Florence, misty and
indistinct in her Arno plain; looking to Fiesole, dwarfed to a
molehill's dimensions.

"I am told that one of the brothers is an Englishman; I did not hear his
name, but he is certainly English," says Cecilia, as they mount the
shallow, grass-grown steps to the monastery door. "If I send up word
that I am a fellow-countrywoman, perhaps he will come out and speak to
me; I am sure that it would be a very nice change for him, poor fellow!"

And it is the measure of the amount of Cecilia's acquaintance with the
rules of the Order, that it is only half in jest that she makes the
suggestion. But she does not repeat it to the lay-brother who stands,
civil yet prohibitory, at the top of the flight, and who, in answer to
Burgoyne's halting questions as to where they may go, politely answers
that they may go anywhere--anywhere, _bien entendu_, outside. So they
wander aimlessly away. They push open a rickety gate, and passing an old
dog, barking angry remonstrances at them from the retirement of a
barrel, step along a grassy path that leads they know not whither. Two
more young lay-brothers meet them, with their hands full of
leopard's-bane flowers, which they have been gathering, probably to deck
their altar with.

Amelia has passed her hand through Jim's arm--since his late increased
kindness to her she has been led to many more little freedoms with him
than she had hitherto permitted herself--and though she is very careful
not to lean heavily or troublesomely upon him, yet the slight contact of
her fingers keeps him reminded that she is there. Perhaps it is as well,
since to-day he is conscious of such a strange tendency to forget
everything, past, present, and to come. Has one of the monks' numb hands
been laid upon his heart to lull it into so frozen a quiet? To-day he
feels as if it were absolutely impossible to him to experience either
pleasure or pain; as if to hold Elizabeth in his own arms, or see her in
Byng's, would be to him equally indifferent. His apathy in this latter
respect is to be put to the test sooner than he expects. Not indeed that
Elizabeth is lying in Byng's arms--it would be a gross misrepresentation
to say so, she being, on the contrary, most decorously poised on a
camp-stool--least romantic of human resting places--when they come
suddenly upon her and him in the course of their prowl round the
inhospitable walls. She is sitting on her camp-stool, and he is lying on
his face in the grass, just not touching her slim feet.

The advancing party perceive the couple advanced upon before the latter
are aware of their nearness; long enough for the former to realize how
very much _de trop_ they will be, yet not long enough to enable them to
escape unnoticed. Jim becomes aware of the very second at which Amelia
recognises the unconscious pair, by an involuntary pinch of her fingers
upon his arm, which a moment later she hastily drops. His own first
feeling on catching sight of them--no, not his _very_ first--his very
first is as if someone had run a darning-needle into his heart--but
almost his first is to shout out to them in loud warning:

"Be on your guard! we are close to you!"

He will never forgive either himself or them if they ignorantly indulge
in any endearment under his very eyes. But they do not. There are no
interlacing arms to disentwine, nothing to make them spring apart, when
at length they look up and take in the fact--an unwelcome fact it must
needs be--of their invasion.

On hearing approaching footsteps, Byng rolls over on his back in the
grass; on perceiving that most of the footsteps are those of ladies, he
springs to his feet. Elizabeth remains sitting on her camp-stool.

"What a coincidence!" cries Cecilia, breaking into a laugh.

They are all grateful to her for the remark, though it is rather a silly
one, as there is no particular coincidence in the case. Burgoyne is
irritatedly conscious that Amelia is covertly observing him, and before
he can check himself he has thrown over his shoulder at her one of those
snubbing glances from which, for the last ten days, he has painstakenly
and remorsefully refrained. It is not a happy moment to look at poor
Amelia, as she has not yet cooled down from the heat of her climb
through the fir-wood--a heat that translates itself into patchy flushes
all over her face, not sparing even her forehead. Elizabeth is flushed
too. She has not met Miss Wilson since she had declined Burgoyne's offer
of bringing his betrothed to see her, and in her deprecating eyes there
is a guilty and tremulous recollection of this fact. But below the guilt
and the deprecation and the tremor, what else is there in Elizabeth's
eyes? What of splendid and startling, and that comes but once in a
lifetime? Rather than be obliged to give a name to that vague radiance,
Jim turns his look back upon his own too glowing dear one.

"Did you come here all alone? You two all alone? What fun!" asks
Cecilia, with an air of delighted curiosity.

Again her companions inwardly thank her. It is the question that
both--though with different degrees of eagerness--have been thirsting to
ask.

"Alone?--oh no!" replies Elizabeth, with that uneasy, frightened look
that Burgoyne has always noticed on her face when she has been brought
into unwilling relation with strangers. "My mother is here--she came
with us; why, where is she?"--looking round with a startled air--"she
was here a moment ago."

A grim smile curves Jim's mouth. It is evident that the unhappy Mrs. Le
Marchant, worn out with her _rôle_ of duenna, has slipped away without
being missed by either of her companions. Would they have even
discovered her absence but for Cecilia's query?

"Mrs. Le Marchant was here a moment ago," echoes Byng, addressing the
company generally; "but"--dodging his friend's eyes--"she said she was a
little stiff from sitting so long; she must be quite close by."

"I will go and look for her," says Elizabeth, confused, and rising from
her rickety seat as she speaks; but Amelia, who is nearest to her, puts
out a friendly hand in prohibition.

"Oh, do not stir!" she cries, smiling kindly and admiringly. "You look
so comfortable. Let _me_ go and search for Mrs. Le Marchant;
I--I--should be afraid to sit down, I am so hot. I should like to find
her; Cecilia will help me, and Mr. Byng will show us the way."

It is not always that generous actions meet their meed of gratitude from
those for whose sake they are performed; and, though Burgoyne recognises
the magnanimity of his _fiancée's_ line of conduct, thankfulness to her
for it is not the feeling uppermost in his mind when, a few moments
later, he finds himself standing in uneasy _tête-à-tête_ over the seated
Elizabeth.

"Will not you sit down?" she asks presently, adding, with a low, timid
laugh, "I do not know why I should invite you, as if"--glancing round at
the sun-steeped panorama--"this were my drawing-room."

He complies, taking care to occupy a quite different six feet of herbage
from that which still bears the imprint of Byng's lengthy limbs. The
grass grows cool and fresh, full of buttercups and tall blue bugle; out
of them the gray monastery wall rises, in its utter lifeless silence,
with its small barred windows. Was ever any building, within which is
human life, so unutterably still? As he leans his elbow among the
king-cups, Jim says to himself that the lovers had chosen their place
well and wisely--that the consciousness of the austere, denied lives
going on so close behind them, in their entire joylessness, must have
given an added point, a keener edge to the poignancy of their own
enjoyment of the sweet summer day outside.

"You have not been to see us for a long time," says Elizabeth presently,
in a small and diffident voice, after having waited until the
probability of his speaking first has become a mere possibility, and
even that a faint one.

He replies baldly, "No."

His look is fixed on a knoll, whence the monks must have gathered their
leopard's bane. They cannot have gathered much, so bounteously do the
gay yellow flowers still wave on the hillock. Nearer stands a colony of
purple orchises, and from them the eye travels away to the silent
fir-wood, to the range of misty hills and the distant plain, touched now
and again by a vague hint of sunshine, that makes one for the moment
feel sure that one has detected Duomo or Campanile. How many hill ranges
there are! One can count six or seven, like the ridges in a gigantic
ploughed field, one behind another--all solemnly beautiful on this
windless day of grave and ungaudy sweetness. Has the young man been
reckoning the ranks of the Apennines, that it is so long before he adds
a low-voiced, mocking question to his monosyllable?

"Have you missed me very much?"

The woman addressed seems in no hurry to answer. She has drawn her
narrow brown brows together, as if in the effort to hit truth in her
nicest shade in her answer. Then she speaks with a sort of soft
self-remonstrance:

"Oh, surely! I _must_ have missed you--you were so extraordinarily, so
unaccountably kind to us!"

There is not one of us who would not rather be loved for what we _are_
than for what we _do_; so it is perhaps no wonder if the young woman's
reply strikes with an unreasonable chill upon the asker's heart.

"You must have been very little used to kindness all your life," he
says, with some brusqueness, "to be so disproportionately grateful for
my trumpery civilities."

She hesitates a moment, then:

"You are right," she replies; "I have not received any great kindness in
my life--justice, well, yes, I suppose so--but no, not very much mercy."

Her candid and composed admission of a need for mercy whets yet farther
that pained curiosity which has always been one of the strongest
elements in his uncomfortable interest in her. But the very sharpness of
that interest makes him shy away awkwardly from the subject of her past.

"I always think," he says, "that there is something fatuous in a man's
apologizing to a lady for not having been to see her, as if the loss
were hers, and not his."

"Is there? All the same, I am sorry that you did not come."

This simple and unsophisticated implication of a liking for him would
have warmed again the uneasy heart that her former speech had chilled
had not he, under the superficial though genuine regret of her face,
seen, still shining with steady lustre, that radiance which has as
little been called forth by, as it can be dimmed by him or anything
relating to him. And so he passes by in silence the expression of that
sorrow which he bitterly knows to be so supportable.

The still spirit of the day seems to have touched the very birds. They
sing a few low notes in veiled, chastened voices from the fir-wood, and
again are silent. The clock tells the hours in quarters to the doomed
lives inside the monastery, self-doomed to suffering and penance and
incarceration, even with the winning blue of the Tuscan sky above their
tonsured heads, with the forget-me-nots pressing their feet, and the
nightingales singing endless love-songs to them from the little dark
forest nigh at hand.

"I suppose," says Elizabeth presently, in a reflective tone, "that the
fact is, when people are in your position--I mean on the brink of a
great deep happiness--they forget all lesser things?"

He snatches a hasty glance of suspicion at her. Is this her revenge for
his neglect of her? But nothing can look more innocent or less ironical
than her small profile, bent towards the gigantic forget-me-nots and the
pulmonaria, azure as gentians.

"Perhaps."

"The big fish"--her little face breaking into one of her lovely smiles,
which, by a turn of her head from side to full, she offers in its
completeness to his gaze--"swallows up all the little gudgeons! Poor
little gudgeons."

"Poor little gudgeons!" he echoes stupidly, and then begins to laugh at
his own wool-gathering.

"And now I suppose you will be going directly--going home?" pursues she,
looking at him and his laughter with a soft surprise.

"I hope so; and--and--you too?"

She gives a start, and the sky-coloured nosegay in her hand drops into
her lap.

"We--we? Why should _we_ go home? We have nothing pleasant to go to,
and"--looking round with a passionate relish at mountain, and suffused
far plain, and sappy spring grass--"we are so well--so infinitely well
here!" Then, pulling herself together, and speaking in a more composed
key, "But yes, of course we, too, shall go by-and-by; this cannot last
for ever--nothing lasts for ever. That is the one thought that has kept
me alive all these years; but now----"

She breaks off.

"But now?"

Even as he watches her, putting this echoed interrogation, he sees the
radiance breaking through the cloud his question had gathered, as a very
strong sun breaks through a very translucent exhalation.

"But now?" she repeats vaguely, and smiling to herself, forgetful of his
very presence beside her--"But now? Did I say 'But now?' Ah, here they
are back again!"



CHAPTER XXIII.


"I am going to turn the tables on you," says Amelia next morning to her
lover, after the usual endearments, which of late he has been
conscientiously anxious not to scant or slur, have passed between them,
very fairly executed by him, and adoringly accepted and returned by her;
"you are always arranging treats for me; now I have planned one for
you!"

She looks so beaming with benevolent joy as she makes this statement,
that Jim stoops and drops an extra kiss--not in the bond--upon her
lifted face. "Indeed, dear!" he answers kindly, "I do not quite know
what I have done to deserve it; but I hope it is a nice one."

"It is very nice--delightful."

"Delightful, eh?" echoes he, raising his brows, while a transient wonder
crosses his mind as to what project she or anyone else could suggest to
him that, at this juncture of his affairs, could merit that epithet;
"well, am I to guess what it is? or are you going to tell me?"

Amelia's face still wears that smile of complacent confidence in having
something pleasant to communicate which has puzzled her companion.

"We have never been at Vallombrosa, have we?" asks she.

"Never."

"Well, we are going there to-morrow."

"Are we? is that your treat?" inquires he, wondering what of peculiarly
and distinctively festal for him this expedition may be supposed to have
above all their former ones.

"And we are not going alone."

"There is nothing very exceptional in that; Cecilia is mostly good
enough to lend us her company."

"I am not thinking of Cecilia; I have persuaded"--the benevolent smile
broadening across her cheeks--"I have persuaded some friends of yours to
join us."

It does not for an instant cross his mind either to doubt or to affect
uncertainty as to who the friends of whom she speaks may be; but the
suggestion is so profoundly unwelcome to him, that not even the
certainty of mortifying the unselfish creature before him can hinder him
from showing it. Her countenance falls.

"You are not glad?" she asks crestfallenly, "you are not pleased?"

It is impossible for him to say that he is, and all that is left to him
is to put his vexation into words that may be as little as possible
fraught with disappointment to his poor hearer's ear.


"I--I--had rather have had you to myself."

"Would you really?" she asks, in the almost awed tones of one who, from
being quite destitute, has had the Koh-i-Noor put into his hand, and
whose fingers are afraid to close over the mighty jewel; "would you
really? then I am sorry I asked them; but"--with intense
wistfulness--"if you only knew how I long to give you a little pleasure,
a little enjoyment--you who have given me so infinitely much."

If Miss Wilson were ever addicted to the figure of speech called irony,
she might be supposed to be employing it now; but one glance at her
simple face would show that it expressed nothing but adoring gratitude.
Her one good fortnight has spread its radiant veil backwards over her
eight barren years.

He takes her hand, and passes the fingers across his lips, murmuring
indistinctly and guiltily behind them:

"Do I really make you happy?"

"Do you?"--echoes she, while the transfiguring tears well into her
glorified pale eyes--"I should not have thought it possible that so much
joy could have been packed into any fortnight as I have had crammed into
mine!"

They have to set off to Vallombrosa at seven o'clock in the morning, an
hour at which few of us are at our cleverest, handsomest, or our best
tempered; nor is the party of six, either in its proportion of women to
men--four to two--or in its component parts, a very well adjusted one.
They are too numerous to be contained in one carriage, and are therefore
divided into two separate bands--three and three. Whether by some
manoeuvre of the well-meaning Amelia, or by some scarcely fortunate
accident, Burgoyne finds himself seated opposite to his betrothed and to
Elizabeth; while Byng follows in the second vehicle as _vis-à-vis_ to
Cecilia and Mrs. Le Marchant. There is a general feeling of wrongness
about the whole arrangement--a sense of mental discomfort equivalent to
that physical one of having put on your clothes inside out, or buttoned
your buttons into unanswering buttonholes.


Mrs. Le Marchant's face, as Burgoyne catches sight of it now and then,
as some turn in the road reveals the inmates of the closely-following
second carriage to his view, wears that uneasy and disquieted look which
always disfigures it when there is any question of her being brought
into personal relation with strangers. And Elizabeth, of whom he has
naturally a much nearer and more continuous view, is plainly
ill-at-ease. Miss Wilson has not thought it necessary to mention to her
lover how strong had been the opposition to her plan on the part of the
objects of it; nor, that it was only because her proposal was made _vivâ
voce_, and therefore unescapable, that it had been reluctantly accepted
at last. At first Burgoyne had attributed Elizabeth's evident
ill-at-easeness to her separation from Byng; but he presently discovers
that it is what she possesses, and not what she lacks, that is the chief
source of her _malaise_. During the latter part of his own personal
intercourse with her she had been, when in his company, sometimes sad,
sometimes wildly merry; but always entirely natural. Strange as it may
seem, it is obviously the presence of Amelia that puts constraint upon
her. Before the spirit of that most unterrifying of God's creatures,
Elizabeth's "stands rebuked." Once or twice he sees her inborn
gaiety--that gaiety whose existence he has so often noted as it
struggles up from under the mysterious weight of sorrow laid upon
it--spurt into life, only to be instantly killed by the reassumption of
that nervous formal manner which not all Amelia's gentle efforts can
break through.

A very grave trio they drive along through the grave day. For it is,
alas! a grave day--overcast, now turning to rain, now growing fair again
awhile. Not a grain of Italy's summer curse, her choking white dust,
assails their nostrils. It must have rained all night. Through the
suburbs by the river, crossing and recrossing that ugly iron interloper
the railway; by the river flowing at the foot of the fair green hills,
so green, so green on this day of ripe accomplished spring. The whole
country is one giant green garland, of young wheat below and endless
vine necklaces above--necklaces of new juicy, just-born, yet vigorous
vine-leaves. The very river runs green with the reflection of the
endless verdure on its banks. The road is level as far as Pontassieve,
the town through which they roll, and then it begins to mount--mounts
between garden-like hills, dressed in vine leaves and iris-flowers, and
the dull fire of red clover; while the stream twists in flowing
companionship at the valley bottom, until they turn abruptly away from
it, up into a steep and narrow valley, almost a gorge, and climb up and
up one side of it, turning and winding continually to break the
steepness of the ascent. However broken, it is steep still. But who
would wish to pass at more than a foot's pace through this great sheet
of lilac irises wrapping the mountain side, past this bean-field that
greets the nostrils with its homely familiar perfume, along this wealthy
bit of hedge, framed wholly of honeysuckle in flower? At sight of the
latter Elizabeth gives a little cry.

"Oh, what honeysuckle! I must have some! I must get out! Tell him to
stop!"

In a moment her commands are obeyed; in another moment Byng has sprung
out of the second carriage and is standing beside her. The door of
Byng's vehicle is stiff apparently, and a sardonic smile breaks over the
elder man's face as he hears the noise of the resounding kicks
administered to it by the younger one's impatient foot. But he need not
have been in such a hurry--no one interferes with his office of rifling
the hedge of its creamy and coral bugles.

Burgoyne gets out of the carriage; but it is only to walk to the other
one and assume Byng's vacated seat.

"Are you going to change places?" Amelia has asked rather chapfallenly
as he leaves her; and he has given her hand a hasty pressure, and
answered affectionately--

"It will not be for long, dear; but you know"--with an expressive
glance, and what he rather too sanguinely hopes looks like a smile in
the direction of the flower-gatherers--"fair play is a jewel!"

If his departure from the one vehicle is deplored, it is not welcomed at
the other. Cecilia asks the same question as her sister had put, though
the intonation is different.

"Are you going to change places?"--adding--"do not you think we did very
well as we were?"

But probably he is too much occupied in wrestling with the stiff door to
hear her, for he makes no answer beyond getting in. The only reward that
he receives for his piece of self-sacrifice is a rapturous look of
gratitude from Byng, when he perceives the changed position of his
affairs, and that recompense Jim had far rather have been without.

They are off again. Being now second in the little procession, Burgoyne
has but meagre and difficult views of the first; but now and again, when
the road describes an acuter angle than usual, he can by turning his
whole body, under pretext of admiring the view, snatch a glimpse of all
three occupants leaning their heads sociably together, evidently in
bright light talk. After all, he had deceived himself. It is he and not
Amelia who had made her shy. Even when he cannot see her, there come to
his ears little wafts of laughter, in which her voice is mixed. He
catches himself trying to recall whether she had laughed even once
during the period of his being her companion. There is not much mirth in
his own carriage. What a kill-joy he has grown! Cecilia, though her
heart is as pure as the babe unborn of any serious designs on Byng, of
which indeed she has long seen the fruitlessness, yet thinks a sulky
brother-in-law-elect but a poor exchange for a handsome young
acquaintance, whom neither his good manners nor the amount of his
intimacy allow to sit opposite to her in grumpy silence. Mrs. Le
Marchant is obviously as ill at ease as was her daughter when in his
fellowship, though in this case a little observation shows him that he
counts for nothing in her discomfort of mind, but that she is watching
the other half of the party with an anxiety as keen, if almost as
covert, as his own. She is too well-bred indeed not to endeavour to keep
up a decent show of conversation, but as neither of her companions makes
any effort to second her, an ever-deepening silence falls upon them as
they advance, nor, as the day grows older, is the weather calculated to
exhilarate their spirits.

The sky's frown becomes more and more pronounced the higher they mount.
Through a village nobly seated on its hilltop, but, like most Italian
townlets, squalid enough on a nearer view--up and up--up and up--till
they reach what were once groves of stately chestnuts, but where the
hungry Tuscan axe has left nothing but twigs and saplings, but never a
spreading tree; then on into the fir-woods, which are woods indeed,
though even here the hatchet's cruel tooth has begun to bite. No sooner
is their dark umbrage reached than the mist, that has been hanging with
threatening lowness above the travellers' heads, comes down close,
blinding, clinging like wet flannel, and as thick.

"Perhaps it will lift," Jim says, with a sort of dismal unlikely
hopefulness as he strains his eyes, trying to look down the straight
solemn fir aisles, with their files upon files of tall stems, that seem
to be seen only as if through a thick gauze. Neither of his companions
has the spirit necessary to echo the supposition. The road winds
endlessly, steeper and steeper up through the mist. The tired horses
step wearily, and the unfortunate pleasure-seekers are beginning to
think that the muffled monotony of firs, of winding road, of painfully
labouring horses, will never end, when the vetturino turns round with a
smile on his fog-wet face, and says, "Vallombrosa!"

Under other circumstances, the announcement might have been cheering,
might have excited a poetic curiosity; but as it is, the hood of the
vehicle--necessarily raised some miles back--is so far poked forward
that nothing is to be seen but a pour of rain--the rain has begun to
descend in torrents--a glass-door in a house-wall opening to admit them,
and a waiter holding up a green umbrella to protect their descent.
Neither he nor the landlord, nor yet the chambermaid, show any signs of
mirth or wonder at their arrival among the clouds on such a day. They
are used to mad Inglese. And amongst the mad Inglese themselves there is
certainly no temptation to mad merriment. On such an occasion there is
nothing to do but eat, so they lunch dismally in a long, bare
dining-room, with a carpetless floor, a table laid for a grossly
improbable number of guests, and a feeling of searching cold. Having
spun out their scanty meal to the utmost limits of possibility, and
washed it down with the weakest red wine that ever lived in a wicker
bottle, they pass into a funereal _salon_, to which the waiter invites
them. Someone makes the cheering announcement that they have as yet been
here only half an hour, and that the horses must have two full hours to
bait before there can be any question of beginning the return journey.
And then they amble about the room, looking at the dreadful lithographs
of Italy's plain King and fair Queen on the walls; at the venerable
journals and gaudy English storybook, so dull as to have been forgotten
by its owner, on the table. Their spirits are not heightened by a
pervading sense as of being in a cellar, minus the wine. The equipment
of this pleasant apartment is completed by a half-dead nosegay of what
must once have been charming mountain blossoms. The sight decides them.
They must go out. Perhaps even through this opaque cloud they may dimly
see the mountain flowers growing, the mountain brooks dashing, which
John Milton has told them that--

          "the Etrurian shades,
    High over-arch'd imbower."

They all catch at the suggestion, when made by Byng, and presently sally
forth to see as much of Vallombrosa as a fog that would not have
disgraced the Strand, as a close blanket of almost _confluent_ rain, and
as umbrellas held well down over their cold noses, will let them; Mrs.
Le Marchant alone declines to be one of the party, and is left sitting,
swaddled in all the superfluous wraps, on a horsehair chair in the
_salon_, to stare at the wall and at King Humbert's ugly face, until
such time as her companions see fit to release her. It is no wonder that
Burgoyne overhears her eagerly whispering to Elizabeth a request that
she will not stay too long away. And Elizabeth, whose spirits have gone
up like a rocket at the prospect of a taste of the fresh air, and who
knows what else, lays her little face, crowned with a deer-stalking cap,
against her mother's, and promises, and skips away.

At first they all five keep together, wet but sociable. They ask their
way to the Paradiso--the name sounds ironical--and set off climbing up
through the fir-wood in the direction indicated; along a path which in
fair weather must be heavenly with piny odours, but which is now only a
miry alternative of dripping stones and muddy puddles. Through the mist
they see indeed fair flowers gleaming, yellow anemones, unfamiliar and
lovely, but they are too drenched to pluck. The sound of falling water
guides them to where the clear brook--clear even to-day--falls in little
cascades down the hill's face between the pines. How delicious to sit on
its flat stones some hot summer's noon, with your hands coolly straying
among its grasses, or dabbling in its bright water; but to-day they can
but look at it sadly from the low bridge, saying sighingly, "If!"

They reach the goal, some cross, and all floundering, the ladies with
draggled skirts and cold, dank ankles. The Paradiso is a little house, a
_dépendance_ apparently of the hotel below--apparently also tenantless
and empty. It is built on the bare rock, looking sheer down on--what? on
a blanket of fog. What does, what can, that maddening blanket conceal?
Oh, if they could but tear it in pieces, rend it asunder, hack it with
knives, by any means abolish its unsightly veil from over the lovely
face they will now, with all their climbing, all their early rising,
never see! But will not they? Even as they look, despairingly straining
their eyes, in the vain effort to pierce that obscure and baffling veil,
there is a movement in it, a stirring of the inert mass of vapour; a
wind has risen, and is blowing coldly on their brows, and in a moment,
as it seems, the maddening wet curtain is swept away and up, as by some
God-hand, the hand of some spirit that has heard their lament and has
pitied them and said, "They have come from afar; it is their only
chance; let us show it to them." The curtain has rolled up and up, the
sombre fir-wood starts out, and the emerald meadows, the lowest and
nearest range of hills, then the next, and then the next, and then the
furthest and highest of all. There they stand revealed, even the city,
Florence, far away. They can make out her Duomo, small and dim with
distance, yet certainly there; in the sudden effulgence all the valley
alight and radiant. Range behind range stand the hills; belated vapour
wreaths floating, thin as lawn, up their flanks; wonderful dreamy
patches of radiance on the far slopes; marvellous amethysts starring
their breasts. Mystery and beauty, colour and space, sky and lovely
land, where, five minutes ago, there was nothing but choking fog.
Burgoyne stands as in a trance, vaguely conscious--trance-wise too--that
Elizabeth is near him; all his soul passed into his eyes; stands--how
long? He hardly knows. Before that fair sight time seems dead; but even
as he yet looks, smiling as one smiles at anything surpassingly lovely,
the cloud-wreaths float downwards again, wreaths at first, then great
volumes, then one universal sheet of vapour, impenetrably dense as
before. Vanished are the Apennine slopes, sun-kissed and dreamy;
vanished the distant Arno plain; vanished even the near pines. He can
scarce see his hand before him. And yet he can see Elizabeth's face
transfigured and quivering, lifted to his--yes, to _his_--though Byng is
on her other side; her eyes full of tender tears of ravishment, while
her low voice says sighingly:

"It is gone; but we have seen it! Nothing can ever take that from us!
nothing! nothing!"

And although the next moment she is reabsorbed into the fog and Byng,
though for the rest of the deplorable walk he scarce catches sight again
of the little brown head and the soaked deer-stalking cap, yet it makes
a gentle warmth about his chilled heart to think that, in her moments of
highest emotion, it is her impulse to turn to him.



CHAPTER XXIV.

    "Oh, gentle Proteus, Love's a mighty lord,
    And hath so humbled me that I confess
    There is no grief to his correction
    Nor to his service no such joy on earth.
    Now no discourse except it be of Love;
    Now can I break my fast, dine, sup and sleep
    Upon the very naked name of Love."


Not once again, so long as they remain at Vallombrosa, does the envious
cloud-blanket lift; and, after slopping about for some time longer, in
the vain hope that it will, Burgoyne and his two female relatives-elect
return to the inn, all fallen very silent. The other two members of the
party have disappeared into the fog. At the door of the hotel they find
Mrs. Le Marchant, who has broken from her cerements, and is looking
anxiously out. As she catches sight of them the look of tension on her
face lessens.

"Oh, here you are!" says she. "I am so glad; and the others--no doubt
the others are close behind."

"We know nothing about the others," replies Cecilia, with some
ill-humour, taking upon her the office of spokeswoman, which neither of
her companions seems in any hurry to assume; "the others took French
leave of us an hour ago. Oh dear, how wet I am! What a horrible
excursion! How I detest Vallombrosa!"

Amelia is to the full as wet as her sister; nothing can well be more
lamentable than the appearance of either; and upon Amelia's face there
is, in addition to a handsome share of splashes of rain, a look of
mortification and crestfallenness; but she now puts in her word, with
her usual patience and thoughtful good-temper.

"I do not think you need be in the least anxious about them," she says,
observing the immediate relapse into what seems an exaggerated concern
following instantly upon Cecilia's remark on Mrs. Le Marchant's
features; "they were with us not long ago. We were certainly all
together not so long ago; they were with us at the Paradiso--they were
certainly with us at the Paradiso?" turning with an interrogative air to
Burgoyne.

"Yes, they were certainly with us at the Paradiso," he assents, not
thinking it necessary to add why he is so very certain as to this fact.

"They must have so much inducement to loiter this charming weather,"
cries Cecilia, with an exasperated laugh. "Oh, how wet I am! I do not
expect that we shall any of us forget Vallombrosa in a hurry! I shall go
and ask the chambermaid to lend me some dry shoes and stockings."

With these words she walks towards the staircase and climbs it, leaving
a muddy imprint on each step to mark her progress as she mounts.

Amelia does not at once follow her example. She remains standing where
she was, her arms hanging listlessly by her sides, and the expression of
crestfallenness deepened on her fagged face. Her lover is touched by her
look, and, going up to her, lays his hand kindly and solicitously on her
shoulder.

"Umbrellas are not what they were in my days," he says, trying to smile.
"You are quite as wet as Cis, though you do not proclaim your sufferings
nearly so loudly. Had not you better go and see whether the chambermaid
owns two pairs of dry stockings?"

She lifts her eyes with wistful gratitude to his. "This is my treat,"
she says slowly; "my first treat to you; oh, poor Jim!"

There is a depth of compassion in her tone as disproportioned to the
apparent cause as had been Mrs. Le Marchant's anxiety for her daughter's
return, and beneath it he winces.

"Why do you pity me?" he inquires half indignantly.

"Am I--

    "'A milksop; one that never in his life
    Felt so much cold as over shoes in snow?'

What do I care for a little rain?" Adding cheerfully, "You shall give me
a second treat, dear; we will come here again by ourselves when the sun
shines."

"By ourselves--when the sun shines!" echoes she, as if repeating a
lesson; and then she goes off docilely, in obedience to his suggestion,
in search of dry raiment.

He rejoins Mrs. Le Marchant, whose unaccountable fears have led her
beyond the house's shelter out into the rain, where she stands looking
down that river of mud which represents the road by which she hopes to
see the truants reappear.

"I think you are unnecessarily alarmed," he says, in a reassuring and
remonstrating tone. "What harm could have happened to them?"

She does not answer, her eyes, into which the rain is beating under her
umbrella brim, still fixed upon the empty road.

"Is she--is she apt to take cold?" he asks, his own tone catching the
infection of her vague and nameless disquiet.

"Yes--no--not particularly, I think. Oh, it is not that!"--her composure
breaking down into an unaffected outburst of distress. "It is not that!
Do not you understand? Oh, how unwilling I was to come here to-day! It
is--do not you see? Oh, I should not mind in the least if it had been
you that were with her!"

"If it had been I that was with her?" repeats Jim slowly, not at the
first instant comprehending, nor even at the second quite taking in the
full, though unintentional, uncomplimentariness of this speech; which,
however, before his companion again takes up her parable, has tinglingly
reached--what? His heart, or only his vanity? They lie very close
together.

"Why did not he go home with his mother?" pursues Mrs. Le Marchant,
still in that voice of intense vexation. "It would have been so much
more natural that he should, and I am sure that she wished it."

"You are making me feel extremely uncomfortable," says Burgoyne gravely;
"when I remember that it was I who introduced him to you."

"Oh, I am not blaming you!" replies she, with an obvious effort to
resume her usual courteous manner. "Please do not think that I am
blaming you. How could you help it?"

"I thought you liked him."

"Oh, so I do--so we both do!" cries the poor woman agitatedly. "That is
the worst of it! If I did not like him, I should not mind; at least, I
should not mind half so much."

"I am very sorry," he begins; but she interrupts him.

"Do not be sorry," she says remorsefully; "you have nothing to say to
it. I do not know, I am sure"--looking gratefully at him through the
rain--"why I am always regaling you with my worries; but you are so
dependable--we both feel that you are so dependable."

"Am I?" says he, with a melancholy air that does not argue much
gratification at the compliment. "Do not be too sure of that."

But she does not heed his disclaimer.

"We have been so happy here," she goes on; "I do not mean
_here_"--looking round with an involuntary smile at the envelope of wet
vapour that encases them both--"but at Florence; so peacefully,
blessedly happy, she and I--you do not know"--with an appealing touch of
pathos--"what a dear little companion she is!--so happy that I naturally
do not want our memory of the place to be spoilt by any painful
_contretemps_. You can understand that, cannot you?"

It is senseless of him; but yet, little as he can comprehend why it
should be so, the idea of Byng's love being described as a "painful
_contretemps_" presents itself not disagreeably to his mind. For
whatever mysterious reason, it is apparent that even Byng's own mother
cannot be much more adverse to his suit than is the lady before him.

"I can perfectly enter into your feelings," he answers, with sympathetic
gravity; "but do not you know that 'a watched pot never boils'? As long
as you are looking for them, they will never appear; but the moment that
your back is turned they will probably come round the corner at once."

"I think it is the truest proverb in the world," she says, with an
impatient sigh; but she allows him to guide her and her umbrella back to
the inn.

Burgoyne's prediction is not verified; probably he had no very great
faith in it himself. Mrs. Le Marchant's back has, for the best part of
an hour, been turned upon the mountain road, and the stragglers have not
yet rejoined the main body. There has been plenty of time for Cecilia to
be thoroughly dried, warmed, comforted, and restored to good humour; for
the _vetturino_ to send in and ask whether he shall not put the horses
to; for Amelia to exhaust all her little repertory of soothing
hypotheses; for Mrs. Le Marchant to stray in restless misery from
_salon_ to _salle-à-manger_ and back again, and for Burgoyne to pull
gloomily at a large cigar in the hall by himself before at length the
voices of the truants are heard.

Burgoyne being, as I have said, in the hall, and therefore nearest the
door of entrance, has the earliest sight of them. His first glance tells
him that the blow apprehended by Mrs. Le Marchant has fallen. Of
Elizabeth, indeed, he scarcely catches a glimpse, as she passes him
precipitately, hurrying to meet her mother, who, at the sound of her
voice, has come running into the outer room. But Byng! Byng has not
experienced so many very strong emotions in his short life as to have
had much practice in veiling them from the eyes of others when they
come, and the gauze now drawn over his intolerable radiance is of the
thinnest description. Again that earnest desire to hit him _hard_
assails the elder friend.

"Why, you are back before us!" cries the young man.

"Yes, we are back before you," replies Burgoyne; and if the penalty had
been death, he could not at that moment have added one syllable to the
acrid assent.

"Are we late?" asks Elizabeth tremulously; "I am afraid we are late--I
am afraid we have kept you waiting! Oh, I am so sorry!"

She looks with an engaging timidity of apology from one to other of the
sulky countenances around her; and Burgoyne stealing a look at her,
their eyes meet. He is startled by the singularity of expression in
hers. Whatever it denotes, it certainly is not the stupid simplicity of
rapture to be read, in print as big as a poster's, in Byng's. And yet,
among the many ingredients that go to make up that shy fevered beam,
rapture is undoubtedly one.

"Did you lose yourselves? Did you go further into the wood?" asks
Cecilia, with a curiosity that is, considering the provocation given,
not unjustifiable.

They both reply vaguely that they had lost themselves, that they had
gone deeper into the wood. It is obvious to the meanest intelligence
that neither of them has the slightest idea where they have been.

"I may as well tell the driver to put the horses in," says Burgoyne, in
a matter-of-fact voice, glad of an excuse to absent himself.

When he comes back, he finds the Le Marchants standing together in the
window, talking in a low voice, and Byng hovering near them. It is
evident to Jim that the elder woman has no wish for converse with the
young man; but in his present condition of dizzy exhilaration, he is
quite unaware of that fact. He approaches her indeed (as the unobserved
watcher notes) with a dreadful air of filial piety, and addresses her in
a tone of apology it is true, but with a twang of intimacy that had
never appeared in his voice before.

"You must not blame her; indeed you must not! it was entirely my fault.
I am awfully sorry that you were alarmed, but indeed there was no cause.
What did you think had happened? Did you think"--with an excited laugh
of triumph and a bright blush--"that I had run off with her?"

The speech is in extremely bad taste, since, whatever may be the posture
of affairs between himself and Elizabeth, it is morally impossible that
her mother can yet be enlightened as to it; the familiarity of it is
therefore premature and the jocosity ill-placed. No one can be more
disposed to judge it severely than its unintended auditor; but even he
is startled by the effect it produces.

Without making the smallest attempt at an answer, Mrs. Le Marchant
instantly turns her shoulder upon the young man--a snub of which Jim
would have thought so gentle-mannered a person quite incapable, and
walks away from him with so determined an air that not even a person in
the seventh heaven of drunkenness can mistake her meaning. Nor does
Elizabeth's conduct offer him any indemnification. She follows her
mother a little more slowly; and, as she passes Jim, he sees that she is
shaking violently, and that her face is as white as chalk. A sort of
generous indignation against the mother for spoiling the poor little
soul's first moments of bliss mixes curiously in his mind with a less
noble satisfaction at the reflection that there are undoubtedly breakers
ahead of Byng.

"How--how are we to divide?" cries Cecilia, as they all stand at the
door while the two carriages drive up.

No one answers. The arrangement seems planned by no one in particular,
and yet, as he drives down the hill, Burgoyne finds himself sitting
opposite the two Misses Wilson. He is thankful that the raised hood and
unfurled umbrellas of the second equipage prevent his having any ocular
evidence of the ecstasy that that wet leather and that dripping silk
veil. But even this consolation is not long left him. As they leave the
fir-wood, they come out of the clouds too, into clear, lower air. Hoods
are pushed back and umbrellas shut. The horses, in good heart, with
homeward-turned heads, pricked with emulation by another carriage ahead
of them, trot cheerfully down the road--the road with all its bent-elbow
turnings--down, down, into the valley beneath. But the clouds that have
rolled away off the evening sky seem to have settled down with double
density upon the spirit of Burgoyne and his companions. Even the
fountain of Cecilia's chatter is dried. Once she says suddenly _à propos
de bottes_:

"She must be years older than he!" To which Amelia quickly rejoins--

"But she does not look it."

It is almost the only remark she makes during the long drive, and
Burgoyne is thankful to her for her silence. Conscious of and grateful
for her magnanimity as he is, there is yet something that jars upon him
in her intuition of his thoughts, and in her eager championship of that
other woman. He looks out blankly at the flowers, wetly smiling from
field and bank, at the endless garden of embracing vines and embraced
mulberries, joining their young leafage; at the stealing river and the
verdurous hill-sides. In vain for him Italy's spring laughter broadens
across the eternal youth of her face.

On reaching Florence and the Anglo-Américain, he would fain enter and
spend the evening with his betrothed. He has a feverish horror of being
left alone with his own thoughts, but she gently forbids him.

"It would not be fair upon father and Sybilla," she says. "I am afraid
they have not been getting on very well _téte-à-téte_ together all this
wet day, and I should not be much good to you in any case. I feel
stupid. You will say"--smiling--"that there is nothing very new in that;
but I am quite beyond even my usual mark to-night. Good-night, dear; I
humbly beg your pardon for having caused you to spend such a wretched
day. I will never give you another treat--never, _never!_ it was my
first and last attempt."

She turns from him dejectedly, and he is himself too dejected to attempt
any reassuring falsities. She would not have believed him if he had told
her that it had not been a wretched day to him, and the publicity of
their place of parting forbids him to administer even the silent
consolation of a kiss. And yet he feels a sort of remorse at having said
nothing, as the door closes upon her depressed back. Backs can look
quite as depressed as faces. The lateness of their start home has thrown
their return late. Burgoyne reflects that he may as well dine at once,
and then trudge through his solitary evening as best he may. Heaven
knows at what hour Byng may return. Shall he await his coming, and so
get over the announcement of his bliss to-night, or put the dark hours
between himself and it?

He decides in favour of getting it over to-night, up to whatever small
hour he may be obliged to attend his friend's arrival. But he has not to
wait nearly so long as he expects. He has not to wait at all, hardly.
Before he has left his own room, while he is still making such toilette
for his own company as self-respect requires, the person whom he had not
thought to behold for another four or five hours enters--enters with
head held high, with joy-tinged, smooth cheeks, and with a superb lamp
of love and triumph lit in each young eye. A passing movement of
involuntary admiration traverses the other's heart as he looks at him.
This is how the human animal ought to--was originally intended to--look!
How very far the average specimen has departed from the type! There is
not much trace of admiration, however, in the tone which he employs for
his one brief word of interrogation:

"Already?"

"I was sent away," replies Byng, in a voice whose intoxication pierces
even through the first four small words; "they sent me away--they would
not let me go further than the house-door. I say 'they,' but of course
_she_ had no hand in it--_she_, not _she_. _She_ would not have sent me
away, God bless her! it was her mother, of course--how could she have
had the heart?"

Burgoyne would no doubt have made some answer in time; though the "she,"
the implication of Elizabeth's willingness for an indefinite amount of
her lover's company, the "God bless her," gave him a sense of choking.

"But I do not blame Mrs. Le Marchant," pursues Byng, in a rapt,
half-absent key. "Who would not wish to monopolize her? Who would not
grudge the earth leave to kiss her sweet foot?

                          "'All I can is nothing
    To her whose worth makes other worthies nothing.
    She is alone!'"

"That at least is not your fault," replies Burgoyne dryly; "you have
done your best to avert that catastrophe."

But to speak to the young man now is of as much avail as to address
questions or remonstrances to one walking in his sleep.

"If she had allowed me, I would have lain on her threshold all night; I
would have been the first thing that her heavenly eye lit on; I would--"

But Burgoyne's phial of patience is for the present emptied to the
dregs.

"You would have made a very great fool of yourself, I have not the least
doubt. Why try to persuade a person of what he is already fully
convinced? But as Miss Le Marchant happily did not wish for you as a
doormat, perhaps it is hardly worth while telling me what you would have
done if she had."

The sarcastic words, ill-natured and unsympathetic as they sound in
their own speaker's ears, yet avail to bring the young dreamer but a
very few steps lower down his ladder of bliss.

"I beg your pardon," he says sweet-temperedly; "I suppose I am a hideous
bore to-night; I suppose one must always be a bore to other people when
one is tremendously happy."

"It is not your being tremendously happy that I quarrel with," growls
Burgoyne, struggling to conquer, or at least tone down, the intense
irritability of nerves that his friend's flights provoke. "You are
perfectly right to be that if you can manage to compass it; but what I
should be glad to arrive at is your particular ground for it in the
present case."

The question, sobering in its tendency, has yet for sole effect the
setting Byng off again with spread pinions into the empyrean.

"What particular ground I have?" he repeats, in a dreamy tone of
ecstasy. "You ask what particular ground I have? Had ever anyone cause
to be so royally happy as I?"

He pauses a moment or two, steeped in a rapture of oblivious reverie,
then goes on, still as one only half waked from a beatific vision:

"I had a prognostic that to-day would be the culminating day--something
told me that to-day would be the day; and when you gave me up your seat
in her carriage--how could you be so magnificently generous? How can I
ever adequately show you my gratitude?"

"Yes, yes; never mind that."

"Then, later on, in the wood"--his voice sinking, as that of one who
approaches a Holy of Holies--"when that blessed mist wrapped her round,
wrapped her lovely body round, so that I was able to withdraw her from
you, so that you did not perceive that she was gone--were not you really
aware of it? Did not it seem to you as if the light had gone out of the
day? When we stood under those dripping trees, as much alone as if--"

"I do not think that there is any need to go into those details,"
interrupts Burgoyne, in a hard voice; "I imagine that in these cases
history repeats itself with very trifling variations; what I should be
glad if you would tell me is, whether I am to understand that you have
to-day asked Miss Le Marchant to marry you?"

Byng brings his eyes, which have been lifted in a sort of trance to the
ceiling, down to the prosaic level of his Mentor's severe and
tight-lipped face.

"When you put it in that way," he says, in an awed half-whisper, "it
does seem an inconceivable audacity on my part that I, who but a few
days ago was crawling at her feet, should dare to-day to reach up to the
heaven of her love."

Burgoyne had known perfectly well that it was coming; but yet how much
worse is it than he had expected!

"Then you _did_ ask her to marry you?"

But Byng has apparently fled back on the wings of fantasy into the wet
woods of Vallombrosa, for he makes no verbal answer.

"She said yes?" asks Burgoyne, raising his voice, as if he were
addressing someone deaf. "Am I to understand that she said yes?"

At the sound of that hard naked query the dreamer comes out of his
enchanted forest again.

"I do not know what she said; I do not think she said anything," he
answers, murmuring the words laggingly; while, as he goes on, the fire
of his madness spires high in his flashing eyes. "We have got beyond
speech, she and I! We have reached that region where hearts and
intelligences meet without the need of those vulgar go-betweens--words."

There is a moment's pause, broken only by the commonplace sound of an
electric bell rung by some inmate of the hotel.

"And has Mrs. Le Marchant reached that region too?" inquires Jim
presently, with an irony he cannot restrain. "Does she, too, understand
without words, or have you been obliged, in her case, to employ those
vulgar go-betweens?"

"She _must_ understand--she _does_--undoubtedly she does!" cries Byng,
whose drunkenness shares with the more ordinary kind the peculiarity of
believing whatever he wishes to be not only probable but inevitable.
"Who could see us together and be in uncertainty for a moment? And her
mother has some of her fine instincts, her delicate intuitions; not, of
course, to the miraculous extent that _she_ possesses them. In _her_
they amount to genius!"

"No doubt, no doubt; but did you trust entirely to Mrs. Le Marchant's
instincts, or did you broach the subject to her at all? You must have
had time, plenty of time, during that long drive home."

"Well, no," answers Byng slowly, and with a slight diminution of
radiance. "I meant to have approached it; I tried to do so once or
twice; but I thought, I fancied--probably it was only fancy--that she
wished to avoid it."

"To avoid it?"

"Oh, not in any offensive, obvious way; it was probably only in my
imagination that she shirked it at all--and I did not make any great
efforts. It was all so perfect"--the intoxication getting the upper hand
again--"driving along in that balmy flood of evening radiance--did you
see how even the tardy sun came out for us?--with that divine face
opposite to me! Such a little face!"--his voice breaking into a tremor.
"Is not it inconceivable, Jim, how so much beauty can be packed into so
tiny a compass?"

Burgoyne has all the time had his brushes in his hand, the brushes with
which he has been preparing himself for his solitary dinner. He bangs
them down now on the table. How can he put a period to the ravings of
this maniac? And yet not so maniac either. What gives the sharpest point
to his present suffering is the consciousness that he would have made
quite as good a maniac himself if he had had the chance. This
consciousness instils a few drops of angry patience into his voice, as,
disregarding the other's high-flown question, he puts one that is not at
all high-flown himself.

"Then you have not told Mrs. Le Marchant yet?"

But the smile that the memory--so fresh, only half an hour old--of
Elizabeth's loveliness has laid upon Byng's lips still lingers there;
and makes his response dreamy and vague.

"No, not yet; not yet! _She_ had taken one of her gloves off; her little
hand lay, palm upward, on her knees almost all the way; once or twice I
thought of taking it, of taking possession of it, of telling her mother
in that way; but I did not. It seemed--out in the sunshine, no longer in
the sacred mist of that blessed wood--too high an audacity, and I did
not!"

He stops, his words dying away into a whisper, his throat's too narrow
passage choked by the rushing ocean of his immense felicity.

Burgoyne looks at him in silence, again with a sort of admiration mixed
with wrath. How has this commonplace, pink-and-white boy managed to
scale such an altitude, while he himself, in all his life, though with a
better intelligence, and, as he had thought, with a deeper heart, had
but prowled around the foot? Why should he try to drag him down? On the
peak of that great Jungfrau of rapture no human foot can long stand.

"As I told you, Mrs. Le Marchant turned me away from their door,"
pursues Byng. "It struck me--I could not pay much attention to the fact,
for was not I bidding _her_ good-night--taking farewell of those
heavenly eyes?--did you ever see such astonishing eyes?--for four
colossal hours--but it struck me that her mother's manner was a little
colder to me than it usually is. It had been a little cold all day--at
least, so I fancied. Had the same idea occurred to you?"

Burgoyne hesitates.

"But even if it were so," continues Byng, his sun breaking out again in
full brilliancy from the very little cloud that, during his last
sentence or two, had dimmed its lustre, "how can I blame her? Does one
throw one's self into the arms of the burglar who has broken open one's
safe and stolen one's diamonds?"

Burgoyne still hesitates. Shall he tell the young ranter before him what
excellent reasons he has for knowing that any filial disposition on his
part to throw himself on Mrs. Le Marchant's neck will be met by a very
distinct resistance on that lady's part, or shall he leave him poised on

                "The jag
    Of his mountain crag"

till morning? The morning light will certainly see him tumbling at the
least some few kilometres down. He decides generously to leave him in
present possession of his peak; but yet, so inconsistent is human
nature, his next speech can have no drift but that of giving a slight
jog to his friend's towering confidence.

"And your own mother?"

It may generally be concluded that a person has not a very pertinent
response to give to a question if his only answer to that question be to
repeat it in the same words.

"My own mother?"

"Yes; you will write at once to tell her, I suppose?"

For a second the young man's forehead clouds, then he breaks into an
excited laugh.

"Tell her? I should rather think I should! Do you suppose that I shall
lose a moment in telling everybody I know--everybody I ever heard of? I
want you to tell everybody too--every single soul of your acquaintance!"

"_I?_"

"Tell Amelia; tell Cecilia"--quite unaware, in his excitement, of the
freedom he is taking, for the first time in his life, with those young
ladies' Christian names--"tell the other one--the sick one; tell them
all! I want _her_ to feel that all my friends, everybody I know, welcome
her--hold out their arms to her. I want them all to tell her they are
glad--you most of all, of course, old chap; she will not think it is all
right till you have given your consent!"--laughing again with that
bubbling-over of superfluous joy. "Do you know--it seems
incomprehensible now--but there was a moment when I was madly jealous of
you? I was telling _her_ about it to-day; we were laughing over it
together in the wood."

Burgoyne feels that one more mention of that wood will convert him into
a lunatic, quite as indisputable as his companion, only very much more
dangerous.

"Indeed!" he says grimly. "I should have thought you might have found a
more interesting subject of conversation."

"Perhaps I was not so very far out either"--possibly dimly perceiving,
even through the golden haze of his own glory, the lack of enjoyment of
his last piece of news conveyed by Jim's tone--"for she has an immense
opinion of you. I do not know anyone of whom she has so high an opinion;
she says you are so dependable."

The adjective, as applied to himself by Elizabeth and her mother, has
not the merit of novelty in the hearer's ears, which is perhaps the
reason why the elation that he must naturally feel on hearing it does
not translate itself into words.

"So dependable," repeats Byng, apparently pleased with the epithet. "She
says you give her the idea of being a sort of rock; you will come
to-morrow, and wish her joy, will not you?"

"I am afraid that my wishing it her will not help her much to it,"
answers Burgoyne, rather sadly; "but I do not think you need much doubt
that I do wish it. Joy"--repeating the word over reflectively--"it is a
big thing to wish anyone."

The extreme dampness of his tone arrests for a few minutes Byng's
jubilant pæan.

"You do not think that my mother will be pleased with the news?" he asks
presently, in a changed and hesitating key.

"I do not think about it; I know she will not!"

"I suppose not; and yet"--with an accent of stupefaction--"it is
inconceivable that she, who has always shown such a tender sympathy for
me in any paltry little bit of luck that has happened to me, should not
rejoice with me when all heaven ope----"

"Yes, yes; of course."

"Do you think"--with a gleam of hope--"that my mother may have tried to
dissuade me because she thought I was only laying up disappointment for
myself--because she thought it so unlikely that _she_ should deign to
stoop to me?"

Burgoyne shakes his head.

"Perhaps," he says, with the slowness of a man who is saying what he
himself does not believe, "a part of your mother's dislike to the idea
may be in the fact of Miss Le Marchant's being older than you."

"_Older!_" cries Byng, with almost a shout of angry derision at the
suggestion. "What have creatures like _her_ to do with age? I neither
know nor care what her age is! If you know, do not tell me! I will not
listen! Upon that exquisite body time and change are powerless to work
their hideous metamorphoses!"

"Fiddlesticks!" replies Burgoyne gruffly. "If she live long enough, she
will be an old woman, and will look like one, I suppose!" though, even
as he speaks, he realizes that to him this is almost as incredible as to
the young madman whom he is so pitilessly snubbing. "But, however that
may be, I think you had better make up your mind to meeting the most
resolved opposition on the part of your mother."

"I believe you are right," replies Byng, out of whose voice his kind
Mentor has at last succeeded in momentarily conjuring the exaltation.
"Her prejudice against them, against _her_, always filled me with
stupefaction. I never dared trust myself to discuss it with her; I was
afraid that if I did I might be led into saying something to her,
something I should be sorry for afterwards. Thank God, I have never
spoken unkindly to her in all my life!"

"You would have been a sweep if you had!" interjects Jim.

"I never heard her give any reason for it, did you? It was as baseless
as it was senseless." After a pause, his voice taking on again its
inflection of confident, soaring triumph: "But it cannot last--it is
absolutely beyond the wildest bounds of possibility that it can last!
After five minutes' talk mother will be at her feet; I know my mother so
well! Not one of her exquisite ways will be lost upon her, and _she_
will do her very best to win her! Jim, I ask you--I put it to you
quietly and plainly--I know you think I am mad, but I am not--I am
speaking quite rationally and coolly--but I ask you--_you_, an impartial
bystander--do you think that any human being, anything made of flesh and
blood, could resist _her_--_her_ when she puts herself out to
please--_her_ at her very best?"

As Burgoyne is conscious of not being in a position to answer this
question with much satisfaction to himself, he leaves it unanswered.



CHAPTER XXV.

                      "Some say the genius so
    Cries 'Come' to him that instantly must die."


A new day has awaked, and Firenze, fresh-washed after yesterday's rain,
smelling through all her streets of lilies, laughs up, wistaria-hung, to
a fleckless sky. If poor Amelia had but deferred her treat for
twenty-four hours, what a different Vallombrosa would she and her
companions have carried home in their memories! Amelia's treat!

"I shall not forget Amelia's treat in a hurry!" Burgoyne says to
himself, as he sits appetiteless over his solitary breakfast. "I had
better go and tell her the result of it."

As he makes this reflection, he rises with some alacrity, and, leaving
his scarcely-tasted coffee and his not-at-all-tasted omelette, walks out
of the _salle-à-manger_. His motive for so early a visit to the
Anglo-Américain is less an excessive eagerness to proclaim his piece of
news than the thought that by so doing he will, at least for a few
hours, escape the necessity of being in his young friend's company. As
to where that young friend at present is, whether, after having wandered
about the town all night, he is now sleeping late, or whether he is
already off to persecute poor Mrs. Le Marchant for that maternal
blessing which she has so little inclination to give, Jim is ignorant.
All he knows is that such another dose of Byng's erotic eloquence as he
had to swallow last night will leave him (Burgoyne) either a murderer or
suicide.

Owing to his arrival at the Anglo-Américain so much sooner than usual,
he finds himself coming in for the ceremony of Sybilla's installation
for the day in the drawing-room. There is always a little pomp and fussy
bustle about this rite. Sybilla totters in (grave doubts have
occasionally crossed the minds of her family as to whether she does not
in reality possess a pair of excellent and thoroughly dependable legs),
supported on one side by Amelia and on the other by her maid. Cecilia
goes before with an air cushion, and Mr. Wilson follows, when he does
not turn restive--which is sometimes the case--with a duvet. To-day, as
I have said, this rite is in full celebration when Jim arrives, but it
is being performed with mutilated glories. The rite is going forward,
but the high priest is absent. That ministrant, upon whose arm the
sufferer is wont to lean far the most heavily; she upon whom devolves
the whole responsibility of arranging the three cushions behind the long
limp back; the properly covering the languid feet; the nice
administering of the reviving cordial drops that are to repair the
fatigue of the transit from bedroom to sitting-room--that most important
and unfailing ministrant is nowhere to be seen. No artist wishes his
picture to be viewed in an inchoate, unfinished stage, nor is Sybilla at
all anxious to have the public admitted to the sight of that eminent
work of art herself until she is stretched in faint, moribund, graceful
completeness on her day-bed. At the moment of Burgoyne's entry she has
just reached that unbecoming point, where she is sitting sideways on her
sofa, before her wasted limbs--Burgoyne is one of those heretics who
have never believed that they are wasted--have been carefully lifted
into their final posture of extension upon the Austrian blanket. It is,
of all moments, the one at which interruption is least welcome; nor is
the intruder at all surprised at being greeted by the invalid with a
more than sub-acid accent.

"My dear Jim, _already_! Why you become more _matinale_ every day! you
_are_ the early bird indeed! You do not"--with an annoyed laugh--"give
us poor worms a chance of being beforehand with you."

"I am very sorry if I am too soon," replies he, his eyes wandering away
from the fretful features before him in search of others upon which he
knows he shall find written no complaint of his prematureness--"but I
came to----Where's Amelia?"

"You may well ask," replies Sybilla, with a sort of hysterical laugh.
"It is pretty evident that she is not _here_! My dear Cis, would you
mind remembering that my head is not made of mahogany? you gave it such
a bang with that cushion. I am very sorry to trouble you. The heaviest
load a sick person has to bear is the feeling that she is such a burden
to those around her; and certainly, my dear, you do not help me to
forget it."

"Where is she?" repeats Burgoyne hastily, both because he wants to know,
and because he is anxious to strangle in its infancy one of those
ignoble family bickerings, to assist at many of which has been the
privilege or penalty of his state of intimacy.

"She is not well," replies Cecilia shortly, her rosy face rosier than
usual, either with the joy of imminent battle, or with the exertion of
swaddling, under protest, the invalid's now elevated legs.

"Not well! Amelia not well," echoes he, in a tone of incredulity.

During all the years of their acquaintance not once has he heard his
patient sweetheart complain of ache or pain. Manlike, he has therefore
concluded that she can never have felt either.

"It is very thoughtless of her," says Cecilia, with a not altogether
amiable laugh, and giving a final irritated slap to Sybilla's
coverlet--"considering how much illness we already have in the house;
ha! ha! but it is true all the same: she is not well, not at all well;
she is in bed."

"_In bed!_"

"She must have caught a chill yesterday on that disgusting excursion;
driving home that long distance in wet shoes and stockings."

"But I thought, I hoped that--I asked her to change them."

"She had them dried in a sort of way; but I could see when she put them
on again that they were really wringing wet still. I told her so, but
she only answered that even if they were, what matter? she never caught
cold. You know that Amelia never thinks that anything matters that
concerns herself."

This would be an even handsomer tribute to Amelia than it is, if it did
not suggest a secondary intention of administering a back-hander to
someone else.

"In the case of my children," says Mr. Wilson, making his voice heard
for the first time from the window, where he is discontentedly peering
up and down the sheets of a journal through his spectacles, "there seems
to be no mean possible between senseless rashness and preposterous
self-indulgence."

Mr. Wilson likes his eldest daughter. He is uneasy and upset, and rather
angry at her indisposition, and this is his way of showing his paternal
tenderness.

"_In bed!_"

The human animal is the most adaptive of created beings; but even it
requires some little time to adjust itself to entirely new conditions of
existence.

"Amelia," continues Mr. Wilson, fanning the flame of his ire with the
bellows of his own rhetoric, "is the one among you whom I did credit
with the possession of a head upon her shoulders, and now here she is
wantonly laying herself up!"

"You talk as if she did it on purpose, father," says Cecilia, with an
indignant laugh--"as if she enjoyed it. I do not think that anyone, even
Sybilla"--with a resentful side-glance at the sofa--"could enjoy having
her teeth chattering with cold, her head as heavy as lead, and her knees
knocking together under her."

"Good heavens!" cries Jim, his bewildered surprise swallowed up in
genuine alarm; "you do not mean to say that she is as bad as that?"

Sybilla laughs, and even in the midst of his real anxiety, Burgoyne has
time for the reflection that the Wilson family seem this morning to have
_se donné le mot_ to show in how many different styles it is possible to
be merry without the least tinge of genuine mirth in any.

"My dear Jim, have not you known Cis long enough not to take her _au
pied de la lettre_? Do not you know of old what a magnificent colourist
she is?--a perfect Tintoret! Of course Amelia is not quite the thing,
poor dear--she has no one but herself to blame for that!--but equally of
course, to a colossally healthy person such as she, any little ailment
appears a mountain."

This speech is uttered with the accent of such entire conviction that it
ought to carry reassurance into the heart of the person to whom it is
addressed. Sybilla really and honestly disbelieves in the reality of any
claims but her own to sincere sickness. But Jim unreasonably neither is
nor feigns to be reassured.

"You have had advice for her? You have sent for Dr. Coldstream?" he asks
rapidly of the two sound members of the family, turning his back
unceremoniously upon the invalid.

"I was going to send for him at once," answers Cecilia, her own latent
anxiety quickened by the evident alarm of her interlocutor, "but Sybilla
said it was needless, as in any case he was coming to see her this
afternoon."

"I think he wishes to change my medicine," puts in Sybilla in a piano
voice, that shows an evident desire to assert her threatened position of
prime and only genuine invalid, a sort of "beware of imitations" tone;
"he is not quite satisfied with the effect of the last, I think; it has
not brought up the pulse and quickened the appetite in the way he hoped.
I thought that he might run up and look at Amelia at the end of his
visit to me."

"And is it possible," inquires Jim, with some heat, "that you are going
to let half a day go by without doing anything for her? I suppose you
have not exaggerated, have you?" turning with an earnest appeal in his
eyes to Cecilia; "but in any case I am very sure that nothing short of
being really and gravely ill would have kept her in bed--she who is
always waiting hand and foot upon us all, whom we all allow to spend her
life in hewing wood and drawing water for us."

"Send for Dr. Coldstream at once," says Mr. Wilson irritably; "at once,
I tell you; he is so very seldom out of the house that I have often
thought of suggesting to him to take a room here; and now, on the only
occasion on which he is really needed, he is not at hand."

"If you will write the note," says Jim, a shade relieved at having at
last succeeded in rousing Amelia's relations to prompt action, and
feeling a feverish desire to be doing something, "I will take it at
once; it will be the quickest way; I may catch him before he goes out
and bring him back with me."

"Do you really think it is necessary?" asks Sybilla, as Jim hustles
Cecilia to her writing-table, and stands, nervously fidgeting beside her
as she writes; "do you think, if it is only a common cold, as I suspect,
that it is quite fair to worry a man who is so run off his legs already?
He will probably laugh in your face; still, if you are so set upon it,
it is perhaps more satisfactory."

"You need not go into details--just a line--make haste!" cries Jim,
hanging tiresomely over Cecilia, rather impeding her than the reverse by
his impatience, and leaving entirely unnoticed Sybilla's observation,
which indeed has been uttered more to preserve her own self-respect than
with much hope that in the present wrong-headed state of mind of her
family any member will pay much heed to it.

In five minutes more, Jim, with Cecilia's note in his pocket, is being
borne rapidly in a fiacre through the sweet, gay streets. But, drive as
rapidly as he may, he is not quick enough to intercept the popular
English doctor, who, although, as his servant tantalizingly informs Jim,
he is almost always at home at that hour, has, on this occasion, been
sent for to an urgent case of sudden illness out of Florence, at the
village of Peretola. Jim has to content himself with the assurance that
immediately on his return the note will be given him; and with this
unsatisfactory intelligence Mr. Burgoyne reappears at the
Anglo-Américain. He finds the three persons whom he had left much as he
had quitted them--uneasy, cross, and unemployed.

"It is all the fault of that odious expedition yesterday," says Cecilia,
harking back to her old cry. "Why we set out at all, I can't imagine; on
such a day, it was madness, and----"

"It is not much use thinking of that now," interrupts Burgoyne
impatiently, and wincing at these philippics against his poor bride's
miserable treat as if they had been directed against herself.

"Well, it is an ill-wind that blows nobody any good," pursues the young
lady. "I suppose that two of us enjoyed it enough to make up for the
wretchedness of the other four."

Her large prominent eyes are fixed upon Jim as she speaks with a sort of
knowingness overlying their former lugubrious expression.

"Do you mean Mr. Byng and Miss Le Marchant?" inquires he, pronouncing
both names with a laboured distinctness, while his voice sounds to
himself loud and wooden. "You are perfectly right in your conjecture; no
doubt they enjoyed themselves. Byng wished me to tell you that they are
engaged to be married."

If the essence of a good piece of news is to surprise, Jim can certainly
not flatter himself that his comes under that head.

"It did not require a conjurer to prophesy that," is Cecilia's comment.
"I never saw two people who troubled themselves less to disguise their
feelings. I saw that they neither of them knew whether they were on
their heads or on their heels, when they emerged dripping from that
horrid pine wood. Dear me!"--with a good-sized sigh--"how smoothly
things run for some people! how easily some of these affairs come off,
without a hitch anywhere from beginning to end!"

She pauses, and it is plain to those acquainted with her heart history
that her thoughts are coursing mournfully back to the all-along
reluctant and ultimately entirely faithless clergyman who had last
possessed her young affections.

"Without a hitch from beginning to end?" cries Jim hotly, jarred more
than he would like to own to himself by this phrase. "How can you
possibly tell? These are early days to assert that so dogmatically.

    "'There's many a slip
     'Twixt the cup and the lip.'"

"Do you mean to say that you think it will not come off?" asks Cecilia,
a slightly pleasurable light coming into her eyes as she asks--not that
she has any ill-will towards Elizabeth, nor any distinct design of her
own upon Byng; but that there is something not absolutely disagreeable
to her in the idea of his being still among the ranks of the possible.

"I am sure he would make a delightful husband," puts in Sybilla, her
praise given emphasis by her desire to employ it as a weapon of offence
against one who is at present more deeply than usual in her black books;
"he has such gentle, feminine ways; he comes into a room so quietly, and
when he asks one how one is really listens for the answer."


"Perhaps you are right, and it will fall through," says Cecilia
thoughtfully; "many engagements do!" (sighing again). "She is a sweet,
pretty creature, and looks as if butter would not melt in her mouth; but
she is evidently older than he."

"Jim will not allow that to be an objection," cries Sybilla, with a
faint laugh, "will you, Jim? How much older than you is Amelia? I always
forget."

"I never can help thinking that she has a history," resumes Cecilia, in
a meditative voice, "and that Mr. Greenock knows it. If ever her name is
mentioned he always begins to look wise, as if there were something that
he was longing to tell one about her; it is continually on the tip of
his tongue--some day it will tumble over the tip."

"I do not think that there is any use in my staying all this while!"
cries Jim, jumping up. "Dr. Coldstream cannot be here at soonest for
another hour; and I do not think that we are, any of us, very good
company for each other to-day, so I will look in again later."


He is out of the room and out of the hotel before his companions can
take exception to his disappearance. For some time he walks along
aimlessly, his mind a jumble of misery, and dull, remorseful anxiety
about Amelia; intolerable comparisons between his own lot and his
friend's; sharp knives of jealousy as often as--which is almost
unintermittently--his imagination wings its cruel way to the Piazza
d'Azeglio--through one opulent week, _his_ Piazza. At this moment--this
moment, while his own leaden feet are treading goalless the hot flags
that for him lead nowhere--Byng is enthroned with _her_ in the heaven of
the mean little _salon_. He unconsciously shows his teeth in a stern
smile to the surprised passers-by. He had jeered Byng for his
hyperboles, and now he is _out-hyperboling_ him. What a detestable verb
he has invented! He laughs out loud. Are they sitting at the window,
looking out at the judas tree and the Paulownia? Not they! The window is
commanded to a certain extent by the roadway. The window is for
acquaintances, banal acquaintances, like himself--no place for the
permitted freedoms of exquisite new love. Are they then on the sofa, the
vulgar walnut sofa, over which Elizabeth has thrown her blue Neapolitan
tablecloth? It is a little sofa, scarcely room for two upon it, but, oh!
plenty of room for them! Or are they at the piano? Is she singing him
some sugared ditty "lovely well" until he breaks into her song with the
storm of his kisses, and her little white hands drop from the keys, and
they lie sobbing with ecstasy in each other's arms? It is quite certain
that Byng will sob. He is always delighted at having an opportunity for
turning on the water-works. Is there a bare possibility that Mrs. Le
Marchant may carry her disapprobation to the pitch of impeding by her
presence their _tête-à-tête_? The idea gives him a momentary
alleviation. Why should not he go and see for himself whether it is so?
It will be a method of passing the tedious interval before he can hear
the doctor's verdict on Amelia. He must at some time or other comply
with Byng's pressing prayer to him to offer his congratulations to
Elizabeth, and he may as well have a day of complete and perfect
pain--pain of various flavours and essences mixed into one consummate
draught--a day of which not one hour shall be without its ache.

Having come to this conclusion, his aimless walk quickens, and changes
into a purposeful striding through streets and Piazzas, till he finds
himself standing at the door of 12_a_. He looks up at the _entresol_
windows--they are all open, but no one is either sitting in or looking
out at them. It is as he had thought. The window is too public for them;
neither can they be at the piano, for not a sound of either voice or
instrument is wafted down to him. He runs up the stone stairs, and rings
the electric bell. The standing before the unopened portal, and the
trembling jar of the bell, bring back to him, with a vividness he could
do without, those other long-ago days--they seem to him long ago--when
he stood there last, with no easy heart even then, but yet with how
different anticipations. He has found it hard enough to bear the brunt
of Byng's furious inhuman joy when alone with him. How will he stand it
when he sees them together?

He is recalled from these reflections by the opening of the door, and
the appearance in it of the ministering angel who has usually admitted
him into his Eden--Annunziata. It strikes him that Annunziata looks
older and more dishevelled than ever, and is without that benevolent
smile of welcoming radiance which her hard-featured face generally
wears. Nor does she, as has been her wont, stand back to let him pass in
almost before he has put his question, as if she could not admit him
quickly enough. But to-day she stands, on the contrary, in the doorway
without a smile. In a second the idea flashes across Jim's mind that
Byng has forbidden anyone to be let in. It turns him half sick for the
moment, and it is with an unsteady voice that he stammers:

"The Signora? The Signorina?"

Annunziata lifts her shoulders in a dismal shrug, and stretches out her
hands:

"Gone!"

"_Gone?_ You mean gone out driving?" Then remembering that her English
is as minus a quantity as his Italian, he adds in eager explanation, "En
fiacre?"

She shakes her head, and then nods vaguely in the direction of the whole
of the rest of the world--the whole, that is, that is not 12 bis.

"No, _gone_!"

"But _where_? _Dove?_" cries he, frantic with irritation at his own
powerlessness either to understand or be understood.

Again she shakes her head.

"I do not know; they did not say."

He gathers this to be her meaning, and hurriedly puts another query.

"When? _Quando?_"

But her answer being longer and more voluble, he can't take in its
drift, seeing which she retreats a step, and, motioning him with her
hand to enter, points down the passage. He does not require to have the
dumb-show of invitation twice repeated, but, rushing past her, hurries
down the well-known little corridor to the _salon_ door. It is open, and
he stands within. At the first glance it seems to him to wear much its
usual air. There is even a score of music standing on the piano, the
copper pots are full of rose-branches, and the _scaldini_ brimming with
Firenze's own lilies, the bit of red Venetian brocade, with the little
old tinsel fringe, still hangs over the arm-chair by the fireplace, and
the blue Neapolitan table-cover still disguises the vulgarity of the
sofa. He has misunderstood Annunziata--it is really monstrous to be so
helplessly ignorant of the language of the country you are living in--or
she has lost her wits, or----He had thought the room empty, but as he
advances a step further into it, he discovers that he is not the sole
occupant: that lying stretched upon the floor, with his fair head buried
in a little pillow, against which both men have often seen Elizabeth's
small white cheek resting, is Byng!--the Byng whose riotous, insolent
happiness he had doubted his own powers of witnessing without murdering
him!--the splendid felicity of whose lot he has been so bitterly laying
beside his own destiny--the Byng whom he had been gnashing his teeth at
the thought of--at the thought of him lying in Elizabeth's arms!



CHAPTER XXVI.

    "Cressid, I love thee in so strained a purity,
     That the blest gods--as angry at my fancy,
     More bright in zeal than the devotion which
     Cold lips blow to their deities--take thee from me."


"What does this mean?"

The question has to be twice repeated before the person to whom it is
addressed gives any sign of having heard it. His ears must be so deeply
embedded in the pillow that the passage to his hearing is blocked. It is
not till the interrogation is put a second time, in a louder key, and
accompanied by a not very gentle shake of the shoulder, that he at
length looks up, and reveals what Jim knows to be, and yet has some
difficulty in recognising, as the features of Byng--features so altered,
so distorted, so swollen by excessive weeping, that no one less
intimately acquainted with them than the person who has been already
contemplating them, under the influence of a variety of circumstances
for a couple of months, could possibly put the owner's name to them. Jim
has expected that his young friend would spend some portion of this day
in crying, knowing well both his powers of, and his taste for, "turning
on the water-works," as he but lately cruelly and uncivilly phrased it
to his own mind. But the warm tears of emotion, few and undisfiguring,
with which he had credited him, have not much kinship with the scalding
torrents that have made his handsome young eyes mere red blurs on his
ashen face, that have furrowed his cheeks, and damped his disordered
curls, and taken all the starch out of his immaculate "masher" collar.
They have wetted, too, into a state of almost pulp, a crumpled sheet of
note-paper, which his head seems to have been burrowing in, upon the
pillow.

"What does it mean?" repeats Burgoyne, for the third time, a hideous
fear assailing him, at the sight of the young man's anguish, that he
himself may have mistaken Annunziata's meaning; that her "gone" may have
stood for the final one; that some instant stroke may have snatched
lovely Elizabeth away, out of the world. Surely no catastrophe less than
death can account for such a metamorphosis as that wrought in Byng. "Why
do you look like that?" he goes on, his voice taking that accent of rage
which extreme fear sometimes gives. "Why do not you speak?"

The other, thus adjured, plainly makes a violent effort for
articulation; but his dry throat will let pass nothing but a senseless
sob.

"What does that paper mean?" goes on Burgoyne, realizing the impotence
of his friend to obey his behest, and rendered doubly terrified by it;
"what is it? what does it say? Does it--does it--explain anything?"

He points as he speaks to the blurred and rumpled _billet_, and Byng
catches it up convulsively, and thrusts it into his hand.

"It is the first letter I ever had from her," he says, the words rushing
out broken and scarcely intelligible upon a storm of sobs, and so flings
his head violently down upon the floor again in a new access of furious
weeping.

Burgoyne holds the paper in his fingers, but for a moment or two he is
unable to read it. There is an ugly swimming before his eyes for one
thing; for another, Byng's treatment has not improved it as a specimen
of caligraphy; but it never in its best days could have been a very
legible document. And yet it is not long. Its few words, when at length
he makes them out, ran thus:

     "_Good-bye, I was mad yesterday. I shall never marry you; I
     have no right to marry anyone. For God's sake do not ask me
     what I mean; and oh! don't, don't, DON'T come after me!_"

There is neither date nor signature. As Jim stands staring at the five
crooked, straggling sentences, a great swelling compassion fills his
heart. Did ever poor little scribble make it so easy to construct the
small shaking hand, and the tender breaking heart that penned it? An
immense pity fills his soul; yet does it quite fill it? Is there room
besides, in one corner, for a small pinch of devilish joy?

    "There's many a slip
     'Twixt the cup and the lip."

His own words of ill-natured croaking, uttered not an hour ago, to
Cecilia Wilson, recur to his mind. How little he thought that that
prophecy would so soon be fulfilled! He remains so long motionless and
silent, his fingers still holding the paper, whose contents he has long
ago mastered, that Byng--the violence of his paroxysm of grief at length
exhausted--struggles to his feet and speaks--speaks as well as the catch
in his sobbing breath and his quivering lips will let him.

"It is not her doing! You may think it is her doing, but I know it is
not! I know her better than you do."


"I never made any pretensions to knowing her well," replies the other
sadly, and relinquishing as he speaks the note to its owner.

"Is it likely, I ask you?" cries Byng excitedly. "I put it to you
fairly: is it likely that she, with her seraph nature, all love and
burning, she that is tender over drowning flies, would have put me to
this horrible pain?--O God, you do not know what pain it is" ["Do not
I?" aside]--"of her own free will?"

"I do not know; as you say, I do not know her well."

    "'Then tell, oh tell! how thou didst murder me?'"

says Byng, beginning to walk up and down the room with the tears still
rolling down his cheeks, but in his spouting voice--a voice which at
once assures Jim of an amelioration in his friend's condition, and
hardens his heart against him. As a broad rule, indeed, it may be laid
down that that sorrow which courses through one of the numberless
channels cut by the poets for it will not bring its owner to Waterloo
Bridge.

"But what am I saying?" lapsing out of his quotation into broken-hearted
prose again. "It was not she! If I thought it were she, could I live a
moment? It is her mother; no sane person can doubt that it is her
mother's doing! She was always so sweetly docile, and her mother has
conceived some prejudice against me. Did not I tell you how barbarously
she shut the door upon me last night?--shut the door of my heaven in my
face just as I thought I had won the right to enter it. Who would not
have thought that it was won who had seen us together in the wood?"

Jim writhes.

"Oh, never mind the wood now!"

"Someone has prejudiced her against me, but who? I did not know that I
had an enemy in the world. Someone has told her about--about
Oxford--about my being sent down."

Jim is silent.

"If it is only that----" a tearful buoyancy beginning to pierce through
his despair.

"It is not that."

"Someone has put a spoke in my wheel; but who? You are the only person
who could, and you, dear old chap, are the last person who would, though
you were not very encouraging to me last night! _You_ did not?"

There is so direct an interrogation in the last words, accompanied by so
confiding a look of affection, that yet has an uneasy touch of doubt in
it, that Jim is obliged to answer.

"No, I did not put a spoke in your wheel; but"--his honesty forcing the
admission--"I am not at all so sure that I am the last person who would
have done so, if I could."

Byng has wiped his eyes to clear his vision of the blinding tears, and
has again directed them to the note, which he has all this while been
alternately pressing against his heart, laying upon his forehead, and
crushing against his mouth.

"It seems blasphemy to say so of anything that came from her hand," he
says, poring for the hundredth time over each obscure word, "but it
reads like nonsense, does it not? '_I shall never marry you! I have no
right to marry anyone!_' No right? what does she mean?"

Jim shakes his head sadly.

"How can I tell?"

"Do you think it is possible"--lifting his disfigured eyes in horrified
appeal to his friend--"it is a dreadful hypothesis, but I can think of
no other--that that bright intelligence was clouded--that--that her dear
little wits were touched when she wrote this?"

"No, I do not think so."

"You--you are not keeping anything from me?"--coming a step nearer, and
convulsively clutching his friend's arm--"you--you do not know
anything--anything that could throw light upon--upon this? I do not know
whether you are conscious of it, but there is something in your manner
that might lead me to that conclusion. Do you know--have you heard
anything?"

"I know nothing," replies Jim slowly, and looking uncomfortably away
from the questioner, "but I conjecture, I fear, I believe
that--that----"

"That what? For God's sake, be a little quicker!"

"That--that--there is a--a--something in her past."

Byng falls back a pace or two, and puts up his hand to his head.

"What--what do you mean? What are you talking about? Her past?
What"--soaring into extravagance again--"what can there be written on
that white page?--so white that it bedazzles the eyes of even the angels
who read it."

"I do not know what there is," replies Jim miserably, irritated almost
beyond endurance by this poetic flight, and rendered even more wretched
than he was before by the _rôle_ that seems to be forced upon him, of
conjecturally blackening Elizabeth's character. "How many times must I
tell you that I _know_ no more than you, only from--from various
indications I have been led to believe that she has _something_--some
great sorrow behind her?"

There is a silence, and when it is broken it is infringed by what is not
much more than a whisper.

"What--what do you mean; what--what sort of a sorrow?"

"I tell you, I do not know."

Byng's tears have stopped flowing, and he now lifts his eyes, full of a
madness of exaltation, to the ceiling.

"I will go to her," he cries; "if sorrow has the audacity to approach
her again, it will have to reckon with me. There is no sorrow, none, in
the whole long gamut of woe, for which love such as mine is not a balm.
Reciprocal love!"--trailing the words in a sort of slow rapture--"no one
that had seen her in the wood could have doubted that it _was_
reciprocal."

"No doubt, no doubt."

"I will go to her!"--clasping his hands high in the air--"I will pour
the oil and spikenard of my adoration into her gaping wounds! I will
kiss the rifts together, though they yawn as wide as hell--yes, I will."

"For heaven's sake, do not talk such dreadful gibberish," breaks in Jim,
at length at the end of his patience, which had run quite to the extreme
of its tether indeed at the last mention of that ever-recurring wood.
"It _is_ a knockdown blow for you, I own, and I would do what I could to
help you; but if you will keep on spouting and talking such terrible
bosh----"

"I suppose I am making an ass of myself," replies Byng, thus brought
down with a run from his heroics. "I beg your pardon, I am sure, old
man. I have no right to victimize you," his sweet nature asserting
itself even at this bitter moment; "but you see it is so horribly
sudden. If you had seen her when I parted from her last night at the
door! She lingered a moment behind Mrs. Le Marchant--just a moment, just
time enough to give me one look, one wordless look. She did not speak;
she was so divinely dutiful and submissive that nothing would have
persuaded her by the lightest word to imply any censure of her mother;
but she gave me just a look, which said plainly, 'It is not _my_ fault
that you are turned away! _I_ would have welcomed you in!' Upon that
look I banqueted in heaven all night."

He stops, choked.

"Well?"

"And then this morning, when I got here--I think I ran all the way; I am
sure I did, for I saw people staring at me as I passed--to be met by
Annunziata with the news that they were _gone_! I did not believe her; I
laughed in her face, and then she grew angry, and bid me come in and see
for myself! And I rushed past her, in here, with my arms stretched out,
confident that in one short moment more _she_ would be filling them, and
instead of her"--dropping upon his knees by the table with a groan--"I
find this!"--dashing the note upon the floor--"all that she leaves me to
fill my embrace instead of her is this poor little pillow, that still
seems to keep a faint trace of the perfume of her delicate head!"

He buries his own in it again as he speaks, beginning afresh to sob
loudly.

Jim stands beside him, his mind half full of compassion and half of a
burning exasperation, and his body wholly rigid.

"When did they go? at what hour? last night or this morning?"

"This morning early, quite early."

"They have left all their things behind them"--looking round at the
room, strewn with the traces of recent and refined occupation.

"Yes"--lifting his wet face out of his cushion--"and at first, seeing
everything just as usual, even to her very workbasket--she has left her
very workbasket behind--I was quite reassured. I felt certain that they
could have gone for only a few hours--for the day perhaps; but----"

He breaks off

"Yes?"

"They left word that their things were to be packed and sent after them
to an address they would give."

"And you do not know where they have gone?"

"I know nothing, nothing, only that they are gone.

    "'Then tell, oh tell! how thou didst murder me?'

Oh! oh!! oh!!!"

"You never heard them speak of their plans, mention any place they
intended to move to on leaving Florence?"

"Never!"

"It is too late for Rome," says Jim musingly; "England? I hardly think
England," recalling Elizabeth's forlorn admission made to him at Monte
Senario, "Why should we go home? We have nothing pleasant to go to."

"I do not think they had any plans," says Byng, speaking in a voice
which is thick with much weeping; "they never seemed to me to have any.
She was so happy here, so gay, there never was anything more lovely than
her gaiety, except--except--her tenderness."

"Yes, yes, no doubt. Then you are absolutely without a clue?"

"Absolutely."

"Do you mean to say that up to yesterday--all through yesterday,
even--she never gave you a hint of any intention of leaving Florence?"

"Never, _never_. On the contrary, in the----" (he is going to say "the
wood," but thinks better of it), "we were planning many more such
expeditions as yesterday's. At least, I was planning them."

"And she assented?"

"She did not _dis_sent. She met me with a look of divine acquiescence."

Jim turns away his head. He is involuntarily picturing to himself what
that look was like, and with what sweet dumb-show it was accompanied.

"What powers of hell"--banging his head down upon the table
again--"could have wrought such a hideous change in so few hours? Only
ten! for it was eight in the evening before I left them, and they were
off at six this morning. They could have seen no one; they had received
no letters, no telegrams, for I inquired of Annunziata, and she assured
me that they had not. Oh no!"--lifting his face with a gleam of moist
hope upon it--"there is only one tenable hypothesis about it--it is not
_her_ doing at all. She wrote this under pressure. It is her
handwriting, is it not?--though I would not swear even to that. I--I
have played the mischief with my eyes"--pulling out his drenched
pocket-handkerchief, and hastily wiping them--"so that I cannot see
properly; but it _is_ hers, is not it?"

"I do not know; I never saw her handwriting; she never wrote to me."

"It was evidently dictated to her," cries Byng, his sanguine nature
taking an upward spring again; "there are clear traces, even in the very
way the letters are formed, of its being written to order reluctantly.
She did it under protest. See how her poor little hand was shaking, and
she was crying all the while, bless her! There, do not you see a blister
on the paper--here on this side?"

Burgoyne does not see any blister, but as he thinks it extremely
probable that there was one, he does not think himself called upon to
wound his friend by saying so.

"I declare I think we have got hold of the right clue at last," cries
Byng, his dimmed eyes emitting such a flash as would have seemed
impossible to them five minutes ago. "Read in this light, it is not
nearly so incomprehensible: '_I shall never marry you, I have no right
to marry anyone._' Of course, I see now! What an ass I was not to see it
at once! What she means is that she has no right to leave her mother! To
anyone who knew her lofty sense of duty as well as I ought to have done
it is quite obvious that that is what she means. Is not it quite
obvious? is not it as clear as the sun in heaven?"

Jim shakes his head.

"I am afraid that it is rather a forced interpretation."

"I do not agree with you," rejoins the other hotly; "I see nothing
forced about it. You do not know as well as I do--how should you?--her
power of delicate, self-sacrificing devotion. It is overstrained, I
grant you; but there it is--she thinks she has no right to leave her
mother now that she is all alone."

"She is not alone; she has her husband."

"I mean now that all her other children are married and scattered. There
are plenty more--are not there?--though I never could get her to talk
about them."

"There are two sisters and two brothers."

"But they are no longer any good to their mother," persists Byng,
clinging to his theory with all the greater tenacity as he sees that it
meets with no very great acceptance in his friend's eyes; "as far as she
is concerned they are non-existent."

"I do not know what right you have to say that."

"And so she, with her lofty idea of self-sacrifice, immolates her own
happiness on the altar of her filial affection. It is just like
her!"--going off into a sort of rapture--"blind mole that I was not to
divine the motive, which her ineffable delicacy forbade her to put into
words. She thought she had a right to think that I should have
comprehended her without words!"

He has talked himself into a condition of such exalted confidence before
he reaches the end of this sentence that Jim is conscious of a certain
brutality in applying to him the douche contained in his next words.

"I do not know why you should credit Mrs. Le Marchant with such colossal
selfishness; she never used to be a selfish woman."

But Burgoyne's cold shower-bath does not appear even to damp the
shoulders for which it is intended.

    "'Since you left me, taking no farewell,'"

murmurs Byng, beginning again to tramp up and down the little room, with
head thrown back and clasped hands high lifted; and in his rapt poet
voice:

    "'Since you left me, taking no farewell,'

I must follow you, sweet! Despite your prohibition, I must follow you.

    "'We two that with so many thousand sighs,
    Did buy each other.'"

Then, coming abruptly down to prose--"Though they left no address, it
will of course be possible, easy, to trace them. I will go to the
station and make inquiries. They will have been seen. It is out of the
question that she can have passed unnoticed! No eye that has once been
enriched by the sight of her can have forgotten that heavenly vision. I
will telegraph to Bologna, to Milan, to Venice. Before night I shall
have learnt her whereabouts. I shall be in the train, following her
track. I shall be less than a day behind her. I shall fall at her feet,
I shall----"

"You are talking nonsense," answers Burgoyne impatiently; and yet with a
distinct shade of pity in his voice; "you cannot do anything of the
kind. When the poor woman has given so very unequivocal a proof of her
wish to avoid you, as is implied in leaving the place at a moment's
notice, without giving herself even time to pack her clothes, it is
impossible that you can force your company again upon her--it would be
persecution."

"And do you mean to tell me," asks Byng slowly, and breathing hard,
while the fanatical light dies out of his face, and leaves it chalk
white; "do you mean to say that I am to acquiesce, to sit down with my
hands before me, and submit without a struggle to the loss of----O my
God"--breaking out into an exceeding bitter cry--"why did you make me

          "'so rich in having such a jewel,
    As twenty seas, if all their sands were pearl,
    The water nectar, and the rocks pure gold,'

if it were only to rob me of her?"

"I do not see what other course is open to you," replies Jim, answering
only the first part of the young sufferer's appeal, and ignoring the
rhetoric, terribly genuine as is the feeling of which it is the florid
expression. "It is evident that she has some cogent reasons--or at least
that appear cogent to her--for breaking off her relations with you."

"What cogent reasons can she have that she had not yesterday?" says Byng
violently--"yesterday, when she lay in my arms, and her lips spoke their
acquiescence in my worship--if not in words, yet oh, far, far more----"

"Why do you reiterate these assertions?" cries Burgoyne sternly, since
to him there seems a certain indecency in--even in the insanity of
loss--dragging to the eye of day the record of such sacred endearments.
"I neither express nor feel any doubt as to the terms you were on
_yesterday_; what I maintain is that _to-day_--I do not pretend to
explain the why--she has changed her mind; it is not"--with a sarcasm,
which he himself at the very moment of uttering it feels to be cheap and
unworthy--"it is not the first time in the world's history that such a
thing has happened. She has changed her mind."

"I do not believe it," cries Byng, his voice rising almost to a shout in
the energy of his negation; "till her own mouth tell me so I will never
believe it. If I thought for a moment that it was true I should rush to
death to deliver me from the intolerable agony of such a thought. You do
not believe it yourself"--lifting his spoilt sunk eyes in an appeal that
is full of pathos to his friend's harsh face. "Think what condemnation
it implies of her--her whom you always affected to like, who thought so
greatly of you--her whose old friend you were--her whom you knew in her
lovely childhood!"

"You are right," replies Jim, looking down, moved and ashamed; "I do not
believe that she has changed her mind. What I do believe is that
yesterday she let herself go; she gave way for one day, only for one
day, after all, poor soul, to that famine for happiness which, I
suppose"--with a sigh and a shrug--"gnaws us all now and then--gave way
to it even to the pitch of forgetting that--that something in her past
of whose nature I am as ignorant as you are, which seems to cast a
blight over all her life."

He pauses; but as his listener only hangs silently on his utterance he
goes on:

"After you left her, recollection came back to her; and because she
could not trust herself again with you, probably for the very reason
that she cared exceedingly about you"--steeling himself to make the
admission--"she felt that there was nothing for it but to go."

Either the increased kindness of his friend's tone, or the conviction
that there is, at least, something of truth in his explanations, lets
loose again the fountain of Byng's tears, and once more he throws his
head down upon his hands and cries extravagantly.

"It is an awful facer for you, I know," says Burgoyne, standing over
him, and, though perfectly dry-eyed, yet probably not very much less
miserable than the young mourner, whose loud weeping fills him with an
almost unbearable and yet compunctious exasperation.

"What is he made of? how can he do it?" are the questions that he keeps
irefully putting to himself; and for fear lest in an access of
uncontrollable irritation he shall ask them out loud, he moves to the
door. At the slight noise he makes in opening it Byng lifts his head.

"Are you going?"

"Yes; if it is any consolation to you, you have not a monopoly of
wretchedness to-day. Things are not looking very bright for me either.
Amelia is ill."

"Amelia," repeats the other, with a hazy look, as if not at first able
to call to mind who Amelia is; then, with a return of consciousness, "Is
Amelia ill? Oh poor Amelia! Amelia was very good to her. Amelia tried to
draw her out. She liked Amelia!"

"Well"--with an impatient sigh--"unfortunately that did not hinder
Amelia from falling ill."

"She is not ill _really_?"--his inborn kind-heartedness struggling for a
moment to make head against the selfishness of his absorption.

"I do not know"--uneasily--"I am going back to the hotel to hear the
doctor's verdict. Will you walk as far as to the Anglo-Américain with
me? There is no use in your staying here."

But at this proposition the lover's sobs break out louder and more
infuriating than ever.

"I will stay here till I die--till I am carried over the threshold that
her cruel feet have crossed.

    "'Then tell, oh tell! how thou didst murder me?'"

Against a resolution at once so fixed and so rational, Jim sees that it
is useless to contend.



CHAPTER XXVII.


The sun rides high, as Burgoyne issues into the open air, and beats,
blinding hot, upon the great stone flags that pave the Florentine
streets, and seem to have a peculiar power of absorbing and retaining
light and heat. He must have been longer in the Piazza d'Azeglio than he
had thought, and the reflection quickens his steps as he hurries,
regardless of the midsummer blaze--for, indeed, it is more than
equivalent to that of our midsummer--back to the Anglo-Américain. As he
reaches it, he hears, with annoyance, the hotel clocks striking one. He
is annoyed, both because the length of his absence seems to argue an
indifference to the tidings he is expecting, and also because he knows
that it is the Wilsons' luncheon hour, and that he will probably find
that they have migrated to the _salle-à-manger_. In this case he will
have to choose between the two equally disagreeable alternatives of
following and watching them at their food, or that of undergoing a
_tête-à-tête_ with Sybilla, who, it is needless to say, does not
accompany her family to the public dining-room; a _tête-à-tête_ with
Sybilla, which is, of all forms of social intercourse, that for which he
has the least relish.

But as he apprehensively opens the _salon_ door, he sees that his fears
are unfounded. They have not yet gone to luncheon; they are all sitting
in much the same attitudes as he had left them, except that Sybilla is
eating or drinking something of a soupy nature out of a cup. There are
very few hours of the day or night in which Sybilla is not eating
something out of a cup. There is that about the entire idleness of the
other couple which gives him a fright. Are they too unhappy? Have they
heard too bad news to be able to settle to any occupation? Urged by this
alarm, his question shoots out, almost before he is inside the door:

"Has not he come yet? Has not the doctor come yet?"

"He has been and gone; you see, you have been such a very long time
away," replies Cecilia. She has no intention of conveying reproach,
either by her words or tone; but to his sore conscience it seems as if
both carried it.

"And what did he say?"

"He did not say much."

"Does he--does he think that it is anything--anything serious?"

"He did not say."

"Do you mean to tell me"--indignantly--"that you did not ask him?"

"If you had been here," replies Cecilia, with a not inexcusable
resentment, "you might have asked him yourself."

"But did not you ask him?" in too real anxiety to be offended at, or
even aware of, her fleer. "Did not he say?"

"I do not think he knew himself."

"But he must have thought--he must have had an opinion!" growing the
more uneasy as there seems no tangible object for his fears to lay hold
of.

"He says it is impossible to judge at so early a stage; it may be a
chill--I told him about that detestable excursion yesterday, and he
considered it quite enough to account for anything--it may be
measles--they seem to be a good deal about; it may be malaria--there is
a good deal of that too."

"And how soon will he know? How soon will it declare itself?"

"I do not know."


"But has he prescribed? Is there nothing to be done--to be done _at
once_?" asks Jim feverishly, chafing at the idea of this inaction, which
seems inevitable, with that helpless feeling which his own entire
ignorance of sickness produces.

"Do not you suppose that if there was we should have done it?" cries
Cecilia, rendered even more uncomfortable than she was before, by the
contagion of his anxiety. "We are to keep her in bed--there is no great
difficulty about that, poor soul; she has not the least desire to get
up; she seems so odd and heavy!"

"So _odd and heavy_?"

"Yes; I went in to see her just now, and she scarcely took any notice of
me; only when I told her that you had been to inquire after her, she lit
up a little. I believe"--with a rather grudging smile--"that if she were
dead, and someone mentioned your name, she would light up."

A sudden mountain rises in Jim's throat.

"If she is not better to-morrow, Dr. Coldstream will send a nurse."

"But does he think it will be necessary?"

"He does not know."

Jim writhes. It seems to him as if he were being blind-folded, and
having his arms tied to his sides by a hundred strong yet invisible
threads.

"Does no one know anything?" he cries miserably.

"I have told you exactly what the doctor said," says Cecilia, with the
venial crossness bred of real anxiety. "I suppose you do not wish me to
invent something that he did not say?"

"Of course not; but I wish I had been here--I wish I had been
here!"--restlessly.

"Why were not you?"

No immediate answer.

"Why were not you?" repeats she, curiosity, for the moment, superseding
her disquiet. "What prevented you? I thought, when you left us, that you
meant to come back at once?"

"So I did, but----"


"But what?"

"I could not; I was with Byng."

"With Byng?" repeats Cecilia, too genuinely astonished to remember even
to prefix a "Mr." to Byng's name. "Why, I should have thought that if
there were one day of his life on which he could have done without you
better than another, it would have been to-day!"

"Were not you rather _de trop_?" chimes in Sybilla's languid voice from
the sofa. "Rather a bad third?"

"I was not a third at all."

"Do you mean to say," cries Cecilia, her countenance tinged with the
pink of a generous indignation, "that you were _four_--that Mrs. Le
Marchant stayed in the room the whole time? I must say that now that
they are really and _bonâ fide_ engaged, I think she might leave them
alone together."

"Mrs. Le Marchant was not there at all." Then, seeing the open-mouthed
astonishment depicted on the faces of his audience, he braces his mind
to make the inevitable yet dreaded announcement. "I had better explain
at once that neither Mrs. nor Miss Le Marchant was there; they are
gone."

"Gone!"

"Yes; they left Florence at seven o'clock this morning." There is a
moment of silent stupefaction.

"I suppose," says Cecilia, at last slowly recovering the power of
speech, "that they were telegraphed for? Mr. Le Marchant is dead or ill?
one of the married sisters? one of the brothers?"

Never in his life has Jim laboured under so severe a temptation to tell
a lie, were it only the modified falsehood of allowing Cecilia's
hypothesis to pass uncontradicted; but even if he were able for once to
conquer his constitutional incapacity, he knows that in this case it
would be useless. The truth must transpire to-morrow.

"I believe not."

"Gone!" repeats Cecilia, in a still more thunderstruck key than
before--"and where are they gone?"

"I do not know."

"Why did they go?"

Jim makes an impatient movement, fidgeting on his chair. "I can only
tell you their actions; they told me their motives as little as they did
you."

"Gone! Why, they never said a word about it yesterday."

This being of the nature of an assertion--not an interrogation--Jim
feels with relief that it does not demand an answer.

"Gone, at seven o'clock in the morning! Why, they could not have had
time to pack their things!"

"They left them behind."

The moment that this admission is out of Burgoyne's mouth, he repents
having made it; nor does his regret at all diminish under the shower of
ejaculations from both sisters that it calls forth.

"Why, it was a regular flit! they must have taken French leave."

There is something so horribly jarring in the semi-jocosity of the last
phrase that Jim jumps up from his chair and walks towards the window,
where Mr. Wilson is sitting in dismal idleness.

Mr. Wilson has never cared much about the Le Marchants, and is now far
too deeply absorbed in his own trouble to have anything but the most
inattentive indifference to bestow upon the topic which to his daughters
appears so riveting. Jim blesses him for his callousness. But the window
of a small room is not so distant from any other part of it that sounds
cannot, with perfect ease, penetrate thither, as Jim finds when
Cecilia's next eager question pursues him.

"Did Mr. Byng know that they were going?"

"No."

There is a pause.

"It is absolutely incomprehensible!" says Cecilia, with almost a gasp.
"I never saw any one human being so much in love with another as she was
yesterday--there was so little disguise about it, that one was really
quite sorry for her--and this morning at cockcrow she decamps and leaves
him without a word."

"You are mistaken--she left a note for him."

"Poor dear boy!" sighs Sybilla, "is not he quite prostrated by the blow?
I am not apt to pity men generally--they are so coarse-grained--but he
is much more delicately strung than the general run."

"I suppose he is frightfully cut up," says Cecilia, with that
inquisitiveness as to the details of a great affliction which we are all
apt to experience.

For some perverse reason, inexplicable even to himself, Jim would like
to be able to answer that his friend is not cut up at all; but truth
again asserting its empire, he assents laconically, "Frightfully!"

"How did he take it?"

"How do people generally take such things?"

The impatience of the key in which this is uttered, coupled with the
implied side-allusion to an acquaintance with sorrows of a somewhat
similar nature on her own part, silences the younger and sounder Miss
Wilson for a moment, but only for a moment--a moment long enough to be
filled by another sighing "Poor dear boy!" from Sybilla.

"You say that she left a note for him?"--with a renewed light of
curiosity in her eyes--"have you any idea what was in it?"

Jim hesitates; then, "Yes," he replies; "but as it was not addressed to
me, I do not think that I have any right to repeat it."

"Of course not!"--reluctantly; "but did it throw no light--absolutely no
light at all--upon this extraordinary stampede?"

"No."

"Did not she even tell him where they were going?"

"No."

"Nor whether they were coming back?"

"No."

"Nor ask him to follow her?"

"If she did not tell him where she was going, is it likely that she
would ask him to follow her?" cries Jim irritably, deeply annoyed to
find that he is, by the series of negatives that is being forced from
him, doing the very thing which he had just denied his own right to do.

"It is the most incomprehensible thing I ever heard in my life. I
wonder"--with an air of even alerter interest than before--"what Mr.
Greenock will say? Perhaps he will now tell what he knows about them; if
they are gone, there will no longer be any need to conceal it. I am
afraid this looks rather as if there were something!"

For the second time in one day the mention of an amiable _flâneur's_
name makes Jim vault to his feet.

"Well, I will not keep you any longer from your luncheon," he cries
hastily. "I will call in again later."

"Are you going?" asks Mr. Wilson dully, lifting his head from his chest,
upon which it is sunk. "Well, you are about right; we are not much good
to anyone when our mainspring is gone."

The phrase strikes cold on Jim's heart.

"Are you going back to the poor dear boy?" inquires Sybilla as he passes
her. "By-the-bye, if it is not too much trouble, would you mind tucking
the Austrian blanket a little closer in on the left side?" and as he
stoops to perform the asked-for service, she adds: "Let him know how
sincerely I sympathize with him; and if he wants anything quieting for
his nerves, tell him that there is nothing that I can more
conscientiously recommend than----"

But what Sybilla can conscientiously recommend is shut into the closing
door. Outside that door Jim finds that Cecilia has joined him. Anxiety
has quite banished the not altogether disagreeable curiosity of five
minutes ago, from the troubled face she lifts to his.

"You will come back, will not you?" she asks. "You are not of much use,
I suppose; but still, one feels that you are there, and we are all so
much at sea. You have not an idea how much we are at sea--without her."

"I think that I have a very good idea," he answers mournfully. "Tell me,
Cis; do you think she is really very ill?"

As he puts the question, he feels its irrationality. He knows that the
person to whom he is making his futile appeal has already given him all
the scanty tidings she has to give; yet he cannot help indulging a faint
hope that her response to this last query of his may perhaps set
Amelia's condition in a slightly more favourable light. A look of
helpless distress clouds Cecilia's already cloudy face.

"I tell you I do not know; I am no judge; I have seen so little real
illness. Sybilla would kill me if she heard me say so, would not
she"--with a slight parenthetical smile--"but I have seen so little real
illness, that I do not know what things mean; I do not know what it
means that she should be so heavy and stupid. As I told you before, the
only time that she roused up at all was when I mentioned your--"

He stops her, breaking rudely into her sentence. He cannot bear to hear
that it is only at the magic of his name that his poor faithful love
lifts her sick head.

"Yes, yes; I remember."

"Some one ought to sit up with her, I am sure," pursues Cecilia, still
with that same helpless air of disquiet; "she ought not to be left alone
all night; but who? I should be more than willing to do it, but I know
that I should fall asleep in five minutes, and I am such a heavy sleeper
that, when once I am off, there is no possibility of waking me. I am a
dreadfully bad sick-nurse; father can never bear to have me near him
when he has the gout."

Burgoyne is too well aware of the perfect truth of this last statement
to attempt any contradiction of it.

"Amelia has always been the one to sit up when any one was ill,"
continues she woefully; "and even now, by a stupid confusion of ideas, I
catch myself thinking, 'Oh, Amelia will sit up with her!' before I can
realize that _her_ is Amelia herself."

Jim can well sympathize with this same confusion, when, several times
during his walk back to the Piazza d'Azeglio, a muddled thought of
comfort, in the idea that he will go and tell Amelia what a terrible day
of anxiety about some one he has been having, taps at the door of his
brain. The portals of No. 12 are once again opened to him by Annunziata,
who indicates to him, by a series of compassionate gestures and liquid
Tuscan sentences, that the _povero_ is still within, and the Padrona,
who this time also appears on the scene, and who is possessed of
somewhat more English than her handmaid, intimates, albeit with a good
deal of sympathy for his sufferings, yet with still more of
determination, that it would be no bad thing were he to be removed,
since, whether the sun shines or the rain falls, people must live, and
the apartment has to be prepared for new occupants.

Anything that speaks less intention of removing than Byng's pose, when
his friend rejoins him, it would be difficult to imagine. He is
stretched upon the parquet floor, with his head lying on the small
footstool that has been wont to support Elizabeth's feet; her rifled
workbasket stands on the floor beside him, while her bit of embroidery
half shrouds his distorted face. The needle, still sticking in it, may
prick his eyes out for all he cares; the book she last read is open at
the page where she has put her mark of a skein of pale silk; and the
yellow anemones, that he must have plucked for her yesterday in drenched
Vallombrosa, are crushed under his hot cheek. But outwardly he is quite
quiet. Jim puts his hand on his shoulder.

"Come away, there is no use in your staying here any longer."

As he receives no answer, he repeats the exhortation more imperatively,
"Come."

"Why should I come? Where should I come to?" says the young man, lifting
his head, "where can I find such plain traces of her as here? I will
stay."

He says this with an air of resolution, and once more lays down his face
upon the footstool, which, being entirely worked in beads, has impressed
the cheek thrust against it with a design in small hollows, a fact of
which the sufferer is quite unaware.

"You cannot stay!" cries Burgoyne, the more impatiently that his own
share of anxiety is fretting his temper almost past endurance; "you
cannot stay, it is out of the question; they want to come into the
rooms, to prepare them for new occupants."

"_New occupants!_" repeats Byng, turning over almost on his face, and
flattening his nose and lips against the beaded surface of his stool,
"other occupants than _her_. Never! never!"

It is to be placed to the credit side of Mr. Burgoyne's account that he
does not, upon this declaration, withdraw the resting-place from his
young friend's countenance and break it over his head. It is certainly
not the temptation to do so that is lacking. Instead, he sits down at
some distance off, and says quietly:

"I see, you will force them to call in the police. You will make a
discreditable _esclandre_. How good for her; how conducive to her good
name. I congratulate you!"

The other has lifted his head in a moment.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you think," asks Jim indignantly, "that it is ever very advantageous
to a woman to have her name mixed up in a vulgar row? And do you suppose
that hers will be kept out of it? Come"--seeing a look of shocked
consternation breaking over the young man's face, and determined to
strike while the iron is hot--"I will call a fiacre, and we will go home
to the hotel. Put back her things into her basket. What right have you
to meddle with them? You have no business to take advantage of her
absence to do what you would not do if she were here."

Byng obeys with a scared docility; his eyes are so dim, and his fingers
tremble so much, that Jim has to help him in replacing Elizabeth's small
properties. His own heart is pricked with a cruel smart that has no
reference to Amelia's illness, as he handles the departed girl's spools
and skeins, and awkwardly folds her scrap of broidery. Byng offers no
further resistance, and, equally indifferent to his own bunged-up eyes,
bead-marked cheeks, and dishevelled locks, follows his companion dully,
down the stone stairs, compassionately watched from the top by
Annunziata, whose heart is an inconveniently tender one to be matched
with so tough a face. They get into the fiacre, and drive in dead
silence to the Minerva. Arrived there, Jim persuades his friend, who now
seems prepared to acquiesce meekly in whatever he is told to do, to lie
down on his bed, since the few words that he utters convey the fact of
his being suffering from a burning headache, a phenomenon not very
surprising, considering his late briny exercises, since, even at the
superb age of twenty-two, it is difficult to spend six hours in banging
your forehead against a parquet floor, in moaning, bellowing, and
weeping, without leaving some traces of these gymnastics on your
physique.

Burgoyne stands or sits patiently beside him, bathing his fiery temples
with eau-de-Cologne, not teasing him with any questions, having, indeed,
on his own part, the least possible desire for conversation; and so the
heavy hours go by. The day has declined to evening before Burgoyne quits
his _protégé's_ side to dine, shortly and solitarily, previous making a
third visit to the Anglo-Américain, to learn the latest news of his
betrothed.

He had left Byng still stretched upon his bed, apparently asleep, and is
therefore the more surprised, on returning to take a final look at him
before setting out on his own errand, to find him up, with hat and stick
in hand, evidently prepared for a walk.

"You are going out?"

"Yes."

"Where are you going?"

The other hesitates.

"I am going back there."

"Impossible!"

"But I am," replies Byng doggedly; "it will not do _her_ any injury, for
I shall not attempt to go in, I shall only ask at the door whether any
telegram has yet been received from--from them; they must telegraph to
direct where their things are to be sent to, and it is most probable
that they have done so already."

"It is most _im_probable."

"Well, at all events, it is possible, it is worth trying, and I mean to
try it."

There is such a fixed resolution in his voice, which is no longer
quavering with sobs, and in his ashy face, that Jim offers no further
resistance. The only concession he can obtain from him is that of
permitting him to accompany him.

"You will not mind coming with me to the Anglo-Américain first, will
you?" inquires Jim, as they set off walking across the Piazza.

"It will delay us quite half-an-hour," answers the other restlessly.
"But stay" (a hazy look of reminiscence dawning over his preoccupied
haggard face), "did you tell me that Amelia was ill--or did I dream it?"

"No, you did not dream it," replies the other sadly. "She _is_ ill."

Perhaps the wretchedness that pierces through his friend's quiet tones
recalls the young dreamer to the fact that the world holds other
miseries than his own. There is at all events something of his old quick
sympathy in his next words, and in the way in which they are uttered:

"Oh, poor Amelia, I _am_ sorry! By all means let us go at once and ask
after her. Is there nothing that we can get?--nothing that we can do for
her?"

It is the question that Jim, in baffled anxiety, puts when he is
admitted inside the dull _salon_, where no love-glorified, homely face
to-night lights up the tender candles of its glad eyes, from over its
stitching, at his entry.

Sybilla is lying less comfortably than usual on her sofa, her cushions
not plumped up, and her bottle of smelling-salts rolled out of her
reach. Mr. Wilson is walking uneasily up and down the room, instead of
sitting placidly in his chair, with the soothing voice--which he had
always thought as much to be counted on, and as little to be
particularly thankful for, as the air that fills his lungs--lullingly
reading him to sleep.

"Cecilia is with her just now," he says, in a voice of forlorn
irritation. "I wish she would come down again; I have no great opinion
of Cecilia as a sick-nurse, and she must know how anxious we are." A
moment later, still pursuing his fidgety ramble from wall to wall, and
exclaiming peevishly, as he stumbles over a footstool: "If it would only
declare itself! There seems to be nothing to lay hold of, we are so
completely in the dark--if it would only declare itself!"

A not very subdued sob from the sofa is the only answer he gets, an
answer which evidently irritates still further his fretted nerves.

"I cannot think what Cecilia is doing!" he cries, hastening to the door,
opening it noisily, and then listening.

"Let me run up and see," says Jim, his heart going out to the fractious
old man in a sympathy of suffering. "Yes, I know where her room is--_au
troisième_, is not it?" (a flash of recollection lighting up the fact
that Amelia's is distinctly the worst room of the suite occupied by the
Wilson family; the room with most stairs to climb to, and least
accommodation when you reach it). "I will knock quite gently. Do not be
afraid, I will not disturb her, and I will come down immediately to tell
you."

Without waiting for permission, he springs up the stairs, and, standing
on the landing, taps cautiously on the closed door, whose number (by one
of those quirks of memory that furnish all our minds with insignificant
facts) he has recollected. His first knock is so superfluously soft that
it is evidently inaudible within, since no result follows upon it. His
second, a shade louder, though still muffled by the fear of breaking
into some little fitful yet salutary sleep, brings Cecilia out. His
first glance at her face shows him that she has no good news, either to
warm his own heart, or for him to carry down as a solace to the poor old
man below.

"Oh, it is you, is it?" says she, shutting the door behind her with a
clumsy carefulness that makes it creak. "No, I do not think she is any
better; but it is so difficult to tell, I am no judge. She does not
complain of anything particular; but she looks so _odd_."

It is the same adjective that Cecilia had applied earlier in the day to
her sick sister, and it fills Jim with an impotent terror.

"If she is asleep, might not I just look in at her?" he asks. "I do not
know what you mean when you say she looks _odd_."

"She is not asleep," replies Cecilia, in a noisy whisper, much more
likely to pierce sick ears than a voice pitched in its normal key; "at
least, I think not. But I am sure you ought not to see her; Dr.
Coldstream said she was to be kept very quiet, and nothing would upset
her so much as seeing you."

"She need not see me; I would only take just one look at her from behind
the door," persists Jim who feels a desire, whose gnawing intensity
surprises himself, to be assured by the evidence of his own eyes that
his poor love's face has not undergone some strange and gruesome change,
such as is suggested by Cecilia's disquieting epithet.

"Do you think she would not know you were there?" asks she scornfully,
"Why, she hears your step three streets off!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.


So that night Jim does not see Amelia. After all, as Cecilia says, it is
better to be on the safe side, and to-morrow she will be brighter, and
he can sit by her, and tell her lovingly--oh very lovingly!--what a
fright she has given him. Yes, to-morrow she will be brighter. The
adjective is Cecilia's; but, apparently, he cannot improve upon it, for
he not only keeps repeating it to himself as he runs downstairs, but
employs it for the reassurance of Miss Wilson's anxious relatives.

"She will be brighter to-morrow; sick people are always worse at night,
are not they?"--rather vaguely, with again that oppressive sense of his
own inexperience in illness. "Not that she is _worse_"--this is hastily
subjoined, as he sees her father's face fall--"Cecilia never said she
was _worse_--oh, no, not _worse_, only not distinctly better; and, after
all, it would have been irrational to expect that. She will be brighter
to-morrow--oh, yes, of course she will be brighter to-morrow!"

He leaves the hotel with the phrase, which sounds cut and dried and
unreal, still upon his lips, after bidding a kinder good-night than
usual to Mr. Wilson, after having offered to supply Amelia's place by
reading aloud to him, a feat he has not performed since the evening of
his disastrous experience of the Provident Women of Oxford; and lastly,
having even--as a reward to Sybilla, who has been understood to murmur
something tearful about letting her maid look in upon Amelia at
intervals through the night--tucked in her Austrian blanket, and picked
up her smelling-bottle. He has expected to rejoin Byng outside, as he
had promised to wait for him with such patience as a cigar could lend,
and on the condition that his absence should not exceed a stipulated
period. But either the promise has been broken, or the period exceeded,
for Byng is gone. The fact does not greatly surprise Burgoyne, though it
causes him a slight uneasiness, which is, perhaps, rather a blessing for
him, distracting his mind in some slight measure from the heaviness of
his own trouble.

He walks fast to the Piazza d'Azeglio; but he neither overtakes him of
whom he is in pursuit, nor finds him at 12 bis. He has been there, has
inquired with agitation for the telegrams, which have naturally not been
received, and has then gone away again immediately. Whither? The
Padrona, who has answered the door-bell herself and, with Italian
suavity, is doing her best to conceal that she is beginning to
think she has heard nearly enough of the subject, does not know. For a
few moments Jim stands irresolute, then he turns his steps towards the
Arno. It is not yet too late for the charming riverside promenade, the
gay Lung'Arno, to be still alive with _flâneurs_; the stars have lit
their lamps above, and the hotels below. The pale planets, and the
yellow lights from the opposite bank of the river, lie together, sweet
and peaceful upon her breast. In both cases the counterfeits are as
clear and bright as the real luminaries; and it seems as if one had only
to plunge in an arm to pick up stars and candles out of the stream's
depths.

Leaning over the parapet near the Ponte Vecchio, Burgoyne soon discovers
a familiar figure, a figure which starts when he touches its arm.

"I thought I would wait about here for an hour or so," says Byng, with a
rather guilty air of apology, "until I could go back and inquire again.
The telegram has not arrived yet--I suppose it is too early. Of course
they would not telegraph until they get in to-night. You do not
think"--with a look of almost terror--"that they are going through to
England, and that they will not telegraph till they get there?"

"How can I tell?"

"There is nothing in the world less likely," cries Byng feverishly,
irritated at not having drawn forth the reassurance he had hoped for. "I
do not for a moment believe that they have gone home; I feel convinced
that they are still in Italy! Why should they leave it, when they--when
she is so fond of it?"

Jim looks down sadly at the calm, strong stream.

"I do not know, I cannot give an opinion--I have no clue."

"I will ask again in about an hour," says Byng, lifting his arms from
the parapet, "in an hour it is pretty certain to have arrived; and
meanwhile, I thought I would just stroll about the town, but there is no
reason--none at all--why I should keep you! You--you must be wanting to
go back to Amelia."

He glances at his friend in a nervous, sidelong way, as he makes this
suggestion.

"I am not going back again to-night," replies Jim quietly, without
giving any evidence of an intention to acquiesce in his dismissal.
"There is nothing that I can do for her--there is nothing to be done."

His tone, in making this statement, must be yet more dreary than he is
aware, as it arouses even Byng's self-absorbed attention.

"Nothing to be done for her?" he echoes, with a shocked look. "My dear
old chap, you do not mean to say--to imply--"

"I mean to imply nothing," interrupts Jim sharply, in a superstitious
panic of hearing some unfavourable augury as to his betrothed put into
words. "I mean just what I say--neither more nor less; there is nothing
to be done for her to-night, nothing but to let her sleep--a good sleep
will set her up: of course a good sleep will quite set her up."

He speaks almost angrily, as if expecting and challenging contradiction.
But Byng's spirit has already flown back to his own woes. He may make
what sanguine statements he pleases about Amelia's to-morrow, without
fearing any demurrer from his companion. What attention the latter has
to spare is evidently only directed to the solving of the problem, how
best, with amicable civility, to be rid of him. Before he can hit upon
any expedient for attaining this desired end, Burgoyne speaks again, his
eye resting with a compassionate expression upon his junior's face,
whose wild pallor is heightened by the disorder of his hair, and the hat
crushed down over his brows.

"You have not had anything to eat all day--had not you better come back
to the hotel and get something to eat?"

"Eat!" cries the other, with almost a scream; "you must have very little
comprehension of----" Then, checking himself and with a strong and
palpable effort for composure: "It would not be worth while, I should
not have time; in an hour--less than an hour now, for I must have been
here quite ten minutes at the least--I have to return to the Piazza
d'Azeglio."

"Then go to Doney's; why not get something to eat at Doney's? It will
not take you five minutes to reach the Via Tornabuoni."

"What should I do when I got there?" asks Byng impatiently. "If I tried
to swallow food, it would stick in my throat; no food shall pass my lips
till I learn where she is; after that"--breaking out into a noisy
laugh--"you may do what you please with me--we will make a night of it
with all my heart, we will--

                "'Drink, drink,
    Till the pale stars blink!'"

Jim looks blankly at him. Is he going mad?

"If you think that you will get me to go back to the hotel to-night, you
are very much mistaken," continues Byng recklessly; "no roof less high
than this"--jerking back his head, to throw his fevered look up to the
cool stars--"shall shelter my head; and besides, where would be the use
of going to bed when I should have to be up again so early? I shall be
off by one of the morning expresses: until I have learnt--as, of course,
I shall do to-night--where she has gone, I cannot tell which; but
neither of them starts much later than seven."

For a moment Jim stands dumb with consternation at the announcement of
this intention; but, reflecting that it would not be a whit more
irrational to attempt to reason with a madman who had reached the
padded-room stage of lunacy, than with his present companion, he
contents himself with saying:

"And supposing that you do not learn to-night where she has gone?"

"There is no use in supposing anything so impossible!"

But as the hours go by, the possibility becomes a probability, the
probability a certainty! Midnight comes, and the closed telegraph-office
puts a final extinguisher upon the expectation, which no one but the
unhappy lover had ever entertained, that Florence would be enlightened
before the dawn of another day as to the place whither her two truants
have fled.

Burgoyne has accompanied his friend upon his last importunate visit to
the now-going-to-bed and justly-incensed 12 bis. He has been ashamed
again to present himself at the so-often-attacked door, so has awaited
at the bottom of the stairs, has heard Byng's hoarse query, and the
negative--curter and less suave than the last one--that follows it; has
heard the door shut again, and the hopeless footsteps that come
staggering down to him.

"You will go home now?"

    "'Perchance, Iago, I shall ne'er go home!'"

replies Byng; and, though he is compelled to admit that there is no
longer any possibility of his to-night obtaining the information for
which he so madly hungers, that there can consequently be no question of
his setting off by one of the early trains, since he would not know in
which direction to go, and might only be fleeing further from her whom
he would fain rejoin, yet he still keeps with fevered pertinacity to his
project of spending the night _à la belle étoile_.

Finding it impossible to dissuade him, Jim resigns himself to bearing
him company. It is with very little reluctance that he does so. There is
no truer truism than that all sorrows, however mountainous, are more
easily carried under God's high roof than man's low ones, and he who
does not sleep has for compensation that at least he can have no
dreadful waking. So the two men wander about all night in the boon
southern air, and see--

                                              "The moon exactly round,
    And all those stars with which the brows of ample heaven are crown'd;
    Orion, all the Pleiades, and those seven Atlas got;
    The close-beam'd Hyades, the Bear, surnamed the Chariot,
    That turns about heaven's axle-tree, holds ope a constant eye
    Upon Orion, and of all the cressets in the sky,
    His golden forehead never bows to the Ocean's empery."

There are not many hours of a summer's night during which the stir of
life has ceased and has not yet reawaked in an Italian town, the talk
and the tread and the mule bells, and the flutes of the voiceful people
lasting on till near the small hours, and beginning again ere those
hours have had strength to grow big. But yet there is a space of time
when Florence lies silent, baring her beauty to the constellations
alone; and under this unfamiliar and solemn and lovely aspect the two
night-wanderers see her. They see her Campanile

    "Commercing with the skies,"

with no distracting human bustle about her feet; they see her Perseus
battling beneath her Loggia, and her San Giorgio standing wakeful at his
post on Or san Michele. They see her scowling palace rows, her stealing
river, and her spanning bridges--palaces out of which no head peeps, a
river on which no boat oars, bridges upon which no horse-hoof rings.
They have all her churches--Santa Croce, Arnolpho's great "Bride," that
_new_ Maria that is now four hundred years old or more, the humbly
glorious San Marco--to themselves; all her treasure houses, all her
memories, all her flower-embalmed air--for a few hours they possess them
all. She is but a little city, this fair Firenze, and in these few hours
they traverse her in her length and breadth, rambling aimlessly wherever
Byng's feverishly miserable impulses lead them. Burgoyne offers no
opposition to any of these, but accompanies his friend silently down
slumbrous thoroughfare, or across sleeping Piazza, by Arno side, under
colonnade or arch. It is all one to him; nor is he sensible of any
fatigue, when at length, at about the hour when Byng had meant to have
caught the early morning train, they return to the hotel, and the
younger man, happily dead-beat at last, worn out with want of food,
tears, and weariness, flings himself down, dressed, upon his bed, and
instantly falls into a leaden sleep. Jim feels no desire, nor indeed any
power of following his example. He is not easily tired, and his former
life of travel and hardship has made him always willing to dispense with
the--to him--unnecessary luxury of a bed; and, under ordinary
circumstances, a night passed in the open air would have had an effect
upon him rather exhilarating than otherwise. He has his bath, dresses,
breakfasts, and then jumps into a fiacre, and has himself driven to the
Anglo-Américain.

The day is so exactly the counterpart of its predecessor, in its even
assured splendour, that Jim has a hazy feeling that they both make only
one divided into two parts by the narrow dark blue ribbon of the
exquisite brief night. When did yesterday end and to-day begin? As he is
borne along, his memory, made more alert by sleeplessness,
reproduces--merely, as it seems to him, the better to fill him with pain
and remorse--the different states of mind in which he has passed over
the often trodden ground. Here, at the street corner, what a nausea had
come over him at the thought of the interest he would have to feign in
those humdrum details, so dear to Amelia's soul, of their future
_ménage_, with all its candle-end economies and depressing restrictions.
Here, in the church shadow, how he had tried to lash himself up into a
more probable semblance of pleasure in her expected and dreaded
caresses. There seems to be scarcely an inch of the way where he has not
had some harsh or weary thought of her; he is thankful when the brief
transit, that has appeared to him so long, is over. And yet the change
is only from the sharp sting of recollected unkindness to the dull
bruising ache of anticipated ill. A _garçon_ is sweeping out the
_salon_, for the hour is not much beyond eight, so Jim goes into the
dreary little dining-room, where two places are laid with coffee-cups
and rolls. Only two. And, though he knows that nothing short of a
miracle could have already restored Amelia so completely as to enable
her to come down to breakfast, yet the ocular demonstration of the fact
that her place is and will be empty, strikes a chill to his boding
heart. He is presently joined by Cecilia, whose carelessly-dressed hair,
heavy eyelids, and tired puffy face, sufficiently show that not to her,
any more than to himself has night brought

    "Sweet child sleep, the filmy-eyed."

"How fresh and cool you are!" she cries, with an almost reproachful
intonation. "Do not look at me!"--covering her face with her hot
hands--"I am not fit to be seen; but what does that matter? What do I
care?"--beginning to cry--"Oh, she is so bad! We have spent such a
dreadful night! As I tell you, I am a shocking sick-nurse; I never know
what to do; I lose my head completely; and she has been so odd--she has
been talking such gibberish!"

"Delirious?"

"Yes, I suppose that is what you would call it. I never saw anybody
delirious before, so I do not know. I have seen Sybilla in hysterics,
but I never believed that they were real--I always thought that a bucket
of water would bring her round."

As a general rule, Jim may be counted upon for cordial co-operation in
any hit directed against Sybilla, but now he is too spiritless even to
notice it.

"I was so frightened," continues Cecilia; "it is not cheerful being all
alone at the dead of night with a person talking such nonsense as she
was. Amelia, of all people, to talk nonsense! I could not quite make out
what it was about, but it seemed to have more or less reference to you.
She was begging you to forgive her for something she had done, as far as
I could gather; some treat she had prepared for you, and that you had
not liked. Have you the least idea what she could have meant?"

He has every idea; but it would seem profanation to explain that her
poor wandering brain is still distressedly labouring with the abortive
project she had so happily framed for his enjoyment.

"She is quieter now. Sybilla's maid is with her; Sybilla really has not
behaved badly--_for her_; she let her maid look in several times during
the night; but still, for the most part I was alone with her! Oh, I do
trust"--shuddering--"that I may never again have to be alone at night
with a person who is not right in her head!"

This aspiration on the youngest Miss Wilson's part is, for the present
occasion, at least, likely to be gratified; for, by the time that
another night settles down on Florence, Amelia's illness has been
declared by Dr. Coldstream to have every symptom of developing into the
malarious Florentine fever, which not unfrequently lays low the chilled
or over-fatigued, or generally imprudent foreign visitor to that little
Eden. Amelia has Florentine fever; and the verification of this fact is
followed by all the paraphernalia of serious sickness--night and day
nurses, disinfectants, physic phials.

The announcement of her being attacked by a definite and recognised
disease brings at first a sort of relief to Burgoyne's mind, which,
under Cecilia's frightened and frightening word-pictures, had been beset
by terrors great in proportion to their vagueness. Now that Amelia is
confessedly sick of a fever, there is nothing abnormal in her being
"odd," and "stupid," and "wandering," these being only the inevitable
stages on a road which will--which _must_ lead to ultimate recovery. His
heart is heavy, yet scarcely so heavy as it had been upon his arrival in
the morning, when, late in the afternoon--not sooner do the claims upon
him of the disorganized and helpless family of his betrothed relax--he
returns to the Minerva to look after Byng. Having had every reason to
fear that he will not find him at the hotel, but will be obliged again
to set off in pursuit of him through the streets and squares so
repeatedly traversed last night, he is relieved to learn from the hotel
servants that the young man is in his bedroom. He finds him there
indeed; no longer stretched in the blessed oblivion of deep sleep upon
his bed, but sitting on a hard chair by the open window, his arms
resting upon the back, and his face crushed down upon them. By no
slightest movement does he show consciousness of his friend's entrance.

"I am afraid I have been a long time away," says the latter kindly.

"Have you?" answers Byng, his voice coming muffled through lips still
buried in his own coat-sleeve. "I do not know; I have done with time!"

"I do not know how you have managed that," rejoins Jim, still
indulgently, though a shade dryly. "Have you been here all day?"

"I do not know where I have been. Yes,"--lifting his head--"I do; I have
been to the Piazza d'Azeglio."

"Well?"

"They know where she is. They were packing her things; through the door
I saw them tying the label on the box; if I had tried I could have read
the address on the label, but I did not. She had forbidden them to give
it to me; in her telegram she had forbidden them to give it to anyone."



CHAPTER XXIX.


Jim refrains from saying how likely this culmination of his friend's
woes has appeared to him, since it would have been the height of the
illogical for the Le Marchants to have put themselves to extreme
inconvenience in order to escape from a person to whom they immediately
afterwards gave the power of following them. He refrains from saying it,
because he knows of how very little consoling power the "told you so"
philosophy is possessed.

"And what will you do now?"

"Do! What is there to do? What does a man do when he is shot through the
heart?"

"I believe that in point of fact he jumps his own height in the air. I
know that a buffalo does," replies Burgoyne with a matter-of-fact
dryness, which proceeds less from want of sympathy, than from an honest
belief that it is the best and kindest method of dealing with Byng's
heroics.

"_Shot through the heart!_" murmurs the latter, repeating his own phrase
as if he found a dismal pleasure in it. "I had always been told that it
was a painless death; I now know to the contrary."

"Shall you stay here? There is no longer any use in your staying here."

"There is no longer any use in my doing anything, or leaving anything
undone.

    "'There's nothing in this world can make me joy;
    Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale,
    Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.'"

So saying, he replaces his head upon his arms, and his arms upon the
chair-rail, with the air of one who, upon mature consideration, has
decided to maintain that attitude for the remainder of his life.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week has passed; a week upon which Burgoyne looks back as upon a blur
of wretchedness, with distinct points of pain sticking up here and there
out of it. It is a blur; for it is a time-space, without the usual
limitations and divisions of time; a week not cut up into orderly
lengths of day and night, but in which each has puzzlingly run into and
overlapped each. There have been nights when he has not been in bed at
all, and there have been days when he has slept heavily at unaccustomed
hours. He has not dined at any particular time; he has shared forlorn
breakfast, dotted about the morning as the less or more anxiety about
Amelia dictated, with the Wilsons. He has drunk more tea than he ever
did in his life before, and the result of this whole condition of things
is, that he cannot for the life of him tell whether the day of the week
is Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday, and that he has lost all sense of
proportion. He has not the least idea whether the dreadful moments when
he stood on the landing outside Amelia's door, and heard her
heartrendingly beg him not to go away from her for _quite_ so long, to
be a little gladder to see her when he came back; or again affectingly
assure him that she can do quite well, be quite cheerful without
him--whether, I say, those dreadful moments were really only moments, or
stretched into hours.

Besides the agony of remorse that the impotent listening to those
pathetic prayers and unselfish assurances causes him, he suffers too
from another agony of shame, that the father and sister, standing like
himself with ears stretched at that shut door, should be let into the
long secret of his cruelty and coldness, that secret which for eight
years she has so gallantly been hiding. It is an inexpressible relief to
him that at least the old man's thickened hearing admits but very
imperfectly his daughter's rapid utterances.

"Poor soul! I cannot quite make out what it is all about," he says, with
his hand to his ear; "but I catch your name over and over again, Jim; I
suppose it is all about you."

Cecilia, however, naturally hears as well as he himself does, and
apparently pitying the drawn misery of his face, whispers to him
comfortingly--

"You must not mind, you know it is all nonsense. She talks very
differently when she is well."

The Wilson family have never hitherto shown any very marked affection
for Burgoyne, but now it seems as if they could hardly bear him out of
their sight. They cling to him, not because he is _he_--Jim makes
himself no illusion on that head--but because they have got into such a
habit of leaning, that it is no longer possible to them to stand
upright. He had never realized till now how helpless they are. He had
known that Amelia was the pivot upon which the whole family turned; but
he had not brought home to himself how utterly the machine fell to
pieces when that pivot was withdrawn.

In the course of the past week each member of the family has confided to
him separately how far more she or he misses Amelia, than can be
possible to either of the others. Upon this head Sybilla's lamentations
are the loudest and most frequent. She had at first refused to admit
that there was anything at all the matter with her sister, but has now
fallen into the no less trying opposite extreme of refusing to allow
that there is any possibility of her recovery, talking of her as if she
were almost beyond the reach of human aid. Sybilla's grief for her
sister is perfectly genuine; none the less so that it is complicated by
irritation at her own deposition from her post of first invalid, at
having been compelled to confess the existence in the bosom of her own
family of a traitor, with an indisputably higher temperature and more
wavering pulse than she.

"It is ridiculous to suppose that a person in such rude health as
Cecilia _can_ miss her as I do," she says querulously; "I was always her
first object, she always knew by instinct when I was more suffering than
usual; who cares now"--breaking into a deluge of self-compassionating
tears--"whether I am suffering or not?"

Then, when next he happens to be alone with Cecilia, it is her turn to
assert a superiority of woe; a superiority claimed with still more
emphasis the next half hour by the father. With a patience which would
have surprised those persons who had seen him only in his former
relations with the family of his betrothed he tries to soothe the sorrow
of each--even that of Sybilla--in turn; but to his own heart he says
that not one of their griefs is worthy to be weighed in the balance with
his. In the case of none of theirs is the woof crossed by the hideous
warp of self-reproach that is woven inextricably into his. They have
worked her to death, they have torn her to pieces by their conflicting
claims; their love has been exacting, selfish, inconsiderate; but at
least it has been love; they have prized her at almost her full worth
while they had her. For him it has been reserved as for the base Indian,
to

    "Throw a pearl away
    Richer than all his tribe."

In the intervals--neither long nor many--between his ministrations at
the Anglo-Américain, Burgoyne hurries back to the Minerva to see that
Byng has not blown his brains out. In the present state of mind of that
young gentleman this catastrophe does not appear to be among the least
likely ones. He has refused to leave Florence, always answering the
suggestion with the same question, "Where else should I go?" and if
pressed, adding invariably in the same words as those employed by him on
the first day of his loss, when his friend had urged the advisability of
his removing his countenance from the beaded stool--"Where shall I find
such recent and authentic traces of her as here?"

He passes his time either on the Lung' Arno, staring at the water, or
stretched face downwards upon his bed. He walks about the town most of
the night, and Jim suspects him of beginning to take chloral.
Occasionally he rouses up into a quick and almost passionate sympathy
with his friend's trouble, asking for nothing better than to be sent on
any errand, however trivial, or however tiresome, in Amelia's behalf.
But no sooner have the immediate effects of the appeal to his
kind-heartedness died away, than he sinks back into his lethargy, and
Jim is at once too much occupied and too miserable to use any very
strenuous endeavours to shake him out of it. But yet the consciousness
of the tacit engagement, under which he lies to the young man's mother,
to look after him, coupled with the absolute impossibility, under his
present circumstances, of fulfilling that engagement, and his uneasiness
as to what new form the insanity of Byng's grief may take on, from day
to day, add very perceptibly to the weight of his own already
sufficiently ponderous burden.

It is the ninth day since Amelia fell sick, that ninth day which, in
maladies such as hers, is, or is at least reckoned to be, the crisis and
turning-point of the disease. Jim has been up all night, and has just
rushed back to the Minerva, for the double purpose of taking a bath, and
of casting an uneasy eye upon his charge. He finds the latter not in his
room, but leaning over the little spiky balcony, out of his window,
hanging over it so far, and so absorbedly, that he does not hear his
friend's approach, and starts violently when Jim lays a hand on his
shoulder.

"What are you looking at?"

"I; oh--nothing particular! What should I be looking at? What is there
to look to? I was only--only--wondering as a mere matter of curiosity,
how many feet it is from here to the pavement? Sixteen? eighteen?
twenty?"

Jim's only answer is to look at him sadly and sternly; then he says
coldly:

"I do not recommend it; it would be a clumsy way of doing it."

"What matter how clumsy the way, so that one attains the end?" asks Byng
extravagantly, throwing off even the thin pretence he had at first
assumed; "who cares how bad the road is so that it leads him to the
goal?

    "'Oh, amiable lovely death!
    Thou odoriferous stench, sound rottenness!'"

Jim shudders. Death has been so near to him for the last nine days, that
the terrific realism of Constance's apostrophe seems to be almost more
than he can bear.

"It is silliness to live when to live is a torment, and then, have we a
prescription to die, when death is our physician?" continues Byng loudly
and wildly, clasping his hands above his head, and apparently perfectly
indifferent as to whether the other inmates of the hotel, or passers-by
on the piazza, overhear him.

"If you stay here much longer you will spare yourself the trouble of
putting an end to your existence," replies Jim, glancing at the other's
head, exposed hatless to the scorch of the Tuscan sun, "for you will
certainly get a sunstroke."

So saying, he takes him quietly, yet decidedly, by the arm, and leads
him within the room. Either his matter-of-fact manner, or the sight of
his face, upon which, well-seasoned as it is, vigil and sorrow have
begun to write their unavoidable marks, brings the young madman back to
some measure of sense and self-control.

"I had no fixed intention," he says apologetically, still looking white
and wild; "you must not think I meant anything; but, even if I had--do
you know--have you ever happened to read anything about the statistics
of suicide? Do you know what an increasing number of people every year
find life intolerable?"

"I know that you are fast making _my_ life intolerable," answers Jim,
fixing his tired, sleepless eyes with melancholy severity upon his
companion. "Amelia is--you are as well aware of it as I am--probably
dying, and yet even now, thanks to you, into my thoughts of her is
continually pushing the fear that I may have to tell your mother that
you have had the colossal selfishness to rush out of the world, because,
for the first time in your pampered life, the toy you cried for has not
been put into your hand."

Burgoyne's hopes have not been high, as to any salutary result of his
own philippic while uttering it. But our words, sometimes, to our
surprise, turn from wooden swords to steel daggers in our hands. For a
moment Byng stands as if stunned; then he breaks into a tornado of sobs
and tears, such tears as have often before angered his friend, but which
now he welcomes the sight of, as perhaps precursors of a saner mood.

"Oh, my dear old chap!" he cries, catching at Jim's unresponsive hand,
and wringing it hard, "she is not dying _really_? You do not mean it?
You are only saying it to frighten me? Oh! dear, kind Amelia. Not dying!
not dying?"

"I do not know: to-day is the turning-point, they say; even now it may
have come."

"And why are not you with her? Why do not you go back to her?" cries
Byng, in a broken voice of passionate excitement, the tears still racing
down his face.

"And leave you to go tomfooling out there again?" asks Jim, with a nod
of his head towards the balcony, seen from where they stand, grilling in
the midday blaze.

The verb employed, if closely looked into, bears a ludicrous
disproportion to the intended action indicated, but neither of the men
sees anything ridiculous in it.

"I will not!" cries Byng, in eager asseveration; "I give you my word of
honour I will not; if you do not believe me, take me with you! Keep me
with you all day! Do you think that I, too, do not want to know how
Amelia is? Do you think that I am indifferent as to whether she lives or
dies? Poor, good Amelia! When I think of that drive to Vallombrosa, only
ten days ago! They two sitting side by side, so happy, laughing and
making friends with each other!"

He covers his face with his hands, and through them the scalding drops
trickle; but only for a moment. In the next, he has dashed them away,
and is moving restlessly about the room, looking for his hat.

"Let us go this instant," he says urgently; "my poor old man, do you
think I would willingly add a feather weight to your burden? I should
never forgive myself if I kept you a second longer from her at such a
time; let us go at once."

Burgoyne complies; but under pretext of making some change in his dress,
escapes from his friend, for just the few minutes necessary to write and
despatch a telegram to the young man's mother. It runs thus:

"_No cause for alarm, but come at once. He is perfectly well, but needs
you._"

If, as is to be hoped, Mrs. Byng is still in London, reaping the
succession of the old relative whose death-bed she had quitted Florence
to attend, his message will bring her hither within forty-eight hours,
and the burden of responsibility, now grown so insupportable, will be
shifted from his shoulders. Until those forty-eight hours have elapsed,
he must not again let Byng out of his sight.

The day rolls by, the critical ninth day rolls by on its torrid wheels
to eventide, and when that eventide comes, it finds Cecilia Wilson
running down from Amelia's room, to give the last news of her to the
three men and one woman waiting below.

"I think he seems quite satisfied," she says, in answer to the silent
hungry looks of question addressed to her, and alluding to the doctor,
who is still with the patient; "the strength is maintained; the
temperature lower." What a dreadful parrot-sound the two phrases, so
familiar to us all in the newspaper bulletins of distinguished men on
their death-beds, have during the last week assumed in Burgoyne's ears;
"you can speak to him yourself when he comes down, of course, Jim; but I
am sure he is satisfied."

"She is better!--she is saved!" cries Byng, rushing forward and
snatching both Cecilia's hands--"do you say that she is really saved?"

"Oh, are you here still, Mr. Byng? how very kind of you!" replies
Cecilia, a tinge of colour rushing over her mealy face--that face, ten
days ago, clothed in so many roses--"well, I am afraid he does not go
quite so far as that, but he says it is as much as we can expect, and
even I can see that she is not nearly so restless."

"Thank God!--thank God!"

In the ardour of his thanksgiving he presses her hands closer, instead
of dropping them, a fact of which he is entirely unaware, but so is not
she; and who knows, even at that serious moment, what tiny genial hope
may slide into her plump heart!

Again this night Burgoyne does not go to bed, from a superstitious fear
that if he does, if he seems to take for granted an improvement, that
very taking for granted may annul it--may bring on a relapse. But when
the next morning finds no such backsliding to have taken place, when
each hour through the cheerfully broadening day brings falling fever and
steadying pulse, then indeed he cautiously opens the door of his heart
to let a tiny rose-pinioned hope creep in--then at last, on the third
night, he stretches his tired limbs in deep slumber upon his bed.

He has received a brief telegram from Mrs. Byng to announce her arrival
as fast as boat and train can bring her; and seven o'clock on Saturday
morning--he having sent his despatch to her on the previous
Wednesday--finds him pacing the platform of the railway-station,
awaiting the incoming of the morning express from Turin. He is pacing it
alone, for he has thought it best not to reveal to her son the fact of
her expected return, not being at all sure in what spirit he will
receive it, nor whether indeed the news of it might not even drive him,
in his present unsound state of mind, to fly from the place at her
approach.

The morning air, in its early clear coolness, blows sweet here, under
the station-roof, unconquered even by engine smoke, and on Jim's face as
he walks up and down--careworn as it still is--there comes, now and
again, a half-born smile. He is never one to hope very easily, but
surely now--now that yet another night has been prosperously tided over,
there can, even to him, seem no reasonable ground for doubt that Amelia
has turned the corner. Amelia, with the corner turned--Byng, in five
minutes wholly off his hands! The only wonder is, that the small smile
never comes quite to the birth.

The train is punctual, and almost at its due moment draws up in dusty
length at the platform. Its passengers are comparatively few; for at
this latening season most of the English are winging home to their rooky
woods; and he has no difficulty in at once discovering among them the
tall smart figure--smart even after forty-eight hours of the unluxurious
luxury of a _wagon-lit_--of the lady he is awaiting. As he gives her his
hand to help her down the high step, the admiring thought crosses his
mind of what a large quantity of fatigue, dust, and uneasiness of mind a
radically good-looking Englishwoman, in radically good clothes, can
undergo without seeming much the worse for them. Before her neat narrow
foot has touched the pavement, a brace of eager questions shoots out of
her mouth.

"Am I in time? Am I too late?"

"In time for _what_? Too late for _what_?"

"Has he--has he done anything--anything irrevocable? Is he--is he? I
suppose that horrid woman has got hold of him? I suppose that is why you
sent for me!"

By this time she is safely landed at his side, which is possibly the
reason why he at once lets fall her hand.

"I am not aware that there is any 'horrid woman' in the case."

"Oh, what does it matter what I call her?" cries the mother, fast
becoming frantic at the delay in answering her passionate questions. "I
will call her what you please; you know perfectly whom I mean; she _has_
got hold of him, I suppose. I always knew she would! Did not I tell you
so? but is it too late? is there no way of getting him off?"

Now that Burgoyne has a nearer view of Mrs. Byng, he sees that she has a
more fagged and travel-worn air than he had at first supposed, and her
dusty eyes are fastened upon him with such a hunger of interrogation,
that, angered and jarred as he is by her tone, he has not the heart any
longer to keep her in suspense.

"If you are alluding to Miss Le Marchant, I may as well tell you at once
that she has left Florence."

"Left Florence! Do you mean to say that she has run away with someone
else?"

She puts the question in all good faith, her lively imagination having
easily made the not very wide jump from the fact already established in
her own mind of Elizabeth being an adventuress, to the not much more
difficult one to swallow, of her having devoured another _fils de
famille_, as well as Mrs. Byng's own.

For a moment, Burgoyne turns away, voice and countenance alike beyond
his control. He has by no means perfectly recovered either, when he
answers--

"Yes, with someone else--she has reached the pitch of turpitude of
leaving Florence with her mother."

"She is gone?" cries Mrs. Byng, with an accent of the highest relief and
joy; "gone away altogether, do you mean?--oh, thank God!"--then, with a
sudden lapse into affright, she adds rapidly--"and he is gone after
her?--he is not here?"

"No, he is here."

"Then why has not he come to meet me?"--suspiciously.

"He did not know you were expected."

"You did not tell him?"

"No."

"Why did not you tell him?"

"I did not know how he would take it."

"Do you mean to say"--falling from her former rapidity of utterance to a
dismayed incredulous slowness--"that he will not be glad to see
me?--that _Willy_ will not be glad to see _me_?"

"I mean to say that I am afraid you will not find him very much in
sympathy with you; I do not think he will find it easy to hear you speak
of Miss Le Marchant in the terms, and make the implication about her
that you did just now," replies Jim, avenging by this sentence the
wrongs done to Elizabeth, and doing it so well, that a moment later a
feeling of compunction comes over him at the success of his own attempt
at retributive justice.

Mrs. Byng turns pale.

"Then she has got hold of him?" she says under her breath.

"Got hold of him?" repeats Jim, his ire aroused again, no sooner than
allayed, by this mode of expression; "you certainly have the most
extraordinary way of misconceiving the situation! _Got hold of him?_
when she had to leave Florence at a moment's notice to escape his
importunities!"

But at this, Mr. Burgoyne's auditor looks so hopelessly bewildered that
he thinks it the simplest plan at once, in the fewest possible words, to
put her in possession of the tale of her son's achievements and
disasters. He does this, partly to stem the torrent of her questions,
the form that they have hitherto taken producing in him a feeling of
frenzied indignation, which he doubts his own power much longer to
conceal--partly in order to set Elizabeth's conduct with the least
possible delay in its true light before her. Surely, when she has been
told of her magnanimous renunciation, she will do her justice, will
cease to load her with those hard names and insulting assertions that
have made him grind his own teeth to listen to. But in this expectation
he soon finds that he is mistaken. The wrath of Mrs. Byng against
Elizabeth for having "drawn in" her son, as she persists in stating the
case, is surpassed only by indignation at her insolence in having
"thrown him over." As to the genuineness of this last action she
expresses, it is true, the most complete incredulity.

"It was only to enhance her own value. Do you suppose that she expected
him to take her at her word? She thought, of course, that he would
follow her--that he would employ detectives--it is a proof"--with an
angry laugh--"that he cannot be quite so bad as you make him out, that
he has not done so."

"I would not put it into his head, if I were you," replies Jim, with an
anger no less real, and a merriment no less spurious than her own.

By this time they have reached the hotel; and Jim, having helped his
companion out of the fiacre, shows symptoms of leaving her.

"Will not you stay to breakfast with me?" she asks, a little aghast at
this unexpected manoeuvre; "I cannot make my toilette till the luggage
arrives: and I suppose that he"--her eyes wandering wistfully over the
hotel front till they rest on her son's closed persiennes--"that he is
not up yet; it would be a sin to wake him; do stay with me."

"I am afraid I cannot."

"Why cannot you?"--with an impatient but friendly little mocking
imitation of his tone. "You are not"--with a conciliatory smile--"angry
with an old hen for standing up for her own chick?"

Jim smiles too.

"I do not think that the old hen need have clucked quite so loudly; but
that is not why I am leaving her; I _must_ go."

"Where _must_ you go?"

"To the Anglo-Américain."

She lifts her eyebrows.

"At this hour--you forget how early it is. Well, Amelia _has_ got you
into good training; but I can assure you that you will still find her in
bed."

He sighs.

"I am afraid that there is not much doubt of that."

"What do you mean?--she is not ill, surely?"--in a tone of lively
surprise--"Amelia ill?--impossible!"

He looks at her with an irrational stupefaction. It appears to him now,
in the distortion of all objects that the last fortnight has brought, as
if Amelia's illness had spread over the whole of his life, as if there
had never been a time when she had not been ill, and yet of this event,
immense as it seems to him in its duration, the woman before him
obviously has never heard. When he comes to think of it, how should she?
In point of fact it is not a fortnight since Miss Wilson fell sick, and
during that fortnight he himself has not written her a line; neither, he
is equally sure, has her son.

"I am evidently very much behind the time," she says, noting the, to
her, unintelligible astonishment in his face; "but you must remember
that I have been kept completely in the dark--has she been ill?"

In answer he tells her, with as much brevity and compression as he had
employed in the tale of Elizabeth's disappearance, that of Amelia's
illness, often interrupted by her expressions of sympathy. At the end
she says:

"I am so thankful I did not hear till she was getting better! It would
have made me so wretched to be such a long way off!"

Her adoption of his trouble as her own, an adoption whose sincerity is
confirmed by her impulsive seizure of his hand, and the feeling look in
her handsome eyes make him forgive the exaggeration of her statement,
and go some way towards replacing her in that position in his esteem
which her diatribes against Elizabeth had gone near to making her
forfeit.

"But it will be all right now," continues she sanguinely; "there will be
nothing to do but to build up her strength again, and she is young--at
least"--as the reminiscence of Amelia's unyouthful appearance evidently
flashes across her mind, of that prematurely middle-aged look which an
unequal fortune gives to some plain women--"at least, young enough for
all practical purposes."

Whether it be due to the possession of this modified form of juvenility,
to an excellent constitution, or to what other reason, certain it is
that the next two days go by without any diminution, rather with a
sensible and steady increase, in Miss Wilson's favourable symptoms, and,
on the afternoon of the latter of these days, Cecilia, in rather
impatient answer to Jim's long daily string of questions about her,
says:

"You could judge much better if you saw her yourself. I do not see why
you should not see her to-morrow for a minute, that is to say, if you
would promise not to talk or ask her any questions."

"But would it be safe?" inquires he, with a tremble in his voice. He
desires passionately to see her; until he does he will never believe
that she is really going to live; he has a hunger to assure himself that
no terrible metamorphosis has passed over her in these nightmare days;
and yet, coupled with that hunger, is a deep dread, which translates
itself into his next halting words.

"Shall I be--shall I be very much shocked? is she--is she very much
changed?"

"She does look pretty bad," replies Cecilia half sadly, yet with the
sub-lying cheerfulness of assured hope; "for one thing she is so wasted.
I suppose that that is what makes her look so much older; but then you
know Amelia never did look young."

It is the second time within two days that the fact of his betrothed's
maturity has been impressed upon him, and formerly it would have caused
him a pang; but now, of what moment is it to him that she looks a
hundred, if only she is living, and going to live?

"Has she--has she asked after me?"

"We do not allow her to speak, but if anyone mentions your name there
comes a sort of smile over her face; such a ridiculous-sized face as it
is now!"

The tears have come into Cecilia's large stupid eyes, and Jim himself
is, with regard to her, in the position of the great Plantagenet, when
he heard the lovely tale of York and Suffolk's high death.

                    "I blame you not
    For hearing this; I must perforce compound
    With mistful eyes; or they will issue too!"

As he walks away he is filled with a solemn joy, one of those deep
serious gladnesses with which not the stranger, no, nor even the close
friend or loving kinsman intermeddleth. He is under an engagement to
meet Mrs. Byng at a certain hour, but although that hour has already
come and passed, he feels that he cannot face all her sincere
congratulations without some preparatory toning down of his mood.

The streets, with their gay _va-et-vient_, their cracking whips and
shouting drivers, seem all too secular and every-day to match the
profundity of his reverent thankfulness. He takes it with him into the
great cool church that stands so nigh at hand to his hotel, Santa Maria
Novella. The doors fall behind him noiselessly as he enters, shutting
out the fiery hot piazza, and the garish noises of the world. In the
great dim interior, cold and tranquil, there is the usual sprinkling of
tourists peering up at its soaring columns, trying to read themselves,
out of their guide-books, into a proper admiration for Cimabue's
large-faced Virgin and ugly Bambino, folded, with all its gold and
sombre colours, in the dignity of its twice two centuries of gloom.
There are the usual three or four blue-trousered soldiers strolling
leisurely about, there is a curly-tailed little dog trotting hither and
thither unforbidden, ringing his bell, and there are the invariable
tanned peasant-women kneeling at the side-altars. He does not belong to
the ancient Church, but to-day he kneels beside them, and the tears he
had hastened away to hide from Cecilia come back to make yet dimmer to
his view the details of the dim altar-pieces behind the tall candles.
His eye, as he rises to his feet again, falls on the contadina nearest
him. What is she praying for? In the expansion of his own deep joy he
longs to tell her how much he hopes that, whatever it is, she will
obtain it. It is not the contadina who, standing a little behind, joins
him as he turns away from the altar.

"I saw you go into the church," says Mrs. Byng, her smile growing
somewhat diffident as she sees the solemnity of his face, "so I thought
I would follow you; do you mind? shall I go away?"

He would, of the two, have preferred that she had not followed him, that
he had been given five more minutes to himself; but he naturally does
not say so.

"Since we are here, shall we go into the cloisters?" and he assents.

A small Dominican monk, with a smile and a bunch of keys, is opening a
door to some strangers, prowling like our friends about the church. The
latter follow, the little monk enveloping them too in his civil smile.
Down some steps into the great cloister, under whose arches pale
frescoes cover the ancient walls--where in Florence are there not
frescoes?--and the hands that painted them seem all to have wielded
their brushes in that astounding fifteenth century, which was to
Florence's life what May is to Italy's year. For some moments they stand
silent, side by side, perhaps picking out familiar scenes from among the
sweet faded groups--a slim Rebecca listening to Eliezar's tale, and
looking maiden pleasure at his gifts; a shivering Adam and Eve chased
out of Paradise; an Adam and Eve dismally digging and stitching
respectively; Old Testament stories that time has blurred, that
weather--even in this dry air--has rubbed out and bedimmed, and that
yet, in many cases, still tell their curious faint tale decipherably.

"Good news this evening, I hope?" says Mrs. Byng presently, growing a
little tired of her companion's taciturnity, being indeed always one of
those persons who are of opinion that the gold of which silence is said
to be made has a good deal of alloy in it.

"I am to see her to-morrow."

He speaks almost under his breath, either because he has no great
confidence in his voice, if he employ a higher key, or because there
seems to him a certain sanctity in this promised meeting on the kindly
hither side of the grave which has so lately yawned.

Mrs. Byng is much too old and intimate a friend of Jim's not to have
been pretty well aware of the state of his feelings during the past
eight years, though certainly not through any communication from him. So
it is, perhaps, scarcely to be wondered at that she presently says, in a
tone tinged with admiring surprise:

"How fond you are of her!"

He receives the remark in a jarred silence, his eye resting on the
square of neglected graves in the middle of the cloister, how unlike our
turfy quads and lawns. A commonplace nineteenth century photographer,
with his vulgar camera planted on the time-worn stones, is evidently
trying to persuade the little monk to pose for his picture. The
gentle-looking Fra laughs, and draws up his cowl, then lowers it again,
folding his arms, and trying various postures.

"You are so much fonder of her than you were!"

This speech--though such is certainly far from the good-natured
speaker's intention--stings Burgoyne like a whip-lash.

"I was always fond of her--I always thought her the very best woman in
the world; you know!"--with an accent of almost anguished appeal--"that
I always thought her the very best woman in the world."

"Oh, yes; of course, I know you did," replies she, astonished and
concerned at the evident and extreme distress of his tone. "That is not
quite the same thing as being _fond_ of her, is it? But"--with a laugh
that is at once uneasy and reassuring--"what does that matter _now_?
_Now_ your fondness for her is as indisputable as Tilburina's madness;
and, for my part, I always think people get on quite as well, if not
better, afterwards, if they do not begin quite so volcanically."

But her light and well-meant words fail to remove the painful impression
from her hearer's mind. Has she, during all these years, been crediting
him with a wish for Amelia's death, that she should be so much
astonished at his thankfulness for her being given back to him?

"I believe that this illness is the best thing that could have happened
to you both," continues Mrs. Byng, feeling uncomfortably that she has
not been happy in her choice of a topic, and yet unable to leave it
alone. "It will have drawn you so much together: in fact"--again
laughing nervously--"I think we are all looking up. As I told you, after
the first shock, Willy really was rather glad to see me; and you would
not believe how discreetly I handle the burning subject--yes, everything
is on the mend, and we are all going to have a lovely time, as the
Yankees say!"



CHAPTER XXX.


    "The world's a city full of straying streets,
    And Death the market-place where each one meets."

The words are scarcely out of Mrs. Byng's mouth before she adds, in a
changed key, and with an altered direction of the eyes--

"Is this person looking for you? He seems to be coming straight towards
us."

Jim turns his head at her speech, and at once recognises in the figure
hastening towards them the porter of the Anglo-Américain hotel. The man
looks strangely, and carries a slip of paper, unfolded and open, in his
hand.

In a second Jim has sprung to his side, has snatched the paper, and is
staring at its contents. They are hardly legible, scrawled tremblingly
with a pencil, and for a moment he cannot make them out. Then, as he
looks, in one horrible flash their import has sprung into his eyes and
brain.

"_She is gone; come to us!_"

Mrs. Byng is reading too, over his shoulder.

In going over the scene in memory afterwards, he believes that she gives
a sort of scream, and says, "Oh, what does it mean? It is not true!" But
at the time he hears, he knows nothing.

He is out of the church; he is in the fiacre waiting at the door: he is
tearing through the streets, with the hot summer air flowing in a quick
current against his face. He thinks afterwards at what a pace the horse
must have been going, and how the poor jade must have been lashed to
keep it up to that useless speed. At the time he thinks nothing, he
feels nothing. He rushes through the court of the hotel, rushes through
what seem to be people; he thinks afterwards that they must have been
waiters and chambermaids, and that there came a sort of compassionate
murmur from them as he passed. He is up the stairs, the three flights;
as he tears up, three steps at a time, there comes across his numbed
intelligence a flash of wonder why they always give Amelia the worst
room. He is at that door, outside which he has spent so many hours of
breathless listening; he need no longer stay outside it now. It is open,
inviting him in. He is across that, as yet, unpassed threshold, that
threshold over which he was to have stepped in careful, soft-footed joy
to-morrow. He has pushed through the people--why must there be people
everywhere?--of whom the room seems full, unnecessarily full; he is at
the bedside. Across the foot a figure seems thrown--he learns afterwards
that _that_ is Sybilla. Another figure is prostrate on the floor,
heaving, in dreadful dry sobs; that is Cecilia. A third is standing
upright and tearless, looking down upon what, an hour ago, was his most
patient daughter. They have left her alone now--have ceased to tease
her. They no longer hold a looking-glass to her pale mouth, or beat her
tired feet, or pour useless cordials between her lips. They have ceased
to cry out upon her name, having realized that she is much too far away
to hear them. Neither does he cry out. He just goes and stands by the
father, and takes his thin old hand in his; and together they gaze on
that poor temple, out of which the spirit that was so much too lovely
for it has fleeted. Later on they tell him how it came about; later on,
when they are all sitting huddled in the little dark _salon_. Cecilia is
the spokeswoman, and Sybilla puts in sobbing corrections now and again.

"She was sitting up the moment before; the nurse was holding her propped
up--she said she was so tired of lying. She had been quite laughing, the
nurse said."

"Almost laughing," corrects Sybilla, who has forgotten to lie down upon
her sofa, and is sitting on a hard chair like anyone else.

"Quite laughing," continues Cecilia, "at her own arm for being so thin.
She had pushed up her sleeve to look at it, and had said
something--something quite funny, only the nurse could not remember the
exact words--and then, all in a minute, she called out, in quite an
altered voice, 'The salts! Quick! Quick!' and her head just fell back,
and she was gone!"

"And she had not bid one of us good-bye!" cries Sybilla, breaking into a
loud wail.

Then comes a dreadful and incongruous flash of that ridiculous, which is
the underlining to all our tragedies, across Jim's mind at this last
lament. The going, "taking no farewell," naturally seems to Sybilla the
most terrible feature in the whole case, to her who has so repeatedly
taken heartrending last farewells of her family.

"Who would ever have thought that I should have survived her?" pursues
Sybilla, still sobbing noisily, and without the least attempt at
self-control. Cecilia, who is sitting with her head on her arms resting
on the table, lifts her tear-blurred face and answers this apostrophe in
a voice choked with weeping.

"Jim always did; he always said that you would see us all out."

Again that dreadful impulse towards mirth assails Burgoyne. Is it
possible that, at such an hour, he can feel a temptation to laugh out
loud? But, later again, this horrible mood passes; later, when they have
all grown more composed, when their tears run more gently, when their
voices are less suffocated, and they are telling each other little
anecdotes of her, aiding each other's memories to recall half-effaced
traits of her homely kindness, of her noiseless self-denials, of her
deep still piety.

They bring out her photographs, mourning over their being so few, and
such old and long-ago ones. There are effigies by the dozen of Cecilia,
and even touching presentments of Sybilla stretched in wasted grace upon
her day bed; but it had never occurred to anyone--least of all to Amelia
herself--that there is any need for _her_ image to be perpetuated. And
now they are searching out, as treasures most precious, the scanty faded
likenesses that exist of her, planning how they can be enlarged, and
repeated, and daintily framed, and generally done homage and tender
reverence to.

Jim listens, occasionally putting in a low word or two, when appealed to
to confirm or correct the details of some little story about her. But it
seems to him as if his anguish only begins when the stream of their
reminiscences turns into the channel of her love for him.

"Oh, Jim, she _was_ fond of you! We were none of us anywhere, compared
to you; she worshipped the ground you trod upon. We all knew--did not
we, Sybilla?--did not we, father?--when you used to be away for so long,
and wrote to her so seldom----Oh, I know!"--hastily--"that you were not
to blame, that you were in out-of-the-way places, where there was no
post: but there were sometimes long gaps between your letters; and we
always knew--did not we?--when she had heard from you by her face, long
before she spoke."

Next it is--

"How she fired up if anyone said anything slightingly of you: she never
cared in the least if one abused herself; she always thought she quite
deserved it; but if anybody dared to say the least disparaging thing of
_you_"--it is pretty evident, though at the moment in his agony of
preoccupation the idea does not occur to Jim, that this has not been an
uncommon occurrence--"she was like a lioness at once."

"The saddest thing of all," says Sybilla, taking up the antiphonal
strain, "is that she should have died just as she was beginning to be so
happy!"

_Just beginning to be so happy?_ And he might have made her heavenly
happy so easily, since she asked so little--for eight years. The groan
he utters is low in proportion to the depth of the fountain whence it
springs, and they do not hear it. If they did, they would in mercy stop;
instead, they go on.

"Did you ever see anything so radiant as she was--that last fortnight?
She used to say that she was quite ashamed of being so much more
fortunate than anyone else, she seemed always trying to make up to us
for not being so happy as she. Oh, she was happy that last fortnight!"

This time he does not groan, he seems to himself to have passed into
that zone of suffering which cannot be expressed or alleviated by the
utterance of any sound. Perhaps, by-and-by, Cecilia dimly divines
something, some faint shadow of what he is enduring; for she begins with
well-intentioned labour to try to assert lamely that Amelia had always
been happy, well, _fairly_ happy, as happy as most people. You could not
expect, in this dreadful world, to be always in the best of spirits, but
she had never complained. And, oh! that last fortnight she _had_ been
happy, it was a pleasure to see her! And, oh, what a comfort it must be
now to Jim to think that it was all owing to him.

She puts out her hand kindly to him as she speaks, and he takes it, and
silently wrings it in acknowledgment of the endeavour--however
clumsy--to lay balm upon that now immedicable wound.

He stays most of the night with them; and when at length, overcome with
weariness and sorrow, they rise from their grief-stricken postures to go
to bed, he kisses them all solemnly, even the old man. He has never
kissed any of them before, except once or twice Cecilia on some return
of his from the Antipodes, and because she seemed to expect it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later Burgoyne leaves Florence; and, as his arrival in the
City of Flowers had been motived by Amelia alive, so is his departure to
companion her dead.


END OF PART ONE.



PART II.

Elizabeth.



CHAPTER I.

    "It was a chosen plot of fertile land,
      Amongst wide waves set like a little nest,
    As if it had by Nature's cunning hand
      Been choycely picked out from all the rest,
      And laid forth for ensample of the best.
    No daintie flower or herb that grows on ground,
      No arborete with painted blossomes drest,
    And smelling sweete, but there it might be found
    To bud out faire, and throwe her sweet smell all around."


Time has stepped upon another year; not much more than stepped, since
that year's first month is not yet out; and Burgoyne has stepped upon
another continent before we again rejoin him. There are few, if any of
us, who, in the course of our lives, have not had occasion to wish that
certain spaces in those lives might be represented by the convenient
asterisks that cover them in books; but this is unfortunately impossible
to Jim, as to the rest of us; and he has fought through each minute and
its minuteful of pain (happily no minute can contain two minutefuls)
during the seven months that have elapsed since we parted from him. At
first those minutes held nothing but pain; he could not tell you which
of them it was that first admitted within its little compass any alien
ingredient; and he was shocked and remorseful when he discovered that
any such existed. But that did not alter the fact. He has not sold his
guns; on the contrary, he has bought two new ones, and he has visited
his old friends, the Rockies. Since Amelia's funeral--immediately after
which he again quitted England--he has seen no member of his dead
betrothed's family, nor has he held any intercourse, beyond the exchange
of an infrequent letter, with Mrs. Byng or her son. From the thought of
both these latter he shrinks, with a distaste equal in degree, though
inspired by different causes. From Mrs. Byng, because he knows that she
was aware of his weariness of his poor love--that poor love whom, had he
but known it, he had so short a time to be weary of; and from Byng,
because, despite the ocean of sorrow, of remorse, of death that rolls in
its hopelessness between him and her, he cannot even yet think, without
a bitter pang, of the woman who had inspired the young man's hysterical
tears and sincere, though silly, suicidal impulses. Jim took that pang
with him to the Rockies, stinging, even through the overlying load of
his other and acknowledged burden of repentant ache and loss, and he has
brought it back with him. He packs it into his portmanteau as much as a
matter of course as he does his shirts--in fact more so, for he has once
inadvertently left his shirts behind, but the pang never.

It is the 20th day of January; here, in England, the most consistently
detestable month in the year. The good Januaries of a British
octogenarian's life might be counted upon the thumbs of that
octogenarian's hands. The favoured inhabitants of London have
breakfasted and lunched by gaslight; have groped their way along their
dirty streets through a fog of as thick and close a fabric as the furs
gathered round their chilled throats; have, even within their houses,
seen each other dimly across a hideous yellow vapour that kills their
expensive flowers, and makes their unwilling palm-trees droop in
homesick sadness. There is no fog about the Grand Hotel, Mustapha
Supérieur, Algiers; no lightest blur of mist to dim the intensity of the
frame of green in which its white face is set. It is not so very grand,
despite its unpromising big name, as it stands high aloft on the
hillside, looking out over the bay and down on the town, looking down
more immediately upon tree-tops, and on the Governor's summer palace. It
is an old Moorish house, enlarged into an hotel, with little arched
windows sunk in the thick walls, with red-tiled floors, and balconies,
with low white balustrades of pierced brick, up which the lush creepers
climb and wave--yes, climb and wave on this 20th of January.

From the red-floored balcony over the creepers, between the perennial
leafage of the unchanging trees, one can daily descry in the azure bay
the tiny puff of smoke that tells that the mail steamer from Marseilles
has safely breasted the Gulf of Lyons, threaded her away among the
Isles, and brought her freight of French and English and American news
to the hands and ears of the various expectant nationalities. To-day,
blown by a gently prosperous wind, the boat is punctual. It is the
_Eugène Perrère_, the pet child of the Transatlantic Company, the narrow
and strong-engined little vessel which is wont to accomplish the transit
in a period of time less by an hour than her brother craft. To-day she
has brought but one guest to the Grand Hotel, who, having left the bulk
of his luggage to be struggled for by Arabs, and by the hotel-porter at
the Douane, arrives at the modest Moorish-faced hostelry, having, with
British mercifulness, walked up the break-neck green lane that leads
from the steep main road in order to spare the wretched little galled,
pumped horse that has painfully dragged him and his bag from the pier.
He has travelled straight through from London--fifty-five hours without
a pause--so that it is not to be wondered at that his thoughts turn
affectionately towards a wash and a change of raiment. Having extracted
from the case of unclaimed letters in the bar two or three that bear the
address of James Burgoyne, Esq., he is ushered to his room by the civil
little fussy Italian landlord, who, in order to enhance his appreciation
of the apartment provided for him, assures him, in voluble bad French,
that only yesterday he had been obliged to turn away a party of eight.

It is not until refreshed by a completed toilette--and who can overrate
the joy of a bath after a journey?--that it occurs to him to look out of
window. His room possesses two. One faces the hill's rich-clothed
steepness, and a row of orange-trees covered with fruit, and at whose
feet tumbled gold balls lie. But the dusk is falling fast, and he can
only dimly see the prodigality of green in which the modest Grand Hotel
lies buried. The other window looks out--but a very little way lifted
above it, for the room is on the ground floor--upon the red-tiled
terrace. It is growing very dim too. At the present moment it is empty
and deserted, but the chairs studded over its surface in talkative
attitudes, as if sociable twos and threes had drawn together in chat,
tell plainly that earlier in the day it had been frequented, and that
several people had been sitting out on it. Jim's London memories are too
fresh upon him for him not to find something ludicrous in the idea of
sitting out of doors on the 20th of January. How pleasant it would have
been to do so to-day in Hyde Park! He turns back to the table with a
smile at the idea, and, taking out a writing-case, sits down to scribble
a line. Jim's correspondence is neither a large nor an interesting one.
On the present occasion, his note is merely one of reminder as to some
trifling order, addressed to the landlord of his London lodgings. It
does not take him ten minutes to pen, and when it is finished he turns
to have one final look out of window before leaving the room. How
quickly the dark has fallen! The empty chairs show indistinct outlines,
and the heavy green trees have turned black. But the terrace is no
longer quite empty. A footfall sounds--coming slowly along it. One of
the waiters, no doubt, sent to fetch in the chairs; but, no! an
overworked Swiss waiter, hurried by electric bells, and with an imminent
swollen table _table d'hôte_ upon his burdened mind, never paced so
slowly, nor did anything male ever step so lightly.

It must be a woman; and even now her white gown makes a patch of light
upon the dark background of the quickly on-coming night. A white gown on
the 20th of January! Again that pleasing sense of the ludicrous tickles
his fancy. She must be one of the persons who lately occupied the empty
chairs, and have come in search of some object left behind. He
recollects having noticed an open book lying on the low parapet. She has
a white gown; but what more can be predicated of her in this owl-light?
The radiance from the candle behind him makes a small illuminated square
upon the terrace, falling between the bars of the window through which
the Moorish ladies once darted their dark and ineffectual ogles.

Having apparently accomplished her errand, the white-gowned figure
obligingly steps into the illumined square, and still more obligingly
lifts her face and looks directly up at him. It is clear that the action
is dictated only by the impulse which prompts all seeing creatures to
turn lightwards, and no gleam of recognition kindles in the eyes that
are averted almost as soon as directed towards him. Placed as he is,
with his back to the light, his own mother could not have distinguished
his features; and, after her one careless glance, the white-gowned lady
turns away and disappears again into the gloom. She has one more oasis
of light to traverse before she reaches the hotel porch, just
discernible, gleaming in its whitewash, at the far end of the terrace;
just one more lit window throws its chequered lustre on the tiles. He
presses his face against the bars of his own lattice, and holds his
breath until she has reached and crossed that tell-tale patch. Her
traversing of it does not occupy the tenth part of a second, and yet it
puts the seal upon what he already knows.

Five minutes later he is standing before the case, hung on the wall of
the entrance hall, which contains the names and numbers of the rooms of
the visitors, eagerly scanning them with eye and finger. He scans them
in vain. The name he seeks is not among them. Had it not been for that
five minutes' delay--that five minutes of stunned and stupid staring out
into the dark after her--he must have met her in the hall. He is turning
away in baffled disappointment, when the little host again accosts him.

Monsieur must excuse him, but he must explain that the list of visitors
that monsieur has been so obliging as to peruse is by no means a full or
correct one. To-morrow morning he shall have the pleasure of placing
beneath monsieur's eye a proper and complete list of the visitors; but,
in point of fact, there has been such a press of business, he has been
daily obliged to turn away such large and _comme il faut_ families from
the door, that time has been inadequate for all his obligations, which
must be his excuse.

Burgoyne accepts his apologies in silence. It would seem easy enough to
inquire whether among the English visitors there are any of the name of
Le Marchant; but the question sticks in his throat. It is seven months
since he has pronounced that name aloud, and he appears to have lost the
faculty of doing it. The host comes to his aid.

Is there perhaps a family--a friend whom monsieur expects to meet? But
monsieur only shakes his head, and moves away. He has ascertained that
the _table d'hôte_ is at seven, and it is now half-past five. He has,
therefore, only an hour and a half of suspense ahead of him. She will
surely appear at the _table d'hôte_? But will she?

As the hour of seven approaches, ever graver and graver doubts upon this
head assail his mind, both when he reflects upon how much it is a habit
with the better sort of travelling English to dine in their own rooms,
and also when he calls to mind the extremely retired character of
Elizabeth's and her mother's habits. Even if she does appear in the
public room--and the more he thinks of it, the less probable, it
seems--it is most unlikely that he will be placed near her. But he might
possibly intercept her in the hall on her way to the _salle à manger_.

In pursuance of this project he takes up his position before the bell,
tingling so lengthily as to reach the ears of the deafest and most
distant, has summoned the company together; and it is several minutes
before enough are assembled to justify, according to the etiquette
prevailing at the Grand Hotel, a move to the dining-room. Men, at that
hotel, although in a very distinct minority--as when, indeed, are they
not?--are yet not quite the same choice rarities as at some of the Swiss
and Italian ones. But the young of the one sex are perennially
interesting to the other; and Burgoyne, as "the new man," is an object
of some attention to half a dozen young girls, and even to two or three
sprightly-hearted old ones. His eyes are eagerly shining as each opening
door, each step on the staircase, raises his hopes afresh. But neither
door nor staircase yields the form he seeks, and he is at last obliged,
under penalty of exciting remark, reluctantly to follow the band that go
trooping hungrily down a flight of steps to the whitewashed dining-room.
He finds himself placed between a bouncing widow who is too much
occupied in fondling an old valetudinarian on her other side to have
much notice to spare for him; and a sparkling creature of
five-and-thirty in a red shirt, who, before dinner is over, confides to
him that she fears she has not got a nice nature, and that she cannot
get on at home because her mother and the servants insist upon having
cold supper instead of dinner on Sunday. When she tells him that she has
not a nice nature, he absently replies that he is very sorry for it, and
her confidence about the Sunday supper provokes from him only the
extremely stupid observation that he supposes she does not like cold
meat. It is a wonder that he can answer her even as rationally as he
does. It is more by good luck than good management that there is any
sense at all in his responses. And yet he may as well give his full
attention to his neighbour, for now every place at the E-shaped table is
filled up, and, travel as his eye may over those who sit, both at the
long and cross-boards, it fails to discover any face in the least
resembling that which lifted itself from the dusk terrace into his
candle-light.

Was it her little ghost, then, that he had seen, her dainty delicate
ghost? But why should it appear to him _here_? Why haunt these
unfamiliar shores? The only places in the room which still remain
untenanted are those at a round table laid for three, in the embrasure
of a Moorish window, not very distant from where he sits. On first
catching sight of it his hopes had risen, only immediately to fall
again, as he realizes that it is destined for a trio. Why should three
places be laid for Elizabeth and her mother?

With a disheartened sigh he tums to his neighbour, intending to put to
her a question as to the habitual occupants of the empty table; but she
is apparently affronted at his tepidness, and presents to him only the
well-frizzled back of her expensive head. He is reduced to listening to
the conversation of his _vis-à-vis_, an elderly couple, who have been
upon some excursion, and are detailing their experiences to those around
them. They have been to Blidah apparently, and seen real live monkeys
hopping about without organs or red coats on real palm trees. He is
drawn into the conversation by a question addressed to him as to his
journey.

It is five minutes before he again looks towards the table in the
window. His first glance reveals that the three persons for whom it is
destined have at length arrived and taken their seats. Idiot that he is!
he had forgotten Mr. Le Marchant's existence.

"They are nice-looking people, are they not?" says his neighbour in the
red shirt, apparently repenting of her late austerity, and following the
direction of his eyes; "but they give themselves great airs; nobody in
the hotel is good enough for them to speak to. M. Cipriani evidently
thinks them people of importance; he makes twice as much fuss about them
as he does about anyone else. Look at him now!"

And in effect the obsequious little host may be seen hanging anxiously
over the newcomers, evidently asking them with solicitous civility
whether the not particularly appetizing fish (the strongest point of the
blue Mediterranean does not lie in her fishes, of which some are coarse,
some tasteless, and some even lie under the suspicion of having
poisonous qualities)--whether it is not to their liking.

At something that M. Cipriani says they all laugh. Elizabeth, indeed,
throws back her little head, and shows all her perfect teeth, in a
paroxysm of the most genuine mirth. It gives Burgoyne a sort of shock to
see her laugh.

Not a day, scarcely an hour, has passed since he last saw her in which
he has not pictured her as doing or suffering, or living through
something; he has never pictured her laughing. It seems to him now but a
moment since he was reading her broken-hearted, tear-stained note; since
he was seeing Byng grovelling in all the utter collapse of his
ungoverned grief on the floor of the little Florentine _entresol_. What
business has she to laugh? And how unchanged she is! How much less
outwardly aged than he himself is conscious of being! Sitting as she now
is, in her simple white tea-gown, with one slight elbow rested on the
table, her eyes all sparkling with merriment and laughter, bringing into
prominence that one enchanting dimple of hers, she does not look more
than twenty. But a few moments later he forgives her even her dimple.
However _empressé_ may be the little landlord, he has to move away after
a time; and the merriment moves away, too, out of Elizabeth's face. Jim
watches it decline, through the degrees of humorous disgust, as she
pushes the coarse white fish about her plate, without tasting it (she
was always a very delicate eater), into a settled gravity. And now that
she is grave he sees that she is aged, almost as much as he himself,
after all. Her eyes had ever had the air of having shed in their time
many tears; but since he last saw her, it is now evident to him that the
tale of those tears has been a good deal added to.

There is no pleasing him. He was angry with her when he thought her gay,
and now he quarrels with her for looking sad. As if, in her
unconsciousness of his neighbourhood, she was yet determined to give him
no cause of complaint, she presently again lays aside her sorrowful
looks, and, drawing her chair confidentially nearer to her mother's,
makes some remark of an evidently comic nature upon the company into her
ear.

They stoop their heads together--what friends they always were, she and
her mother!--and again the blue twinkle comes into her eyes; the
dimple's little pitfall is dug anew in her white cheek. Was there ever
such an April creature? Mr. Le Marchant appears to take no part in the
jokes; he goes on eating his dinner silently, and his back, which is
turned towards Burgoyne, looks morose.

How is it that Elizabeth's roving eye has not yet hit upon himself? He
sees presently that the cause lies in the fact of her look alighting
upon old and known objects of entertainment, rather than going in search
of new ones. But it must sooner or later embrace him in its range. The
fond fat widow beside him must surely be one of her favourites, and, in
point of fact, as he feverishly watches to see the inevitable moment of
recognition arrive, he perceives that Miss Le Marchant and her mother
are delightedly--though not so openly as to be patent to the rest of the
room--observing her. And then comes the expected careless glance at him,
and the no less expected transformation. Her elbows have been carelessly
resting on the table, and she has just been pressing her laughing lips
against her lightly-joined hands to conceal their merriment. In an
instant he sees the right hand go out in a silent desperate clutch at
her mother's, and the next second he knows that she also has seen him.
They both stare helplessly at him--at least, the one _at_ him, and the
other beyond him! How well he remembers that look of hers over his
shoulder in search of someone else. But yet it is not the old look, for
that was one of hope and red expectation. Is there any hope or
expectation lurking even under the white dread of this one? His jealous
heart is afraid quite to say no to this question, and yet an
indisputable look of relief spreads over her face as she ascertains that
he is alone. She even collects herself enough to give him a tiny
inclination of the head--an example followed by her mother; but they
are, in both cases, so tiny as to be unperceived, save by the person to
whom they are addressed.

He would not have been offended by the minuteness of their salutations,
even had he not divined that it was dictated by a desire--however
futile--to conceal the fact of his presence from their companion. His
heart goes out in all the profundity of his former pity towards them, as
he sees how entirely that one glance at him (for she does not look again
in his direction) has dried the fountain of Elizabeth's poor little
jests; of how white and grave and frightened, and even shrunk, his mere
presence has made her. Now that they have detected him, good breeding,
and even humanity, forbid his continuing any longer his watch upon them.
The better to set them at ease he turns the back of his head towards
their table, and compels the reluctant widow to relinquish her invalid
booty for fully ten minutes in his favour. Perhaps when Elizabeth can
see only the back of his head she may resume her jokes. But all the same
he knows that, for her, there will be no more mirth to-day.

"That is what they always do!" cries a voice on Burgoyne's left
hand--the voice of his other neighbour, who begins to think that his
attention has been usurped quite long enough by her plump rival. "That
is what they always do--come long after dinner has begun, and go out
long before it has ended. Such swagger!"

There is a tinge of exasperation in both words and voice, nor is the
cause far to seek.

The table in the window is again empty. In the meantime the "swaggering"
Elizabeth is clinging tremblingly about her mother's neck in the privacy
of their own little salon. The absence of the husband and father for the
moment in the smoking-room has removed the irksome restraint from both
the poor women.

"Did you see him?" asks Elizabeth breathlessly, as soon as the door is
safely closed upon them, flinging herself down upon her knees beside
Mrs. Le Marchant, who has sunk into a chair, and cowering close to her
as if for shelter. "What is he doing here? Why has he come? When first I
caught sight of him I thought that of course--" She breaks off, sobbing;
"and when I saw that he was alone I _was_ relieved; but I was
disappointed too! Oh, I must be a fool--a bad fool--but I _was_
disappointed! Oh, mammy! mammy! how seeing him again brings it all
back!"

"Do not cry, dear child! do not cry!" answers Mrs. Le Marchant
apprehensively; though the voice in which she gives the exhortation is
shaking too. "Your father will be in directly; and you know how
angry----"

"I will not! I will not!" cries Elizabeth, trying, with her usual
extreme docility, to swallow her tears; "and I do not show it much when
I have been crying; my eyes do not mind it as much as most people's; I
suppose"--with a small rainy smile--"because they are so used to it!"

"Perhaps he will not stay long," murmurs the mother, dropping a fond
rueful kiss on the prone blonde head that lies on her knees; "perhaps if
we are careful we may avoid speaking to him."

"But I _must_ speak to him," breaks in the girl, lifting her head, and
panting; "I _must_ ask him; I _must_ find out; why, we do not even know
whether Willy is dead or alive!"

"He is not dead," rejoins the elder woman, with melancholy common-sense;
"if he had been, we should have seen it in the papers; and, besides, why
should he be? Grief does not kill; nobody, Elizabeth, is better able to
attest that than you and I."

Elizabeth is now sitting on the floor, her hands clasped round her
knees.

"He is aged," she says presently; and this time it is evident that the
pronoun refers to Burgoyne.

Mrs. Le Marchant assents.

"He must have cared more for that poor creature than we gave him credit
for. Get up, darling; dry your eyes, and sit with your back to the
light; here comes your father!"



CHAPTER II.


One of the reasons, though not the sole or even the main one, of
Burgoyne's visit to Algiers is that the Wilson family are wintering
there. And yet he dreads the meeting with them inexpressibly. When they
last parted, immediately after having stood together round Amelia's open
grave, they had all been at a high pressure of emotion, and of
demonstrative affectionateness, which nothing in their tastes, habits,
or natures could possibly make continuous. He has a horrible fear that
they will expect to take up their relations at the same point at which
he had left them. He would do it if he could, but he feels that it is
absolutely impossible to him. The door of that room in his memory which
is labelled "Amelia" is for ever locked. It is only in deepest silence
and solitude that he permits himself now and again to turn the key and
sparely and painfully look in. How will he bear it if they insist on
throwing the portals wide, dragging its disused furniture to the light,
rummaging in its corners?

He sleeps ill on this, his first night of Africa; and even when at
length he succeeds in losing importunate consciousness, he is teased by
absurd yet painful dreams, in which Amelia and Elizabeth jostle each
other impossibly with jumbled personalities and changed attributes.
Extravagant as his visions are, they have yet such a solid vividness
that, at his first waking, he feels a strange sense of unsureness as to
which of the two women that have beset his pillow is the dead, and which
the living one. In dreams, how often our lost ones, and those whom we
still possess, take hands together on equal terms! Even when he is wide
awake, nay more, dressed and breakfasted, that feeling of uncertainty,
that something akin to the

    "Blank misgivings of a creature,
    Moving about in worlds not realized,"

remains strong enough to drive him once again to the list of visitors in
the entrance-hall, in order to assure himself that his brain has not
been the dupe of his eye.

M. Cipriani has been as good as his word. The corrected list, promised
overnight, has replaced the incomplete one, and almost the first names
that Jim's eye alights upon are those of "Mr., Mrs., and Miss Le
Marchant, England." His own name immediately follows, and he takes as a
good augury what is merely an accident due to the fact of his room and
theirs being on one floor. Elizabeth is, beyond question, beneath the
same roof as himself; nay, even now she may probably be sunning herself
like a white pigeon on that terrace, whose red tiles he sees shining in
the morning sun through an open side-door.

The thought is no sooner formed than he follows whither it leads him;
but she is not on the terrace; and though a moment ago his nerves were
tingling at the thought of speech with her, yet he is conscious of a
feeling of relief that their meeting is, for the moment, deferred. What
can he say to her? What can she say to him?

He stands looking down on the green sea of richly-clothed dark trees
beneath him--ilex and eucalyptus, and all the unfamiliar verdure of the
soft South. From the fiercely-blazing red purple of a Bougainvillia, so
unlike the pale, cold lilac blossom, to which in our conservatories we
give that name, his eye travels over tree-tops and snowy villas, cool
summer palace and domy mosque, to the curving bay, round which the Atlas
Mountains are gently laying their arms; and Cape Matifou, with the haze
of day's young prime about it, is running out into the Mediterranean.

He is alone at first, but presently other people come forth; the old
valetudinarian, for once delivered from his fostering widow, sits down
with a pile of English newspapers to enjoy himself in the sun, which
does not yet ride so high as to be sun-strokey. Jim's last night's
neighbour in the red shirt comes out too, bonneted and prayer-booked.
She is going to church; so is he: but he does not tell her so, for fear
she should offer to accompany him. She observes to him that the climate
is a fraud; that this is the first day for three weeks in which she is
able to go out without a mackintosh and umbrella.

"We are not so green for nothing, I can tell you," says she, with a
laugh, and a rather resentful glance at the splendid verdure around her,
and so leaves him.

He, too, as I have said, is going to church, and is presently asking his
way to the English chapel. The Wilson family will certainly be there,
and it has struck him that the dreaded meeting will be robbed of half
its painful awkwardness if it takes place in public. At a church-porch,
crowded with issuing congregation, Sybilla cannot fall into
hysterics--it is true that Sybilla never attends divine service--nor can
Cecilia weepingly throw her arms about his neck. But whatever means he
may take to lessen the discomfort and smart of that expected encounter,
the thought of it sits like lead upon his spirits, as he walks
quickly--it is difficult to descend slowly so steep a hill--down the
precipitous lane, which is the only mode of approach for man or
labouring beast to the high-perched hotel he has chosen. But he is
young, and presently the cheerful, clean loveliness of the day and the
sight of Nature's superb vigour work their natural effect upon him. It
must, indeed, be an inveterate grief that refuses to be soothed by the
influences of this green Eden.

What a generosity of vegetation, as evidenced by the enormous garlands
of great-leaved ivy, waving from tree to tree as for some perpetual
fête! Along the high hill bank that skirts this steep by-road,
eucalyptus rear their lofty heads and their faintly-scented blossoms,
aloe draws her potent sword, and thick-fleshed prickly pear displays her
uncouth malignity. Beneath, what a lush undergrowth of riotous
great-foliaged plants--acanthus, and a hundred other green sisters, all
flourishing and waxing, so unstinted, so at large! He has reached the
main road--the shady road that leads by a three-mile descent from
Mustapha Supérieur to the town.

How shady it is! Pepper-trees hang their green hair, so thick and fine,
over it; and ilexes hold the thatch of their little dark leaves. Past
the Governor's summer palace, with its snowy dome and Moorish arcades
gleaming through its iron gates. From a villa garden a flowering shrub
sends a mixed perfume of sweet and bitter, as of honey and hops, from
its long yellow flower-tassels to his pleased nostrils.

At a sharp turn, where the hill falls away more precipitously than
before, the bay, the mole, the shipping, the dazzling little city, burst
upon him--the little city swarming up her hill, from where the French
town bathes its feet in the azure ripples, to where the Arab town loses
the peak of its triangle, in the Casbah and the fort of the now
execrated Emperor. Blinding white, ardent blue, profound green--what a
pleasant picture for a summer Sunday morning! And how gay the road is
too, as the East and the West step along it together!

Here is a tram tearing down the steep incline with five poor little thin
horses abreast. It is full of English church-goers, and yet, oh anomaly!
standing up in the vulgarest of modern vehicles, with his slight dark
hands grasping the tramrail, is a tall Arab, draped with the grave grace
of the Vatican Demosthenes. But alas! alas! even upon him the West has
laid its claw, for, as the tram rushes past, Jim's shocked eyes realize
that he, who in other respects might have fed the flocks of Laban in
Padan-aram, wears on his feet a pair of old elastic-sided boots.

Here come clattering a couple of smart Chasseurs d'Afrique, in blue and
red, followed by a woman dressed as Rachel was at the palmy well--so
dressed, that is to say, as to her white-shrouded upper woman, for,
indeed, there is no reason for supposing that Rachel wore a pair of Rob
Roy Tartan trousers! Past the Plateau Saulière, where, in the
lichen-roofed lavoir Frenchwomen are sousing their linen in water
that--oh, hideous thought!--is changed but once a week; along an ugly
suburb, and past a little wood; through the arch in the fortifications,
the Porte d'Isly, till at length the Episcopal chapel--why are the
Protestant places of worship scattered over the habitable globe
everywhere so frightful?--stands before him.

He had thought himself in good time, but he must have loitered more than
he had been aware of, as the bell is silent and the porch closed. He
enters as quietly as may be, and takes his place near the door. The
building strikes damp and chilly, despite the warming presence of the
whole English colony, emptied out of the four hotels sacred to
Anglo-Saxons, and out of many an ilex-shaded orange-groved campagne
besides. The building is quite full, which is, no doubt, the reason why
Jim fails to catch any glimpse of the Wilson family throughout the
service. He has plenty of time to interrogate with his eye the numerous
rows of backs before him, as the sermon is long. Jim had known that it
would be so from the moment when the clergyman entered the pulpit with
an open Bible--no written sermon--in his hand. The sound of a brogue,
piercing, even through the giving out of the text, soon puts him in
possession of the further fact that he is in the clutches, and at the
mercy, of an entirely uneducated yet curiously fluent Irishman.

Is Elizabeth writhing under the infliction too? Never, in the Moat days,
was she very patient under prolonged pulpit eloquence. He can see her
with his memory's eye not very covertly reading her hymn-book--can hear
her foot tapping. Several people around him now are, not very covertly,
reading _their_ hymn-books, but she is not among them. He has no more
sight of her than he has of Cecilia; but in neither case--such are the
disadvantages of his position--does his failure to see prove the absence
of the object he seeks. He is one of the first persons to be out of
church when at length set free, and stands just outside the porch while
the long stream of worshippers defiles before him. It takes some time to
empty itself into the sunshine, and nearly as long before he catches
sight of any member of either of the families he is on the look-out for.
Of the Le Marchants, indeed, he never catches sight, for the excellent
reason that they are not to be caught sight of, not being there. In the
case of the Wilsons he is more fortunate, though here, too, a sort of
surprise is in store for him. He has involuntarily been scanning, in his
search for them, only those of the congregation who are dressed in
mourning. The picture that the retina of his eye has kept of Cecilia is
of one tear-swollen and crape-swaddled; and though, if he had thought of
it, his reason would have told him that, after seven months, she is
probably no longer sobbing and sabled, yet even then the impression that
he would expect to receive from her would be a grave and a black one.
This is why, although he is on the look-out for her, she yet comes upon
him at last as a surprise.

"Jim!" cries a voice, pitched a good deal higher than is wont to make
itself heard within the precincts of a church--a female voice of
delighted surprise and cheerful welcome; "father, here is Jim!"

Burgoyne turns, and sees a lady in a very smart bonnet, full of spring
flowers, and with a red _en tout cas_--for they have now issued into the
day's potent beam--shading her rosy face; a lady whose appearance
presents about as wide a contrast to the serious and inky figure he had
expected to see as it is well possible to imagine.

Cecilia, indeed, is looking, what her maid admiringly pronounced her
before sending her forth to triumph, "very dressy." Mr. Wilson is black,
certainly--but, then, clergymen always are black--and he still has a
band upon his hat; but it is a very narrow one--sorrow nearing its
vanishing-point. In answer to his daughter's joyous apostrophe, he
answers:

"'Sh, Cecilia! do not talk so loud. How are you, Jim?"

And then the meeting is over--that first meeting which Jim had shrunk
from with such inexpressible apprehension--as certain to be so fraught
with intolerable emotion; with calls upon him that he would not be able
to answer; with baring of incurable wounds. The contrast with the
reality is so startling that at first it makes him almost dizzy. Can the
showy creature beside him, preening herself under her gay sunshade, be
the same overwhelmed, shrunk, tear-drenched Cecilia whom at their last
meeting he had folded in so solemn an embrace? Her cheerful voice
answers for herself:

"It is so nice to see you again! When did you come? We did not expect
you quite so soon; in your last letter you were rather vague as to
dates; I can't say that you shine as a correspondent. You will come back
to luncheon with us, of course, will not you? _déjeûner_, as they call
it here; I always thought _déjeûner_ meant breakfast. You will come,
will not you? Sybilla will be so glad to see you--glad, that is to say,
in her dismal way."


She ends with a laugh, which he listens to in a silence that is almost
stunned. The sound of her voice, though set to so different a tune from
what he had anticipated, has brought back the past with such astonishing
vividness to him; her very fleer at Sybilla seems so much a part of the
old life that he half turns his head, expecting once more to see
Amelia's deprecating face, to hear her peace-making voice put in a plea,
as it has done so many hundred times, for the peevish _malade
imaginaire_.

They have been strolling towards the carriages waiting outside, and have
now reached one, driven by an _indigène_, a Moor, dusky as Othello,
solemn as Rhadamanthus, and with his serious charms set off by a striped
yellow and white jacket and a red sash.

"Is not he beautiful?" asks Cecilia, with another laugh, alluding to her
coachman, as she and Burgoyne set off upon their _tête-à-tête_ drive,
Mr. Wilson seeing, apparently, no reason in the fact of his (Burgoyne's)
appearance on the scene for departing from his invariable custom of
walking home from church; "is not he beautiful? When first we came here
we were in mourning; as if"--catching herself up with a stifled
sigh--"there were any need to tell _you_ that; and father wanted to put
him into black, but I would not hear of it: was not I right? He would
have been nothing in black; it is his red and yellow that give him his
_cachet_."

Jim feels inclined to burst out laughing. There is something so
ludicrous in the disproportion between his fears and their fulfilment,
in the fact of the whole importance of Amelia's death resolving itself
into a sash or no sash for an Arab coachman, that he has some difficulty
in answering in a key of which the irony shall not be too patent:

"I think you were perfectly right."

He does not know whether she perceives the dryness of his tone; he
thinks probably not, as she goes on to ask him a great many questions as
to his journey, etc., talking quickly and rather flightily, scarcely
leaving room between her queries for his monosyllabic replies, and
ending with the ejaculation:

"How nice it is to see you again!"

"Thank you." His acknowledgment seems to himself so curt that, after a
moment, he feels constrained to add something to it. That something is
the bald and trivial inquiry: "And you--how have you all been getting
on?"

Cecilia shrugs her shoulders.

"We are better off than we were; you know that, of course. Nobody ever
thought that father's brother would have died before him. Wait till you
see our villa--it is one of the show ones here; and of course it is very
pleasant having more money; but one cannot help wishing that it had come
earlier." She sighs as she speaks; not an ostentatious sigh, but a
repressed and strangled one; and, despite the flower-garden in her
bonnet, his heart softens to her. Perhaps his look has rested on that
flower-garden with a more open disapprobation than he knows, for she
says presently: "I think that one may be very bright-coloured outside,
and very black inside. Father and I are sometimes very black inside."

"Are you?"

"We do very well when we are alone together, father and I; we like to
talk about her. Dear me! what a place Algiers is for dust! that is why
there are so many blind people here. How it gets into one's eyes!" She
puts her handkerchief up hastily to her face as she speaks; but Jim is
not taken in by the poor little ruse, and he listens to her in a silence
that is almost tender, as she goes on: "Sybilla begins to cry if we even
distantly allude to her; yet I know"--with exasperation--"that she talks
of her by the hour to strangers--to her new doctor, for instance; yes,
she has picked up a new doctor here--a dreadful little adventurer! She
will probably talk of nothing else but her to you."

"God forbid!"

They have by this time left the town behind them, and have turned
through a stone-pillared gate down an ilex and ficus-sheltered drive,
along which the _indigène_, whipping up his horses to an avenue canter,
lands them at the arched door of a snowy Moorish house, whose whitewash
shows dazzling through the interstices of a Bougainvillia fire blazing
all over its front.

Two minutes later Jim is standing by Sybilla's couch. She is holding
both his hands in hers, and there is something in her face which tells
him that she means that he shall kiss her.

"When I think--when I think of our last meeting!" she says hysterically.

"Yes," he says, gasping; "yes, of course. What a beautiful villa you
have here!"

The observation is a true one, though, for the moment, he has not the
least idea whether it is beautiful or not, as he turns his tormented
eyes round upon the delicious little court, with its charming
combination of slender twisted marble columns, of mellow-tinted tiles,
of low plashing fountain. Originally it has been open, roofless to the
eye and the breath and the rains of heaven; but its Northern purchaser
has covered it in with glass, and set low divans and luxuriantly
cushioned bamboo chairs about its soft-tumbling water.

Sybilla has let fall her hands, and the expression of the wish for a
sisterly embrace has disappeared out of her face. For a few moments she
remains absolutely silent. He looks round anxiously for Cecilia, but she
has gone to take off her bonnet, and Mr. Wilson has not yet come in.
Under pretence of examining the tiles, he walks towards the lovely
little colonnade of horseshoe arches that form the court, and his uneasy
look rests, scarcely seeing them, upon the vertical lines of lovely old
faïence that intersect the whitewash with softest blues and greens and
yellows.

When will Cecilia return? Behind him he presently hears the invalid's
voice, steadied and coldened.

"It is very beautiful; and, of course, it is everything for weary eyes
to have such pleasant objects to rest upon. I believe"--with a little
laugh--"that we sick people really take in most of our nourishment
through the eyes. Was not it wonderfully enterprising of us to come
here? I suppose your first thought when you heard the news was, 'How mad
of Sybilla to attempt it!'"

It is needless to say how innocent of the mental ejaculation attributed
to him Jim has been, and the consciousness of it makes him inquire with
guilty haste:

"But you were none the worse? you got over it all right?"

"I was really wonderful," replies she; "we sick people"--with a little
air of playfulness--"do give you well ones these surprises sometimes;
but I must not take the credit to myself: it is really every bit due to
Dr. Crump, my new doctor, who is a perfect marvel of intuition. I always
tell him that he never need ask; he _divines_ how one is; he says he is
a mere bundle of nerves himself; that is, I suppose, why one can talk to
him upon subjects that are sealed books with one's nearest and dearest."

Her voice has a suspicious tremble in it which frightens Jim anew.

He looks again apprehensively for help towards the two tiers of curving
column and rounding arch, which rise in cool grace above each other, and
sees, with relief, the figure of Cecilia leaning over the balustrade
that runs along the upper tier, and looking down upon him. At the same
moment Mr. Wilson enters, and shortly afterwards they all go to
luncheon. It is not a very pleasant repast, although the cool
dining-room, with its beautiful old pierced stucco ceiling and its
hanging brass lamps, contributes its part handsomely towards what should
be their enjoyment. There is no overt family quarrel, but just enough of
covert recrimination and sub-acid sparring to make an outsider feel
thoroughly uncomfortable, and to prove how inharmonious a whole the
soured little family now forms.

"We quarrel more than we used to do, do not we?" says Cecilia, when Jim,
a little later, takes leave, and she walks, under her red sunshade, up
the ilexed drive with him to the pillared gate; "and to-day we were
better than usual, because you were by. Oh, I wish you were always by!"

He cannot echo the wish. He had thought that he had already held his
dead Amelia at her true value; but never, until to-day, has he realized
through what a long purgatory of obscure heroisms she had passed to her
reward.

"I do hope you will not drop us altogether. Of course, now that the link
that bound us to you is broken"--her voice quivers, but he feels neither
the fear nor the rage that a like phenomenon in Sybilla has produced in
him--"there is nothing to hold you any longer; but I do trust you will
not quite throw us over."

"My dear old girl, why should I? I hope that you and I shall always be
the best of friends, and that before long I shall see you settled in a
home of your own."

"You mean that I shall marry? Well, to be sure"--with a recurrence to
that business-like tone which had always amused him formerly in her
discussion of her affairs of the heart--"I ought to have a better chance
now than ever, as I shall have a larger fortune; but"--with a lapse into
depression--"this is not a good place for men--I mean Englishmen. There
are troops of delightful-looking Frenchmen, Chasseurs d'Afrique, and
Zouaves; but, then, we do not know any of them--not one. Well,
perhaps"--philosophically--"it is for the best; one always hears that
Frenchmen make very bad husbands."



CHAPTER III.


Notre Dame d'Afrique--Lady of Africa--is an ugly lady, homely and black;
and the church that is dedicated to her is ugly too--new and
mock-Moorish; but, like many another ugly lady, being very nobly placed,
she has a great and solemn air. It is Our Lady of Africa who first gives
us our greeting as we steam in from seawards; it is to Our Lady of
Africa that the fisher-people climb to vespers, and to the touching
office that follows, when priests and acolytes pass out of the church to
the little plateau outside, where, sheer against the sky, stands a small
Latin cross, with a plain and, as it seems, coffin-shaped stone beneath
it, on which one reads the inscription:

     "À la mémoire de tous ceux, qui ont péri dans la mer, et ont
     été ensevelis dans ses flots."

     "_All those who have perished in the sea, and been buried in
     her waves._"

What a gigantic company to be covered with one little epitaph!

Notre Dame d'Afrique stands grandly on the cliff-tops, overlooking the
sea, whose cruel deeds she is so agonizedly prayed to avert, whose
cruelty she is sometimes powerful to assuage, witness the frequent
votive tablets with which the church walls are covered:

    "Merci, oh ma mère."
    "J'ai prie, et j'ai été exaucé."
    "Reconnaissance à Marie."
    "Reconnaissance à Notre Dame d'Afrique."

She does not look very lovable, this coal-black Marie, who stands in her
stiff brocade, with her ebon hands stretched straight out above the
high-altar; but how tenderly these poor fisherwives must have felt
towards her when she brought them back their Pierre or their Jean, from
the truculent deeps of the ocean!

Burgoyne has been told, both by his guide-book and by his _table-d'hôte_
neighbour, that he ought to see Notre Dame d'Afrique; nor is he loth to
pay further obeisance to that high lady who already yesterday beckoned
to him across the blue floor of her waters. He does not tell Cecilia of
his intention, as he knows that she would offer to accompany him; but on
leaving her he takes his way through the gay French town, along its
Arab-named streets, Bab-a-Zoun and Bab-el-Oued, towards the village of
St. Eugène, and breasts the winding road that, with many an elbow and
bend, heading a deep gorge that runs up from the sea to the church-foot,
leads him within her portals. The congregation is sparse--a few
peasants, a blue and red Zouave, and several inevitable English. Now and
again a woman, clad in humble black that tells of prayers in vain, goes
up with her thin candle, and, lighting it, sticks it in its sconce among
the others that burn before the altar. For awhile Burgoyne finds it
pleasant after his climb to sit and watch her, and speculate pityingly
with what hope of still possible good to herself she is setting her
slender taper alight--now that her treasure has all too obviously gone
down beneath the waves; to sit and speculate, and smell the heady
incense, and listen to the murmur of chanted supplication; but
presently, growing weary of the uncomprehended service, he slips outside
to the little plateau, with its view straight out--no importunate
land-object intervening--towards the sea, across which a little steamer
is cutting her way; and on the horizon two tiny shining sails are lying.

Here, on this bold headland, it seems as if one were one's self in
mid-ocean; and one has to lean far over the low wall in order to realize
that there is some solid earth between us and it; that two full cities
of the dead--a Jewish and a Christian--lie below. From the
land-cemeteries to the vast sea-cemetery--for read by the light of that
plain inscription upon which his eyes are resting, what is even the
azure Mediterranean but a grave? For the matter of that, what is all
life but a grave?

    "First our pleasures die, and then
    Our hopes, and then our fears, and when
    These are dead, the debt is due:
    Dust claims dust, and we die too."

He turns away, and, muttering these words half absently between his
lips, begins to make the circuit of the church; and in doing so, comes
suddenly upon three persons who are apparently similarly employed. The
party consists of a man and two ladies. Being a little ahead of him,
they are, for the first moment or two, not aware of his presence, an
ignorance by which he, rather to his own discomfiture, profits to
overhear a scrap of their conversation certainly not intended for his
ears.

"I suppose that you were wool-gathering, as usual?" Mr. Le Marchant is
saying, with an accent of cold severity, to his daughter; "but I should
have thought that even _you_ might have remembered to bring a wrap of
some kind for your mother!"

Jim starts, partly at having happened so unexpectedly upon the people
before him, partly in shocked astonishment at the harshness both of
voice and words.

In the old days Elizabeth had been the apple of her father's eye, to
oppose whose lightest fancy was a capital offence, for whom no words
could be too sugared, no looks too doting. Yet now she answers, with the
sweetest good-humour, and without the slightest sign of surprise or
irritation, or any indication that the occurrence is not a habitual one:

"I cannot think how I could have been so stupid; it was inexcusable of
me."

"I quite agree with you," replies the father, entirely unmollified; "I
am sure you have been told often enough how liable to chills
insufficient clothing makes people in this beastly climate at sundown."

"But it is not near sundown," breaks in Mrs. Le Marchant, throwing
herself anxiously, and with a dexterity which shows how frequently she
is called upon to do so, between the two others; "look what a great
piece of blue sky the sun has yet to travel."

"You shall have my jacket," cries Elizabeth impetuously, but still with
the same perfect sweetness; "it will be absurdly short for you, but, at
least, it will keep you warm." So saying, she, with the speed of
lightning, whips off the garment alluded to, and proceeds to guide her
mother's arms into its inconveniently tight sleeves, laughing the while
with her odd childish light-heartedness, and crying, "You dear thing,
you do look too ridiculous!"

The mother laughs too, and aids her daughter's efforts; nor does it seem
to occur to any of the three that the fatal Southern chill may possibly
strike the delicate little frame of Elizabeth, now exposed, so lightly
clad in her tweed gown, to its insidious influence.

"I wish you had a looking-glass to see yourself in!" cries she, rippling
into fresh mirth; "does not she look funny, father!" appealing to him
with as little resentment for his past surliness as would be shown by a
good dog (I cannot put it more strongly), and yet, as it seems to Jim,
with a certain nervous deprecation.

The next moment one of them--he does not know which--has caught sight of
himself, and the moment after he is shaking hands with all three. It is
clear that the fact of his presence in Algiers has been notified to Mr.
Le Marchant, for there is no surprise in his coldly civil greeting. He
makes it as short as possible, and almost at once turns to continue his
circuit of the church, his wife at his side, and his daughter meekly
following. Doubtless they do not wish for his (Jim's) company; but yet,
as he was originally, and without any reference to them, going in their
direction, it would seem natural that he should walk along with them.

He is hesitating as to whether or no to adopt this course, when he is
decided by a very slight movement of Elizabeth's head. She does not
actually look over her shoulder at him, and yet it seems to him as if,
were her gesture completed, it would amount to that; but it is arrested
by some impulse before it is more than sketched. Such as it is, it
suffices to take him to her side; and it seems to him that there is a
sort of satisfaction mingled with the undoubted apprehension in her
face, as she realizes that it is so. Her eyes, as she turns them upon
him, have a hungry question in them which her lips seem afraid to put.
Apparently she cannot get nearer to it than this--very tremblingly and
hurriedly uttered, with a timid glance at her father's back, as if she
were delivering herself of some compromising secret instead of the mere
platitude which she so indistinctly vents:

"A--a--great many things have happened since--since we last met!"

Her eye travels for a moment to his hat, from which, unlike Cecilia's
rainbow raiment, the crape band has not yet been removed; and he
understands that she is comprehending his troubles as well as her own in
the phrase.

"A great many!" he answers baldly.

He has not the cruelty to wish to keep her on tenterhooks, and he knows
perfectly what is the question that is written in the wistful blue of
her look, and whom it concerns; but it would be impertinence in him to
take for granted that knowledge, and answer that curiosity which,
however intense and apparent, has yet not become the current coin of
speech. Probably she sees that he is unable or unwilling to help her,
for she makes another tremendous effort.

"I hope that--that--all your friends are well."

"All my friends!" repeats he, half sadly; "they are not such a numerous
band; I have not many friends left still alive."

His thoughts have reverted to his own loss, for, at the moment, Amelia
is very present to him; but the words are no sooner out of his mouth
than he sees how false is the impression produced by his reply--sees it
written in the sudden dead-whiteness of her cheek and the terror in her
eye.

"Do you mean"--she stammers--"that anybody--any of your friends--is--is
lately dead?"

"Oh no! no!" he cries reassuringly; "you are making a mistake; nobody is
dead--nobody, that is"--with a sigh--"that you do not already know of.
All our friends--all our common friends--are, as far as I know----"

"Elizabeth!" breaks in Mr. Le Marchant's voice, in severe appellation;
he has only just become aware that his daughter is not unaccompanied,
and the discovery apparently does not please him.

Without a second's delay, despite her twenty-seven years, she has sprung
forwards to obey the summons; and Jim has the sense to make no further
effort to rejoin her. By the time that their circuit is finished, and
they have again reached the front of the church, vespers are ended, and
there is a movement outwards among the worshippers. They stream--not
very numerous--out on the little terrace. The priests follow, tonsured,
but--which looks strange--with beards and whiskers. The acolytes, in
their red chasubles, carry a black and white pall, and lay it over the
memorial stone below the cross. On either hand stand a band of decently
clad youths--sons of drowned seamen--playing on brass instruments. It is
a poor little music, doubtfully in tune; but surely no rolling organ, no
papal choir, could touch the heart so much as this simple ceremonial.
The little Latin cross standing sheer out against the sea; the black
pall thrown over the stone that commemorates the sea's innumerable dead;
the red-clad acolytes, standing with eyes cast down, holding aloft their
high tapers, whose flickering flame the sea-wind soon puffs out; and the
sons of the drowned sailors, making their homely music to the
accompaniment of the salt breeze. The little service is brief and those
who have taken part in it are soon dispersing. As they do so, Jim once
more finds himself for a moment close to Elizabeth.

The sun has nearly touched the sea-line by this time, and he sees, or
thinks he sees, her shiver.

"You are cold," he says solicitously; "you will get a chill."

She looks back at him, half surprised, half grateful, at the anxiety of
his tone.

"Not I!" she answers, with a gentle air of indifference and
recklessness; "naught never comes to harm!"

"But you shivered! I saw you shiver."

"Did I? It was only"--smiling--"that a goose walked over my grave. Does
a goose never walk over your grave?"

And once more she is gone.

He does not see her again that day. Of the three places laid for dinner
at the round table in the _salle à manger_, only two are occupied; hers
is, and remains, empty. She is not with her parents, and, what is more,
she does not appear to be missed by them. It fills Jim with something of
the same shocked surprise as he had felt on hearing the cold and surly
tone in which she had been addressed by her father, to see how much
more, and more genially, that father talks; how much less morose his
back looks than had been the case on the previous evening.

The next morning rises superb in steady splendour, and Jim, on issuing
out on the little red-tiled terrace, finds the whole strength of the
hotel gathered upon it. Even the worst invalids, who have not shown
their noses outside their rooms for a fortnight, are sunning themselves,
wrapped in apparently unnecessary furs. The Arabs and Turks have spread
their gay rugs and carpets, and displayed their bits of stuff, their
brasswork, and their embroidery. They make a charming garden of colour
under the blue. One is lying beside his wares, in an azure jacket and a
rose-red sash, twanging a "gunébri," or little Arab mandolin. Apart from
the rest of the company, at the extreme end of the terrace, in a place
which is evidently hers by prescriptive right, close to the balustrade,
upon whose blue and white tiled top her books are lying, Elizabeth is
sitting--and sitting alone, neither truculent father not frightened
mother barring approach to her. He makes his way at once to her.

"You were not at dinner last night?"

"No."

"I hope that did not mean that you were ill?"

Her eyes are not lifted to his--resting rather on the balustrade,
through whose pierced brickwork little boughs of Bougainvillia are
pushing.

"No, I was not ill," she replies slowly; "but I had made such a figure
of myself by crying that mammy thought I had better stay away. When I
looked in the glass," she adds humorously, "I thought so myself."

"There was not much sign of tears about you when we parted at Notre Dame
d'Afrique," he says brusquely.

"No, but"--with a sudden lifting of her pretty lashes--"you know there
is never any medium in me; I am always either laughing or crying; and,
of course, seeing you again brought--brought things back to me."

She looks wistfully at him as she makes this leading remark.

He can no longer have any doubt as to her wish to embark upon the
subject which, even in the three minutes of their meeting on the
previous day, she had sought to approach. If he is kind, he will enter
into her wish, he will make her path easier for her; but for the moment
he does not feel kind--angry, rather, and rebellious.

Is his intercourse with her to be a mere repetition of that which,
although now seven months ago, makes him still writhe, in the
recollection of his latter intercourse with Byng? Is he again to be
spitted upon the skewer of reminiscences of the Vallombrosan wood?
_Never!_

He looks obstinately away from her--towards where first an ivied bank
rises, with red gladioli flowering upon it; then a little space of bare
ground, then a row of orange-trees; then some young stone-pines, holding
their heads against the blue to show what an exquisite contrast they
make to it; then, topping, or seeming to top the hill, a white villa,
with little blue jewels of sky, seen through the interstices of the
balustrade on its roof, its whitewash making the solid wall of sapphire
behind it look even more desperately and unnameably blue than elsewhere.
What a blue! sapphire! turquoise! lapis! To what poor shifts are we
driven to express it! How could we describe its glory to a blind person?
If to such a one the colour of scarlet is represented by the sound of a
trumpet, surely this divine tint above us can be best conveyed by the
whole heavenly hierarchy of burning seraphs and winged angels, harping
and quiring together.

"I always think," says Elizabeth, following the direction of his
eyes--"perhaps it may be fancy--that this particular corner of the sky
is much bluer than any other."

There is a shade of disappointment in her tone at his failure to take up
her challenge, but she is far too gentle to make any further effort in a
direction which, for some reason, is disagreeable to him; and since he
will not follow her inclination, she is pliantly willing to follow his.

The Arabs have come up in might to-day, and, no longer fearing rain,
have carpeted almost the whole terrace with their wares. They hang over
the low wall, and cover the red tiles; blue and purple, and Moslem
green, and Venetian red; dazzling white _haiks_, blinding in the
blinding sunshine; carpets, embroidered jackets, flashing back gold in
the gold light. A pert English miss is standing over them, and saying
disparagingly about each:

"You can get this 7-1/2d. cheaper at Whiteley's. I saw a much better one
than this for half the price at Marshall's," etc., etc.

One longs to ask the "miss" whether she saw the sunlight, and the cobalt
sea, and the glorified whitewash, with its amethyst shadows, for 7-1/2d.
at Whiteley's too, and, if so, why she did not stay there?

Burgoyne's friend in the red shirt is beating down a one-eyed Kabyle,
and having a happy haggle with him over a Mozambique coat.

"She does not get on with her own family at home, and she has quarrelled
with all her travelling companions!" says Elizabeth, in a delighted
explanatory whisper. Wistfulness and disappointment have alike vanished
out of her small face, which is one ripple of mischief. "The fat widow
in the weepers, who is preening herself like a great pouter pigeon, is
trying to marry the wizened old gentleman in the bamboo chair. Sometimes
we think she will succeed; sometimes we think she will not: it is _so_
interesting!"

Jim looks down at her with an astonishment bordering on indignation.

Is this the woman who cried herself sick last night over memories of the
so recent past? In this mobile nature, is there nothing that one can lay
hold of?

"Mammy and I get an infinity of amusement out of them," continues she,
still playfully, but faltering a little under the severity of his look;
"oh, we know a great deal about them all; and those that we do not know
about we make stories for!"

"Indeed!"

His tone is so curt that the stream of her gaiety dries up under it, and
she relapses into silence, looking towards the flashing sea, and the
ficus-tree, that is casting its now grateful shade.



CHAPTER IV.


"You said just now that seeing me brought things back to you."

It is partly remorse at having snubbed her, and partly perversity, which
dictates this sentence on Jim's part. The perversity is, perhaps, the
predominating element in his motive--a perversity which, having chilled
her away from the subject when she was eagerly seeking an opening to it,
now forces her to return to it. She starts a little.

"Yes--yes," she answers; "but 'brought things back' is not quite the
right phrase; they"--her voice growing low and tremulous--"had not very
far to come."

The quiver in her voice annoys him almost as much as Byng's tears used
to do.

"If you would like to ask me any questions," he says stiffly, "I am
ready to answer them."

"Are you?" she cries hungrily; "oh, that is kind of you! but, then, you
always _were_ kind; but not here"--looking apprehensively round--"I
could not trust myself to talk about--about him here; I--I should break
down, and nothing"--with a smile that, though watery, is still
humorous--"would induce me to make a fool of myself before the widow
Wadman." Then, seeing him look at a loss: "Come indoors!" she says
impulsively, standing up, and half stretching out her hand as if to draw
him after her. "Come into our salon--no, you need not be afraid; we
shall have it all to ourselves; father and mother have gone out for
their usual constitutional on the Boulevard Mustapha."

He follows her silently, and neither speaks till they find themselves
_tête-à-tête_ in the private apartment of the Le Marchants.

It is on the _rez-de-chaussée_, a suite of three little whitewashed
rooms, transmogrified from their original hotel nakedness by flowers and
brocade bits. Three large green jars on the chimney-piece, full of
generous rose-branches, and boughs of salvia and iris, and stalwart
yellow jessamine, make the air sweetly and lightly perfumed. On the
table is a litter of Tauchnitz novels, disastrously old English papers,
the little scurrilous Algerian sheet, and, lastly, Elizabeth's
workbasket--the big workbasket which Jim had last seen standing on the
floor in the _entresol_, at the Piazza d'Azeglio, with its contents
strewn all over his friend's prostrate body. At the sight a bitter smile
breaks over his face.

"An old acquaintance!" he says, making a mock salutation to it; "it is
in better order than when last I had the pleasure of seeing it."

"Do you mean in Florence?" she asks, very slowly.

"Yes"--still with that acrid smile--"after you were gone, I had the
honour of helping to pack it to send after you. I am afraid I was rather
clumsy over it; but, at any rate, I managed better than he. By-the-bye,
did you find any rust on your scissors and thimble when next you had
occasion to use them? Poor boy! he cried enough over them to take all
the polish off!"

She has sunk down upon the sofa, over which a great woollen _haik_, dyed
with harmonious dull tints, is thrown.

"Do not sneer at me!" she says faintly. "You would not if you knew how
you hurt me. Is he--is he--how is he?"

"He is not ill."

The answer ought to be reassuring; but there is something in the manner
in which it is uttered that tells her that it neither is, nor is meant
to be so. It is so ominous that her lips, after a feeble effort or two,
give up the endeavour to frame any query. All her power of interrogation
has passed into those eyes, out of which her companion has been so
brilliantly successful in chasing their transient morning mirth.

"When a man," says Jim gravely, "at the outset of his life, gets such a
facer as he did, if he has not a very strong character, it is apt to
drive him off the rails, to give him a shove downwards."

"I see; and you think I have given him a shove downwards?"

"Yes."

There is a pause. Jim's eyes are resolutely turned away from the face of
Elizabeth, upon whose small white area twitches of pain are making cruel
disfigurement. He does not want to have his heart softened towards her,
so he stares persistently over her head at a Mussulman praying-carpet,
which, old and still rich-toned, despite the wearing of pious knees,
hangs on the wall. At length she speaks, in a key as low as--were not
the room so entirely still--would be inaudible.

"If I had married him, I should have given him a much worse shove down."

Jim holds his breath. Is he about to hear from her own lips that secret
which he has magnanimously resisted all opportunities of hearing from
other sources? But the words that, after a pause, follow this almost
whispered statement are not a confession. They are only an appeal.

"You would be doing the kindest thing that you ever did in your life, if
you could bring yourself to say that you thought I did it for the best."

He feels that if he submits his eyes to hers, his will must go with
them; he will have no power left of dissent from any request she may
choose to make; so he still stares over her head at a screen which hides
the doorless entrance to the third room of the little suite. One leaf,
folded back, gives a peep through the little chamber, through its
deep-arched window to where a date-palm stands up straight against the
sea.

"I could not possibly say that unless I knew the circumstances of the
case," he answers judicially.

He hears a low sigh, not of impatience, but of melancholy acquiescence.


"Then you must go on thinking ill of me."

There is such a depth of dejection, as well as such an unalterable
sweetness, in her voice, that the words of little Prince Arthur,
addressed to Hubert, flash upon his mind:

    "If Heaven be pleased that you should use me ill,
    Why, then you must!"

After all, what power in earth or sky has appointed him her executioner?

"I do not wish to think ill of you," he answers sadly. "Good heavens! do
I need to tell you that? I have tried all along to keep myself from
judging you; but I should not be human--you must know that I should not
be human--if I did not ask myself why you did it."

"Why I left Florence?"

"Yes."

She sits stock-still for a moment, the very little colour that there
ever was in it retreating out of her face.

"If I told you that, I should be telling you everything."

He is looking at her now; after all, he cannot keep his gaze pinned to
the screen for ever, and, as he looks, he sees an emotion of so
transcendently painful a nature set her little sad features working,
that the one impulse that dominates him is to ease her suffering.

Poor little docile creature! She is going to tell him her secret, since
he exacts it, though it is only with a rending asunder of soul and body
that it can be revealed. He puts out his hand hurriedly, with a gesture
as of prohibition.

"Then do not tell me."

She sinks back upon her _haik_ with a movement of relief, and puts up
her fine handkerchief to her pale lips. There is a perfect silence
between them for awhile. At his elbow is a great un-English, unwintry
nosegay of asphodel and iris. He passes his fingers absently over the
freakish spikes.

"How did he take it? how did he take it at first?"

Her voice, though now tolerably distinct, is stamped with that character
of awe which fills us all at approaching a great calamity.

"He would not believe it at first; and then he cried a great deal--oh,
an immense deal!"--with an accent of astonishment, even at the
recollection of his friend's tear-power--"and then--oh, then, he thought
of putting an end to himself!"

Jim had meant to have made this relation in a tone of dispassionate
narrative, but against his will and intention, as his memory recalls
what seem to him the unworthy antics played by Byng's grief, his voice
takes a sarcastic inflection. The horror written on his auditor's face
as he utters the latest clause of his sentence recalls him to himself.

"Do not be afraid!" he says, in a tone which has no longer anything akin
to a sneer in it, though it is not devoid of bitterness; "the impulse
was a short-lived one; he is not thinking of putting an end to himself
now, I can assure you of that; he is only thinking of how he can best
amuse himself. Whether he is much more successful in that than he was in
the former, I am not so sure."

Her eyes have dropped to her own fragile, ringless hands as they lie on
her lap.

"Poor boy! poor boy!" she says over softly twice, moving her head up and
down with a little compassionate movement.

At the pity expressed by her gesture, an unjust and unjustifiable hard
anger takes harsh possession of him.

"It was a pity you let it go so far," he says austerely; "you must allow
me to say that much; but I suppose, in point of fact, the ball once set
rolling, it was past your power to stop it."

She listens to his philippic, with her head meekly bent.

"I did not try," she answers, in a half·whisper; then, after a pause,
raising her down-dropped eyes, lit with a blue fire of excitement,
almost inspiration, to his, "I said to myself, 'If I have any luck, I
shall die before the smash comes;' and I just lived on from day to day.
I had not the heart to stop it; I knew it would stop of itself before
long; I had never--hardly ever"--correcting herself, as it seems, with a
modifying afterthought--"in my life before known what happiness meant;
and oh! _oh!_ OH!"--with a groan of deepening intensity at each repeated
interjection--"what a big word it is!"

_Never--hardly ever--known what happiness meant before!_ Why, surely she
was happy at the Moat! and before his mind's eye there rises an image of
her in her riotous rosy gaiety; but even as it does, there flashes upon
him a comprehension of her speech.

It is not the careless merriment of childhood to which she is alluding;
it is to _the_ happiness, _par excellence_, of life. If this is the
case, why did she correct herself and modify her negative with a
"hardly"? A jealous feeling of someone else--someone beside Byng; a
jealousy none the less keen for being vague--for not knowing on what
object it can lay hold--sharpens his tone as he repeats aloud, and with
an accent of interrogation, her qualifying adverb:

"_Hardly_ ever, that implies----"

But she breaks in hurriedly, as if dreading--and at the same time
doubting her own power of baffling--cross-examination upon that subject
on whose borders they are continually hovering.

"Talking of happiness makes one think of unhappiness, does not it? We
both know something about that, do not we?"

She pauses, and he sees that she is alluding to his own sorrow, and that
her eye is sounding his to see whether he would wish her to approach it
more nearly. His eye, in answer, must give but a dubious beam, since he
himself is quite unsure of what his wishes on the subject are; and she
goes on with the haste and yet unsteadiness of one who is treading on
swampy ground, that gives beneath his feet.

"We saw it in the papers; I could not believe it at first. It was the
last thing I ever expected to happen. I thought of writing to you, but I
did not."

She looks at him rather wistfully, and although but two minutes ago she
had been confessing to him her passion for another man, he sees that she
is anxious he should tell her that her sympathy would have been precious
to him. He feels the same sensation as before of mixed anger and
fascination at the ductility of her nature. What business has she to
care whether he would have liked to hear from her or not?

"It seemed such a pity that it was she, and not I!"

Again her eye interrogates his, as if asking for acquiescence in this
suggestion, but he cannot give it. With a shock of surprise--nay,
horror--at himself, he finds that he is unable to echo the wish that
Elizabeth had died and Amelia lived.

"I said so to mammy at the time. Ah, here is mammy!"

And, indeed, as she speaks the door opens, and Mrs. Le Marchant enters
in her walking-dress. At the sight of Jim, a look, which certainly does
not betoken pleasure, though good breeding prevents its representing the
opposite emotion, crosses her handsome, worn face.

"I brought Mr. Burgoyne in here," says Elizabeth, in what seems rather
precipitate explanation, "because we could not talk comfortably out on
the terrace; they listen to everything we say: they have such long
ears--the Widow Wadman and Miss Strutt!"

"I do not know what State secrets you and Mr. Burgoyne can have to
discuss," replies the mother, with a smile that, though courteous, but
ill disguises the underlying anxiety. "Yes, dear child, I shall be very
much obliged if you will take my bonnet upstairs for me"--this in answer
to little tender overtures from Elizabeth, overtures that remind Jim of
12 _bis_, Piazza d' Azeglio. "I do not know whether you have yet found
it so" (to Jim); "but this _is_ a slack place."

No sooner has the door closed upon her daughter than her tone changes.

"What have you been talking about to her," she inquires rapidly; "not, I
hope, about _him_?"

"I could not help it; she asked me."

Mrs. Le Marchant strikes her hands together, and gives utterance to that
short and shapeless monosyllable which has a prescriptive right to
express vexation.

"Th! th!" A moment later, "I am sure you will understand that I do not
mean to imply any ill-will to you; but it _is_ unlucky that we should
have happened to meet you here; it has brought it all back to her, and
she was just beginning to pluck up her spirits a little."

"Did she--did she take it so much to heart?" inquires Jim, in a tone of
almost as awed concern as Elizabeth had employed but a quarter of an
hour before in putting nearly the same question with regard to Byng.

"_Did she take it to heart!_" repeats Mrs. Le Marchant, with the
irritation of one to whom a perfectly senseless and superfluous inquiry
is put; "why, of course she did! I thought at one time that she would
have gone out of her mind!"

No one can feel less merry than Jim; and yet his lips at this juncture
cannot resist the impulse to frame themselves into a gloomy smile.

"And I thought that _he_ would have gone out of _his_ mind," he rejoins.

As he speaks, it flashes upon his memory that one of the hypotheses that
have formerly occurred to him to account for the mystery that hangs over
Elizabeth's past was that she had been mad; and though he had long
abandoned the idea, her losing her wits now recurs to him with a shock
as a possibility. Might not that changeful, mobile, emotional mind lose
its balance under the blow either of a sudden calamity or of a long
wearing sorrow? It has escaped--evidently but barely escaped the first.
Will it escape the second too?

His heart goes out in a great yearning to her at the thought of what a
touching little lunatic she would make; and, with an oblivion of his own
personal feelings, which is generous, if not very lasting, he says
compassionately:

"It seems a pity--a great pity!"

"A pity!" repeats the mother, with a sort of wrath, down which he
detects a broad stripe of agony running; "I should think it _was_ a
pity! Pity is a weak word! The whole thing is piteous! her whole
history! If you only knew----"

She breaks off.

He is silent, waiting to see whether that impulse towards confidence in
him will go any further; but it does not. She has evidently gone beyond
her intention, and is passionately vexed with herself for having done
so.

"They were so well suited to each other," continues Jim slowly, but
still generously. Possibly his generosity becomes more easy as he sees
how hopeless is the plea upon which he employs it. "Is it--I do not wish
to intrude upon your confidence, but in the interests of my friend you
will allow me to say that much--is it quite out of the question?"

"Quite! quite!" replies the mother, in painful excitement; "what, poor
soul, is not out of the question for her that has any good or happiness
in it? and that--_that_ more than anything! If you have any mercy in
you, do not put it into her head that it is not!"

"If it is not in her head already, I could not put it there," replies
Jim gravely; "but I will not--I promise you I will not."

As he speaks, a slight smile touches the corners of his serious mouth as
he reflects how entirely easy it is to comply with a request _not_ to
urge Byng's suit upon its object, and how cheaply a character for
magnanimity may sometimes be bought.

"That is very kind of you!" replies the poor woman gratefully; "and I am
sure when you say a thing I can depend upon you for it; and though, of
course, it was unlucky our happening to meet you, yet you need not see
much of her. Although it is not in the least 'out of sight, out of mind'
with her"--sighing--"yet she _is_ very much influenced by the objects
around her; and when you are gone--I dare say you do not mean to make a
long stay; this is not a place where there is much for a man to do--for
a man like you----"

She breaks off, and her imploring eye invites him to reassure her by
naming a speedy day for his own departure. But magnanimity may have
calls made upon it that exceed its power to answer, and Jim's silence
sufficiently proves that he is not going to allow himself to be seduced
into a promise to go.



CHAPTER V.


The next morning proves the truth of Miss Strutt's words that "we are
not so green here in Algiers for nothing." The weather changes some time
after dark has fallen. A mighty wind arises. Jim's slumbers are broken
by the fact that somebody's outside shutters bang, loose and noisy all
night. The great sign at the top of the hotel swings and creaks and
groans. In the morning, as far as can be seen through blurred panes, the
trees--eucalyptus, ilex, stone-pine--are all cowering and stooping
before the wind's lash. The fan palm before Mrs. Le Marchant's window,
with its fans all pinched and bent, is staggering before the gale. One
cannot conceive what that unlucky tropical product can be doing in this
galley, and it requires a strong effort of reason and will to resist the
conviction that the oranges and lemons are tied upon the shivering trees
instead of growing naturally there.

"And this is 'Afric's burning strand'!" says Jim to himself, over his
breakfast in the _salle à manger_, through whose shut windows the mad
rain forces itself; and the blast, coming to his wet sister's aid,
bursts them open now and again.

The day seems enormously long. He gets through the morning tolerably
well with letter-writing, and after the twelve o'clock _déjeûner_ he
faces the gale in a determined walk down into the town. Seldom in the
course of his wide wanderings has he felt the furious scourge of more
tremendous rain. The side-path is whitened with big hailstones; red
torrents tear with ferocious speed and violence down the steep incline.
The great acanthus-leaves, and all the plentiful undergrowth, are
dripping and rejoicing.

Through the blinding white deluge he gets forlorn peeps of the villas
that had shone yesterday with the white splendour one associates with
the city of the saints of God; and instead of, as yesterday, "laced with
heaven's own tinct," the Mediterranean is whitening the bay's rounded
curve with its angry breakers, and the snow is sprinkling the Atlas
crests. A few Arabs are sitting on the ground under the Pont d'Isly,
packed up into whitish woollen parcels, knees to nose, and arms and
hands all withdrawn into the protection of the sheltering burnous. But
no one else, who can help it, is abroad.

It seems to Jim as if his disagreeable tussle with the elements had
lasted a long time, and yet, on his return to the hotel, he finds that
it is only half-past two. He thinks at first that the clocks must have
stopped, but finds, on examination, that they are all ticking, and all
unanimous. His drenched condition is at least a resource, necessitating
an entire and fundamental change of raiment; but even this expedient,
though dragged out to its utmost possible limit, does not carry him
further than three. How is he to dispose of the seven or eight hours
that must elapse before he can seek refuge in bed? He has exhausted his
correspondence, which is never a large one, and he has seldom in his
life been so short of books.

He makes his way through the hall, which is crammed with young people
playing battledore, and noisily counting; with elder persons, dreadfully
short of a job, looking on and applauding; to the _salon_, in hopes of
there finding a Tauchnitz novel, or even a superannuated _Pall Mall_ or
_World_. But half a dozen other weather-bound sufferers have been before
him, and the tables are swept clean of all literature save a
three-months-old _Court Journal_.


Miss Strutt and the pert votary of Whiteley are sitting shawled, and
with their heads close together. By their titters, and the fragments he
catches of their talk, they seem to be concocting a practical joke of
some kind. The widow Wadman, shawled too, and her valetudinarian in a
comforter, are stopping over a wood-fire, which refuses to burn, the
souches being wringing wet. Jim rather injudiciously approaches them,
and offers his assistance in piling the damp logs; but he is so
evidently _de trop_, that he retires discomfited. On the other hand, the
invitation in Miss Strutt's and her coadjutor's eye is so apparent that
he beats a hasty retreat out of the room, in dread lest he should be
drawn into their mysterious pleasantry.

He never is quite clear afterwards how he gets over the hours that
intervene before dinner--whether sleep comes to his aid, or whether he
is after all reduced to perusing in the _Court Journal_ the narrative of
which direction the Queen and Princess Henry of Battenburg took their
walk in, in October. But at length the welcome bell rings, drowning
even, for two minutes, the banging of the wind; and the whole hotel,
unwontedly punctual, rushes in answer to its summons. People who have
hitherto scarcely exchanged words, have eyed each other with hardly
veiled distrust, now show a feverish desire to enter into conversation,
to detain one another after dinner on the steps of the _salle à manger_.

As the evening advances, Jim sees an intention among the younger portion
of the company to launch out into noisy, romping games, to institute a
Dumb Crambo. He feels it is far from impossible that he himself may fall
so low as to be drawn into it. Miss Strutt's eye is on him, but before
he succumbs he will make one effort on his own behalf. He embraces a
desperate resolution. He has seen the Le Marchants eating their dinner
near, and yet hopelessly far from him. Elizabeth had given him one
furtive smile, and her mother a hurried bow; this is, to tell the truth,
all the encouragement he has to go upon--all that he can find to keep
his courage up as he knocks at their door, telling himself that his
excuse--that of asking them to lend him a book--is a quite sufficient
and legitimate one. He knocks, and Elizabeth's voice at once answers:

"Herein!"

It is clear that she takes him for the German waiter, Fritz. She remains
in this belief even after he has opened the door, since she does not at
first look up. She is alone--not in the pretty flowered room in which
she had yesterday received him, but in the first and less adorned of the
little series--one that he had, on his former visit, cursorily supposed
to be chiefly used as an ante-room--sitting alone at a table, and before
her are spread writing-materials, over which she is stooping. An odious
and ridiculous thought darts, with a prick, across his mind.

Is she sitting here, all alone, in order to write to Byng?

"I came----" he begins; and at the unexpected voice she looks up with a
start:

"Oh, it is you!" she says, in a low key, glancing rather apprehensively
at the closed door, which separates them from the inner room, in a
manner which tells him that her parents are within.

"I came"--his voice almost unconsciously sinking to the level hers has
indicated to him--"to ask you to lend me a book."

"A book!" she repeats doubtfully, with another and still more nervous
glance at the shut door; "I am afraid that they are all in there."

"Oh, it is of no consequence!" rejoins Burgoyne hastily, unwittingly
quoting the words of the immortal Mr. Toots; "it does not matter in the
least."

As he speaks, he begins to retreat towards the door, but so slowly as to
give her plenty of time to recall him had she so wished. But she does
not. She only stands looking uncertain and distressed. He cannot take
such a melancholy impression of her little face away for the whole night
with him--it would give him the blues too seriously after this dismal
day--so he takes a step or two forward again.

"Are not you rather lonely?" he asks, with an expressive look round.

She gives a small, uncomplaining smile.

"Oh no; I do very well. I am generally alone at this time of day; they
like to have their evenings to themselves--at least, father likes to
have mammy to himself; I am sure it is quite natural."

There is not the slightest trace of any sense of being aggrieved in
either words or tone.

Again that picture of the adored Elizabeth of former days, of whose
prattle her father was never weary, whose jokes were always considered
so unequalled, and whose pre-eminence in favour was so allowed that her
intercession and influence were always employed by the others as certain
in their efficacy, rises before Jim's eyes.

"They are like lovers still," continues Elizabeth softly; "it is very
pretty when people are lovers still after nearly thirty years."

"And you--you write letters?"

"No, I do not; I have not anyone to write to."

A pang of shame at his unworthy suspicion, coupled with a sense of
astonishment at her simple confession of friendlessness, prevent his
speaking; and it is she who goes on:

"I was writing an Italian exercise; I began to learn Italian in
Florence"--with the inevitable low sigh that always accompanies her
mention of that name--"and to-day, for something to do, I took it up
again. It has been a long day, has not it? Oh, _what_ a long day!"

"_Long!_" repeats Jim emphatically; "it might choose to call itself a
_day_; but many a century has been shorter."

"Someone was playing battledore and shuttlecock in the hall. I wonder to
what number they kept it up? how many years it is since I have played
battledore and shuttlecock!"

There is a suppressed envy in her tone, which tells how far from
disagreeable the innocent noisy pastime to which she alludes would be to
her even now. She has sat down again on the straight-backed chair from
whose elevation she had commanded her Italian studies; a large grayish
cloak, lined and heavily collared, and bordered with fur, hangs,
unfastened at the throat, about her. Out of the dark beaver her delicate
neck and head rise, like a pale primrose from out of piled dead
oak-leaves in a yet wintry wood. Through the door, which he has left
open behind him, come bursts of maniac mirth from the votaries of Dumb
Crambo.

"What a noise they are making!"

"I should think they were!"

"I wonder what they are doing?"

"I can inform you on that point; they are playing Dumb Crambo."

She repeats the words after him with a lingering intonation, in which
there again is, or, at least, he thinks that he detects it, a tinge of
envy.

"Dumb Crambo!"

"Would you like to join them?"

"No"--slowly--"not quite that; but--it sounds ridiculous--but I should
like to play Dumb Crambo again. We used"--in an affectionate, lingering
tone--"to play it when we were children."

It is the first time that she has ever voluntarily alluded to the Moat,
and he calls to mind her earnest prohibition addressed to him at
Florence against any mention of it.

"I know you did; once or twice I played with you."

"_You?_"

She starts. It is evident that the unimportant fact of his having taken
part in their games has quite escaped her; but, a moment later, her soft
and courteous nature evidently making her fear that he will look upon
her obliviousness as unkind--

"Oh yes, to be sure!" Then again lapsing into reminiscence, "What odd
words we used to choose sometimes--words that nobody could guess! I
wonder what words they have chosen?"

He thinks of saying jocosely, "Shall I go and ask them?" but refrains,
because he fears it would put it into her head to send him away.

A sort of piercing squeal makes itself heard from the _salon_.

"Do you think that that can be meant for a _pig_?" asks Elizabeth, her
line ears pricked in unaffected interest. "Oh!"--with a return of
uneasiness--"I wish that they would not make so much noise; father does
so dislike noise. They might as well have put it off till to-morrow."

"Why would to-morrow's noise be more endurable than to-night's?"

"It would not have mattered to-morrow; father will not be here; he is
going to Hammam Rhira."

Burgoyne's jaw drops. Is this the alternative course decided upon by

Mrs. Le Marchant? Having failed to dislodge him from Algiers, is she
going to remove herself and her daughter out of his reach?

"Do you mean--are you _all_ going to Hammam Rhira to-morrow?--_all_
going away?"

Is it some effect of light from the rose-shaded lamp that makes it seem
to him as if a tiny smile, and a yet smaller blush, swept over
Elizabeth's face at the aghastness of his tone--an aghastness much more
marked than he had intended it should be.

"Not to-morrow; not all of us. Father and mammy are going there for a
couple of nights to see what the place is like--one hears such
contradictory accounts; and if they are pleased with it--"

"Yes?"

"If they are pleased with it we shall all probably move on there in a
day or two."

He would like to be sure that this sentence ends with a sigh, but a
prodigious storm of hand-clapping from the extempore theatre prevents
his hearing whether it has that regretful finish.

"And they are going to leave you behind?"

"Why not? there would not be much use in taking me; and, as I tell you,
they love being _tête-à-tête_."

"And you love being alone?"

The moment that the question is out of his mouth, he realizes its full
unkindness. He is perfectly aware that she does _not_ like being alone;
that she is naturally a most sociable little being; that, even now,
these frightened five minutes of unsatisfactory broken talk with himself
have made her look less chilled, less wobegone, less white. Her answer,
if it can be looked upon as one, must be taken by him as a rebuke. It is
only that she says nervously:

"One certainly does hear dreadfully plainly here with the door open."

Her tone is of the gentlest, her look no angrier than a dove's, and yet
he would be obtuser than he is if he did not at once comprehend that her
remark implies a wish that he should presently shut that door behind him
on the outside. He complies. With that newly-gained knowledge as to
to-morrow's Hammam Rhira, he can afford to comply.


The next morning's light reveals that the weather, pleased with having
so indisputably proved its power of being odious, has recovered its
good-humour.

Beyond the tree-tops a radiant sea is seen laughing far below; and the
wet red tiles on the little terrace shine like jewels. A sea even more
wonderful than radiant; no servile copy of the sky and clouds to-day,
but with astonishing colours of its own--a faint yet glorious green for
a part of its watery breadth; then what our poverty compels us to call
blue; and then a great tablecloth of inky purple, which looks so solid
that the tiny white boats that are crossing it seem to be sailing on dry
land. From amongst the glossy green of the wooded hill, mosque and
campagne start out, dazzling, in their recovered lustre; one cool
entrancing villa in especial, backed with a broken line of dusky
stone-pines, stands, snowy-arcaded, enthroned high up among the verdure.

Jim is very anxious to be out of the way at the hour of the Le
Marchants' departure. He has a panic fear of being waylaid by the
mother, and having some earnest supplication addressed to him to
abstain, during her absence, from any converse with Elizabeth. He is not
quite clear at what time they will set off, so, to insure himself
against mistakes, he resolves to spend the morning and lunch at the
Villa Wilson. Arrived there, he is shown by an Arab man-servant into the
court, and, finding it empty, sinks down into a cane chair, and lets his
eyes wander round to the fountain, lullingly dripping into its basin; to
the tiles, the white-arched doorways, carved in low relief, and
themselves so low that it must be a humble-statured person who enters
them without stooping. What a home for love in idleness! Who can picture
any of the vulgar work of the world done in such a house? any harder
labour ever entered upon than a listening to some lady singing "with
ravishing division to her lute"?

The lady who presently joins Jim appears, by her ruffled air, to have
been engaged upon no such soothing occupation as luting to a recumbent
lover.

"You will not mind staying here?" asks Cecilia; "Dr. Crump is in the
drawing-room with Sybilla; I am sure that you do not want to see Dr.
Crump!"

"I cannot express how little I wish it."

"I cannot think what has happened to Sybilla"--wrinkling up her forehead
into annoyed furrows--"but she is so dreadfully sprightly when he is
there; she never was sprightly with Dr. Coldstream, and he is such an
impossible man!--the sort of man who, when first he comes in, always
says, 'Well, how are we this morning?' Do not you think that it stamps a
man to say 'How are we?'"

"I think it does."

"He talks such nonsense to her!"--with irritation--"he tells her that
he, too, is a bundle of nerves! if you could only see him! And one day
he told her that when first he came here he had seen the Angel of Death
waving his fans above her head! and she swallows it all!"

"I am not at all surprised."

"It makes me sick!" cries she energetically; "let us go into the
garden."

So into the garden they go; both the new one, whose luxuriant growth of
verdure is the outcome of but eight or nine years; and the old one,
along whose straight walks the feet of the Moorish ladies used to patter
under the orange-trees. Beneath them now there are no white bundles of
muslin; only on the ground the oranges lie thick, no one in this
plenteous land thinking it worth while to pick them up. Jim and his
companion pace rather silently to a pretty Moorish summer-house, dug, a
few years ago, by the English architect out of a farm-house, into which
it had been built. It is dainty and cool, with a little dome and lovely
green and blue tiles; and an odd small spring, which is taught to wander
by tiny snaky channels into a little basin. They go into the
summer-house and sit down.

"Yes, it is pretty," says the girl absently! but her mind is evidently
preoccupied by some other subject than the beauty of the giant bignonia
which is expanding the multitude of its orange-red clusters all over a
low wall, making it into one burning hedge, and has called forth an
exclamation of delight from Burgoyne. What that subject is immediately
appears.

"Do you know who is in Algiers--whom I saw driving through the Place
Bressant on Sunday afternoon?"

"Who?"

"The Le Marchants. Ah, you are not surprised!"--rather suspiciously.
"You knew already!"

Jim hesitates a second; then, reflecting that, whether or not he
acknowledges the fact now, Cecilia is certain to learn it in a day or
two at latest, he answers with a slight laugh:

"It would be odd if I did not, seeing that they are staying at my
hotel."

"You knew that when you went there?"--very quickly.

"Of course not!"--with a movement of impatience.

A pause.

"I suppose," says Cecilia, rather cautiously, as if aware that she is
treading on dangerous ground, "that you have not found out why they
stampeded from Florence in that extraordinary way? Oh no, of course
not!"--as this suggestion is received with a still more accented writhe
than her former one. "It is not a thing upon which you could question
them; and, after all, it was their own affair; it was no business of
ours, was it?"

"Not the slightest."

"I always used to like them," continues Cecilia pensively; "at
least"--becoming aware of an involuntary movement of surprise at this
statement on the part of her neighbour--"at least, they never gave me
the chance of _liking_ them; but I always _admired_ them. I wonder are
they more accessible than they were in Florence? There are so few nice
English here this year; everybody says that there never was a year when
there were so few nice English!"

The tentative towards sociability implied in this last speech is
received by Jim in a discouraging silence. He has not the slightest
desire to promote any overture on the part of Cecilia towards intimacy
with Elizabeth. He knows that they would be unsuccessful; and, moreover,
he is conscious that he would be annoyed if they were not.


"I can fancy that this would be a very pleasant place if one had someone
to go about with," continues she; "but father grows less and less
inclined to move. Poor dear! he is not so young as he was, and I am not
quite old enough yet, I suppose, to go about alone."

She makes a rather wistful pause--a pause which he feels that she
intends him to fill by an offer of himself as her escort. But none such
comes. Realizing this, she goes on with a sigh:

"There are not many advantages in being old; but, at least, one is
freer, and in a youth spent as mine is, there is really not much profit
or pleasure."

The tone in which she makes this lugubrious reflection is so extremely
doleful that Jim cannot refrain from a laugh.

"Cheer up, old girl! there is a good time coming! It is a long lane that
has no turning."

But he contents himself with these vague forms of consolation. He has no
engagements of his own. Why, then, is he conscious of so strong a
reluctance towards tying himself by any promise to the broadly-hinting
lady beside him? There is another pause, during which Cecilia looks down
on the floor with a baffled air, and traces the outlines of the tiles
with the point of her red sunshade.

"There is a band plays twice a week in the Place de Gouvernement--plays
admirably. Now, I suppose that there would be nothing odd; that no one
could say anything; that it would not be the least improper, considering
our connection and everything, if you were to take me to hear it some
day?"

"I never have the slightest idea of what is improper and what is not,"
replies he; but there is more of alarm than of encouragement in his
tone.

"No more have I"--laughing rather awkwardly--"but in this case I am
pretty sure. Tuesdays and Fridays are the days on which the band plays."

"Oh!"

"To-day is Tuesday, is not it?"

"Yes."

Another pause.

"I thought that perhaps, if you had nothing better to do, you might take
me to-day?"

The direct proposal which he has in vain tried to avert has come. If he
accept it, of what profit to him will the absence of the Le Marchant
parents be? He does not formulate this fact to himself, not having,
indeed, owned to his own heart that he has any set design upon
Elizabeth's company for the afternoon.


"I am afraid----" he begins slowly.

"You are vamping up an excuse!" cries Cecilia, reddening. "I see it in
your eyes. You cannot have made any engagements here yet. You do not
know anybody, do you, except the Le Marchants?"

"And they have gone to Hammam Rhira," replies he precipitately.

He is ashamed the moment that the words are out of his mouth, for he
knows that they convey a falsehood.

"At least----"

But she interrupts him before he can add his conscience clause.

"To-morrow, then?"

Again he hesitates. The same objections apply with even greater force to
the morrow.

"But the band does not play to-morrow."

"Oh! what does that matter?" rejoins she impatiently. "I had just as
soon go somewhere else--the Arab town, the Kabyle village, anywhere."

He is driven into a corner, and remains there silent so long that there
is a distinct element of offence in the tone and large sigh with which
the girl resumes.

"Well, times are changed! I always used to make one in those happy
excursions at Florence; and somehow--thanks to her, I suppose--I never
felt a bad third."

She rises as she speaks, and takes a couple of huffy steps towards the
house; but he overtakes and stops her. The allusion to Amelia has
annoyed and yet stirred in him the sea of remorse, which is always lying
but a very little way below the surface in his soul.

"Why, Cis!" he says, in a tone of affectionate rallying, "are we going
to quarrel at this time of day--you and I? Of course I will take you to
the band and the Kabyle village, and any other blessed sight you choose
to name, only tell me by which of them you would like to begin to ride
round."

As he leaves the house and the appeased fair one, after luncheon, an
hour and a half later, he tells himself that he has got off cheaply in
having vaguely sacrificed the whole of his Algerian future, but having
preserved to-day and to-morrow.



CHAPTER VI.

    "And therein sat a lady fresh and fayre,
      Making sweet solace to herself alone.
    Sometimes she sang as lowd as lark in ayre,
      Sometimes she laught, as mery as Pope Joan."


Jim's first care on returning to his hotel is to ascertain that the
departure for Hammam Rhira has really taken place, and, having been
reassured on this point, retires to his own bedroom to reconnoitre the
terrace, upon which it gives. The sun has long drunk up the rain from
the tiles, and the chairs have been set out again. The hotel guests, in
all the sociability of their after-luncheon mood, are standing and
sitting about. The widow Wadman, with great play of eyebrow and lip, is
pacing up and down in arch conversation with her habitual victim.
Snatches of her alluring talk reach Jim behind his muslin curtain as she
comes and goes:

"I think that caged birds ought to be _loved_!" "The Prophet was a
wise man, was not he? he knew a little about us," etc.

In her usual place, aloof from the rest of the company, Elizabeth is
sitting in a clinging white gown of some woolly stuff. With a dainty
white kerchief twisted about her head, and a bundle of many-tinted
Eastern stuffs on her knees, she looks like a little Romney. Now and
again, as fragments of the widow's siren strains reach her ears, he sees
her lips curl up into delighted laughter; but, for the most part, she
seems to be looking round rather uneasily, as if seeking something or
someone. Can it be himself that she, in her innocence of being observed,
is on the watch for? He has no right to be playing the spy on her in any
case. It is clear that, dressed as she is, she cannot be meditating
going out. He must not frighten her by any too direct or sudden
attentions. In a little while the other occupants of the terrace will
drift away, and he will stroll out and join her, and together they will
watch the shade of the ficus-tree, lengthening over the red flags. But
she presently baffles his calculations by rising, and, with her
rainbow-tinted pile of brocades clasped in her slender arms, slowly
passes into the house. Has she retreated thither for good? and will he
have to frame some new flimsy excuse for knocking at her door? But again
he is out of his reckoning, for in about a quarter of an hour she
re-issues, dressed for walking; and after one more lingering and, as it
seems to him, disappointed glance around her, paces, a solitary little
figure, down the hill. He lays his watch before him, and, having counted
five minutes on its dial-plate, sets off in pursuit. He overtakes her
just as she reaches the point where the lane debouches into the
highroad. She stands, looking rather disconsolately, first up the hill,
then down it, evidently uncertain which direction to choose.

"You cannot make up your mind?" he says, pausing beside her, and taking
off his hat.

She gives a slight start, and a friendly, pleased smile runs all over
her face and up into her eyes--a smile that makes him say to himself
confidently that it _was_ he whom her glance had been seeking on the
terrace.

"Which do you advise?"

"I advise the town."

He has long known her teachableness, so it is no great surprise to him
that she at once turns in the direction counselled.

"As I am going there myself, will you allow me to walk a little way with
you?"

He makes the request with respectful diffidence; and she, after one
small troubled look, evidently given to the memory of her father,
assents.

They set off down the hill together, the air, sharp after the rain--as
sharp, at least, as Algiers' stingless air ever is--bringing the colour
to Elizabeth's cheeks, as she steps along light-heartedly, scarcely
refraining from breaking into a run, down the steep incline. Her spirits
are so evidently rising at every yard that he hazards his next step.

"I am going to see the Arab town; Miss Strutt says that I ought."

"She meant you to ask her to show it you!" cries Elizabeth, with a
laugh; "but she was quite right--it is delightful; I am sure you will
like it."

"You have been there?"

"Yes, once or twice; not half so often"--regretfully--"as I should like
to have been."

Dare he speak upon the last innocent hint? But while he is doubting she
goes on:

"You must take care not to lose yourself; it is such a puzzling place;
all the streets are exactly like each other."

"You do not feel inclined to show me the way about it?"

He throws out the suggestion in a semi-bantering voice, so that if it
meet with obvious disapproval he may at once withdraw it. She stops
suddenly stock-still, and faces him.

"Are you speaking seriously? It would be very delightful; but do you
think I might? do you think I ought?"

She lifts her eyes, widely opened, like a child's at hearing of some
unexpected treat, to his. How astonishingly clear they are! and how
curiously guileless! He has not the least doubt that she will sweetly
acquiesce in his decision, whichever way it tends; and, for a second, a
movement of irritation with her for her pliability crosses his mind. She
ought to be able to have an opinion of her own. While he hesitates, she
speaks again.

"It is just the afternoon to do something pleasant on," she says
wistfully, and yet gaily too. "Oh, how good the air tastes! and how
dearly I love the sun!"--lifting her face with sensitive lips, half
open, as if to suck in his beams, to the great gold luminary pouring
down his warmth through the pepper-trees upon them. "But I will take
your advice; I know of old"--with a pretty flattering smile--"that you
always give good advice. Do you think that I ought--do you _really_
think that I ought?"

He throws conscience to the winds, and although not two hours ago he had
professed to Cecilia his inability to decide upon the propriety or
impropriety of any given course of female action, now answers with an
almost brutal decisiveness:

"I do not think that there is the smallest doubt about it."

A relieved look crosses her features.

"Then I am sure it is all right," she says, with a joyful surrendering
of her judgment into his keeping, and so, once again, steps along with
her quick feather-light feet at his side.

For the moment she is the happier of the two, since he is not perfectly
pleased either with himself or her. It is in vain that he tells himself
that it is no babe whom he is beguiling; that, difficult as it is to
believe it, those limpid eyes have looked at the sun for
seven-and-twenty years. He still has a lingering sense of discomfort at
having availed himself, for his own profit, of her ductility. And yet,
five minutes later, he takes yet further advantage of that quality in
her. They have reached the Plateau Saulière, and the stand of fiacres
that "stationnent" there. Jim pauses.

"It is a good distance to the Arab town, I fancy, and very tiring
walking when you get there."

"It is as steep as the side of a house; we shall be like flies on a
wall," cries she delightedly.

"It would be a pity to be too tired to enjoy it before you got there,
would not it?" says he doubtfully, and eyeing her bright slenderness
with an air of uncertainty as to her powers of endurance. "Had not we
better--would you mind--our driving there?"

"I am not at all tired," replies she; "I do not feel as if I ever should
be tired to-day; but if you think it better----"

Still he looks at her dubiously. To him there appears to be a much
greater degree of the compromising in a _tête-à-tête_ drive than in a
walk. In the one case the meeting may have been accidental; in the other
there can be no mistake as to the deliberate intention. But either this
does not strike Elizabeth, or she thinks, "In for a penny, in for a
pound"; or, lastly, and most probably, having given up her judgment into
his keeping, she finds it easiest and most natural to acquiesce in
whatever he may propose.

The ungenerous thought flashes across him that if this is the principle
on which she has guided her life, it is small wonder if she have made
shipwreck of it. He hails a fiacre, and silently hands her in, and again
they are off.

Elizabeth has disclaimed fatigue, and yet the restful position is
evidently agreeable to her delicate body; and she thanks him so
gratefully for his thought of her that his hard thoughts of her dissolve
into remorse, and by-and-by change into an enjoyment almost as entire
and uncalculating as her own.

Elizabeth has astonishing powers of enjoying herself. If he had not
known that fact before, the afternoon would have revealed it to him.

She must have driven through the French town almost every day since her
arrival, and yet its cheerful white-shuttered houses, its boulevards of
glossy-leaved ficus-trees, its cafés, its arcaded streets with their
polyglot promenaders, seem to fill her with as lively a pleasure as if
she had but just landed from the steamboat that brought her.

The three Spahis, eternally sitting in a row on a bench outside some
general officer's quarters, robed in their great red cloaks, with
muslin-swathed swart heads and long red-leather boots, dimly descried
beneath the stately sweep of their mantles, sitting there motionless,
solemn and silent as the Fates; a venerable Arab, only to be
distinguished from Abraham or Isaac by his carrying a vulgar brown
umbrella; a short Kabyle seen in back view, with his rope-bound
headdress, his brown-and-white striped frock, and his bare red legs
striding along, looking exactly like a ludicrous and indelicate old
woman; a Biskrah water-carrier, poising a great burnished copper pot on
his shoulder; two little baggy trousered white ladies waddling along; a
dozen of smart blue Turcos. She is enraptured with them all.

They leave their fiacre in the Place de la Cathédrale, and enter upon
the mysterious recesses of the Arab town. Up and down endless flights of
steps, up street after street--if streets they can be called, that are
not wider than a yard in their widest part--and above their heads the
rafter-supported houses lean together, letting scarce a glint of
daylight drip down upon the dusky path far below.

They pass arched doorways, with pretty designs in plaster--doorways
whose doors open inwards upon mysterious interiors--house or court, or
mosque or Marabé. All along stand tiny shops, like wild-beast dens, as
far as light and space go, lit only by the tempered light--in reality,
only semi-darkness--that enters in front. How can they see to
work--plait straw, for instance? as the three ebon-black negroes are
doing, upon whom they stare in, asquat upon the ground. The turbans, and
the red sashes, and the burnouses glimmer out of the little dim
frontages, where charming pierced-brass Moorish lamps hang and swing
aloft; and tempting piles of dully splendid brocades and bright
gold-laminated gauzes gleam from the crowded shelves.

The narrow streetlets are full of unbusy, un-hurrying Easterns, hideous
old negresses grinning like monkeys, idle Arabs sauntering along in
their lazy grace, draped like Greek statues, sauntering along between
the blue-washed walls that look in their effective variation upon the
blinding whitewash as if some of the sky-colour had rubbed off upon
them.

Jim and Elizabeth have paused, in their leisurely strolling and staring,
to look from the straight shadowed alley in which they are standing up a
long flight of steps to a low carved doorway, and a bit of starch-blue
wall at the top. Down the steep flight a veiled, trousered woman is
waddling, her immense pantaloons waggling awkwardly as she descends.

Elizabeth stands still, shaking with laughter at the sight. Jim laughs
too.

"There is no expense spared in material there, is there? It would not be
a bad dress for a fancy ball. Did you ever go to a fancy ball as a
Moorish lady?"

Her laughter lessens, though her face is still alight with mirth.

"I never was at a fancy ball."

"_Never?_"

"Never; I never was at any ball in my life."

Her laughter is quite dead now.

"Never at any ball in your life!" repeats he, his surprise betraying him
into one of those flights back into the past for which she has always
showed such repugnance. "Why, you used to love dancing madly! I remember
your dancing like a dervish. What is more, I remember dancing with you."

"Oh, do not remember anything to-day!" cries she, with a sort of writhe
in her voice; "do not let either of us remember anything! let us have a
whole holiday from remembering!"

So saying, she moves on quickly; and yet with the dance gone out of her
feet. It never quite comes back. They look into an Arab club, where men
are squatting, playing with odd-looking cards and drinking muddy coffee.
Then a loud noise of jabbering young voices makes them peep in upon an
Arab school, where a circle of little Moslems is sitting on the ground,
scribbling Arabic on slates; while between the knees of the turbaned
master a tiny baby scholar, of three or four, is standing in a lovely
dull green coatlet. Elizabeth strokes the baby-learner's coppery cheek
with her light hand, and says, with a laugh, that it seems odd to see
little street-boys writing Arabic; but her laughter is no longer the
bubbling, irrepressible joy-drunk thing it was before he had indulged in
his tactless reminiscences; it is the well-bred, civil, grown-up sound
that so often has no inside gladness to match it. In his vexation with
himself for the clouding over of his little heaven that he himself has
effected, he tries to persuade himself that it is caused by bodily
fatigue.

"If I were asked," he says, by-and-by, looking down affectionately at
her pallid profile, "I should say that you had had about enough of this;
your spirit"--smiling--"is so very much too big for your body that one
has to keep an eye upon you."

"It would not be much of a spirit if it were not," replies she, with a
pretty air of perfectly sincere disparagement of her own slight
proportions; "I know that I look a poor thing, but I am rather a fraud:
I do not tire easily; I am not tired now."

"Bored, then?" with a slight accent of pique.

She lifts her sweet look, with a sort of hurry of denial in it.

"Most distinctly not."

"You would like to go on, then?"

"Yes."

"Or back?"

She hesitates, her eye exploring his with, as he feels, a genuine
anxiety in it to discover what his own wishes are, so that her decision
may jump with them.

"Yes--perhaps; I have really no choice."

He both looks at and speaks to her with a streak of exasperation.

"Do you never have a will--a preference of your own?"

It is evidently no unfamiliar thing to her to be addressed with
causeless irritability. The recollection of her father's tone in
speaking to her flashes back remorsefully upon Jim's memory. Is he
himself going to take a leaf out of that book? It would be a relief to
him were she to answer him sharply; but to do that is apparently not
within her capabilities, though the tender red that tinges her cheek
shows that she has felt his snub.

"In this case I really have not," she answers gently; "but I dare say
that it was tiresome of me not to speak more decidedly; let us--let
us"--another swift and apparently quite involuntary glance at him to see
that she is not, after all, running counter to his inclinations--"let us
go home!"

So they go home. It is near sun-setting as they drive along the
Boulevard de la République, the fitting end to so princely a day. At the
quay the moored vessels lie, their masts and spars making a dark design
against an ineffable evening sky of mother-of-pearl and translucent
pink. The sea, which to-day has not been of sapphire, but of
"watchet-blue," pierced and shot with white, now copies exactly the
heavens. It, too, shades from opal to translucent pink. How many changes
of raiment there are in the wardrobe of the great wet mother!

"If I had as many gowns as the Mediterranean, how well-dressed I should
be!" says Elizabeth, with a smile.


It is the first time she had spoken since they had set off on their
return-drive. She is lying back, with her hands carefully shielding in
her lap a few little crockery pots that she has bought of a fat Turk for
some children at her hotel Her face looks tired; and yet over its small
area is spread an expression of content that makes his heart warm. Is it
only the pageant of sky and ocean that has called forth that look of
real, if passing, happiness on the features of her who is always so
tremblingly sensitive an instrument for all influences of beauty and
grandeur to play upon? or has his own neighbourhood anything to say to
it? Before he can give himself an answer to this anxious question, she
speaks again.

"You do not mind my not talking, do you?" she asks, half apologetically,
and yet with a confidence in his sympathy that still further quickens
the beats of his already not very still heart.

"No, I am sure you do not. Somehow--it is a great gift--you always feel
in tune with one, and one does not chatter most when one is most greatly
pleased, does one? Oh, what a treat you have given me!"

As she speaks, her humid eyes travel from his face to where, beyond the
long Atlas range, delicately toothed and cut out, rises the gold-washed
snow of the Kabyle mountains, that retire majestically invisible on dull
days, and only come out, candescent and regal, when the great sun rides
in pomp. Above their heads wild plumes of deep rose, that it seems
ridiculous to call clouds, tuft the sky.

Jim's look has followed his companion's; the chins of both are in the
air; the cheerful _va et vient_ of the boulevard is lost upon them. They
see neither the Frenchmen nor plump Frenchwomen drinking coffee outside
the cafés, nor the idle _indigènes_ leaning draped against the sea-wall.
(Never does that industrious race seem to attempt any severer exertion.)

    "Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired."

But it is brought back to life with a jump.

"_Arrêtez! arrêtez!_" cries a female voice. "Jim! Jim! do you not see
us? _Arrêtez! arrêtez!_"

Obedient to his ears, Burgoyne's eyes make one bound from the heavenly
spectacle down to earth, and alight upon the Wilsons' carriage, which,
going in the same direction as himself, has just been brought to a
standstill alongside of his fiacre, by the solemnly beautiful,
yellow-jacketed native coachman.

It is, of course, Cecilia's voice that has apostrophized him, but oh,
portent! does his vision, so lately recalled from the skyey bowers, play
him false? or is it really the moribund Sybilla, stretched beside her,
with only two instead of three cushions at her back, with a bonnet on
her head--he did not even know that she possessed a bonnet--and with a
colour in her cheek and a lustre in her eye that may owe their origin
either to the freshness of the evening air, or to the invigorating
properties of the conversation of the very ordinary-looking young man
seated opposite to her?

In a second Jim has leapt out of his own vehicle, and gone to the side
of the other. It is a perfectly futile impulse that leads him to do so.
Not all the leaping in the world from her side now can alter the fact
that he has been driving _tête-à-tête_ with Elizabeth Le Marchant, and
that the Wilson sisters have seen him so doing; but yet it is a dim
instinct of preservation towards, and shielding of her, that leads him
to adopt this useless course of action. It is Cecilia who has summoned
him, and yet, when he reaches her side, she does not seem to have
anything particular to say to him. Sybilla is the one to address him.

"A miracle! a miracle! I know you are saying to yourself!" cries she, in
a sprightly voice; "and well you may! This is the miracle-monger!"
indicating with a still sprightlier air her _vis-à-vis_. "Dr. Crump, let
me present to you Mr. Burgoyne--Jim, our Jim, whom I have so often
talked to you about."

The person thus apostrophized responds by a florid bow, and an
over-gallant asseveration that any person introduced to his acquaintance
by Miss Sybilla needs no further recommendation.

"It is an experiment, of course; there is no use in pretending that it
is not an experiment," continues she, with a slight relapse into
languor; "but"--lowering her voice a little--"they wished me to make the
effort."

It is a favourite allocation of Sybilla's that any course of action
towards which she is inclined is adopted solely under the pressure of
urgent wishes on the part of her family. Burgoyne has long known, and
been exasperated by, this peculiarity; but at present she may say what
she pleases; he hears no word of it, for his ear is pricked to catch the
sentences that Cecilia is leaning over the carriage-side to shoot at
Elizabeth.

"Oh, Miss Le Marchant! is it you? I beg your pardon, I did not recognise
you at the first moment. One does not recognise people--does one?--when
one is not expecting to see them"--is an intended sting lurking in this
implication? "How are you? How do you like Algiers? I hope Mrs. Le
Marchant is well. What a long time it is since we met! I hope we shall
see something of you."

(No, evidently no sting was meant. Cecilia, with all her faults, is
really a good soul, and he will take her to hear the band play next
Tuesday.)

There seems to him to be a slight falter in the tone with which
Elizabeth responds, and her voice sounds curiously small and low; but
that may be merely owing to its flute quality, following upon and
contrasting the other's powerful organ.

It is not till the two parties have again separated, and that he is once
more seated by her side in the fiacre, that he dares steal a look at her
face to see how plainly written on it are the traces of vexation caused
by a meeting which has produced in his own breast such acute annoyance.
Good heavens! it is even worse than he had expected. Down the cheek
nearest to him two good-sized tears are unmistakably trickling. No doubt
the consciousness of the mysterious story attaching to her past makes
her smartingly aware of how doubly discreet her own conduct should
be--makes her bitterly repent of her present indiscretion.

He is a strait-laced man, and it seems to him as if there were something
gravely compromising to her in this _tête-à-tête_ drive with himself, in
the known absence of her parents at Hammam Rhira. Why was he fool enough
this morning to admit to Cecilia that they had gone thither? He had no
business to have led her into temptation, and she had no business to
have fallen into it. Remorse and irritation give a tartness to his tone
as he says:

"After all, I do not think you need take it so much to heart."

"Take what to heart?" she asks, in unaffected surprise, turning her full
face, and her eyes, each with one hot raindrop dimming its slate-blue,
upon him. "Oh, I see"--a sudden enlightenment coming to her, and
changing her with instant spring from a snowdrop to a carnation--"I see
what you mean; but you are mistaken. I--I--it had not occurred to me; I
was only thinking--only remembering that the last time I saw her was
at--at Vallombrosa."

_Vallombrasa!_ Is he never to hear the last of Vallombrosa?



CHAPTER VII.


The latest waking impression left on Jim's fancy is that it is the
golden rule of Elizabeth Le Marchant's life to comply with any and every
request that is made to her; moreover, that in her mind the
boundary-line which parts the permitted from the unpermitted is not so
clearly defined as, did she belong to him (the naked hypothesis makes
his strait-laced heart give a jump), he should wish it to be. If on the
morrow, with the sun shining and the leaf-shadows dancing on the fretted
balcony-wall, he invite her to some fresh junket, he is sure that she
will readily and joyfully acquiesce; that her spirits will go up like
rockets at the prospect; and that her one anxiety will be that she may
be sure to hit in her choice upon the form of dissipation most congenial
to him. He will therefore not invite her. He will have a greater care
for her reputation than apparently she has for it herself. Not until the
return of her parents, not until the difficulties of intercourse with
her are centupled, and the pleasure minimized, will he again seek her.

To put himself beyond the reach of temptation, he sets off immediately
after breakfast on a long walking expedition, which he means to occupy
the whole of the daylight hours. He wanders about the great plain of the
Metidje; he visits a Kabyle village, with its hovels cowering among its
hideous fat-fleshed cactus; later on in the afternoon he finds himself
in the little French hamlet of Biermandreis, and finally drops down upon
the Jardin d'Essai, that delightful botanic garden which is one of the
many blessings for which Algerian France has to thank the
much-vilipended Napoleon III.

It is difficult for even the reddest Republican to think hardly of that
dead ruler as he walks down the avenue of gigantic palms that lead,
straight as a die, to where, like a deep blue gem far away, the
Mediterranean shows

        "No bigger than an agate stone
    On the forefinger of an alderman."

Jim walks along beneath the huge date-palms that give him a crick in the
neck to gape up at ere he can perceive their towering head of waving
plumes far up against the blue. They remind him absurdly of the pictures
in the missionary books of his youth--the palm-tree, the log cabin, the
blackamoors, and the missionary in a palm hat. Is _he_ the missionary,
and is this inky negress in a black bonnet, scarcely distinguishable
from her face, his one catechumen?

Alternating with the date are superb fan-palms, of which it is difficult
to realize that it is their stunted, puny brothers which, anxiously
tended, sponged, and cosseted, drag out a languid existence in London
drawing-rooms. Among their Titan fans lies their mighty fruit, like a
bunch of grapes, a yard and a half long, strung upon ropes of yellow
worsted.

Half-way down its length the main avenue is intersected by a splendid
alley of bamboos, which lean their smooth-jointed stems and their
luxuriant narrow leaves towards each other across the dimmed interspace,
and unite in a pointed Gothic arch of living green.

Jim paces objectlessly down the long arcade, stooping now and again to
pick up a fragment of the peeled bark that looks so strangely like a
papyrus roll with a mother-of-pearl glaze upon it. He pulls it idly
open, as if expecting to find the secret of some forgotten race written
upon its shining surface; but if he reads any secret there, it is only
his own, which, after all, is not much of a secret. He merely sees
written there that it is too early to go home yet; that there is no
security that Elizabeth may not still be sitting on the terrace
stitching away with her gold thimble and her coloured silks. The sun, it
is true, has left the garden, but he departs thence over-early. It will
be safer to stay away yet half an hour or so.

Thus resolving, he retraces his steps, and explores in a new direction;
saunters down a rose-alley, where, climbing immoderately high up tall
palms, seeming as if they would strangle them with their long bowery
arms, rose-trees wave far above him in the still air; and upon them,
though it is still but the month of January, when people are skating,
blue-nosed, in England, creamy tea-roses show their pale-yellow hearts,
fair and frequent, on the unpruned boughs, rioting in licensed liberty
above his head. The walk ends in a circle of gigantic magnolias, which
take hands round a square fountain-basin. Each huge trunk is, as it
were, a little commonwealth of trees rolled into one, instead of a
single tree. Beneath them benches stand. Upon one his negress sits,
chatting with a French _bonne_; on a second there is also something
female and slender, something with its little white profile--how white
it looks in this deceiving light!--lifted, although white, yet smiling,
animated, and talking to a man standing beside it.

He has dawdled and kicked his heels, and run the chance of contracting a
spiteful Southern chill, in order to avoid Elizabeth; and he has
succeeded in running straight into her arms.

He does not at the first glance recognise her companion, but a second
look shows him that he is one of the inmates of the hotel--a French
Vicomte; and though Jim knows that he is both consumptive and the father
of a family, that knowledge does not hinder the rising in his breast of
the jealous and censorious thought that he has detected Elizabeth in
throwing a great deal more than the necessary modicum of amiability into
her manner to him.

As Jim comes into sight, the Frenchman clicks his heels, doubles up his
body, lifts his hat, and walks away. It is evident, at all events, that
their meeting was a casual one; and the reflection brings with it a
sense of relief, coupled with a feeling of shame at his own rooted
readiness to suspect her, on any or no evidence, which yet, on the other
hand, is not strong enough, when she turns her sweet bright look towards
him, to hinder the thought that it is scarcely, if at all, sweeter or
brighter than that which he had caught her squandering on the casual
_table d'hôte_ acquaintance who has just quitted her.

"You, too!" she says; "why, the whole hotel seems to be emptied out into
these gardens; the widow Wadman is buying violets--mark if they do not
appear upon Uncle Toby at dinner to-night. The Vicomte----"

"Yes, I saw you engaged in animated dialogue with him," interrupts Jim,
with slight acrimony; "I had no idea that you were such allies."

"Had not you?" rejoins she innocently. "He was telling me about his
English governess, what a treasure she is"--her face dimpling
mischievously--"and how wonderfully pure her accent. So it is--pure
Cockney. You should hear the little Vicomte talk of the b_i_by and the
p_i_pers."

He rewards her small pleasantry only by an absent smile, and she speaks
again--rather wistfully this time.

"Have you been on another expedition?"

"No, not an expedition; only a walk. If"--yielding to the temptation of
putting a question which no one would have judged more severely than he,
had it been put by anyone else--"if I had invited you to do me the
honour of making another excursion with me to-day, do you think that you
would have consented?"

As he speaks, he departs yet further from the line of conduct he has
marked out for himself by sitting down on the bench at her side.

Her eyes are fixed upon the soaring date-palm, which stands, instead of
a water-jet, in the middle of the fountain-basin, and on which last
year's dead plumes hang sapless, and ready to fall off, in contrast to
this year's verdant vigour.

"Is not that rather a tantalizing question when you did not ask me?"
inquires she, with soft archness. "Yes, I suspect that I should; I was
so very happy yesterday; and although you told me the other
night"--swallowing a sigh--"that you supposed I must love my own
society, in point of fact, I do not think I do."

After all, the sun is not quite gone; there are flashes of light in the
verdant gloom, and green reflections in the water.

"And yet," says Jim thoughtfully, "you seem to have a good deal of it; I
suppose, in your position, it is unavoidable."

He had meant an allusion to her situation as bad third to her uxorious
parents; before his mind's eye has risen a picture of the little forlorn
shawled figure he had seen studying its Italian Grammar with the door
shut upon its loneliness; but almost before the words have left his
lips, he sees of how different, of how cruel, a construction they may be
capable.

He snatches a glance of real terror at her, to see whether she has made
that erroneous, yet all too plausible application--a glance which
confirms his worst fears. She has turned as white as the
pocket-handkerchief which she is passing over her trembling lips.

"Yes," she says in a hollow whisper; "you are right. In my position it
_is_ unavoidable, and it is cowardly of me not to accept it as such."


"I mean"--he cries desperately--"I only meant--I mean----"

But she does not suffer him to finish his stuttered explanation.

"It is cold," she says, rising. "I will go home."

He does not attempt to accompany or follow her.

After she is gone, he rages about the garden, and passes beyond it to
where--still sunlight-smitten--the blue Mediterranean is breaking in
joyous foam.

He sits down on the shelly strand, and, in futile anger, hurls back the
wet pebbles into the sea's azure lap. Away to the left, the
three-cornered town swarms candescent up the hill, and the white
lighthouse stands out against the lapis-coloured air.

How sharp-cut and intense it all is!--none of our dear undecided grays.
Here, if you are not piercing blue, you are dazzling white or profound
green. There is, indeed, something less sharp-cut and uncompromising--a
something more of mystery in the glory that--bright, too, but not making
its full revelation--envelopes the long hill range that, ending in Cape
Matifou, stretches away to the far right. Round the corner, to the right
too, a party of Arabs, sitting sideways on little donkeys, white draped,
with their _haik_-swathed heads, are disappearing on their small beasts
in the clear air. It is like a page out of the Bible--a flight into
Egypt--and they are going towards Egypt too.

Jim's eye follows the placid Easterns, but without catching the
infection of their tranquillity. "Whenever I see her, I stick a knife
into her! It is impossible! There is no use trying! I will give up the
attempt. It is out of the question to have any happy relations with a
woman who has a past!"

       *       *       *       *       *

After all, Mr. Le Marchant does not like Hammam Rhira. He thinks the
hotel cold and the roads bad. Jim overhears him telling someone this,
and his own heart leaps.

It is true that he takes it to task for doing so. Perhaps, after all,
Elizabeth's removal would have been the best solution of his problem.
Had she left Algiers, he could scarcely have followed her, and she would
have been freed from the chance of his clumsy stabs.

But all the same his heart leaps. It leaps yet higher a day or two later
when he discovers that, though Hammam Rhira has not met with Mr. Le
Marchant's approbation, yet that, by his trip to it, he has been bitten
with a taste for travel, the outcome of which is his solitary departure
on an expedition to Constantin, Tunis, etc., which must occupy him at
least a week. His wife accompanies him to the station, but his daughter
is not allowed to go beyond the hotel steps.

Jim surreptitiously watches her hovering with diffident affection round
her father, unobtrusively and unthanked fetching and carrying for him.
He sees the cold kiss that just brushes her cheek, and hears the chill
parting admonition to look well after her mother and see that she does
not overtire herself.

It is accepted with ready meekness, but leaves the recipient so
crestfallen, as she stands looking after the departing vehicle, that
Burgoyne cannot forbear joining her, with some vague and, as he knows,
senseless velleity of championship and consolation.

"He is gone for a week, is not he?" is the form that his sympathy takes,
in a tone which he is at but small pains not to render congratulatory.

"Yes, quite a week."

"Are you"--he is perfectly conscious while asking it that he has not the
slightest right to put the question--"are you glad or sorry?"

She starts perceptibly.

"Why should I be glad? Do you mean"--with an unconquerable streak of
satisfaction in her own voice--"because I shall have mammy all to
myself? You must not think"--with an obvious rush of quickly following
compunction--"that I am not fond of him, because he sometimes speaks a
little roughly to me." After a pause, in a lowered voice: "You see, when
you have broken a person's heart, you can scarcely blame him for not
having a very high opinion of you."

So saying, she suddenly leaves him as she had left him in the Jardin
d'Essai. He does not again approach her that day, but at dinner-time he
has the answer to his question as to her being glad or sorry at her
father's departure. She is apparently in the best of spirits, sitting
nestled close up to her mother for the better convenience of firing a
series of little jokes and comments into that parent's appreciative ear.

"They make fun of the whole hotel," observes Miss Strutt with
exasperation. "I do not believe that one of us escapes! When he is not
there to check them, there is no holding them!"

_No holding_ Elizabeth! The phrase recurs to him several times during
the next few days, as not without its justness, when he sees its object
flitting about the house, gay as a linnet; when he meets her singing
subduedly to herself upon the stairs; when he watches her romping with
the French children, and mischievously collecting flowers of Clapham
eloquence from their governess, which she is good enough to retail for
his own and her mother's benefit when evening unites the three in the
retirement of their little salon. For, strange and improbably blissful
as it seems, he has somehow, ere three days are over, effected an
entrance into that small and fragrant sanctuary.

Mrs. Le Marchant's first fears that the meeting with him again would
re-open sorrow have disappeared in the light of her daughter's childish
gaiety, and are even exchanged for a compunctious gratitude to him for
having been in part the cause of her new light-heartedness. The weather
has again broken, a fact which he alone of the whole hotel does not
deplore, since it was his own ostentatiously displayed wet-day
dreariness that was the cause of his first admission within the doors
that are closed upon all others. Moreover, had it not been wet weather,
could he have held an umbrella over Elizabeth's head when he met her in
the eucalyptus wood, and they walked among the naked trunks, while the
long, loose, pale foliage waved like dishevelled hair in the rain, and
the pungent asphodels grew thick about their feet in the red earth? And
when, by-and-by, the clouds disperse again, and there comes a fair day,
bracketed between three or four foul ones--the usual Algerian
proportion--it has grown quite natural to all three that he should sit
opposite to them in their drives; that he should haggle with Arabs for
them, and remonstrate with the landlord, and generally transfer all the
smaller roughnesses of life from their shoulders to his own. Brought
into more intimate communion with them than he has ever been before,
Burgoyne realizes how much they belong to the kneeling, leaning,
spoiling type of womankind. Elizabeth would be the easiest woman in the
world to manage. How is it that in her ten years of womanhood no man has
been found to undertake the lovely facile task? He himself knows
perfectly the treatment that would befit her; the hinted wishes--her
tact is too fine and her spirit too meek to need anything so coarse as
commands--the infinitesimal rebukes and the unlimited--oh!
limitless--caresses:

    "Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles."

Every day he finds himself repeating Wordsworth's line, and every day,
in his fancied guidance of her, he tells himself that the blame should
be less and the kisses more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Le Marchant has been gone more than a week, and February has come
wetly in, with rain wildly weeping against the easements, and
angry-handed rain boxing the unlucky orange-trees' ears. It has rained
for forty-eight hours without a break. The Grand Hotel is at the end of
its resources. Uncle Toby, his struggle ended, lies vanquished in the
widow's net; and there is murder in the lurid eye which Miss Strutt
turns on the votary of Whiteley.

Jim alone, outdoor man as he habitually is, looking upon a house merely
in the light of a necessary shelter, has no quarrel either with the
absent sun or the present deluge? for are not they the cause of his
having spent two whole afternoons in the company of Elizabeth and her
mother? To-day has not Elizabeth been singing to him, and cutting him
orange-flower bread-and-butter, when Fritz brought in the afternoon tea,
and set the real English kettle fizzing over its spirit-lamp? And, in
return, has not he now, after dinner, been helping her to weed out her
own and her mother's photograph-books? As he does so the idea strikes
him of how very meagre her own collection of acquaintances seems to be.
From that weeding have they not, by an easy transition, at her
suggestion, passed to the more playful and ingenious occupation of
amputating the heads of some of the rejected friends and applying them
to the bodies of others? Each armed with a pair of scissors, and with
Mrs. Le Marchant for umpire, they have been vying with each other as to
who can produce the most startling results by this clever process.

The palm has just been awarded to Elizabeth for a combination which
presents the head of an elderly lady, in a widow's cap, mounted upon the
cuirass and long boots of a Life Guardsman. Jim's application of the
cornet's discarded head to the body of a baby in long clothes, although
allowed to be a pretty conceit, commands but little real admiration--an
instance of nepotism which he does not allow to pass without protest.

Elizabeth, elated by her triumph, has flown out of the room to examine
her private stores for fresh material, and Jim and her mother--for the
first time, as it happens, since that early meeting, when her anxious
eye had so plainly implored him to leave Algiers--are _tête-à-tête_. Her
changed aspect towards him as she sits, with a lingering laugh still on
her face, beside the wood fire--which, after having twice gone out, as
it almost always does, the souches being invariably wet, burns bright
and crackly--strikes him with such a feeling of warm pleasure that he
says in a voice of undisguised triumph:

"What spirits she is in, is not she?"

"Yes; is not she?" assents the mother eagerly. "Oh, I cannot say how
grateful I am to you for having cheered her up as you have done! Oh,"
with a low sigh that seems to bear away on its slow wings the last
echoes of her late mirth, "if it could only last!"

"Why should not it last?"

"If nothing fresh would happen!"

"Why should anything fresh happen?"

She answers only indirectly;

    "'Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
    The life-blood seemed to sip.'

"Sometimes I think that Coleridge wrote those lines expressly for me."
After a pause, in a voice of anxious asking: "She has not mentioned him
to you lately, has she?"

"No."

"That is a good sign. Do not you think that that is a good sign? I think
that she is getting better; do not you?"

For a moment he cannot answer, both because he is deeply touched by the
confidence in him and his sympathy evidenced by her appeal, and for a
yet more potent reason. Little she guesses how often, and with what
heart-searchings and spirit-sinkings, he has put that question to
himself.

"I do not know," he replies at last, with difficulty; "it is hard to
judge."

"You have not told him that we are here?" in a quick, panic-struck tone,
as of one smitten with a new and sharp apprehension.

"Oh no!"

"You do not think that he is at all likely to join you here?"

"Not in the least!" with an almost angry energy, which reveals to
himself how deeply distasteful the mere suggestion of Byng's
reappearance on the scene is to him.

Mrs. Le Marchant heaves a second sigh. This time it is one of relief.

"Then I do not see," with a sudden bound upwards into sanguineness which
reminds him of her daughter, "why we should not all be very
comfortable."

Jim is pondering in his mind upon the significance of this "all,"
whether it is meant to include only Mr. Le Marchant, or whether, under
its shelter, he himself may creep into that promised comfort, when she
of whom they have been speaking re-enters. She has a packet of
photographs, presumably suitable for amputation, in her hand, in which
is also held a telegram, which she extends to Burgoyne.

"I met M. Cipriani bringing you this. It seems that you ought to have
had it two days ago, but, by some mistake, it was put into another
gentleman's room--a gentleman who has never arrived--and there it has
remained. He was full of apologies, but I told him what culpable
carelessness it showed. I do trust," with a sweetly solicitous look,
"that it is not anything that matters."

"It cannot be of much consequence," replies Jim indifferently, while a
sort of pang darts through him at the thought of how strangely destitute
he is of people to be uncomfortably anxious about, and so tears it open.

An English telegram transmitted by French clerks often wears a very
different air from that meant to be imparted to it by the sender, which
is, perhaps, the reason why Jim remains staring so long at his--so long
that the two women's good manners prompt them to remove their
sympathetic eyes from him, and to attempt a little talk with each other.

"I hope you have no bad news?"

The elder one permits herself this inquiry after a more than decent
interval has elapsed, during which he has made no sign.

He gives a start, as one too suddenly awaked out of deep sleep.

"Bad news?" he repeats in an odd voice--"what is bad news? That depends
upon people's tastes. It is for you to judge of that; it concerns you as
much or more than it does me."

So saying, he places the paper in her hand, and, walking away to the
little square window--open, despite the wildness of the weather--looks
out upon the indigo-coloured night.

Although his back is turned towards them, he knows that Elizabeth is
reading over her mother's shoulder--reading this:

    "BOURGOUIN,
    "Grand Hotel,
    "Algiers.

    "Have heard of Le Marchants. If you do not wire to the
    contrary, shall cross to-morrow.--BYNG, Marseille."

He is not left long in doubt as to their having mastered the meaning of
the missive.

"He is coming!" says Mrs. Le Marchant with a species of gasp; "and you
told me--not five minutes ago you told me"--with an accent of
reproach--"that there was not the remotest chance of it. Oh, stop him!
stop him! Telegraph at once! The office will be open for two or three
hours yet! There is plenty, plenty of time! Oh, telegraph at once--at
once!"

"It is too late," replies Jim, retracing his steps to the table; "you
forget that it is two days old. You see, they have spelt my name wrong;
that accounts for the mistake. _Bourgouin!_ It looks odd spelt
_Bourgouin_, does not it?"

He hears himself giving a small, dry laugh, which nobody echoes.

"He must have sailed yesterday," continues the young man, wishing he
could persuade his voice to sound more natural; "he may be here at any
moment. If the weather had been decent, he would have arrived ere now."

"Then there is nothing to be done!" rejoins Mrs. Le Marchant in a tone
of flat desperation, sitting down again on the chair out of which she
had instinctively risen at the little stir of the telegram's arrival.

Elizabeth is dead silent. Though there is no direction by the eye to
show that Jim's next remark is aimed at her, there can be no doubt that
it is awkwardly thrown in her direction.

"If this had not been delayed--if it had not been too late, would you
have wished, would you have decided to stop him?"

"What is the use of asking me such a question now that it _is_ too
late?" replies she, with more of impatience, almost wrath, in her voice
than he has ever before heard that most gentle organ express.

But besides the ire and irritation, there is another quality in it which
goads him to snatch a reluctant glance at her. She is extremely
agitated, but underlying the distress and disturbance of her face there
is an undoubted light shining like a lamp through a pale pink shade--a
light that, with all her laughter and her jokes, was not there half an
hour ago. He had often reproached himself that, by his clumsiness, he
had stuck a knife into her tender heart. She is even with him to-night.
To-night the tables are turned. It is she that has stuck a knife into
him. It is clear as day that she is _glad_ it is too late.



CHAPTER VIII.


"After all," says Mrs. Le Marchant presently, rallying a little, her
naturally buoyant temperament--that temperament which she has
transmitted with such curious fidelity to her child, coming to her
rescue; "after all, there is no reason why you should see him,
Elizabeth. There is no reason why she should see him, is there, Mr.
Burgoyne? It could serve no possible end--could it?--and only be
exceedingly painful to them both. You will explain to him, will not you?
You will take any message from her? You will tell him that she really is
not up to it, will not you? It is quite true, I am sure. You are not,
are you darling? She is not, is she?"

The mother turns as she speaks eagerly from one to the other, addressing
each in turn; but from neither does she obtain any answer.

"Or I would speak to him myself; if you thought that better," continues
she, still interrogating them with her handsome, careworn eyes. "I would
say anything you wished said to him, and I would be careful to say it as
kindly as possible. I am sure he would understand; he would see the
sense, the justice of it, would not he? There is no need for her to
expose herself to such useless suffering, is there, Mr.
Burgoyne?"--appealing desperately to him by name, since he will not
respond to any less direct address--"when either you or I are more than
ready to shield her from it, are not we?"

Thus apostrophized, Jim is compelled to break the silence, which seems
to himself to wall him round like a petrifaction. It is to Elizabeth
that he offers his hardly-won speech.

"I think I need not tell you," he says gravely, and with passable
steadiness, "that I would help you in any way I could."

She stands a moment or two irresolute, her features all quivering as if
with pain; and yet, underlying and under-shining the pain, something
that is not pain. Then she puts out a hand impulsively to each. If the
one that gives itself to Burgoyne had struck him on the mouth, instead
of offering itself with affectionate confidence to his clasp, it could
not have hurt him more than do those small fingers that lie in his,
trembling with a passion that is not for him.

"You are both very good to me," she says brokenly. "As to you, mammy,
that is an old story. But I really believe that there is nothing
disagreeable that you, too"--with a slight grateful pressure of the
lifeless hand that so slackly keeps possession of hers--"would not do
for me. But do not think me obstinate if I say that I think--I am
sure--that it would be better--that it would hurt him less--if I spoke
to him myself."

"It is not a question of what will hurt him least," cries Mrs. Le
Marchant, with an agony of impatience in her tone. "The thing to be
considered is what will hurt _you_ least. Mr. Burgoyne, am I not right?
Do tell her that I am! Ought not she to think of what will hurt her
least?"

But Jim is incapable of coming a second time to her rescue. His eyes are
painfully fastened upon Elizabeth, and he is watching the pain fall off,
as it were, from her face, and the light spread rosily over it. Some
instinct makes her withdraw that hand of hers which he has shown so
little eagerness to retain, ere she says, in a low but perfectly firm
voice:

"Well, then, I think it will hurt me least, too."

Five minutes later Jim has left the room--ostensibly to make
arrangements for his friend's arrival, in reality because he cannot
count upon his own self-control if he remain in it. The survivors of
Elizabeth Le Marchant's acquaintance remain undecapitated. The
widow-headed Life Guardsman and the baby-bodied cornet lie unregarded on
the table, while Elizabeth herself is stretched along the floor, with
her face pressed against her mother's knees. Jim has decided to sit up
for his friend. He is perfectly aware that neither will the two women go
to bed. But he has no desire that their vigil should be shared in
common. It is equally impossible to him to take part in the noisy mirth
of the rest of the hotel, which, having taken the place of their
measureless daylight ennui, now boils over in ebullient laughter, in
dancing, squeaking, and noisily scampering out of the public
drawing-room into the hall and up the stairs. It is not till the clamour
has declined, until, indeed, its total cessation tells him that the
promiscuous revellers have retired to their apartments, that he issues
from his, and takes possession of the now empty smoking-room, whence he
can hear more distinctly than from his own bedroom any noise of wheels
approaching the hotel. The wind has risen again, and it needs an ear
very finely pricked to dissever from its mad singing, and from the
storming of the frantic rain, any lesser and alien sound. What a
terrific night in which to be out on the raging sea! Worse even than
that one last week, when the _Moïse_ broke her shaft, and tossed for
twenty-four hours at the mercy of the waves. Possibly the weather may
have already yesterday been so rough at Marseille as to prevent his
setting off. But the idea--at the first blush eagerly welcomed by
him--is dismissed from his mind almost as soon as entertained. If the
boat has started--and it is only under such heavy penalties that the
mail-boats do not start, that this contingency hardly ever occurs--Byng
will have started too. A terrific bang at the casement seems to come as
a comment upon this conviction. He will have started; but will he ever
arrive? It is said that in eight years during which they have been
running no catastrophe has ever sent one of this line of steamers to the
bottom; but yet they are cranky little craft, with engines too big for
them--built rather for speed than safety. The clock has struck, with a
repetition that seems strangely frequent through the sleeping house: 11,
11.30, 12, 12.30.

"I will give him half an hour more," says the watcher to himself, "and
then I will turn in."

Of this allotted half-hour only five minutes are yet left to run, when,
in a lull in the hurricane, the sound which Jim's hearing has been so
long stretched to catch--the sound of wheels on the gravel--is at length
audible. During the last two hours he has heard many phantom
wheels--many of those ghostly coaches that the wind drives shrieking
through the winter nights. But these are real ones. Before the drowsy
porter, nodding in his little den, can reach the hall-door, Jim has
opened it--opened it just in time to admit a man who, his pace still
further accelerated by the mighty hands of the pushing blast, is
bounding up the steps. If any doubt as to this person's identity
lingered in Jim's mind, his first words would dispel it.

"She is here? There is no mistake? She is here?"

"How late you are!" cries the other, apparently regarding the new
arrival's utterance more as an ejaculation than as a question expecting
or needing an answer. "Why are you so late? Did the engines break down?"

"She is here?" repeats Byng insistently, taking no notice of the queries
addressed to him. "You have not deceived me? For mercy's sake say that
you have not deceived me!"

"Why should I deceive you?" rejoins Jim impatiently. "Yes; certainly she
is here."

They are in the hall by now--the hall which, the Grand Hotel being
gasless, is lit by only one weak paraffin lamp, which the gust from the
door, necessarily still open to admit of the carrying in of the
traveller's bags and rugs, is making even more faint and flickering than
its wont.

"You must have had a fine tossing!"

"I believe you; they all thought we were going to make a dinner for the
fishes--ha, ha! All but I. I knew better. I knew that I could not come
to grief when _she_ had called me to her."

Byng's hat is rammed down over his brows, and his fur coat turned up so
high round his ears that it is impossible in the obscurity to see his
face; but there is something in the tone of his voice--a loud, wild
rollicking--that makes the idea cross Jim's mind that he has been
drinking. What a shock it will give to Elizabeth if, in her covert
vigil--he has no more doubt that she has been watching than that he has
been doing so himself--she overhears that thick, raised voice! Prompted
by this thought, he says hastily:

"Come into the dining-room. I told them to put something to eat for you
there."

Byng complies; and when they have reached the empty _salle à manger_,
whose whitewash looks weird and unnatural in the chill of the night, he
sends his hat skimming down one of the long tables, and, grasping both
Jim's hands in his, cries out, in the same loud tone of intoxicated
triumph:

"Oh, my dear old chap, how good it is to see your ugly old mug again! If
you had known--oh, if you had only known!--what I went through during
the twenty-four hours after I sent you that telegram, when through every
hour, through every minute and second of every hour, I said to myself,
'It may come _now_--my death-warrant may come _now_! In five minutes it
may have come!' But it did not, it did not! I ought to have known"--with
an accent of ecstasy--"that of her pitifulness she would relent at last.
She is infinitely pitiful, is not she? but I shall upbraid her a
little--oh, do not be afraid; it will be gently, _most_ gently--for
having kept me so long, so inhumanly long, upon my gridiron! I had
always"--breaking into a rather wild laugh--"something of a tenderness
for St. Lawrence, but during the last seven months I have loved him like
a brother!"

He goes on again, with scarcely a pause, or apparently any consciousness
of the unresponsive silence of his auditor:

"But what does it matter now?" beginning to stride about with his eyes
cast up to the beamed ceiling and his lifted hands locked
together--"what does it matter? 'After long grief and pain, to feel the
arms of my true love round me once again!' You may think that I word it
extravagantly," returning to Jim as he leans downcast and shocked upon
one of the chairs of the monotonous _table-d'hôte_ row; "but in the hope
itself, the more than hope, there is nothing extravagant; you must own
that yourself. If she had not meant to put an end to my long agony, she
would not have sent for me; _not_ to stop me was to send for me."

"You are labouring under a mistake," says Jim coldly, and yet with an
inward quaking as to the effect that his words may produce; "she had not
the option of stopping you. By some accident I did not receive your
telegram till four hours ago. She could not have stopped you if she had
wished."

The idea, as I have already said, has occurred to Burgoyne that his
companion is under the influence of intoxication; but either this is not
the case, or the shock of the last words has the effect of instantly
sobering him.

"I--I--do not understand," he says in a voice out of which all the
insane exhilaration has been conjured as if by magic; "I do not follow
you. What do you mean?"

"I mean," replies Jim, in a matter-of-fact, level tone, meant to have a
calming effect upon his auditor, "that owing, I suppose, to my name
being spelt wrongly--Bourgouin instead of Burgoyne--your telegram was
given to someone else, and did not reach me till nine o'clock this
evening."

Byng puts up his hand to his throat, and, unfastening the collar of his
fur coat as if it were strangling him, throws back the coat itself. Now
that he sees him freed from enveloping wrap and concealing hat-brim, Jim
can realize the full amount of change and deterioration that are visible
in his appearance; can see how bloodshot his eyes are; how lined his
mouth; and how generally ravaged and dimmed his good looks.

"I am to understand, then, that--that she would have stopped my coming
if she could."

Jim is silent. He cannot answer that question with any certainty even to
himself.

"She would have escaped me again if she had had the chance! What am I
saying?"--with a sudden access of terror in his tone--"she may have
escaped me already! She may be gone! Tell me the truth--do not dare to
tell me anything but the bare truth. I saw that you hesitated when I
asked you whether she was really here. Is she gone?"

"Gone!" repeats Jim, with an exasperated jerk of the head towards the
window, against which the rain and wind are hurling themselves with
threefold rage, as if to recapture the victim just escaped them.
"To-night--in this storm? How likely! Come, be rational; try to keep
your head, and let us have a truce to this ranting. I give you my word
of honour that she is here, under this roof; asleep, I should hope, if
your bellowings have not awoke her."

The latter clause may perhaps come under the head of a pardonable
fiction; at all events, it has, despite its incivility, the desired
effect of soothing, to some extent, the agitation of him to whom it is
addressed.

"Asleep!" he repeats, while an ecstatic smile breaks over his handsome,
dissipated face. "Good angels guard her slumbers! But"--with a rather
ominous return of excitement--"are you sure that she _is_ asleep--that
she has gone to bed yet? They used to sit up very late in Florence
sometimes. If she has not gone to bed, why should not I see her; why
should not I fall at her feet _now_--to-night?"

"My dear boy," rejoins Jim, with a praiseworthy attempt to answer this
modest and sensible proposal with patient good-humour, "have you any
idea what time it is? I should have thought it might have occurred even
to you that 1.30 A.M. is scarcely a suitable hour for paying a morning
call! Do not be a fool! Pull yourself together. I swear to you that she
has every intention of seeing you to-morrow. Come"--trying to
laugh--"you will not have long to wait! It is to-morrow already; and,
meantime, sit down and eat something; you must be as empty as a drum."

But to this prudent if homely counsel Byng opposes an obstinate
negation, adorned with excited asseverations that food shall never cross
his lips until they have pastured upon his lady's pardoning hand.

The same prohibition does not, however, apparently apply to drink, as he
pours more than half the bottle of happily not very potent wine,
prepared for his refreshment, into a tumbler, and tosses it off at a
draught. He offers an even stouter refusal to Burgoyne's suggestion that
he should go to bed; and as he utters it a flash of cunning suspicion
comes into his eyes, shocking his friend with a gleam as of possible and
scarcely latent madness. Across the latter's brain darts the query,
which had proposed itself more than once to him last spring at Florence:

"Is there insanity in Byng's blood"

Not certainly on the distaff side, the side of his eminently sane and
wholesome mother; but can he be throwing back to some distempered
ancestor?

"What security have I if I go to bed that she will not steal away from
me in the night? It was in the night--almost in the night--that she
stole away from me before."

From this logic it is impossible to move him; and although, with some
return to his old sweet-natured kindliness of manner, he begs his friend
not to think it necessary to keep him company, yet the latter is far too
ill at ease as to his condition, both of mind and body, to comply.

The porter, having drawn the natural inference that as soon as the
traveller has refreshed his body he will wish to retire to rest, has put
out the lights in the smoking-room; the _salle à manger_ is therefore
the only room in the hotel where lamps still burn, and in it the two men
spend the dreary remaining hours of the night, Byng walking up and down
like a captive beast, frequently going to the door, opening it, putting
his head out into the darkness, and listening suspiciously if,
perchance, he may hear the footfall of Elizabeth fleeing away from him
even through the hurricane. As the time goes on, his restlessness
increases rather than diminishes. Jim has vainly tried to distract his
thoughts by putting questions to him as to his pursuits and companions
since their last parting--by inquiries as to the extent and direction of
his travels.

Did he get as far as Palestine? How long is it since he left Cairo? etc.
But to all his interrogations Byng gives brief and unsatisfactory
answers, putting a final stop to them by breaking out excitedly:

"Why do you go on questioning me as to where I have been, and what I
have done? I tell you I have been nowhere, and done nothing; I believe
that my body has been here and there, but my soul has been nowhere; it
has been lying dead! Would you expect a man who has been lying six
months in his coffin to give you a catalogue of his adventures? My soul
has been dead, I tell you--dead and putrescent. What is the use of
putting me through a catechism about its doings?"

Before the long-delaying dawn shows its pale profile upon the deep
obscurity, it seems to Jim as if six midwinter nights must have pieced
themselves end to end. But it comes at last; and at last also, by dint
of strenuous representations to his companion as to how unfit he is, in
his present travel-stained and disordered condition, to offer himself to
Elizabeth's eyes, he induces him to let himself be led to the bedroom
prepared overnight for him, and to refresh himself with a bath and a
change of clothes. Even this concession he obtains only in exchange for
an exacted promise to seek out Elizabeth at the earliest possible hour
at which she may be presumed accessible, and urgently to entreat of her
an instant interview with his friend.

Jim feels that he is keeping his word handsomely when, not a minute
later than nine o'clock, he finds himself knocking at the door of the Le
Marchants' apartment--that door with which of late his knuckles have
grown so pleasantly and friendlily familiar. It is opened to him by
Elizabeth herself, and he follows her silently through the ante-room
into the little _salon_. Arrived there, he looks mournfully round with a
sort of feeling as of taking farewell of the familiar objects.

It is impossible that Elizabeth can have spent the just-past stormy
night in gathering flowers, and yet the flowers have a freshened air.
She must have been carefully rearranging them. The bits of brocade, too,
the Turkish embroideries, the _haiks_, and the praying-carpets, wear a
more festal appearance than usual. The little room looks decked as if
for a gala. His jealous fancy cannot but admit that Elizabeth herself is
dressed in her ordinary morning gown, but even over it some holiday
transmutation has passed. He cannot trust himself to verify whether that
holiday look is on her face too.

"He has come; you know that, I suppose?"

"Yes."

What a catch in her breath! He must steal a glance at her. She will
think it unnatural if he does not; and perhaps his eye may not be
offended by so much radiance as he feared. In her voice there was
something not very distant from a sob. The result of his glance shows
itself in what sounds like a reproach.

"I do not believe that you went to bed at all."

"Yes, I did! yes, I did!" hurrying away eagerly from the subject of
herself, as from something irrelevant and importunate; "and--he--how is
he? How does he look? Had not he a dreadful crossing? Does he want to
see me? to see me soon? to-day?"

There is such a breathless passion in her tone, coupled with something
so apologetic for putting her questions to him, that his heart, hitherto
half touched, half angered by the pathos of her little preparations,
melts wholly towards her.

"Of course he wants to see you--wants it very, very much," replies he;
and, to his credit, replies without any harshness marring the cordial
kindness of his tone. "As much as"--with a rather melancholy smile--"you
want to see him. No, do not be angry. Why should not you wish to see
each other?"

"Oh, there is every reason!" cries she miserably--"the same reason that
there always was. But"--with rising agitation--"where is it to be? How
soon? When does he wish it?"

"He is waiting outside now."

She starts painfully.

"_Now!_ Oh, poor fellow! we must not keep him waiting; and
yet"--stretching out her hand in detention--"tell me, before he comes
in--tell me, is he changed? Is he? Is he the same as he was?"

Jim hesitates, and the painful perplexity written on his brow is misread
by her.

"You are vexed with me for teasing you with so many tiresome questions.
Oh, forgive me! I ought not to take advantage of your kindness; but we
have grown to depend upon you so; and I will promise not to worry you
with any other, if you will only answer me this one. Is he changed--much
changed?"

"I am afraid," replies Jim, with the slowness of one who is trying to
convey unpleasant tidings in the least unpleasant terms, "that you must
be prepared to find him a good deal altered."

"Altered! How?"

"I do not quite know how to describe it"--uneasily--"but you must not be
shocked if you find him a good deal changed in looks; and he is--he
seems, in a very excited state."

She makes a clutch at his hand.

"Do you mean"--her voice has sunk to a horror-struck whisper--"that he
is--mad?"

"Mad! Oh, of course not," with a strained laugh; "you must not jump to
such conclusions. But I do not think he is quite himself, that is all.
He looks as if he had not eaten or slept for a fortnight; and if you
play such tricks as that with yourself, you must expect to get a little
off your balance."

She is still terrifiedly clutching his hand, though with no
consciousness of doing so, nor that the fingers so tightly gripped by
her are not made of dry stick.

"You must not look so frightened," he says soothingly. "I would not have
said anything to you, only that I thought it better you should be
prepared--that it should not take you quite by surprise; and also
because I wanted to give you a hint, that you might be a little careful
what you say to him, or, at all events, how you say it."

Still she does not speak, and there is scarcely any diminution of the
horror of her look.

"If you do not mind, I think it would be as well to have someone within
call, if he--he--became--unreasonable."

"Do you think," she asks, with a sort of scorn, "that I am afraid of
him--afraid for myself?"

"No, that I am sure you are not; but I cannot shake off the idea
that--poor fellow!--he may be on the verge of some grave illness; and in
that sort of case one never knows what may happen. So, if you do not
mind----"

"As you please," she answers, docile even now. "Do as you think best;
and will you tell him that I am ready to see him?"

The misgivings with which Jim complies with this request are not much
allayed by the manner and voice of him who receives it, and who has been
raging up and down the narrow corridor.

"She will not see me, I suppose?"

"On the contrary, she will see you now. But stay!" catching him by the
arm as he springs past him. "One moment! For God's sake control
yourself! Behave like a gentleman. Do not make her a scene; she is not
up to it."

Byng's answer is to fling resentfully away the detaining hand of his
Mentor, while he says, with a furious look coming into his bloodshot
eyes:

"What do you mean by keeping me here, preaching to me, while _she_ is
waiting for me?"

The rudeness of both words and actions is so unlike the real Byng, that
it is with an even more sinking spirit than before that Jim follows him
with his eyes as he passes out of sight into the _salon_. As soon as the
door is shut behind him, he himself takes up the position he had
suggested in the ante-room.



CHAPTER IX.


There are few things more trying to an active-minded person than to sit
occupationless, vaguely waiting. At first, it is true, the keenness of
Jim's alarm prevents his feeling the ennui which would be the natural
result of his situation. Poignantly anxious questions succeed each other
in his mind. Has he had any right to permit the interview at all? How
far is Byng accountable for his actions? What chance is there that his
already rocking reason will stand the shock of a meeting which, even in
his sanest moments, would have so wildly excited him? And if not, what
may be the consequences? Grisly headings of newspaper paragraphs write
themselves in the air before him--"Homicidal Mania," "Murder and
Suicide."

The details of a tragic story which, illustrated by sensational
woodcuts, he had idly read a day or two ago in a venerable _Police
News_, left lying on the smoking-room table, recur to his memory. It was
a tale of a groom who, in an access of jealous madness, had shot a
scullion sweetheart through the head, and then blown his own brains out.
The tale had made but little impression on him at the time--unhappily,
it is scarcely possible to take up a journal without the eye alighting
upon some such--but it comes back to him now with terrifying vividness.
What security is there that such tragedies may be confined to grooms and
kitchen-maids? How does he know that Byng has not a revolver hidden in
his breast-pocket? How can he tell that he is not at this very moment
drawing it out? He (Jim) ought to have made sure, before exposing her to
such a peril, that the danger was minimized by Byng's being weaponless.
Is it too late to make sure of that even now?

He takes one step towards the _salon_ door, then hastily retraces it.
Pooh! he is growing as mad as Byng. They will come out and find him
eavesdropping.

He retreats to the table, which is at the greatest distance allowed by
the room's narrow enceinte from the scene of the drama whose
_dénouement_ he is expecting, and, sitting down, takes up a book. It
happens to be Elizabeth's Italian exercise-book, and the sight of it
conjures up before his memory her forlorn figure stooping disconsolately
over the page, wrapped in her brown furs, as he had seen it on that
rainy night that seems now so distant. He had pitied her for being
lonely then. Well, whatever else she may be, she is not lonely now.

He catches his breath. It is quite a quarter of an hour since he began
his watch. How quiet they are! There is a murmur of voices, but there is
nothing that in the least indicates violence. Before his eyes there
flashes in grotesque recollection the hideous picture in the _Police
News_ which illustrates the high words with which the catastrophe of the
groom and kitchenmaid had been heralded. He has been making a mountain
out of a mole-hill; has been exaggerating his friend's emotional
temperament, naturally further heightened by sleeplessness and want of
food, into incipient insanity. If he were mad, or at all tending that
way, would he be talking in the low rational key which he obviously must
be? It is evident that her presence, her eye, her--yes, what more
likely?--her touch have soothed and conjured away what of excessive or
perilous there was in his emotion.

They have been together half an hour now. All danger is certainly over.
Why should he any longer continue his officious and needless
watch?--superfluously spying upon them?

Relieved as to what he had thought his worst fear, and yet with an
uncommon bitterness about his heart, he turns to withdraw, and his hand
is already on the lock of the door which leads into the corridor, when
suddenly, without any warning, there reaches his ear the noise of a
loud, crashing fall, followed--accompanied, rather--by a piercing
scream.

In infinitely less than a second he finds himself on his knees beside
the prostrate body of Byng, who, with blood pouring from his forehead,
is stretched upon the floor of the _salon_. Even at this second there
flashes upon him, ludicrous and dreadful, the memory of the _Police
News_. This scene has a grotesque likeness to the final one of the groom
and kitchenmaid series, only that in the present case the heroine,
instead of staggering backward with the top of her head flying up to the
ceiling, is hanging unharmed over her fallen lover.

"Are you hurt?" cries Jim in frantic anxiety, looking at her across the
prostrate figure, and unable to eradicate from his mind the revolver
idea. "Did he hit you? I did not hear a shot."

"Oh no, no! but he," fetching her breath in terrible gasps, and hanging
over the bleeding man with that utter abandonment of all disguise, in
which a great naked grief sweeps away our sophistications--"he is dead!"

"Oh no, he is not," answers Jim hastily, tearing open Byng's waistcoat
and laying his hand upon his heart. "He has only fainted. Get some
water! Have you got any salts? No; do not lift his head"--seeing that
she is agonizedly trying to raise his prone head and rest it upon her
knees--"he had better be as flat as he can. Quick, some water!"

She does not need to be twice told. In an instant she has sprung to the
table, and brought thence the china jug out of which she is wont to
water her flowers, and also the big cut-glass bottle of smelling-salts
with which Jim has often seen poor Mrs. Le Marchant solacing herself
when racked with that neuralgic headache which means worry. He splashes
water out of the one upon Byng's ashy face, and holds the other to his
pale nostrils; while Elizabeth, once more flinging herself upon her
knees, wipes the blood from his temples with her little useless gossamer
inch of handkerchief.

"How did it happen?" asks Jim rapidly. "What did he do to himself?"

The heads of the two ministrants are very close to each other as they
bend together over the swooned youth. Jim can see a little smear of
Byng's blood upon one of her white cheeks. The sight gives him a
shudder. Byng seems to have made her more his own by that gory baptism
than by all his frenzied vows and tears.

"Oh, I do not know," she answers, still fetching both breath and words
with difficulty. "He was standing up, and he seemed quite right; and
then, all of a sudden, in a minute, he went down like a log, and hit his
forehead against the sharp corner of the table"--with a convulsive
shiver at the recollection. "I ought to have saved him! I ought; but I
was not quick enough. I stood stock-still, and now he is dead! You say
that he is not; but I am sure he is dead!"

"Oh no, nonsense! he is not," replies Jim brusquely, thinking a certain
harshness of manner the best recipe for her. "He is alive, sure enough;
and as for the cut on his forehead, now that you have wiped the blood
away, you can see for yourself that it is not at all a deep one. It is
merely a big scratch. I have often had a worse out hunting from a
bramble, in jumping through a hedge. Oh, Mrs. Le Marchant, here you are!
That is all right. We have had an accident, you see. He has fallen down
in a faint, and given himself a bit of a knock. That is all; do not be
frightened. It looks worse than it is--Oh, M. Cipriani, vous voilà!
Envoyez chercher un médecin tout de suite! Il y a un M. Crump"--catching
in his destitution at the thought of even Sybilla's objectionable
friend.

But hereupon half a dozen voices--for by this time even more than that
number of inmates of the hotel have thronged into the little room--raise
themselves to pronounce another name--the name of one who both stands
higher in medical fame and is more quickly procurable. In search of him
Zameth, the porter, is instantly despatched, and meanwhile about the
inanimate body sympathizers stand three deep, until reluctantly
dispersed by a hint of a nature so broad as not to be misunderstood from
Jim, to the effect that the patient would have a better chance of coming
to himself if he were allowed to have a breath of air. By the time the
doctor arrives--there is some small delay before he appears--all are got
rid of, and, Mrs. Le Marchant having gone to give directions for having
Jim's room arranged for the sick man, both because it is on the
ground-floor and also of a better size than that allotted to him, Jim
and Elizabeth are once again left _tête-à-tête_.

Once again they kneel on either side of the prone figure. How dreadfully
dead and how extravagantly long it looks! Once again he sees that
blood-smear on her face. It is just above her one dimple, and stands out
in ghastly incongruity over that little pitfall for love and laughter.
How passionately he wishes that he might ask her to go and wash it off!
If he did she would not hear him. She has no ears left, no eyes, no
sense, save for that livid face, splashed with the water which has not
brought him back to life, and with the red drops still slowly trickling
from the wound on his brow, and which have stained here and there the
damp tendrils of his hair--for that livid face and for the flaccid
hands, which she rubs between her own with an ever more terrified
energy, as he still gives no sign of returning consciousness.

By-and-by he is taken out of her custody. She is robbed even of the
wretched satisfaction of chafing his poor senseless fingers. On the
arrival of the doctor he is carried off, and laid upon the bed that has
been made ready for him. She follows them miserably as they bear him
staggeringly across the hall--a powerfully-built young man of over six
feet high, in the perfect inertness of syncope, is no light weight--and
looks hungrily over the threshold of the bedroom; but when she attempts
to cross it Jim puts her gently back.

"No, dear, no!" he says. (He is almost sure afterwards that for that
once in his life he calls her "dear.") "You had better not. We think he
is coming round, and if you are the first person he sees when he comes
to himself it might be bad for him--might hurt him. You would not hurt
him, would you?"

"No, I would not hurt him," she answers slowly. And so turns in her
utter tractableness, and goes away meekly without a word.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is evening again now, almost the same hour at which Jim and Elizabeth
were beheading photographs twenty-four hours ago. Twenty-four hours! It
feels more like twenty-four years. This is what he says to himself as he
once again opens the door of the Le Marchants' apartment. It is the
first time during the whole day, except to snatch a couple of mouthfuls
of food, that he has left Byng's side; and it is only due to the fact
that Mrs. Le Marchant is supplying his place, and has sent him on a
message to her daughter, that he has quitted his post. He knows that she
has meant to do him a kindness in despatching him upon this errand; but
he is not sure that it is one.

Elizabeth is not in the _salon_, but the screen that masks the door
separating that room from the little alcove beyond is folded back. Over
the doorway is a hanging of Eastern embroidery--as to the meaning of the
strange gold scrolls that look like Arab letters on whose red ground
Elizabeth and he have often idly speculated. He pushes it aside, and
sees her standing with her back towards him, the flimsy muslin
window-curtains drawn back as she looks out on the night. The alcove is
on ordinary occasions scarcely ever occupied, and there is something
uneasy and uncomfortable that matches the wretchedness of her other
circumstances in finding her standing there alone and idle.

The elements have long finished their raging, and fallen to boisterous
play. It has been a fine day, and though the sun has long laid down his
sceptre, he has passed it on with scarcely diminished, though altered,
radiance to his white imitator. It is broad moonlight--startlingly
broad. The moon hangs overhead, with never a cloud-kerchief about her
great disk. The winds that, loudly sporting, are up and abroad have
chased every vapour from the sky, which is full of throbbing white
stars. Before he reaches her side she has heard him, and turned to meet
him, with a mixed hunger and pitiful hope in her wan face. She thinks
that he has come to fetch her. He must kill that poor hope, and the
quicklier the more mercifully.

"Mrs. Le Marchant sent me. I came to tell you that he has recovered
consciousness. You see, you were wrong"-with an attempt at a reassuring
smile--"he is not dead, after all. He is conscious; that is to say, he
is not insensible; but I am afraid he is not quite himself yet, and you
must not--must not mind--must not be frightened, I mean--if he begins to
shout out and talk nonsense by-and-by: the doctor says it is what we
must expect."

"And may I--mayn't I--will not you let me?"

What a quivering voice the hope has, and yet how alive it is! However
clumsily, and with whatever bitter yearnings over the pain he is causing
her, he must knock it on the head at once.

"Go to him?--impossible! quite out of the question! The great object is
to keep him perfectly quiet, and if once he caught sight of you--"

"But if he is not himself," interrupts she, with a pathetic pertinacity,
"he would not know me. I could not do him any harm if he did not know
me, and I might do something--oh, ever such a little thing for him! If
you knew what it was to stand here and do nothing--_do nothing_
indeed!"--with a change of tone to one of agonized self-reproach;--"have
not I done enough already? Oh, would anyone have believed that it would
be I that should kill him!"

She turns back to the window again, and dashes her forehead with
violence against the frame. Outside the tall date-palm is shaken through
all its plumes by the loud breeze; it is swaying and waving and blowing,
and not less is its solid shadow cut out by the moonshine's keen knife
on the terrace, wavering and shaking too, as if convulsed by laughter.
The porch of the hotel--mere whitewash and plaster, as memory and reason
tell one that it is--stands out in glorified ivory like the portals of
such a palace as we see in vision, when

    "Good dreams possess our fancy."

"I can't have you talking such nonsense," says Jim, in an exceedingly
kind and not very steady voice, for his own feelings are horribly
harrowed; and on thinking over the scene afterwards, he cannot swear
that, at this point, he did not pass a most brotherly arm for one moment
round the poor little heaving shoulder, which is shaking almost as much
as the palm-tree's shadow. "He is not going to die; he is not thinking
of dying. Nobody has killed him--least of all you."

She makes him no answer, nor lifts her stricken head, over which he
looks out, while the ghostly mirth shakes the landscape; at his wits'
end, in search of consolation. Below waves a sea of foliage, out of
which the strong elfin light has stolen all the colour. From that
colourless dark ocean rises far away to the right the dazzling little
snowy dome of a mosque, showing like a transfigured mushroom; and down
below the rounding bay is seen laying its foam-lips in white glory on
the land.

"Dr. Stephens feels sure that he must have had a sunstroke. You know
that he has been in the East. He was a month in Cairo; the sun has great
power there, even in winter, and he is sure to have exposed himself
recklessly. He was on his way home--had got as far as Paris, it
seems--when he accidentally heard that you were here. Since then, no
doubt, he has neither eaten nor slept; so you see how little you are to
blame. You know that I told you how odd he was before you even saw him.
Do not you remember?"--trying to recall every circumstance that may tend
to reassure her--"I warned you that you would have to be careful what
you said to him?"

His words have a very different effect from that intended by him.

"Oh, that is why I cannot forgive myself!" says she, with what sounds
almost like a cry of physical pain. "You _did_ warn me; I had no excuse.
In his state I ought never--it was murdering him to tell him--"

She breaks off. To tell him what? Jim bites his lips hard to hinder
himself from putting this question, as he again, in mercy to her, looks
away from her out into the night.

The moon has swum over the housetop by now; but one can see her
handiwork as plainly as ever in the broad argent fringe, like the border
of a cloak, that marks where the waves are breaking on the beach.

One often talks of a fringe without really meaning that there is much
likeness to one; but to-night the moon-washed breakers really do wear
that aspect--a fringe of silver with long silver tags and ends.

"But I was so deceived," she continues, with that wail still in her
voice; "he was not violent. After what you had told me, I expected him
to be violent; but he was not: he was quite gentle and quiet, and he did
beg so hard, and I was so glad to see him again, that I felt I was
giving in--that I should give way altogether if I did not tell him--tell
him at once, without giving myself time to think; and so I did"--growing
very breathless and incoherent--"and in a second; and then all in a
minute, without any warning, just as if I had shot him through the head,
he went down with a crash. I did not see it, for I was not looking at
him. I could not bear to look at him while I told him. I had both hands
over my face, and then--and then--I heard him fall."

What can Jim say to her? Fear lest any dastardly unchivalrous curiosity
may seem to pierce through whatever sympathetic question he might put to
her keeps him dumb, and stupidly staring at the bowing, ironically merry
palm.

"And now," she goes on, lifting her face, and he is shocked to see how
livid it is in the moonlight, "he will go out of the world thinking me
much worse than I really am, for I had not time to tell him all. He
heard only the bare fact; he did not hear what excuse I had--that I was
not really so wicked as--as--he will die thinking me."

The sob with which she ends alarms him by its kinship to a convulsion.

"I do not know what to say to you," he says, desperately making a snatch
at her two hands, as if by the violence of his grip he could convey to
her some little portion of the deep compassion that is swelling up in
his heart for her; "I am so much in the dark. No, no, no!" with a return
of that terror lest this ejaculation should seem the outcome of any
inquisitiveness; "I do not want you to tell me anything! What is more, I
will not listen to you if you attempt it; but what there is not the
least manner of doubt about is that his fainting had no sort of
reference to what you said to him: he would have fainted whatever you
had said to him, or if you had said nothing at all. He was as mad as a
hatter when he went in to you. It is all part of the same
thing--over-fatigue, sunstroke. But he is not going to die"--with a
hurried trip back to his former strain of consolation--"he is not
thinking of it; I promise you, I give you my word of honour"--becoming
perfectly reckless and completely insensate--"that he shall not!"

But she is too strangled with sobs to make any rejoinder.

"He shall have the best of nursing," goes on Jim. "I have telegraphed
for a nurse to Nice. How astonishing it is that in a place of this size
you cannot get a decent sick-nurse! I hoped we might have caught the one
who nursed General Smith before----"

He stops abruptly, with a too tardy recollection that the allusion is
not a happy once, since the General died two days ago. Unfortunately,
she also remembers, as is evidenced by the strong shudder that passes
over her.

"If he dies, will he be buried in that deep narrow, red grave that they
showed us in the Protestant cemetery, and which they said that they
always kept open for English visitors? If he dies! if he dies! Oh, if I
could but have told him! if he would but have waited for me to tell him
how it really was!"



CHAPTER X.


Though "February Fill-dyke" was never and nowhere truer to her name than
this year, and in Algiers--coming laden with wet days to make the green
Sahel, if possible, greener than it was before; yet the inhabitants of
the Grand Hotel do not again, for a matter of three weeks, relieve their
ennui or let off their energies in far from Dumb Crambo, or loud
charade. The voice of the battledore is silent in the entrance-hall, and
the shuttlecock sleeps. M. Cipriani has scarcely had to do more than
mention his request that they would lay aside their more noisy pastimes,
for they are, most of them, rather good-natured persons than otherwise,
since, indeed, it is quite as uncommon to be very ill-natured as to be
very selfless, or very foolish, or very wise. Those of them who have
been fortunate enough to be present at the catastrophe have carried away
such a moving image of a wounded Adonis, apparently several yards long,
stretched upon Mrs. Le Marchant's Persian carpet, that they have
infected those less happy persons who know of him only by hearsay with a
compassionate interest scarcely inferior to their own.


The only person in the hotel who makes much noise is poor Byng himself,
and for awhile he falls it with clamour enough to furnish two or three
of those bump suppers of which, not so long ago, he was a conspicuous
ornament.

There had never, even when he was in his wits, been much disguise as to
the state of his feelings; now that he is out of them, the whole house
rings with his frantic callings upon the name of Elizabeth, uttered in
every key of rage, expostulation, tenderness, and appeal. These cries
reach Elizabeth herself as she sits cowering in that one of the little
suite of rooms which is nearest the door of entrance--sits there
cowering, and yet with the door, through which those dreadful sounds
penetrate to her, ajar, in order the better to hear them--cowering, and
for several days alone.

Owing to various accidents, similar in their results, though differing
in character, almost a week elapses from the first breaking out of
Byng's malady before the arrival of either the hospital nurse or of Mrs.
Byng. When the latter event occurs, Mrs. Le Marchant retires from her
post at the sick man's bedside with the same unostentatious
matter-of-factness with which she had assumed it, and Elizabeth is no
longer alone. But to set against this advantage is the counterbalancing
evil that, after the arrival of Byng's mother, she can no longer steal
out, as she had before done a hundred times a day, to his door, to glean
fragments of tidings from any outcomer thence. She is never able to
repeat those little surreptitious excursions after that occasion when
Mrs. Byng, coming suddenly out upon her, passes her with such speaking,
if silent, hostility and scorn in her tired and grief-stricken eyes,
that the luckless spy slinks back sobbing to her own tender mother; and
there Jim, flying out a while after to carry them a crumb of
reassurance, finds them, to his indignation, mingling their bitter
tears.

Whatever else his faults may be, Mr. Burgoyne is a man of his word; he
certainly keeps his promise to Elizabeth that Byng shall be well nursed.
He keeps his other promise, too--though that is more by good luck than
good management--that Byng shall not die. Whether to hinder his friend
from being made a liar, or because he himself is loth to leave a world
which he has found so pretty, cruel, and amusing, Byng does not
die--Byng lives.

By her 25th day February has dried her tears, though they still hang on
her green lashes, and a great galleon of a sun steers through a
tremendous sea of blue, as Jim persuades Byng's mother to go out for her
first delicious drive in that fresh and satin-soft air of the Algerian
February, which matches our best poets' May. He takes her along the
Route des Aqueduques, that lovely route which runs high along the
hillside among the villas above the town, so high as to be on a level
with the roofs of the lofty-standing Continental and Orient Hotels. It
is a most twisting road, which in curves and loops winds about the head
of narrow deep gorges, full of pale olive-trees, caroubiers, and ilex.
Below lies the red-roofed white town. Slowly they trot past the campagne
of the "English Milor," "L'Epicier Anglais," and many others, over whose
high walls bougainvillias light their now waning purple fires, and big
bushes of fleurs de Marie stoop their milky stars.

Mrs. Byng's eyes, sunk and diminished by watching and weariness, have
been lying restfully on the delightful spring spectacle--on the great
yellow sorrels by the wayside; she now turns them tear-brimmed to her
companion.

"I could jump out of my skin!" she says shakily. "What a sun! what a
sea! And to think that, after all, we have pulled him through."

Jim's only answer is a sympathetic pressure of the extremely
well-fitting glove nearest him. If Willy had died instead of lived, her
gloves would have fitted all the same.

"But we are not out of the wood yet," continues she, with a shake of the
head. "He is cured, or nearly cured, of one disease, but what about the
other?"

"What other?" inquires he, obstinately stupid, and with somewhat of a
heart-sinking at the prospect of the engagement which he sees ahead of
him.

How many elbows the road makes! It seems to have been cut in places
right through the wet red rock, now overhung by such a torrent of
vegetation.

At the head of one of the deep clefts that run up from the sea they
pause, and look down upon a second sea of greenery that would seem to
belong to no month less leafy than June. To June, too, belong the murmur
and hum and summer trickle of running water at the ravine bottom.

"I do not see why, if he goes on as swimmingly as he is now doing," says
Mrs. Byng in a restless voice--"why we should not get him off in a week,
even if he were carried on board the boat."

"A week? Is not that rather sanguine?"

"I do not think so, the sooner the better; and during that week I should
think she could hardly make any attempt to see him."

"Has she shown any signs of making one hitherto?"

"Well, no"--rather grudgingly. "In fact, between you and me, considering
that it is they who have brought him into this plight, I think they
might have shown a little more solicitude about him. In the last ten
days I do not believe that they have been once to the door to inquire."

"You do not seem to be aware," says Jim, in a voice which, though quiet,
is not pacific, "and that is odd, considering how often I told you, that
until you came Mrs. Le Marchant nursed him like a mother; not like a
mother, indeed"--correcting himself with a somewhat malicious
intention--"for mothers grow flurried, and she never did."

"You mean that she nursed him better than I do," in a jealous tone.
"Well"--more generously--"how shabby of me to mind, if she did! I do not
mind. God bless her for it! I always thought"--compunctiously--"that
she looked a nice woman."

"She _is_ nice--as nice"--descending into a slang unworthy of his ripe
years--"as they make 'em."

"And the girl--I suppose one can hardly call her a girl--_looks_ nice
too."

They are passing the Casbah, the solid Moorish fortifications, about
which now hang only a few gaitered, sunburnt, baggy Zouaves.

Jim has a silly hope that, if he maintains an entire silence, the
current of his companion's ideas may drift into another channel; but he
is soon undeceived.

"I suppose that she must have been quite, _quite_ young when--when those
dreadful things happened that Willy talked about in his delirium?"

"Is it possible"--indignantly--"that you take the ravings of a
fever-patient au pied de la lettre?"

"No, I do not; but"--with an obstinate sticking to her point--"there was
a substratum of truth in them; that was only too evident."

Jim shuts his teeth tight together. His vow of silence is harder to keep
than he had thought.

"Since he came to himself he has never mentioned her to me," continues
his companion anxiously; "has he to you?"

"No."

"I quite tremble whenever he opens his lips, lest he should be going to
begin the subject, and one could not contradict him yet awhile; he is so
quixotic, it is quite likely that he may have some distorted idea that
her being--how shall I say?--_flétrie_--is an additional reason for
standing by her, rehabilitating her, marrying her. He is so chivalrous."

They have left the Prison Civile and the Zouave Barracks behind them. A
longer interval than that usually supposed to elapse between a remark
and its rejoinder has passed, before Jim can bring himself to utter the
following sentence with the calmness which he wishes:

"Has it never occurred to you that she may be chivalrous too?"

Perhaps Mrs. Byng does not readily find a response to this question;
perhaps it sets her off upon a train of speculation which does not
conduce to garrulity. Certain it is that, for the rest of the drive, she
is as silent as Jim could wish her. It is a sharp surprise to him two
days later to be mysteriously called outside the sick man's door by her,
in order to be informed that she has invited Miss Le Marchant to
accompany her on a drive.

"I went to call upon them," she says, avoiding--or so he fancies it--his
eye as she speaks; "and I asked the girl to drive with me to the Mole,
and get a good blowing about."

"How kind of you!" cries Jim, a flash of real pleasure in his serious
look; "how like you--like your real self, that is!"

And he takes her hand to thank it by a friendly pressure. But she draws
it away rather hastily.

"Oh, it was nothing so very wonderful--nothing to thank me for."

She seems confused and a little guilty, and escapes with some
precipitation from his gratitude. Mrs. Byng is not a woman addicted to
double-dealing, and if she ever makes any little essays in that
direction, she does them, as on this present occasion, villainously.

Burgoyne is not at the hall-door to help the ladies into the carriage
when they set off. Perhaps this may be because he is in attendance upon
the invalid. Perhaps because--glad as he had at first felt and expressed
himself at their friendliness--some misgiving may, upon reflection, have
beset him at so strange a conjunction. At all events, it is only Fritz
who throws the light Arab rug over their knees and gives them his
encouraging parting smile.

Poor Miss Le Marchant needs his encouragement, for, indeed, it is in a
very frightened spirit that she sets forth on her pleasuring. But before
the horse-bells have jingled to the bottom of Mustapha Supérieur, her
spirits are rising. The sun shines, and he has shone so seldom in
Elizabeth's life that a very few of his beams, whether real or
metaphorical, suffice to send up her quicksilver. She does not
consciously admit for a second the hope that in the present overture on
the part of her companion lies any significance. But yet a tiny
trembling bliss now and then taps at her heart's door, and she pushes it
away but feebly.

Before they have reached the Amirauté, where they are to get out, she
has thanked Mrs. Byng with such pretty and unsuspecting gratitude for
bringing her, and has made her laugh so irrepressibly by her gay and
naïve comments upon the motley passers-by, that the latter is filled
with a compunctious regret that a person with such lovely manners, and
such a sense of a joke, should have made so disastrous a fiasco of her
life as renders necessary the extremely distasteful errand on which she
herself is at present bound. At the Amirauté, as I say, they get out;
and, turning under a groined roof that looks as if it were the crypt of
a church, find themselves presently upon the long stone breakwater that
runs out into the bay. It was built, they tell us, in old days by the
wretched Christian captives; but the sea has taken care that not much of
the original labour of blood and tears has survived.

The wind is high, and the sunshine ardent and splendid. On their right
as they walk, with the wind officiously helping them from behind, is a
world of dancing sapphire, each blue billow white-tipped. On their left
are great blocks of masonry, built strong and square, with narrow
intervals between to break the might of the water. How little their
strength has availed against that of their tremendous opponent is seen
at every step, since nearly half the blocks are overthrown or in
semi-ruin; though the date engraved upon them shows for how few seasons
they have been exposed to the ravages of the tempestuous sea. They walk
on to the end, till they can go no further, since, just ahead of them,
the waves are rolling in half-fierce play--though the day is all
smiles--over the breakwater; and even where they stand, their footing is
made unsure by lengths of slimy seaweed that set them slipping along.
Elizabeth insists upon the elder woman taking her slight arm--insists
upon carrying her wraps, and generally waiting upon and ministering to
her. From the bottom of her heart Mrs. Byng wishes that she would not,
since every instance of her soft helpfulness, so innocent and
spontaneous, makes more difficult the answer to that question which she
has been asking herself ever since they set foot upon the Mole:

"How shall I begin?"

It is unanswered still, when, retracing their steps a little, they sit
down under the lee of one of the half-wrecked blocks to enjoy the view.

From here the sea is a lake, the distant mountains and the breakwater
seeming--though in reality parted by how wide a wet waste--to join in
embracing it. The mountains are dim and filmy to-day, Cape Matifou
scarcely visible; but the Koubah shows white-domed on the hillside, and
all the dazzling water is shot through with blinding light. The town,
Arab-French, is dazzling too; the arcaded quay, the fortifications, one
can scarcely look at any of them. Two or three steamers, with a little
vapour issuing from their ugly black and red funnels, lie moored; and
other smaller craft lift their spars against the heaven. Near by a man
is sitting with his legs dangling over the water, fishing with a line;
and two or three Arabs, draped in the dignity of their poetic rags, lie
couched round a fire that they have kindled. Beneath and around them is
the banging and thundering of the sea. August noise! "A voice like the
sound of many waters." Could there be a more awful comparison? Just
underneath them, where the sea has made a greater breach than usual, it
is boiling as in a caldron. Looking down and in, they see the water
comparatively quiet for a moment; then, with a shout of its great
jubilant voice, rushing and surging in, tossing its mane. Elizabeth's
eyes are resting on the heavenly sapphire plain.

"_How_ blue!" she says, under her breath; "one cannot believe that it is
not really blue; one feels that if one took up a little in a spoon it
would be just as blue as it is now."

"I dare say it will not _feel_ so blue when we are on it," replies Mrs.
Byng, lugging in somewhat awkwardly, as she feels, the subject which she
finds it so hard to introduce, "as I suppose we shall be within a week
now."

Her charity bids her not glance at her companion as she speaks, so she
is not quite sure whether or not she gives a start.

"Mr. Burgoyne thinks that I am sanguine; but I am all for moving him as
soon as possible; it cannot be too soon."

She tries to throw as much significance as they are capable of holding
into the latter words, and feels that she has succeeded.

"Of course he may refuse to go," continues she, with a rather strained
laugh. "Do you remember Victor Hugo's definition of heaven as a place
where children are always little and parents are always young? I am
continually quoting it. But, unfortunately, one's children will not stay
little; they grow big, and get wills of their own, and it is quite
possible he may refuse to go."

"Yes?" almost inaudibly.

"But"--reddening slightly at the patently-intended application of her
next sentence--"anyone that was fond of him--anyone that liked him
_really_ and--and _disinterestedly_, I mean, must see that the only
happy course for him would be to go; that it would be his salvation to
get away; they--they would not try to hinder him."

"I should think that no one would do that."

There is not a touch of asperity in the dove-soft voice; but there is a
shade of dignity.

"When he was ill--while he was delirious" ("How dreadfully unpleasant it
is!" in an anguished internal aside)--"I could not help
hearing--gathering--drawing inferences."

The ardour of the chase has vanquished her charity, and she is looking
at her victim. But, to do her justice, the success of her labours shocks
her. Can this little aged, pinched face, with its dilated eyes, so full
of woe and terror, be the same one that dimpled into riotous laughter
half an hour ago at the sight of the two dirty old men, in Jewish
gaberdines and with gingham umbrellas, kissing each other by the Mosquée
de la Pêcherie?

"Of course it was all incoherent," she goes on hurriedly, snatching at
the first expression that occurs to her as likely to undo, or at least a
little modify, her work--"nothing that one could make sense of. Only
your name recurred so incessantly; it was nothing but 'Elizabeth,
Elizabeth.' I am sure"--with a remorseful if clumsy attempt to be kind,
and a most uneasy smile--"that I do not wonder at it!"

In the narrow interspace between the blocks and the path--not more than
a couple of fingers wide--how the sea forces itself! and up race its
foam-fountains, throwing their spray aloft in such mighty play, as if
they would hit heaven's arch. What exhilaration in its great glad noise,
superb and battle-ready!

"I cannot express how distasteful a task this is to me"--in a tone that
certainly gives no reason to doubt the truth of her statement; "but,
after all, I am his mother; he is all I have in the world, and I am sure
that you are the very last person who would wish to do him an injury."

"No; I do not think that I would do him an injury."

How curiously still and slow her voice is! Mrs. Byng has resolutely
averted her eyes, so that her purpose may not again be shaken by the
sight of the havoc she has wrought, and has fixed them upon some sea
gulls that are riding up and down upon the merry waves, making them,
with their buoyant motion, even more jocund than they were before.

"It seems an impossible thing to say to you--a thing too bad to
apologize for--but yet I _must_ say it"--in a tone of excessive
distress, yet firmness. "Under the circumstances, it would--would throw
a blight over his whole life."

"Yes, I know that it would; I have always known it; that is why we left
Florence."

"And very good it was of you, too! Not that I am quite certain of the
judiciousness of the way in which you did it; but, however, I am sure
you meant it for the best."

"Yes, I meant it for the best."

The sea-gulls have risen from the billow, and are turning and wheeling
in the air. The light is catching their wings, and making them look like
whitest silver. It seems as if they were at conscious play with it,
trying experiments as to how they can best catch their bright
playfellow, and again shake it off, and yet again recapture it.

"What a monster you must think me!" breaks out the elder woman
presently.

Now that the impression has somehow been conveyed to her mind that her
mission is likely to be completely successful, the full brutality of the
method by which she has accomplished it bursts upon her mind.

"How treacherous! luring you out here, under the pretence of
friendliness, to say such horrible things to you!"

Elizabeth's narrow hands are clasped upon her knee, and her small
heart-broken, white face is looking out straight before her.

"No, I do not think you a monster," she answers--"you are a kind-hearted
woman! and it must have been very, very unpleasant to you. I am quite
sorry"--with a sort of smile--"for you, having to do it; but you are his
mother. If I had been his mother, I should have done the same; at least,
I suppose so."

"I am sure, if things had been different, there is no one that I should
have--I do not know when I ever saw anyone whom I took such a fancy to.
If it had not been for the disparity--I mean, if he had been less young
and unfit to take upon himself the serious responsibilities of life----"

How deplorably lame even to Mrs. Byng's ears sound her tardy efforts to
place the grounds of her objection on a less cruel basis than that which
she has already made so nakedly plain to be the real one! Even the
sweet-mannered Elizabeth does not think it necessary to express
gratitude for such insulting civilities.

"I do not quite understand what you wish me to do," she says, with quiet
politeness; "if you will explain to me----"

"Oh, I do not want to dictate to you; please do not imagine I could
think of being so impertinent; but, of course, he will be asking for
you. Since he came to himself, he has not mentioned you as yet; but of
course he will. I am expecting it every moment; probably he has not felt
up to embarking on the subject. He will ask for you--will want to see
you."

"And you wish me not to see him?"

Her delicate suffering mouth quivers; but she is perfectly composed.

"Oh, but of course you must see him! you quite, _quite_ misunderstand
me! Much chance there would be"--with a wretched stunted laugh--"of
getting him away without a sight of you! How little you know him!"

Elizabeth does not dispute the fact of her want of acquaintance with
Byng's character, nor does she help his floundering parent by any
suggestion. She merely goes on listening to her with that civil white
look, while the sportive sea-mews still play at hide-and-seek with the
sun-rays on the wide blue fields of heaven.

"It is dreadful that I should have to say these things to you," says
Mrs. Byng, in a voice of the strongest revolt and ire against her
destiny--"insult you in this unprovoked way; but, in point of fact, you
are the only person in the world who can convince him that--that--it is
impossible--that it cannot be. Of course he will be very urgent and
pressing, and I know how persuasive he is. Do not you suppose that I,
his own mother, know how hard it is to refuse him anything? and of
course, in his present weak state, it must be very carefully done. He
could not stand any violent contradiction. You would have to be very
gentle; dear me!"--with a fresh access of angry remorse--"as if you ever
could be anything else."

This compliment also its pale object receives in silence.

"You know one has always heard that there are two kinds of 'No,'" goes
on Mrs. Byng with another dwarfish laugh, which has a touch of the
hysteric in it--"a woman's 'No,' as it is called, that means 'Yes'; and
a 'No' which anyone--which even _he_--must understand to be final. If
you _could_--I dare say I am asking you an impossibility--but if you
_could_ make him understand that this time it is final!"

There is a silence between them. An unrulier billow than usual, yet more
masterless in its Titan play, is hurling itself with a colossal thud and
bang against the causeway; and Elizabeth waits till its clamour is
subsided before she speaks.

"Yes," she answers slowly, "I understand; thank you for telling me what
you wish. I think I may promise that I shall be able to--that I shall
make him understand that it is final."

A moment or two later they are on their way back to the Amirauté. The
ocean is at its glorious pastimes all around them; the hill-climbing,
shining town smiles upon them from its slope; but upon both has fallen a
blindness. The feelings of Mrs. Byng are perhaps the least enviable of
the two.

They are nearly back at the beginning of the breakwater, when she stops
short. Probably when cool reflection comes, when she is removed from the
charm and pathos of Elizabeth's meek white presence, lovely and
unreproachful, she will not repent her work; but at the present moment
of impulse and remorse she feels as if the expunging of the last
half-hour would be cheaply purchased by the sacrifice of six months of
her remaining life.

"I suppose it is not the least use my asking you to try and forgive
me--to make allowances for me?" she says, with unsteady-toned humility;
"oh, _how_ you must hate me! If the case were reversed, _how_ I should
hate you! How you will hate me all your life!"

The tears are rolling down her cheeks, and in an instant Elizabeth's
hand has gone out to her. As it does so, the grotesque regret flashes
across the elder woman's mind that any future daughter-in-law of hers
will be most unlikely to be the possessor of such a hand.

"Why should I hate you? you cannot"--with a heart-wrung smile--"possibly
think me more undesirable than I do myself; and even if it were not so,
I do not think it is in me to hate anyone very much."

On their drive home they meet with one or two little incidents quite as
funny as the old Jews kissing each other; but this time they do not move
poor Miss Le Marchant to any laughter.



CHAPTER XI.

    "I do remember an apothecary,--
    And hereabouts he dwells."


Two days later she is called upon to perform the task she has
undertaken. Probably she has spent those two days, and also the
appertaining nights, in bracing her mind to it, for Jim can plainly see
the marks of that struggle, though he is not aware of its existence,
graved upon her face, on the third morning after the excursion to the
Mole, when he comes in search of her. He does not find her in her
accustomed corner of the terrace, but, looking down over the balustrade,
sees her sitting below and alone on a small tree-shaded plateau that
seems to have been levelled for lawn-tennis or bowls. Probably the
giggling and chaffering of the girls on the terrace, and the respectful
but persistent importunities of the Omars and Ahmeds to buy their
colourful wares outspread on the hot flags have oppressed her spirits.

Fritz has carried down for her an arm-chair, a cane table, and a Persian
rug for her feet, and she looks as if she were established for the day.

Since Byng has been out of danger Elizabeth has returned to her
embroidery. She is one of those women to whom needlework is unaffectedly
dear, like that other sweet woman "who was so delicate with her needle."

Before she catches sight of him he watches for a few moments her bright
bent head and flying white fingers, and is able to perceive how many
sighs she is sewing into the pattern.

"What a morning!" he says, running down the steps and joining her. "No
one has any excuse for being an invalid to-day, has he?"

There is no second seat, so he stands beside her, looking up over her
head at the tall trees above her, from which immense garlands of ivy are
hanging and swinging in the warm breeze. That potent ivy has killed one
tree altogether.

She glances up at him mutely, knowing that he has not come merely to
tell her that the day is fine.

"We can hardly keep him on his sofa; he is virtually almost well, so
well that he is quite up to seeing people. He would like--he has been
asking--to see _you_."

He had thought her nearly as pale as it was possible for her to be when
he had first come upon her. He now realizes how many degrees of colour
she then had left to lose. While he speaks she has been mechanically
pulling her thread through, and as he ceases, her lifted hand stops as
if paralyzed, and remains holding her needle in the air.

It has come, then. For all her two days' bracing, is she ready for it?

"_Now?_"

The whisper in which this monosyllable is breathed is so stamped with a
fear that borders on terror, that his one astonished thought is bow best
to reassure her.

"Not if you do not feel inclined, of course--not unless you like. It can
perfectly well be put off to another time. I can tell him--there will
not be the least difficulty in making him understand--that you do not
feel up to it this morning: that you would rather have more notice."

"But I would not," she says, standing up suddenly, and with trembling
hands laying her work down upon the table, and beginning from dainty
habit to pin it up in its protecting white cloth. "What good would more
notice--a year's notice--do me?"

She turns away from him and fixes her unseeing eyes, glassy and dilated,
upon a poplar tree that is hanging tasselled catkins out against the
sky. Then once again she faces him, and he sees that there are cold
beads of agony upon her forehead.

"Wish for me," she says huskily--"wish very hard for me, that I may get
through it--that we may both get through it--alive!"

Then, motioning to him with her hand not to follow her, she walks
quickly towards the hotel.

It is impossible to him to stay quiet. He wanders restlessly away,
straying he knows not whither. The mimosas are out charmingly in the
gardens, sending delicious whiffs of perfume from the soft yellow fluff
of their flowers. The pinky almond-trees are out too, but not till long
afterwards does he know it.

By-and-by he finds himself strolling, unhindered by a gardener placidly
digging, through the grounds of a villa to let. Gigantic violets send
their messages to his nostrils, the big and innumerable blue blossoms
predominating over the leaves, which in England have to be so carefully
searched for them. Superabundant oranges tumble about his feet; arum
lilies, just discovering the white secret hid in their green sheaths,
stand in tall rows on either side of him; a bed of broad beans points
out the phenomenon of her February flowers to him. He sees and smells
none of them. Have his senses stolen away with his heart into Byng's
bedchamber? They must have done so, or he could not see with such
extraordinary vividness the scene enacting there. He has himself helped
to place it in such astonishing reality before himself. Does not he know
the exact position of the chair she is to occupy? Did not he place it
for her before he went to fetch her? Nor can his reason prevent his
distorted fancy from presenting the interview as one between happy and
confessed lovers. Even the recollection of her features, ghastly and
with beads of agony dewing them, cannot correct the picture of his mind
as he persistently sees it. That she meant, when he parted from her, to
renounce Byng, he has no manner of doubt. But does not he know the
pliancy of her nature? Is not he convinced that the rock on which her
life has split is her inability ever to refuse anyone anything that they
ask with sufficient urgency or with enough plausibility to persuade her
that she can do them a kindness by yielding?

How much more, then, will she be incapable of resisting the importunate
passion of her own heart's chosen one, freshly risen from a bed of
death? Presently his restless feet carry him away out of the villa
grounds again. He finds himself on the Boulevard Mustapha, and sits down
on the low wall by the roadside, staring absently at a broken line of
dusky stone-pines, cutting the ardent blue of the African sky on the
hill opposite, and at an arcaded campagne throned high up among the
verdure. He knows that it belongs to an Englishman who made reels of
cotton, and the idle thought saunters across his mind how strange it is
that reels of cotton should wind anyone into such a lofty white Eden!
Can the interview be lasting all this while? Is not it yet ended? May
not his tormented fancy see the chair by Byng's sofa once again empty or
occupied by nurse or mother? Will not Mrs. Byng, will not Elizabeth
herself; have seen the unfitness of taxing the sick man's faint powers
by so extreme a strain upon them? But no sooner has this suggested idea
shed a ray of light upon his darkness than an opposing one comes and
blows it out. Has not Byng a will of his own? Will he be likely so soon
to let her go? Nay, having once recovered her, will he ever let her out
of his sight again? The thought restores him to restless action, and,
although with sedulous slowness, he begins to retrace his steps towards
the hotel. At a point about a quarter of a mile distant from it, the
lane which leads to the Villa Wilson debouches into the road, and
debouching also into the road he sees the figure of Cecilia, who,
catching sight of him, as if unable to wait for him to join her, almost
runs to meet him.

"I was coming to call upon you," says she eagerly. "Oh!"--with a
laugh--"to-day I really cannot stay to think of the proprieties, and you
have not been to see us for such centuries!"

"I have been nursing Byng."

"Oh yes; poor man! How dreadfully ill he must have been! I was so glad
to hear he was better."

There is such a flat tepidity in the tone of these expressions of
commiseration, something so different from the tender alertness of
Cecilia's former interest in their object, that Jim, roused out of his
own reflections to regard her more attentively than he has yet done,
sees that she is preoccupied by some subject quite alien to the invalid.

"I have a piece of news to tell you"--with a sort of angry chuckle.
"Such a piece of news! I am sure you will be delighted at it."

At her words a wonder as idle and slack as his late thought about the
reels of cotton crosses him as to what possible piece of news to be told
him by the buxom and excited person, before him could give him the
faintest pleasure. That wonder sends up his eyebrows, and throws a mild
animation into his voice.

"Indeed?"

"Do you like"--still chuckling--"to be told a piece of news or to guess
it?"

"I like to be told it."

"Well, then"--with a dramatic pause--"we are going to have a wedding in
the family!"

"My dear girl!" cries he, smiling very good-naturedly, and with a
sensation that, though not violent, is the reverse of annoyance.
"Hurrah! So he has come at last! Who is he? How dark you have kept him!"

Cecilia shakes her head and gives a short and rosy laugh.

"Oh, it is not I! You are wide of the mark."

"Your father?"--in a shocked voice.

He has a confused and illogical feeling that a second marriage on the
part of Mr. Wilson would be a slight upon Amelia's memory.

"_Father!_"--with an accent that plainly shows him he is still further
afield than in his first conjecture--"poor father! No, indeed; Heaven
forbid! Fancy me with a stepmother!"

She pauses to give a shudder at the idea, while Jim gapes blankly at
her, wondering whether she has gone off her head.

"Oh no; it is neither father nor I! No wonder you look mystified. It
is--_Sybilla!_"


"SYBILLA!!!!"

Although Mr. Burgoyne has not got it on his conscience that he has ever
either expressed or felt anything but the most strenuous and entire
disbelief in Sybilla's maladies, yet it has never occurred to him as
possible that she should engage in any occupation nearer akin to the
ordinary avocations of life than imbibing tonics through tubes and
eating beef essences out of cups.

"She is going to marry Dr. Crump!" continues Cecilia, not on the whole
dissatisfied with the effect of her torpedo. "When she told father, she
said that he had saved her life, and that the least she could do was to
dedicate the poor remainder of it to him. She tells other people that
she is marrying him because we wish it! You know that that was always
her way."

"SYBILLA!!"

"I thought that there must be something in the wind, as since the
beginning of the month she has never once wished us good-bye; and the
housemaid upset the ink-bottle over the book of prescriptions without
her ever finding it out; and the clinical thermometer has not appeared
for a week!"

"SYBILLA!!!"

"I thought I should surprise you; it gives one a disgust for the idea of
marrying altogether, does not it? I have come to the conclusion that I
do not care now if I never marry. Father and I get on quite happily
together; and when one is well off, one can really be very fairly
content in a single state; and, at all events, I am sure I do not envy
Sybilla."

"Nor I Crump"--with an emphasis so intense that Cecilia bursts out into
a laugh of a more genuine character than any she has yet indulged in.

"You will have to give her away!" she cries, as soon as she can again
speak distinctly. "Father will marry her, of course, and you must give
her away. I am sure she will insist upon it."

"She will have to make haste, then," returns he, recovering enough from
his first stupefaction to join Cecilia in her mirth; "for I shall not be
here much longer."

"You are not going away?"--raising her eyebrows, and with a tinge of
meaningness in her tone which vaguely frets him.

"Why should not I go?" he asks irritably, his short and joyless
merriment quite quenched. "What is there for a man to do here? I have
stayed already much longer than I meant. I am engaged to meet a friend
at Tunis--the man with whom I went to the Himalayas three years ago; we
are going to make an excursion into the interior. I am only waiting for
some guns and things. Why should not I go?"

"There is no earthly reason," replies she demurely; "only that I did not
know you had any such intention. But then, to be sure, it is so long
since I have seen you--not, I think," glancing at him for confirmation
of her statement rather too innocently, "since the lovers--ha! ha!--and
I met you and Miss Le Marchant driving on the quay."



CHAPTER XII.


Elizabeth's feeble tap at Byng's door is instantly answered by the
nurse, who, opening it smilingly to admit her, the next moment,
evidently in accordance with directions received, passes out herself and
shuts it behind her. Elizabeth, deprived of the chaperonage of her cap
and apron, and left stranded upon the threshold, has no resource but to
cross the floor as steadily as a most trembling pair of legs will let
her.

The room is a square one, two of its thick walls pierced by Moorish
windows. Drawn up to one of those windows--the one through which Jim had
caught his first glimpse of Elizabeth on the night of his arrival--is
the sick man's sofa. At the side of that sofa his visitor has, all too
soon, arrived. She had prepared a little set speech to deliver at
once--a speech which will give the keynote to the after-interview; but,
alas! every word of it has gone out of her head. Unable to articulate a
syllable, she stands beside him, and if anyone is to give the keynote,
it must be he.

"This is very, _very_ good of you. It seems a shame to ask you to come
here, with all this horrid paraphernalia of physic about; but I really
could not wait until they let me be moved into another room."

She has not yet dared to lift her eyes to his face, in terror lest the
sight of the change in it shall overset her most unsure composure.
Already, indeed, she has greedily asked and obtained every detail of the
alteration wrought in him. She knows that his head is shaved, that his
features are sharp, and that his voice is faint; and when, as he ceases
speaking, she at last wins resolution enough to look at him, she sees
that she has been told the truth. His head is shaven, his nose is as
sharp as a pen, and his voice is faint. She has been told all this; but
what is there that she has not been told? What is his voice besides
faint?

"Will not you sit down? It seems monstrous that I should be lying here
letting you wait upon yourself. Will you try that one?" pointing to the
chair which is figuring at the same moment so prominently in Jim's
tormented fancy. "I am afraid you will not find it very comfortable. I
have not tried it yet, but it looks as hard as a board."

She sits down meekly as he bids her, glad to be no longer obliged to
depend upon her shaky limbs, and answers:

"Thank you; it is quite comfortable."

"Would not it be better if you had a cushion?"--looking all round the
room for one.

His voice is courteous, tender almost, in its solicitude for her ease.
But is she asleep or awake? Can this be the same voice that poured the
frenzy of its heartrending adjurations into her ear scarce a month ago?
Can this long, cool, white saint--he looks somehow like a young saint in
his emaciation and his skull-cap--be the stammering maniac who, when
last she saw him, crashed down nigh dead at her feet, slain by three
words from her mouth?

At the stupefaction engendered by these questions, her own brain seems
turning, but she feebly tries to recover herself.

"I--I am so glad you are better."

"Thank you so much. Yes, it _is_ nice; nice to be

          "'Not burnt with thirsting,
    Nor with hot fingers, nor with temples bursting.'

Do you remember Keats?"

After all, there is something of the original Byng left, and the ghost
of his old spouting voice in which he recites the above couplet gives
her back a greater measure of composure than could almost anything else.

"It is nice, only one would like to be able to jump, not 'the life to
come'--ha! ha!--but the convalescence to come. My mother is even more
impatient than I am. She has made up her mind that we are to be off in
three days, even if I am carried on board on a shutter."

She can see now that he is very much embarrassed--that his fluency is
but the uneasy cover of some emotion--and the discovery enables her yet
further to regain possession of herself.

"I should think," she says in her gentle voice, "that you would be very
glad to get out of this room, where--where you have suffered so much."

"Well, yes; one does grow a little tired of seeing

    "'The casement slowly grow a glimmering square;'

but"--with a rather forced laugh--"at least, I have had cause to be
thankful that there is no wall-paper to count the pattern of. I have
blessed the white wall for its featureless face."

She moves a little in her chair, as if to assure herself that she is
really awake. That stupefaction is beginning to numb her again--that
hazy feeling that this is not Byng at all, this polite invalid, making
such civil conversation for her; this is somebody else.

"But I must not tire myself out before I have said what I want to say to
you," he continues, his embarrassment perceptibly deepening, while his
transparent hand fidgets uneasily with the border of the coverlet thrown
over him, "or"--laughing again--"I shall have that tyrant of a nurse
down upon me, and--and I do wish--I have wished so much--so
unspeakably--to see you, to speak to you."

She sits immovable, listening, while a ray of something--can it be hope?
why should it be hope?--darts across her heart. After all, this may be
Byng--her Byng; this strange new manner may be only the garment in which
sickness has dressed his passion--a worn-out garment soon to drop away
from him in rags and tatters, and in which cannot she already discern
the first rent? After all, she may have need for her armour--that armour
which, so far, has seemed so pitifully needless.

"I knew that it would be no use asking leave to send for you any sooner;
they would have told me I was not up to it--would have put me off with
some excuse; so I kept a 'still sough.' Do you know that I never
mentioned your name until to-day? But it has been hard work, I can tell
you; for the last two days I have scarcely been able to bear it, I have
so _hungered_ to see you."

Her eyelids tremble, and she instinctively puts up her hand to cover her
tell-tale mouth. Surely this is the old language. Surely there is, at
all events, a snatch of it in his last words; and again that prick of
illogical joy quickens the beats of her fainting heart, though she tries
to chide it away, asking herself why she should be in any measure glad
that the love which she has come here for no other purpose than to
renounce, still lives and stirs.

"You may think I am exaggerating, but in point of fact I cannot by any
expression less strong than the gnaw of downright hunger convey the
longing I have had to see you."

He pauses with a momentary failure of his still feeble powers.

She catches her breath. Now is the time for her to strike in, to arrest
him before he has time to say anything more definite. Now is the time
for her to fulfil her promise, her inhuman promise, which yet never for
one instant strikes her as anything but irrevocably binding. Does he see
her intention, that he plunges, in order to anticipate it, into so
hurried a resumption of his interrupted sentence?

"To see you, in order to beg--to supplicate you to forgive me for my
conduct to you."

She gives an almost imperceptible start. This ending is not what she had
expected, not the one to defend herself against which she has been
fastening on her buckler and grasping her shield. The words that it
demands in answer are not those with which she has been furnishing
herself, and it is a moment or two before she can supply herself with
others. He must be referring, of course, to his last meeting with
her--that one so violently broken off by the catastrophe of his
collapse.

"I do not know what I am to forgive," she says, half bewildered. "You
were not accountable for your actions. You were too ill to know what you
were doing."

"Oh, you think I am alluding to that last time," cries he, precipitately
correcting her. "No, no; you are right. I was not accountable then. You
might as well have reasoned with a wild beast out of a menagerie. I was
a perfect Bedlamite then. No"--going on very rapidly, as it in desperate
anxiety to make her comprehend with the least possible delay--"what I am
asking you--asking you on my knees--to forgive me for, is my whole
conduct to you from the beginning."

The two white faces are looking breathlessly into each other, and though
of late he has been tussling with death on a bed, and she has been
walking about, and plying her embroidery, and dining at a public table,
hers is far the whiter of the two. It must be the unwonted exertion of
talking so much that makes him bring out his next speech in jerks and
gasps.

"I forced my acquaintance upon you at the very beginning; I watched you
like a detective; I beset you wherever you went; I pestered you with my
visits. Jim always told me that it was not the conduct of a gentleman,
but I would not believe him--not even when"--how difficult it is! he
finds it almost as hard work as his mother had done upon the Mole--"not
even when, by my importunities, I had driven you away--obliged you to
rush away almost by night from a place you liked--a place you were happy
in--to escape me. And I have no excuse to offer you--none; unless,
indeed, as I sometimes think, my mind was off its balance even then. I
express myself wretchedly!"--in a tone of deep distress--"but you will
overlook that, will not you? You will--will understand what I mean?"

She makes an assenting motion with her head. At this moment she cannot
speak: she will be able to do so again directly, but she must have just
a minute or two. Yet she must not leave him for an instant in doubt that
she understands him. Oh yes, she understands him--understands that he is
apologizing for having ever loved her; that he is awkwardly trying to
draw the mantle of insanity over even the Vallombrosan wood. It is true
that he does it with every sign of discomfort and pain; and he looks
away from her, as Mrs. Byng, too, had found it pleasanter to do.

"Do you remember what Schiller said when he was dying? 'Many things are
growing clearer to me.' I thought a good deal of those words as I lay
over there"--glancing towards the now neatly-arranged and empty bed.
"One night they thought it was all up with me--I heard them say so. They
did not think I was conscious, but I was; and it did strike me that I
had made a poor thing of it, and that if ever I was given the chance I
would make a new start."

Again that little assenting movement of her fair head. How perfectly
comprehensible he still is! How well she understands that he is
renouncing her among the other follies of his "salad days"--college
bear-fights, music-halls, gambling clubs. Well, why should not he? Has
not she come here on purpose to renounce him? Can she quarrel with him
for having saved her the trouble?

"And I thought that I could not begin better than by falling on my knees
to you. I wish I could fall on my real knees to you!"--with a momentary
expression of extreme impatience at his own bodily weakness--"and ask
you most humbly and tenderly and reverently to pardon me."

She looks at him, and sees his wasted face flushing with fatigue and
worry and mental suffering. Oh, what a bitter wave of desolateness rolls
over her! But she smiles.

"I still do not understand what I am to forgive you for. I suppose that
you could no more help having once thought you loved me, than you can
help"--she stops abruptly in compassion for the look of acute regret,
shame and remorse that crosses his sharp features, and, in her mercy to
him, gives a different close to her phrase from that which its beginning
had seemed to bespeak--"than you can help having been so ill."

Her tone, quite unconsciously to herself is inexpressibly touching; and
Byng, weakened by illness, turns his face upon the pillow, and breaks
into violent weeping. His mother had cried too. It seems to be in the
family.

She has risen--what further is there for her to stay for?--and pauses
quietly at his side till the paroxysm is past. Her standing posture
tells him that she is going, and he consequently struggles to recover
himself in some degree; but having never cultivated self-control when he
was in health, it declines to come at his enfeebled bidding now.

"Forgive me! forgive me!" is all he can stammer.

She looks down upon him with a strange and tender smile, in which for
the moment the selfless, pitying sweetness has swallowed up the misery.

"Which am I to forgive you for--for having loved me? or for having
ceased to love me? For having been mad? or for being sane? Yes, of
course I forgive you from the very bottom of my heart! God bless you!
Make haste and get well!"

She walks cheerfully to the door, and, reaching it, turns, still wearing
that smile, that he may see how perfectly friendly is her last look; but
he does not see it. He has rolled over on his face, and the whole sofa
is shaking with his sobs.



CHAPTER XIII.

    "The pity of it, Iago! The pity of it!"


The Byngs are gone, having got off just within the time first suggested
by the sick man's mother. But, after all, he has to be carried on board
the _Eugène Perrère_. Since his interview with Miss Le Marchant, his
progress towards recovery has scarcely been so smooth or so fast as
before; and perhaps his mother is right to bear him away with what seems
such overhaste, even though it be on men's shoulders that he has to make
his exit. At all events, he is gone. The hotel--of which a part of the
inmates have seen him only prostrate and bleeding, and the other and
larger part have not seen him at all, but have had their curiosity
whetted by the tale of his calamitous arrival, only to have it balked by
his hurried departure--crowd into the entrance-hall, some on one
pretext, some on another, most on no pretext at all, to see him go.
There are only two of the visitors whose faces cannot be seen among the
good-naturedly curious and sympathetically pitiful group that watch the
exodus of the little party. Who shall say how those two spend the hour
of Byng's departure out of their lives? Jim has accompanied the invalid
to the quay to see the last of him; has stayed with him till the final
bell warns non-passengers off the boat; has left him with all the proper
requests and adjurations to let him know how the sick man bears the
voyage; how they get on, etc. But as Mrs. Byng stands on the upper deck
and watches the trail of churned water lengthening between her and the
dwindling high white town, she has a feeling that her old friend does
not like her as well as he did, and that it will never again be quite
the same thing between them.

The Byngs are gone--have been gone a fortnight--and March is here. Over
the villa faces the begonias have broken into riotous flower, and the
snowy-blossomed fruit-trees, that have put on their snowy garments but
lately, stand out in bright fragility against the heavy green that
never, even in January, ceases to wrap itself about the lovely Moslem
town.

Every day for the last fortnight, Jim, too, has been going, but he is
not yet gone. His guns have arrived ten days ago, and his friend has
expressed by post and wire his weariness of exploring the bazaars of
Tunis alone. But he is not yet gone to join that impatient friend. Why
does he still linger in a place where, as he had justly explained to
Cecilia, there is nothing for him to do? Why indeed? It is a question
that, by night and day, by the insolence of the staring moonlight which
slides in upon his restless open eyes by night, under the fires of the
great spring sun at noon, he asks himself. All the answer he can give is
that it would be hardly friendly to choose this moment, when she is so
down in the world, to leave Elizabeth.

She is down in the world; there can be no mistake about that. Even her
father, who has returned from his wanderings, must be aware of this
fact. Perhaps that is the reason why he no longer snubs her as much as
he did; why he even accepts, with some semblance of graciousness, those
affectionate and watchful ministrations which she tenders him with as
gentle an assiduity as in her brighter days. But he has still no great
appetite for her society; and she, unresentfully divining it, gives up
to him, without repining, the one great solace of her melancholy--her
mother's company. If Jim were gone, the more part of her life would be
spent alone. She tells him so--tells him, with a sweet flattering smile,
how much his comradeship is to her. Has he any right to rob her of that
last prop? It is only to himself that the breathless clamberings up the
steep short cut to El Biar, deep and brambly as her own Devonshire
lanes, that the gazings in common over the pigeon-necked sea and the
amaranth hills, can do any harm. They may put a sting into his own
after-life--a sting that all the empty years that follow may be
powerless to extract; but to her they serve only as a narcotic to numb
the intensity of that ache which the cured madness of Byng has left
behind it. Some day, of course, he must leave her; he cannot pass his
whole life at her side; some day soon leave her to walk and sit and
study her Italian Grammar forlornly alone. But it must not be until she
has a little plucked up her spirits.

As soon as he sees any signs of this occurring, he will quit
Algiers--quit it comfortably, with the consciousness of having done a
good-natured thing, by which nobody is the worse. This is the compromise
at which he arrives with the inward adviser--conscience, common-sense,
what you will--that is hourly admonishing him to be gone. Does Elizabeth
guess that her retention of the companion, to whom she so desolately
clings, hangs on her remaining always as crushed as the first ten days
after those cruel interviews with the Byngs, mother and son, had left
her? If she did, she would probably seek to check the first faint
revivings of cheerfulness in her inveterately gay spirit. Instead, while
her heart is yet at its sickest, she earnestly tries to foster the tiny
seeds of cheerfulness, saying to herself that it is mere selfishness in
her to inflict her dismalness upon her one friend; seeking rather to
lift his spirits, which seem scarcely less drooping than her own.

Does he enter into her motive? Does not it rather strike him with a
species of shock how superficial must be the nature, how on the surface
the suffering, of one who can already begin again to take a mischievous
interest in the Widow Wadman's amours, and to mimic afresh the Cockney
twang of the French Vicomte's English governess?

It is three weeks to-day since the Byngs left. The weather is fine, and
a hot sunbeam is lighting up the painful indecision of Jim's face, as he
stands in his bedroom with an open telegram in his hand, which two hours
ago was put into it. It is from his friend at Tunis, and is conceived in
terms which demonstrate that the indignation of the sender has got the
better of his economy. It contains a stringent representation of his
inability any longer to dance attendance upon Burgoyne's whims, and a
peremptory request, answer paid, to be at once informed either that he
will join him immediately, or that the idea of their joint excursion has
been entirely abandoned. He is standing holding the paper in miserable
uncertainty, torn by doubts, rent in twain by conflicting emotions, when
the noise of voices and laughter outside the house draws him to the
window.

The room he has occupied since he vacated his own for Byng looks out
over the hall-door, and in front of that door a small group is
gathered--the Vicomte, his two boys, his girl, her governess, a
coal-black negro who serves as kitchenmaid to the establishment,
and--Elizabeth. They are all gathered round a tiny donkey, such a
_bourriquot_ as the valiant Tartarin slew, which has evidently been
brought up for sale by its Arab master. Attached to its head gear are
two long reins, and holding these reins is Miss Le Marchant. As Jim
looks out, the _bourriquot_, taking some strange freak into its little
brown head, sets off galloping at a prodigious rate; and
Elizabeth--white gown and blonde hair flying--gallops after it. As she
is dragged at racing pace down the drive, her immoderate laughter comes
borne back on the wind to the spectator of whom she is unconscious.

The latter has turned away from the window, and sat down to his
writing-table, where he is scribbling a hasty answer to the missive
which has cost him such long deliberation. It does not take a minute to
pen now that he has once made up his mind, nor can it be more than five
from the moment of the donkey's start to that when the telegram is on
its way to the Post Office in Zameth the porter's hand. The die is cast.
When this is the case after long irresolution, there must always be a
sense of relief, and perhaps, therefore, it is relief which Jim's face,
thrown down upon his arms rested on the table, expresses. Since no one
can see that hidden face, it is impossible to say. He has certainly no
wish that Elizabeth should be unhappy. Her patient white misery had
filled him with tender pity and ruth; and yet her laugh, sweet and
delicate as it was with all its excess of merriment, rings jarringly in
his ears. She is incapable of a great constancy. He had promised himself
to stay with her until her spirits were restored. Well, he has kept his
promise handsomely. He has done with her and her contradictions now. It
will be someone else's turn with her next. Whose? The Vicomte's,
perhaps.

By-and-by he rouses himself. Only a part of his task is yet done. He
must tell them that he is going. As he passes the looking-glass, he sees
that his hair is roughened and erected by his late attitude. He passes a
brush hastily over it. He must not look a Bedlamite like Byng. He finds
Mr. and Mrs. Le Marchant sitting under the ficus-tree on the
terrace--the terrace which, at this hour, they have to themselves. She
is reading aloud to him paragraphs out of the Algerian paper,
translating as she goes along, since his French is about on a par with
that of most Englishmen of his standing.

He is leaning back in a wicker chair, with an expression of placid
good-humour on his face. Across his knees the hotel cat--a plain and
ill-natured animal--lies, loudly purring, while he obligingly scratches
her judiciously whenever she indicates a wish for that relaxation. As
Burgoyne remembers, Mr. Le Marchant had always been on very friendly
terms with the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air. About the
little group there is such an air of content, of harmony, of
completeness in itself, that none can connect the idea of a third person
with it in anything but an interloping attitude. And yet there is a
third person whose presence must be continually infringing its happy
duality, since niche of her own in life has she none.

"Are you looking for Elizabeth?" asks Elizabeth's mother, laying down
her paper as the new-comer draws near; "she has walked to Biermandreis."

The intimate friendliness of her smile as she gives him this bit of
information--the matter of course taking for granted that he must be
seeking her whose society he has so wholly monopolized of late--plants a
new sting in Jim's sore heart, and robs him for the moment of the power
to make his announcement.

"She has not been gone more than ten minutes"--still with that bright
look of kindly confidence that she is answering his thoughts.

"I am looking for you all," he answers abruptly. "I came to tell you
that I am off to-morrow."

The shaft is sped. Though he is not looking at Mrs. Le Marchant, he
knows that her face has fallen. Upon Mr. Le Marchant's, on the contrary,
an added shade of cheerfulness is visible. Mr. Le Marchant has ceased
any overt opposition to the young man's intimacy with his family; but
none the less is the young man aware that the father has acquiesced but
grudgingly in the footing on which he had found Jim on his return from
his tour.

"I have had a wire from my friend in Tunis; he is becoming
dangerous"--laughing, oh, how forcedly!

"You are going to Tunis?" says Mr. Le Marchant, almost cordially. "You
are quite right; it is a very interesting place. One does really see the
genuine East there, not the mongrel hotch-potch one has here."

"Is not it rather late for a trip into the interior?" asks the wife. The
geniality has gone out of her tone, and the sunshine out of her face.
There is a touch of involuntary wistfulness in both.

"The interior? Oh yes, of course. My dawdling"--more laughter--"has
knocked that on the head. I have let the time for that go by. We intend
to run over to Spain and see the Alhambra and the Escurial."

There is a general silence. Well, it is done. Neither husband nor wife
makes any effort to alter his resolution or detain him. They do not even
put any questions to him as to his future projects. He has nothing to do
but remove himself and allow them to resume that happy little duet which
he had disturbed.

"The train sets off at such an unearthly hour to-morrow morning--six
o'clock or thereabouts; it would take three days to get there if it did
not--that I must put my things together this afternoon. I shall see you
again, of course, before I go."

"Oh, of course," replies Mr. Le Marchant, in the easy and comfortable
tone of one to whom it is a matter of supreme indifference whether or
not that farewell meeting ever takes place, and Mrs. Le Marchant says
nothing at all.

He has adduced his necessary packings as an excuse for leaving them;
though, indeed, they neither wished for nor asked any excuse; yet
nothing is further from his intentions than to enter at once upon that
occupation. She has walked to Biermandreis. In five minutes he is
walking thither too. There are a couple of roads that lead there, and of
course he takes the wrong one--the same, that is, that she had taken, so
that, although he walks fast, yet, thanks to her start of him, he has
reached the pretty little flower-shaded French village which, with its
white church and its École Communale, looks as if it were taken to
pieces at night and put to bed in a toy-box--he has reached it, and has,
moreover, traced half his homeward way, before he overtakes her. The
path by which he returns is a rough Arab track, cut in low steps up the
hill, each step a mass of fossil-shells--whelk, and scallop and oyster
shells, whose inhabitants died--strange thought!--before Adam saw Eden's
fair light. It is a charming road, cut, in part, through the red rock,
over which the southern greenery tumbles. He has approached quite close
to her before she sees him. She is sitting on a camp-stool by the
wayside, looking vacantly before her. Her figure is rather stooped, and
her straight back bent, as if it were not worth the trouble to hold it
up. Beside her, on the ground, lie a little tin colour-box and
water-bottle and a drawing-board. He wishes, with a new pang, that he
had not come upon her so suddenly. He is afraid that this is one of the
aspects of her that will stick most pertinaciously in his memory.
Catching sight of him, her whole sad, listless face lights up.

"It is you! I was sure you would come. I told them to tell you where I
had gone. I meant to sketch"--with a glance at her neglected
implements--"but"--with a sigh--"as you see, I did not."

"Are you down on your luck?" he asks, sitting down by her side; "you did
not seem so"--trying to harden his heart by forcing a recollection of
her extravagant gaiety--"a little while ago, when you were prancing
after that jackass."

"Is not he a darling?" cries she, hurrying up the end of her sigh to
make room for a smile of pleasure. "I want to buy him; only I am afraid
he might die of sea-sickness going home."

"Perhaps"--scarcely knowing what he is saying.

"I should like to buy a little cart to harness him to--such a one as I
saw just now going along the road, drawn by a tiny _bourriquot_ that
might have been twin brother to mine. Some Arab children had dressed out
both him and his cart with branches of that great yellow fennel--his
long ears and his little nose peeped out so pathetically between;
another child walked after barefoot, waving a great acanthus-leaf. You
never saw anything so pretty! Yes, you must break mine in for me,"
smiling again; "it will not take more than a week, I am sure."

"If it did not take more than a day even, I am afraid I should have to
decline the appointment"--seizing this opening to blurt out his news. "I
am off at six o'clock to-morrow morning. I--I want to see the Escurial."

She had been almost garrulous about the little donkey, and he had wished
to stop her. In that he has undoubtedly succeeded.

How the asphodels cover the banks on either hand! They have come into
full flower since last he passed this way: tall branching stem, white
blossom, and pinky bud; here they are in thousands.

It is a soft day, on which scents lie heavy, and their strong
odour--that is scarcely perfume, and yet has an odd, acrid charm--fills
the air.

"Everything must come to an end," he says baldly.

She is apparently not going to make any more effort to detain him than
had her mother. He has every right to come and go where and when he
pleases. Since Amelia died, to no human being is he accountable for his
actions, and yet there is both guilt and misery in his voice as he
utters his platitude.

"It has been great good luck for me that you have stayed so long; I know
that it is out of pure kindness that you have done it, and it has made
all the difference to me. I--I am quite set up again now, thanks to you;
and--and summer is coming on, and I shall do very well--capitally!"

She has detected--what is, indeed, pretty obvious--the deep distress of
his face and voice, and, in her habitual unselfishness, her one thought
is to relieve him of any self-reproachful misgiving that he is doing
aught cruel in robbing her of the support of his companionship. In her
tone is nothing but the meekest gratitude. It is her misfortune, not her
fault, that in it there is not cheerfulness too. But her "gentle
physic," instead of curing, seems to aggravate his ill.

"It must come to an end some time or other!" he murmurs wretchedly, as
if to himself.

"Yes!"

Dead silence.

Below the slight eminence where they sit, the road winds white, and upon
the opulent low green hills on its further side, what a banquet of
colour! On one steep slope the plough is driving its difficult furrows,
turning up the rich red earth, shaded with deeper claret and lighter
pink stains.

Beneath, a square of stone-pines looks like a green velvet handkerchief
spread on the hillside, and over the rest of the upland eucalyptus, and
olive, and cactus hold their riot of various verdure; while, on the
tiptop of everything, against a weirdly pale-blue sky-field, a Moorish
villa lifts its white flank.

How long have they both been staring dully at that fair prospect before
Elizabeth again speaks!--

"You were a very good friend to me!"

She had not meant that past tense as an arrow to shoot into his heart;
but it sticks there, barbed.

"I do not know how."

"And friends--real, good friends--should not have concealments from each
other, should they? They should tell one another about themselves?"

"Yes."

A pause.

"I have often wished--often tried to tell you about myself; but I could
not. I never could! I can tell you to-day if you wish, if you care to
hear. Do you care?"

"_Do I care?_"

What a small battlefield those three words make for the anger and agony
they express to fight upon!

Another longer pause.

She has taken off her hat, and now passes her handkerchief over her damp
forehead.

"I shall be all right when I have once begun, but it is bad to make a
start."

"Do not make it! do not tell me! I adjure you not to tell me! it hurts
you too much!"

"It would hurt me more to let you go without telling you. Do you
remember"--rushing desperately into her subject--"at the time you stayed
with us at the Moat, that there was a great talk among us of my having
my portrait painted?"

He knits his brow in an eager straining of his memory.

"Yes, I recollect."

"Father was wonderfully proud of me in those days; it seems impossible
to believe it now"--with a passing look of incredulity at her own
statement--"but he was."

"Yes, yes."

"Do you remember all the arranging and planning as to who was to be the
artist, and that he was to come and stay in the house to paint it?"

Jim has put his hand up to his forehead as if to quicken the return of
those faint and distant impressions which are coming out in stronger and
stronger colours on memory's surface.

"Yes, yes; he was not an Englishman, was he? We used to laugh about
him"--adding stroke to stroke in order to convince her of the accuracy
of his recollections--"used to call him the 'distinguished foreigner.'"

"Did we? Yes"--slowly--"I remember now that we did. Well"--gathering
herself up for a supreme effort, panting painfully, and turning her head
quite aside so that he may have no glimpse of her face--"he came, and he
stayed two months, and at the end of those two months I--I--ran away
with him!"



CHAPTER XIV.

VALE?


One would have thought that Jim had been in some measure prepared for
the just-fallen blow, both by the overheard fragments of Mr. Greenock's
conversation with the Devonshire clergyman at Florence last year; by the
accumulated evidence of there being some blight upon Elizabeth's life;
and, lastly and chiefly, by the ravings of Byng. But there is something
so different from all these, so infinitely more dreadful, in hearing
this naked statement from her own lips, that it stuns him as much as if
he had never received any hint of that ruinous secret in the background
of her life.

Having now uttered it, she stops, either to pick up her own spent
strength or to give him the opportunity for some question or comment.

He makes neither.

"I thought--I hoped--that you had guessed, from what Mr. Byng said. I
believed that when he was not himself----"

Again she breaks off, but still no sound comes from Jim.

"You understand, of course, that that was what I told him. I wanted to
tell him the rest, but that time he could not hear it, and the last time
he--he--did not care to hear it."

His continued muteness must daunt her, for she here makes a longer pause
than before. Indeed, it is only the fear lest she should mean it for a
final one that enables him to force out the two husky monosyllables:

"Go on."

She is always most obedient, and she now obeys.

"He came only two days after you left us; that was why the sight of you
was so--so painful to us at first. It was not your fault, but we could
not help mixing you up with him. You remember how we tried to avoid
you--how discourteous we were? You forgave us afterwards, but you must
have observed it."

The listener makes a slight motion of assent.

"He was a Hungarian, and had been recommended to father by Sir ----,
who, as you know, is always so extraordinarily kind to struggling
artists, and who thought highly of his talent, and wished to get him
commissions. He was almost starving in London; that was one great
reason, I think, why father employed him."

Even at this moment the thought darts across Jim's mind that he has
never known Elizabeth miss an opportunity of implying some praise of
that father whose harshness towards herself he has so often had an
opportunity of witnessing.

"He was quite young--not more than twenty-three--and he looked very ill
when he first came; indeed, he was really half starved. It has always
been the surest passport to mammy's heart to be poor and sick and down
in the world, and nothing could have been kinder than they both were to
him."

"And well he repaid their kindness," says Jim, indignation at last
giving him words.

She puts out her hand, as if to stop him.

"Wait, wait!" she says, almost authoritatively; "do not abuse him. He
seemed very grateful to them, and they all--we all--became quite fond of
him. When he grew stronger, he turned out to be very lively and
light-hearted--almost as light-hearted as we."

She pauses, pulled up by a deep sigh, at the reminiscence of that young
gaiety, then hurries on, as if afraid of his again breaking in upon her
narrative with some scathing ejaculation.

"Before three weeks were over--you know how cheerful and easy-going we
were--he was quite one of us--quite as--as intimate as you were."

Jim stirs uneasily, galled by the comparison.

"He was a long time painting my picture--could not satisfy himself with
the likeness--and began it over again several times. At first there was
always someone in the room with us when I sat to him, but by-and-by, as
he became more and more one of us--as his presence among us grew to be a
matter of course--we were allowed often to be _tête-à-tête_."

She stops to let pass two Frenchmen and a Frenchwoman of the _petit
bourgeois_ class who are sauntering homewards, frisked about by two
little cheerful curs, and with armfuls of hawthorn--yes; real English
hawthorn--in their embrace. They look inquisitively, but not rudely, at
the pale couple, and now they are out of sight.

"It was a very fine autumn, as you may remember, and we used to go out
sketching together. He was supposed to give us sketching lessons--the
children and me. The governess was by way of always being there, but she
was a sentimental creature, generally straying away by herself with a
poetry-book, and we were virtually alone."

Jim sees how increasingly, how horribly difficult of relation is the
tale as it nears its catastrophe; but he is quite incapable of helping
her.

"We fell in love with one another"--almost brusquely--"and he asked me
to marry him. What did his miserable poverty matter to us? He knew
almost as little of the practical business of life as I, and he was full
of hope and ambition. He was convinced that he had a future before him.
Perhaps he had. Who knows?"

There is mixed with the hurry and shame and anguish of her tone such an
element of almost regretful compassion as she pronounces these last
words, that Jim's jealous wrath awakes. Does she, then, love him still?
In her heart for how many is there lodging at once? For Byng? For this
unknown? For how many more?

"Even he, high-flown as he was, knew that it was impossible that father
could permit our marriage if we asked his consent; but what he laboured
to convince me of was, that if the thing were once done and irrevocable,
father would soon, doting as he did on me--you know he _did_ dote on me,
poor father!--he would soon forgive us; and I, after awhile--oh! it was
after awhile; do not think it was at once"--with a piteous effort to
mitigate the severity of her silent judge--"and I have always all my
life been terribly easily persuaded--I gave in."

Far away a dull cloud, rain-charged, is settling over the Kabyle
mountains, rubbing out their toothed ridge. Can she hold out to the end?

She has not reached the worst yet.

"We were soon given an opportunity. Father and mother went away for a
couple of nights upon a visit, and left us under the nominal chaperonage
of a deaf old aunt of mother's, and of the governess, who, as I have
told you, was worse than useless. You know that our railway-station was
not more than a mile from the lodge gates; we had, therefore, no
difficulty in slipping away from the others while we were all out
walking, making our way there, and getting into the little branch-line
train which caught the London express at Exeter."

She has repeatedly put up her handkerchief, and passed it over her brow,
but it is useless. The cold sweat breaks out afresh and afresh.

"That journey! I did not know that it was the end of my life. We both
set off laughing and saying to each other what a good joke it was. That
was at the beginning, but long and long before we reached London--it was
not till very late that we did so--I would have given all the world to
go back. I did not tell him so, because I thought it would hurt him, but
I have often thought since that perhaps he was feeling the same."

Again that touch of almost tender ruth in her voice makes her auditor
writhe.

"We went to an hotel. I think it must have been in some very
out-of-the-way part of the town, probably the only one he knew of, and
at first they would not take us in because we had no luggage; but they
consented at last. I heard him telling the landlady that I was his
sister. I suppose she did not believe it, as she looked very oddly at
me. I did not understand why she should; but it made me feel very
wretched--so wretched that I could scarcely swallow a mouthful of the
supper he ordered. I do not think that he had much more appetite than I;
but we tried very hard to laugh and keep up each other's spirits. They
gave me a very dismal bedroom--I can see it now"--shuddering--"and as I
had no change of clothes I lay all night outside my bed. It took a great
deal to keep me awake in those days, and, wretched as I was, I slept a
good deal. The next morning I awoke, feeling more cheerful. We should be
married in the forenoon, return home in the afternoon, to spring our
surprise upon the children and Fräulein, and be ready to receive and be
pardoned by father and mother on their return to-morrow. It had not
occurred to either of us that there would be the slightest difficulty in
pursuing this course. We had decided upon at once inquiring the name and
address of the clergyman in whose parish the hotel was--going together
to ask for an interview, and beg him to marry us at once. We had a vague
idea that a licence might be needed, but relied upon the clergyman also
to inform us where that might be got. In one respect our plans had to be
at once modified. When I came down I found that there was such a dense
fog that he would not hear of my venturing out into it, particularly, he
said, as my staying behind would entail no delay; since, when he had
obtained the licence and engaged the clergyman, he would, of course, at
once come back to fetch me to church. I gave in, though I had rather
have gone with him, and fought my way through the fog than stayed
behind, alone in that dreary sitting-room. I was there nearly all day by
myself until late in the afternoon. The fog was so thick that I could
not see a finger's length beyond the window, nor even across the room. I
had neither book nor work. I had nothing to do but walk up and down by
the flickering light of the bad gas, which was burning all day, and look
at a wretched little dead aucuba in a pot. Sometimes I went out on the
landing to see if there were any signs of his return. I had done this
for the fiftieth time, when at last I saw him through the gas and the
fog, coming up the staircase. I could not wait till he had reached me,
but called out over the banisters, 'Well? Well?' His only answer was a
sort of sign to me to go back into the room; but I did not understand it
at first. Not until I saw, coming up the stairs too, a little behind
him, the face of--of--that clergyman you saw at Certosa--our clergyman
whom we used to make fun of. Oh, why did we?"

She breaks off with a low moan, but at once resumes as if she could not
trust herself to pause:

"As soon as I caught sight of him I ran back; but it was too late. I
knew that he had recognised me. I do not, to this day, understand how he
came to be in that out-of-the-way place; whether it was a most
unfortunate coincidence, or whether he had seen us in the train or at
Paddington, and tracked us there. I ran back, as I have said, into the
room; but I did not really mind much his having seen me; it would all be
explained so soon, and I was too much taken up with the bitter
disappointment in store for me to give him more than a passing thought.
Of course you will understand that it was not in the power of any
clergyman to marry us, as neither of us had lived in the parish for the
requisite time beforehand, nor could we be married at a registry office,
as our names had not been entered in the registrar's book for the legal
time. I think I should have broken down altogether when I heard this if
I had not had to comfort him. He was so overwhelmed with the fear that I
should think that it was his fault--that he had not done his best.
Heaven knows I had no such hard thought of him! Although we consulted
together all that evening, and till late into the night, we could not
hit upon any expedient. He had been told vaguely that the Scotch
marriage law differed from the English, and that in Edinburgh we might
be married at once. But we had not enough money to take us there. Our
whole stock would only just buy an ordinary licence, keep us one day
more at the hotel, and take us home third class. What _should_ we do? We
did not even try to laugh that evening--that last evening!"

In her voice is the same echo of some pitying sorrow that had before
offended him; but his interest is now too strung up for him to notice
it.

"I did not once close my eyes that night, and when I came down next
morning I had made up my mind to beg him to let me go home and ask
father to make everything right. I had such confidence that father could
set everything right. When I came into the sitting-room he was not
there. I waited for him, and after awhile the breakfast was brought up;
but still he did not come. I waited on. It seemed to me odd that, at
such a crisis, when we were both so miserable, he should be able to
oversleep himself I am afraid"--with an accent of most regretful
remorse--"that I did think hardly of him then. I looked at the clock; I
had been down an hour. I rang for the waiter, and asked him to go and
tell the gentleman this. He was so long in coming back that I lost
patience, and went out into the passage. I saw a little group of people
gathered round a door some way down it. They seemed to be whispering and
speaking excitedly, and one chambermaid was crying. In an instant I was
among them, through them, in the room. It was his bedroom. He was lying
half on, half off the bed. He had evidently not undressed all night, and
had taken off nothing but his coat. Before they could stop me--I believe
that they humanely tried--I had caught a glimpse of his face, and had
heard someone, as if at a great distance off, pronounce the word
'_dead_'! Then everything went away. I believe I crashed down like a
log, as Mr. Byng did. When next I came to myself mammy was leaning over
me. The people in the hotel had found a letter in my pocket, with my
address, and had telegraphed for her and father. They took me home. I do
not remember anything about that, but so I was told afterwards, as I was
also told that he had died of deep-seated heart-disease, aggravated by
his anxiety about me. I have never brought good-luck to anyone that had
to do with me!"

She is crying quietly now. Is it her tale or her tears that have
softened Jim's heart? He no longer grudges her that tribute to the lover
of her youth.

"For the first few days after I came home I did not feel anything at
all, and I saw nobody but mammy. At the end of a week she came to me,
and told me that I must pull myself together, for that my father wished
me to go with him to an agricultural meeting at Exeter, which we were
always in the habit of attending. She said that there were reports about
me in the county, which nothing but my appearing in public would
contradict She said she knew how hard it was for me, but that she knew,
too, that I would try to make the effort for their sakes. _For their
sakes!_"--in a heart-wrung voice--"was not it the least I could do, _for
their sakes_? I got up; my legs felt as if they did not belong to me.
She dressed me herself--darling mammy!--and she tied on my veil,
and--put some rouge on my cheeks! Think of mammy rouging anyone! If you
remember, we had had some charades while you were with us, and had
bought some rouge for them. And then she took me down to father, and we
went--he and I."

Her breath has grown shorter, and her narrative more disjointed; but she
perseveres. Is not she near the end?

"We went--and we walked about--among the shorthorns--and the prize
poultry--and the tents--father and I--and we met a great many people
whom we knew--the whole county was there--but we were too late. Our
Rector had been before us with them--and not one of them would speak to
me! Not one of them would have anything to say to me! And then we went
home. Oh, poor father!"

She has covered her face with her transparent hands. The emotion that
she would not permit herself for herself has mastered her at the
recollection of that father's abasement and agony.

"He was quite right--it was quite natural that he should not allow me to
live at home, after that. He said I must not blight the children's
lives--must not stand in the light of the others. So I was sent away to
live with some old friends of mammy's--two kind old ladies--with whom
she had been at school; and they were very good to me, and I lived with
them until, as Miriam and Rose were married, father thought I could not
do anyone any more harm, and he let me come home again. There! that is
all!"

She stops, her tale ended, sighing with the inexpressible relief of that
lifted load. Speech from him now would be no interruption--would be
kindly, rather, and welcome. Yet he still stares blankly before him. Why
has she told him that painful tale? Is it that he may carry a more
lenient judgment of her through the rest of his life--that life to be
finally severed from hers? Or is it with some hope that that told tale
may keep him for ever beside her? She does not love him. She loves Byng.
But, as he has often told himself, she is not of the stuff of which
great constancies are made. And, since Byng has forsaken her, whom has
this pliant creature, that nature made so clinging and circumstances so
lonely, left to throw her tendrils round, except him? She does not love
him, and yet in the depth of his heart he knows that, if he wished it,
he could make her love him. Shall he wish it? Shall he stay--stay to
have those exquisite eyes, tear-washed, and yet laughing, watching for
his lightest wish; that tripping step keeping time to his up the hills
and through the valleys of life; that delicate sympathy, soaring with
his highest thoughts, and yet playing with his lightest fancies? Shall
he?

Elizabeth is looking down upon the asphodels, stooping to stroke, as if
it were a sentient thing, a great plumy plant, like a sort of glorified
fennel, out of whose fluthery breast a puissant sheath rises, from which
an unfamiliar flower is pushing. What a fascination there is in this
alien vegetation, in which every shut calyx holds a delightful secret!

Shall he? For himself, he believes her story implicitly, feeling,
indeed, with a shock of mixed surprise and remorse, what a past want of
faith in her is evidenced by his unspeakable relief at its being no
worse a one. But who else will believe it? And the more penetratingly
sweet, the more poignantly dear she is to him, the sharper to him will
be the agony of the eye averted from her, the suspicious whisper, or the
contemptuous smile. Is his heart stout enough, is his courage high
enough, to support and uphold her through her life's long contumely?
Dares he undertake that hard task? Dares he?

Elizabeth is never one apt to take offence, or she might resent his
delay in making any observation on her ended story. Probably she divines
that whatever may be the cause of his slowness, it is certainly not want
of emotion.

At length his tardy speech makes itself heard.

"I do not know how--I have not words strong enough with which to thank
you for telling me."

"I did not want my one friend to go away thinking more hardly of me than
he need," she answers, with a poor, small smile.

This is one of the bitterest cups to which her lips have ever been set
in the course of her sad history.

His next sentence is almost inaudible.

"I could not well think much better of you than I have done all along."

He knows, without seeing it, that her trembling hand makes a half-motion
to go out to him at those kind-sounding words, but it is drawn back
again before the action has passed much beyond the stage of a project.

The wind has fallen. With how almost disagreeable a strength does the
sharp and pungent smell of the innumerable asphodels assail the
nostrils. The light grows lower. Dares he? Has he the steady selfless
valour that will be needed to fight through many years by the side of
this forlorn creature against an enemy uglier--and, oh! how much more
potent!--than any of the fierce forest creatures in contest with which
he has so often lightly perilled his life? Dares he? He has never been
lacking in self-reliance--been, perhaps, too little apt to blench at the
obstacles strewn in his life-path. Is he going to blench now? Whether it
be to his credit or his shame, the answer does not come all at once.
Dares he? The response comes at last--comes slowly, comes solemnly, yet
comes certainly:

"Yes."

He can never again laugh at Byng for his tears, for he is undoubtedly
crying himself now.

"Elizabeth! Elizabeth!"--he cannot get further than that at
first--"you--you are the worst-used woman in the world! and I--I have
not the least desire to see the Escurial!"



THE END.





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