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Title: Mount Royal, Volume 1 of 3 - A Novel
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth), 1835-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mount Royal, Volume 1 of 3 - A Novel" ***

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                          MOUNT ROYAL

                            A Novel

    BY THE AUTHOR OF "LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET" ETC. ETC. ETC.


    In Three Volumes

    VOL. I.

    LONDON
    JOHN AND ROBERT MAXWELL
    MILTON HOUSE, SHOE LANE, FLEET STREET
    1882

    [_All rights reserved_]

    Ballantyne Press
    BALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO., EDINBURGH
    CHANDOS STREET, LONDON



CONTENTS TO VOL. I.


    CHAP.                                                         PAGE

        I. THE DAYS THAT ARE NO MORE                                 1

       II. BUT THEN CAME ONE, THE LOVELACE OF HIS DAY               35

      III. "TINTAGEL, HALF IN SEA, AND HALF ON LAND"                71

       IV. "LOVE! THOU ART LEADING ME FROM WINTRY COLD"            103

        V. "THE SILVER ANSWER RANG,--'NOT DEATH, BUT LOVE'"        128

       VI. IN SOCIETY                                              144

      VII. CUPID AND PSYCHE                                        199

     VIII. LE SECRET DE POLICHINELLE                               228

       IX. "LOVE IS LOVE FOR EVERMORE"                             275



MOUNT ROYAL.



CHAPTER I.

THE DAYS THAT ARE NO MORE.


"And he was a widower," said Christabel.

She was listening to an oft-told tale, kneeling in the firelight, at her
aunt's knee, the ruddy glow tenderly touching her fair soft hair and
fairer forehead, her big blue eyes lifted lovingly to Mrs. Tregonell's
face.

"And he was a widower, Aunt Diana," she repeated, with an expression of
distaste, as if something had set her teeth on edge. "I cannot help
wondering that you could care for a widower--a man who had begun life by
caring for somebody else."

"Do you suppose any one desperately in love ever thinks of the past?"
asked another voice out of the twilight. "Those infatuated creatures
called lovers are too happy and contented with the rapture of the
present."

"One would think you had tremendous experience, Jessie, by the way you
lay down the law," said Christabel, laughing. "But I want to know what
Auntie has to say about falling in love with a widower."

"If you had ever seen him and known him, I don't think you would wonder
at my liking him," answered Mrs. Tregonell, lying back in her armchair,
and talking of the story of her life in a placid way, as if it were the
plot of a novel, so thoroughly does time smooth the rough edge of grief.
"When he came to my father's house, his young wife had been dead just
two years--she died three days after the birth of her first child--and
Captain Hamleigh was very sad and grave, and seemed to take very little
pleasure in life. It was in the shooting season, and the other men were
out upon the hills all day."

"Murdering innocent birds," interjected Christabel. "How I hate them for
it!"

"Captain Hamleigh hung about the house, not seeming to know very well
what to do with himself, so your mother and I took pity upon him, and
tried to amuse him, which effort resulted in his amusing us, for he was
ever so much cleverer than we were. He was so kind and sympathetic. We
had just founded a Dorcas Society, and we were muddling hopelessly in an
endeavour to make good sensible rules, so that we should do nothing to
lessen the independent feeling of our people--and he came to our rescue,
and took the whole thing in hand, and seemed to understand it all as
thoroughly as if he had been establishing Dorcas Societies all his life.
My father said it was because the Captain had been sixth wrangler, and
that it was the higher mathematics which made him so clever at making
rules. But Clara and I said it was his kind heart that made him so quick
at understanding how to help the poor without humiliating them."

"It was very nice of him," said Christabel, who had heard the story a
hundred times before, but who was never weary of it, and had a special
reason for being interested this afternoon. "And so he stayed a long
time at my grandfather's, and you fell in love with him?"

"I began by being sorry for him," replied Mrs. Tregonell. "He told us
all about his young wife--how happy they had been--how their one year of
wedded life seemed to him like a lovely dream. They had only been
engaged three months; he had known her less than a year and a half
altogether; had come home from India; had seen her at a friend's house,
fallen in love with her, married her, and lost her within those eighteen
months. 'Everything smiled upon us,' he said. 'I ought to have
remembered Polycrates and his ring.'"

"He must have been rather a doleful person," said Christabel, who had
all the exacting ideas of early youth in relation to love and lovers. "A
widower of that kind ought to perform suttee, and make an end of the
business, rather than go about the world prosing to nice girls. I wonder
more and more that you could have cared for him." And then, seeing her
aunt's eyes shining with unshed tears, the girl laid her sunny head upon
the matronly shoulder, and murmured tenderly, "Forgive me for teasing
you, dear, I am only pretending. I love to hear about Captain Hamleigh;
and I am not very much surprised that you ended by loving him--or that
he soon forgot his brief dream of bliss with the other young lady, and
fell desperately in love with you."

"It was not till after Christmas that we were engaged," continued Mrs.
Tregonell, looking dreamily at the fire. "My father was delighted--so
was my sister Clara--your dear mother. Everything went pleasantly; our
lives seemed all sunshine. I ought to have remembered Polycrates, for I
knew Schiller's ballad about him by heart. But I could think of nothing
beyond that perfect all-sufficing happiness. We were not to be married
till late in the autumn, when it would be three years since his wife's
death. It was my father's wish that I should not be married till after
my nineteenth birthday, which would not be till September. I was so
happy in my engagement, so confident in my lover's fidelity, that I was
more than content to wait. So all that spring he stayed at Penlee. Our
mild climate had improved his health, which was not at all good when he
came to us--indeed he had retired from the service before his marriage,
chiefly on account of weak health. But he spoke so lightly and
confidently about himself in this matter, that it had never entered into
my head to feel any serious alarm about him, till early in May, when he
and Clara and I were caught in a drenching rainstorm during a
mountaineering expedition on Rough Tor, and then had to walk four or
five miles in the rain before we came to the inn where the carriage was
to wait for us. Clara and I, who were always about in all weathers, were
very little worse for the wet walk and the long drive home in damp
clothes. But George was seriously ill for three weeks with cough and low
fever; and it was at this time that our family doctor told my father
that he would not give much for his future son-in-law's life. There was
a marked tendency to lung complaint, he said; Captain Hamleigh had
confessed that several members of his family had died of consumption. My
father told me this--urged me to avoid a marriage which must end in
misery to me, and was deeply grieved when I declared that no such
consideration would induce me to break my engagement, and to grieve the
man I loved. If it were needful that our marriage should be delayed, I
was contented to submit to any delay; but nothing could loosen the tie
between me and my dear love."

Aunt and niece were both crying now. However familiar the story might
be, they always wept a little at this point.

"George never knew one word of this conversation between my father and
me--he never suspected our fears--but from that hour my happiness was
gone. My life was one perpetual dread--one ceaseless struggle to hide
all anxieties and fears under a smile. George rallied, and seemed to
grow strong again--was full of energy and high spirits, and I had to
pretend to think him as thoroughly recovered as he fancied himself. But
by this time I had grown sadly wise. I had questioned our doctor--had
looked into medical books--and I knew every sad sign and token of decay.
I knew what the flushed cheek and the brilliant eye, the damp cold hand,
and the short cough meant. I knew that the hand of death was on him whom
I loved more than all the world besides. There was no need for the
postponement of our marriage. In the long bright days of August he
seemed wonderfully well--as well as he had been before the attack in
May. I was almost happy; for, in spite of what the doctor had told me, I
began to hope! but early in September, while the dressmakers were in the
house making my wedding clothes, the end came suddenly, unexpectedly,
with only a few hours' warning. Oh, Christabel! I cannot speak of that
day!"

"No, darling, you shall not, you must not," cried Christabel, showering
kisses on her aunt's pale cheek.

"And yet you always lead her on to talk about Captain Hamleigh," said
the sensible voice out of the shadow. "Isn't that just a little
inconsistent of our sweet Belle?"

"Don't call me your 'sweet Belle'--as if I were a baby," exclaimed the
girl. "I know I am inconsistent--I was born foolish, and no one has ever
taken the trouble to cure me of my folly. And now, Auntie dear, tell me
about Captain Hamleigh's son--the boy who is coming here to-morrow."

"I have not seen him since he was at Eton. The Squire drove me down on a
Fourth of June to see him."

"It was very good of Uncle Tregonell."

"The Squire was always good," replied Mrs. Tregonell, with a dignified
air. Christabel's only remembrance of her uncle was of a large loud man,
who blustered and scolded a good deal, and frequently contrived,
perhaps, without meaning it, to make everybody in the house
uncomfortable; so she reflected inwardly upon that blessed dispensation
which, however poorly wives may think of living husbands, provides that
every widow should consider her departed spouse completely admirable.

"And was he a nice boy in those days?" asked Christabel, keenly
interested.

"He was a handsome gentlemanlike lad--very intellectual looking; but I
was grieved to see that he looked delicate, like his father; and his
dame told me that he generally had a winter cough."

"Who took care of him in those days?"

"His maternal aunt--a baronet's wife, with a handsome house in Eaton
Square. All his mother's people were well placed in life."

"Poor boy! hard to have neither father nor mother. It was twelve years
ago when you spent that season in London with the Squire," said
Christabel, calculating profoundly with the aid of her finger
tips; "and Angus Hamleigh was then sixteen, which makes him now
eight-and-twenty--dreadfully old. And since then he has been at
Oxford--and he got the Newdigate--what is the Newdigate?--and he did not
hunt, or drive tandem, or have rats in his rooms, or paint the doors
vermilion--like--like the general run of young men," said Christabel,
reddening, and hurrying on confusedly; "and he was altogether rather a
superior person at the university."

"He had not your cousin Leonard's high spirits and powerful physique,"
said Mrs. Tregonell, as if she were ever so slightly offended. "Young
men's tastes are so different."

"Yes," sighed Christabel, "it's lucky they are, is it not? It wouldn't
do for them _all_ to keep rats in their rooms, would it? The poor old
colleges would smell so dreadful. Well," with another sigh, "it is just
three weeks since Angus Hamleigh accepted your invitation to come here
to stay, and I have been expiring of curiosity ever since. If he keeps
me expiring much longer I shall be dead before he comes. And I have a
dreadful foreboding that, when he does appear, I shall detest him."

"No fear of that," said Miss Bridgeman, the owner of the voice that
issued now and again from the covert of a deep armchair on the other
side of the fireplace.

"Why not, Mistress Oracle?" asked Christabel.

"Because, as Mr. Hamleigh is accomplished and good-looking, and as you
see very few young men of any kind, and none that are particularly
attractive, the odds are fifty to one that you will fall in love with
him."

"I am not that kind of person," protested Christabel, drawing up her
long full throat, a perfect throat, and one of the girl's chief
beauties.

"I hope not," said Mrs. Tregonell; "I trust that Belle has better sense
than to fall in love with a young man, just because he happens to come
to stay in the house."

Christabel was on the point of exclaiming, "Why, Auntie, you did it;"
but caught herself up sharply, and cried out instead, with an air of
settling the question for ever.

"My dear Jessie, he is eight-and-twenty. Just ten years older than I
am."

"Of course--he's ever so much too old for her. A _blasé_ man of the
world," said Mrs. Tregonell. "I should be deeply sorry to see my darling
marry a man of that age--and with such antecedents. I should like her to
marry a young man not above two or three years her senior."

"And fond of rats," said Jessie Bridgeman to herself, for she had a
shrewd idea that she knew the young man whose image filled Mrs.
Tregonell's mind as she spoke.

All these words were spoken in a goodly oak-panelled room in the Manor
House known as Mount Royal, on the slope of a bosky hill about a mile
and a half from the little town of Boscastle, on the north coast of
Cornwall. It was an easy matter, according to the Heralds' Office, to
show that Mount Royal had belonged to the Tregonells in the days of the
Norman kings; for the Tregonells traced their descent, by a female
branch, from the ancient baronial family of Botterell or Bottreaux, who
once held a kind of Court in their castle on Mount Royal, had their
dungeons and their prisoners, and, in the words of Carew, "exercised
some large jurisdiction." Of the ancient castle hardly a stone remained;
but the house in which Mrs. Tregonell lived was as old as the reign of
James the First, and had all the rich and quaint beauty of that
delightful period in architecture. Nor was there any prettier room at
Mount Royal than this spacious oak-panelled parlour, with curious nooks
and cupboards, a recessed fireplace, or "cosy-corner," with a small
window on each side of the chimney-breast, and one particular alcove
placed at an angle of the house, overlooking one of the most glorious
views in England. It might be hyperbole perhaps to call those Cornish
hills mountains, yet assuredly it was a mountain landscape over which
the eye roved as it looked from the windows of Mount Royal; for those
wide sweeps of hill side, those deep clefts and gorges, and heathery
slopes, on which the dark red cattle grazed in silent peacefulness, and
the rocky bed of the narrow river that went rushing through the deep
valley, had all the grandeur of the Scottish Highlands, all the pastoral
beauty of Switzerland. And away to the right, beyond the wild and
indented coast-line, that horned coast which is said to have given its
name to Cornwall--Cornu-Wales--stretched the Atlantic.

The room had that quaint charm peculiar to rooms occupied by many
generations, and upon which each age as it went by has left its mark. It
was a room full of anachronisms. There was some of the good old Jacobean
furniture left in it, while spindle-legged Chippendale tables and
luxurious nineteenth-century chairs and sofas agreeably contrasted with
those heavy oak cabinets and corner cupboards. Here an old Indian screen
or a china monster suggested a fashionable auction room, filled with
ladies who wore patches and played ombre, and squabbled for ideal
ugliness in Oriental pottery; there a delicately carved cherry-wood
_prie-dieu_, with claw feet, recalled the earlier beauties of the Stuart
Court. Time had faded the stamped velvet curtains to that neutral
withered-leaf hue which painters love in a background, and against which
bright yellow chrysanthemums and white asters in dark red and blue
Japanese bowls, seen dimly in the fitful fire-glow, made patches of
light and colour.

The girl kneeling by the matron's chair, looking dreamily into the fire,
was even fairer than her surroundings. She was thoroughly English in her
beauty, features not altogether perfect, but complexion of that dazzling
fairness and wild-rose bloom which is in itself enough for loveliness; a
complexion so delicate as to betray every feeling of the sensitive mind,
and to vary with every shade of emotion. Her eyes were blue, clear as
summer skies, and with an expression of childlike innocence--that look
which tells of a soul whose purity has never been tarnished by the
knowledge of evil. That frank clear outlook was natural in a girl
brought up as Christabel Courtenay had been at a good woman's knee,
shut in and sheltered from the rough world, reared in the love and fear
of God, shaping every thought of her life by the teaching of the Gospel.

She had been an orphan at nine years old, and had parted for ever from
mother and father before her fifth birthday, Mrs. Courtenay leaving her
only child in her sister's care, and going out to India to join her
husband, one of the Sudder Judges. Husband and wife died of cholera in
the fourth year of Mrs. Courtenay's residence at Calcutta, leaving
Christabel in her aunt's care.

Mr. Courtenay was a man of ample means, and his wife, daughter and
co-heiress with Mrs. Tregonell of Ralph Champernowne, had a handsome
dowry, so Christabel might fairly rank as an heiress. On her
grandfather's death she inherited half of the Champernowne estate, which
was not entailed. But she had hardly ever given a thought to her
financial position. She knew that she was a ward in Chancery, and that
Mrs. Tregonell was her guardian and adopted mother, that she had always
as much money as she wanted, and never experienced the pain of seeing
poverty which she could not relieve in some measure from her
well-supplied purse. The general opinion in the neighbourhood of Mount
Royal was that the Indian Judge had accumulated an immense fortune
during his twenty years' labour as a civil servant; but this notion was
founded rather upon vague ideas about Warren Hastings and the Pagoda
tree, and the supposed inability of any Indian official to refuse a
bribe, than on plain facts or personal knowledge.

Mrs. Tregonell had been left a widow at thirty-five years of age, a
widow with one son whom she idolized, but who was not a source of peace
and happiness. He was open-handed, had no petty vices, and was supposed
to possess a noble heart--a fact which Christabel was sometimes inclined
to doubt when she saw his delight in the slaughter of birds and beasts,
not having in her own nature that sportsman's instinct which can excuse
such murder. He was not the kind of lad who would wilfully set his foot
upon a worm, but he had no thrill of tenderness or remorseful pity as he
looked at the glazing eye, or felt against his hand the last feeble
heart-beats of snipe or woodcock. He was a troublesome boy--fond of
inferior company, and loving rather to be first fiddle in the
saddle-room than to mind his manners in his mother's pink-and-white
panelled saloon--among the best people in the neighbourhood. He was
lavish to recklessness in the use of money, and therefore was always
furnished with followers and flatterers. His University career had been
altogether a failure and a disgrace. He had taken no degree--had made
himself notorious for those rough pranks which have not even the merit
of being original--the traditionary college misdemeanours handed down
from generation to generation of undergraduates, and which by their
blatant folly incline the outside world to vote for the suppression of
Universities and the extinction of the undergraduate race.

His mother had known and suffered all this, yet still loved her boy with
a fond excusing love--ever ready to pardon--ever eager to believe that
these faults and follies were but the crop of wild oats which must needs
precede the ripe and rich harvest of manhood. Such wild youths, she told
herself, fatuously, generally make the best men. Leonard would mend his
ways before he was five-and-twenty, and would become interested in his
estate, and develop into a model Squire, like his admirable father.

That he had no love for scholarship mattered little--a country
gentleman, with half a dozen manors to look after, could be but little
advantaged by a familiar acquaintance with the integral calculus, or a
nice appreciation of the Greek tragedians. When Leonard Tregonell and
the college Dons were mutually disgusted with each other to a point that
made any further residence at Oxford impossible, the young man
graciously announced his intention of making a tour round the world, for
the benefit of his health, somewhat impaired by University dissipations,
and the widening of his experience in the agricultural line.

"Farming has been reduced to a science," he told his mother; "I want to
see how it works in our colonies. I mean to make a good many
reformations in the management of my farms and the conduct of my tenants
when I come home."

At first loth to part with him, very fearful of letting him so far out
of her ken, Mrs. Tregonell ultimately allowed herself to be persuaded
that sea voyages and knocking about in strange lands would be the making
of her son; and there was no sacrifice, no loss of comfort and delight,
which she would not have endured for his benefit. She spent many sad
hours in prayer, or on her knees before her open Bible; and at last it
seemed to her that her friends and neighbours must be right, and that it
would be for Leonard's good to go. If he stayed in England she could not
hope to keep him always in Cornwall. He could go to London, and, no
doubt, London vices would be worse than Oxford vices. Yes, it was good
for him to go; she thought of Esau, and how, after a foolish and
ill-governed youth, the son who had bartered his father's blessing, yet
became an estimable member of society. Why should not her boy flourish
as Esau had flourished? but never without the parental blessing. That
would be his to the end. He could not sin beyond her large capacity for
pardon: he could not exhaust an inexhaustible love. So Leonard, who had
suddenly found that wild Cornish coast, and even the long rollers of
the Atlantic contemptibly insignificant as compared with the imagined
magnitude of Australian downs, and the grandeurs of Botany Bay, hurried
on the preparations for his departure, provided himself with everything
expensive in gunnery, fishing-tackle, porpoise-hide thigh-boots, and
waterproof gear of every kind, and departed rejoicing in the most
admirably appointed Australian steamer. The family doctor, who was one
of the many friends in favour of this tour, had strongly recommended the
rough-and-tumble life of a sailing-vessel; but Leonard preferred the
luxury and swiftness of a steamer, and, suggesting to his mother that a
sailing-vessel always took out emigrants, from whom it was more than
likely he would catch scarlet-fever or small-pox, instantly brought Mrs.
Tregonell to perceive that a steamer which carried no second-class
passengers was the only fitting conveyance for her son.

He was gone--and, while the widow grieved in submissive silence, telling
herself that it was God's will that she and her son should be parted,
and that whatever was good for him should be well for her, Christabel
and the rest of the household inwardly rejoiced at his absence. Nobody
openly owned to being happier without him; but the knowledge that he was
far away brought a sense of relief to every one; even to the old
servants, who had been so fond of him in his childhood, when the kitchen
and servants' hall had ever been a happy hunting-ground for him in
periods of banishment from the drawing-room.

"It is no good for me to punish him," Mrs. Tregonell had remonstrated,
with assumed displeasure; "you all make so much of him."

"Oh, ma'am, he is such a fine, high-spirited boy," the cook would reply
on these occasions; "'tesn't possible to be angry with him. He has such
a spirit."

"Such a spirit" was only a euphemism for such a temper; and, as years
went on, Mr. Tregonell's visits to the kitchen and servants' hall came
to be less appreciated by his retainers. He no longer went there to be
petted--to run riot in boyish liveliness, upsetting the housemaids'
work-boxes, or making toffy under the cook's directions. As he became
aware of his own importance, he speedily developed into a juvenile
tyrant; he became haughty and overbearing, hectored and swore, befouled
the snowy floors and flags with his muddy shooting-boots, made havoc and
work wherever he went. The household treated him with unfailing respect,
as their late master's son, and their own master, possibly, in the
future; but their service was no longer the service of love. His loud
strong voice, shouting in the passages and lobbies, scared the maids at
their tea. Grooms and stable-boys liked him; for with them he was always
familiar, and often friendly. He and they had tastes and occupations in
common; but to the women servants and the grave middle-aged butler his
presence was a source of discomfort.

Next to her son in Mrs. Tregonell's affection stood her niece
Christabel. That her love for the girl who had never given her a
moment's pain should be a lesser love than that which she bore to the
boy who had seldom given her an hour's unalloyed pleasure was one of the
anomalies common in the lives of good women. To love blindly and
unreasonably is as natural to a woman as it is to love: and happy she
whose passionate soul finds its idol in husband or child, instead of
being lured astray by strange lights outside the safe harbour of home.
Mrs. Tregonell loved her niece very dearly; but it was with that calm,
comfortable affection which mothers are apt to feel for the child who
has never given them any trouble. Christabel had been her pupil: all
that the girl knew had been learned from Mrs. Tregonell; and, though her
education fell far short of the requirements of Girton or Harley Street,
there were few girls whose intellectual powers had been more fully
awakened, without the taint of pedantry. Christabel loved books, but
they were the books her aunt had chosen for her--old-fashioned books for
the most part. She loved music, but was no brilliant pianist, for when
Mrs. Tregonell, who had taught her carefully up to a certain point,
suggested a course of lessons from a German professor at Plymouth, the
girl recoiled from the idea of being taught by a stranger.

"If you are satisfied with my playing, Auntie, I am content never to
play any better," she said; so the idea of six months' tuition and study
at Plymouth, involving residence in that lively port, was abandoned.
London was a far-away world, of which neither aunt nor niece ever
thought. That wild northern coast is still two days' journey from the
metropolis. Only by herculean labour, in the way of posting across the
moor in the grey dawn of morning, can the thing be done in one day; and
then scarcely between sunrise and sunset. So Mrs. Tregonell, who loved a
life of placid repose, had never been to London since her widowhood, and
Christabel had never been there at all. There was an old house in
Mayfair, which had belonged to the Tregonells for the last hundred
years, and which had cost them a fortune in repairs, but it was either
shut up and in the occupation of a caretaker, or let furnished for the
season; and no Tregonell had crossed its threshold since the Squire's
death. Mrs. Tregonell talked of spending a season in London before
Christabel was much older, in order that her niece might be duly
presented at Court, and qualified for that place in society which a
young lady of good family and ample means might fairly be entitled to
hold.

Christabel had no eager desire for the gaieties of a London season. She
had spent six weeks in Bath, and had enjoyed an occasional fortnight at
Plymouth. She had been taken to theatres and concerts, had seen some of
the best actors and actresses, heard a good deal of the finest music,
and had been duly delighted with all she saw and heard. But she so
fondly loved Mount Royal and its surroundings, she was so completely
happy in her home life, that she had no desire to change that tranquil
existence. She had a vague idea that London balls and parties must be
something very dazzling and brilliant, but she was content to abide her
aunt's pleasure and convenience for the time in which she was to know
more about metropolitan revelries than was to be gathered from laudatory
paragraphs in fashionable newspapers. Youth, with its warm blood and
active spirit, is rarely so contented as Christabel was: but then youth
is not often placed amidst such harmonious circumstances, so protected
from the approach of evil.

Christabel Courtenay may have thought and talked more about Mr. Hamleigh
during the two or three days that preceded his arrival than was
absolutely necessary, or strictly in accordance with that common-sense
which characterized most of her acts and thoughts. She was interested in
him upon two grounds--first, because he was the only son of the man her
aunt had loved and mourned; secondly, because he was the first stranger
who had ever come as a guest to Mount Royal.

Her aunt's visitors were mostly people whose faces she had known ever
since she could remember: there were such wide potentialities in the
idea of a perfect stranger, who was to be domiciled at the Mount for an
indefinite period.

"Suppose we don't like him?" she said, speculatively, to Jessie
Bridgeman, Mrs. Tregonell's housekeeper, companion, and factotum, who
had lived at Mount Royal for the last six years, coming there a girl of
twenty, to make herself generally useful in small girlish ways, and
proving herself such a clever manager, so bright, competent, and
far-seeing, that she had been gradually entrusted with every household
care, from the largest to the most minute. Miss Bridgeman was neither
brilliant nor accomplished, but she had a genius for homely things, and
she was admirable as a companion.

The two girls were out on the hills in the early autumn morning--hills
that were golden where the sun touched them, purple in the shadow. The
heather was fading, the patches of furze-blossom were daily growing
rarer. Yet the hill-sides were alive with light and colour, only less
lovely than the translucent blues and greens of yonder wide-stretching
sea.

"Suppose we should all dislike him?" repeated Christabel, digging the
point of her walking-stick into a ferny hillock on the topmost edge of a
deep cleft in the hills, on which commanding spot she had just taken her
stand, after bounding up the narrow path from the little wooden bridge
at the bottom of the glen, almost as quickly and as lightly as if she
had been one of the deeply ruddled sheep that spent their lives on those
precipitous slopes; "wouldn't it be too dreadful, Jessie?"

"It would be inconvenient," answered Miss Bridgeman, coolly, resting
both hands on the horny crook of her sturdy umbrella, and gazing
placidly seaward; "but we could cut him."

"Not without offending Auntie. She is sure to like him, for the sake of
Auld Lang Syne. Every look and tone of his will recall his father. But
_we_ may detest him. And if he should like Mount Royal very much, and go
on staying there for ever! Auntie asked him for an indefinite period.
She showed me her letter. I thought it was rather too widely hospitable,
but I did not like to say so."

"I always say what I think," said Jessie Bridgeman, doggedly.

"Of course you do, and go very near being disagreeable in consequence."

Miss Bridgeman's assertion was perfectly correct. A sturdy truthfulness
was one of her best qualifications. She did not volunteer unfavourable
criticism; but if you asked her opinion upon any subject you got it,
without sophistication. It was her rare merit to have lived with Mrs.
Tregonell and Christabel Courtenay six years, dependent upon their
liking or caprice for all the comforts of her life, without having
degenerated into a flatterer.

"I haven't the slightest doubt as to your liking him," said Miss
Bridgeman, decisively. "He has spent his life for the most part in
cities--and in good society. That I gather from your aunt's account of
him. He is sure to be much more interesting and agreeable than the young
men who live near here, whose ideas are, for the most part, strictly
local. But I very much doubt his liking Mount Royal, for more than one
week."

"Jessie," cried Christabel, indignantly, "how can he help liking
_this_?" She waved her stick across the autumn landscape, describing a
circle which included the gold and bronze hills, the shadowy gorges, the
bold headlands curving away to Hartland on one side, to Tintagel on the
other--Lundy Island a dim line of dun colour on the horizon.

"No doubt he will think it beautiful--in the abstract. He will rave
about it, compare it with the Scottish Highlands--with Wales--with
Kerry, declare these Cornish hills the crowning glory of Britain. But
in three days he will begin to detest a place where there is only one
post out and in, and where he has to wait till next day for his morning
paper."

"What can he want with newspapers; if he is enjoying his life with us? I
am sure there are books enough at Mount Royal. He need not expire for
want of something to read."

"Do you suppose that books--the best and noblest that ever were
written--can make up to a man for the loss of his daily paper? If you
do, offer a man Shakespeare when he is looking for the _Daily
Telegraph_, or Chaucer when he wants his _Times_, and see what he will
say to you. Men don't want to read now-a-days, but to know--to be posted
in the very latest movements of their fellow-men all over the universe.
Reuter's column is all anybody really cares for in the paper. The
leaders and the criticism are only so much padding to fill the sheet.
People would be better pleased if there were nothing but telegrams."

"A man who only reads newspapers must be a most vapid companion," said
Christabel.

"Hardly, for he must be brim full of facts."

"I abhor facts. Well, if Mr. Hamleigh is that kind of person, I hope he
may be tired of the Mount in less than a week."

She was silent and thoughtful as they went home by the monastic
churchyard in the hollow, the winding lane, and steep village street.
Jessie had a message to carry to one of Mrs. Tregonell's pensioners, who
lived in a cottage in the lane; but Christabel, who was generally
pleased to show her fair young face in such abodes, waited outside on
this occasion, and stood in a profound reverie, digging the point of her
stick into the loose earth of the mossy bank in front of her, and
seriously damaging the landscape.

"I hate a man who does not care for books, who does not love our dear
English poets," she said to herself. "But I must not say that before
Auntie. It would be almost like saying that I hated my cousin Leonard. I
hope Mr. Hamleigh will be--just a little different from Leonard. Of
course he will, if his life has been spent in cities; but then he may be
languid and supercilious, looking upon Jessie and me as inferior
creatures; and that would be worse than Leonard's roughness. For we all
know what a good heart Leonard has, and how warmly attached he is to
us."

Somehow the idea of Leonard's excellent heart and affectionate
disposition was not altogether a pleasant one. Christabel shuddered ever
so faintly as she stood in the lane thinking of her cousin, who had last
been heard of in the Fijis. She banished his image with an effort, and
returned to her consideration of that unknown quantity, Angus Hamleigh.

"I am an idiot to be making fancy pictures of him, when at seven o'clock
this evening I shall know all about him for good or evil," she said
aloud, as Jessie came out of the cottage, which nestled low down in its
little garden, with a slate for a doorstep, and a slate standing on end
at each side of the door, for boundary line, or ornament.

"All that is to be known of the outside of him," said Jessie, answering
the girl's outspoken thought. "If he is really worth knowing, his mind
will need a longer study."

"I think I shall know at the first glance if he is likeable," I replied
Christabel; and then, with a tremendous effort, she contrived to talk
about other things as they went down the High Street of Boscastle,
which, to people accustomed to a level world, is rather trying. With
Christabel the hills were only an excuse for flourishing a Swiss
walking-stick. The stick was altogether needless for support to that
light well-balanced figure. Jessie, who was very small and slim and
sure-footed, always carried her stout little umbrella, winter or summer.
It was her _vade-mecum_--good against rain, or sun, or mad bulls, or
troublesome dogs. She would have scorned the affectation of cane or
alpenstock: but the sturdy umbrella was very dear to her.



CHAPTER II.

BUT THEN CAME ONE, THE LOVELACE OF HIS DAY.


Although Angus Hamleigh came of a good old west country family, he had
never been in Cornwall, and he approached that remote part of the
country with a curious feeling that he was turning his back upon England
and English civilization, and entering a strange wild land where all
things would be different. He would meet with a half-barbarous people,
perhaps, rough, unkempt, ignorant, brutal, speaking to him in a strange
language--such men as inhabited Perthshire and Inverness before
civilization travelled northward. He had accepted Mrs. Tregonell's
invitation out of kindly feeling for the woman who had loved his father,
and who, but for that father's untimely death, might have been to him as
a second mother. There was a strong vein of sentiment in his character,
which responded to the sentiment betrayed unconsciously in every line of
Mrs. Tregonell's letter. His only knowledge of the father he had lost
in infancy had come to him from the lips of others, and it pleased him
to think that here was one whose memory must be fresher than that of any
other friend, in whose mind his father's image must needs be as a living
thing. He had all his life cherished a regretful fondness for that
unknown father, whose shadowy picture he had vainly tried to recall
among the first faint recollections of babyhood--the dim dreamland of
half-awakened consciousness.

He had frankly and promptly accepted Mrs. Tregonell's invitation; yet he
felt that in going to immure himself in an old manor house for a
fortnight--anything less than a fortnight would have been uncivil--he
was dooming himself to ineffable boredom. Beyond that pious pleasure in
parental reminiscences, there could be no possible gratification for a
man of the world, who was not an ardent sportsman, in such a place as
Mount Royal. Mr. Hamleigh's instincts were of the town, towny. His
pleasures were all of an intellectual kind. He had never degraded
himself by vulgar profligacy, but he liked a life of excitement and
variety; he had always lived at high pressure, and among people posted
up to the last moment of the world's history--people who drank the very
latest pleasure cup which the Spirit of the Age--a Spirit of passing
frivolity--had invented, were it only the newest brand of champagne; and
who, in their eagerness to gather the roses of life, outstripped old
Time himself, and grew old in advance of their age. He had been
contemplating a fortnight in Paris, as the first stage in his journey to
Monaco, when Mrs. Tregonell's letter altered his plans. This was not the
first time she had asked him to Mount Royal, but on previous occasions
his engagements had seemed to him too imperative to be foregone, and he
had regretfully declined her invitations. But now the flavour of life
had grown somewhat vapid for him, and he was grateful to any one who
would turn his thoughts and fancies into a new direction.

"I shall inevitably be bored there," he said to himself, when he had
littered the railway carriage with newspapers accumulated on the way,
"but I should be bored anywhere else. When a man begins to feel the
pressure of the chain upon his leg, it cannot much matter where his
walks lead him: the very act of walking is his punishment."

When a man comes to eight-and-twenty years of age--a man who has had
very little to do in this life, except take his pleasure--a great
weariness and sense of exhaustion is apt to close round him like a pall.
The same man will be ever so much fresher in mind, will have ever so
much more zest for life, when he comes to be forty--for then he will
have entered upon those calmer enjoyments of middle age which may last
him till he is eighty. But at eight-and-twenty there is a death-like
calmness of feeling. Youth is gone. He has consumed all the first fruits
of life--spring and summer, with their wealth of flowers, are over; only
the quiet autumn remains for him, with her warm browns and dull greys,
and cool, moist breath. The fires upon youth's altars have all died
out--youth is dead, and the man who was young only yesterday fancies
that he might as well be dead also. What is there left for him? Can
there be any charm in this life when the looker-on has grey hair and
wrinkles?

Having nothing in life to do except seek his own pleasure and spend his
ample income, Angus Hamleigh had naturally taken the time of life's
march _prestissimo_.

He had never paused in his rose-gathering to wonder whether there might
not be a few thorns among the flowers, and whether he might not find
them--afterwards. And now the blossoms were all withered, and he was
beginning to discover the lasting quality of the thorns. They were such
thorns as interfered somewhat with the serenity of his days, and he was
glad to turn his face westward, away from everybody he knew, or who knew
anything about him.

"My character will present itself to Mrs. Tregonell as a blank page," he
said to himself; "I wonder what she would think of me if one of my club
gossips had enjoyed a quiet evening's talk with her beforehand. A dear
friend's analysis of one's character and conduct is always so flattering
to both; and I have a pleasant knack of offending my dearest friends!"

Mr. Hamleigh began to look about him a little when the train had left
Plymouth. The landscape was wild and romantic, but had none of that
stern ruggedness which he expected to behold on the Cornish Border. Deep
glens, and wooded dells, with hill-sides steep and broken, but verdant
to their topmost crest, and the most wonderful oak coppices that he ever
remembered to have seen. Miles upon miles of oak, as it seemed to him,
now sinking into the depth of a valley, now mounting to the distant sky
line, while from that verdant undulating surface of young wood there
stood forth the giants of the grove--wide-spreading oak and towering
beech, the mighty growth of many centuries. Between Lidford and
Launceston the scenery grew tamer. He had fancied those deep ravines and
wooded heights the prelude to a vast and awful symphony, but Mary Tavy
and Lifton showed him only a pastoral landscape, with just so much wood
and water as would have served for a Creswick or a Constable, and with
none of those grand Salvatoresque effects which he had admired in the
country round Tavistock. At Launceston he found Mrs. Tregonell's landau
waiting for him, with a pair of powerful chestnuts, and a couple of
servants, whose neat brown liveries had nothing of that unsophisticated
semi-savagery which Mr. Hamleigh had expected in a place so remote.

"Do you drive that way?" he asked, pointing to the almost perpendicular
street.

"Yes, sir," replied the coachman.

"Then I think I'll stroll to the top of the hill while you are putting
in my portmanteaux," he said, and ascended the rustic street at a
leisurely pace, looking about him as he went.

The thoroughfare which leads from Launceston Station to the ruined
castle at the top of the hill is not an imposing promenade. Its
architectural features might perhaps be best described like the snakes
of Ireland as _nil_--but here and there an old-fashioned lattice with a
row of flower-pots, an ancient gable, or a bit of cottage garden hints
at the picturesque. Any late additions to the domestic architecture of
Launceston favour the unpretending usefulness of Camden Town rather than
the aspiring æstheticism of Chelsea or Bedford Park; but to Mr.
Hamleigh's eye the rugged old castle keep on the top of the hill made
amends. He was not an ardent archæologist, and he did not turn out of
his way to see Launceston Church, which might well have rewarded him for
his trouble. He was content to have spared those good-looking chestnuts
the labour of dragging him up the steep. Here they came springing up the
hill. He took his place in the carriage, pulled the fur rug over his
knees, and ensconced himself comfortably in the roomy back seat.

"This is a sybaritish luxury which I was not prepared for," he said to
himself. "I'm afraid I shall be rather more bored than I expected. I
thought Mrs. Tregonell and her surroundings would at least have the
merit of originality. But here is a carriage that must have been built
by Peters, and liveries that suggest the sartorial excellence of Conduit
Street or Savile Row."

He watched the landscape with a critical eye, prepared for
disappointment and disillusion. First a country road between tall ragged
hedges and steep banks, a road where every now and then the branches of
the trees hung low over the carriage and threatened to knock the
coachman's hat off. Then they came out upon the wide waste of moorland,
a thousand feet above the sea level, and Mr. Hamleigh, acclimatized to
the atmosphere of club-houses, buttoned his overcoat, drew the black fur
rug closer about him, and shivered a little as the keen breath of the
Atlantic, sweeping over far-reaching tracts of hill and heather, blew
round him. Far and wide as his gaze could reach, he saw no sign of human
habitation. Was the land utterly forsaken? No; a little farther on they
passed a hamlet so insignificant, so isolated, that it seemed rather as
if half a dozen cottages had dropped from the sky than that so lonely a
settlement could be the result of deliberate human inclination. Never in
Scotland or Ireland had Mr. Hamleigh seen a more barren landscape or a
poorer soil; yet those wild wastes of heath, those distant tors were
passing beautiful, and the air he breathed was more inspiring and
exhilarating than the atmosphere of any vaunted health-resort which he
had ever visited.

"I think I might live to middle age if I were to pitch my tent on this
Cornish plateau," he thought; "but, then, there are so many things in
this life that are worth more than mere length of days."

He asked the names of the hamlets they passed. This lonely
church, dedicated to St. David--whence, oh! whence came the
congregation--belonged to the parish of Davidstowe; and here there was a
holy well; and here a Vicarage; and there--oh! crowning evidence of
civilization--a post-office; and there a farmhouse; and that was the end
of Davidstowe. A little later they came to cross roads, and the coachman
touched his hat, and said, "This is Victoria," as if he were naming a
town or settlement of some kind. Mr. Hamleigh looked about him, and
beheld a low-roofed cottage, which he assumed to be some kind of
public-house, possibly capable of supplying beer and tobacco; but other
vestige of human habitation there was none. He leant back in the
carriage, looking across the hills, and saying to himself, "Why,
Victoria?" Was that unpretentious and somewhat dilapidated hostelry the
Victoria Hotel? or the Victoria Arms? or was Royalty's honoured name
given, in an arbitrary manner, to the cross roads and the granite
finger-post? He never knew. The coachman said shortly, "Victoria," and
as "Victoria" he ever after heard that spot described. And now the
journey was all downhill. They drove downward and downward, until Mr.
Hamleigh began to feel as if they were travelling towards the centre of
the earth--as if they had got altogether below the outer crust of this
globe, and must be gradually nearing the unknown gulfs beneath. Yet, by
some geographical mystery, when they turned out of the high road and
went in at a lodge gate, and drove gently upward along an avenue of
elms, in whose rugged tops the rooks were screaming, Mr. Hamleigh found
that he was still high above the undulating edges of the cliffs that
overtopped the Atlantic, while the great waste of waters lay far below,
golden with the last rays of the setting sun.

They drove, by a gentle ascent, to the stone porch of Mount Royal, and
here Mrs. Tregonell stood, facing the sunset, with an Indian shawl
wrapped round her, waiting for her guest.

"I heard the carriage, Mr. Hamleigh," she said, as Angus alighted; "I
hope you do not think me too impatient to see what change twelve years
have made in you?"

"I'm afraid they have not been particularly advantageous to me," he
answered, lightly, as they shook hands. "How good of you to receive me
on the threshold! and what a delightful place you have here! Before I
got to Launceston, I began to be afraid that Cornwall was
commonplace--and now I am enchanted with it. Your moors and hills are
like fairy-land to me!"

"It is a world of our own, and we are very fond of it," said the widow;
"I shall be sorry if ever a railway makes Boscastle open to everybody."

"And what a noble old house!" exclaimed Angus, as he followed his
hostess across the oak-panelled hall, with its wide shallow staircase,
curiously carved balustrades, and lantern roof. "Are you quite alone
here?"

"Oh, no; I have my niece, and a young lady who is a companion to both of
us."

Angus Hamleigh shuddered.

Three women! He was to exist for a fortnight in a house with three
solitary females. A niece and a companion! The niece, rustic and gawky;
the companion sour and frumpish. He began, hurriedly, to cast about in
his mind for a convenient friend, to whom he could telegraph to send him
a telegram, summoning him back to London on urgent business. He was
still meditating this, when the butler opened the door of a spacious
room, lined from floor to ceiling with books, and he followed Mrs.
Tregonell in, and found himself in the bosom of the family. The simple
picture of home-comfort, of restfulness and domestic peace, which met
his curious gaze as he entered, pleased him better than anything he had
seen of late. Club life--with its too studious indulgence of man's
native selfishness and love of ease--fashionable life, with its
insatiable craving for that latter-day form of display which calls
itself Culture, Art, or Beauty--had afforded him no vision so
enchanting as the wide hearth and high chimney of this sober,
book-lined room, with the fair and girlish form kneeling in front of the
old dogstove, framed in the glaring light of the fire.

The tea-table had been wheeled near the hearth, and Miss Bridgeman sat
before the bright red tea-tray, and old brass kettle, ready to
administer to the wants of the traveller, who would be hardly human if
he did not thirst for a cup of tea after driving across the moor.
Christabel knelt in front of the fire, worshipping, and being worshipped
by, a sleek black-and-white sheep-dog, native to the soil, and of a rare
intelligence--a creature by no means approaching the Scotch colley in
physical beauty, but of a fond and faithful nature, born to be the
friend of man. As Christabel rose and turned to greet the stranger, Mr.
Hamleigh was agreeably reminded of an old picture--a Lely or a Kneller,
perhaps. This was not in any wise the rustic image which had flashed
across his mind at the mention of Mrs. Tregonell's niece. He had
expected to see a bouncing, countryfied maiden--rosy, buxom, the picture
of commonplace health and vigour. The girl he saw was nearer akin to
the lily than the rose--tall, slender, dazzlingly fair--not fragile or
sickly in anywise--for the erect figure was finely moulded, the
swan-like throat was round and full. He was prepared for the florid
beauty of a milkmaid, and he found himself face to face with the
elegance of an ideal duchess, the picturesque loveliness of an old
Venetian portrait.

Christabel's dark brown velvet gown and square point lace collar, the
bright hair falling in shadowy curls over her forehead, and rolled into
a loose knot at the back of her head, sinned in no wise against Mr.
Hamleigh's notions of good taste. There was a picturesqueness about the
style which indicated that Miss Courtenay belonged to that advanced
section of womankind which takes its ideas less from modern
fashion-plates than from old pictures. So long as her archaism went no
further back than Vandyke or Moroni he would admire and approve; but he
shuddered at the thought that to-morrow she might burst upon him in a
mediæval morning-gown, with high-shouldered sleeves, a ruff, and a
satchel. The picturesque idea was good, within limits; but one never
knew how far it might go.

There was nothing picturesque about the lady sitting before the
tea-tray, who looked up brightly, and gave him a gracious bend
of her small neat head, in acknowledgment of Mrs. Tregonell's
introduction--"Mr. Hamleigh, Miss Bridgeman!" This was the
companion--and the companion was plain: not unpleasantly plain, not in
any manner repulsive, but a lady about whose looks there could be hardly
any compromise. Her complexion was of a sallow darkness, unrelieved by
any glow of colour; her eyes were grey, acute, honest, friendly, but not
beautiful; her nose was sharp and pointed--not at all a bad nose; but
there was a hardness about nose and mouth and chin, as of features cut
out of bone with a very sharp knife. Her teeth were good, and in a
lovelier mouth might have been the object of much admiration. Her hair
was of that nondescript monotonous brown which has been unkindly called
bottle-green, but it was arranged with admirable neatness, and offended
less than many a tangled pate, upon whose locks of spurious gold the
owner has wasted much time and money. There was nothing unpardonable in
Miss Bridgeman's plainness, as Angus Hamleigh said of her later. Her
small figure was neatly made, and her dark-grey gown fitted to
perfection.

"I hope you like the little bit of Cornwall that you have seen this
afternoon, Mr. Hamleigh," said Christabel, seating herself in a low
chair in the shadow of the tall chimney-piece, fenced in by her aunt's
larger chair.

"I am enraptured with it! I came here with the desire to be intensely
Cornish. I am prepared to believe in witches--warlocks----"

"We have no warlocks," said Christabel. "They belong to the North."

"Well, then, wise women--wicked young men who play football on Sunday,
and get themselves turned into granite--rocking stones--magic
wells--Druids--and King Arthur. I believe the principal point is to be
open to conviction about Arthur. Now, I am prepared to swallow
everything--his castle--the river where his crown was found after the
fight--was it his crown, by-the-by, or somebody else's? which _he_
found--his hair-brushes--his boots--anything you please to show me."

"We will show you his quoit to-morrow, on the road to Tintagel," said
Miss Bridgeman. "I don't think you would like to swallow that actually.
He hurled it from Tintagel to Trevalga in one of his sportive moods. We
shall be able to give you plenty of amusement if you are a good walker,
and are fond of hills."

"I adore them in the abstract, contemplated from one's windows, or in a
picture; but there is an incompatibility between the human anatomy and a
road set on end, like a ladder, which I have never yet overcome. Apart
from the outside question of my legs--which are obvious failures when
tested by an angle of forty-five degrees--I'm afraid my internal
machinery is not quite so tough as it ought to be for a thorough
enjoyment of mountaineering."

Mrs. Tregonell sighed, ever so faintly, in the twilight. She was
thinking of her first lover, and how that fragility, which meant early
death, had showed itself in his inability to enjoy the moorland walks
which were the delight of her girlhood.

"The natural result of bad habits," said Miss Bridgeman, briskly. "How
can you expect to be strong or active, when I dare say you have spent
the better part of your life in hansom cabs and express trains! I don't
mean to be impertinent, but I know that is the general way with
gentlemen out of the shooting and hunting season."

"And as I am no sportsman, I am a somewhat exaggerated example of the
vice of laziness fostered by congenial circumstances, acting on a
lymphatic temperament. If you write books, as I believe most ladies do
now-a-days, you should put me into one of them, as an awful warning."

"I don't write books, and, if I did, I would not flatter your vanity by
making you my model sinner," retorted Jessie; "but I'll do something
better for you, if Christabel will help me. I'll reform you."

"A million thanks for the mere thought! I hope the process will be
pleasant."

"I hope so, too. We shall begin by walking you off your legs."

"They are so indifferent as a means of locomotion that I could very well
afford to lose them, if you could hold out any hope of my getting a
better pair."

"A week hence, if you submit to my treatment, you will be as active as
the chamois hunter in 'Manfred.'"

"Enchanting--always provided that you and Miss Courtenay will follow the
chase with me."

"Depend upon it, we shall not trust you to take your walks alone, unless
you have a pedometer which will bear witness to the distance you have
done, and which you will be content to submit to our inspection on your
return," replied Jessie, sternly.

"I am afraid you are a terribly severe high priestess of this new form
of culture," said Mr. Hamleigh, looking up from his teacup with a lazy
smile, "almost as bad as the Dweller on the Threshold, in Bulwer's
'Zanoni.'"

"There is a dweller on the threshold of every science and every
admirable mode of life, and his name is Idleness," answered Miss
Bridgeman.

"The _vis inertiæ_, the force of letting things alone," said Angus;
"yes, that is a tremendous power, nobly exemplified by vestries and
boards of works--to say nothing of Cabinets, Bishops, and the High Court
of Chancery! I delight in that verse of Scripture, 'Their strength is to
sit still.'"

"There shall be very little sitting still for you if you submit yourself
to Christabel and me," replied Miss Bridgeman.

"I have never tried the water-cure--the descriptions I have heard from
adepts have been too repellent; but I have an idea that this system of
yours must be rather worse than hydropathy," said Angus,
musingly--evidently very much entertained at the way in which Miss
Bridgeman had taken him in hand.

"I was not going to let him pose after Lamartine's _poëte mourant_, just
because his father died of lung disease," said Jessie, ten minutes
afterwards, when the warning gong had sounded, and Mr. Hamleigh had gone
to his room to dress for dinner, and the two young women were whispering
together before the fire, while Mrs. Tregonell indulged in a placid
doze.

"Do you think he is consumptive, like his father?" asked Christabel,
with a compassionate look; "he has a very delicate appearance."

"Hollow-cheeked, and prematurely old, like a man who has lived on
tobacco and brandy-and-soda, and has spent his nights in club-house
card-rooms."

"We have no right to suppose that," said Christabel, "since we know
really nothing about him."

"Major Bree told me he has lived a racketty life, and that if he were
not to pull up very soon he would be ruined both in health and fortune."

"What can the Major know about him?" exclaimed Christabel,
contemptuously.

This Major Bree was a great friend of Christabel's; but there are times
when one's nearest and dearest are too provoking for endurances.

"Major Bree has been buried alive in Cornwall for the last twenty years.
He is at least a quarter of a century behind the age," she said,
impatiently.

"He spent a fortnight in London the year before last," said Jessie; "it
was then that he heard such a bad account of Mr. Hamleigh."

"Did he go about to clubs and places making inquiries, like a private
detective?" said Christabel, still contemptuous; "I hate such fetching
and carrying!"

"Here he comes to answer for himself," replied Jessie, as the door
opened, and a servant announced Major Bree.

Mrs. Tregonell started from her slumbers at the opening of the door, and
rose to greet her guest. He was a very frequent visitor, so frequent
that he might be said to live at Mount Royal, although his nominal abode
was a cottage on the outskirts of Boscastle--a stone cottage on the
crest of a steep hill-side, with a delightful little garden, perched, as
it were, on the edge of a verdant abyss. He was tall, stout, elderly,
grey, and florid--altogether a comfortable-looking man, clean-shaved,
save for a thin grey moustache with the genuine cavalry droop, iron grey
eyebrows, which looked like a repetition of the moustache on a somewhat
smaller scale, keen grey eyes, a pleasant smile, and a well set-up
figure. He dressed well, with a sobriety becoming his years, and was
always the pink of neatness. A man welcome everywhere, on account of an
inborn pleasantness, which prompted him always to say and do the right
thing; but most of all welcome at Mount Royal, as a first cousin of the
late Squire's, and Mrs. Tregonell's guide, philosopher, and friend in
all matters relating to the outside world, of which, despite his twenty
years' hybernation at Boscastle, the widow supposed him to be an acute
observer and an infallible judge. Was he not one of the few inhabitants
of that western village who took in the _Times_ newspaper?

"Well!" exclaimed Major Bree, addressing himself generally to the three
ladies, "he has come--what do you think of him?"

"He is painfully like his poor father," said Mrs. Tregonell.

"He has a most interesting face and winning manner, and I'm afraid we
shall all get ridiculously fond of him," said Miss Bridgeman,
decisively.

Christabel said nothing. She knelt on the hearthrug, playing with
Randie, the black-and-white sheep-dog.

"And what have you to say about him, Christabel?" asked the Major.

"Nothing. I have not had time to form an opinion," replied the girl; and
then lifting her clear blue eyes to the Major's friendly face, she said,
gravely, "but I think, Uncle Oliver, it was very unkind and unfair of
you to prejudice Jessie against him before he came here."

"Unkind!--unfair! Here's a shower of abuse! I prejudice! Oh! I remember.
Mrs. Tregonell asked me what people thought of him in London, and I was
obliged to acknowledge that his reputation was--well--no better than
that of the majority of young men who have more money than common sense.
But that was two years ago--_Nous avons changé tout cela!_"

"If he was wicked then, he must be wicked now," said Christabel.

"Wicked is a monstrously strong word!" said the Major. "Besides, that
does not follow. A man may have a few wild oats to sow, and yet become a
very estimable person afterwards. Miss Bridgeman is tremendously
sharp--she'll be able to find out all about Mr. Hamleigh from personal
observation before he has been here a week. I defy him to hide his weak
points from her."

"What is the use of being plain and insignificant if one has not some
advantage over one's superior fellow-creatures?" asked Jessie.

"Miss Bridgeman has too much expression to be plain, and she is far too
clever to be insignificant," said Major Bree, with a stately bow. He
always put on a stately manner when he addressed himself to Jessie
Bridgeman, and treated her in all things with as much respect as if she
had been a queen. He explained to Christabel that this was the homage
which he paid to the royalty of intellect; but Christabel had a shrewd
suspicion that the Major cherished a secret passion for Miss Bridgeman,
as exalted and as hopeless as the love that Chastelard bore for Mary
Stuart. He had only a small pittance besides his half-pay, and he had a
very poor opinion of his own merits; so it was but natural that, at
fifty-five, he should hesitate to offer himself to a young lady of
six-and-twenty, of whose sharp tongue he had a wholesome awe.

Mr. Hamleigh came back before much more could be said about him, and a
few minutes afterwards they all went in to dinner, and in the brighter
lamplight of the dining-room Major Bree and the three ladies had a
better opportunity of forming their opinion as to the external graces of
their guest.

He was good-looking--that fact even malice could hardly dispute. Not so
handsome as the absent Leonard, Mrs. Tregonell told herself
complacently; but she was constrained at the same time to acknowledge
that her son's broadly moulded features and florid complexion lacked the
charm and interest which a woman's eye found in the delicate chiselling
and subdued tones of Angus Hamleigh's countenance. His eyes were darkest
grey, his complexion was fair and somewhat pallid, his hair brown, with
a natural curl which neither fashion nor the barber could altogether
suppress. His cheeks were more sunken than they should have been at
eight-and-twenty, and the large dark eyes were unnaturally bright. All
this the three ladies and Major Bree had ample time for observing,
during the leisurely course of dinner. There was no flagging in the
conversation, from the beginning to the end of the repast. Mr. Hamleigh
was ready to talk about anything and everything, and his interest in the
most trifling local subjects, whether real or assumed, made him a
delightful companion. In the drawing-room, after dinner, he proved even
more admirable; for he discovered a taste for, and knowledge of, the
best music, which delighted Jessie and Christabel, who were both
enthusiasts. He had read every book they cared for--and a wide world of
books besides--and was able to add to their stock of information upon
all their favourite subjects, without the faintest touch of arrogance.

"I don't think you can help liking him, Jessie," said Christabel, as the
two girls went upstairs to bed. The younger lingered a little in Miss
Bridgeman's room for the discussion of their latest ideas. There was a
cheerful fire burning in the large basket grate, for autumn nights were
chill upon that wild coast. Christabel assumed her favourite attitude in
front of the fire, with her faithful Randie winking and blinking at her
and the fire alternately. He was a privileged dog--allowed to sleep on a
sheepskin mat in the gallery outside his mistress's door, and to go
into her room every morning, in company with the maid who carried her
early cup of tea; when, after the exchange of a few remarks, in baby
language on her part, and expressed on his by a series of curious grins
and much wagging of his insignificant apology for a tail, he would dash
out of the room, and out of the house, for his morning constitutional
among the sheep upon some distant hill--coming home with an invigorated
appetite, in time for the family breakfast at nine o'clock.

"I don't think you can help liking him--as--as a casual acquaintance!"
repeated Christabel, finding that Jessie stood in a dreamy silence,
twisting her one diamond ring--a birthday gift from Miss
Courtenay--round and round upon her slender finger.

"I don't suppose any of us can help liking him," Jessie answered at
last, with her eyes on the fire. "All I hope is, that some of us will
not like him too much. He has brought a new element into our lives--a
new interest--which may end by being a painful one. I feel distrustful
of him."

"Why distrustful? Why, Jessie, you who are generally the very essence of
flippancy--who make light of almost everything in life--except
religion--thank God, you have not come to that yet!--you to be so
serious about such a trifling matter as a visit from a man who will most
likely be gone back to London in a fortnight--gone out of our lives
altogether, perhaps: for I don't suppose he will care to repeat his
experiences in a lonely country-house."

"He may be gone, perhaps--yes--and it is quite possible that he may
never return--but shall we be quite the same after he has left us? Will
nobody regret him--wish for his return--yearn for it--sigh for it--die
for it--feeling life worthless--a burthen, without him?"

"Why, Jessie, you look like a Pythoness."

"Belle, Belle, my darling, my innocent one, you do not know what it is
to care--for a bright particular star--and know how remote it is from
your life--never to be brought any nearer! I felt afraid to-night when I
saw you and Mr. Hamleigh at the piano--you playing, he leaning over you
as you played--both seeming so happy, so united by the sympathy of the
moment! If he is not a good man--if----"

"But we have no reason to think ill of him. You remember what Uncle
Oliver said--he had only been--a--a little racketty, like other young
men," said Christabel, eagerly; and then, with a sudden embarrassment,
reddening and laughing shyly, she added, "and indeed, Jessie, if it is
any idea of danger to me that is troubling your wise head, there is no
need for alarm. I am not made of such inflammable stuff--I am not the
kind of girl to fall in love with the first comer."

"With the first comer no! But when the Prince comes in a fairy tale, it
matters little whether he come first or last. Fate has settled the whole
story beforehand."

"Fate has had nothing to say about me and Mr. Hamleigh. No, Jessie,
believe me, there is no danger for _me_--and I don't suppose that you
are going to fall in love with him?"

"Because I am so old?" said Miss Bridgeman, still looking at the fire;
"no, it would be rather ridiculous in a person of my age, plain and
_passée_, to fall in love with your Alcibiades."

"No, Jessie, but because you are too wise ever to be carried away by a
sentimental fancy. But why do you speak of him so contemptuously? One
would think you had taken a dislike to him. We ought at least to
remember that he is my aunt's friend, and the son of some one she once
dearly loved."

"Once," repeated Jessie, softly; "does not once in that case mean
always?"

She was thinking of the Squire's commonplace good looks and portly
figure, as represented in the big picture in the dining-room--the
picture of a man in a red coat, leaning against the shoulder of a big
bay horse, and with a pack of harriers fawning round him--and wondering
whether the image of that dead man, whose son was in the house to-night,
had not sometimes obtruded itself upon the calm plenitude of Mrs.
Tregonell's domestic joys.

"Don't be afraid that I shall forget my duty to your aunt or your aunt's
guest, dear," she said suddenly, as if awaking from a reverie. "You and
I will do all in our power to make him happy, and to shake him out of
lazy London ways, and then, when we have patched up his health, and the
moorland air has blown a little colour into his hollow cheeks, we will
send him back to his clubs and his theatres, and forget all about him.
And now, good-night, my Christabel," she said, looking at her watch;
"see! it is close upon midnight--dreadful dissipation for Mount Royal,
where half-past ten is the usual hour."

Christabel kissed her and departed, Randie following to the door of her
chamber--such a pretty room, with old panelled walls painted pink and
grey, old furniture, old china, snowy draperies, and books--a girl's
daintily bound books, selected and purchased by herself--in every
available corner; a neat cottage piano in a recess, a low easy-chair by
the fire, with a five-o'clock tea-table in front of it; desks,
portfolios, work-baskets--all the frivolities of a girl's life; but
everything arranged with a womanly neatness which indicated industrious
habits and a well-ordered mind. No scattered sheets of music--no
fancy-work pitch-and-tossed about the room--no slovenliness claiming to
be excused as artistic disorder.

Christabel said her prayers, and read her accustomed portion of
Scripture, but not without some faint wrestlings with Satan, who on this
occasion took the shape of Angus Hamleigh. Her mind was overcharged with
wonder at this new phenomenon in daily life, a man so entirely different
from any of the men she had ever met hitherto--so accomplished, so
highly cultured; yet taking his accomplishments and culture as a thing
of course, as if all men were so.

She thought of him as she lay awake for the first hour of the still
night, watching the fire fade and die, and listening to the long roll of
the waves, hardly audible at Mount Royal amidst all the commonplace
noises of day, but heard in the solemn silence of night. She let her
fancies shape a vision of her aunt's vanished youth--that one brief
bright dream of happiness, so miserably broken!--and wondered and
wondered how it was possible for any one to outlive such a grief. Still
more incredible did it seem that any one who had so loved and so lost
could ever listen to another lover; and yet the thing had been done, and
Mrs. Tregonell's married life had been called happy. She always spoke of
the Squire as the best of men--was never weary of praising him--loved to
look up at his portrait on the wall--preserved every unpicturesque
memorial of his unpicturesque life--heavy gold and silver snuff-boxes,
clumsy hunting crops, spurs, guns, fishing-rods. The relics of his
murderous pursuits would have filled an arsenal. And how fondly she
loved the son who resembled that departed father--save in lacking some
of his best qualities! How she doated on Leonard, the most commonplace
and unattractive of young men! The thought of her cousin set Christabel
on a new train of speculation. If Leonard had been at home when Mr.
Hamleigh came to Mount Royal, how would they two have suited each other?
Like fire and water, like oil and vinegar, like the wolf and the lamb,
like any two creatures most antagonistic by nature. It was a happy
accident that Leonard was away. She was still thinking when she fell
asleep, with that uneasy sense of pain and trouble in the future which
was always suggested to her by Leonard's image--a dim unshapen
difficulty waiting for her somewhere along the untrodden road of her
life--a lion in the path.



CHAPTER III.

"TINTAGEL, HALF IN SEA, AND HALF ON LAND."


There was no sense of fear or trouble of any kind in the mind of anybody
next morning after breakfast, when Christabel, Miss Bridgeman, and Mr.
Hamleigh started, in the young lady's own particular pony carriage, for
an exploring day, attended by Randie, who was intensely excited, and
furnished with a picnic basket which made them independent of the inn at
Trevena, and afforded the opportunity of taking one's luncheon under
difficulties upon a windy height, rather than with the commonplace
comforts of an hotel parlour, guarded against wind and weather. They
were going to do an immense deal upon this first day. Christabel, in her
eagerness, wanted to exhibit all her lions at once.

"Of course, you must see Tintagel," she said; "everybody who comes to
this part of the world is in a tremendous hurry to see King Arthur's
castle. I have known people set out in the middle of the night."

"And have you ever known any one of them who was not just a little
disappointed with that stupendous monument of traditional royalty?"
asked Miss Bridgeman, with her most prosaic air. "They expect so
much--halls, and towers, and keep, and chapel--and find only ruined
walls, and the faint indication of a grave-yard. King Arthur is a name
to conjure with, and Tintagel is like Mont Blanc or the Pyramids. It can
never be so grand as the vision its very name has evoked."

"I blush to say that I have thought very little about Tintagel
hitherto," said Mr. Hamleigh; "it has not been an integral part of my
existence; so my expectations are more reasonable than those of the
enthusiastic tourist. I promise to be delighted with your ruins."

"Oh, but you will pretend," said Christabel, "and that will be hateful!
I would rather have to deal with one of those provoking people who look
about them blankly, and exclaim, 'Is this all?' and who stand in the
very centre of Arthur's Hall, and ask, 'And, pray, where is
Tintagel?--when are we to see the castle?' No! give me the man who can
take in the grandeur of that wild height at a glance, and whose fancy
can build up those ruined walls, re-create those vanished towers, fill
the halls with knights in shining armour, and lovely ladies--see
Guinevere herself upon her throne--clothed in white samite--mystic,
wonderful!"

"And with Lancelot in the background," said Mr. Hamleigh. "I think the
less we say about Guinevere the better, and your snaky Vivien, and your
senile Merlin, your prying Modred. What a disreputable set these Round
Table people seem to have been altogether--they need have been dead
thirteen hundred years for us to admire them!"

They were driving along the avenue by this time, the stout chestnut cob
going gaily in the fresh morning air--Mr. Hamleigh sitting face to face
with Christabel as she drove. What a fair face it was in the clear light
of day! How pure and delicate every tone, from the whiteness of the lily
to the bloom of the wild rose! How innocent the expression of the large
liquid eyes, which seemed to smile at him as he talked! He had known so
many pretty women--his memory was like a gallery of beautiful faces; but
he could recall no face so completely innocent, so divinely young. "It
is the youthfulness of an unsullied mind," he said to himself; "I have
known plenty of girls as young in years, but not one perfectly pure from
the taint of worldliness and vanity. The trail of the serpent was over
them all!"

They drove down hill into Boscastle, and then straightway began to
ascend still steeper hills upon the other side of the harbour.

"You ought to throw a viaduct across the valley," said Mr.
Hamleigh--"something like Brunel's bridge at Saltash; but perhaps you
have hardly traffic enough to make it pay."

They went winding up the new road to Trevena, avoiding the village
street, and leaving the Church of the Silent Tower on its windy height
on their right hand. The wide Atlantic lay far below them on the other
side of those green fields which bordered the road; the air they
breathed was keen with the soft breath of the sea. But autumn had
hardly plucked a leaf from the low storm-beaten trees, or a flower from
the tall hedgerows, where the red blossom of the Ragged Robin mixed with
the pale gold of the hawk-weed, and the fainter yellow of the wild
cistus. The ferns had hardly begun to wither, and Angus Hamleigh, whose
last experiences had been among the stone walls of Aberdeenshire,
wondered at the luxuriance of this western world, where the banks were
built up and fortified with boulders of marble-veined spar.

They drove through the village of Trevalga, in which there is never an
inn or public-house of any kind--not even a cottage licensed for the
sale of beer. There was the wheelwright, carpenter, builder,
Jack-of-all-trades, with his shed and his yard--the blacksmith, with his
forge going merrily--village school--steam threshing-machine at
work--church--chapel; but never a drop of beer--and yet the people at
Trevalga are healthy, and industrious, and decently clad, and altogether
comfortable looking.

"Some day we will take you to call at the Rectory," said Christabel,
pointing skywards with her whip.

"Do you mean that the Rector has gone to Heaven?" asked Angus, looking
up into the distant blue; "or is there any earthly habitation higher
than the road on which we are driving."

"Didn't you see the end of the lane, just now?" asked Christabel,
laughing; "it is rather steep--an uphill walk all the way; but the views
are lovely."

"We will walk to the Rectory to-morrow," said Miss Bridgeman; "this lazy
mode of transit must not be tolerated after to-day."

Even the drive to Trevena was not all idleness; for after they had
passed the entrance to the path leading to the beautiful waterfall of
St. Nectan's Kieve, hard by St. Piran's chapel and well--the former
degraded to a barn, and the latter, once of holy repute, now chiefly
useful as a cool repository for butter from the neighbouring dairy of
Trethevy Farm--they came to a hill, which had to be walked down; to the
lowest depth of the Rocky Valley, where a stone bridge spans the rapid
brawling stream that leaps as a waterfall into the gorge at St. Nectan's
Kieve, about a mile higher up the valley. And then they came to a
corresponding hill, which had to be walked up--because in either case
it was bad for the cob to have a weight behind him. Indeed, the cob was
so accustomed to consideration in this matter, that he made a point of
stopping politely for his people to alight at either end of anything
exceptional in the way of a hill.

"I'm afraid you spoil your pony," said Mr. Hamleigh, throwing the reins
over his arm, and resigning himself to a duty which made him feel very
much like a sea-side flyman, earning his day's wages toilsomely, and
saving his horse with a view to future fares.

"Better that than to spoil you," answered Miss Bridgeman, as she and
Christabel walked briskly beside him. "But if you fasten the reins to
the dashboard, you may trust Felix."

"Won't he run away?"

"Not he," answered Christabel. "He knows that he would never be so happy
with anybody else as he is with us."

"But mightn't he take a fancy for a short run; just far enough to allow
of his reducing that dainty little carriage to match-wood? A well-fed
underworked pony so thoroughly enjoys that kind of thing."

"Felix has no such diabolical suggestions. He is a conscientious person,
and knows his duty. Besides, he is not underworked. There is hardly a
day that he does not carry us somewhere."

Mr. Hamleigh surrendered the reins, and Felix showed himself worthy of
his mistress's confidence, following at her heels like a dog, with his
honest brown eyes fixed on the slim tall figure, as if it had been his
guiding star.

"I want you to admire the landscape," said Christabel, when they were on
the crest of the last hill; "is not that a lovely valley?"

Mr. Hamleigh willingly admitted the fact. The beauty of a pastoral
landscape, with just enough of rugged wildness for the picturesque,
could go no further.

"Creswick has immortalized yonder valley by his famous picture of the
mill," said Miss Bridgeman, "but the romantic old mill of the picture
has lately been replaced by that large ungainly building, quite out of
keeping with its surroundings."

"Have you ever been in Switzerland?" asked Angus of Christabel, when
they had stood for some moments in silent contemplation of the
landscape.

"Never."

"Nor in Italy?"

"No. I have never been out of England. Since I was five years old I have
hardly spent a year of my life out of Cornwall."

"Happy Cornwall, which can show so fair a product of its soil! Well,
Miss Courtenay, I know Italy and Switzerland by heart, and I like this
Cornish landscape better than either. It is not so beautiful--it would
not do as well for a painter or a poet; but it comes nearer an
Englishman's heart. What can one have better than the hills and the sea?
Switzerland can show you bigger hills, ghostly snow-shrouded pinnacles
that mock the eye, following each other like a line of phantoms, losing
themselves in the infinite; but Switzerland cannot show you that."

He pointed to the Atlantic: the long undulating line of the coast,
rocky, rugged, yet verdant, with many a curve and promontory, many a dip
and rise.

"It is the most everlasting kind of beauty, is it not?" asked
Christabel, delighted at this little gush of warm feeling in one whose
usual manner was so equable. "One could never tire of the sea. And I am
always proud to remember that our sea is so big--stretching away and
away to the New World. I should have liked it still better before the
days of Columbus, when it led to the unknown!"

"Ah!" sighed Angus, "youth always yearns for the undiscovered. Middle
age knows that there is nothing worth discovering!"

On the top of the hill they paused for a minute or so to contemplate the
ancient Borough of Bossiney, which, until disfranchised in 1832,
returned two members to Parliament, with a constituency of little more
than a dozen, and which once had Sir Francis Drake for its
representative. Here Mr. Hamleigh beheld that modest mound called the
Castle Hill, on the top of which it was customary to read the writs
before the elections.

An hour later they were eating their luncheon on that windy height where
once stood the castle of the great king. To Christabel the whole story
of Arthur and his knights was as real as if it had been a part of her
own life. She had Tennyson's Arthur and Tennyson's Lancelot in her heart
of hearts, and knew just enough of Sir Thomas Mallory's prose to give
substance to the Laureate's poetic shadows. Angus amused himself a
little at her expense, as they ate their chicken and salad on the grassy
mounds which were supposed to be the graves of heroes who died before
Athelstane drove the Cornish across the Tamar, and made his victorious
progress through the country, even to the Scilly Isles, after defeating
Howel, the last King of Cornwall.

"Do you really think that gentlemanly creature in the Laureate's
epic--that most polished and perfect and most intensely modern English
gentleman, self-contained, considerate of others, always the right man
in the right place--is one whit like that half-naked sixth century
savage--the real Arthur--whose Court costume was a coat of blue paint,
and whose war-shriek was the yell of a Red Indian? What can be more
futile than our setting up any one Arthur, and bowing the knee before
him, in the face of the fact that Great Britain teems with monuments of
Arthurs--Arthur's Seat in Scotland, Arthur's Castle in Wales,
Arthur's Round Table here, there, and everywhere? Be sure that
Arthur--Ardheer--the highest chief--was a generic name for the princes
of those days, and that there were more Arthurs than ever there were
Cæsars."

"I don't believe one word you say," exclaimed Christabel, indignantly,
"there was only one Arthur, the son of Uther and Ygerne, who was born in
the castle that stood on this very cliff, on the first night of the
year, and carried away in secret by Merlin, and reared in secret by Sir
Anton's wife--the brave good Arthur--the Christian king--who was killed
at the battle of Camlan, near Slaughter Bridge, and was buried at
Glastonbury."

"And embalmed by Tennyson. The Laureate invented Arthur--he took out a
patent for the Round Table, and his invention is only a little less
popular than that other product of the age, the sewing-machine. How many
among modern tourists would care about Tintagel if Tennyson had not
revived the old legend?"

The butler had put up a bottle of champagne for Mr. Hamleigh--the two
ladies drinking nothing but sparkling water--and in this beverage he
drank hail to the spirit of the legendary prince.

"I am ready to believe anything now you have me up here," he said, "for
I have a shrewd idea that without your help I should never be able to
get down again. I should live and die on the top of this rocky
promontory--sweltering in the summer sun--buffeted by the winter
winds--an unwilling Simeon Stylites."

"Do you know that the very finest sheep in Cornwall are said to be grown
on that island," said Miss Bridgeman gravely, pointing to the grassy top
of the isolated crag in the foreground, whereon once stood the donjon
keep. "I don't know why it should be so, but it is a tradition."

"Among butchers?" said Angus. "I suppose even butchers have their
traditions. And the poor sheep who are condemned to exile on that lonely
rock--the St. Helena of their woolly race--do they know that they are
achieving a posthumous perfection--that they are straining towards the
ideal in butcher's meat? There is room for much thought in the
question."

"The tide is out," said Christabel, looking seaward; "I think we ought
to do Trebarwith sands to-day."

"Is Trebarwith another of your lions?" asked Angus, placidly.

"Yes."

"Then, please save him for to-morrow. Let me drink the cup of pleasure
to the dregs where we are. This champagne has a magical taste, like the
philter which Tristan and Iseult were so foolish as to drink while they
sailed across from Ireland to this Cornish shore. Don't be alarmed, Miss
Bridgeman, I am not going to empty the bottle. I am not an educated
tourist--have read neither Black nor Murray, and I am very slow about
taking in ideas. Even after all you have told me, I am not clear in my
mind as to which is the castle and which the chapel, and which the
burial-ground. Let us finish the afternoon dawdling about Tintagel. Let
us see the sun set from this spot, where Arthur must so often have
watched it, if the men of thirteen hundred years ago ever cared to
watch the sun setting, which I doubt. They belong to the night-time of
the world, when civilization was dead in Southern Europe, and was yet
unborn in the West. Let us dawdle about till it is time to drive back to
Mount Royal, and then I shall carry away an impression. I am very slow
at taking impressions."

"I think you want us to believe that you are stupid," said Christabel,
laughing at the earnestness with which he pleaded.

"Believe me, no. I should like you to think me ever so much better than
I am. Please, let us dawdle."

They dawdled accordingly. Strolling about upon the short sea-beaten
grass, so treacherous and slippery a surface in summer time, when fierce
Sol has been baking it. They stumbled against the foundations of
long-vanished walls, they speculated upon fragments of cyclopean
masonry, and talked a great deal about the traditions of the spot.

Christabel, who had all the old authorities--Leland, Carew, and
Norden--at her fingers' ends, was delighted to expound the departed
glories of this British fortress. She showed where the ancient dungeon
keep had reared its stony walls upon that "high terrible crag, environed
with the sea; and how there had once been a drawbridge uniting yonder
cliff with the buildings on the mainland"--now divorced, as Carew says,
"by the downfallen steep cliffs, on the farther side, which, though it
shut out the sea from his wonted recourse, hath yet more strengthened
the island; for in passing thither you must first descend with a
dangerous declining, and then make a worse ascent by a path, through his
stickleness occasioning, and through his steepness threatening, the ruin
of your life, with the falling of your foot." She told Mr. Hamleigh how,
after the Conquest, the castle was the occasional residence of some of
our Princes, and how Richard, King of the Romans, Earl of Cornwall, son
of King John, entertained here his nephew David, Prince of Wales, how,
in Richard the Second's time, this stronghold was made a State prison,
and how a certain Lord Mayor of London was, for his unruly mayoralty,
condemned thither as a perpetual penitentiary; which seems very hard
upon the chief magistrate of the city, who thus did vicarious penance
for the riot of his brief reign.

And then they talked of Tristan and Iseult, and the tender old
love-story, which lends the glamour of old-world fancies to those bare
ruins of a traditional past. Christabel knew the old chronicle through
Matthew Arnold's poetical version, which gives only the purer and better
side of the character of the Knight and Chatelaine, at the expense of
some of the strongest features of the story. Who, that knew that
romantic legend, could linger on that spot without thinking of King
Marc's faithless queen! Assuredly not Mr. Hamleigh, who was a staunch
believer in the inventor of "sweetness and light," and who knew Arnold's
verses by heart.

"What have they done with the flowers and the terrace walks?" he
said,--"the garden where Tristan and his Queen basked in the sunshine of
their days; and where they parted for ever?--

    "'All the spring time of their love
    Is already gone and past,
    And instead thereof is seen
    Its winter, which endureth still Tyntagel,
    on its surge-beat hill,
    The pleasaunce walks, the weeping queen,
    The flying leaves, the straining blast,
    And that long wild kiss--their last.'

And where--oh, where--are those graves in the King's chapel in which the
tyrant Marc, touched with pity, ordered the fated lovers to be buried?
And, behold! out of the grave of Tristan there sprung a plant which went
along the walls, and descended into the grave of the Queen, and though
King Marc three several times ordered this magical creeper to be cut off
root and branch, it was always found growing again next morning, as if
it were the very spirit of the dead knight struggling to get free from
the grave, and to be with his lady-love again! Show me those tombs, Miss
Courtenay."

"You can take your choice," said Jessie Bridgeman, pointing to a green
mound or two, overgrown with long rank grass, in that part of the hill
which was said to be the kingly burial-place. "But as for your magical
tree, there is not so much as a bramble to do duty for poor Tristan."

"If I were Duke of Cornwall and Lord of Tintagel Castle, I would put up
a granite cross in memory of the lovers; though I fear there was very
little Christianity in either of them," said Angus.

"And I would come once a year and hang a garland on it," said
Christabel, smiling at him with

    "Eyes of deep, soft, lucent hue--
    Eyes too expressive to be blue,
    Too lovely to be grey."

He had recalled those lines more than once when he looked into
Christabel's eyes.

Mr. Hamleigh had read so much as to make him an interesting talker upon
any subject; but Christabel and Jessie noticed that of his own life, his
ways and amusements, his friends, his surroundings, he spoke hardly at
all. This fact Christabel noticed with wonder, Jessie with suspicion. If
a man led a good wholesome life, he would surely be more frank and
open--he would surely have more to say about himself and his associates.

They dawdled, and dawdled, till past four o'clock, and to none of the
three did the hours so spent seem long; but they found that it would
make them too late in their return to Mount Royal were they to wait for
sundown before they turned their faces homewards; so while the day was
still bright, Mr. Hamleigh consented to be guided by steep and perilous
paths to the base of the rocky citadel, and then they strolled back to
the Wharncliffe Arms, where Felix had been enjoying himself in the
stable, and was now desperately anxious to get home, rattling up and
down hill at an alarming rate, and not hinting at anybody's alighting to
walk.

This was only one of many days spent in the same fashion. They walked
next day to Trebarwith sands, up and down hills, which Mr. Hamleigh
declared were steeper than anything he had ever seen in Switzerland; but
he survived the walk, and his spirits seemed to rise with the exertion.
This time Major Bree went with them--a capital companion for a country
ramble, being just enough of a botanist, archæologist, and geologist, to
leaven the lump of other people's ignorance, without being obnoxiously
scientific. Mr. Hamleigh was delighted with that noble stretch of level
sand, with the long rollers of the Atlantic tumbling in across the low
rocks, and the bold headlands behind--spot beloved of marine
painters--spot where the gulls and the shags hold their revels, and
where man feels himself but a poor creature face to face with the lonely
grandeur of sea, and cliff, and sky.

So rarely is that long stretch of yellow sand vulgarized by the feet of
earth's multitudes, that one half expects to see a procession of
frolicsome sea-nymphs come dancing out of yonder cave, and wind in
circling measures towards the crested wavelets, gliding in so softly
under the calm clear day.

These were halcyon days--an Indian summer--balmy western zephyrs--sunny
noontides--splendid sunsets--altogether the most beautiful autumn season
that Angus Hamleigh had known, or at least, so it seemed to him--nay,
even more than this, surely the most beautiful season of his life.

As the days went on, and day after day was spent in Christabel's
company--almost as it were alone with her, for Miss Bridgeman and Major
Bree were but as figures in the background--Angus felt as if he were at
the beginning of a new life--a life filled with fresh interests,
thoughts, hopes, desires, unknown and undreamed of in the former stages
of his being. Never before had he lived a life so uneventful--never
before had he been so happy. It surprised him to discover how simple are
the elements of real content--how deep the charm of a placid existence
among thoroughly loveable people! Christabel Courtenay was not the
loveliest woman he had ever known, nor the most elegant, nor the most
accomplished, nor the most fascinating; but she was entirely different
from all other women with whom his lot had been cast. Her innocence, her
unsophisticated enjoyment of all earth's purest joys, her transparent
purity, her perfect trustfulness--these were to him as a revelation of a
new order of beings. If he had been told of such a woman he would have
shrugged his shoulders misbelievingly, or would have declared that she
must be an idiot. But Christabel was quite as clever as those brilliant
creatures whose easy manners had enchanted him in days gone by. She was
better educated than many a woman he knew who passed for a wit of the
first order. She had read more, thought more, was more sympathetic, more
companionable, and she was delightfully free from self-consciousness or
vanity.

He found himself talking to Christabel as he had never talked to any
one else since those early days at the University, the bright dawn of
manhood, when he confided freely in that second self, the chosen friend
of the hour, and believed that all men lived and moved according to his
own boyish standard of honour. He talked to her, not of the actualities
of his life, but of his thoughts and feelings--his dreamy speculations
upon the gravest problems which hedge round the secret of man's final
destiny. He talked freely of his doubts and difficulties, and the
half-belief which came so near unbelief--the wide love of all
creation--the vague yet passionate yearning for immortality which fell
so far short of the Gospel's sublime certainty. He revealed to her all
the complexities of a many-sided mind, and she never failed him in
sympathy and understanding. This was in their graver moods, when by some
accidental turn of the conversation they fell into the discussion of
those solemn questions which are always at the bottom of every man and
woman's thoughts, like the unknown depths of a dark water-pool. For the
most part their talk was bright and light as those sunny autumn days,
varied as the glorious and ever-changing hues of sky and sea at sunset.
Jessie was a delightful companion. She was so thoroughly easy herself
that it was impossible to feel ill at ease with her. She played her part
of confidante so pleasantly, seeming to think it the most natural thing
in the world that those two should be absorbed in each other, and should
occasionally lapse into complete forgetfulness of her existence. Major
Bree when he joined in their rambles was obviously devoted to Jessie
Bridgeman. It was her neatly gloved little hand which he was eager to
clasp at the crossing of a stile, and where the steepness of the
hill-side path gave him an excuse for assisting her. It was her stout
little boot which he guided so tenderly, where the ways were ruggedest.
Never had a plain woman a more respectful admirer--never was beauty in
her peerless zenith more devoutly worshipped!

And so the autumn days sped by, pleasantly for all: with deepest
joy--joy ever waxing, never waning--for those two who had found the
secret of perfect sympathy in thought and feeling. It was not for Angus
Hamleigh the first passion of a spotless manhood; and yet the glamour
and the delight were as new as if he had never loved before. He had
never so purely, so reverently loved. The passion was of a new quality.
It seemed to him as if he had ascended into a higher sphere in the
universe, and had given his heart to a creature of a loftier race.

"Perhaps it is the good old lineage which makes the difference," he said
to himself once, while his feelings were still sufficiently novel and so
far under his control as to be subject to analysis. "The women I have
cared for in days gone by have hardly got over their early affinity with
the gutter; or when I have admired a woman of good family she has been
steeped to the lips in worldliness and vanity."

Mr. Hamleigh, who had told himself that he was going to be intensely
bored at Mount Royal, had been Mrs. Tregonell's guest for three weeks,
and it seemed to him as if the time were brief and beautiful as one of
those rare dreams of impossible bliss which haunt our waking memories,
and make actual life dull and joyless by contrast with the glory of
shadowland. No word had yet been spoken--nay, at the very thought of
those words which most lovers in his position would have been eager to
speak, his soul sickened and his cheek paled; for there would be no
joyfulness in the revelation of his love--indeed, he doubted whether he
had the right to reveal it--whether duty and honour did not alike
constrain him to keep his converse within the strict limits of
friendship, to bid Christabel good-bye, and turn his back upon Mount
Royal, without having said one word more than a friend might speak.
Happy as Christabel had been with him--tenderly as she loved him--she
was far too innocent to have considered herself ill-treated in such a
case. She would have blamed herself alone for the weakness of mind which
had been unable to resist the fascination of his society--she would have
blushed and wept in secret for her folly in having loved unwooed.

"Has the eventful question been asked?" Jessie inquired one night, as
Christabel lingered, after her wont, by the fire in Miss Bridgeman's
bedroom. "You two were so intensely earnest to-day as you walked ahead
of the Major and me, that I said to myself, 'now is the time--the
crisis has arrived!'"

"There was no crisis," answered Christabel, crimsoning; "he has never
said one word to me that can imply that I am any more to him than the
most indifferent acquaintance."

"What need of words when every look and tone cries 'I love you?' Why he
idolizes you, and he lets all the world see it. I hope it may be well
for you--both!"

Christabel was on her knees by the fire. She laid her cheek against
Jessie's waistband, and drew Jessie's arm round her neck, holding her
hand lovingly.

"Do you really think he--cares for me?" she faltered, with her face
hidden.

"Do I really think that I have two eyes, and something which is at least
an apology for a nose!" ejaculated Jessie, contemptuously. "Why, it has
been patent to everybody for the last fortnight that you two are over
head and ears in love with each other. There never was a more obvious
case of mutual infatuation."

"Oh, Jessie! surely I have not betrayed myself. I know that I have been
very weak--but I have tried so hard to hide----"

"And have been about as successful as the ostrich. While those drooping
lashes have been lowered to hide the love-light in your eyes, your whole
countenance has been an illuminated calendar of your folly. Poor Belle!
to think that she has not betrayed herself, while all Boscastle is on
tiptoe to know when the wedding is to take place. Why the parson could
not see you two sitting in the same pew without knowing that he would be
reading your banns before he was many Sundays older."

"And you--really--like him?" faltered Christabel, more shyly than
before.

"Yes," answered Jessie, with a provoking lack of enthusiasm. "I really
like him. I can't help feeling sorry for Mrs. Tregonell, for I know she
wanted you to marry Leonard."

Christabel gave a little sigh, and a faint shiver.

"Poor dear Leonard! I wonder what traveller's hardships he is enduring
while we are so snug and happy at Mount Royal?" she said, kindly. "He
has an excellent heart----"

"Troublesome people always have, I believe," interjected Jessie. "It is
their redeeming feature, the existence of which no one can absolutely
disprove."

"And I am very much attached to him--as a cousin--or as an adopted
brother; but as to our ever being married--that is quite out of the
question. There never were two people less suited to each other."

"Those are the people who usually come together," said Jessie; "the
Divorce Court could hardly be kept going if it were not so."

"Jessie, if you are going to be cynical I shall say good-night. I hope
there is no foundation for what you said just now. I hope that Auntie
has no foolish idea about Leonard and me."

"She has--or had--one prevailing idea, and I fear it will go hard with
her when she has to relinquish it," answered Jessie, seriously. "I know
that it has been her dearest hope to see you and Leonard married, and I
should be a wretch if I were not sorry for her disappointment, when she
has been so good to me. But she never ought to have invited Mr. Hamleigh
to Mount Royal. That is one of those mistakes the consequences of which
last for a lifetime."

"I hope he likes me--just a little," pursued Christabel, with dreamy
eyes fixed on the low wood fire; "but sometimes I fancy there must be
some mistake--that he does not really care a straw for me. More than
once, when he has began to say something that sounded----"

"Business-like," suggested Jessie, as the girl hesitated.

"He has drawn back--seeming almost anxious to recall his words. Once he
told me--quite seriously--that he had made up his mind never to marry.
Now, that doesn't sound as if he meant to marry _me_."

"That is not an uncommon way of breaking ground," answered Jessie, with
her matter-of-fact air. "A man tells a girl that he is going to die a
bachelor--which makes it seem quite a favour on his part when he
proposes. All women sigh for the unattainable; and a man who distinctly
states that he is not in the market, is likely to make a better bargain
when he surrenders."

"I should be sorry to think Mr. Hamleigh capable of such petty ideas,"
said Christabel. "He told me once that he was like Achilles. Why should
he be like Achilles? He is not a soldier."

"Perhaps, it is because he has a Grecian nose," suggested Miss
Bridgeman.

"How can you imagine him so vain and foolish," cried Christabel, deeply
offended. "I begin to think you detest him?"

"No, Belle, I think him charming, only too charming, and I had rather
the man you loved were made of sterner metal--not such a man as Leonard,
whose loftiest desires are centred in stable and gun-room; but a man of
an altogether different type from Mr. Hamleigh. He has too much of the
artistic temperament, without being an artist--he is too versatile, too
soft-hearted and impressionable. I am afraid for you, Christabel, I am
afraid; and if it were not too late--if your heart were not wholly given
to him----"

"It is," answered Christabel, tearfully, with her face hidden; "I hate
myself for being so foolish, but I have let myself love him. I know that
I may never be his wife--I do not even think that he has any idea of
marrying me--but I shall never marry any other man. Oh, Jessie! for
pity's sake don't betray me; never let my aunt, or any one else in this
world, learn what I have told you. I can't help trusting you--you wind
yourself into my heart somehow, and find out all that is hidden there!"

"Because I love you truly and honestly, my dear," answered Jessie,
tenderly; "and now, good-night; I feel sure that Mr. Hamleigh will ask
you to be his wife, and I only wish he were a better man."



CHAPTER IV.

"LOVE! THOU ART LEADING ME FROM WINTRY COLD."


After this came two or three dull and showery days, which afforded no
opportunity for long excursions or ramblings of any kind. It was only
during such rambles that Mr. Hamleigh and Miss Courtenay ever found
themselves alone. Mrs. Tregonell's ideas of propriety were of the
old-fashioned school, and when her niece was not under her own wing, she
expected Miss Bridgeman to perform all the duties of a duenna--in no
wise suspecting how very loosely her instructions upon this point were
being carried out. At Mount Royal there was no possibility of
confidential talk between Angus and Christabel. If they were in the
drawing-room or library, Mrs. Tregonell was with them; if they played
billiards, Miss Bridgeman was told off to mark for them; if they went
for a constitutional walk between the showers, or wasted half-an-hour
in the stables looking at horses and dogs, Miss Bridgeman was bidden to
accompany them; and though they had arrived at the point of minding her
very little, and being sentimental and sympathetic under her very nose,
still there are limits to the love-making that can be carried on before
a third person, and a man would hardly care to propose in the presence
of a witness. So for three days Christabel still remained in doubt as to
Mr. Hamleigh's real feelings. That manner of making tender little
speeches, and then, as it were, recalling them, was noticeable many
times during those three days of domesticity. There was a hesitancy--an
uncertainty in his attentions to Christabel which Jessie interpreted
ill.

"There is some entanglement, I daresay," she told herself; "it is the
evil of his past life which holds him in the toils. How do we know that
he has not a wife hidden away somewhere? He ought to declare himself, or
he ought to go away! If this kind of shillyshallying goes on much longer
he will break Christabel's heart."

Miss Bridgeman was determined that, if it were in her power to hasten
the crisis, the crisis should be hastened. The proprieties, as observed
by Mrs. Tregonell, might keep matters in abeyance till Christmas. Mr.
Hamleigh gave no hint of his departure. He might stay at Mount Royal for
months sentimentalizing with Christabel, and ride off at the last
uncompromised.

The fourth day was the Feast of St. Luke. The weather had brightened
considerably, but there was a high wind--a south-west wind, with
occasional showers.

"Of course, you are going to church this morning," said Jessie to
Christabel, as they rose from the breakfast-table.

"Church this morning?" repeated Christabel, vaguely.

For the first time since she had been old enough to understand the
services of her Church, she had forgotten a Saint's day.

"It is St. Luke's Day."

"Yes, I remember. And the service is at Minster. We can walk across the
hills."

"May I go with you?" asked Mr. Hamleigh.

"Do you like week-day services?" inquired Jessie, with rather a
mischievous sparkle in her keen grey eyes.

"I adore them," answered Angus, who had not been inside a church on a
week-day since he was best man at a friend's wedding.

"Then we will all go together," said Jessie. "May Brook bring the
pony-carriage to fetch us home, Mrs. Tregonell? I have an idea that Mr.
Hamleigh won't be equal to the walk home."

"More than equal to twenty such walks!" answered Angus, gaily. "You
under-estimate the severity of the training to which I have submitted
myself during the last three weeks."

"The pony-carriage may as well meet you in any case," said Mrs.
Tregonell. And the order was straightway given.

They started at ten o'clock, giving themselves ample leisure for a walk
of something over two miles--a walk by hill and valley, and rushing
stream, and picturesque wooden bridge--through a deep gorge where the
dark-red cattle were grouped against a background of gorse and
heather--a walk of which one could never grow weary--so lonely, so
beautiful, so perfect a blending of all that is wildest and all that is
most gracious in Nature--an Alpine ramble on a small scale.

Minster Church lies in a hollow of the hill, so shut in by the wooded
ridge which shelters its grey walls, that the stranger comes upon it as
an architectural surprise.

"How is it you have never managed to finish your tower?" asked Mr.
Hamleigh, surveying the rustic fane with a critical air, as he descended
to the churchyard by some rugged stone steps on the side of the grassy
hill. "You cannot be a particularly devout people, or you would hardly
have allowed your parish church to remain in this stunted and stinted
condition."

"There was a tower once," said Christabel, naïvely; "the stones are
still in the churchyard; but the monks used to burn a light in the tower
window--a light that shone through a cleft in the hills, and was seen
far out at sea."

"I believe that is geographically--or geometrically impossible," said
Angus laughing; "but pray go on."

"The light was often mistaken for a beacon, and the ships came ashore
and were wrecked on the rocks."

"Naturally--and no doubt the monks improved the occasion. Why should a
Cornish monk be better than his countrymen? 'One and all' is your
motto."

"They were not Cornish monks," answered Christabel, "but a brotherhood
of French monks from the monastery of St. Sergius, at Angers. They were
established in a Priory here by William de Bottreaux, in the reign of
Richard, Coeur de Lion; and, according to tradition, the townspeople
resented their having built the church so far from the town. I feel sure
the monks could have had no evil intention in burning a light; but one
night a crew of wild sailors attacked the tower, and pulled the greater
part of it down."

"And nobody in Boscastle has had public spirit enough to get it set up
again. Where is your respect for those early Christian martyrs, St.
Sergius and St. Bacchus, to whose memory your temple is dedicated?"

"I don't suppose it was so much want of respect for the martyrs as want
of money," suggested Miss Bridgeman. "We have too many chapel people in
Boscastle for our churches to be enriched or beautified. But Minster is
not a bad little church after all."

"It is the dearest, sweetest, most innocent little church I ever knelt
in," answered Angus; "and if I could but assist at one particular
service there----"

He checked himself with a sigh; but this unfinished speech amounted in
Miss Bridgeman's mind to a declaration. She stole a look at Christabel,
whose fair face crimsoned for a moment or so, only to grow more purely
pale afterwards.

They went into the church, and joined devoutly in the brief Saint's Day
service. The congregation was not numerous. Two or three village
goodies--the school children--a tourist, who had come to see the church,
and found himself, as it were, entangled in saintly meshes--the lady who
played the harmonium, and the incumbent who read prayers. These were
all, besides the party from Mount Royal. There are plenty of people in
country parishes who will be as pious as you please on Sunday, deeming
three services not too much for their devotion, but who can hardly be
persuaded to turn out of the beaten track of week-day life to offer
homage to the memory of Evangelist or Apostle.

The pony-carriage was waiting in the lane when Mr. Hamleigh and the two
ladies came out of the porch. Christabel and the gentleman looked at the
equipage doubtfully.

"You slandered me, Miss Bridgeman, by your suggestion that I should be
done up after a mile or so across the hills," said Mr. Hamleigh; "I
never felt fresher in my life. Have you a hankering for the ribbons?" to
Christabel; "or will you send your pony back to his stable and walk
home?"

"I would ever so much rather walk."

"And so would I."

"In that case, if you don't mind, I think I'll go home with Felix," said
Jessie Bridgeman, most unexpectedly. "I am not feeling quite myself
to-day, and the walk has tired me. You won't mind going home alone with
Mr. Hamleigh, will you, Christabel? You might show him the seals in
Pentargon Bay."

What could Christabel do? If there had been anything in the way of an
earthquake handy, she would have felt deeply grateful for a sudden rift
in the surface of the soil, which would have allowed her to slip into
the bosom of the hills, among the gnomes and the pixies. That Cornish
coast was undermined with caverns, yet there was not one for her to drop
into. Again, Jessie Bridgeman spoke in such an easy off-hand manner, as
if it were the most natural thing in the world for Christabel and Mr.
Hamleigh to be allowed a lonely ramble. To have refused, or even
hesitated, would have seemed affectation, mock-modesty,
self-consciousness. Yet Christabel almost involuntarily made a step
towards the carriage.

"I think I had better drive," she said; "Aunt Diana will be wanting me."

"No, she won't," replied Jessie, resolutely. "And you shall not make a
martyr of yourself for my sake. I know you love that walk over the
hill, and Mr. Hamleigh is dying to see Pentargon Bay----"

"Positively expiring by inches; only it is one of those easy deaths that
does not hurt one very much," said Angus, helping Miss Bridgeman into
her seat, giving her the reins, and arranging the rug over her knees
with absolute tenderness.

"Take care of Felix," pleaded Christabel; "and if you trot down the
hills trot fast."

"I shall walk him every inch of the way. The responsibility would be too
terrible otherwise."

But Felix had his own mind in the matter, and had no intention of
walking when the way he went carried him towards his stable. So he
trotted briskly up the lane, between tall, tangled blackberry hedges,
leaving Christabel and Angus standing at the churchyard gate. The rest
of the little congregation had dispersed; the church door had been
locked; there was a gravedigger at work in the garden-like churchyard,
amidst long grasses and fallen leaves, and the unchanged ferns and
mosses of the bygone summer.

Mr. Hamleigh had scarcely concealed his delight at Miss Bridgeman's
departure, yet, now that she was gone, he looked passing sad. Never a
word did he speak, as they two stood idly at the gate, listening to the
dull thud of the earth which the gravedigger threw out of his shovel on
to the grass, and the shrill sweet song of a robin, piping to himself on
a ragged thornbush near at hand, as if in an ecstasy of gladness about
things in general. One sound so fraught with melancholy, the other so
full of joy! The contrast struck sharply on Christabel's nerves, to-day
at their utmost tension, and brought sudden tears in her eyes.

They stood for perhaps five minutes in this dreamy silence, the robin
piping all the while; and then Mr. Hamleigh roused himself, seemingly
with an effort.

"Are you going to show me the seals at Pentargon?" he asked, smilingly.

"I don't know about seals--there is a local idea that seals are to be
seen playing about in the bay; but one is not often so lucky as to find
them there. People have been very cruel in killing them, and I'm afraid
there are very few seals left on our coast now."

"At any rate, you can show me Pentargon, if you are not tired."

"Tired!" cried Christabel, laughing at such a ridiculous idea, being a
damsel to whom ten miles were less than three to a town-bred young lady.
Embarrassed though she felt by being left alone with Mr. Hamleigh, she
could not even pretend that the proposed walk was too much for her.

"I shall be very glad to take you to Pentargon," she said, "it is hardly
a mile out of our way; but I fear you'll be disappointed; there is
really nothing particular to see."

"I shall not be disappointed--I shall be deeply grateful."

They walked along the narrow hill-side paths, where it was almost
impossible for two to walk abreast; yet Angus contrived somehow to be at
Christabel's side, guiding and guarding her by ways which were so much
more familiar to her than to him, that there was a touch of humour in
this pretence of protection. But Christabel did not see things in their
humorous aspect to-day. Her little hand trembled as it touched Angus
Hamleigh's, when he led her across a craggy bit of path, or over a tiny
water-pool. At the stiles in the valley on the other side of the bridge,
which are civilized stiles, and by no means difficult, Christabel was
too quick and light of foot to give any opportunity for that assistance
which her companion was so eager to afford. And now they were in the
depths of the valley, and had to mount another hill, on the road to
Bude, till they came to a field-gate, above which appeared a sign-board,
and the mystic words, "To Pentargon."

"What is Pentargon, that they put up its name in such big letters?"
asked Mr. Hamleigh, staring at the board. "Is it a borough town--or a
cattle market--or a cathedral city--or what? They seem tremendously
proud of it."

"It is nothing--or only a shallow bay, with a waterfall and a wonderful
cave, which I am always longing to explore. I believe it is nearly as
beautiful as the cavern in Shelley's 'Alastor.' But you will see what
Pentargon is like in less than five minutes."

They crossed a ploughed field, and then, by a big five-barred gate,
entered the magic region which was said to be the paradise of seals. A
narrow walk cut in a steep and rocky bank, where the gorse and heather
grew luxuriantly above slate and spar, described a shallow semicircle
round one of the loveliest bays in the world--a spot so exquisitely
tranquil in this calm autumn weather, so guarded and fenced in by the
massive headlands that jutted out towards the main--a peaceful haven,
seemingly so remote from that outer world to which belonged yonder
white-winged ship on the verge of the blue--that Angus Hamleigh
exclaimed involuntarily,--

"Here is peace! Surely this must be a bay in that Lotus land which
Tennyson has painted for us!"

Hitherto their conversation had been desultory--mere fragmentary talk
about the landscape and the loveliness of the autumn day, with its clear
bright sky and soft west wind. They had been always in motion, and there
had been a certain adventurousness in the way that seemed to give
occupation to their thoughts. But now Mr. Hamleigh came to a dead stop,
and stood looking at the rugged amphitheatre, and the low weedy rocks
washed smooth by the sea.

"Would you mind sitting down for a few minutes?" he asked; "this
Pentargon of yours is a lovely spot, and I don't want to leave it
instantly. I have a very slow appreciation of Nature. It takes me a long
time to grasp her beauties."

Christabel seated herself on the bank which he had selected for her
accommodation, and Mr. Hamleigh placed himself a little lower, almost at
her feet, her face turned seaward, his half towards her, as if that lily
face, with its wild rose bloom, were even lovelier than the sunlit ocean
in all its variety of colour.

"It is a delicious spot," said Angus, "I wonder whether Tristan and
Iseult ever came here! I can fancy the queen stealing away from the
Court and Court foolery, and walking across the sunlit hills with her
lover. It would be rather a long walk, and there might be a difficulty
about getting back in time for supper; but one can picture them
wandering by flowery fields, or by the cliffs above that everlasting
sea, and coming here to rest and talk of their sorrow and their love.
Can you not fancy her as Matthew Arnold paints her?--

    "Let her have her youth again--
    Let her be as she was then!
    Let her have her proud dark eyes,
    And her petulant, quick replies:
    Let her sweep her dazzling hand,
    With its gesture of command,
    And shake back her raven hair
    With the old imperious air.

I have an idea that the Hibernian Iseult must have been a tartar, though
Matthew Arnold glosses over her peccadilloes so pleasantly. I wonder
whether she had a strong brogue, and a sneaking fondness for
usquebaugh."

"Please, don't make a joke of her," pleaded Christabel; "she is very
real to me. I see her as a lovely lady--tall and royal-looking, dressed
in long robes of flowered silk, fringed with gold. And Tristan----"

"What of Tristan? Is his image as clear in your mind? How do you depict
the doomed knight, born to suffer and to sin, destined to sorrow from
the time of his forest-birth--motherless, beset with enemies, consumed
by hopeless passion. I hope you feel sorry for Tristan?"

"Who could help being sorry for him?"

"Albeit he was a sinner? I assure you, in the old romance which you have
not read--which you would hardly care to read--neither Tristan nor
Iseult are spotless."

"I have never thought of their wrong-doing. Their fate was so sad, and
they loved each other so truly."

"And, again, you can believe, perhaps--you who are so innocent and
confiding--that a man who has sinned may forsake the old evil ways and
lead a good life, until every stain of that bygone sin is purified. You
can believe, as the Greeks believed, in atonement and purification."

"I believe, as I hope all Christians do, that repentance can wash away
sin."

"Even the accusing memory of wrong-doing, and make a man's soul white
and fair again? That is a beautiful creed."

"I think the Gospel gives us warrant for believing as much--not as some
of the Dissenters teach, that one effort of faith, an hour of prayer and
ejaculation, can transform a murderer into a saint; but that earnest,
sustained regret for wrong-doing, and a steady determination to live a
better life----"

"Yes--that is real repentance," exclaimed Angus, interrupting her.
"Common sense, even without Gospel light, tells one that it must be
good. Christabel--may I call you Christabel?--just for this one isolated
half-hour of life--here in Pentargon Bay? You shall be Miss Courtenay
directly we leave this spot."

"Call me what you please. I don't think it matters very much," faltered
Christabel, blushing deeply.

"But it makes all the difference to me. Christabel, I can't tell you how
sweet it is to me just to pronounce your name. If--if--I could call you
by that name always, or by a name still nearer and dearer. But you must
judge. Give me half-an-hour--half-an-hour of heartfelt earnest truth on
my side, and pitying patience on yours. Christabel, my past life has not
been what a stainless Christian would call a good life. I have not been
so bad as Tristan. I have violated no sacred charge--betrayed no
kinsman. I suppose I have been hardly worse than the common run of
young men, who have the means of leading an utterly useless life. I have
lived selfishly, unthinkingly--caring for my own pleasure--with little
thought of anything that was to come afterwards, either on earth or in
heaven. But all that is past and done with. My wild oats are sown; I
have had enough of youth and folly. When I came to Cornwall the other
day I thought that I was on the threshold of middle age, and that middle
age could give me nothing but a few years of pain and weariness.
But--behold a miracle!--you have given me back my youth--youth and hope,
and a desire for length of days, and a passionate yearning to lead a
new, bright, stainless life. You have done all this, Christabel. I love
you as I never thought it possible to love! I believe in you as I never
before believed in woman--and yet--and yet----"

He paused, with a long heartbroken sigh, clasped the girl's hand, which
had been straying idly among the faded heather, and pressed it to his
lips.

"And yet I dare not ask you to be my wife. Shall I tell you why?"

"Yes, tell me," she faltered, her cheeks deadly pale, her lowered
eyelids heavy with tears.

"I told you I was like Achilles, doomed to an early death. You remember
with what pathetic tenderness Thetis speaks of her son,

    'Few years are thine, and not a lengthened term;
    At once to early death and sorrows doomed
    Beyond the lot of man!'

The Fates have spoken about me quite as plainly as ever the sea-nymph
foretold the doom of her son. He was given the choice of length of days
or glory, and he deemed fame better than long life. But my life has been
as inglorious as it must be brief. Three months ago, one of the wisest
of physicians pronounced my doom. The hereditary malady which for the
last fifty years has been the curse of my family shows itself by the
clearest indications in my case. I could have told the doctor this just
as well as he told me; but it is best to have official information. I
may die before I am a year older; I may crawl on for the next ten
years--a fragile hot-house plant, sent to winter under southern skies."

"And you may recover, and be strong and well again!" cried Christabel,
in a voice choked with sobs. She made no pretence of hiding her pity or
her love. "Who can tell? God is so good. What prayer will He not grant
us if we only believe in Him? Faith will remove mountains."

"I have never seen it done," said Angus. "I'm afraid that no effort of
faith in this degenerate age will give a man a new lung. No, Christabel,
there is no chance of long life for me. If hope--if love could give
length of days, my new hopes, born of you--my new love felt for you,
might work that miracle. But I am the child of my century: I only
believe in the possible. And knowing that my years are so few, and that
during that poor remnant of life I may be a chronic invalid, how can
I--how dare I be so selfish as to ask any girl--young, fresh, and
bright, with all the joys of life untasted--to be the companion of my
decline? The better she loved me, the sadder would be her life--the
keener would be the anguish of watching my decay!"

"But it would be a life spent with you, her days would be devoted to
you; if she really loved you, she would not hesitate," pursued
Christabel, her hands clasped passionately, tears streaming down her
pale cheeks, for this moment to her was the supreme crisis of fate. "She
would be unhappy, but there would be sweetness even in her sorrow if she
could believe that she was a comfort to you!"

"Christabel, don't tempt me! Ah, my darling! you don't know how selfish
a man's love is, how sweet it would be to me to snatch such bliss, even
on the brink of the dark gulf--on the threshold of the eternal night,
the eternal silence! Consider what you would take upon yourself--you who
perhaps have never known what sickness means--have never seen the
horrors of mortal disease."

"Yes, I have sat with some of our poor people when they were dying. I
have seen how painful disease is, how cruel Nature seems, and how hard
it is for a poor creature racked with pain to believe in God's
beneficence; but even then there has been comfort in being able to help
them and cheer them a little. I have thought more of that than of the
actual misery of the scene."

"But to give all your young life--all your days and thoughts and hopes
to a doomed man! Think of that, Christabel! When you are happy with him
to see Death grinning behind his shoulder--to watch that spectacle which
is of all Nature's miseries the most awful--the slow decay of human
life--a man dying by inches--not death, but dissolution! If my malady
were heart-disease, and you knew that at some moment--undreamt
of--unlooked for--death would come, swift as an arrow from Hecate's bow,
brief, with no loathsome or revolting detail--then I might say, 'Let us
spend my remnant of life together.' But consumption, you cannot tell
what a painful ending that is! Poets and novelists have described it as
a kind of euthanasia; but the poetical mind is rarely strong in
scientific knowledge. I want you to understand all the horror of a life
spent with a chronic sufferer, about whom the cleverest physician in
London has made up his mind."

"Answer me one question," said Christabel, drying her tears, and trying
to steady her voice. "Would your life be any happier if we were
together--till the end?"

"Happier? It would be a life spent in Paradise. Pain and sickness could
hardly touch me with their sting."

"Then let me be your wife."

"Christabel, are you in earnest? have you considered?"

"I consider nothing, except that it may be in my power to make your life
a little happier than it would be without me. I want only to be sure of
that. If the doom were more dreadful than it is--if there were but a few
short months of life left for you, I would ask you to let me share them;
I would ask to nurse you and watch you in sickness. There would be no
other fate on earth so full of sweetness for me. Yes, even with death
and everlasting mourning waiting for me at the end."

"My Christabel, my beloved! my angel, my comforter! I begin to believe
in miracles. I almost feel as if you could give me length of years, as
well as bliss beyond all thought or hope of mine. Christabel,
Christabel, God forgive me if I am asking you to wed sorrow; but you
have made this hour of my life an unspeakable ecstasy. Yet I will not
take you quite at your word, love. You shall have time to consider what
you are going to do--time to talk to your aunt."

"I want no time for consideration. I will be guided by no one. I think
God meant me to love you--and cure you."

"I will believe anything you say; yes, even if you promise me a new
lung. God bless you, my beloved! You belong to those whom He does
everlastingly bless, who are so angelic upon this earth that they teach
us to believe in heaven. My Christabel, my own! I promised to call you
Miss Courtenay when we left Pentargon, but I suppose now you are to be
Christabel for the rest of my life!"

"Yes, always."

"And all this time we have not seen a single seal," exclaimed Angus,
gaily.

His delicate features were radiant with happiness. Who could at such a
moment remember death and doom? All painful words which need be said had
been spoken.



CHAPTER V.

"THE SILVER ANSWER RANG,--'NOT DEATH, BUT LOVE'"


Mrs. Tregonell and her niece were alone together in the library
half-an-hour before afternoon tea, when the autumn light was just
beginning to fade, and the autumn mist to rise ghostlike from the narrow
little harbour of Boscastle. Miss Bridgeman had contrived that it should
be so, just as she had contrived the visit to the seals that morning.

So Christabel, kneeling by her aunt's chair in the fire-glow, just as
she had knelt upon the night before Mr. Hamleigh's coming, with
faltering lips confessed her secret.

"My dearest, I have known it for ever so long," answered Mrs. Tregonell,
gravely, laying her slender hand, sparkling with hereditary rings--never
so gorgeous as the gems bought yesterday--on the girl's sunny hair. "I
cannot say that I am glad. No, Christabel, I am selfish enough to be
sorry, for Leonard's sake, that this should have happened. It was the
dream of my life that you two should marry."

"Dear aunt, we could never have cared for each other--as lovers. We had
been too much like brother and sister."

"Not too much for Leonard to love you, as I know he does. He was too
confident--too secure of his power to win you. And I, his mother, have
brought a rival here--a rival who has stolen your love from my son."

"Don't speak of him bitterly, dearest. Remember he is the son of the man
you loved."

"But not my son! Leonard must always be first in my mind. I like Angus
Hamleigh. He is all that his father was--yes--it is almost a painful
likeness--painful to me, who loved and mourned his father. But I cannot
help being sorry for Leonard."

"Leonard shall be my dear brother, always," said Christabel; yet even
while she spoke it occurred to her that Leonard was not quite the kind
of person to accept the fraternal position pleasantly, or, indeed, any
secondary character whatever in the drama of life.

"And when are you to be married?" asked Mrs. Tregonell, looking at the
fire.

"Oh, Auntie, do you suppose I have begun to think of that yet awhile?"

"Be sure that he has, if you have not! I hope he is not going to be in a
hurry. You were only nineteen last birthday."

"I feel tremendously old," said Christabel. "We--we were talking a
little about the future, this afternoon, in the billiard-room, and Angus
talked about the wedding being at the beginning of the new year. But I
told him I was sure you would not like that."

"No, indeed! I must have time to get reconciled to my loss," answered
the dowager, with her arm drawn caressingly round Christabel's head, as
the girl leaned against her aunt's chair. "What will this house seem to
me without my daughter? Leonard far away, putting his life in peril for
some foolish sport, and you living--Heaven knows where; for you would
have to study your husband's taste, not mine, in the matter."

"Why shouldn't we live near you? Mr. Hamleigh might buy a place. There
is generally something to be had if one watches one's opportunity."

"Do you think he would care to sink his fortune, or any part of it, in a
Cornish estate, or to live amidst these wild hills?"

"He says he adores this place."

"He is in love, and would swear as much of a worse place. No, Belle, I
am not foolish enough to suppose that you and Mr. Hamleigh are to settle
for life at the end of the world. This house shall be your home whenever
you choose to occupy it; and I hope you will come and stay with me
sometimes, for I shall be very lonely without you."

"Dear Auntie, you know how I love you; you know how completely happy I
have been with you--how impossible it is that anything can ever lessen
my love."

"I believe that, dear girl; but it is rarely now-a-days that Ruth
follows Naomi. Our modern Ruths go where their lovers go, and worship
the same gods. But I don't want to be selfish or unjust, dear. I will
try to rejoice in your happiness. And if Angus Hamleigh will only be a
little patient; if he will give me time to grow used to the loss of you,
he shall have you with your adopted mother's blessing."

"He shall not have me without it," said Christabel, looking up at her
aunt with steadfast eyes.

She had said no word of that early doom of which Angus had told her. For
worlds she could not have revealed that fatal truth. She had tried to
put away every thought of it while she talked with her aunt. Angus had
urged her beforehand to be perfectly frank, to tell Mrs. Tregonell what
a mere wreck of a life it was which her lover offered her: but she had
refused.

"Let that be our secret," she said, in her low sweet voice. "We want no
one's pity. We will bear our sorrow together. And, oh, Angus! my faith
is so strong. God, who has made me so happy by the gift of your love,
will not take you from me. If--if your life is to be brief, mine will
not be long."

"My dearest! if the gods will it so, we will know no parting, but be
translated into some new kind of life together--a modern Baucis and
Philemon. I think it would be wiser--better, to tell your aunt
everything. But if you think otherwise----"

"I will tell her nothing, except that you love me, and that, with her
consent, I am going to be your wife;" and with this determination
Christabel had made her confession to her aunt.

The ice once broken, everybody reconciled herself or himself to the new
aspect of affairs at Mount Royal. In less than a week it seemed the most
natural thing in life that Angus and Christabel should be engaged. There
was no marked change in their mode of life. They rambled upon the hills,
and went boating on fine mornings, exploring that wonderful coast where
the sea-birds congregate, on rocky isles and fortresses rising sheer out
of the sea--in mighty caves, the very tradition whereof sounds
terrible--caves that seem to have no ending, but to burrow into unknown,
unexplored regions, towards the earth's centre.

With Major Bree for their skipper, and a brace of sturdy boatmen, Angus,
Christabel, and Jessie Bridgeman spent several mild October mornings on
the sea--now towards Cambeak, anon towards Trebarwith. Tintagel from the
beach was infinitely grander than Tintagel in its landward aspect.
"Here," as Norden says, was "that rocky and winding way up the steep
sea-cliff, under which the sea-waves wallow, and so assail the
foundation of the isle, as may astonish an unstable brain to consider
the peril, for the least slip of the foot leads the whole body into the
devouring sea."

To climb these perilous paths, to spring from rock to rock upon the
slippery beach, landing on some long green slimy slab over which the sea
washes, was Christabel's delight--and Mr. Hamleigh showed no lack of
agility or daring. His health had improved marvellously in that
invigorating air. Christabel, noteful of every change of hue in the
beloved face, saw how much more healthy a tinge cheek and brow had taken
since Mr. Hamleigh came to Mount Royal. He had no longer the exhausted
look or the languid air of a man who had untimely squandered his stock
of life and health. His eye had brightened--with no hectic light, but
with the clear sunshine of a mind at ease. He was altered in every way
for the better.

And now the autumn evenings were putting on a wintry air--the lights
were twinkling early in the Alpine street of Boscastle. The little
harbour was dark at five o'clock. Mr. Hamleigh had been nearly two
months at Mount Royal, and he told himself that it was time for
leave-taking. Fain would he have stayed on--stayed until that blissful
morning when Christabel and he might kneel, side by side, before the
altar in Minster Church, and be made one for ever--one in life and
death--in a union as perfect as that which was symbolized by the plant
that grew out of Tristan's tomb and went down into the grave of his
mistress.

Unhappily, Mrs. Tregonell had made up her mind that her niece should not
be married until she was twenty years of age--and Christabel's twentieth
birthday would not arrive till the following Midsummer. To a lover's
impatience so long an interval seemed an eternity; but Mrs. Tregonell
had been very gracious in her consent to his betrothal, so he could not
disobey her.

"Christabel has seen so little of the world," said the dowager. "I
should like to give her one season in London before she marries--just to
rub off a little of the rusticity."

"She is perfect--I would not have her changed for worlds," protested
Angus.

"Nor I. But she ought to know a little more of society before she has to
enter it as your wife. I don't think a London season will spoil her--and
it will please me to chaperon her--though I have no doubt I shall seem
rather an old-fashioned chaperon."

"That is just possible," said Angus, smiling, as he thought how closely
his divinity was guarded. "The chaperons of the present day are very
easy-going people--or, perhaps I ought to say, that the young ladies of
the present day have a certain Yankee go-a-headishness which very much
lightens the chaperon's responsibility. In point of fact, the London
chaperon has dwindled into a formula, and no doubt she will soon be
improved off the face of society."

"So much the worse for society," answered the lady of the old school.
And then she continued, with a friendly air,--

"I dare say you know that I have a house in Bolton Row. I have not lived
in it since my husband's death--but it is mine, and I can have it made
comfortable between this and the early spring. I have been thinking that
it would be better for you and Christabel to be married in London. The
law business would be easier settled--and you may have relations and
friends who would like to be at your wedding, yet who would hardly care
to come to Boscastle."

"It _is_ a long way," admitted Angus. "And people are so inconsistent.
They think nothing of going to the Engadine, yet grumble consumedly at a
journey of a dozen hours in their native land--as if England were not
worth the exertion."

"Then I think we are agreed that London is the best place for the
wedding," said Mrs. Tregonell.

"I am perfectly content. But if you suggested Timbuctoo I should be just
as happy."

This being settled, Mrs. Tregonell wrote at once to her agent, with
instructions to set the old house in Bolton Row in order for the season
immediately after Easter, and Christabel and her lover had to reconcile
their minds to the idea of a long dreary winter of severance.

Miss Courtenay had grown curiously grave and thoughtful since her
engagement--a change which Jessie, who watched her closely, observed
with some surprise. It seemed as if she had passed from girlhood into
womanhood in the hour in which she pledged herself to Angus Hamleigh.
She had for ever done with the thoughtless gaiety of youth that knows
not care. She had taken upon herself the burden of an anxious,
self-sacrificing love. To no one had she spoken of her lover's
precarious hold upon life; but the thought of by how frail a tenure she
held her happiness was ever present with her. "How can I be good enough
to him?--how can I do enough to make his life happy?" she thought, "when
it may be for so short a time."

With this ever-present consciousness of a fatal future, went the desire
to make her lover forget his doom, and the ardent hope that the sentence
might be revoked--that the doom pronounced by human judgment might yet
be reversed. Indeed, Angus had himself begun to make light of his
malady. Who could tell that the famous physician was not a false
prophet, after all? The same dire announcement of untimely death had
been made to Leigh Hunt, who contrived somehow--not always in the
smoothest waters--to steer his frail bark into the haven of old age.
Angus spoke of this, hopefully, to Christabel, as they loitered within
the roofless crumbling walls of the ancient oratory above St. Nectan's
Kieve, one sunny November morning, Miss Bridgeman rambling on the crest
of the hill, with the black sheep-dog, Randie, under the polite fiction
of blackberry hunting, among hedges which had long been shorn of their
last berry, though the freshness of the lichens and ferns still lingered
in this sheltered nook.

"Yes, I know that cruel doctor was mistaken!" said Christabel, her lips
quivering a little, her eyes wide and grave, but tearless, as they gazed
at her lover. "I know it, I know it!"

"I know that I am twice as strong and well as I was when he saw me,"
answered Angus; "you have worked as great a miracle for me as ever was
wrought at the grave of St. Mertheriana in Minster Churchyard. You have
made me happy, and what can cure a man better than perfect bliss. But,
oh, my darling! what is to become of me when I leave you, when I return
to the beaten ways of London life, and, looking back at these delicious
days, ask myself if this sweet life with you is not some dream which I
have dreamed, and which can never come again?"

"You will not think anything of the kind," said Christabel, with a
pretty little air of authority which charmed him--as all her looks and
ways charmed him. "You know that I am sober reality, and that our lives
are to be spent together. And you are not going back to London--at least
not to stop there. You are going to the South of France."

"Indeed? this is the first I have heard of any such intention."

"Did not that doctor say you were to winter in the South?"

"He did. But I thought we had agreed to despise that doctor?"

"We will despise him, yet be warned by him. Why should any one, who has
liberty and plenty of money, spend his winter in a smoky city, where the
fog blinds and stifles him, and the frost pinches him, and the damp
makes him miserable, when he can have blue skies, and sunshine and
flowers, and ever so much brighter stars, a few hundred miles away? We
are bound to obey each other, are we not, Angus? Is not that among our
marriage vows?"

"I believe there is something about obedience--on the lady's side--but I
waive that technicality. I am prepared to become an awful example of a
henpecked husband. If you say I am to go southward, with the swallows, I
will go--yea, verily, to Algeria or Tunis, if you insist: though I would
rather be on the Riviera, whence a telegram, with the single word 'Come'
would bring me to your side in forty-eight hours."

"Yes, you will go to that lovely land on the shores of the
Mediterranean, and there you will be very careful of your health, so
that when we meet in London, after Easter, your every look will gainsay
that pitiless doctor. Will you do this, for my sake, Angus?" she
pleaded, lovingly, nestling at his side, as they stood together on a
narrow path that wound down to the entrance of the Kieve. They could
hear the rush of the waterfall in the deep green hollow below them, and
the faint flutter of loosely hanging leaves, stirred lightly by the
light wind, and far away the joyous bark of a sheep-dog. No human
voices, save their own, disturbed the autumnal stillness.

"This, and much more, would I do to please you, love. Indeed, if I am
not to be here, I might just as well be in the South; nay, much better
than in London, or Paris, both of which cities I know by heart. But
don't you think we could make a compromise, and that I might spend the
winter at Torquay, running over to Mount Royal for a few days
occasionally?"

"No; Torquay will not do, delightful as it would be to have you so near.
I have been reading about the climate in the South of France, and I am
sure, if you are careful, a winter there will do you worlds of good.
Next year----"

"Next year we can go there together, and you will take care of me. Was
that what you were going to say, Belle?"

"Something like that."

"Yes" he said, slowly, after a thoughtful pause, "I shall be glad to be
away from London, and all old associations. My past life is a worthless
husk that I have done with for ever."



CHAPTER VI.

IN SOCIETY.


The Easter recess was over. Society had returned from its brief
holiday--its glimpse of budding hedges and primrose-dotted banks, blue
skies and blue violets, the snowy bloom of orchards, the tender green of
young cornfields. Society had come back again, and was hard at the
London treadmill--yawning at old operas, and damning new
plays--sniggering at crowded soirées--laying down the law, each
man his particular branch thereof, at carefully planned dinner
parties--quarrelling and making friends again--eating and
drinking--spending and wasting, and pretending to care very little about
anything; for society is as salt that has lost its savour if it is not
cynical and affected.

But there was one _débutante_ at least that season for whom town
pleasures had lost none of their freshness, for whom the old operas were
all melody, and the new plays all wit--who admired everything with
frankest wonder and enthusiasm, and without a thought of Horace, or
Pope, or Creech, or anybody, except the lover who was always at her
side, and who shed the rose-coloured light of happiness upon the
commonest things. To sit in the Green Park on a mild April morning, to
see the guard turn out by St. James's Palace after breakfast, to loiter
away an hour or two at a picture gallery--was to be infinitely happy.
Neither opera nor play, dinner nor dance, race-course nor flower-show,
was needed to complete the sum of Christabel's bliss when Angus Hamleigh
was with her.

He had returned from Hyères, quietest among the southern towns,
wonderfully improved in health and strength. Even Mrs. Tregonell and
Miss Bridgeman perceived the change in him.

"I think you must have been very ill when you came to Mount Royal, Mr.
Hamleigh," said Jessie, one day. "You look so much better now."

"My life was empty then--it is full now," he answered. "It is hope that
keeps a man alive, and I had very little to hope for when I went
westward. How strange the road of life is, and how little a man knows
what is waiting for him round the corner."

The house in Bolton Row was charming; just large enough to be
convenient, just small enough to be snug. At the back, the windows
looked into Lord Somebody's garden--not quite a tropical paradise--nay,
even somewhat flavoured with bricks and mortar--but still a garden,
where, by sedulous art, the gardeners kept alive ferns and flowers, and
where trees, warranted to resist smoke, put forth young leaves in the
springtime, and only languished and sickened in untimely decay when the
London season was over, and their function as fashionable trees had been
fulfilled.

The house was furnished in a Georgian style, pleasant to modern taste.
The drawing-room was of the spindle-legged order--satin-wood card
tables; groups of miniatures in oval frames; Japanese folding screen,
behind which Belinda might have played Bo-peep; china jars, at whose
fall Narcissa might have inly suffered, while outwardly serene. The
dining-room was sombre and substantial. The bedrooms had been improved
by modern upholstery; for the sleeping apartments of our ancestors leave
a good deal to be desired. All the windows were full of flowers--inside
and out there was the perfume and colour of many blossoms. The three
drawing-rooms, growing smaller to a diminishing point, like a practical
lesson in perspective, were altogether charming.

Major Bree had escorted the ladies to London, and was their constant
guest, camping out in a bachelor lodging in Jermyn Street, and coming
across Piccadilly every day to eat his luncheon in Bolton Row, and to
discuss the evening's engagements.

Long as he had been away from London, he acclimatized himself very
quickly--found out everything about everybody--what singers were best
worth hearing--what plays best worth seeing--what actors should be
praised--which pictures should be looked at and talked about--what
horses were likely to win the notable races. He was a walking guide, a
living hand-book to fashionable London.

All Mrs. Tregonell's old friends--all the Cornish people who came to
London--called in Bolton Row; and at every house where the lady and her
niece visited there were new introductions, whereby the widow's visiting
list widened like a circle in the water--and cards for dances and
evening parties, afternoons and dinners were super-abundant. Christabel
wanted to see everything. She had quite a country girl's taste, and
cared much more for the theatre and the opera than to be dressed in a
new gown, and to be crushed in a crowd of other young women in new
gowns--or to sit still and be admired at a stately dinner. Nor was she
particularly interested in the leaders of fashion, their ways and
manners--the newest professed or professional beauty--the last social
scandal. She wanted to see the great city of which she had read in
history--the Tower, the Savoy, Westminster Hall, the Abbey, St. Paul's,
the Temple--the London of Elizabeth, the still older London of the
Edwards and Henries, the house in which Milton was born, the organ on
which he played, the place where Shakespeare's Theatre once stood, the
old Inn whence Chaucer's Pilgrims started on their journey. Even
Dickens's London--the London of Pickwick and Winkle--the Saracen's Head
at which Mr. Squeers put up--had charms for her.

"Is everything gone?" she asked, piteously, after being told how
improvement had effaced the brick and mortar background of English
History.

Yet there still remained enough to fill her mind with solemn thoughts of
the past. She spent long hours in the Abbey, with Angus and Jessie,
looking at the monuments, and recalling the lives and deeds of long
vanished heroes and statesmen. The Tower, and the old Inns of Court,
were full of interest. Her curiosity about old houses and streets was
insatiable.

"No one less than Macaulay could satisfy you," said Angus, one day, when
his memory was at fault. "A man of infinite reading, and infallible
memory."

"But you have read so much, and you remember a great deal."

They had been prowling about the Whitehall end of the town in the bright
early morning, before Fashion had begun to stir herself faintly among
her down pillows. Christabel loved the parks and streets while the
freshness of sunrise was still upon them--and these early walks were an
institution.

"Where is the Decoy?" she asked Angus, one day, in St. James's Park; and
on being interrogated, it appeared that she meant a certain piece of
water, described in "Peveril of the Peak." All this part of London was
peopled with Scott's heroes and heroines, or with suggestions of
Goldsmith. Here Fenella danced before good-natured, loose-living Rowley.
Here Nigel stood aside, amidst the crowd, to see Charles, Prince of
Wales, and his ill-fated favourite, Buckingham, go by. Here the Citizen
of the World met Beau Tibbs and the gentleman in black. For Christabel,
the Park was like a scene in a stage play.

Then, after breakfast, there were long drives into fair suburban haunts,
where they escaped in some degree from London smoke and London
restraints of all kinds, where they could charter a boat, and row up the
river to a still fairer scene, and picnic in some rushy creek, out of
ken of society, and be almost as recklessly gay as if they had been at
Tintagel.

These were the days Angus loved best. The days upon which he and his
betrothed turned their backs upon London society, and seemed as far away
from the outside world as ever they had been upon the wild western
coast. Like most men educated at Eton and Oxford, and brought up in the
neighbourhood of the metropolis, Angus loved the Thames with a love that
was almost a passion.

"It is my native country," he said; "I have no other. All the
pleasantest associations of my boyhood and youth are interwoven with the
river. When I die, my spirit ought to haunt these shores, like that
ghost of the 'Scholar Gipsy,' which you have read about in Arnold's
poem."

He knew every bend and reach of the river--every tributary, creek, and
cyot--almost every row of pollard willows, standing stunted and grim
along the bank, like a line of rugged old men. He knew where the lilies
grew, and where there were chances of trout. The haunts of monster pike
were familiar to him--indeed, he declared that he knew many of these
gentlemen personally--that they were as old as the Fontainebleau carp,
and bore a charmed life.

"When I was at Eton I knew them all by sight," he said. "There was one
which I set my heart upon landing, but he was ever so much stronger and
cleverer than I. If I had caught him I should have worn his skin ever
after, in the pride of my heart--like Hercules with his lion. But he
still inhabits the same creek, still sulks among the same rushes, and
devours the gentler members of the finny race by shoals. We christened
him Dr. Parr, for we knew he was preternaturally old, and we thought he
must, from mere force of association, be a profound scholar."

Mr. Hamleigh was always finding reasons for these country excursions,
which he declared were the one sovereign antidote for the poisoned
atmosphere of crowded rooms, and the evil effects of late hours.

"You wouldn't like to see Christabel fade and languish like the flowers
in your drawing-room," he urged, when Mrs. Tregonell wanted her niece
to make a round of London visits, instead of going down to Maidenhead
on the coach, to lunch somewhere up the river. Not at Skindle's--or at
any other hotel--but in the lazy sultry quiet of some sequestered nook
below the hanging woods of Clieveden. "I'm sure you can spare her just
for to-day--such a perfect spring day. It would be a crime to waste such
sunlight and such balmy air in town drawing-rooms. Could not you strain
a point, dear Mrs. Tregonell, and come with us?"

Aunt Diana shook her head. No, the fatigue would be too much--she had
lived such a quiet life at Mount Royal, that a very little exertion
tired her. Besides she had some calls to make; and then there was a
dinner at Lady Bulteel's, to which she must take Christabel, and an
evening party afterwards.

Christabel shrugged her shoulders impatiently.

"I am beginning to hate parties," she said. "They are amusing enough
when one is in them--but they are all alike--and it would be so much
nicer for us to live our own lives, and go wherever Angus likes. Don't
you think you might defer the calls, and come with us to-day, Auntie
dear?"

Auntie dear shook her head.

"Even if I were equal to the fatigue, Belle, I couldn't defer my visits.
Thursday is Lady Onslow's day--and Mrs. Trevannion's day--and Mrs.
Vansittart's day--and when people have been so wonderfully kind to us,
it would be uncivil not to call."

"And you will sit in stifling drawing-rooms, with the curtains lowered
to shut out the sunlight--and you will drink ever so much more tea than
is good for you--and hear a lot of people prosing about the same things
over and over again--Epsom and the Opera--and Mrs. This and Miss
That--and Mrs. Somebody's new book, which everybody reads and talks
about, just as if there were not another book in the world, or as if the
old book counted for nothing," concluded Christabel, contemptuously,
having by this time discovered the conventional quality of kettle-drum
conversations, wherein people discourse authoritatively about books they
have not read, plays they have not seen, and people they do not know.

Mr. Hamleigh had his own way, and carried off Christabel and Miss
Bridgeman to the White Horse Cellar, with the faithful Major in
attendance.

"You will bring Belle home in time to dress for Lady Bulteel's dinner,"
said Mrs. Tregonell, impressively, as they were departing. "Mind, Major,
I hold you responsible for her return. You are the only sober person in
the party. I believe Jessie Bridgeman is as wild as a hawk, when she
gets out of my sight."

Jessie's shrewd grey eyes twinkled at the reproof.

"I am not very sorry to get away from Bolton Row, and the fine ladies
who come to see you--and who always look at me as much as to say, 'Who
is she?--what is she?--how did she come here?'--and who are obviously
surprised if I say anything intelligent--first, at my audacity in
speaking before company, and next that such a thing as I should have any
brains."

"Nonsense, Jessie, how thin-skinned you are; everybody praises you,"
said Mrs. Tregonell, while they all waited on the threshold for
Christabel to fasten her eight-button gloves--a delicate operation, in
which she was assisted by Mr. Hamleigh.

"How clever you are at buttoning gloves," exclaimed Christabel; "one
would think you had served an apprenticeship."

"That's not the first pair he has buttoned, I'll wager," cried the
Major, in his loud, hearty voice; and then, seeing Angus redden ever so
slightly, and remembering certain rumours which he had heard at his
club, the kindly bachelor regretted his speech.

Happily, Christabel was engaged at this moment in kissing her aunt, and
did not observe Mr. Hamleigh's heightened colour. Ten minutes later they
were all seated outside the coach, bowling down Piccadilly Hill on their
way westward.

"In the good old days this is how you would have started for Cornwall,"
said Angus.

"I wish we were going to Cornwall now."

"So do I, if your aunt would let us be married at that dear little
church in the glen. Christabel, when I die, if you have the ordering of
my funeral, be sure that I am buried in Minster Churchyard."

"Angus, don't," murmured Christabel, piteously.

"Dearest, 'we must all die--'tis an inevitable chance--the first
Statute in Magna Charta--it is an everlasting Act of Parliament'--that's
what he says of death, dear, who jested at all things, and laid his cap
and bells down one day in a lodging in Bond Street--the end of which we
passed just now--sad and lonely, and perhaps longing for the kindred
whom he had forsaken."

"You mean Sterne," said Christabel. "Jessie and I hunted for that house,
yesterday. I think we all feel sorrier for him than for many a better
man."

In the early afternoon they had reached their destination--a lovely
creek shaded by chestnut and alder--a spot known to few, and rarely
visited. Here, under green leaves, they moored their boat, and lunched
on the contents of a basket which had been got ready for them at
Skindle's--dawdling over the meal--taking their ease--full of talk and
laughter. Never had Angus looked better, or talked more gaily. Jessie,
too, was at her brightest, and had a great deal to say.

"It is wonderful how well you two get on," said Christabel, smiling at
her friend's prompt capping of some bitter little speech from Angus.
"You always seem to understand each other so quickly--indeed, Jessie
seems to know what Angus is going to say before the words are spoken. I
can see it in her face."

"Perhaps, that is because we are both cynics," said Mr. Hamleigh.

"Yes, that is no doubt the reason," said Jessie, reddening a little;
"the bond of sympathy between us is founded on our very poor opinion of
our fellow-creatures."

But after this Miss Bridgeman became more silent, and gave way much less
than usual to those sudden impulses of sharp speech which Christabel had
noticed.

They landed presently, and went wandering away into the inland--a
strange world to Christabel, albeit very familiar to her lover.

"Not far from here there is a dell which is the most wonderful place in
the world for bluebells," said Angus, looking at his watch. "I wonder
whether we should have time to walk there."

"Let us try, if it is not very, very far," urged Christabel. "I adore
bluebells, and skylarks, and the cuckoo, and all the dear country
flowers and birds. I have been surfeited with hot-house flowers and
caged canaries since I came to London."

A skylark was singing in the deep blue, far aloft, over the little wood
in which they were wandering. It was the loneliest, loveliest spot; and
Christabel felt as if it would be agony to leave it. She and her lover
seemed ever so much nearer, dearer, more entirely united here than in
London drawing-rooms, where she hardly dared to be civil to him lest
society should be amused or contemptuous. Here she could cling to his
arm--it seemed a strong and helpful arm now--and look up at his face
with love irradiating her own countenance, and feel no more ashamed than
Eve in the Garden. Here they could talk without fear of being heard; for
Jessie and the Major followed at a most respectful distance--just
keeping the lovers in view, and no more.

Christabel ran back presently to say they were going to look for
bluebells.

"You'll come, won't you?" she pleaded; "Angus says the dell is not far
off."

"I don't believe a bit in his topography," said the Major; "do you
happen to know that it is three o'clock, and that you are due at a State
dinner?"

"At eight," cried Christabel, "ages away. Angus says the train goes at
six. We are to have some tea at Skindle's, at five. We have two hours in
which to do what we like."

"There is the row back to Skindle's."

"Say half an hour for that, which gives us ninety minutes for the
bluebells."

"Do you count life by minutes, child?" asked the Major.

"Yes, Uncle Oliver, when I am utterly happy; for then every minute is
precious."

And then she and her lover went rambling on, talking, laughing,
poetising under the flickering shadows and glancing lights; while the
other two followed at a leisurely pace, like the dull foot of reality
following the winged heel of romance. Jessie Bridgeman was only
twenty-seven, yet in her own mind it seemed as if she were the Major's
contemporary--nay, indeed, his senior; for he had never known that
grinding poverty which ages the eldest daughter in a large shabby
genteel family. Jessie Bridgeman had been old in care before she left
off pinafores. Her childish pleasure in the shabbiest of dolls had been
poisoned by a precocious familiarity with poor-rates, and water-rates--a
sickening dread of the shabby man in pepper-and-salt tweed, with the end
of an oblong account-book protruding from his breast-pocket, who came to
collect money that was never ready for him, and departed, leaving a
printed notice, like the trail of the serpent, behind him. The first
twenty years of Jessie Bridgeman's life had been steeped in poverty,
every day, every hour flavoured with the bitter taste of deprivation and
the world's contempt, the want of common comforts, the natural longing
for fairer surroundings, the ever-present dread of a still lower deep in
which pinching should become starvation, and even the shabby home should
be no longer tenable. With a father whose mission upon this earth was to
docket and file a certain class of accounts in Somerset House, for a
salary of a hundred-and-eighty pounds a year, and a bi-annual rise of
five, a harmless man, whose only crime was to have married young and
made himself responsible for an unanticipated family--"How could a young
fellow of two-and-twenty know that God was going to afflict him with ten
children?" Mr. Bridgeman used to observe plaintively--with a mother
whose life was one long domestic drudgery, who spent more of her days in
a back kitchen than is consistent with the maintenance of personal
dignity, and whose only chance of an airing was that stern necessity
which impelled her to go and interview the tax-gatherer, in the hope of
obtaining "time"--Jessie's opportunities of tasting the pleasures of
youth had been of the rarest. Once in six months or so, perhaps, a
shabby-genteel friend gave her father an order for some theatre, which
was in that palpable stage of ruin when orders are freely given to the
tavern loafer and the stage-door hanger-on--and then, oh, what rapture
to trudge from Shepherd's Bush to the West End, and to spend a long hot
evening in the gassy paradise of the Upper Boxes! Once in a year or so
Mr. Bridgeman gave his wife and eldest girl a dinner at an Italian
Restaurant near Leicester Square--a cheap little pinchy dinner, in
which the meagre modicum of meat and poultry was eked out by much sauce,
redolent of garlic, by delicious foreign bread, and too-odorous foreign
cheese. It was a tradition in the family that Mr. Bridgeman had been a
great dinner-giver in his bachelor days, and knew every restaurant in
London.

"They don't forget me here, you see," he said, when the sleek Italian
waiter brought him extra knives and forks for the dual portion which was
to serve for three.

Such had been the utmost limit of Jessie's pleasures before she answered
an advertisement in the _Times_, which stated that a lady, living in a
retired part of Cornwall, required the services of a young lady who
could write a good hand, keep accounts, and had some knowledge of
housekeeping--who was willing, active, cheerful, and good-tempered.
Salary, thirty pounds per annum.

It was not the first advertisement by many that Jessie had answered.
Indeed, she seemed, to her own mind, to have been doing nothing but
answering advertisements, and hoping against hope for a favourable
reply, since her eighteenth birthday, when it had been borne in upon
her, as the Evangelicals say, that she ought to go out into the world,
and do something for her living, making one mouth less to be filled from
the family bread-pan.

"There's no use talking, mother," she said, when Mrs. Bridgeman tried to
prove that the bright useful eldest daughter cost nothing; "I eat, and
food costs money. I have a dreadfully healthy appetite, and if I could
get a decent situation I should cost you nothing, and should be able to
send you half my salary. And now that Milly is getting a big girl----"

"She hasn't an idea of making herself useful," sighed the mother; "only
yesterday she let the milkman ring three times and then march away
without leaving us a drop of milk, because she was too proud or too lazy
to open the door, while Sarah and I were up to our eyes in the wash."

"Perhaps she didn't hear him," suggested Jessie, charitably.

"She must have heard his pails if she didn't hear _him_," said Mrs.
Bridgeman; "besides he 'yooped,' for I heard him, and relied upon that
idle child for taking in the milk. But put not your trust in princes,"
concluded the overworked matron, rather vaguely.

"Salary, thirty pounds per annum," repeated Jessie, reading the Cornish
lady's advertisement over and over again, as if it had been a charm;
"why that would be a perfect fortune; think what you could do with an
extra fifteen pounds a year!"

"My dear, it would make my life heaven. But you would want all the money
for your dress: you would have to be always nice. There would be dinner
parties, no doubt, and you would be asked to come into the drawing-room
of an evening," said Mrs. Bridgeman, whose ideas of the governess's
social status were derived solely from "Jane Eyre."

Jessie's reply to the advertisement was straight-forward and succinct,
and she wrote a fine bold hand. These two facts favourably impressed
Mrs. Tregonell, and of the three or four dozen answers which her
advertisement brought forth, Jessie's pleased her the most. The young
lady's references to her father's landlord and the incumbent of the
nearest church, were satisfactory. So one bleak wintry morning Miss
Bridgeman left Paddington in one of the Great Western's almost luxurious
third-class carriages, and travelled straight to Launceston, whence a
carriage--the very first private carriage she had ever sat in, and every
detail of which was a wonder and a delight to her--conveyed her to Mount
Royal.

That fine old Tudor manor-house, after the shabby ten-roomed villa at
Shepherd's Bush--badly built, badly drained, badly situated, badly
furnished, always smelling of yesterday's dinner, always damp and oozy
with yesterday's rain--was almost too beautiful to be real. For days
after her arrival Jessie felt as if she must be walking about in a
dream. The elegancies and luxuries of life were all new to her. The
perfect quiet and order of this country home; the beauty in every
detail--from the old silver urn and Worcester china which greeted her
eyes on the breakfast-table, to the quaint little Queen Anne candlestick
which she carried up to her bedroom at night--seemed like a revelation
of a hitherto unknown world. The face of Nature--the hills and the
moors--the sea and the cliffs--was as new to her as all that indoor
luxury. An occasional week at Ramsgate or South-end had been all her
previous experience of this world's loveliness. Happily, she was not a
shy or awkward young person. She accommodated herself with wonderful
ease to her altered surroundings--was not tempted to drink out of a
finger-glass, and did not waver for a moment as to the proper use of her
fish-knife and fork--took no wine--and ate moderately of that luxurious
and plentiful fare which was as new and wonderful to her as if she had
been transported from the barren larder of Shepherd's Bush to that
fabulous land where the roasted piglings ran about with knives and forks
in their backs, squeaking, in pig language, "Come, eat me; come, eat
me."

Often in this paradise of pasties and clotted cream, mountain mutton and
barn-door fowls, she thought with a bitter pang of the hungry circle at
home, with whom dinner was the exception rather than the rule, and who
made believe to think tea and bloaters an ever so much cosier meal than
a formal repast of roast and boiled.

On the very day she drew her first quarter's salary--not for worlds
would she have anticipated it by an hour--Jessie ran off to a farm she
knew of, and ordered a monster hamper to be sent to Rosslyn Villa,
Shepherd's Bush--a hamper full of chickens, and goose, and cream, and
butter, with a big saffron-flavoured cake for its crowning glory--such a
cake as would delight the younger members of the household!

Nor did she forget her promise to send the over-tasked house-mother half
her earnings. "You needn't mind taking the money, dearest," she wrote in
the letter which enclosed the Post-Office order. "Mrs. Tregonell has
given me a lovely grey silk gown; and I have bought a brown merino at
Launceston, and a new hat and jacket. You would stare to see how
splendidly your homely little Jessie is dressed! Christabel found out
the date of my birthday, and gave me a dozen of the loveliest gloves, my
favourite grey, with four buttons. A whole dozen! Did you ever see a
dozen of gloves all at once, mother? You have no idea how lovely they
look. I quite shrink from breaking into the packet; but I must wear a
pair at church next Sunday, in compliment to the dear little giver. If
it were not for thoughts of you and the brood, dearest, I should be
intensely happy here! The house is an ideal house--the people are ideal
people; and they treat me ever so much better than I deserve. I think I
have the knack of being useful to them, which is a great comfort; and I
am able to get on with the servants--old servants who had a great deal
too much of their own way before I came--which is also a comfort. It is
not easy to introduce reform without making oneself detested.
Christabel, who has been steeping herself in French history lately,
calls me Turgot in petticoats--by which you will see she has a high
opinion of my ministerial talents--if you can remember Turgot, poor
dear! amidst all your worries," added Jessie, bethinking herself that
her mother's book-learning had gone to seed in an atmosphere of petty
domestic cares--mending--washing--pinching--contriving.

This and much more had Jessie Bridgeman written seven years ago, while
Mount Royal was still new to her. The place and the people--at least
those two whom she first knew there--had grown dearer as time went on.
When Leonard came home from the University, he and his mother's factotum
did not get on quite so well as Mrs. Tregonell had hoped. Jessie was
ready to be kind and obliging to the heir of the house; but Leonard did
not like her--in the language of the servant's hall, he "put his back up
at her." He looked upon her as an interloper and a spy, especially
suspecting her in the latter capacity, perhaps from a lurking
consciousness that some of his actions would not bear the fierce light
of unfriendly observation. In vain did his mother plead for her
favourite.

"You have no idea how good she is!" said Mrs. Tregonell.

"You're perfectly right there, mother; I have not," retorted Leonard.

"And so useful to me! I should be lost without her!"

"Of course; that's exactly what she wants: creeping and crawling--and
pinching and saving--docking your tradesmen's accounts--grinding your
servants--fingering your income--till, by-and-by, she will contrive to
finger a good deal of it into her own pocket! That's the way they all
begin--that's the way the man in the play, Sir Giles Overreach's man,
began, you may be sure--till by-and-by he got Sir Giles under his thumb.
And that's the way Miss Bridgeman will serve you. I wonder you are so
shortsighted!"

Weak as Mrs. Tregonell was in her love for her son, she was too staunch
to be set against a person she liked by any such assertions as these.
She was quite able to form her own opinion about Miss Bridgeman's
character, and she found the girl straight as an arrow--candid almost to
insolence, yet pleasant withal; industrious, clever--sharp as a needle
in all domestic details--able to manage pounds as carefully as she had
managed pence and sixpences.

"Mother used to give me the housekeeping purse," she said, "and I did
what I liked. I was always Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a very
small exchequer; but I learnt the habit of spending and managing, and
keeping accounts."

While active and busy about domestic affairs, verifying accounts,
settling supplies and expenditures with the cook-housekeeper, making
herself a veritable clerk of the kitchen, and overlooking the housemaids
in the finer details of their work, Miss Bridgeman still found ample
leisure for the improvement of her mind. In a quiet country-house, where
family prayers are read at eight o'clock every morning, the days are
long enough for all things. Jessie had no active share in Christabel's
education, which was Mrs. Tregonell's delight and care; but she
contrived to learn what Christabel learnt--to study with her and read
with her, and often to outrun her in the pursuit of a favourite subject.
They learnt German together, they read good French books together, and
were companions in the best sense of the word. It was a happy
life--monotonous, uneventful, but a placid, busy, all-satisfying life,
which Jessie Bridgeman led during those six years and a half which went
before the advent of Angus Hamleigh at Mount Royal. The companion's
salary had long ago been doubled, and Jessie, who had no caprices, and
whose wants were modest, was able to send forty pounds a year to
Shepherd's Bush, and found a rich reward in the increased cheerfulness
of the letters from home.

Just so much for Jessie Bridgeman's history as she walks by Major Bree's
side in the sunlight, with a sharply cut face, impressed with a gravity
beyond her years, and marked with precocious lines that were drawn there
by the iron hand of poverty before she had emerged from girlhood. Of
late, even amidst the elegant luxuries of May Fair, in a life given over
to amusement, among flowers and bright scenery, and music and pictures,
those lines had been growing deeper--lines that hinted at a secret care.

"Isn't it delightful to see them together!" said the Major, looking
after those happy lovers with a benevolent smile.

"Yes; I suppose it is very beautiful to see such perfect happiness, like
Juan and Haidée before Lambro swooped down upon them," returned Miss
Bridgeman, who was too outspoken to be ashamed of having read Byron's
epic.

Major Bree had old-fashioned notions about the books women should and
should not read, and Byron, except for elegant extracts, was in his
_Index expurgatorius_. If a woman was allowed to read the "Giaour," she
would inevitably read "Don Juan," he argued; there would be no
restraining her, after she had tasted blood--no use in offering her
another poet, and saying, Now you can read "Thalaba," or "Peter Bell."

"They were so happy!" said Jessie dreamily, "so young, and one so
innocent; and then came fear, severance, despair, and death for the
innocent sinner. It is a terrible story!"

"Fortunately, there is no tyrannical father in this case," replied the
cheerful Major. "Everybody is pleased with the engagement--everything
smiles upon the lovers."

"No, it is all sunshine," said Jessie; "there is no shadow, if--if Mr.
Hamleigh is as worthy of his betrothed as we have all agreed to think
him. Yet there was a time when you spoke rather disparagingly of him."

"My gossiping old tongue should be cut out for repeating club scandals!
Hamleigh is a generous-hearted, noble-natured fellow, and I am not
afraid to trust him with the fate of a girl whom I love almost as well
as if she were my own daughter. I don't know whether all men love their
daughters, by-the-by. There are daughters and daughters--I have seen
some that it would be tough work to love. But for Christabel my
affection is really parental. I have seen her bud and blossom, a
beautiful living flower, a rose in the garden of life."

"And you think Mr. Hamleigh is worthy of her?" said Miss Bridgeman,
looking at him searchingly with her shrewd grey eyes, "in spite of what
you heard at the clubs?"

"A _fico_ for what I heard at the clubs!" exclaimed the Major, blowing
the slander away from the tips of his fingers as if it had been
thistledown. "Every man has a past, and every man outlives it. The
present and the future are what we have to consider. It is not a man's
history, but the man himself, that concerns us; and I say that Angus
Hamleigh is a good man, a right-meaning man, a brave and generous man.
If a man is to be judged by his history, where would David be, I should
like to know? and yet David was the chosen of the Lord!" added the
Major, conclusively.

"I hope," said Jessie, earnestly, with vague visions of intrigue and
murder conjured up in her mind, "that Mr. Hamleigh was never as bad as
David."

"No, no," murmured the Major, "the circumstances of modern times are so
different, don't you see?--an advanced civilization--a greater respect
for human life. Napoleon the First did a good many queer things; but you
would not get a monarch and a commander-in-chief to act as David and
Joab acted now-a-days. Public opinion would be too strong for them. They
would be afraid of the newspapers."

"Was it anything very dreadful that you heard at the clubs three years
ago?" asked Jessie, still hovering about a forbidden theme, with a
morbid curiosity strange in one whose acts and thoughts were for the
most part ruled by common sense.

The Major, who would not allow a woman to read "Don Juan," had his own
ideas of what ought and ought not to be told to a woman.

"My dear Miss Bridgeman," he said, "I would not for worlds pollute your
ears with the ribald trash men talk in a club smoking-room. Let it
suffice for you to know that I believe in Angus Hamleigh, although I
have taken the trouble to make myself acquainted with the follies of his
youth."

They walked on in silence for a little while after this, and then the
Major said, in a voice full of kindness:

"I think you went to see your own people yesterday, did you not?"

"Yes; Mrs. Tregonell was kind enough to give me a morning, and I spent
it with my mother and sisters."

The Major had questioned her more than once about her home, in a way
which indicated so kindly an interest that it could not possibly be
mistaken for idle curiosity. And she had told him, with perfect
frankness, what manner of people her family were--in no wise hesitating
to admit their narrow means, and the necessity that she should earn her
own living.

"I hope you found them well and happy."

"I thought my mother looked thin and weary. The girls were wonderfully
well--great hearty, overgrown creatures! I felt myself a wretched little
shrimp among them. As for happiness--well, they are as happy as people
can expect to be who are very poor!"

"Do you really think poverty is incompatible with happiness?" asked the
Major, with a philosophical air; "I have had a particularly happy life,
and I have never been rich."

"Ah, that makes all the difference!" exclaimed Jessie. "You have never
been rich, but they have always been poor. You can't conceive what a
gulf lies between those two positions. You have been obliged to deny
yourself a great many of the mere idle luxuries of life, I dare
say--hunters, the latest improvements in guns, valuable dogs,
continental travelling; but you have had enough for all the needful
things--for neatness, cleanliness, an orderly household; a well-kept
flower-garden, everything spotless and bright about you; no slipshod
maid-of-all-work printing her greasy thumb upon your dishes--nothing out
at elbows. Your house is small, but of its kind it is perfection; and
your garden--well, if I had such a garden in such a situation I would
not envy Eve the Eden she lost."

"Is that really your opinion?" cried the enraptured soldier; "or are you
saying this just to please me--to reconcile me to my jog-trot life, my
modest surroundings?"

"I mean every word I say."

"Then it is in your power to make me richer in happiness than Rothschild
or Baring. Dearest Miss Bridgeman, dearest Jessie, I think you must know
how devotedly I love you! Till to-day I have not dared to speak, for my
limited means would not have allowed me to maintain a wife as the woman
I love ought to be maintained; but this morning's post brought me the
news of the death of an old Admiral of the Blue, who was my father's
first cousin. He was a bachelor like myself--left the Navy soon after
the signing of Sir Henry Pottinger's treaty at Nankin in '42--never
considered himself well enough off to marry, but lived in a lodging at
Devonport, and hoarded and hoarded and hoarded for the mere abstract
pleasure of accumulating his surplus income; and the result of his
hoarding--combined with a little dodging of his investments in stocks
and shares--is, that he leaves me a solid four hundred a year in Great
Westerns. It is not much from some people's point of view, but, added to
my existing income, it makes me very comfortable. I could afford to
indulge all your simple wishes, my dearest! I could afford to help your
family!"

He took her hand. She did not draw it away, but pressed his gently, with
the grasp of friendship.

"Don't say one word more--you are too good--you are the best and kindest
man I have ever known!" she said, "and I shall love and honour you all
my life; but I shall never marry! I made up my mind about that, oh! ever
so long ago. Indeed, I never expected to be asked, if the truth must be
told."

"I understand," said the Major, terribly dashed. "I am too old. Don't
suppose that I have not thought about that. I have. But I fancied the
difficulty might be got over. You are so different from the common run
of girls--so staid, so sensible, of such a contented disposition. But I
was a fool to suppose that any girl of----"

"Seven-and-twenty," interrupted Jessie; "it is a long way up the hill of
girlhood. I shall soon be going down on the other side."

"At any rate, you are more than twenty years my junior. I was a fool to
forget that."

"Dear Major Bree," said Jessie, very earnestly, "believe me, it is not
for that reason, I say No. If you were as young--as young as Mr.
Hamleigh--the answer would be just the same. I shall never marry. There
is no one, prince or peasant, whom I care to marry. You are much too
good a man to be married for the sake of a happy home, for status in the
world, kindly companionship--all of which you could give me. If I loved
you as you ought to be loved I would answer proudly, Yes; but I honour
you too much to give you half love."

"Perhaps you do not know with how little I could be satisfied," urged
the Major, opposing what he imagined to be a romantic scruple with the
shrewd common-sense of his fifty years' experience. "I want a friend, a
companion, a helpmate, and I am sure you could be all those to me. If I
could only make you happy!"

"You could not!" interrupted Jessie, with cruel decisiveness. "Pray,
never speak of this again, dear Major Bree. Your friendship has been
very pleasant to me; it has been one of the many charms of my life at
Mount Royal. I would not lose it for the world. And we can always be
friends, if you will only remember that I have made up my
mind--irrevocably--never to marry."

"I must needs obey you," said the Major, deeply disappointed, but too
unselfish to be angry. "I will not be importunate. Yet one word I must
say. Your future--if you do not marry--what is that to be? Of course, so
long as Mrs. Tregonell lives, your home will be at Mount Royal--but I
fear that does not settle the question for long. My dear friend does not
appear to me a long-lived woman. I have seen traces of premature decay.
When Christabel is married, and Mrs. Tregonell is dead, where is your
home to be?"

"Providence will find me one," answered Jessie, cheerfully. "Providence
is wonderfully kind to plain little spinsters with a knack of making
themselves useful. I have been doing my best to educate myself ever
since I have been at Mount Royal. It is so easy to improve one's mind
when there are no daily worries about the tax-gatherer and the
milkman--and when I am called upon to seek a new home, I can go out as a
governess--and drink the cup of life as it is mixed for governesses--as
Charlotte Brontë says. Perhaps I shall write a novel, as she did,
although I have not her genius."

"I would not be sure of that," said the Major. "I believe there is some
kind of internal fire burning you up, although you are outwardly so
quiet. I think it would have been your salvation to accept the jog-trot
life and peaceful home I have offered you."

"Very likely," replied Jessie, with a shrug and a sigh. "But how many
people reject salvation. They would rather be miserable in their own way
than happy in anybody else's way."

The Major answered never a word. For him all the glory of the day had
faded. He walked slowly on by Jessie's side, meditating upon her
words--wondering why she had so resolutely refused him. There had been
not the least wavering--she had not even seemed to be taken by
surprise--her mind had been made up long ago--not him, nor any other
man, would she wed.

"Some early disappointment, perhaps," mused the Major--"a curate at
Shepherd's Bush--those young men have a great deal to answer for."

They came to the hyacinth dell--an earthly paradise to the two happy
lovers, who were sitting on a mossy bank, in a sheet of azure bloom,
which, seen from the distance, athwart young trees, looked like blue,
bright water.

To the Major the hazel copse and the bluebells--the young oak
plantation--and all the lovely details of mosses and flowering grasses,
and starry anemones--were odious. He felt in a hurry to get back to his
club, and steep himself in London pleasures. All the benevolence seemed
to have been crushed out of him.

Christabel saw that her old friend was out of spirits, and contrived to
be by his side on their way back to the boat, trying to cheer him with
sweetest words and loveliest smiles.

"Have we tired you?" she asked. "The afternoon is very warm."

"Tired me! You forget how I ramble over the hills at home. No; I am just
a trifle put out--but it is nothing. I had news of a death this
morning--a death that makes me richer by four hundred a year. If it were
not for respect for my dead cousin who so kindly made me his heir, I
think I should go to-night to the most rowdy theatre in London, just to
put myself in spirits."

"Which are the rowdy theatres, Uncle Oliver?"

"Well, perhaps I ought not to use such a word. The theatres are all good
in their way--but there are theatres and theatres. I should choose one
of those to which the young men go night after night to see the same
piece--a burlesque, or an opera bouffe--plenty of smart jokes and pretty
girls."

"Why have you not taken me to those theatres?"

"We have not come to them yet. You have seen Shakespeare and modern
comedy--which is rather a weak material as compared with Sheridan--or
even with Colman and Morton, whose plays were our staple entertainment
when I was a boy. You have heard all the opera singers?"

"Yes, you have been very good. But I want to see 'Cupid and Psyche'--two
of my partners last night talked to me of 'Cupid and Psyche,' and were
astounded that I had not seen it. I felt quite ashamed of my ignorance.
I asked one of my partners, who was particularly enthusiastic, to tell
me all about the play--and he did--to the best of his ability, which was
not great--and he said that a Miss Mayne--Stella Mayne--who plays
Psyche, is simply adorable. She is the loveliest woman in London, he
says--and was greatly surprised that she had not been pointed out to me
in the Park. Now really, Uncle Oliver, this is very remiss in you--you
who are so clever in showing me famous people when we are driving in the
Park."

"My dear, we have not happened to see her--that is all," replied the
Major, without any responsive smile at the bright young face smiling up
at him.

"You have seen her, I suppose?"

"Yes, I saw her when I was last in London."

"Not this time?"

"Not this time."

"You most unenthusiastic person. But, I understand your motive. You have
been waiting an opportunity to take Jessie and me to see this divine
Psyche. Is she absolutely lovely?"

"Loveliness is a matter of opinion. She is generally accepted as a
particularly pretty woman."

"When will you take me to see her?"

"I have no idea. You have so many engagements--your aunt is always
making new ones. I can do nothing without her permission. Surely you
like dancing better than sitting in a theatre?"

"No, I do not. Dancing is delightful enough--but to be in a theatre is
to be in fairy-land. It is like going into a new world. I leave myself,
and my own life, at the doors--and go to live and love and suffer and be
glad with the people in the play. To see a powerful play--really well
acted--such acting as we have seen--is to live a new life from end to
end in a few hours. It is like getting the essence of a lifetime
without any of the actual pain--for when the situation is too terrible,
one can pinch oneself and say--it is only a dream--an acted dream."

"If you like powerful plays--plays that make you tremble and cry--you
would not care twopence for 'Cupid and Psyche,'" said Major Bree. "It is
something between a burlesque and a fairy comedy--a most frivolous kind
of entertainment, I believe."

"I don't care how frivolous it is. I have set my heart upon seeing it. I
don't want to be out of the fashion. If you won't get me a box at
the--where is it?"

"The Kaleidoscope Theatre."

"At the Kaleidoscope! I shall ask Angus."

"Please don't. I--I shall be seriously offended if you do. Let me
arrange the business with your aunt. If you really want to see the
piece, I suppose you must see it--but not unless your aunt likes."

"Dear, dearest, kindest uncle Oliver!" cried Christabel, squeezing his
arm. "From my childhood upwards you have always fostered my self-will
by the blindest indulgence. I was afraid that, all at once, you were
going to be unkind and thwart me."

Major Bree was thoughtful and silent for the rest of the afternoon, and
although Jessie tried to be as sharp-spoken and vivacious as usual, the
effort would have been obvious to any two people properly qualified to
observe the actions and expressions of others. But Angus and Christabel,
being completely absorbed in each other, saw nothing amiss in their
companions.

The river and the landscape were divine--a river for gods--a wood for
nymphs--altogether too lovely for mortals. Tea, served on a little round
table in the hotel garden, was perfect.

"How much nicer than the dinner to-night," exclaimed Christabel. "I wish
we were not going. And yet, it will be very pleasant, I daresay--a table
decorated with the loveliest flowers--well-dressed women, clever men,
all talking as if there was not a care in life--and perhaps we shall be
next each other," added the happy girl, looking at Angus.

"What a comfort for me that I am out of it," said Jessie. "How nice to
be an insignificant young woman whom nobody ever dreams of asking to
dinner. A powdered old dowager did actually hint at my going to her
musical evening the other day when she called in Bolton Row. 'Be sure
you come early,' she said, gushingly, to Mrs. Tregonell and Christabel;
and then, in quite another key, glancing at me, she added, and 'if
Miss--er--er would like to hear my singers I should be--er--delighted,'
no doubt mentally adding, 'I hope she won't have the impertinence to
take me at my word.'"

"Jessie, you are the most evil-thinking person I ever knew," cried
Christabel. "I'm sure Lady Millamont meant to be civil."

"Yes, but she did not mean me to go to her party," retorted Jessie.

The happy days--the society evenings--slipped
by--dining--music--dancing. And now came the brief bright
season of rustic entertainments--more dancing--more
music--lawn-tennis--archery--water parties--every device by which the
summer hours may chime in tune with pleasure. It was July--Christabel's
birthday had come and gone, bringing a necklace of single diamonds and a
basket of June roses from Angus, and the most perfect thing in Park
hacks from Mrs. Tregonell--but Christabel's wedding-day--more fateful
than any birthday except the first--had not yet been fixed--albeit Mr.
Hamleigh pressed for a decision upon this vital point.

"It was to have been at Midsummer," he said, one day, when he had been
discussing the question tête-à-tête with Mrs. Tregonell.

"Indeed, Angus, I never said that. I told you that Christabel would be
twenty at Midsummer, and that I would not consent to the marriage until
after then."

"Precisely, but surely that meant soon after? I thought we should be
married early in July--in time to start for the Tyrol in golden
weather."

"I never had any fixed date in my mind," answered Mrs. Tregonell, with a
pained look. Struggle with herself as she might, this engagement of
Christabel's was a disappointment and a grief to her. "I thought my son
would have returned before now. I should not like the wedding to take
place in his absence."

"And I should like him to be at the wedding," said Angus; "but I think
it will be rather hard if we have to wait for the caprice of a traveller
who, from what Belle tells me of his letters----"

"Has Belle shown you any of his letters?" asked Mrs. Tregonell, with a
vexed look.

"No, I don't think he has written to her, has he?"

"No, of course not; his letters are always addressed to me. He is a
wretched correspondent."

"I was going to say, that, from what Belle tells me, your son's
movements appear most uncertain, and it really does not seem worth while
to wait."

"When the wedding-day is fixed, I will send him a message by the
Atlantic cable. We must have him at the wedding."

Mr. Hamleigh did not see the necessity; but he was too kind to say so.
He pressed for a settlement as to the day--or week--or at least the
month in which his marriage was to take place--and at last Mrs.
Tregonell consented to the beginning of September. They were all agreed
now that the fittest marriage temple for this particular bride and
bridegroom was the little old church in the heart of the hills--the
church in which Christabel had worshipped every Sunday, morning or
afternoon, ever since she could remember. It was Christabel's own desire
to kneel before that familiar altar on her wedding-day--in the solemn
peacefulness of that loved hill-side, with friendly honest country faces
round her--rather than in the midst of a fashionable crowd, attended by
bridesmaids after Gainsborough, and page-boys after Vandyke, in an
atmosphere heavy with the scent of Ess Bouquet.

Mr. Hamleigh had no near relations--and albeit a whole bevy of cousins
and a herd of men from the clubs would have gladly attended to witness
his excision from the ranks of gilded youth, and to bid him God-speed on
his voyage to the domestic haven--their presence at the sacrifice would
have given him no pleasure--while, on the other hand, there was one
person resident in London whose presence would have caused him acute
pain. Thus, each of the lovers pleading for the same favour, Mrs.
Tregonell had foregone her idea of a London wedding, and had come to see
that it would be very hard upon all the kindly inhabitants of Forrabury
and Minster--Boscastle--Trevalga--Bossiney and Trevena--to deprive them
of the pleasurable excitement to be derived from Christabel's wedding.

Early in September, in the golden light of that lovely time, they were
to be quietly married in the dear old church, and then away to Tyrolean
woods and hills--scenes which, for Christabel, seemed to be the chosen
background of poetry, legend, and romance, rather than an actual
country, provided with hotels, and accessible by tourists. Once having
consented to the naming of an exact time, Mrs. Tregonell felt there
could be no withdrawal of her word. She telegraphed to Leonard, who was
somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, with a chosen friend, a couple of
English servants and three or four Canadians,--and who, were he so
minded, could be home in a month--and having despatched this message she
felt the last wrench had been endured. Nothing that could ever come
afterwards--save death itself--could give her sharper pain.

"Poor Leonard," she replied; "it will break his heart."

In the years that were gone she had so identified herself with her son's
hopes and schemes, had so projected her thoughts into his future--seeing
him in her waking dreams as he would be in the days to come, a model
squire, possessed of all his father's old-fashioned virtues, with a
great deal of modern cleverness superadded, a proud and happy husband,
the father of a noble race--she had kept this vision of the future in
her mind so long, had dwelt upon it so fondly, had coloured it so
brightly, that to forego it now, to say to herself "This thing was but a
dream which I dreamed, and it can never be realized," was like
relinquishing a part of her own life. She was a deeply religious woman,
and if called upon to bear physical pain--to suffer the agonies of a
slow, incurable illness--she would have suffered with the patience of a
Christian martyr, saying to herself, as brave Dr. Arnold said in the
agony of his sudden fatal malady, "Whom He loveth He chasteneth,"--but
she could not surrender the day-dream of her life without bitterest
repining. In all her love of Christabel, in all her careful education
and moral training of the niece to whom she had been as a mother, there
had been this leaven of selfishness. She had been rearing a wife for her
son--such a wife as would be a man's better angel--a guiding,
restraining, elevating principle, so interwoven with his life that he
should never know himself in leading-strings--an influence so gently
exercised that he should never suspect that he was influenced.

"Leonard has a noble heart and a fine manly character," the mother had
often told herself; "but he wants the association of a milder nature
than his own. He is just the kind of man to be guided and governed by a
good wife--a wife who would obey his lightest wish, and yet rule him
always for good."

She had seen how, when Leonard had been disposed to act unkindly or
illiberally by a tenant, Christabel had been able to persuade him to
kindness or generosity--how, when he had set his face against going to
church, being minded to devote Sunday morning to the agreeable duty of
cleaning a favourite gun, or physicking a favourite spaniel, or greasing
a cherished pair of fishing-boots, Christabel had taken him there--how
she had softened and toned down his small social discourtesies, checked
his tendency to strong language--and, as it were, expurgated, edited,
and amended him.

And having seen and rejoiced in this state of things, it was very hard
to be told that another had won the wife she had moulded, after her own
fashion, to be the gladness and glory of her son's life; all the harder
because it was her own shortsighted folly which had brought Angus
Hamleigh to Mount Royal.

All through that gay London season--for Christabel a time of unclouded
sadness--carking care had been at Mrs. Tregonell's heart. She tried to
be just to the niece whom she dearly loved, and who had so tenderly and
fully repaid her affection. Yet she could not help feeling as if
Christabel's choice was a personal injury--nay, almost treachery and
ingratitude. "She must have known that I meant her to be my son's wife,"
she said to herself; "yet she takes advantage of my poor boy's absence,
and gives herself to the first comer."

"Surely September is soon enough," she said, pettishly, when Angus
pleaded for an earlier date. "You will not have known Christabel for a
year, even then. Some men love a girl for half a lifetime before they
win her."

"But it was not my privilege to know Christabel at the beginning of my
life," replied Angus. "I made the most of my opportunities by loving her
the moment I saw her."

"It is impossible to be angry with you," sighed Mrs. Tregonell. "You are
so like your father."

That was one of the worst hardships of the case. Mrs. Tregonell could
not help liking the man who had thwarted the dearest desire of her
heart. She could not help admiring him, and making comparisons between
him and Leonard--not to the advantage of her son. Had not her first love
been given to his father--the girl's romantic love, ever so much more
fervid and intense than any later passion--the love that sees ideal
perfection in a lover?



CHAPTER VII.

CUPID AND PSYCHE.


In all the bright June weather, Christabel had been too busy and too
happy to remember her caprice about Cupid and Psyche. But just after the
Henley week--which to some thousands, and to these two lovers, had been
as a dream of bliss--a magical mixture of sunlight and balmy airs and
flowery meads, fine gowns and fine luncheons, nigger singers,
stone-breaking athletes, gipsy sorceresses, eager to read high fortunes
on any hand for half-a-crown, rowing men, racing men, artists, actors,
poets, critics, swells--just after the wild excitement of that watery
saturnalia, Mr. Hamleigh had occasion to go to the north of Scotland to
see an ancient kinswoman of his father--an eccentric maiden aunt--who
had stood for him, by proxy, at the baptismal font, and at the same time
announced her intention of leaving him her comfortable fortune,
together with all those snuff-mulls, quaighs, knives and forks, spoons,
and other curiosities of Caledonia, which had been in the family for
centuries--provided always that he grew up with a high opinion of Mary
Stuart, and religiously believed the casket letters to be the vile
forgeries of George Buchanan. The old lady, who was a kindly soul, with
a broad Scotch tongue, had an inconvenient habit of sending for her
nephew at odd times and seasons, when she imagined herself on the point
of death--and he was too kind to turn a deaf ear to this oft-repeated
cry of "wolf"--lest, after making light of her summons, he should hear
that the real wolf had come and devoured the harmless, affectionate old
lady.

So now, just when London life was at its gayest and brightest, when the
moonlit city after midnight looked like fairy-land, and the Thames
Embankment, with its long chain of glittering lamps, gleaming golden
above the sapphire river, was a scene to dream about, Mr. Hamleigh had
to order his portmanteau and a hansom, and drive from the Albany to one
of the great railway stations in the Euston Road, and to curl himself
up in his corner of the limited mail, scarcely to budge till he was
landed at Inverness. It was hard to leave Christabel, though it were
only for a week. He swore to her that his absence should not outlast a
week, unless the grisly wolf called Death did indeed claim his victim.

"I know I shall find the dear old soul up and hearty," he said, lightly,
"devouring Scotch collops, or haggis, or cock-a-leeky, or something
equally loathsome, and offering me some of that extraordinary soup which
she always talks of in the plural. 'Do have a few more broth, Angus;
they're very good the day.' But she is a sweet old woman, despite her
barbarities, and one of the happiest days of my life will be that on
which I take you to see her."

"And if--if she is not very ill, you will come back soon, won't you,
Angus," pleaded Christabel.

"As soon as ever I can tear myself away from the collops and the few
broth. If I find the dear old impostor in rude health, as I quite
expect, I will hob and nob with her over one glass of toddy, sleep one
night under her roof, and then across the Border as fast as the express
will carry me."

So they parted; and Angus had scarcely left Bolton Row an hour, when
Major Bree came in, and, by some random flight of fancy, Christabel
remembered "Cupid and Psyche."

The three ladies had just come upstairs after dinner. Mrs. Tregonell was
enjoying forty winks in a low capacious chair, near an open window, in
the first drawing-room, softly lit by shaded Carcel lamps, scented with
tea-roses and stephanotis. Christabel and Jessie were in the tiny third
room, where there was only the faint light of a pair of wax candles on
the mantelpiece. Here the Major found them, when he came creeping in
from the front room, where he had refrained from disturbing Mrs.
Tregonell.

"Auntie is asleep," said Christabel. "We must talk in subdued murmurs.
She looked sadly tired after Mrs. Dulcimer's garden party."

"I ought not to have come so early," apologized the Major.

"Yes you ought; we are very glad to have you. It is dreadfully dull
without Angus."

"What! you begin to miss him already?"

"Already!" echoed Christabel. "I missed him before the sound of his cab
wheels was out of the street. I have been missing him ever since."

"Poor little Belle!"

"And he is not half-way to Scotland yet," she sighed. "How long and slow
the hours will be. You must do all you can to amuse me. I shall want
distractions--dissipation even. If we were at home I should go and
wander up by Willapark, and talk to the gulls. Here there is nothing to
do. Another stupid garden party at Twickenham to-morrow, exactly
opposite the one to-day at Richmond--the only variety being that we
shall be on the north bank of the river instead of the south bank--a
prosy dinner in Regent's Park the day after. Let me see," said
Christabel, suddenly animated. "We are quite free for to-morrow evening.
We can go and see 'Cupid and Psyche,' and I can tell Angus all about it
when he comes back. Please get us a nice see-able box, like a dear
obliging Uncle Oliver, as you are."

"Of course I am obliging," groaned the Major, "but the most obliging
person that ever was can't perform impossibilities. If you want a box at
the Kaleidoscope you must engage one for to-morrow month--or to-morrow
six weeks. It is a mere bandbox of a theatre, and everybody in London
wants to see this farrago of nonsense illustrated by pretty women."

"You have seen it, I suppose."

"Yes, I dropped in one night with an old naval friend, who had taken a
stall for his wife, which she was not able to occupy."

"Major Bree, you are a very selfish person," said Christabel,
straightening her slim waist, and drawing herself up with mock dignity.
"You have seen this play yourself, and you are artful enough to tell us
it is not worth seeing, just to save yourself the trouble of hunting for
a box. Uncle Oliver, that is not chivalry. I used to think you were a
chivalrous person."

"Is there anything improper in the play?" asked Jessie, striking in with
her usual bluntness--never afraid to put her thoughts into speech. "Is
that your reason for not wishing Christabel to see it?"

"No, the piece is perfectly correct," stammered the Major, "there is not
a word----"

"Then I think Belle's whim ought to be indulged," said Jessie,
"especially as Mr. Hamleigh's absence makes her feel out of spirits."

The Major murmured something vague about the difficulty of getting
places with less than six weeks' notice, whereupon Christabel told him,
with a dignified air, that he need not trouble himself any further.

But a young lady who has plenty of money, and who has been accustomed,
while dutiful and obedient to her elders, to have her own way in all
essentials, is not so easily satisfied as the guileless Major supposed.
As soon as the West-end shops were open next morning, before the
jewellers had set out their dazzling wares--those diamond parures and
rivières, which are always inviting the casual lounger to step in and
buy them--those goodly chased claret jugs, and Queen Anne tea-kettles,
and mighty venison dishes, which seem to say, this is an age of luxury,
and we are indispensable to a gentleman's table--before those still more
attractive shops which deal in hundred-guinea dressing-cases, jasper
inkstands, ormolu paper-weights, lapis lazuli blotting-books, and coral
powder-boxes--had laid themselves out for the tempter's work--Miss
Courtenay and Miss Bridgeman, in their neat morning attire, were
tripping from library to library, in quest of a box at the Kaleidoscope
for that very evening.

They found what they wanted in Bond Street. Lady Somebody had sent back
her box by a footman, just ten minutes ago, on account of Lord
Somebody's attack of gout. The librarian could have sold it were it
fifty boxes, and at a fabulous price, but he virtuously accepted four
guineas, which gave him a premium of only one guinea for his
trouble--and Christabel went home rejoicing.

"It will be such fun to show the Major that we are cleverer than he,"
she said to Jessie.

Miss Bridgeman was thoughtful, and made no reply to this remark. She was
pondering the Major's conduct in this small matter, and it seemed to her
that he must have some hidden reason for wishing Christabel not to see
"Cupid and Psyche." That he, who had so faithfully waited upon all
their fancies, taking infinite trouble to give them pleasure, could in
this matter be disobliging or indifferent seemed hardly possible. There
must be a reason; and yet what reason could there be to taboo a piece
which the Major distinctly declared to be correct, and which all the
fashionable world went to see? "Perhaps there is something wrong with
the drainage of the theatre," Jessie thought, speculating vaguely--a
suspicion of typhoid fever, which the Major had shrunk from mentioning,
out of respect for feminine nerves.

"Did you ever tell Mr. Hamleigh you wanted to see 'Cupid and Psyche'?"
asked Miss Bridgeman at last, sorely exercised in spirit--fearful lest
Christabel was incurring some kind of peril by her persistence.

"Yes, I told him; but it was at a time when we had a good many
engagements, and I think he forgot all about it. Hardly like Angus, was
it, to forget one's wishes, when he is generally so eager to anticipate
them?"

"A strange coincidence!" thought Jessie. Mr. Hamleigh and the Major had
been unanimous in their neglect of this particular fancy of
Christabel's.

At luncheon Miss Courtenay told her aunt the whole story--how Major Bree
had been most disobliging, and how she had circumvented him.

"And my revenge will be to make him sit out 'Cupid and Psyche' for the
second time," she said, lightly, "for he must be our escort. You will
go, of course, dearest, to please me?"

"My pet, you know how the heat of a theatre always exhausts me!" pleaded
Mrs. Tregonell, whose health, long delicate, had been considerably
damaged by her duties as chaperon. "When you are going anywhere with
Angus, I like to be seen with you; but to-night, with the Major and
Jessie, I shall not be wanted. I can enjoy an evening's rest."

"But do you enjoy that long, blank evening, Auntie?" asked Christabel,
looking anxiously at her aunt's somewhat careworn face. People who have
one solitary care make so much of it, nurse and fondle it, as if it were
an only child. "Once or twice when we have let you have your own way
and stay at home, you have looked so pale and melancholy when we came
back, as if you had been brooding upon sad thoughts all the evening."

"Sad thoughts will come, Belle."

"They ought not to come to you, Auntie. What cause have you for
sadness?"

"I have a dear son far away, Belle--don't you think that is cause
enough?"

"A son who enjoys the wild sports of the West ever so much better than
he enjoys his home; but who will settle down by-and-by into a model
country Squire."

"I doubt that, Christabel. I don't think he will ever settle down--now."

There was an emphasis--an almost angry emphasis--upon the last word
which told Christabel only too plainly what her aunt meant. She could
guess what disappointment it was that her aunt sighed over in the long,
lonely evenings; and, albeit the latent resentfulness in Mrs.
Tregonell's mind was an injustice, her niece could not help being sorry
for her.

"Yes, dearest, he will--he will," she said, resolutely. "He will have
his fill of shooting bisons, and all manner of big and small game, out
yonder; and he will come home, and marry some good sweet girl, who will
love you only just a little less than I do, and he will be the last
grand example of the old-fashioned country Squire--a race fast dying
out; and he will be as much respected as if the power of the Norman
Botterells still ruled in the land, and he had the right of dealing out
high-handed justice, and immuring his fellow-creatures in a dungeon
under his drawing-room."

"I would rather you would not talk about him," answered the widow,
gloomily; "you turn everything into a joke. You forget that in my
uncertainty about his fate, every thought of him is fraught with pain."

Belle hung her head, and the meal ended in silence. After luncheon came
dressing, and then the drive to Twickenham, with Major Bree in
attendance. Christabel told him of her success as they drove through the
Park to Kensington.

"I have the pleasure to invite you to a seat in my box at the
Kaleidoscope this evening," she said.

"What box?"

"A box which Jessie and I secured this morning, before you had finished
your breakfast."

"A box for this evening?"

"For this evening."

"I wonder you care to go to a theatre without Hamleigh."

"It is very cruel of you to say that!" exclaimed Christabel, her eyes
brightening with girlish tears, which her pride checked before they
could fall. "You ought to know that I am wretched without him--and that
I want to lose the sense of my misery in dreamland. The theatre for me
is what opium was for Coleridge and De Quincey."

"I understand," said Major Bree; "'you are not merry, but you do beguile
the thing you are by seeming otherwise.'"

"You will go with us?"

"Of course, if Mrs. Tregonell does not object."

"I shall be very grateful to you for taking care of them," answered the
dowager languidly, as she leant back in her carriage--a fine example of
handsome middle-age: gracious, elegant, bearing every mark of good
birth, yet with a worn look, as of one for whom fading beauty and
decline of strength would come too swiftly. "I know I shall be tired to
death when we get back to town."

"I don't think London society suits you so well as the monotony of Mount
Royal," said Major Bree.

"No; but I am glad Christabel has had her first season. People have been
extremely kind. I never thought we should have so many invitations."

"You did not know that beauty is the ace of trumps in the game of
society."

The garden party was as other parties of the same genus: strawberry ices
and iced coffee in a tent under a spreading Spanish chestnut--music and
recitations in a drawing-room, with many windows looking upon the bright
swift river--and the picturesque roofs of Old Richmond--just that one
little picturesque group of bridge and old tiled-gables which still
remains--fine gowns, fine talk; a dash of the æsthetic element; strange
colours, strange forms and fashions; pretty girls in grandmother
bonnets; elderly women in limp Ophelia gowns, with tumbled frills and
lank hair. Christabel and the Major walked about the pretty garden, and
criticized all the eccentricities, she glad to keep aloof from her many
admirers--safe under the wing of a familiar friend.

"Five o'clock," she said; "that makes twenty-four hours. Do you think he
will be back to-morrow?"

"He? Might I ask whom you mean by that pronoun?"

"Angus. His telegram this morning said that his aunt was really ill--not
in any danger--but still quite an invalid, and that he would be obliged
to stay a little longer than he had hoped might be needful, in order to
cheer her. Do you think he will be able to come back to-morrow?"

"Hardly, I fear. Twenty-four hours would be a very short time for the
cheering process. I think you ought to allow him a week. Did you answer
his telegram?"

"Why, of course! I told him how miserable I was without him; but that
he must do whatever was right and kind for his aunt. I wrote him a long
letter before luncheon to the same effect. But, oh, I hope the dear old
lady will get well very quickly!"

"If usquebaugh can mend her, no doubt the recovery will be rapid,"
answered the Major, laughing. "I dare say that is why you are so anxious
for Hamleigh's return. You think if he stays in the North he may become
a confirmed toddy-drinker. By-the-by, when his return is so uncertain,
do you think it is quite safe for you to go to the theatre to-night? He
might come to Bolton Row during your absence."

"That is hardly possible," said Christabel. "But even if such a happy
thing should occur, he would come and join us at the Kaleidoscope."

This was the Major's last feeble and futile effort to prevent a wilful
woman having her own way. They rejoined Mrs. Tregonell, and went back to
their carriage almost immediately--were in Bolton Row in time for a
seven o'clock dinner, and were seated in the box at the Kaleidoscope a
few minutes after eight. The Kaleidoscope was one of the new theatres
which have been added to the attractions of London during the last
twenty years. It was a small house, and of exceeding elegance; the
inspiration of the architect thereof seemingly derived rather from the
_bonbonnières_ of Siraudin and Boissier than from the severer exemplars
of high art. Somebody said it was a theatre which looked as if it ought
to be filled with glacé chestnuts, or crystallized violets, rather than
with substantial flesh and blood. The draperies thereof were of palest
dove-coloured poplin and cream-white satin; the fauteuils were
upholstered in velvet of the same dove colour, with a monogram in dead
gold; the pilasters and mouldings were of the slenderest and most
delicate order--no heavy masses of gold or colour--all airy, light,
graceful; the sweeping curve of the auditorium was in itself a thing of
beauty: every fold of the voluminous dove-coloured curtain, lined with
crimson satin--which flashed among the dove tints here and there, like a
gleam of vivid colour in the breast of a tropical bird--was a study. The
front of the house was lighted with old-fashioned wax candles, a
recurrence to obsolete fashion which reminded the few survivors of the
D'Orsay period of Her Majesty's in the splendid days of Pasta and
Malibran, and which delighted the Court and Livery of the Tallow
Chandlers' Company.

"What a lovely theatre!" cried Christabel, looking round the house,
which was crowded with a brilliant audience; "and how cruel of you not
to bring us here! It is the prettiest theatre we have seen yet."

"Yes; it's a nice little place," said the Major, feebly; "but, you see,
they've been playing the same piece all the season--no variety."

"What did that matter, when we had not seen the piece? Besides, a young
man I danced with told me he had been to see it fifteen times."

"That young man was an ass!" grumbled the Major.

"Well, I can't help thinking so too," assented Christabel. And then the
overture began--a dreamy, classical compound, made up of reminiscences
of Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber--a melodious patchwork, dignified by
scientific orchestration. Christabel listened dreamily to the dreamy
music, thinking of Angus all the while--wondering what he was doing in
the far-away Scottish land, which she knew only from Sir Walter's
novels.

The dove-coloured curtains were drawn apart to a strain of plaintive
sweetness, and the play--half poem, half satire--began. The scene was a
palace garden, in some "unsuspected isle in far-off seas." The
personages were Psyche, her sisters, and the jealous goddess, whose rest
had been disturbed by rumours of an earthly beauty which surpassed her
own divine charms, and who approached the palace disguised as a crone,
dealing in philters and simples, ribbons and perfumes, a kind of female
Autolycus.

First came a dialogue between Venus and the elder sisters--handsome
women both, but of a coarse type of beauty, looking too large for the
frame in which they appeared. Christabel and Jessie enjoyed the
smartness of the dialogue, which sparkled with Aristophanian hits at the
follies of the hour, and yet had a poetical grace which seemed the very
flavour of the old Greek world.

At last, after the interest of the fable had fairly begun, there rose
the faint melodious breathings of a strange music within the palace--the
quaint and primitive harmonies of a three-stringed lyre--and Psyche came
slowly down the marble steps, a slender, gracious figure in classic
drapery--Canova's statue incarnate.

"Very pretty face," muttered the Major, looking at her through his
opera-glass; "but no figure."

The slim, willowy form, delicately and lightly moulded as a young
fawn's, was assuredly of a type widely different from the two young
women of the fleshly school who represented Psyche's jealous sisters. In
their case there seemed just enough mind to keep those sleek,
well-favoured bodies in motion. In Stella Mayne the soul, or, at any
rate, an ethereal essence, a vivid beauty of expression, an electric
brightness, which passes for the soul, so predominated over the sensual,
that it would have scarcely surprised one if this fragile
butterfly-creature had verily spread a pair of filmy wings and floated
away into space. The dark liquid eyes, the small chiselled features,
exquisitely Greek, were in most perfect harmony with the character.
Amongst the substantial sensuous forms of her companions this Psyche
moved like a being from the spirit world.

"Oh!" cried Christabel, almost with a gasp, "how perfectly lovely!"

"Yes; she's very pretty, isn't she?" muttered the Major, tugging at his
grey moustache, and glaring at the unconscious Psyche from his lurking
place at the back of the box.

"Pretty is not the word. She is the realization of a poem."

Jessie Bridgeman said nothing. She had looked straight from Psyche to
the Major, as he grunted out his acquiescence, and the troubled
expression of his face troubled her. It was plain to her all in a moment
that his objection to the Kaleidoscope Theatre was really an objection
to Psyche. Yet what harm could that lovely being on the stage, even were
she the worst and vilest of her sex, do to any one so remote from her
orbit as Christabel Courtenay?

The play went on. Psyche spoke her graceful lines with a perfect
intonation. Nature had in this case not been guilty of cruel
inconsistency. The actress's voice was as sweet as her face; every
movement was harmonious; every look lovely. She was not a startling
actress; nor was there any need of great acting in the part that had
been written for her. She was Psyche--the loved, the loving, pursued by
jealousy, persecuted by women's unwomanly hatred, afflicted,
despairing--yet loving always; beautiful in every phase of her gentle
life.

"Do you like the play?" asked the Major, grimly, when the curtain had
fallen on the first act.

"I never enjoyed anything so much! It is so different from all other
plays we have seen," said Christabel; "and Psyche--Miss Stella Mayne, is
she not--is the loveliest creature I ever saw in my life."

"You must allow a wide margin for stage make-up, paint and powder, and
darkened lashes," grumbled the Major.

"But I have been studying her face through my glass. It is hardly at all
made up. Just compare it with the faces of the two sisters, which are
like china plates, badly fired. Jessie, what are you dreaming about? You
haven't a particle of enthusiasm! Why don't you say something?"

"I don't want to be an echo," said Miss Bridgeman, curtly. "I could only
repeat what you are saying. I can't be original enough to say that Miss
Mayne is ugly."

"She is simply the loveliest creature we have seen on the stage or off
it," exclaimed Christabel, who was too rustic to want to know who Miss
Mayne was, and where the manager had discovered such a pearl, as a
London playgoer might have done.

"Hark!" said Jessie; "there's a knock at the door."

Christabel's heart began to beat violently. Could it be Angus? No, it
was more likely to be some officious person, offering ices.

It was neither; but a young man of the languid-elegant type--one of
Christabel's devoted admirers, the very youth who had told her of his
having seen "Cupid and Psyche," fifteen times.

"Why this makes the sixteenth time," she said, smiling at him as they
shook hands.

"I think it is nearer the twentieth," he replied; "it is quite the
jolliest piece in London! Don't you agree with me?"

"I think it is--remarkably--jolly!" answered Christabel, laughing. "What
odd words you have in London for the expression of your ideas--and so
few of them!"

"A kind of short-hand," said the Major, "arbitrary characters. Jolly
means anything you like--awful means anything you like. That kind of
language gives the widest scope for the exercise of the imagination."

"How is Mrs. Tregonell?" asked the youth, not being given to the
discussion of abstract questions, frivolous or solemn. He had a mind
which could only grasp life in the concrete--an intellect that required
to deal with actualities--people, coats, hats, boots, dinner,
park-hack--just as little children require actual counters to calculate
with.

He subsided into a chair behind Miss Courtenay, and, the box being a
large one, remained there for the rest of the play--to the despair of a
companion youth in the stalls, who looked up ever and anon, vacuous and
wondering, and who resembled his friend as closely as a well-matched
carriage-horse resembles his fellow--grooming and action precisely
similar.

"What brilliant diamonds!" said Christabel, noticing a collet necklace
which Psyche wore in the second act, and which was a good deal out of
harmony with her Greek drapery--not by any means resembling those simple
golden ornaments which patient Dr. Schliemann and his wife dug out of
the hill at Hissarlik. "But, of course, they are only stage jewels,"
continued Christabel; "yet they sparkle as brilliantly as diamonds of
the first water."

"Very odd, but so they do," muttered young FitzPelham, behind her
shoulder; and then, _sotto voce_ to the Major, he said--"that's the
worst of giving these women jewels, they _will_ wear them."

"And that emerald butterfly on her shoulder," pursued Christabel; "one
would suppose it were real."

"A real butterfly?"

"No, real emeralds."

"It belonged to the Empress of the French, and was sold for three
hundred and eighty guineas at Christie's," said FitzPelham; whereupon
Major Bree's substantial boot came down heavily on the youth's Queen
Anne shoe. "At least, the Empress had one like it," stammered
FitzPelham, saying to himself, in his own vernacular, that he had
"hoofed it."

"How do you like Stella Mayne?" he asked by-and-by, when the act was
over.

"I am charmed with her. She is the sweetest actress I ever saw; not the
greatest--there are two or three who far surpass her in genius; but
there is a sweetness--a fascination. I don't wonder she is the rage. I
only wonder Major Bree could have deprived me of the pleasure of seeing
her all this time."

"You could stand the piece a second time, couldn't you?"

"Certainly--or a third time. It is so poetical--it carries one into a
new world!"

"Pretty foot and ankle, hasn't she?" murmured FitzPelham--to which
frivolous comment Miss Courtenay made no reply.

Her soul was rapt in the scene before her--the mystic wood whither
Psyche had now wandered with her divine lover. The darkness of a summer
night in the Greek Archipelago--fire-flies flitting athwart ilex and
olive bushes--a glimpse of the distant starlit sea.

Here--goaded by her jealous sisters to a fatal curiosity--Psyche stole
with her lamp to the couch of her sleeping lover, gazing spell-bound
upon that godlike countenance--represented in actual flesh by a chubby
round face and round brown eyes--and in her glad surprise letting fall a
drop of oil from her lamp on Cupid's winged shoulder--whereon the god
leaves her, wounded by her want of faith. Had he not told her they must
meet only in the darkness, and that she must never seek to know his
name? So ends the second act of the fairy drama. In the third, poor
Psyche is in ignoble bondage--a slave to Venus, in the goddess's Palace
at Cythera--a fashionable, fine-lady Venus, who leads her gentle
handmaiden a sorry life, till the god of love comes to her rescue. And
here, in the tiring chamber of the goddess, the playwright makes sport
of all the arts by which modern beauty is manufactured. Here poor
Psyche--tearful, despairing--has to toil at the creation of the Queen of
Beauty, whose charms of face and figure are discovered to be all
falsehood, from the topmost curl of her toupet to the arched instep
under her jewelled buskin. Throughout this scene Psyche alternates
between smiles and tears; and then at the last Cupid appears--claims his
mistress, defies his mother, and the happy lovers, linked in each
other's arms, float skyward on a shaft of lime-light. And so the
graceful mythic drama ends--fanciful from the first line to the last,
gay and lightly touched as burlesque, yet with an element of poetry
which burlesque for the most part lacks.

Christabel's interest had been maintained throughout the performance.

"How extraordinarily silent you have been all the evening, Jessie!" she
said, as they were putting on their cloaks; "surely, you like the play!"

"I like it pretty well. It is rather thin, I think; but then, perhaps,
that is because I have 'Twelfth Night' still in my memory, as we heard
Mr. Brandram recite it last week at Willis's Rooms."

"Nobody expects modern comedy to be as good as Shakespeare," retorted
Christabel; "you might as well find fault with the electric light for
not being quite equal to the moon. Don't you admire that exquisite
creature?"

"Which of them?" asked Jessie, stolidly, buttoning her cloak.

"Which of them! Oh, Jessie, you have generally such good taste. Why,
Miss Mayne, of course. It is almost painful to look at the others. They
are such common earthy creatures, compared with her!"

"I have no doubt she is very wonderful--and she is the fashion, which
goes for a great deal," answered Miss Bridgeman; but never a word in
praise of Stella Mayne could Christabel extort from her. She--who,
educated by Shepherd's Bush and poverty, was much more advanced in
knowledge of evil than the maiden from beyond Tamar--suspected that some
sinister influence was to be feared in Stella Mayne. Why else had the
Major so doggedly opposed their visit to this particular theatre? Why
else did he look so glum when Stella Mayne was spoken about?



CHAPTER VIII.

LE SECRET DE POLICHINELLE.


The next day but one was Thursday--an afternoon upon which Mrs.
Tregonell was in the habit of staying at home to receive callers, and a
day on which her small drawing-rooms were generally filled with more or
less pleasant people--chiefly of the fairer sex--from four to six. The
three rooms--small by degrees and beautifully less--the old-fashioned
furniture and profusion of choicest flowers--lent themselves admirably
to gossip and afternoon tea, and were even conducive to mild flirtation,
for there was generally a sprinkling of young men of the FitzPelham
type--having nothing particular to say, but always faultless in their
dress, and well-meaning as to their manners.

On this afternoon--which to Christabel seemed a day of duller hue and
colder atmosphere than all previous Thursdays, on account of Angus
Hamleigh's absence--there were rather more callers than usual. The
season was ripening towards its close. Some few came to pay their last
visit, and to inform Mrs. Tregonell and her niece about their holiday
movements--generally towards the Engadine or some German Spa--the one
spot of earth to which their constitution could accommodate itself at
this time of year.

"I am obliged to go to Pontresina before the end of July," said a
ponderous middle-aged matron to Miss Courtenay. "I can't breathe any
where else in August and September."

"I think you would find plenty of air at Boscastle," said Christabel,
smiling at her earnestness; "but I dare say the Engadine is very nice!"

"Five thousand feet above the level of the sea," said the matron
proudly.

"I like to be a little nearer the sea--to see it--and smell it--and feel
its spray upon my face," answered Christabel. "Do you take your children
with you?"

"Oh, no, they all go to Ramsgate with the governess and a maid."

"Poor little things! And how sad for you to know that there are all
those mountain passes--a three days' journey--between you and your
children."

"Yes, it is very trying!" sighed the mother; "but they are so fond of
Ramsgate; and the Engadine is the only place that suits me."

"You have never been to Chagford?"

"Chagford! No; what is Chagford?"

"A village upon the edge of Dartmoor--all among the Devonshire hills.
People go there for the fine bracing air. I can't help thinking it must
do them almost as much good as the Engadine."

"Indeed! I have heard that Devonshire is quite too lovely," said the
matron, who would have despised herself had she been familiar with her
native land. "But what have you done with Mr. Hamleigh? I am quite
disappointed at not seeing him this afternoon."

"He is in Scotland," said Christabel, and then went on to tell as much
as was necessary about her lover's journey to the North.

"How dreadfully dull you must be without him!" said the lady,
sympathetically, and several other ladies--notably a baronet's widow,
who had been a friend of Mrs. Tregonell's girlhood--a woman who never
said a kind word of anybody, yet was invited everywhere, and who had the
reputation of giving a better dinner, on a small scale, than any other
lonely woman in London. The rest were young women, mostly of the gushing
type, who were prepared to worship Christabel because she was pretty, an
heiress, and engaged to a man of some distinction in their particular
world. They had all clustered round Mrs. Tregonell and her niece, in the
airy front drawing-room, while Miss Bridgeman poured out tea at a
Japanese table in the middle room, waited upon sedulously by Major Bree,
Mr. FitzPelham, and another youth, a Somerset House young man, who wrote
for the Society papers--or believed that he did, on the strength of
having had an essay on "Tame Cats" accepted in the big gooseberry
season--and gave himself to the world as a person familiar with the
undercurrents of literary and dramatic life. The ladies made a circle
round Mrs. Tregonell, and these three gentlemen, circulating with
tea-cups, sugar-basins, and cream-pots, joined spasmodically in the
conversation.

Christabel owned to finding a certain emptiness in life without her
lover. She did not parade her devotion to him, but was much too
unaffected to pretend indifference.

"We went to the theatre on Tuesday night," she said.

"Oh, how could you!" cried the oldest and most gushing of the three
young ladies. "Without Mr. Hamleigh?"

"That was our chief reason for going. We knew we should be dull without
him. We went to the Kaleidoscope, and were delighted with Psyche."

All three young ladies gushed in chorus. Stella Mayne was quite too
lovely--a poem, a revelation, and so on, and so on. Lady Cumberbridge,
the baronet's widow, pursed her lips and elevated her eyebrows, which,
on a somewhat modified form, resembled Lord Thurlow's, but said nothing.
The Somerset House young man stole a glance at FitzPelham, and smiled
meaningly; but the amiable FitzPelham was only vacuous.

"Of course you have seen this play," said Mrs. Tregonell, turning to
Lady Cumberbridge. "You see everything, I know?"

"Yes; I make it my business to see everything--good, bad, and
indifferent," answered the strong-minded dowager, in a voice which would
hardly have shamed the Lord Chancellor's wig, which those Thurlow-like
eyebrows so curiously suggested. "It is the sole condition upon which
London life is worth living. If one only saw the good things, one would
spend most of one's evening at home, and we don't leave our country
places for _that_. I see a good deal that bores me, an immense deal that
disgusts me, and a little--a very little--that I can honestly admire."

"Then I am sure you must admire 'Cupid and Psyche,'" said Christabel.

"My dear, that piece, which I am told has brought a fortune to the
management, is just one of the things that I don't care to talk about
before young people. I look upon it as the triumph of vice: and I
wonder--yes, _very_ much wonder--that _you_ were allowed to see it."

There was an awfulness about the dowager's tone as she uttered these
final sentences, which out-Thurlowed Thurlow. Christabel shivered,
hardly knowing why, but heartily wishing there had been no such person
as Lady Cumberbridge among her aunt's London acquaintance.

"But, surely there is nothing improper in the play, dear Lady
Cumberbridge," exclaimed the eldest gusher, too long in society to
shrink from sifting any question of that kind.

"There is a great deal that is improper," replied the dowager, sternly.

"Surely not in the language: that is too lovely?" urged the gusher. "I
must be very dense, I'm afraid, for I really did not see anything
objectionable."

"You must be very blind, as well as dense, if you didn't see Stella
Mayne's diamonds," retorted the dowager.

"Oh, of course I saw the diamonds. One could not help seeing them."

"And do you think there is nothing improper in those diamonds, or their
history?" demanded Lady Cumberbridge, glaring at the damsel from under
those terrific eyebrows. "If so, you must be less experienced in the
ways of the world than I gave you credit for being. But I think I said
before that this is a question which I do _not_ care to discuss before
young people--even advanced as young people are in their ways and
opinions now-a-days."

The maiden blushed at this reproof; and the conversation, steered
judiciously by Mrs. Tregonell, glided on to safer topics. Yet calmly as
that lady bore herself, and carefully as she managed to keep the talk
among pleasant ways for the next half-hour, her mind was troubled not a
little by the things that had been said about Stella Mayne. There had
been a curious significance in the dowager's tone when she expressed
surprise at Christabel having been allowed to see this play. That
significant tone, in conjunction with Major Bree's marked opposition to
Belle's wish upon this one matter, argued that there was some special
reason why Belle should not see this actress. Mrs. Tregonell, like all
quiet people, very observant, had seen the Somerset House young man's
meaning smile as the play was mentioned. What was this peculiar
something which all these people had in their minds? and of which she,
Christabel's aunt, to whom the girl's welfare and happiness were vital,
knew nothing.

She determined to take the most immediate and direct way of knowing all
that was to be known, by questioning that peripatetic chronicle of
fashionable scandal, Lady Cumberbridge. This popular personage knew a
great deal more than the Society papers, and was not constrained like
those prints to disguise her knowledge in Delphic hints and dark
sayings. Lady Cumberbridge, like John Knox, never feared the face of
man, and could be as plain-spoken and as coarse as she pleased.

"I should so like to have a few words with you by-and-by, if you don't
mind waiting till these girls are gone," murmured Mrs. Tregonell.

"Very well, my dear; get rid of them as soon as you can, for I've some
people coming to dinner, and I want an hour's sleep before I put on my
gown."

The little assembly dispersed within the next quarter of an hour, and
Christabel joined Jessie in the smaller drawing-room.

"You can shut the folding-doors, Belle," said Mrs. Tregonell,
carelessly. "You and Jessie are sure to be chattering; and I want a
quiet talk with Lady Cumberbridge."

Christabel obeyed, wondering a little what the quiet talk would be
about, and whether by any chance it would touch upon the play last
night. She, too, had been struck by the significance of the dowager's
tone; and then it was so rarely that she found herself excluded from any
conversation in which her aunt had part.

"Now," said Mrs. Tregonell, directly the doors were shut, "I want to
know why Christabel should not have been allowed to see that play the
other night?"

"What!" cried Lady Cumberbridge, "don't you know why?"

"Indeed no. I did not go with them, so I had no opportunity of judging
as to the play."

"My dear soul," exclaimed the deep voice of the dowager, "it is not the
play--the play is well enough--it is the woman! And do you really mean
to tell me that you don't know?"

"That I don't know what?"

"Stella Mayne's history?"

"What should I know of her more than of any other actress? They are all
the same to me, like pictures, which I admire or not, from the outside.
I am told that some are women of fashion who go everywhere, and that it
is a privilege to know them; and that some one ought hardly to speak
about, though one may go to see them; while there are others----"

"Who hover like stars between two worlds," said Lady Cumberbridge. "Yes,
that's all true. And nobody has told you anything about Stella Mayne?"

"No one!"

"Then I'm very sorry I mentioned her name to you. I dare say you will
hate me if I tell you the truth: people always do; because, in point of
fact, truth is generally hateful. We can't afford to live up to it."

"I shall be grateful to you if you will tell me all that there is to be
told about this actress, who seems in some way to be concerned----"

"In your niece's happiness? Well, no, my dear, we will hope not. It is
all a thing of the past. Your friends have been remarkably discreet. It
is really extraordinary that you should have heard nothing about it;
but, on reflection, I think it is really better you should know the
fact. Stella Mayne is the young woman for whom Mr. Hamleigh nearly
ruined himself three years ago."

Mrs. Tregonell turned white as death.

Her mind had not been educated to the acceptance of sin and folly as a
natural element in a young man's life. In her view of mankind the good
men were all Bayards--fearless, stainless; the bad were a race apart, to
be shunned by all good women. To be told that her niece's future
husband--the man for whose sake her whole scheme of life had been set
aside, the man whom Christabel and she had so implicitly trusted--was a
fashionable libertine--the lover of an actress--the talk of the
town--was a revelation that changed the whole colour of life.

"Are you sure that this is true?" she asked, falteringly.

"My dear creature, do I ever say anything that isn't true? There is no
need to invent things. God knows the things people do are bad enough,
and wild enough, to supply conversation for everybody. But this about
Hamleigh and Stella Mayne is as well known as the Albert Memorial. He
was positively infatuated about her; took her off the stage: she was in
the back row of the ballet at Drury Lane, salary seventeen and sixpence
a week. He lived with her in Italy for a year; then they came back to
England, and he gave her a house in St. John's Wood; squandered his
money upon her; had her educated; worshipped her, in fact; and, I am
told, would have married her, if she had only behaved herself.
Fortunately, these women never do behave themselves: they show the
cloven-foot too soon; _our_ people only go wrong after marriage. But I
hope, my dear, you will not allow yourself to be worried by this
business. It is all a thing of the past, and Hamleigh will make just as
good a husband as if it had never happened; better, perhaps, for he will
be all the more able to appreciate a pure-minded girl like your niece."

Mrs. Tregonell listened with a stony visage. She was thinking of
Leonard--Leonard who had never done wrong, in this way, within his
mother's knowledge--who had been cheated out of his future wife by a
flashy trickster--a man who talked like a poet, and who yet had given
his first passionate love, and the best and brightest years of his life
to a stage-dancer.

"How long is it since Mr. Hamleigh has ceased to be devoted to Miss
Mayne?" she asked, in a cold, dull voice.

"I cannot say exactly: one hears so many different stories; there were
paragraphs in the Society papers last season: 'A certain young sprig of
fashion, a general favourite, whose infatuation for a well-known actress
has been a matter of regret among the _haute volée_, is said to have
broken his bonds. The lady keeps her diamonds, and threatens to publish
his letters,' and so on, and so forth. You know the kind of thing?"

"I do not," said Mrs. Tregonell. "I have never taken any interest in
such paragraphs."

"Ah! that is the consequence of vegetating at the fag-end of England:
all the pungency is taken out of life for you."

Mrs. Tregonell asked no further questions. She had made up her mind that
any more detailed information, which she might require, must be obtained
from another channel. She did not want this battered woman of the world
to know how hard she was hit. Yes--albeit there was a far-off gleam of
light amidst this darkness--she was profoundly hurt by the knowledge of
Angus Hamleigh's wrong-doing. He had made himself very dear to her--dear
from the tender association of the past--dear for his own sake. She had
believed him a man of scrupulous honour, of pure and spotless life.
Perhaps she had taken all this for granted, in her rustic simplicity,
seeing that all his ideas and instincts were those of a gentleman. She
had made no allowance for the fact that the will-o'-the-wisp, passionate
love, may lure even a gentleman into swampy ground; and that his sole
superiority over profligates of coarser clay will be to behave himself
like a gentleman in those morasses whither an errant fancy has beguiled
him.

"I hope you will not let this influence your feelings towards Mr.
Hamleigh," said Lady Cumberbridge; "if you did so, I should really feel
sorry for having told you. But you must inevitably have heard the story
from somebody else before long."

"No doubt. I suppose everybody knows it."

"Why yes, it was tolerably notorious. They used to be seen everywhere
together. Mr. Hamleigh seemed proud of his infatuation, and there were
plenty of men in his own set to encourage him. Modern society has
adopted Danton's motto, don't you know?--_de l'audace, encore de
l'audace et toujours de l'audace!_ And now I must go and get my siesta,
or I shall be as stupid as an owl all the evening. Good-bye."

Mrs. Tregonell sat like a statue, absorbed in thought, for a
considerable time after Lady Cumberbridge's departure. What was she to
do? This horrid story was true, no doubt. Major Bree would be able to
confirm it presently, when he came back to dinner, as he had promised to
come. What was she to do? Allow the engagement to go on?--allow an
innocent and pure-minded girl to marry a man whose infatuation for an
actress had been town talk; who had come to Mount Royal fresh from that
evil association--wounded to the core, perhaps, by the base creature's
infidelity--and seeking consolation wherever it might offer; bringing
his second-hand feelings, with all the bloom worn off them, to the
shrine of innocent young beauty!--dedicating the mere ashes of
burned-out fires to the woman who was to be his wife; perhaps even
making scornful comparisons between her simple rustic charms and the
educated fascinations of the actress; bringing her the leavings of a
life--the mere dregs of youth's wine-cup! Was Christabel to be permitted
to continue under this shameful delusion--to believe that she was
receiving all when she was getting nothing? No!--ten thousand times, no!
It was womanhood's stern duty to come to the rescue of guileless,
too-trusting girlhood. Bitter as the ordeal must needs be for both,
Christabel must be told the whole cruel truth. Then it would be for her
own heart to decide. She would still be a free agent. But surely her own
purity of feeling would teach her to decide rightly--to renounce the
lover who had so fooled and cheated her--and, perhaps, later to reward
the devotion of that other adorer who had loved her from boyhood upwards
with a steady unwavering affection--chiefly demonstrated by the calm
self-assured manner in which he had written of Christabel--in his
letters to his mother--as his future wife, the possibility of her
rejection of that honour never having occurred to his rustic
intelligence.

Christabel peeped in through the half-opened door.

"Well, Aunt Di, is your conference over? Has her ladyship gone?"

"Yes, dear; I am trying to coax myself to sleep," answered Mrs.
Tregonell from the depths of her armchair.

"Then I'll go and dress for dinner. Ah, how I only wish there were a
chance of Angus coming back to-night!" sighed Christabel, softly closing
the door.

Major Bree came in ten minutes afterwards.

"Come here, and sit by my side," said Mrs. Tregonell. "I want to talk to
you seriously."

The Major complied, feeling far from easy in his mind.

"How pale you look!" he said; "is there anything wrong?"

"Yes--everything is wrong! You have treated me very badly. You have been
false to me and to Christabel!"

"That is rather a wide accusation," said the Major, calmly. He knew
perfectly what was coming, and that he should require all his
patience--all that sweetness of temper which had been his distinction
through life--in order to leaven the widow's wrath against the absent.
"Perhaps, you won't think it too much trouble to explain the exact
nature of my offence?"

Mrs. Tregonell told him Lady Cumberbridge's story.

"Did you, or did you not, know this last October?" she asked.

"I had heard something about it when I was in London two years before."

"And you did not consider it your duty to tell me?"

"Certainly not. I told you at the time, when I came back from town, that
your young protégé's life had been a trifle wild. Miss Bridgeman
remembered the fact, and spoke of it the night Hamleigh came to Mount
Royal. When I saw how matters were going with Belle and Hamleigh, I made
it my business to question him, considering myself Belle's next friend;
and he assured me, as between man and man, that the affair with Stella
Mayne was over--that he had broken with her formally and finally. From
first to last I believe he acted wonderfully well in the business."

"Acted well!--acted well, to be the avowed lover of such a woman!--to
advertise his devotion to her--associate his name with hers
irrevocably--for you know that the world never forgets these
alliances--and then to come to Mount Royal, and practise upon our
provincial ignorance, and offer his battered life to my niece! Was that
well?"

"You could hardly wish him to have told your niece the whole story.
Besides, it is a thing of the past. No man can go through life with the
burden of his youthful follies hanging round his neck, and strangling
him."

"The past is as much a part of a man's life as the present. I want my
niece's husband to be a man of an unstained past."

"Then you will have to wait a long time for him. My dear Mrs. Tregonell,
pray be reasonable, just commonly reasonable! There is not a family in
England into which Angus Hamleigh would not be received with open arms,
if he offered himself as a suitor. Why should you draw a hard-and-fast
line, sacrifice Belle's happiness to a chimerical idea of manly virtue?
You can't have King Arthur for your niece's husband, and if you could,
perhaps you wouldn't care about him. Why not be content with Lancelot,
who has sinned, and is sorry for his sin; and of whom may be spoken
praise almost as noble as those famous words Sir Bohort spoke over his
friend's dead body."

"I shall not sacrifice Belle's happiness. If she were my daughter I
should take upon myself to judge for her, and while I lived she should
never see Angus Hamleigh's face again. But she is my sister's child, and
I shall give her the liberty of judgment."

"You don't mean that you will tell her this story?"

"Most decidedly."

"For God's sake, don't!--you will spoil her happiness for ever. To you
and me, who must have some knowledge of the world, it ought to be a
small thing that a man has made a fool of himself about an actress.
We ought to know for how little that kind of folly counts in a
lifetime. But for a girl brought up like Christabel it will mean
disenchantment--doubt--perhaps a lifetime of jealousy and self-torment.
For mercy's sake, be reasonable in this matter! I am talking to you as
if I were Christabel's father, remember. I suppose that old harridan,
Lady Cumberbridge, told you this precious story. Such women ought to be
put down by Act of Parliament. Yes, there should be a law restricting
every unattached female over five-and-forty to a twenty-mile radius of
her country-house. After that age their tongues are dangerous."

"My friend Lady Cumberbridge told me facts which seem to be within
everybody's knowledge; and she told them at my particular request. Your
rudeness about her does not make the case any better for Mr. Hamleigh,
or for you."

"I think I had better go and dine at my club," said the Major, perfectly
placid.

"No, stay, please. You have proved yourself a broken reed to lean upon;
but still you are a reed."

"If I stay it will be to persuade you to spare Belle the knowledge of
this wretched story."

"I suppose he has almost ruined himself for the creature," said Mrs.
Tregonell, glancing at the subject for the first time from a practical
point of view.

"He spent a good many thousands, but as he had no other vices--did not
race or gamble--his fortune survived the shock. His long majority
allowed for considerable accumulations, you see. He began life with a
handsome capital in hand. I dare say Miss Mayne sweated that down for
him!"

"I don't want to go into details--I only want to know how far he
deceived us?"

"There was no deception as to his means--which are ample--nor as to the
fact that he is entirely free from the entanglement we have been talking
about. Every one in London knows that the affair was over and done with
more than a year ago."

The two girls came down to the drawing-room, and dinner was announced.
It was a very dismal dinner--the dreariest that had ever been eaten in
that house, Christabel thought. Mrs. Tregonell was absorbed in her own
thoughts, absent, automatic in all she said and did. The Major
maintained a forced hilarity, which was more painful than silence.
Jessie looked anxious.

"I'll tell you what, girls," said Major Bree, as the mournful meal
languished towards its melancholy close, "we seem all very doleful
without Hamleigh. I'll run round to Bond Street directly after dinner,
and see if I can get three stalls for 'Lohengrin.' They are often to be
had at the last moment."

"Please, don't," said Christabel, earnestly; "I would not go to a
theatre again without Angus. I am sorry I went the other night. It was
obstinate and foolish of me to insist upon seeing that play, and I was
punished for it by that horrid old woman this afternoon."

"But you liked the play?"

"Yes--while I was seeing it; but now I have taken a dislike to Miss
Mayne. I feel as if I had seen a snake--all grace and lovely colour--and
had caught hold of it, only to find that it was a snake."

The Major stared and looked alarmed. Was this an example of instinct
superior to reason?

"Let me try for the opera," he said. "I'm sure it would do you good to
go. You will sit in the front drawing-room listening for hansoms all the
evening, fancying that every pair of wheels you hear is bringing Angus
back to you."

"I would rather be doing that than be sitting at the opera, thinking of
him. But I'm afraid there's no chance of his coming to-night. His letter
to-day told me that his aunt insists upon his staying two or three days
longer, and that she is ill enough to make him anxious to oblige her."

The evening passed in placid dreariness. Mrs. Tregonell sat brooding in
her armchair--pondering whether she should or should not tell Christabel
everything--knowing but too well how the girl's happiness was dependent
upon her undisturbed belief in her lover, yet repeating to herself
again and again that it was right and fair that Christabel should know
the truth--nay, ever so much better that she should be told it now, when
she was still free to shape her own future, than that she should make
the discovery later, when she was Angus Hamleigh's wife. This last
consideration--the thought, that a secret which was everybody's secret
must inevitably, sooner or later, become known to Christabel--weighed
heavily with Mrs. Tregonell; and through all her meditations there was
interwoven the thought of her absent son, and how his future welfare
might depend upon the course to be taken now.

Christabel played and sang, while the Major and Jessie Bridgeman sat at
bezique. The friendship of these two had been in no wise disturbed by
the Major's offer, and the lady's rejection. It was the habit of both to
take life pleasantly. Jessie took pains to show the Major how sincerely
she valued his esteem--how completely she appreciated the fine points of
his character; and he was too much a gentleman to remind her by one word
or tone of his disappointment that day in the wood above Maidenhead.

The evening came to its quiet end at last. Christabel had scarcely left
her piano in the dim little third room--she had sat there in the faint
light, playing slow sleepy nocturnes and lieder, and musing, musing
sadly, with a faint sick dread of coming sorrow. She had seen it in her
aunt's face. When the old buhl clock chimed the half-hour after ten the
Major got up and took his leave, bending over Mrs. Tregonell as he
pressed her hand at parting to murmur: "Remember," with an accent as
solemn as Charles the Martyr's when he spoke to Juxon.

Mrs. Tregonell answered never a word. She had been pondering and
wavering all the evening, but had come to no fixed conclusion.

She bade the two girls good-night directly the Major was gone. She told
herself that she had the long tranquil night before her for the
resolution of her doubts. She would sleep upon this vexed question. But
before she had been ten minutes in her room there came a gentle knock at
the door, and Christabel stole softly to her side.

"Auntie, dear, I want to talk to you before you go to bed, if you are
not very tired. May Dormer go for a little while?"

Dormer, gravest and most discreet of handmaids, whose name seemed to
have been made on purpose for her, looked at her mistress, and receiving
a little nod, took up her work and crept away. Dormer was never seen
without her needlework. She complained that there was so little to do
for Mrs. Tregonell that unless she had plenty of plain sewing she must
expire for want of occupation, having long outlived such frivolity as
sweethearts and afternoons out.

When Dormer was gone, Christabel came to her aunt's chair, and knelt
down beside it just as she had done at Mount Royal, when she told her of
Angus Hamleigh's offer.

"Aunt Diana, what has happened, what is wrong?" she asked, coming at the
heart of the question at once. There was no shadow of doubt in her mind
that something was sorely amiss.

"How do you know that there is anything wrong?"

"I have known it ever since that horrible old woman--Medusa in a bonnet
all over flowers--pansies instead of snakes--talked about Cupid and
Psyche. And you knew it, and made her stop to tell you all about it.
There is some cruel mystery--something that involves my fate with that
of the actress I saw the other night."

Mrs. Tregonell sat with her hands tightly clasped, her brows bent. She
felt herself taken by storm, as it were, surprised into decision before
she had time to make up her mind.

"Since you know so much, perhaps you had better know all," she said,
gloomily; and then she told the story, shaping it as delicately as she
could for a girl's ear.

Christabel covered her face with her clasped hands, and listened without
a sigh or a tear. The pain she felt was too dull and vague as yet for
the relief of tears. The horrible surprise, the sudden darkening of the
dream of her young life, the clouding over of every hope, these were
shapeless horrors which she could hardly realize at first. Little by
little this serpent would unfold its coils; drop by drop this poison
would steal through her veins, until its venom filled her heart. He,
whom she had supposed all her own, with whose every thought she had
fancied herself familiar, he, of whose heart she had believed herself
the sole and sovereign mistress, had been one little year ago the slave
of another--loving with so passionate a love that he had not shrunk from
letting all the world know his idolatry. Yes, all those people who had
smiled at her, and said sweet things to her, and congratulated her on
her engagement, had known all the while that this lover, of whom she was
so proud, was only the cast-off idolater of an actress; had come to her
only when life's master-passion was worn threadbare, and had become a
stale and common thing for him. At the first, womanly pride felt the
blow as keenly as womanly love. To be made a mock of by the man she had
so loved!

Kneeling there in dumb misery at her aunt's feet, answering never a word
to that wretched record of her lover's folly, Christabel's thoughts flew
back to that still grey autumn noontide at Pentargon Bay, and the words
then spoken. Words, which then had only vaguest meaning, now rose out
of the dimness of the past, and stood up in her mind as if they had been
living creatures. He had compared himself to Tristan--to one who had
sinned and repented--he had spoken of himself as a man whose life had
been more than half lived already. He had offered himself to her with no
fervid passion--with no assured belief in her power to make him happy.
Nay, he had rather forced from her the confession of her love by his
piteous representation of himself as a man doomed to early death. He had
wrung from her the offer of a life's devotion. She had given herself to
him almost unwooed. Never before had her betrothal appeared to her in
this humiliating aspect; but now, enlightened by the knowledge of that
former love, a love so reckless and self-sacrificing, it seemed to her
that the homage offered her had been of the coldest--that her affection
had been placidly accepted, rather than passionately demanded of her.

"Fool, fool, fool," she said within herself, bowed to the dust by this
deep humiliation.

"My darling, why don't you speak to me?" said Mrs. Tregonell, tenderly,
with her arm round the girl's neck, her face leaning down to touch that
drooping head.

"What can I say? I feel as if my life had suddenly come to an end, and
there were nothing left for me to do, except just to sit still and
remember what has been."

"You mean to break with him?"

"Break with him! Why he has never been mine. There is nothing to be
broken. It was all a delusion and a dream. I thought he loved me--loved
me exactly as I loved him--with the one great and perfect love of a
lifetime--and now I know that he never loved me--how could he after
having only just left off loving this other woman?--if he had left off
loving her. And how could he when she is so perfectly lovely? Why should
he have ever ceased to care for her? She had been like his wife, you
say--his wife in all but the name--and all the world knew it. What must
people have thought of me for stealing away another woman's husband?"

"My dear, the world does not see it in that light. She never was really
his wife."

"She ought to have been," answered Christabel, resolutely, yet with
quivering lips. "If he cared for her so much as to make himself the
world's wonder for her sake he should have married her: a man should not
play fast and loose with love."

"It is difficult for us to judge," said Mrs. Tregonell, believing
herself moved by the very spirit of justice, "we are not women of the
world--we cannot see this matter as the world sees it."

"God forbid that I should judge as the world judges," exclaimed
Christabel, lifting her head for the first time since that story had
been told her. "That would be a sorry end of your teaching. What ought I
to do?"

"Your own heart must be the arbiter, Christabel. I made up my mind this
afternoon that I would not seek to influence you one way or the other.
Your own heart must decide."

"My own heart? No; my heart is too entirely his--too weakly, fondly,
foolishly, devoted to him. No, I must think of something beyond my
foolish love for him. His honour and mine are at stake. We must be true
to ourselves, he and I. But I want to know what you think, Auntie. I
want to know what you would have done in such a case. If, when you were
engaged to his father, you had discovered that he had been within only a
little while"--these last words were spoken with inexpressible pathos,
as if here the heart-wound were deepest--"the lover of another
woman--bound to her by ties which a man of honour should hold
sacred--what would you have done? Would you have shut your eyes
resolutely upon that past history? Would you have made up your mind to
forget everything, and to try to be happy with him?"

"I don't know, Belle," Mrs. Tregonell answered, helplessly, very anxious
to be true and conscientious, and, if she must needs be guide, to guide
the girl aright through this perilous passage in her life. "It is so
difficult at my age to know what one would have done in one's girlhood.
The fires are all burnt out; the springs that moved one then are all
broken. Judging now, with the dull deliberation of middle age, I should
say it would be a dangerous thing for any girl to marry a man who had
been notoriously devoted to another woman--that woman still living,
still having power to charm him. How can you ever be secure of his love?
how be sure that he would not be lured back to the old madness? These
women are so full of craft--it is their profession to tempt men to
destruction. You remember what the Bible says of such? 'They are more
bitter than death: their feet go down to death: their steps take hold on
hell."

"Don't, Auntie," faltered Christabel. "Yes, I understand. Yes, he would
tire of me and go back to her very likely. I am not half so lovely, nor
half so fascinating. Or, if he were true to honour and duty, he would
regret her all his life. He would be always repenting that he had not
broken down all barriers and married her. He would see her sometimes on
the stage, or in the Park, and just the sight of her face flashing past
him would spoil his happiness. Happiness," she repeated, bitterly, "what
happiness? what peace could there be for either of us? knowing of that
fatal love. I have decided, Auntie, I shall love Angus all the days of
my life, but I will never marry him."

Mrs. Tregonell clasped the girl in her arms, and they wept together,
one with the slow silent tears of life that was well-nigh worn out, the
other with youth's passionate sobs--sobs that shook the slender frame.

"My beloved, you have chosen wisely and well," said the widow, her heart
throbbing with new hopes--it was not of Angus Hamleigh's certain loss
she thought, but of her son Leonard's probable gain--"you have chosen
wisely. I do not believe that you could ever have been really happy with
him. Your heart would have been consumed with jealous fears--suspicion
would have haunted your life--that evil woman's influence would have
darkened all your days."

"Don't say another word," pleaded Christabel, in low hoarse tones; "I
have quite made up my mind. Nothing can change it."

She did not want to be encouraged or praised; she did not want comfort
or consolation. Even her aunt's sympathy jarred upon her fretted nerves.
She felt that she must stand alone in her misery, aloof from all human
succour.

"Good-night," she said, bending down to touch her aunt's forehead, with
tremulous lips.

"Won't you stay, dear? Sleep with me to-night."

"Sleep?" echoed the girl. "No, Auntie dear; I would rather be in my own
room!"

She went away without another word, and went slowly back to her own
room, the pretty little London bedchamber, bright with new satin-wood
furniture and pale blue cretonne hangings, clouded with creamy Indian
muslin, a bower-like room, with flowers and books, and a miniature piano
in a convenient recess by the fireplace. Here she sat gravely down
before her davenport and unlocked one particular drawer, a so-called
secret drawer, but as obvious as a secret panel in a melodrama--and took
out Angus Hamleigh's letters. The long animated letters written on thin
paper, letters which were a journal of his thoughts and feelings, almost
as fully recorded as in those voluminous epistles which Werther
despatched to his friend--letters which had bridged over the distance
between Cornwall and Southern France, and had been the chief delight of
Christabel's life through the long slow winter, making her lover her
daily companion.

Slowly, slowly, with tears dropping unnoticed every now and then, she
turned over the letters, one by one--now pausing to read a few
lines--now a whole letter. There is no loving folly of which she had not
been guilty with regard to these cherished letters: she had slept with
them under her pillow, she had read them over and over again, had
garnered them in a perfumed desk, and gone back to them after the lapse
of time, had compared them in her own mind with all the cleverest
letters that ever were given to the world--with Walpole, with Beckford,
with Byron, with Deffand, and Espinasse, Sevigné, Carter--and found in
them a grace and a charm that surpassed all these. She had read elegant
extracts to her aunt, who confessed that Mr. Hamleigh wrote cleverly,
wittily, picturesquely, poetically, but did not perceive that
immeasurable superiority to all previous letter-writers. Then came
briefer letters, dated from the Albany--notes dashed off hastily in
those happy days when their lives were spent for the most part together.
Notes containing suggestions for some new pleasure--appointments--sweet
nothings, hardly worth setting down except as an excuse for
writing--with here and there a longer letter, written after midnight; a
letter in which the writer poured out his soul to his beloved, enlarging
on their conversation of the day--that happy talk about themselves and
love.

"Who would think, reading these, that he never really cared for me, that
I was only an after-thought in his life," she said to herself, bitterly.

"Did he write just such letters to Stella Mayne, I wonder? No; there was
no need for writing--they were always together."

The candles on her desk had burnt low by the time her task was done.
Faint gleams of morning stole through the striped blinds, as she sealed
the packet in which she had folded that lengthy history of Angus
Hamleigh's courtship--a large square packet, tied with stout red tape,
and sealed in several places. Her hand hardly faltered as she set her
seal upon the wax: her purpose was so strong.

"Yes," she said to herself, "I will do what is best and safest for his
honour and for mine." And then she knelt by her bed and prayed long and
fervently; and remained upon her knees reading the Gospel as the night
melted away and the morning sun flooded her room with light.

She did not even attempt to sleep, trusting to her cold bath for
strength against the day's ordeal. She thought all the time she was
dressing of the task that lay before her--the calm deliberate cancelment
of her engagement, with the least possible pain for the man she loved,
and for his ultimate gain in this world and the next. Was it not for the
welfare of a man's soul that he should do his duty and repair the wrong
that he had done; rather than that he should conform to the world's idea
of the fitness of things and make an eminently respectable marriage?

Christabel contemplated herself critically in the glass as she brushed
her hair. Her eyelids were swollen with weeping--her cheeks pallid, her
eyes lustreless, and at this disadvantage she compared herself with that
vivid and sylph-like beauty she had seen at the Kaleidoscope.

"How could he ever forget her for my sake?" she thought, looking at that
sad colourless face, and falling into the common error that only the
most beautiful women are loved with perfect love, that perfection of
feeling answers to perfection of form--forgetting how the history of
life shows that upon the unlovely also there have been poured treasures
of deepest, purest love--that, while beauty charms and wins all, there
is often one, best worth the winning, who is to be vanquished by some
subtler charm, held by some less obvious chain than Aphrodite's rosy
garlands. Perhaps, if Miss Courtenay had been a plain woman, skilled in
the art of making the most of small advantages, she would have had more
faith in her own power; but being a lovely woman who had been so trained
and taught as to think very little of her own beauty, she was all the
more ready to acknowledge the superior loveliness of a rival.

"Having worshipped that other fairer face, how could he care for me?"
she asked herself; and then, brooding upon every detail of their
betrothal, she came to the bitter conclusion that Angus had offered
himself to her out of pity--touched by her too obvious affection for
him--love which she had hardly tried to hide from him, when once he had
told her of his early doom. That storm of pity and regret which had
swept over her heart had annihilated her womanly pride: she forgot all
that was due to her own dignity, and was only too eager to offer herself
as the companion and consoler of his brief days. She looked back and
remembered her folly--thinking of herself as a creature caught in a
trap.

No, assuredly, there was but one remedy.

One doubt--one frail straw of hope to which she might cling--yet
remained. That tried, all was decided. Was this story true--completely
and positively a fact? She had heard so much in society about baseless
scandals--she had been told so many versions of the same story--as
unlike as black to white or false to true--and she was not going to take
this one bitter fact for granted upon the strength of any fashionable
Medusa who might try to turn her warm beating heart to stone. Before she
accepted Medusa's sentence she would discover for herself how far this
story was true.

"I will give no one any trouble," she thought: "I will act for myself,
and judge for myself. It will be the making or marring of three lives."

In her wide charity, in that power to think and feel for others, which
was the highest gift of her rich sweet soul, Stella Mayne seemed to
Christabel as important a factor in this life-problem as herself or
Angus. She thought of her tenderly, picturing her as a modern Gretchen,
tempted by an early and intense love, much more than by the devil's lure
of splendour and jewels--a poor little Gretchen at seventeen and
sixpence a week, living in a London garret, with no mother to watch and
warn, and with wicked old Marthas in plenty to whisper bad advice.

Christabel went down to breakfast as usual. Her quiet face and manner
astonished Mrs. Tregonell, who had slept very little better than her
niece; but when the servant came in to ask if she would ride she
refused.

"Do, dear," pleaded her aunt; "a nice long country ride by Finchley and
Hendon would do you good."

"No, Aunt Di--I would rather be at home this morning," answered
Christabel; so the man departed, with an order for the carriage at the
usual hour in the afternoon.

There was a letter from Angus--Christabel only glanced at the opening
lines, which told her that he was to stay at Hillside a few days longer,
and then put the letter in her pocket. Jessie Bridgeman looked at her
curiously--knowing very well that there was something sorely amiss--but
waiting to be told what this sudden cloud of sorrow meant.

Christabel went back to her own room directly after breakfast. Her aunt
forbore any attempt at consolation, knowing it was best to let the girl
bear her grief in her own way.

"You will go with me for a drive after luncheon, dear?" she asked.

"Yes, Auntie--but I would rather we went a little way in the country, if
you don't mind, instead of to the Park."

"With all my heart: I have had quite enough of the Park."

"The 'booing, and booing, and booing,'" said Jessie, "and the straining
one's every nerve to see the Princess drive by--only to discover the
humiliating fact that she is one of the very few respectable-looking
women in the Park--perhaps the only one who can look absolutely
respectable without being a dowdy."

"Shall I go to her room and try if I can be of any comfort to her?"
mused Jessie, as she went up to her own snug little den on the third
floor. "Better not, perhaps. I like to hug my sorrows. I should hate any
one who thought their prattle could lessen my pain. She will bear hers
best alone, I dare say. But what can it be? Not any quarrel with him.
They could hardly quarrel by telegraph or post--they who are all honey
when they are together. It is some scandal--something that old demon
with the eyebrows said yesterday. I am sure of it--a talk between two
elderly women with closed doors always means Satan's own mischief."

All three ladies went out in the carriage after luncheon--a dreary,
dusty drive, towards Edgware--past everlasting bricks and mortar, as it
seemed to Christabel's tired eyes, which gazed at the houses as if they
had been phantoms, so little human meaning had they for her--so little
did she realize that in each of those brick and plaster packing-cases
human beings lived, and, in their turn, suffered some such heart-agony
as this which she was enduring to-day.

"That is St. John's Wood up yonder, isn't it?" she asked, as they passed
Carlton Hill, speaking for almost the first time since they left
Mayfair.

"Yes."

"Isn't it somewhere about there Miss Stella Mayne lives, the actress we
saw the other night?" asked Christabel, carelessly.

Her aunt looked at her with intense surprise,--how could she pronounce
_that_ name, and to ask a frivolous question?

"Yes; she has a lovely house called the Rosary. Mr. FitzPelham told me
about it," answered Jessie.

Christabel said never a word more as the carriage rolled on by
Cricklewood and the two Welsh Harps, and turned into the quiet lanes
about Hendon, and so home by the Finchley Road. She had found out what
she wanted to know.

When afternoon tea was served in the little third drawing-room, where
Mrs. Tregonell sat resting herself after the dust and weariness of the
drive, Christabel was missing. Dormer brought a little note for her
mistress.

"Miss Courtenay gave me this just before she went out, ma'am."

"Out! Has Miss Courtenay gone out?"

"Yes, ma'am; Daniel got her a cab five minutes ago."

"To her dressmaker, I suppose," said Mrs. Tregonell, trying to look
indifferent.

"Don't be uneasy about me, Auntie," wrote Christabel: "I am going on an
errand about which I made up my mind last night. I may be a little late
for dinner--but as I shall go and return in the same cab, you may feel
sure that I shall be quite safe. Don't wait dinner for me."



CHAPTER IX.

"LOVE IS LOVE FOR EVERMORE."


The Rosary, St. John's Wood: that was the address which Christabel had
given the cabman. Had any less distinguished person than Stella Mayne
lived at the Rosary it might have taken the cabman all the evening to
find that particular house, with no more detailed address as to road and
number. But a brother whip on a rank near Hamilton Terrace was able to
tell Christabel's cabman the way to the Rosary. It was a house at which
hansoms were often wanted at unholy hours between midnight and
sunrise--a house whose chief hospitality took the form of chablis and
oysters after the play--a house which seldom questioned poor cabby's
claim or went closely into mileage--a house which deserved and commanded
respectful mention on the rank.

"The Rosary--yes, that's where Miss Mayne lives. Beech Tree Road--a low
'ouse with veranders all round--yer can't miss it."

The cabman rattled away to Grove End Road, and thence to the superior
quietude and seclusion of Beech Tree Road, where he drew up at a house
with a glazed entrance. He rang the bell, and Christabel alighted before
the summons was answered.

"Is Miss Mayne at home?" she asked a servant in plain clothes--a servant
of unquestionable respectability.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, and preceded her along a corridor,
glass-roofed, richly carpeted, and with a bank of hot-house flowers on
either side.

Only at this ultimate moment did Christabel's courage begin to falter.
She felt as if she were perhaps entering a den of vice. Innocent,
guileless as she was, she had her own vague ideas about
vice--exaggerated as all ignorant ideas are apt to be. She began to
shiver as she walked over the dark subdued velvet pile of that shadowy
corridor. If she had found Miss Mayne engaged in giving a masked
ball--or last night's supper party only just finishing--or a party of
young men playing blind hookey, she would hardly have been
surprised--not that she knew anything about masked balls--or late
suppers--or gambling--but that all these would have come within her
vague notions of an evil life.

"_He_ loved her," she said to herself, arguing against this new terror,
"and he could not love a thoroughly wicked woman."

No, the Gretchen idea--purity fallen, simplicity led astray--was more
natural--but one could hardly imagine Gretchen in a house of this
kind--this subdued splendour--this all-pervading air of wealth and
luxury.

Miss Courtenay was shown into a small morning-room--a room which on
one side was all window--opening on to a garden, where some fine
old trees gave an idea of space--and where the foreground showed
a mass of flowers--roses--roses--roses everywhere--trailing over
arches--clustering round tall iron rods--bush roses--standard
roses--dwarf roses--all shining in the golden light of a westering sun.

The room was elegantly simple--an escritoire in the Sherraton
style--two or three book-tables crowded with small volumes in exquisite
binding, vellum, creamy calf, brown Russia, red edges, gold edges,
painted edges, all the prettinesses of bookbinding--half a dozen low
chairs--downy nests covered with soft tawny Indian silk, with here and
there a brighter patch of colour in the shape of a plush pillow or an
old brocade anti-macassar--voluminous curtains of the same soft tawny
silk, embroidered with poppies and corn-flowers--a few choice flowers in
old Venetian vases--a large peacock-feather fan thrown beside an open
book, upon a low pillow-shaped ottoman.

Christabel gazed round the room in blank surprise--nothing
gaudy--nothing vulgar--nothing that indicated sudden promotion from the
garret to the drawing-room--an air of elegant luxury, of supreme fashion
in all things--but no glare of gilding, no discords in form or colour.

"Your name, if you please, madam?" said the servant, a model of decorum
in well-brushed black.

"Perhaps, you had better take my card. I am not personally known to Miss
Mayne," answered Christabel, opening her card-case. "Oh!" she exclaimed
suddenly, as with a cry of pain.

"I beg your pardon," said the servant, alarmed.

"It's nothing. A picture startled me--that was all. Be good enough to
tell Miss Mayne that I shall be very much obliged to her if she will see
me."

"Certainly, madam!" said the man, as he retired with the card, wondering
how a young lady of such distinguished appearance happened to call upon
his mistress, whose feminine visitors were usually of a more marked
type.

"I dare say she's collectin' funds for one of their everlastin'
churches," thought the butler, "'igh, low, or Jack, as I call 'em--'igh
church, low church, or John Wesley--ever so many predominations, and all
of 'em equally keen after money. But why did she almost s'riek when she
clapt her eyes on Mr. 'Amleigh's portrait, I wonder, just as if she had
seen a scorpiont."

Christabel stood motionless where the man left her, looking at a
photograph on a brass easel upon an old ebony table in the middle of the
room. A cluster of stephanotis in a low Venetian vase stood in front of
that portrait, like flowers before a shrine. It was an exquisitely
painted photograph of Angus Hamleigh--Angus at his best and brightest,
before the flush and glory of youth had faded from eyes and brow--Angus
with a vivacity of expression which she had never seen in his face--she
who had known him only since the fatal hereditary disease had set its
mark upon him.

"Ah!" she sighed, "he was happier when he loved her than he ever was
with me."

She stood gazing at that pictured face, her hands clasped, her heart
beating heavily. Everything confirmed her in her despair--in her iron
resolve. At last, with a long-drawn sigh, she withdrew her eyes from the
picture, and began to explore the room. No, there was no trace of
vulgarity--no ugly indication of a vicious mind. Christabel glanced at
the open book on the ottoman, half expecting to find the trail of the
serpent there--in some shameful French novel, the very name of which she
had not been allowed to hear. But the book was only the last
_Contemporary Review_, open at an article of Gladstone's. Then, with
faintly tremulous hand, she took one of the vellum-bound duodecimos from
a shelf of the revolving book-table--"Selections from Shelley"--and on
the title-page, "Angus to Stella, Rome," and a date, just three years
old, in the hand she knew so well. She looked in other books--all
choicest flowers of literature--and in each there was the same familiar
penmanship, sometimes with a brief sentence that made the book a
_souvenir_--sometimes with a passionate line from Shakespeare or Dante,
Heine or De Musset. Christabel remembered, with a sharp pang of
jealousy, that her lover had never so written in any book he had given
her. She ignored the change which a year or two may make in a man's
character, when he has reached one of the turning points of life; and
how a graver deeper phase of feeling, less eager to express itself in
other people's flowery language, succeeds youth's fervid sentiment. Had
Werther lived and loved a second Charlotte, assuredly he would have
loved her after a wiser and graver fashion. But Christabel had believed
herself her lover's first and only love, and finding that she was but
the second volume in his life, abandoned herself at once to despair.

She sank into one of the low luxurious chairs, just as the door opened,
and Miss Mayne came into the room.

If she had looked lovely as Psyche, in her classic drapery, with the
emerald butterfly on her shoulder, she looked no less beautiful in the
costly-simplicity of her home toilet. She wore a sacque-shaped tea-gown
of soft French-grey silk, lined with palest pink satin, over a petticoat
that seemed a mass of cream-coloured lace. Her only ornaments were three
half-hoop rings--rubies, diamonds, and sapphires--too large for the
slender third finger of her left hand, and half concealing a thin
wedding-ring--and a star-shaped brooch--one large cat's-eye with diamond
rays, which fastened the lace handkerchief at her throat.

Christabel, quick to observe the woman whose existence had ruined her
life, noted everything, from the small perfectly-shaped head--shaped for
beauty rather than mental power--to the little arched foot in its
pearl-coloured silk stocking, and grey satin slipper. For the first
time in her life she beheld a woman whose chief business in this world
was to look her loveliest, at all times and seasons, for friend or
foe--for whom the perfection of costume was the study and delight of
life--who lived and reigned by the divine right of beauty.

"Pray sit down!" said Miss Mayne, with a careless wave of her hand--so
small--so delicate and fragile-looking under the lace ruffle; "I am
quite at a loss to guess to what I am indebted for the honour of this
visit."

She looked at her visitor scrutinizingly with those dark, too lustrous
eyes. A hectic flush burned in her hollow cheeks. She had heard a good
deal about this Miss Courtenay, of Mount Royal and Mayfair, and she came
prepared to do battle.

For some moments Christabel was dumb. It was one thing to have come into
this young lioness's den, and another thing to know what to say to the
lioness. But the straightness and purity of the girl's purpose upheld
her--and her courage hardly faltered.

"I have come to you, Miss Mayne, because I will not consent to be
governed by common report. I want to know the truth--the whole
truth--however bitter it may be for me--in order that I may know how to
act."

Miss Mayne had expected a much sharper mode of attack. She had been
prepared to hear herself called scorpion--or viper--the pest of
society--a form of address to which she would have been able to reply
with a startling sharpness. But to be spoken to thus--gravely, gently,
pleadingly, and with that sweet girlish face looking at her in
unspeakable sorrow--was something for which she had not prepared
herself.

"You speak to me like a lady--like a good woman," she said, falteringly.
"What is it you want to know?"

"I have been told that Mr. Hamleigh--Angus Hamleigh--was once your
lover. Is that true?"

"True as the stars in heaven--the stars by which we swore to love each
other to the end of our lives--looking up at them, with our hands
clasped, as we stood on the deck of the steamer between Dover and
Calais. That was our marriage. I used to think that God saw it, and
accepted it--just as if we had been in church: only it did not hold
water, you see," she added, with a cynical laugh, which ended in a hard
little cough.

"He loved you dearly. I can see that by the lines that he wrote in your
books. I ventured to look at them while I waited for you. Why did he not
marry you?"

Stella Mayne shrugged her shoulders, and played with the soft lace of
her _fichu_.

"It is not the fashion to marry a girl who dances in short petticoats,
and lives in an attic," she answered. "Perhaps such a girl might make a
good wife, if a man had the courage to try the experiment. Such things
have been done, I believe; but most men prefer the safer course. If I
had been clever, I daresay Mr. Hamleigh would have married me; but I was
an ignorant little fool--and when he came across my path he seemed to me
like an angel of light. I simply worshipped him. You've no idea how
innocent I was in those days. Not a carefully educated, lady-like
innocence, like yours, don't you know, but absolute ignorance. I didn't
know any wrong; but then I didn't know any right. You see I am quite
candid with you."

"I thank you with all my heart for your truthfulness. Everything--for
you, for me, for Angus--depends upon our perfect truthfulness. I want to
do what is best--what is wisest--what is right--not for myself only, but
for Angus, for you."

Those lovely liquid eyes looked at her incredulously.

"What," cried Stella Mayne, with her mocking little laugh--a musical
little laugh trained for comedy, and unconsciously artificial--"do you
mean to tell me that you care a straw what becomes of me--that it
matters to you whether I die in the gutter where I was born, or pitch
myself into the Regent's Canal some night when I have a fit of the blue
devils?"

"I care very much what becomes of you. I should not be here if I did not
wish to do what is best for you."

"Then you come as my friend, and not as my enemy?" said Stella.

"Yes, I am here as your friend," answered Christabel, with an effort.

The actress--a creature all impulse and emotion--fell on her knees at
Miss Courtenay's feet, and pressed her lips upon the lady's gloved hand.

"How good you are," she exclaimed--"how good--how good. I have read of
such women--they swarm in the novels I get from Mudie--they and fiends.
There's no middle distance. But I never believed in them. When the man
brought me your card I thought you had come to blackguard me."

Christabel shuddered at the coarse word, so out of harmony with that
vellum-bound Shelley, and all the graciousness of Miss Mayne's
surroundings.

"Forgive me," said Stella, seeing her disgust. "I am horribly vulgar. I
never was like that while--while Angus cared for me."

"Why did he leave off caring for you?" asked Christabel, looking gravely
down at the lovely up-turned face--so exquisite in its fragile sensitive
beauty.

Now Stella Mayne was one of those complex creatures, quite out of the
range of a truthful woman's understanding--a creature who could be
candour itself--could gush and prattle with the innocent expansiveness
of a child, so long as there was nothing she particularly desired to
conceal--yet who could lie with the same sweet air of childlike
simplicity, when it served her purpose--lie with the calm stolidity, the
invincible assurance, of an untruthful child. She did not answer
Christabel's question immediately, but looked at her thoughtfully for a
few seconds, wondering how much of her history this young lady knew, and
to what extent lying might serve. She had slipped from her knees to a
sitting position on the Persian hearthrug, her thin, semi-transparent
hands clasped upon her knee, the triple circlet of gems flashing in the
low sunlight.

"Why did we part?" she asked, shrugging her shoulders. "I hardly know.
Temper, I suppose. He has not too good a temper, and I--well, I am a
demon when I am ill--and I am often ill."

"You keep his portrait on your table," said Christabel.

"Keep it? Yes--and round my neck," answered Stella, jerking a gold
locket out of her loose gown, and opening it to show the miniature
inside. "I have worn his picture against my heart ever since he gave it
me--during our first Italian tour. I shall wear it so when I am dead.
Yes--when he is married, and happy with you, and I am lying in my grave
in Hendon Churchyard. Do you know I have bought and paid for my grave?"

"Why did you do that?"

"Because I wanted to make sure of not being buried in a cemetery--a city
of the dead--streets and squares and alleys of gravestones. I have
chosen a spot under a great spreading cedar, in a churchyard that might
be a hundred miles from London--and yet it is quite near here, and handy
for those who will have to take me. I shall not give any one too much
trouble. Perhaps, if you will let him, Angus may come to my funeral, and
drop a bunch of violets on my coffin."

"Why do you talk like that?"

"Because the end cannot be very far off. Do you think I look as if I
should live to be a grandmother?"

The hectic bloom, the unnatural light in those lovely eyes, the
transparent hands, and purple-tinted nails, did not, indeed, point to
such a conclusion.

"If you are really ill why do you go on acting?" asked Christabel,
gently. "Surely the fatigue and excitement must be very bad for you."

"I hardly know. The fatigue may be killing me, but the excitement is the
only thing that keeps me alive. Besides, I must live--thirty pounds a
week is a consideration."

"But--you are not in want of money?" exclaimed Christabel. "Mr. Hamleigh
would never----"

"Leave me to starve," interrupted Stella, hurriedly; "no, I have plenty
of money. While--while we were happy Mr. Hamleigh lavished his money
upon me--he was always absurdly generous--and if I wanted money now I
should have but to hold out my hand. I have never known the want of
money since I left my attic--four and sixpence a week, with the use of
the kitchen fire, to boil a kettle, or cook a chop--when my resources
rose to a chop--it was oftener a bloater. Do you know, the other day,
when I was dreadfully ill and they had been worrying me with invalid
turtle, jellies, oysters, caviare, all kinds of loathsome
daintinesses--and the doctor said I should die if I didn't eat--I
thought perhaps I might get back the old appetite for bloater and bread
and butter--I used to enjoy a bloater tea so in those old days--but it
was no use--the very smell of the thing almost killed me--the whole
house was poisoned with it."

She prattled on, looking up at Christabel with a confiding smile. The
visit had taken quite a pleasant turn. She had no idea that anything
serious was to come of it. Her quondam lover's affianced wife had taken
it into her head to come and see what kind of stuff Mr. Hamleigh's
former idol was made of--that was all--and the lady's amiability was
making the interview altogether agreeable.

Yet, in another moment, the pain and sorrow in Christabel's face showed
her and there was something stronger than frivolous curiosity in the
lady's mind.

"Pray be serious with me," said Christabel. "Remember that the welfare
of three people depends upon my resolution in this matter. It would be
easy for me to say--I will shut my eyes to the past: he has told me that
he loves me--and I will believe him. But I will not do that. I will not
live a life of suspicion and unrest, just for the sweet privilege of
bearing him company, and being called by his name--dear as that thought
is to me. No, it shall be all or nothing. If I cannot have his whole
heart I will have none of it. You confess that you wear his picture next
your heart. Do you still love him?"

"Yes--always--always--always," answered the actress, fervently. This at
least was no bold-faced lie--there was truth's divine accent here.
"There is no man like him on this earth." And then in low impassioned
tones she quoted those passionate lines of Mrs. Browning's:--

    There is no one beside thee, and no one above thee;
    Thou standest alone as the nightingale sings;
    And my words, that would praise thee, are impotent things.

"And do you believe that he has quite left off loving you?"

"No," answered the actress, looking up at her with flashing eyes, "I
don't believe it. I don't believe he could after all we have been to
each other. It isn't in human nature to forget such love as ours."

"And you believe--if he were free--if he had not engaged himself to
me--perhaps hardly intending it--he would come back to you?"

"Yes, if he knew how ill I am--if he knew what the doctor says about
me--I believe he would come back."

"And marry you?" asked Christabel, deadly pale.

"That's as may be," retorted the other, with her Parisian shrug.

Christabel stood up, and laid her clenched hand on the low draperied
mantelpiece, almost as if she were laying it on an altar to give
emphasis to an oath. "Then he shall come back--then he shall marry you,"
she said in a grave earnest voice. "I will rob no woman of her husband.
I will doom no fellow-creature to lifelong shame!"

"What," cried Stella Mayne, with almost a shriek, "you will give him
up--for me!"

"Yes. He has never belonged to me as he has belonged to you--it is no
shame for me to renounce him--grief and pain--yes, grief and pain
unspeakable--but no disgrace. He has sinned, and he must atone for his
sin. I will not be the impediment to your marriage."

"But if you were to give him up he might not marry me: men are so
difficult to manage," faltered the actress, aghast at the idea of such a
sacrifice, seeing the whole business in the light of circumstances
unknown to Miss Courtenay.

"Not men with conscience and honour," answered Christabel, with unshaken
firmness. "I feel very sure that if Mr. Hamleigh were free he would do
what is right. It is only his engagement to me that hinders his making
atonement to you. He has lived among worldly people who have never
reminded him of his duty--who have blunted his finer feelings with their
hideous wordliness--oh, I know how worldly women talk--as if there were
neither hell nor heaven, only Belgravia and Mayfair--and no doubt
worldly men are still worse. But he--he whom I have so loved and
honoured--cannot be without honour and conscience. He shall do what is
just and right."

She looked almost inspired as she stood there with pale cheeks and
kindling eyes, thinking far more of that broad principle of justice than
of the fragile emotional creature trembling before her. This comes of
feeding a girl's mind with Shakespeare and Bacon, Carlyle and Plato, to
say nothing of that still broader and safer guide, the Gospel.

Just then there was the sound of footsteps approaching the door--a
measured masculine footfall. The emotional creature flew to the door,
opened it, murmured a few words to some person without, and closed it,
but not before a whiff of Latakia had been wafted into the
flower-scented room. The footsteps moved away in another direction, and
Christabel was much too absorbed to notice that faint breath of tobacco.

"There's not the least use in your giving him up," said Stella,
resolutely: "he would never marry me. You don't know him as well as I
do."

"Do I not? I have lived only to study his character for the best part
of a year. I know he will do what is just."

Stella Mayne suddenly clasped her hands before her face and sobbed
aloud.

"Oh, if I were only good and innocent like you!" she cried, piteously;
"how I detest myself as I stand here before you!--how loathsome--how
hateful I am!"

"No, no," murmured Christabel, soothingly, "you are not hateful: it is
only impenitent sin that is hateful. You were led into wrong-doing
because you were ignorant of right--there was no one to teach you--no
one to uphold you. And he who tempted you is in duty bound to make
amends. Trust me--trust me--it is better for my peace as well as for
yours that he should do his duty. And now good-by--I have stayed too
long already."

Again Stella Mayne fell on her knees and clasped this divine visitant's
hand. It seemed to this weak yet fervid soul almost as if some angel
guest had crossed her threshold. Christabel stooped and would have
kissed the actress's forehead.

"No," she cried, hysterically, "don't kiss me--don't--you don't know. I
should feel like Judas."

"Good-by, then. Trust me." And so they parted.

A tall man, with an iron-grey moustache and a soldier-like bearing, came
out of a little study, cigarette in hand, as the outer door closed on
Christabel. "Who the deuce is that thoroughbred-looking girl?" asked
this gentleman. "Have you got some of the neighbouring swells to call
upon you, at last? Why, what's the row, Fishky, you've been crying?"

Fishky was the stage-carpenters', dressers' and supernumeraries'
pronunciation of the character which Miss Mayne acted nightly, and had
been sportively adopted by her intimates as a pet name for herself.

"That lady is Miss Courtenay."

"The lady Hamleigh is going to marry? What the devil is she doing in
this _galère_? I hope she hasn't been making herself unpleasant?"

"She is an angel."

"With all my heart. Hamleigh is very welcome to her, so long as he
leaves me my dear little demon," answered the soldier, smiling down from
his altitude of six feet two at the sylph-like form in the Watteau gown.

"Oh, how I wish I had never seen your face," said Stella: "I should be
almost a good woman, if there were no such person as you in the world."


END OF VOL. I.





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