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Title: Stand Fast, Craig-Royston! (Volume II)
Author: Black, William, 1841-1898
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 "Stand Fast, Craig-Royston! (Volume II)" ***

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(VOLUME II) ***



                       STAND FAST, CRAIG-ROYSTON!

                                A Novel


                                   BY

                             WILLIAM BLACK,

                               AUTHOR OF
             "A DAUGHTER OF HETH," "MACLEOD OF DARE," ETC.



                          _IN THREE VOLUMES._
                                VOL. II.



                                LONDON:
           SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, SEARLE, & RIVINGTON, LIMITED
                          St. Dunstan’s House
                    FETTER LANE, FLEET STREET, E.C.
                                 1891.

                        [_All rights reserved._]



                                LONDON:
              PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
                   STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.



                          CONTENTS OF VOL. II.

CHAPTER

      I. Doubts and Dreams
     II. By Northern Seas
    III. "Holy Palmer’s Kiss"
     IV. Interposition
      V. The Gnawing Fox
     VI. Put to the Proof
    VII. Renewing is of Love
   VIII. On the Brink
     IX. "And hast thou played me this!"



                       STAND FAST, CRAIG-ROYSTON!



                               CHAPTER I.

                           DOUBTS AND DREAMS.


And at first Vincent was for rebelliously thrusting aside and ignoring
this information that had reached him so unexpectedly.  Was he, on the
strength of a statement forwarded by an unknown correspondent in New
York, to suspect—nay, to condemn unheard—this proud and solitary old man
with whom he had all this while been on terms of such close and friendly
intimacy?  Had he not had ample opportunities of judging whether George
Bethune was the sort of person likely to have done this thing that was
now charged against him?  He went over these past weeks and months.  Was
it any wonder that the old man’s indomitable courage, his passionate
love of his native land, and the constant and assiduous care and
affection he bestowed on his granddaughter, should have aroused alike
the younger man’s admiration and his gratitude? What if he talked with
too lofty an air of birth and lineage, or allowed his enthusiasm about
Scotland and Scottish song to lead him into the realms of rodomontade:
may not an old man have his harmless foibles?  Any one who had witnessed
Maisrie’s devotion to her grandfather, her gentle forbearance and
consideration, her skilful humouring of him, and her never-failing faith
in him, must have got to know what kind of man was old George Bethune.

And yet, when Vincent turned to the letter, it seemed terribly simple,
and straightforward, and sincere.  There was no vindictiveness in it at
all; rather there was a pained surprise on the part of the writer that a
loyal Scot—one, too, who had been admitted into that fraternity of
song-writing exiles over the water—should have been guilty of such a
flagrant breach of trust.  Then Lord Musselburgh’s patronage, as the
young man knew very well, had taken the form of a cheque; so that the
charge brought by the writer of this letter practically was that George
Bethune had obtained, and might even now be obtaining, money by fraud
and false pretences.  It was a bewildering thing—an impossible thing—to
think of.  And now, as he strove to construct all sorts of explanatory
hypotheses, there seemed to stand in the background the visionary form
of Mrs. Ellison; and her eyes were cold and inquiring.  How had she come
to suspect? It was not likely that she could be familiar with the
Scotch-American newspaper offices of the United States.

No, he could make nothing of it; his perplexity only increased.  All
kinds of doubts, surmises, possible excuses went chasing each other
through his brain.  Perhaps it was only literary vanity that had
prompted the old man to steal this project when it was placed before
him?  Or perhaps he thought he had a better right to it, from his wide
knowledge of the subject?  Vincent knew little of the laws and bye-laws
of the literary world; perhaps this was but a bit of rivalry carried too
far; and in any case, supposing the old man had erred in his eagerness
to claim this topic as his own, surely that did not prove him to be a
charlatan all the way through, still less a professional impostor? But
then his making use of this scheme to obtain money—and that not only
from Lord Musselburgh? Oh, well (the young man tried to convince
himself) there might not be so much harm in that.  No doubt he looked
forward to issuing the volume, and giving his patrons value in return.
Old George Bethune, as he knew, was quite careless about pecuniary
matters: for example, if the bill for those little dinners at the
various restaurants was paid by some one, that was enough; the old
gentleman made no further inquiries.  He was content to let his young
friend settle these trivial details; and Master Vin was willing enough.
In fact, the latter had devised a system by which the awkwardness of
calling for the bill in Maisrie’s presence was avoided; this system
worked admirably; and Mr. Bethune asked no questions.  Doubtless, if he
had remembered, or taken the trouble, he would have paid his shot like
anyone else.

But amid all these conflicting speculations, there was one point on
which the mind of this young man remained clear and unswerving; and that
was that whatever might be the character or career of old George
Bethune, his principles or his practice, Maisrie was as far apart and
dissociated from them as if worlds intervened.  If there had been any
malfeasance in this matter, she, at least, was no sharer in it.  And the
more he pondered, the more anxious he became to know whether Maisrie had
any idea of the position in which her grandfather was placed.  How much
would he be entitled to tell her, supposing she was in ignorance?  And
when could he hope for an opportunity?  And then again, failing an
opportunity, how was he to go and spend the evening with those two
friends of his, pretending to be entirely engrossed by their little
amusements and occupations outdoors and in, while all the time there was
lying in his pocket this letter, unanswered and perhaps unanswerable?

Fortune favoured him.  Towards evening, a little before six o’clock, he
heard a door shut on the other side of the street; and, lifting his
head, he perceived that it was Mr. Bethune who had just come out of the
house, alone.  Here was a chance not to be missed.  Waiting for a couple
of minutes, to make sure that the coast was clear, he passed downstairs,
crossed the little thoroughfare, and knocked.  The landlady told him
that Miss Bethune was upstairs, and upstairs he went.  The next moment a
voice that he knew well invited him to enter, and therewithal the two
young people found themselves face to face.

"You are early," she said, with a little smile of welcome, as she
stopped in her sewing.

"Yes," said he, and he added quite frankly, "I saw your father go out,
and I wished to speak with you alone.  The fact is, Maisrie," he
continued, taking a chair opposite her, "I have heard from America
to-day about that proposal I made—to get some one to collect materials
for your grandfather’s book; and the answer is rather a strange one—I
don’t quite understand—perhaps you can tell me something about it."  He
hesitated, and then went on: "Maisrie, I suppose it never occurred to
you that—that some one else in America might be proposing to bring out a
similar book?"

She looked up quickly, and with a certain apprehension in her eyes.

"Oh, yes, I knew.  My grandfather told me there had been talk of such a
thing.  What have you heard?"

He stared at her.

"You knew?" said he.  "Then surely you might have told me!"

There was something in his tone—some touch of reproach—that brought the
blood to her face; and yet she answered calmly and without resentment——

"Did I not tell you?—nor my grandfather? But perhaps neither of us
thought it of much importance.  It was only some vague talk, as I
understood; for everyone must have known that no one was so familiar
with the subject as my grandfather, and that it would be foolish to try
to interfere with him.  At the same time I have always been anxious that
he should get on with the book, for various reasons; and if you have
heard anything that will induce him to begin at once, so much the
better."

It was clear that she was wholly in ignorance of the true state of the
case.

"No," said he, watching her the while.  "What I have heard will not have
that effect, but rather the reverse.  To tell you the plain truth, the
American or Scotch-American writer has finished his book, and it will be
out almost directly."

She sprang to her feet with an involuntary gesture, and stood still for
a moment, her lips grown suddenly pale, and her eyes bewildered: and
then she turned away from him to hide her emotion, and walked to the
window.  Instantly he followed her.

"Maisrie, what is the matter!" he exclaimed in astonishment, for he
found that tears had sprung to her eyes.

"Oh, it is a shame—it is a shame," she said, in broken accents, and her
hands were clenched, "to steal an old man’s good name from him, and that
for so small a thing!  What harm had he ever done them?  The book was
such a small thing—they might have left it to him—what can they gain
from it——"

"But Maisrie——!"

"Oh, you don’t understand, Vincent, you don’t understand at all," she
said, in a despairing sort of way, "how my grandfather will be
compromised! He undertook to bring out the book; he got friends to help
him with money; and now—now—what will they think?—what can I say to
them?—what can I do?  I—I must go to them—but—but what can I say?"

Her tears were running afresh now; and at sight of them the young man
threw to the winds all his doubts and conjectures concerning George
Bethune’s honesty.  That was not the question now.

"No, you shall not go to them!" said he, with indignant eyes.  "You?—you
go to any one—in that way?  No, you shall not.  I will go.  It is a
question of money: I will pay them their money back.  Tell me who they
are, and the amounts; and they shall have every farthing of their money
back, and at once: what can they ask for more?"

For a second she regarded him with a swift glance of more than
gratitude; but it was only to shake her head.

"No, how could I allow you to do that?  What explanation could you make?
There must be some other way—often I have wished that ray grandfather
would let me try to earn something—I am willing enough—and I am never
sure of my grandfather, because he can believe things so easily."  She
had grown calmer now; and over her face there had come the curious look
of resignation that he had noticed when first he saw her, and that
seemed so strange in a young girl.  "I might have expected this," she
went on, absently and sadly. "My grandfather can persuade himself of
anything: if he thinks a thing is done, that is enough.  I am sure I
have urged him to get on with this book—not that I thought anybody could
be so mean and cruel as to step in and forestall him—but that he might
get free from those obligations; but I suppose when he had once arranged
all the materials in his own mind he felt that the rest was easy enough
and that there was no hurry.  He takes things so lightly—and now—the
humiliation—well, I shall have to bear that——"

"I say you shall not," he said, hotly.  "I claim the privilege of a
friend, and you cannot refuse. Who are the people to whom your
grandfather is indebted over this volume?" he demanded.

"For one, there is Lord Musselburgh," she said, but indifferently, as if
no hope lay that way.  "And there is Mr. Carmichael, who owns an
Edinburgh paper—the _Chronicle_."

"Very well," said he, promptly.  "What is to hinder my explaining to
them that circumstances have occurred to prevent Mr. Bethune bringing
out the volume he had projected; and that he begs to return them the
money they had been good enough to advance?"

She shook her head again and sighed.

"No.  It is very kind of you: You are always kind.  But I could not
accept it.  I must try some way myself—though I am rather helpless: it
is so difficult to get my grandfather to see things. I told you before:
he lives in a world of imagination, and he can persuade himself that
everything is well, no matter how we are situated.  But it was shameful
of them," she said, with her indignation returning, and her lips
becoming at once proud and tremulous, "to cheat an old man out of so
poor and small a thing!  Why, they all knew he was going to write this
book—all the writers themselves—they were known to himself
personally—and glad enough they were to send him their verses.  Well,
perhaps they are not to blame.  Perhaps they may have been told that he
had given up the idea—that is quite likely.  At all events, I don’t envy
the miserable creature who has gone and taken advantage of my
grandfather’s absence—"

She could say no more just then, for there was a sound below of the door
being opened and shut; and the next minute they could hear old George
Bethune coming with his active step up the flight of stairs, while he
sang aloud, in fine bravura fashion, "’Tis the march—’tis the march—’tis
the march of the Cameron men!"

The little dinner in the restaurant that evening was altogether unlike
those that had preceded it. The simple and innocent gaiety—the sense of
snugness and good-comradeship—appeared to have fled, leaving behind it a
certain awkwardness and restraint.  Vincent was entirely perplexed.  The
story he had heard from America was in no way to be reconciled with
Maisrie’s interpretation of her grandfather’s position; but it was
possible that the old man had concealed from her certain material facts;
or perhaps had been able to blind himself to them.  But what troubled
the young man most of all was to notice that the old look of pensive
resignation had returned to Maisrie’s face.  For a time a brighter life
had shone there; the natural animation and colour of youth had appeared
in her cheeks; and her eyes had laughter in them, and smiles, and
kindness and gratitude; but all that had gone now—quite suddenly, as it
seemed—and there had come back that strange sadness, that look of
unresisting and hopeless acquiescence.  Alone of the little party of
three George Bethune retained his usual equanimity; nay, on this
particular evening he appeared to be in especial high spirits; and in
his careless and garrulous good-humour he took little heed of the
silence and constraint of the two younger folk.  They made all the
better audience; and he could enforce and adorn his main argument with
all the illustrations he could muster; he was allowed to have everything
his own way.

And perhaps Vincent, thinking of Maisrie, and her tears, and the
hopelessness and solitariness of her position, may have been inclined to
resent what he could not but regard as a callous and culpable
indifference.  At all events, he took the first opportunity that
presented itself of saying—

"I hope I am not the bearer of ill-news, Mr. Bethune; but I have just
heard from New York that someone over there has taken up your subject,
and that a volume on the Scotch poets in America is just about ready,
and will be published immediately."

Maisrie glanced timidly at her grandfather; but there was nothing to
fear on his account; he was not one to quail.

"Oh, indeed, indeed," said he, with a lofty magnanimity.  "Well, I hope
it will be properly and satisfactorily done: I hope it will be done in a
way worthy of the subject.  Maisrie, pass the French mustard, if you
please.  A grand subject: for surely these natural and simple
expressions of the human heart are as deeply interesting as the more
finished, the more literary, productions of the professional poet.  A
single verse, rough and rugged as you like—and the living man stands
revealed. Ay, ay, so the book is coming out.  Well, I hope the public
will be lenient; I hope the public will understand that these men are
not professional poets, who have studied and written in leisure all
their lives; it is but a homely lilt they offer; but it is genuine; it
is from the heart—and it speaks to the heart——"

"But, grandfather," said Maisrie, "you were to have written the book!"

"What matters it who compiles the pages?—that is nothing at all; that is
in a measure mechanical.  I am only anxious that it should be well done,
with tact, and discretion, and modesty," he continued—and with such
obvious sincerity that Vincent was more than ever perplexed.  "For the
sake of old Scotland I would willingly give my help for nothing—a little
guidance here and there—a few biographical facts—even an amended line.
But after all the men must speak for themselves; and well they will
speak, if the public will but remember that these verses have for the
most part been thought of during the busy rush of a commercial life, and
written down in a chance evening hour.  It will be a message across the
sea, to show that Scotland’s sons have not forgotten her. MacGregor
Crerar—Donald Ramsay—Hugh Ainslie—Evan MacColl—Andrew Wanless—I wonder
if they have got Wanless’s address to the robin that was sent to him
from Scotland—you remember, Maisrie?

    ’There’s mair than you, my bonnie bird,
      Hae crossed the raging main,
    Wha mourn the blythe, the happy days,
      They’ll never see again.
    Sweet bird, come sing a sang to me,
      Unmindfu’ o’ our ills;
    And let us think we’re ance again
      ’Mang our ain heather hills!’

The book will be welcomed by many a proud heart, and with moist eyes,
when it gets away up among the glens, to be read by the fireside and
repeated at the plough; and I think, Maisrie, when you and I take a walk
along Princes-street in Edinburgh we may see more than one or two copies
in the bookseller’s windows.  Then I hope _Blackwood_ will have a
friendly word for it; and I am sure Mr. Carmichael will allow me to give
it a hearty greeting in the _Weekly Chronicle_."

"But, grandfather," said Maisrie, almost piteously, "surely you forget
that you undertook to bring out this book yourself!"

"Yes, yes," said he, with perfect good humour. "But ’the best laid
schemes o’ mice and men, gang aft agley.’  And I do not grudge to some
other what might have been mine—I mean the association of one’s name
with such a band of true and loyal Scotchmen.  No; I do not grudge it;
on the contrary I am prepared to give the volume the most generous
welcome in my power; it is not for a brother Scot to find fault in such
a case, or to be niggard of his praise.  I hope we are capable of
showing to the world that ’we’re a’ John Thampson’s bairns.’"

Maisrie was growing desperate.  Her grandfather would not understand;
and how was she to speak plain—with Vincent listening to every word?
And yet she knew that now he was aware of all the circumstances;
concealment was impossible; and so she forced herself to utterance.

"Grandfather," said she—and her face was flushed a rose-red, though she
seemed to take no heed of her embarrassment, so earnest and imploring
was her speech, "You cannot forget the obligations you put yourself
under—to Lord Musselburgh and Mr. Carmichael, and perhaps others.  You
undertook to write the book.  If that is impossible now, it is a great
misfortune; but at least there is one thing you must do; you must
explain to them what has happened, and give them back the money."

The old man could no longer shelter himself behind his gay and
discursive optimism; he frowned impatiently.

"I have already told you, Maisrie," said he, in severely measured
accents, "—and you are grown up now, you might understand for
yourself—that there are times and seasons when the introduction of
business matters is uncalled for, and, in fact, unbecoming; and one of
these is, surely, when we come out to spend a pleasant evening with our
young friend here.  I do not think it necessary that we should discuss
our business affairs before him—I presume he would consider such a thing
somewhat inappropriate at a dinner-table."

Maisrie’s lips quivered; and her grandfather saw it.  Instantly he
changed his tone.

"Come, come," said he, with a cheerful good nature.  "Enough, enough.  I
can quite comprehend how the _res angusta domi_ may tend to give money,
and questions of money, an over-prominence in the minds of women.  But
money, and the obligations that money may place us under, are surely a
very secondary affair, to one who looks at human nature with a larger
view.  I thank God," he went on, with much complacency, "that I have
never been the slave of avarice, that even in times of great necessity I
have kept subsidiary things in their proper sphere.  I do not boast; our
disposition is as much a matter of inheritance as the shape of our
fingers or feet; and that disposition may be handed down without the
accompanying circumstances that developed it.  You follow me, Mr.
Harris?"

"Oh, yes," said the younger man, gloomily; that quiver of Maisrie’s lips
was still in his mind.

For the first time since he had known them Vincent was glad to get away
from his companions that night: the situation in which he found them and
himself alike involved was altogether so strange that he wanted time to
think over it.  And first of all he put aside that matter of the
Scotch-American book as of minor importance: no doubt some kind of
explanation was possible, if all the facts were revealed.  It was when
he came to consider the position and surroundings of Maisrie Bethune
that the young man grew far more seriously concerned; indeed, his heart
became surcharged with an immeasurable pity and longing to help.  He
began to understand how it was that a premature sadness and resignation
was written on that beautiful face, and why her eyes so rarely smiled;
and he could guess at the origin of that look of hopelessness, as though
she despaired of getting her grandfather to acknowledge the realities
and the responsibilities of the actual life around him.  To Vincent the
circumstances in which this young girl was placed seemed altogether
tragic; and when he regarded the future that might lie before her, it
was with a blank dismay.

Moreover, he now no longer sought to conceal from himself the nature of
this engrossing interest in all that concerned her, this fascination and
glamour that drew him towards her, this constant solicitude about her
that haunted him day and night.  Love had originally sprung from pity,
perhaps; her loneliness had appealed to him, and her youth, and the
wistful beauty of her eyes. But even now that he knew what caused his
heart to leap when he heard her footfall on the stairs, or when he
happened to look up at the table to find her regard fixed on him, there
was no wild desire for a declaration of his fond hopes and dreams.
Rather he hung back—as if something mysteriously sacred surrounded her.
He had asked her for a flower: that was all.  Probably she had
forgotten. There seemed no place for the pretty toyings of love-making
in the life of this girl, who appeared to have missed the gaiety of
childhood, and perhaps might slip on into middle-age hardly knowing what
youth had been.  And yet what a rose was ready to blow there—he said to
himself—if only sunshine, and sweet rains, and soft airs were
propitious!  It was the wide, white days of June that were wanted for
her, before the weeks and the months went by, and the darkness and the
winter came.

No, he did not speak; perhaps he was vaguely aware that any abrupt
disclosure on his part might startle her into maiden reserve; whereas in
their present relations there existed the frankest confidence.  She made
no secret of the subdued and happy content she experienced in this
constant companionship; her eyes lit up when he approached; oftentimes
she called him ’Vincent’ without seeming to notice it.  She had given
him a flower?—yes, as she would have given him a handful at any or every
hour of the day, if she fancied it would please him, and without
ulterior thought.  They were almost as boy and girl together in this
daily intercourse, this open and avowed comradeship, this easy and
unrestricted familiarity.  But sometimes Vincent looked ahead—with dim
forebodings.  He had not forgotten the murmur of that wide sea of
separation that he had beheld as it were in a vision; the sound of it,
faint, and sad, and ominous, still lingered in his ears.

It was in one of these darker moments that he resolved, at whatever
risk, to acquaint old George Bethune with something of his irresolute
hopes and fears.  The opportunity arrived quite unexpectedly. One
morning he was as usual on his way to his lodgings when, at the corner
of Upper Grosvenor Street, he met Mr. Bethune coming into Park Lane
alone.

"Maisrie is well?" Vincent asked, in sudden alarm, for it was the rarest
thing in the world to find grandfather and granddaughter separated.

"Oh, yes, yes," the old man said.  "She has some household matters to
attend to—dressmaking, I think.  Poor lass, she has to be economical;
indeed, I think she carries it to an extreme; but it’s no use arguing
with Maisrie; I let her have her own way."

"I wanted to speak to you—about her," Vincent said, and he turned and
walked with the old man, across the street into Hyde Park.  "I have
often wished to speak to you—and—and of course there was no chance when
she herself was present—"

He hesitated, casting about for a beginning; then he pulled himself
together, and boldly flung himself into it.

"I hope you won’t take it for impertinence," said he.  "I don’t mean it
that way—very different from that.  But you yourself, sir, you may
remember, you spoke to me about Maisrie when we were down at Henley
together—about what her future might be, if anything happened to you—and
you seemed concerned.  Well, it is easy to understand how you should be
troubled—it is terrible to think of a young girl like that—so sensitive,
too—being alone in the world, and not over well-provided for, as you
have hinted to me.  It would be so strange and unusual a position for a
young girl to be in—without relations—without friends—and having no one
to advise her or protect her in any way.  Of course you will say it is
none of my business——"

"But you would like to have it made your business," said old George
Bethune, with a bland and good-natured frankness that considerably
astounded his stammering companion.  "My dear young friend, I know
perfectly what you would say. Do you think I have been blind to the
friendly and even affectionate regard you have shown towards my
granddaughter all this while, or to the pleasure she has enjoyed in
having you take part in our small amusements?  No, I have not been
blind.  I have looked on and approved.  It has been an added interest to
our lives; between you and her I have observed the natural sympathy of
similar age; and I have been glad to see her enjoying the society of one
nearer her own years.  But now—now, if I guess aright, you wish for some
more definite tie."

"Would it not be better?" the young man said, breathlessly.  "If there
were some clear understanding, would not a great deal of the uncertainty
with regard to the future be removed?  You see, Mr. Bethune, I haven’t
spoken a word to Maisrie—not a word.  I have been afraid.  Perhaps I
have been mistaken in imagining that she might in time—be inclined to
listen to me——"

He stopped: then he proceeded more slowly—and it might have been noticed
that his cheek was a little paler than usual.  "Yes, it may be as you
say.  Perhaps it is only that she likes the companionship of one of her
own age.  That is natural. And then she is very kind and generous: I may
have been mistaken in thinking there was a possibility of something
more."

He was silent now and abstracted: as he walked on he saw nothing of what
was around him.

"Come, come, my friend!" George Bethune exclaimed, with much benignity.
"Do not vex yourself with useless speculations; you are looking too far
ahead; you and she are both too young to burden yourselves with grave
responsibilities.  A boyish and girlish attachment is a very pretty and
engaging thing; but it must not be taken too seriously——"

And here for a second a flash of resentment fired through Vincent’s
heart: was it well of this old man to speak so patronisingly of Maisrie
as but a child when it was he himself who had thrust upon her more than
the responsibilities and anxieties of a grown woman?

"Take things as they are!  Do you consider that you have much cause to
complain, either the one or the other of you?" old George Bethune
resumed, in a still lighter strain.  "You have youth and strength, good
health, and a constant interest in the life going on around you: is not
that sufficient? Why, here am I, nearing my three score years and ten;
and every morning that I awake I know that there lies before me another
beautiful, interesting, satisfactory day, that I am determined to enjoy
to the very utmost of my power.  To-morrow?—to-morrow never yet belonged
to anybody—never was of any use to anybody: give me to-day, and I am
content to let to-morrow shift for itself!  Yes," he continued, in firm
and proud and almost joyous accents, and he held his head erect, "you
may have caught me in some unguarded moment—some moment of nervous
weakness or depression—beginning to inquire too curiously into the
future; but that was a transient folly; I thank God that it is not my
habitual mood!  Repining, complaining, anticipating: what good do you
get from that? Surely I have had as much reason to repine and complain
as most; but I do not waste my breath in remonstrating with ’fickle
Fortune.’  ’Fickle Fortune!’" he exclaimed, in his scorn—"if the
ill-favoured jade were to come near me I would give her a wallop across
the buttocks with my staff, and bid her get out of my road!  ’Fickle
Fortune!’ She may ’perplex the poor sons of a day;’ but she shall never
perplex me—by God and Saint Ringan!"

He laughed aloud in his pride.

"Why," said he, suddenly changing into quite another vein, "have you not
yet come to know that the one priceless thing to think of in the
world—the one extraordinary thing—is that at this precise moment you can
see?  For millions and millions of years these skies have been shining,
and the clouds moving, and the seas running blue all round the shores;
and you were dead and blind to them; unknowing and unknown.  Generation
after generation of men—thousands and thousands of them—were looking at
these things; they knew the hills and the clouds and the fields; the
world existed for them; but you could see nothing, you were as if lying
dead.  Then comes your brief instant; it is your turn; your eyes are
opened; and for a little while—a passing second—the universe is revealed
to you.  Don’t you perceive that the marvellous thing is that out of the
vast millions of ages it should be this one particular moment, this
present moment, that happens to be given to you?  And instead of
receiving it with amazement and wonder and joy, why, you must begin to
fret and worry and lay schemes, as if you were unaware that the gates of
the empty halls of Pluto were waiting to engulf you and shut you up once
more in darkness and blindness.  Look at those elm-trees—at the water
down there—at the moving clouds: isn’t it wonderful to think that in the
immeasurable life of the world this should happen to be the one moment
when these things are made visible to you?"

Vincent perceived in a kind of way what the old man meant; but he did
not understand why this should make him less concerned about Maisrie’s
position, or less eagerly covetous of winning her tender regard.

"Well, well," said old George Bethune, "perhaps it is but natural that
youth should be impatient; while old age may well be content with such
small and placid comforts as may be met with.  I should have thought
there was not much to complain of in our present manner of life—if you
will allow me to include you in our tiny microcosm.  It is not exciting;
it is simple, and wholesome; and I hope not altogether base and gross.
And as regards Maisrie, surely you and she have enough of each other’s
society even as matters stand.  Let well alone, my young friend; let
well alone; that is my advice to you.  And I may say there are especial
and important reasons why I should not wish her to be bound by any
pledge.  You know that I do not care to waste much thought on what may
lie ahead of us; but still, at the same time, there might at any moment
happen certain things which would make a great difference in Maisrie’s
circumstances——"

Vincent had been listening in a kind of absent and hopeless way; but
these few words instantly aroused his attention: perhaps this was the
real reason why the old man wished Maisrie to remain free?

"A great and marvellous change indeed," he continued, with some increase
of dignity in his manner and in his mode of speech.  "A change which
would affect me also, though that would be of little avail now.  But as
regards my granddaughter, she might be called upon to fill a position
very different from that she occupies at present; and I should not wish
her to be hampered by anything pertaining to her former manner of life.
Not that she would ever prove forgetful of past kindness; that is not in
her nature; but in these new circumstances she might find herself
confronted by other duties.  Enough said, I hope, on that point.  And
well I know," he added, with something of a grand air, "that in whatever
sphere Maisrie Bethune may be placed, she will act worthily of her name
and of the obligations it entails."

He suddenly paused.  There was a poorly-clad woman going by, carrying in
one arm a baby, while with the other hand she half dragged along a small
boy of five or six.  She did not look like a professional London beggar,
nor yet like a country tramp; but of her extreme wretchedness there
could be no doubt; while there was a pinched look as of hunger in her
cheeks.

"Wait a bit!—where are you going?" old George Bethune said to her, in
blunt and ready fashion.

The woman turned round startled and afraid.

"I am making for home, sir," she said, timidly.

"Where’s that?" he demanded.

"Out Watford way, sir—Abbot’s Langley it is."

"Where have you come from?"

"From Leatherhead, sir."

"On foot all the way?"

"Yes, indeed, sir," she said, with a bit of a sigh.

"And with very little food, I warrant?" said he.

"Little indeed, sir."

"Have you any money?"

"Yes, sir—a matter of a few coppers left.  I gave what I had to my old
mother—she thought she was dying, and sent for me to bring the two
little boys to see her—but she’s better, sir, and now I’m making for
home again."

"Oh, you gave what you had to your mother? Well," said he, deliberately,
"I don’t know whether what I have will amount to as much, but whatever
it is you are welcome to it."

He dived into his trousers pockets and eventually produced about half a
handful of shillings and pence; then he searched a small
waistcoat-pocket and brought forth two sovereigns.  It was all his
wealth.

"Here, take that, and in God’s name get yourself some food, woman!" said
he, unconsciously lapsing into a pronounced Scotch accent.  "You look
starved.  And this bit of a laddie, here—buy him some sweet things as
well as bread and butter when you get up to the shops.  And then when
you’re outside the town, you’ll just give some honest fellow a shilling,
and you’ll get a cast of an empty cart to help you on your road.  Well,
good-day to ye—no, no, take what there is, I tell ye, woman!—bless me,
you’ll need most of it before you get to your own fireside.  On your
ways, now!—and when you reach the shops, don’t forget the barley-sugar
for this young shaver."

So he turned away, leaving the poor woman so overwhelmed that she had
hardly a word of thanks; and when he had gone for some little distance
all he said was—with something of a rueful laugh—

"There went my luncheon; for I promised Maisrie I should not return home
till near dinner-time."

"And you have left yourself without a farthing?" the young man
exclaimed.  "Well, that’s all right—I can lend you a few sovereigns."

"No, no," said old George Bethune, with a smile, and he held up his hand
in deprecation.  "I am well pleased now; and if I should suffer any
pangs of starvation during the day, I shall be glad to think that I can
endure them better than that poor creature with the long tramp before
her.  To-night," said he, rubbing his palms together with much
satisfaction, "to-night, when we meet at Mentavisti’s, I shall be all
the hungrier and all the happier. Ah, must you go now?—good-bye, then!
We shall see you at half-past six, I suppose; and meantime, my friend,
dismiss from your mind those cares and anxious thoughts about the
future.  ’To the gods belongs to-morrow!’"

Now this little incident that had just happened in Hyde Park comforted
Vincent exceedingly. Here was something definite that he could proudly
set against the vague and unworthy suspicions of Mrs. Ellison.  Surely
the man was no plausible impostor, no charlatan, no crafty schemer, who
could so readily empty his pockets, and look forward to a day’s
starvation, in order to help a poor and unknown vagrant-woman?  No doubt
it was but part and parcel of his habitual and courageous disregard of
consequences, his yielding to the generous impulse of the moment; but,
if the truth must be told, Master Vin was at times almost inclined to
envy old George Bethune his splendid audacity and self-confidence.  Why
should the younger man be the one to take forethought for the morrow;
while the venerable gray beard was gay as a lark, delighted with the
present hour, and defiant of anything that might happen?  And what if
the younger man were to follow the precepts of the elder, and lapse into
a careless content?  Their way of living, as George Bethune had pointed
out, was simple, happy, and surely harmless.  There were those three
forming a little coterie all by themselves; enjoying each other’s
society; interested in each other’s pursuits. The hours of the daytime
were devoted to individual work; then came the glad reunion of the
evening and the sallying forth to this or the other restaurant;
thereafter the little dinner in the corner, with its glimpses of foreign
folk, and its gay talk filled with patriotism and poetry and
reminiscences of other lands; finally the hushed enchantment of that
little parlour, with Maisrie and her violin, with dominoes, and
discussions literary and political, while always and ever there reigned
a perfect frankness and good-fellowship.  Yes, it seemed a happy kind of
existence, for these three.  And was not old George Bethune in the right
in thinking that the young people should not hamper themselves by any
too grave responsibilities?  A boyish and girlish attachment (as he
deemed it to be) was a pretty and amusing and engaging thing; quite a
little idyll, in fact—but not to be taken too seriously.  And where the
future was all so uncertain, was it not better to leave it alone?

Specious representations, indeed!  But this young man, who had his own
views and ways of thinking, remained stubbornly unconvinced.  It was
because the future was so vague that he wanted it made more definite;
and as he thought of Maisrie, and of what might befall her when she was
alone in the world, and as he thought of his own far-reaching resolves
and purposes, he did not in the least consider the relationship now
existing between him and her as being merely a pretty little pastoral
episode, that would lead to nothing.  No doubt their present way of
living had many charms and fascinations, if only it would last.  But it
would not last; it was impossible it should last.  Looking back over
these past months, Vincent was surely grateful enough for all the
pleasant and intimate companionship he had enjoyed; but his temperament
was not like that of George Bethune; the passing moment was not
everything to him.  He had an old head on young shoulders; and it needed
no profound reflection to tell him that life could not always consist of
the Restaurant Mentavisti and _La Claire Fontaine_.



                              CHAPTER II.

                           BY NORTHERN SEAS.


Here, in front of the great, square, old-fashioned Scotch mansion, which
was pleasantly lit up by the morning sun, stood the family waggonette
which had just been filled by those of the house-party who were bound
for church; and here, too, in the spacious porch, was Mrs. Ellison,
smiling her adieux with rather a sad air.

"Good-bye, dear," said her kindly hostess.  "I hope you will have got
rid of your headache by the time we get back."  And therewith the
carriage was driven away along the pebbled pathway, through an avenue of
magnificent wide-spreading elms.

Then the tall and graceful young widow, who carried a book in her hand,
glanced around her. There was no living thing near except a white
peacock that was solemnly stalking across the lawn.  Mrs. Ellison
strolled towards a hammock slung between two maples, and stood there for
a moment, and considered.  Should she attempt it? There was no onlooker,
supposing some slight accident befell.  Finally, however, her courage
gave way; she returned to the front of the house; and took possession of
a long, low lounging-chair, where she could sit in the sun, and yet have
the pages of her book in shadow.

There was a footfall behind her: Lord Musselburgh made his appearance,
smoking a cigarette.

"Why," said she, with a prettily affected surprise, "haven’t you gone to
church?  I made sure you had walked on."

"How could I leave you all by yourself," said the young man, with tender
sympathy, "and you suffering from a headache?"

Then she professed to be vexed and impatient.

"Oh, do go away to church!" she said.  "You can be in plenty of time, if
you walk fast enough. If you stop here you know what will go on at
lunch. Those Drexel girls can look more mischief than any other twenty
girls could say or do."

"Oh, no," said he, plaintively, "don’t send me away!  Let us go for a
walk rather.  You know, a woman’s headache is like her hat—she can put
it on or off when she likes.  Come!"

"I consider you are very impertinent," said she, with something of
offended dignity.  "Do you think I shammed a headache in order to stay
behind?"

"I don’t think anything," said he, discreetly.

"You will be saying next that it was to have this meeting with you?"

"Why, who could dare to imagine such a thing!"

"Oh, very well, very well," said she, with a sudden change to
good-nature, as she rose from the chair.  "I forgive you.  And I will be
with you in a second."

She was hardly gone a couple of minutes; but in that brief space of time
she had managed to make herself sufficiently picturesque; for to the
simple and neat grey costume which clad her tall and slim and elegant
figure she had added a bold-sweeping hat of black velvet and black
feathers, while round her neck she had wound a black boa, its two long
tails depending in front.  Thus there was no colour about her, save what
shone in her perfect complexion, and in the light and expression of her
shrewd, and dangerous, and yet grave and demure blue eyes.

"And really and frankly," said she, as they left the house together, "I
am not sorry to have a chance of a quiet talk with you; for I want to
tell you about my nephew; I am sure you are almost as much interested in
him as I am; and you would be as sorry as I could be if anything were to
happen to him.  And I am afraid something is going to happen to him.
His letters to me have entirely changed of late.  You know how proud Vin
is by nature—and scornful, too, when you don’t act up to his lofty
standard; and when I ventured to hint that he might keep his eyes open
in dealing with that old mountebank and his pretty granddaughter, oh!
the tempestuous indignation of my young gentleman!  He seemed to think
that a creature such as I—filled with such base suspicions—was not fit
to live.  Well, I did not quarrel with my handsome boy; in fact, I
rather admired his rage and disdain of me; it was part of the singleness
of his nature; for he believes everybody to be as straightforward and
sincere as himself; and he has a very fine notion of loyalty towards his
friends. And vindictive, too, the young villain was; I can tell you I
was made to feel the enormity of my transgression; I was left to wallow
in that quagmire of unworthy doubt in which I had voluntarily plunged
myself.  So matters went on; and I could only hope for one of two
things—either that he might find out something about those people that
would sever his connection with them, or that his passing fancy for the
girl would gradually fade away.  I made sure he would tire of that
oracular old humbug; or else he would discover there was nothing at all
behind the mysterious eyes and the tragic solemnity of that artful young
madam.  Oh, mind you," she continued, as they walked along under the
over-branching maples, amid a rustle of withered October leaves, "mind
you, I don’t suspect her quite as much as I suspect the venerable Druid;
and I don’t recall anything that I said about her.  I admit that she
beglamoured me with her singing of a French Canadian song; but what is
that?—what can you tell of any one’s moral or mental nature from a trick
of singing—the thrill of a note—some peculiar quality of voice?  Why,
the greatest wretch of a man I ever knew had the most beautiful,
innocent, honest brown eyes—they could make you believe anything—all the
women said he was so good, and so different from other men—well, I will
tell you that story some other time—I found out what the honesty of the
clear brown eyes was worth."

Here she was interrupted by his having to open an iron gate for her.
When they passed through, they came in sight of a solitary little bay of
cream-white sand, touched here and there with russet weed, and ending in
a series of projecting rocky knolls covered with golden bracken; while
before them lay the wide plain of the sea, ruffled into the intensest
blue by a brisk breeze from the north. Still further away rose the great
mountains of Mull, and the long stretch of the Morven hills, all of a
faint, ethereal crimson-brown in the sunlight, with every glen and
water-course traced in lines of purest ultramarine.  They had all this
shining world to themselves; and there was an absolute silence save for
the continuous whisper of the ripples that broke along the rocks; whilst
the indescribable murmur—the strange inarticulate voices—of the greater
deep beyond seemed to fill all the listening air.

"And I might have known I was mistaken in Vin’s case," she went on,
absently.  "He was never the one to be caught by a pretty face, and be
charmed with it for a time, and pass on and forget. He always kept aloof
from that kind of thing—perhaps with a touch of impatient scorn.  No; I
might have known it was something more serious: so serious, indeed, is
it, that he has at last condescended to appeal to me—fancy that!—fancy
Vin coming down from his high horse, and appealing to me to be
reasonable, to be considerate, and to stand his friend.  And the pages
he writes to persuade me!  Really, if you were to believe him, you would
think this old man one of the most striking and interesting figures the
world has ever seen—so fearless in his pride, so patient in his poverty,
so stout-hearted in his old age.  Then his splendid enthusiasm about
fine things in literature; his magnanimity over the wrongs he has
suffered; his pathetic affection for his granddaughter and his tender
care of her—why, you would take him to be one of the grandest human
creatures that ever breathed the breath of life!  Then about the girl:
don’t I remember _La Claire Fontaine_?  Oh, yes, I remember _La Claire
Fontaine_—and little else! You see, that is just where the trouble comes
in as regards my nephew.  Hard-headed as he is, and brusque of
speech—sometimes, not always—he is just stuffed full of Quixotism; and I
daresay it is precisely because this girl is shy and reserved, and has
rather appealing eyes, that he imagines all kinds of wonderful things
about her, and has made a saint of her, to be worshipped.  A merry lass,
with a saucy look and a clever tongue, would have no chance with Vin; he
would stare at her—perhaps only half-disguising his contempt; and then,
if you asked him what he thought of her he would probably say, with a
curl of the lip, ’Impertinent tomboy!’  But when he comes to speak of
this one, why, you would think that all womanhood had undergone some
process of deification in her solitary self.  Come here, and by this
divine lamp you shall read and understand whatever has been great and
noble and pure and beautiful in all the song and story of the world! And
yet perhaps it is not altogether absurd," the pretty Mrs. Ellison
continued, with a bit of a sigh. "It is pathetic, rather.  I wish there
were a few more such men as that; the world could get on very well with
a few more of them.  But they don’t seem to exist nowadays."

"Ah, if you only knew!  Perhaps your experience has been unfortunate,"
her companion said, wistfully: whereupon the young widow, without
turning her head towards him, perceptibly sniggered.

"Oh, _you_!" she exclaimed, in derision.  "You! You needn’t pretend to
come into that exalted category—no, indeed——"

"I suppose people have been saying things about me to you," said he,
with a certain affectation of being hurt.  "But you needn’t have
believed them all the same."

"People!" she said.  "People!  Why, everybody knows what you are!  A
professional breaker of poor young innocent girls’ hearts.  Haven’t we
all heard of you?  Haven’t we all heard how you went on in America?  No
such stories came home about Vin, I can assure you.  Oh, we all know
what you are!"

"You may have heard one story," said he, somewhat stiffly; "but if you
knew what it really was, you would see that it was nothing to joke
about. Some time I will tell you.  Some other time when you are in a
more friendly, a more believing and sympathetic, mood."

"Oh, yes," she said, laughing.  "A very heart-rending story, no doubt!
And you were deeply injured, of course, being so extremely innocent! You
forget that I have seen you in a good many houses; you forget that I
have been watching your goings-on with Louie Drexel, in this very place.
Do you think I can’t recognise the old hand—the expert—the artist?  Lord
Musselburgh, you can’t deceive me."

"Probably not," said he, sharply.  "If all tales be true you have
acquired some experience yourself."

"Oh, who said that about me!" she demanded, with indignation (but her
eyes were not indignant, they were rather darkly amused, if only he had
made bold to look at them.)  "Who dared to say such a thing?  And of
course you listened without a word of protest: probably you assented!
What it is to have friends!  But perhaps some day I, also, may have a
little story to tell you; and then you may understand me a little
better."

Here there was another farm-gate for him to open, so that their talk was
again interrupted. Then they passed under a series of lofty grey crags
hung with birch, and hazel, and rowan, all in their gorgeous autumnal
tints; until they came in sight of another secluded little bay, with
silver ripples breaking along the sand, and with small outlying islands
covered with orange seaweed where they were not white with gulls.  And
here was a further stretch of that wind-swept, dark blue, striated sea,
with the lonely hills of Morven and Kingairloch, sun-dappled and
cloud-dappled, rising into the fair turquoise sky.  There was a scent of
dew-wet grass mingling with the stronger odour of the seaweed the breeze
was blowing freshly in.  And always there came to them the long,
unceasing, multitudinous murmur of those moving waters, that must have
sounded to them so great and vast a thing beside the small trivialities
of their human speech.

"Have you read Vin’s article in the _Imperial Review_?" said Mrs.
Ellison, flicking at a thistle with her sun-shade.

"Not yet.  But I saw it announced.  About American State Legislatures,
isn’t it, or something of that kind?"

"It seemed to me very ably and clearly written," she said.  "But that is
not the point.  I gather that Vin has been contemplating all kinds of
contingencies; and that he is now trying to qualify for the post of
leader-writer on one of the daily newspapers.  What does that mean?—it
means that he is determined to marry this girl, and that he thinks it
probable there may be a break between himself and his father in
consequence.  There may be?—there will be, I give you my word!  My
amiable brother-in-law’s theories of Socialism and Fraternity and
Universal Equality are very pretty toys to play with—and they have even
gained him a sort of reputation through his letters to the _Times_; but
he doesn’t bring them into the sphere of actual life.  Of course, Vin
has his own little money; and I, for one, why, I shouldn’t see him
starve in any case; but I take it that he is already making provision
for the future and its responsibilities.  Now isn’t that dreadful?  I
declare to you, Lord Musselburgh, that when I come down in the morning
and find a letter from him lying on the hall-table, my heart sinks—just
as if I heard the men on the stair bringing down a coffin.  Because I
know if he is captured by those penniless adventurers, it will be all
over with my poor lad; he will be bound to them; he will have to support
them; he will have to sacrifice friends and fortune, and a future surely
such as never yet lay before any young man.  Just think of it!  Who ever
had such possibilities before him?  Who ever had so many friends, all
expecting great things of him?  Who ever was so petted and caressed and
admired by those whose slightest regard is considered by the world at
large an honour; and—I will say this for my boy—-who ever deserved it
more, or remained all through it so unspoiled, and simple, and manly?
Oh, you don’t know what he has been to me—what I have hoped for him—as
if he were my only brother, and one to be proud of!  His father is well
known, no doubt; he has got a sort of academic reputation; but he is not
liked; people don’t talk about him as if—as if they cared for him.  But
Vincent could win hearts as well as fame: ah, do you think I don’t
know?—trust a woman to know!  There is a strange kind of charm and
fascination about him: I would put the most accomplished lady-killer in
England in a drawing-room, and I know where the girls’ eyes would go the
moment my Vin made his appearance: perhaps it is because he is so
honestly indifferent to them all.  And it isn’t women only; it isn’t
merely his good looks; every one, young and old, man and woman, is taken
with him; there is about him a sort of magic and glamour of
youth—and—and bright promise—and straightforward intention—oh, I can’t
tell you what!—but—but—it’s something that makes me love him!"

"That is clear enough," said he; and indeed there was a ring of
sincerity in her tone, sometimes even a tremor in her voice—perhaps of
pride.

"Well," she resumed, as they strolled along under the beetled crags that
were all aflame with golden-yellow birch and blood-red rowan, "I am not
going to stand aside and see all that fair promise lost.  I own I am a
selfish woman; and hitherto I have kept aloof, as I did not want to get
myself into trouble.  I am going to hold aloof no longer.  The more I
hear the more I am convinced that Vin has fallen into the hands of an
unscrupulous sharper—perhaps a pair of them; and I mean to have his eyes
opened.  Here is this new revelation about that American book, which
simply means that you were swindled out of £50——"

"One moment," her companion said hastily, and there was a curious look
of mortification on his face. "I had no right to tell you that story.  I
broke confidence: I am ashamed of myself.  And I assure you I was not
swindled out of any £50.  When the old man came to me, with his Scotch
accent, and his Scotch patriotism, and his Scotch plaid thrown over his
shoulder—well, ’my heart warmed to the tartan’; and I was glad of the
excuse for helping him.  I did not want any book; and I certainly did
not want the money back.  But when Vin came to me, and made
explanations, and finally handed me a cheque for £50, there was
something in his manner that told me I dared not refuse.  It was
something like ’Refuse this money, and you doubt the honour of the woman
I am going to marry.’  But seeing that I did take it, I have now nothing
to say. My mouth is shut—ought to have been shut, rather, only you and I
have had some very confidential chats since we came up here."

"All the same, it was a downright swindle," said she, doggedly; "and the
fact that Vin paid you back the money makes it none the less a swindle.
Now I will tell you what I am about to do.  I must be cruel to be kind.
I am going to enlist the services of George Morris——"

"Sir George?" he asked.

"No, no; George Morris, the solicitor—his wife and I are very great
friends—and I know he would do a great deal for me.  Very well; he must
get to know simply everything about this old man—his whole history—and
if it turns out to be what I imagine, then some of us will have to go to
Vin and tell him the truth.  It won’t be a pleasant duty; but duty never
is pleasant.  I know I shall be called a traitor for my share in it.
Here is Vin appealing to me to be his friend—as if I were not his
friend!—begging me to come and take this solitary and friendless girl by
the hand, and all the rest of it; and instead of that I go behind his
back and try to find out what will destroy his youthful romance for
ever.  But it’s got to be done," said the young widow, with a sigh.  "It
will be a wrench at first; then six months’ despair; and a life-time of
thankfulness thereafter.  And of course I must give George Morris all
the help I can.  He must make enquiries, for one thing, at the office of
the _Edinburgh Chronicle_: I remember at Henley the old gentleman spoke
of the proprietor as a friend of his. Then the man you know in New York,
who gave Mr. Bethune a letter of introduction to you: what is his name
and address?"

"Oh, no," said Lord Musselburgh, shrinking back, as it were.  "No; I
don’t want to take part in it.  Of course, you may be acting quite
rightly; no doubt you are acting entirely in Vin’s interests; but—but I
would rather have nothing to do with it."

"And yet you call yourself Vin’s friend!  Come, tell me!" she said,
coaxingly.

Again he refused.

"Mind you, I believe I could find out for myself," she went on.  "I know
that he is the editor of a newspaper in New York—a Scotch newspaper:
come, Lord Musselburgh, give me his name, or the name of the newspaper!"

He shook his head.

"No—not fair," he said.

Then she stopped, and faced him, and regarded him with arch eyes.

"And yet it was on this very pathway, only yesterday morning, that you
swore that there was nothing in the world that you wouldn’t do for me!"

"That was different," said he, with some hesitation. "I meant as regards
myself.  This concerns some one else."

"Oh, very well," said she, and she walked on proudly.  "I dare say I can
find out."

He touched her arm to detain her.

"Have you a note-book?" he asked.

She took from her pocket a combined purse and note-book; and without a
word—or a smile—she pulled out the pencil.

"’Hugh Anstruther, _Western Scotsman_ Office, New York,’" said he,
rather shamefacedly.

"There, that is all right!" she said, blithely, and she put the
note-book in her pocket again.  "That is as far as we can go in that
matter at present; and now we can talk of something else.  What is the
name of this little bay?"

"Little Ganovan, I believe."

"And the other one we passed?"

"Port Bân."

"What is the legend attached to the robber’s cave up there in the
rocks?"

"The legend?  Oh, some one told me the gardener keeps his tools in that
cave."

"What kind of a legend is that!" she said, impatiently; and then she
went on with her questions. "Why doesn’t anybody ever come round this
way?"

"I suppose because they know we want the place to ourselves."

"And why should we want the place to ourselves?"

This was unexpected.  He paused.

"Ah," said he, "what is the use of my telling you?  All your interest is
centred on Vin.  I suppose a woman can only be interested in one man at
any one time."

"Well, I should hope so!" the young widow said, cheerfully.  "Shall we
go round by the rocks or through the trees?"

For they were now come to a little wood of birch and larch and pine; and
without more ado he led the way, pushing through the outlying tall
bracken and getting in underneath the branches.

"I suppose," said he, in a rather rueful tone, "that you don’t know what
is the greatest proof of affection that a man can show to a woman?  No,
of course you don’t!"

"What is it, then?" she demanded, as she followed him stooping.

"Why, it’s going first through a wood, and getting all the spider’s-webs
on his nose."

But presently they had come to a clearer space, where they could walk
together, their footfalls hushed by the carpet of withered fir-needles;
while here and there a rabbit would scurry off, and again they would
catch a glimpse of a hen-pheasant sedately walking down a glade between
the trees. And now their talk had become much more intimate and
confidential; it had even assumed a touch of more or less affected
sadness.

"It’s very hard," he was saying, "that you should understand me so
little.  You think I am cold, and cynical, and callous.  Well, perhaps I
have reason to be.  I have had my little experience of womankind—of one
woman, rather.  I sometimes wonder whether the rest are anything like
her, or are capable of acting as she did."

"Who was she?" his companion asked, timidly.

And therewith, as they idly and slowly strolled through this little
thicket, he told his tragic tale, which needs not to be set down here:
it was all about the James river, Virginia, and a pair of southern eyes,
and betrayal, and farewell, and black night.  His companion listened in
the deep silence of sympathy; and when he had finished she said, in a
low voice, and with downcast eyes—

"I am sorry—very sorry.  But at least there was one thing spared you:
you did not marry out of spite."

He glanced at her quickly.

"Oh, yes," she said, and she raised her head, and spoke with a proud and
bitter air, "I have my story too!  I do not tell it to everyone.
Perhaps I have not told it to anyone.  But the man I loved was separated
from me by lies—by lies; and I was fool and idiot enough to believe
them!  And the one I told you about—the one with the beautiful, clear,
brown eyes—so good and noble he was, as everyone declared!—it was he who
came to me with those falsehoods; and I believed them—I believed
them—like the fool I was!  Oh, yes," she said, and she held her head
high, for her breast was heaving with real emotion this time, "it is
easy to say that every mistake meets with its own punishment; but I was
punished too much—too much; a life-long punishment for believing what
lying friends had said to me!"  She furtively put the tips of her
fingers to her eyes, to wipe away the tears that lay along the lashes.
"And then I was mad; I was out of my senses; I would have married
anybody to show that—that I cared nothing for—for the other one; and—and
I suppose he was angry too—he would not speak—he stood aside, and knew
that I was going to kill my life, and never a single word!  That was his
revenge—to say nothing—when he saw me about to kill my life!  Cruel, do
you call it?  Oh, no!—what does it matter?  A woman’s heart broken—what
is that?  But now you know why I think so of men—and—and why I laugh at
them——"

Well, her laughing was strange: she suddenly burst into a violent fit of
crying and sobbing, and turned away from him, and hid her face in her
handkerchief.  What could he do?  This was all unlike the gay young
widow who seemed so proud of her solitary estate and so well content.
Feeble words of comfort were of small avail.  And then, again, it hardly
seemed the proper occasion for offering her more substantial
sympathy—though that was in his mind all the while, and very nearly on
the tip of his tongue.  So perforce he had to wait until her weeping was
over; and indeed it was she herself who ended the scene by exclaiming
impatiently—

"There—enough of that!  I did not intend to bother you with my small
troubles when I stayed behind for you this morning.  Come, shall we go
out on to the rocks, and round by the little bay? What do you call
it—Ganovan?"

"Yes; I think they call it Little Ganovan," he said, absently, as he and
she together emerged from the twilight of larch and pine, and proceeded,
leisurely and in silence, to cross the semicircular sweep of yellow
sand.

When they got to the edge of the rocks, they sat down there: apparently
they had nothing to do on this idle morning but to contemplate that
vast, far-murmuring, dark blue plain—touched here and there with a sharp
glimmer of white—and the range upon range of the Kingairloch hills,
deepening in purple gloom, or shining rose-grey and yellow-grey in the
sun.  In this solitude they were quite alone save for the sea-birds that
had wheeled into the air, screaming and calling, at their approach; but
the terns and curlews were soon at peace again; a cloud of gulls
returned to one of the little islands just in front of them; while a
slow-flapping heron winged its heavy flight away to the north.  All once
more was silence; and the world was to themselves.

And yet what was he to say to this poor suffering soul whose tragic
sorrows and experiences had been thus unexpectedly disclosed?  He really
wished to be sympathetic; and, if he dared, he would have reminded her
that

        ’Whispering tongues can poison truth;
      And constancy lives in realms above;
    And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
      And to be wroth with one we love
    Doth work like madness in the brain.’

only he knew how difficult it is to quote poetry without making one’s
self ridiculous; and also he knew that the pretty young widow’s eyes had
a dangerous trick of sudden laughter.  However, it was she who first
spoke.

"I wonder what those who have gone to church will say when they discover
that we have spent all the morning here?"

"They may say what they like," he made answer, promptly.  "There are
things one cannot speak about in drawing-rooms, among a crowd.  And how
could I ever have imagined that you, with your high spirits and merry
temperament, and perpetual good-humour, had come through such trials?  I
wonder that people never think of the mischief that is done by
intermeddling——"

"Intermeddling?" said she proudly.  "It wasn’t of intermeddling I had to
complain: it was a downright conspiracy—it was false stories—I was
deceived by those who professed to be my best friends.  There is
intermeddling and intermeddling. You might say I was intermeddling in
the case of my nephew.  But what harm can come of that? It is not lies,
it is the truth, I want to have told him.  And even if it causes him
some pain, it will be for his good.  Don’t you think I am right?"

He hesitated.

"I hope so," he said.  "But you know things wear such a different
complexion according to the way you look at them——"

"But facts, Lord Musselburgh, facts," she persisted.  "Do you think a
man like George Morris would be affected by any sentimental
considerations one way or the other?  Won’t he find out just the truth?
And that is all I honestly want Vin to know—the actual truth: then let
him go on with his eyes open if he chooses.  Facts, Lord Musselburgh:
who can object to facts?"  Then she said—as she gave him her hand that
he might assist her to rise—

"We must be thinking of getting back home now, for if we are late for
lunch, those Drexel girls will be grinning at each other like a couple
of fiends."

Rather reluctantly he rose also, and accompanied her.  They made their
way across a series of rough, bracken-covered knolls projecting into the
sea until they reached the little bay that is known as Port Bân; and
here, either the beauty and solitude of the place tempted them, or they
were determined to defy sarcasm, for instead of hastening home, they
quietly strolled up and down the smooth cream-white beach, now and again
picking up a piece of rose-red seaweed, or turning over a limpet-shell,
or watching a sandpiper making his quick little runs alongside the
clear, crisp-curling ripples.  They did not speak; they were as silent
as the transparent blue shadows that their figures cast on the
soft-yielding surface on which they walked.  And sometimes Lord
Musselburgh seemed inclined to write something, with the point of his
stick, on that flawless sand; and then again he desisted; and still they
continued silent.

She took up a piece of pink seaweed, and began pulling it to shreds.  He
was standing by, looking on.

"Don’t you think," said he at last, "that there should be a good deal of
sympathy—a very unusual sympathy—between two people who have come
through the same suffering?"

"Oh, I suppose so," she said, with affected carelessness—her eyes still
bent on the seaweed.

"Do you know," said he, again, "that I haven’t the least idea what your
name is!"

"My name?  Oh, my name is Madge," she answered.

"Madge?" said he.  "I wonder if you make the capital M this way?" and
therewith he traced on the sand an ornamental _M_ in the manner of the
last century.

"No, I don’t," she said, "but it is very pretty. How do you write the
rest?"

Thus encouraged, he made bold to add the remaining letters, and seemed
rather to admire his handiwork when it was done.

"By the way," she said, "I don’t know your Christian name either!"

"Hubert."

"Can you write that in the same fashion?" she suggested, with a simple
ingenuousness.

So, grown still bolder, he laboriously inscribed his name immediately
underneath her own.  But that was not all.  When he had ended he drew a
circle right round both names.

"That is a ring to enclose them," said he: and he turned from the scored
names to regard her downcast face.  "But—but I know a much smaller ring
that could bring them still closer together. Will you let me try—Madge?"

He took her hand.

"Yes," she said, in a low voice.

And then—Oh, very well, then: then—but after a reasonable delay—then
they left those creamy sands, and went up by the edge of the blue-green
turnip-field to the pathway, and so to the iron gate; and as he opened
the gate for her, she said—

"Oh, I don’t know what happened down there, and what I’ve pledged myself
to; but at all events there will now be one more on my side, to help me
about Vin, and get him out of all this sad trouble. You will help me,
won’t you—Hubert?"

Of course he was eager to promise anything.

"And you say he is sure to get in for Mendover? Why, just think of him
now, with everything before him; and how nice it would be for all of us
if he had a smart and clever wife, who would hold her own in society,
and do him justice, and make us all as proud and fond of her as we are
of him.  And just fancy the four of us setting out on a winter-trip to
Cairo or Jerusalem: wouldn’t it be simply too delicious?  The four of
us—only the four of us—all by ourselves.  Louie Drexel is rather young,
to be sure; yet she knows her way about; she’s sharp; she’s clever; she
will have some money; and she has cheek enough for anything.  And by the
way—Hubert—" said she (and always with a pretty little hesitation when
she came to his Christian name) "I must really ask you—with regard to
Louie Drexel—well—you know—you have been—just a little——"

He murmured something about the devotion of a lifetime—the devotion
which he had just promised to her—being a very different thing from
trivial drawing-room dallyings; whereupon she observed—

"Oh, yes, men say so by way of excuse——"

"How many men have said so to you?" he demanded, flaring up.

"I did not say they had said so to me," she answered sweetly.  "Don’t go
and be absurdly jealous without any cause whatever.  If any one has a
right to be jealous, it is I, considering the way you have been going on
with Louie Drexel. But of course if there’s nothing in it, that’s all
well and done with; and I am of a forgiving disposition, when I’m taken
the right way.  Now about Vin: can you see anybody who would do better
for him than Louie Drexel?"

Be sure it was not of Vin Harris, much as he was interested in him, that
Lord Musselburgh wished to talk at this moment; but, on the other hand,
in the first flush of his pride and gratitude, any whim of hers was law
to him; and perhaps it was a sufficient and novel gratification to be
able to call her Madge.

"I’m afraid," said he, "that Vin is not the kind of person to have his
life arranged for him by other people.  And besides you must remember,
Madge, dear, that you are assuming a great deal.  You are assuming that
you can show Vin that this old man is an impostor——"

"Oh, can there be any doubt of it!" she exclaimed. "Isn’t the story you
have told me yourself enough?"

Lord Musselburgh looked rather uncomfortable; he was a good-natured kind
of person, and liked to think the best of everybody.

"I had no right to tell you that story," said he.

"But now I have the right to know about that and everything else,
haven’t I—Hubert?" said she, with a pretty coyness.

"And besides," he continued, "Vin has a perfect explanation of the whole
affair.  There is no doubt the old man was just full of this subject,
and believed he could write about it better than anyone else, even
supposing the idea had occurred to some other person; he was anxious
above all things that his poetical countrymen over there in the States
and Canada should be done justice to; and when he heard that the volume
was actually published he immediately declared that he would do
everything in his power to help it——"

"But what about the £50—Hubert?"

"Oh, well," her companion said, rather uneasily, "I have told you that
that was a gift from me to him.  I did not stipulate for the publication
of any book."

She considered for a moment: then she said, with some emphasis——

"And you think it no shame—you think it no monstrous thing—that our Vin
should marry a girl who has been in the habit of going about with her
grandfather while he begged money, and accepted money, from strangers?
Is that the fate you wish for your friend?"

"No, I don’t wish anything of the kind," said he, "if—if matters were
so.  But Vin and you look at these things in a very different light; and
I can hardly believe that he has been so completely imposed on.  I
confess I liked the old man: I liked his splendid enthusiasm, his
magnificent self-reliance, yes, and his Scotch plaid; and I thought the
girl was remarkably beautiful—and more than that—refined and
distinguished-looking—something unusual about her somehow——"

"Oh, yes, you are far too generous, Hubert," his companion said.  "You
accept Vin’s representations without a word.  But I see more clearly.
And that little transaction about the book and the £50 gives me a key to
the whole situation.  You may depend on it, George Morris will find out
what kind of person your grandiloquent old Scotchman is like.  And then,
when Vin’s eyes are opened——"

"Yes, when Vin’s eyes are opened?" her companion repeated.

"Then he will see into what a terrible pit he was nearly falling."

"Are you so sure of that?" Musselburgh said. "I know Vin a little.  It
isn’t merely a pretty face that has taken his fancy, as you yourself
admit. If he has faith in that girl, it may not be easy to shake it."

"I should not attempt to shake it," she made answer at once, "if the
girl was everything she ought to be, and of proper upbringing and
surroundings.  But even if it turned out that she was everything she
should be, wouldn’t it be too awful to have Vin dragged down into an
alliance with that old—that old—oh, I don’t know what to call him!——"

"Madge, dear," said he, "don’t call him anything, until you learn more
about him.  And in the meantime," he continued, rather plaintively,
"don’t you think we might talk a little about ourselves, considering
what has just happened?"

"There is such a long time before us to talk about ourselves," said she.
"And you know—Hubert—you’ve come into our family, as it were; and you
must take a share in our troubles."

They were nearing the house: five minutes more would bring them in sight
of the open lawn.

"Wait a minute, Madge, dear," said he, and he halted by the side of a
little bit of plantation. "Don’t be in such a hurry.  I wish to speak to
you about——"

"About what?" she asked, with a smile.

"Oh, a whole heap of things!  For example, do you want the Somervilles
to know?"

"I don’t particularly want them to know," she answered him, "but I fear
they will soon find out."

"I should like you to tell Mrs. Somerville, anyway."

"Very well."

"Indeed, I don’t care if all the people in the house knew!" said he,
boldly.

"Hubert, what are you saying!" she exclaimed, with a fine simulation of
horror.  "My life would be made a burden to me!  Fancy those Drexel
girls: they would shriek with joy at the chance of torturing me!  I
should have to fly from the place.  I should take the first train for
the South to-morrow morning!"

"Really!" said he, with considerable coolness. "For I have been thinking
that those names we printed on the sands——"

"That you printed, you mean!"

"——were above high-water mark.  Consequently they will remain there for
some little time. Now it is highly probable that some of our friends may
be walking along to Port Bân this afternoon; and if they were to catch
sight of those hieroglyphics——"

"Hubert," said she, with decision.  "You must go along immediately after
luncheon and score them out.  I would not for the world have those
Drexel girls suspect what has happened!"

"Won’t you come with me, Madge, after luncheon?"

"Oh, we can’t be haunting those sands all day like a couple of
sea-gulls!"

"But I think you might come!" he pleaded.

"Very well," said she, "I suppose I must begin with obedience."

And yet they seemed in no hurry to get on to the house.  A robin perched
himself on the wire fence not four yards away, and jerked his head, and
watched them with his small, black, lustrous eye. A weasel came trotting
down the road, stopped, looked, and glided noiselessly into the
plantation. Two wood-pigeons went swiftly across an opening in the
trees; a large hawk soared far overhead. On this still Sunday morning
there seemed to be no one abroad; and then these two had much to say
about a ring, and a locket, and similar weighty matters.  Moreover,
there was the assignation about the afternoon to be arranged.

But at length they managed to tear themselves away from this secluded
place; they went round by the front of the big grey building; and in so
doing had to pass the dining-room window.

"Oh my gracious goodness!" Mrs. Ellison exclaimed—and in no stimulated
horror this time. "They’re all in at lunch, every one of them, and I
don’t know how long they mayn’t have been in! What shall I do!"

And then a sudden thought seemed to strike her.

"Hubert, my headache has come back!  I’m going up to my room.  Will you
give my excuses to Mrs. Somerville?  I’d a hundred times rather starve
than—than be found out."

"Oh, that is all nonsense!" said he—but in an undertone, for they were
now in the spacious stone-paved hall.  "Go to your room, if you like;
and I’ll tell Mrs. Somerville, and she’ll send you up something.  You
mustn’t starve, for you’re going round with me to Port Bân in the
afternoon."

And, of course, the gentle hostess was grieved to hear that her friend
had not yet got rid of her headache; and she herself went forthwith to
Mrs. Ellison’s room, to see what would most readily tempt the appetite
of the poor invalid.  The poor invalid was at her dressing-table, taking
off her bonnet. She wheeled round.

"I am so sorry, dear, about your headache—" her hostess was beginning,
when the young widow went instantly to the door and shut it.  Then she
came back; and there was a most curious look—of laughter, perhaps—in her
extremely pretty eyes.

"Never mind about the headache!" she said to her astonished friend, who
saw no cause for this amused embarrassment, nor yet for the exceedingly
affectionate way in which both her hands had been seized.  "The headache
is gone.  I’ve—I’ve something else to tell you—oh, you’d never guess it
in the world!  My dear, my dear," she cried in a whisper, and her
tell-tale eyes were full of confusion as well as laughter.  "You’d never
guess—but—but I’ve gone and made a fool of myself for the second time!"



                              CHAPTER III.

                         "HOLY PALMER’S KISS."


This was a bright and cheerful afternoon in November; and old George
Bethune and his granddaughter were walking down Regent-street.  A
brilliant afternoon, indeed; and the scene around them was quite gay and
animated; for the wintry sunlight was shining on the big shop-fronts,
and on the busy pavements, and on the open carriages that rolled by with
their occupants gorgeous in velvet and silk and fur.  Nor was George
Bethune moved to any spirit of envy by all this display of luxury and
wealth; no more than he was oppressed by any sense of solitariness amid
this slow-moving, murmuring crowd.  He walked with head erect; he paid
but little heed to the passers-by; he was singing aloud, and that in a
careless and florid fashion—

    "The boat rocks at the pier o’ Leith,
    Fu’ loud the wind blaws frae the ferry,
    The ship rides by the Berwick Law,
    And I maun leave my bonnie Mary."


But suddenly he stopped: his attention had been caught by a window, or
rather a series of windows, containing all sorts of Scotch articles and
stuffs.

"Maisrie," said he, as his eye ran over these varied wares and fabrics,
"couldn’t you—couldn’t you buy some little bit of a thing?"

"Why, grandfather?" she asked.

"Oh, well," he answered, with an air of lofty indifference, "it is but a
trifle—but a trifle; only I may have told you that my friend Carmichael
is a good Scot—good friend and good Scot are synonymous terms, to my
thinking—and—and as you are going to call on him for the first time, you
might show him you are not ashamed of your country.  Isn’t there
something there, Maisrie?" he continued, still regarding the articles in
the window.  "Some little bit of tartan ribbon—something you could put
round your neck—whatever you like—merely to show that you fly your
country’s colours, and are not ashamed of them—"

"But why should I pretend to be Scotch, grandfather, when I am not
Scotch?" she said.

He was not angry: he was amused.

"You—not Scotch?  You, of all people in the world, not Scotch?  What are
you, then?  A Bethune of Balloray—ay, and if justice were done, the
owner and mistress of Balloray, Ballingean, and Cadzow—and yet you are
not Scotch?  Where got you your name?  What is your lineage—your
blood—your right and title to the lands of Balloray and Ballingean?  And
I may see you there yet, Maisrie; I may see you there yet.  Stranger
things have happened.  But come away now—we need not quarrel about a bit
of ribbon—and I know Mr. Carmichael will receive you as his countrywoman
even if you have not a shred of tartan about you."

Indeed he had taken no offence: once more he was marching along, with
fearless eye and undaunted front, while he had resumed his gallant
singing—

    "But it’s not the roar o’ sea or shore
    Wad mak’ me langer wish to tarry,
    Nor shouts o’ war that’s heard afar—
    It’s leaving thee, my bonnie Mary!"


They went down to one of the big hotels in Northumberland Avenue; asked
at the office for Mr. Carmichael; and after an immeasurable length of
waiting were conducted to his room. Here Maisrie was introduced to a
tall, fresh-coloured, angular-boned man, who had shrewd grey eyes that
were also good-humoured.  Much too good-humoured they were in Maisrie’s
estimation, when they chanced to regard her grandfather: they seemed to
convey a sort of easy patronage, almost a kind of good-natured pity,
that she was quick to resent.  But how could she interfere?  These were
business matters that were being talked of; and she sate somewhat apart,
forced to listen, but not taking any share in the conversation.

Presently, however, she heard something that startled her out of this
apathetic concurrence, and set all her pulses flying.  The tall,
raw-boned, newspaper proprietor, eyeing this proud-featured old man with
a not unkindly scrutiny, was referring to the volume on the Scottish
Poets in America which George Bethune had failed to bring out in time;
and his speech was considerate.

"It is not the first case of forestalling I have known," said he; "and
it must just be looked on as a bit of bad luck.  Better fortune next
time. By the way, there is another little circumstance connected with
that book—perhaps I should not mention it—but I will be discreet.  No
names; and yet you may like to hear that you have got another friend
somewhere—somewhere in the background—"

It was at this point that Maisrie began to listen, rather breathlessly.

"Oh, yes, your friend—your unknown friend—wanted to be generous enough,"
Mr. Carmichael continued.  "He wrote to me saying he understood that I
had advanced a certain sum towards the publication of the work; and he
went on to explain that as certain things had happened to prevent your
bringing it out, he wished to be allowed to refund the money.  Oh, yes,
a very generous offer; for all was to be done in the profoundest
secrecy; you were not to know anything about it, lest you should be
offended.  And yet it seemed to me you should be glad to learn that
there was someone interesting himself in your affairs."

The two men were not looking at the girl: they could not see the pride
and gratitude that were in her eyes.  "And Vincent never told me a
word," she was saying to herself, with her heart beating warm and fast.
But that was not the mood in which old George Bethune took this matter.
A dark frown was on his shaggy eyebrows.

"I do not see what right anyone has to intermeddle," said, he, in tones
that fell cruelly on Maisrie’s ear, "still less to pay money for me on
the assumption that I had forgotten, or was unwilling to discharge, a
just debt——"

"Come, come, come, Mr. Bethune," said the newspaper proprietor, with a
sort of condescending good-nature, "you must not take it that way.  To
begin with, he did not pay any money at all.  I did not allow him.  I
said ’Thank you; but this is a private arrangement between Mr. Bethune
and myself; and if he considers there is any indebtedness, then he can
wipe that off by contributions to the _Chronicle_.’  So you see you have
only to thank him for the intention—"

"Oh, very well," said the old man, changing his tone at once.  "No harm
in that.  No harm whatever. Misplaced intention—but—but creditable. And
now," he continued, in a still lighter strain, "since you mention the
_Chronicle_, Mr. Carmichael, I must tell you of a scheme I have had for
some time in mind.  It is a series of papers on the old ballads of
Scotland—or rather the chief of them—taking one for each weekly article,
giving the different versions, with historical and philological notes.
What do you think of that, now?  Look at the material—the finest in the
world!—the elemental passions, the tragic situations that are far
removed from any literary form or fashion, that go straight to the heart
and the imagination.  Each of them a splendid text!" he proceeded, with
an ever-increasing enthusiasm.  "Think of Edom o’ Gordon, and the Wife
of Usher’s Well, and the Baron o’ Brackla; Annie of Lochryan, Hynde
Etin, the piteous cry of ’Helen of Kirkconnell,’ and the Rose of Yarrow
seeking her slain lover by bank and brae.  And what could be more
interesting than the collation of the various versions of those old
ballads, showing how they have been altered here and there as they were
said or sung, and how even important passages may have been dropped out
in course of time and transmission.  Look, for example, at ’Barbara
Allan.’  The version in Percy’s Reliques is as bad and stupid as it can
be; but it is worse than that: it is incomprehensible.  Who can believe
that the maiden came to the bedside of her dying lover only to flout and
jeer, and that for no reason whatever?  And when she sees his corpse

    ’With scornful eye she looked downe,
    Her cheek with laughter swellin’’—

"Well, I say that is not true," he went on vehemently; "it never was
true: it contradicts human nature; it is false, and bad, and impossible.
But turn to our Scottish version!  When Sir John Graeme o’ the West
Countrie, lying sore sick, sends for his sweetheart, she makes no
concealment of the cause of the feud that has been between them—of the
wrong that is rankling at her heart:

      ’O dinna ye mind, young man,’ said she,
      ’When the red wine ye were filling,
    That ye made the healths gae round and round,
      And slighted Barbara Allan?’

And proud and indignant she turns away.  There is no sham laughter here;
no impossible cruelty; but a quarrel between two fond lovers that
becomes suddenly tragic, when death steps in to prevent the possibility
of any reconciliation.

    He turned his face unto the wa’,
    And death was with him dealing:
    ’Adieu, adieu, my dear friends a’,
    Be kind to Barbara Allan!’

Can anything be more simple, and natural, and inexpressibly sad as well?
It is the story of a tragic quarrel between two true lovers: it is not
the impossible and preposterous story of a giggling hoyden grinning at a
corpse!"

And here it was probable that old George Bethune, having warmed to his
subject, and being as usual wildly enamoured of his latest scheme, would
have gone on to give further instances of the value of collation and
comparison, but that Mr. Carmichael was forced to interrupt.  The
proprietor of the _Edinburgh Chronicle_ was a busy man during his brief
visits to town.

"Very well, Mr. Bethune," said he.  "I think your idea a very good
one—an excellent one, in fact, for the weekly edition of a Scotch paper;
and I will give you _carte blanche_ as to the number of articles.  Who
knows," he added, with a condescending smile, "but that they may grow to
a book—to take the place of the one that was snatched out of your
hands?"

And again, as his visitors were leaving, he said in the same
good-humoured way—

"I presume it is not necessary for us to discuss the question of terms,
especially before a young lady. If you have been satisfied with us so
far—"

"I am quite content to leave that with you: quite," interposed the old
man, with some little dignity.

"I was only going to say," Mr. Carmichael resumed, "that a series of
articles such as you suggest may require a good deal of research and
trouble: so that, when the reckoning comes, I will see you are put on
the most favoured nation scale. And not a word more about the American
book: we were disappointed—that is all."

This latter admonition was wholly unnecessary. When George Bethune got
out into the street again, with Maisrie as his sole companion and
confidante, it was not of that lost opportunity he was talking, it was
all of this new project that had seized his imagination.  They had to
make one or two calls, in the now gathering dusk; but ever, as they came
out again into the crowded thoroughfares, he returned to the old ballads
and the opportunities they presented for a series of discursive papers.
And Maisrie was about as eager in anticipation as himself.

"Oh, yes, grandfather," she said, "you could not have thought of a
happier subject.  And you will begin at once, grandfather, won’t you?
Do you think I shall be able to help you in the very least way?—it would
please me so much if I could search out things for you, or copy, or help
you in the smallest way.  And I know it will be a labour of love for
you; it will be a constant delight; and all the more that the days are
getting short now, and we shall have to be more indoors.  And then you
heard what Mr. Carmichael said, grandfather; and if he is going to pay
you well for these articles, you will soon be able to give him back the
money he advanced to you about that unfortunate book—"

"Oh, don’t you bother about such things!" he said, with an impatient
frown.  "When I am planning out an important work, I don’t want to be
reminded that it will result in merely so many guineas.  That is not the
spirit in which I enter upon such an undertaking.  When I write, it is
not with an eye to the kitchen.  Unless some nobler impulse propels,
then be sure the result will be despicable.  However, I suppose women
are like that; when you are thinking of the literature of your native
land—of perhaps adding some little tributary wreath—they are looking
towards grocers’ bills.  The kitchen—the kitchen is before them—not the
dales and vales of Scotland, where lovers loved, and were
broken-hearted.  The kitchen—"

But Maisrie was not disconcerted by this rebuke.

"And you will begin at once, grandfather," she said, cheerfully.  "Oh, I
know it will be so delightful an occupation for you.  And I don’t wonder
that Mr. Carmichael was glad to have such a chance.  Then it won’t
involve any expense of travelling, like the other book you thought of,
about the Scotland of Scotch songs.  The winter evenings won’t be so
dull, grandfather, when you have this to occupy you; you will forget it
is winter altogether, when you are busy with those beautiful scenes and
stories.  And will you tell Vincent this evening, grandfather? he will
be so interested: it will be something to talk of at dinner."

But Vincent was to hear of this great undertaking before then.  When
Maisrie and her grandfather reached the door of their lodgings, he said
to her—

"You can go in now, Maisrie, and have the gas lit.  I must walk along to
the library, and see what books they have; but I’m afraid I shall have
to get Motherwell, and Pinkerton, and Allan Cunningham, and the rest of
them from Scotland.  Aytoun they are sure to have, I suppose."

So they parted for the moment; and Maisrie went upstairs and lit the gas
in the little parlour. Then, without taking off her bonnet, she sate
down and fell into a reverie—not a very sad one, as it seemed.  She was
sitting thus absorbed in silent fancies, when a familiar sound outside
startled her into attention; she sprang to her feet; the next instant
the door was opened; the next again she was advancing to the tall and
handsome young stranger who stood somewhat diffidently there, and both
her hands were outstretched, and a light of joy and gratitude was
shining in her eyes.

"Oh, Vincent, I am so glad you have come over!" she said, in a way that
was far from usual with her, and she held both his hands for more than a
second or two, and her grateful eyes were fixed on his without any
thought of embarrassment.  "I was thinking of you.  You have been so
kind—so generous! I wanted to thank you, and I am so glad to have the
chance—"

"But what is it, Maisrie?—I’m sure there is nothing you have to thank me
for!" said he, as he shut the door behind him, and came forward, and
took a seat not very far away from her.  He was a little bewildered.  In
her sudden access of gratitude, when she took both his hands in hers,
she had come quite close to him; and the scent of a sandal-wood necklace
that she wore seemed to touch him as with a touch of herself.  He knew
those fragrant beads; more than once he had perceived the slight and
subtle odour, as she passed him, or as he helped her on with her cloak;
and he had come to associate it with her, as if it were part of her,
some breathing thing, that could touch, and thrill.  And this time it
had come so near—

But that bewilderment of the senses lasted only for a moment.  Maisrie
Bethune was not near to him at all: she was worlds and worlds away.  It
was not a mere whiff of perfume that could bring her near to him.
Always to him she appeared to be strangely unapproachable and remote.
Perhaps it was the loneliness of her position, perhaps it was the
uncertainty of her future, and those vague possibilities of which her
grandfather had spoken, or perhaps it was the reverence of undivided and
unselfish love on his part; but at all events she seemed to live in a
sort of sacred and mysterious isolation—to be surrounded by a spell
which he dared not seek to break by any rude contact.  And yet surely
her eyes were regarding his with sufficient frankness and friendliness,
and even more than friendliness, now as she spoke.

"This afternoon we called on Mr. Carmichael," said Maisrie, "Mr.
Carmichael of the _Edinburgh Chronicle_.  He told us someone had offered
to repay the money he had advanced to my grandfather on account of that
American book: and though he did not mention any name, do you think I
did not know who it was, Vincent?  Be sure I knew—in a moment!  And you
never said a word about it!  I might never have known but for this
accident—I might never have had the chance of thanking you—as—as I
should like to do now—only—only it isn’t quite easy to say everything
one feels—"

"Oh, but that is nothing at all, Maisrie!" said he, coming quickly to
her rescue.  "You have nothing to thank me for—nothing!  It is true I
made the offer; but it was not accepted; and why should I say anything
about it to you?"

"Ah, but the intention is enough," said she (for she knew nothing about
his having paid Lord Musselburgh the £50).  "And you cannot prevent my
being very, very grateful to you for such thoughtfulness and kindness.
To save my grandfather’s self-respect—to prevent him being misunderstood
by—by strangers—because—because he is so forgetful: do you think,
Vincent, I cannot see your motive, and be very, very grateful?  And
never saying a word, too!  You should have told me, Vincent!  But I
suppose that was still further kindness—you thought I might be
embarrassed—and not able to thank you—which is just the case—"

"Oh, Maisrie, don’t make a fuss about nothing!" he protested.

"I know whether it is nothing or not," said she, proudly.  "And—and
perhaps if you had lived as we have lived—wandering from place to
place—you would set more store by an act of friendship. Friends are
little to you—you have too many of them—"

"Oh, Maisrie, don’t talk like that!" he said. "You make me ashamed.
What have I done?—nothing! I wish there was some real thing I could do
to prove my friendship for your grandfather and yourself—then you might
see—"

"Haven’t you proved it every day, every hour almost, since ever we have
known you?" she said, in rather a low voice.

"Ah, well, perhaps there may come a chance—" said he; and then he
stopped short; for here was old George Bethune, with half-a-dozen
volumes under his arm, and himself all eagerness and garrulity about his
new undertaking.

At the little dinner that evening in the restaurant, there was quite an
unusual animation, and that not solely because this was the ninth of
November, and they were proposing to go out later on and look at the
illuminations in the principal thoroughfares. Vincent thought he had
never seen Maisrie Bethune appear so light-hearted and happy; and she
was particularly kind to him; when she regarded him, there still seemed
to be a mild gratitude shining in the clear and eloquent deeps of her
eyes.  Gratitude for what!—he asked himself, with a touch of scorn. It
was but an ordinary act of acquaintanceship: why should this beautiful,
sensitive, proud-spirited creature have to debase herself to thank him
for such a trifle?  He felt ashamed of himself.  It was earning
gratitude by false pretences.  The very kindness shining there in her
eyes was a sort of reproach: what had he done to deserve it?  Ah, if she
only knew what he was ready to do—when occasion offered!

And never before had he seen Maisrie so bravely confident about any of
her grandfather’s literary projects.

"You see, Vincent," she said, as if he needed any convincing, when she
was satisfied! "in the end it will make a far more interesting book than
the Scotch-American one; and in the meantime there will be the series of
articles appearing from week to week, to attract attention to the
subject.  And then, although grandfather says I take a low and mercenary
view of literature, all the same I am glad he is to be well-paid for the
articles; and there are to be as many as he likes; and when they are
completed, then comes the publication of the book, which should be as
interesting to Mr. Carmichael, or Lord Musselburgh, or anyone, as the
Scotch-American volume.  And grandfather is going to begin at once; and
I am asking him whether I cannot be of any use to him, in the humblest
way.  A glossary, grandfather; you must have a glossary of the Scotch
words: couldn’t I compile that for you?"

"I have been wondering," the old man said, absently, and without
answering her question, "since I came into this room, whether it would
be possible to classify them into ballads of action and ballads of the
supernatural.  I imagine the former belong more to the south country;
and that most of the latter had their origin in the north.  And yet even
in the Battle of Otterburn, the Douglas says

    ’But I hae dreamed a dreary dream,
      Ayont the Isle o’ Skye,—
    I saw a deid man win a fight,
      And I think that man was I.’

Well, that may have been an interpolation; at all events, it is a
Highland touch; the strong, brisk, matter-of-fact Border ballad has
seldom anything of that kind in it.  The bold Buccleuch and Kinmont
Willie were too much in the saddle to have time for wraiths.  You
remember, Maisrie, when they brought word to ’the bauld Keeper’ that
Kinmont Willie was a captive in Carlisle Castle?—

    He has ta’en the table wi’ his hand,
    He garred the red wine spring on hie—
    ’Now a curse upon my head,’ he cried,
    ’But avenged on Lord Scroop I’ll be!

    O is my basnet a widow’s curch,
    Or my lance a wand of the willow-tree,
    Or my arm a lady’s lily hand,
    That an English lord should lichtly me?’

That is more like the ballad of the south: sharp and vivid, full of
action and spirit, and the audacious delight of life: when you want
mystery and imagination and supernatural terrors you must turn to the
brooding and darkened regions of the north. The Demon Lover is clearly
of northern origin; its hell is the Scandinavian hell; not the fiery
furnace of the eastern mind, but a desolation of cold and wet.

    ’O what’n a mountain’s yon,’ she said,
    ’Sae dreary wi’ frost and snow?’
    ’O yon is the mountain o’ hell,’ he cried,
    ’Where you and I maun go!’"


"The Demon Lover?" said Maisrie, inquiringly; and Vincent could not but
notice how skilfully and sedulously she fanned the old man’s interest in
this new scheme by herself pretending to be deeply interested.

"Don’t you know it, Maisrie?" said he.  "It is the story of two lovers
who were parted; and he returns after seven years to claim the
fulfilment of her vows; and finds that in his absence she has taken
someone else for her husband.  It is a dangerous position—if he wishes
her to go away with him; for a woman never forgets her first lover; what
is more, she attributes all the natural and inevitable disillusionment
of marriage to her husband, whilst the romance attaching to her first
love remains undimmed.  Therefore, I say let Auld Robin Gray beware!—the
wife is not always so loyal to the disillusioniser as was the Jeannie of
the modern song.  Well, in this case, she who has been a false
sweetheart, proves a false wife—

    ’If I was to leave my husband dear,
      And my twa babes also,
    O where is it you would tak’ me to,
      If I with thee should go?’

And the lover becomes the avenger; together they sail away on a strange
ship, until they descry the mountains of hell; and the lover turned
demon warns her of her doom.

    And aye when she turned her round about,
      Aye taller he seemed for to be,
    Until that the tops o’ that gallant ship
      Nae taller were than he.

    He struck the topmast wi’ his hand,
      The foremast wi’ his knee;
    And he brak that gallant ship in twain,
      And sank her in the sea."


"Will there be illustrations, sir?" asked Vincent (in humble imitation
of Maisrie).  "And an _édition de luxe_?  For that, I imagine, is where
my co-operation might come in.  Maisrie seems so anxious to help; and I
should like to take my part too."

"It is a far cry to the completion of such an undertaking as that," said
the old man, rather wistfully.

But Maisrie would not have him lapse into any despondent mood.

"You must not look so far ahead, grandfather," she said, cheerfully.
"You must think of your own pride and satisfaction in beginning it; and
I know you will be delighted; for who can do it as well as you?  And if
I am so very mercenary, I can’t help it; only I shall be all the better
pleased to remember that you are being properly paid for your work.
Supposing the kitchen is my department?—Oh, very well!—somebody must
look to that. It will be a labour of love for you, grandfather, all the
way through; and then, when the book is nearing completion, just think
of the pride you will have in choosing someone, some distinguished
person, for the dedication.  It will be far more your own work than
merely giving specimens of the Scottish-American poets; indeed it will
be all your own; for the ballads are only to be texts, as you say.  And
I think we should go home now, and you will look over some of the books.
I don’t care about the illuminations—not I.  What is the Lord Mayor’s
Day to Vincent or me—when you might be telling us about Katherine
Janfarie and May Collean?"

"No, no, Maisrie," said he, as he rose from the table.  "Give me a
little time for preparation.  We promised to show you the streets lit
up.  And mind you wrap yourself well, Maisrie, for the evenings are
getting cold now."

But little did Vincent Harris, as he helped her on with her cloak, and
made ready to go out into the dusky and glaring thoroughfares, foresee
what was going to befall him that night.

When they issued forth into Regent-street, there was as yet no very
dense crowd, though here and there the front of a tall building flamed
in yellow fire; but nevertheless Maisrie said—

"We must not get separated, grandfather.  Let me go between you two; and
I will take your arm on the one side and Vincent’s on the other; and if
we have occasionally to go sideways, we can always keep together."

"Oh, I shan’t let you be dragged away, Maisrie," the younger man said.
"And if you don’t mind, I think this will be a better way of holding on
to you—" and therewith he made bold to pass his hand underneath the
hanging sleeve of her cloak, and there he took hold of her arm from the
inside—rather timidly, perhaps, but then his grasp could be tightened,
if needs were.

"Yes," said she, placidly, and she made a little movement as though she
would draw both her companions closer to her.  "This is very
comfortable.  Which way, grandfather?"

And so the little group of friends, knit together by many intimate
interests and much association, adventured out into the great world of
London that was all astir now with a vague and half-subdued excitement.
There was no need for them to talk; they had but to look at the blazing
stars, and feathers, and initial letters, and to make their way through
the murmuring throng.  There was no jostling; the crowd was entirely
good-natured; and if these three could not always go abreast, they then
went diagonally for a second or so, and were not separated.  Of course,
Vincent had to hold Maisrie a little more firmly now; his arm was
parallel with hers, and his hand had hold of her wrist; and there was an
intoxicating sense of warmth as well as of close companionship in this
mutual clinging.  Thus they slowly and idly passed away down
Regent-street, well content with their own silence and the brilliant
sights around them.  Then a little incident occurred.  A vehicle was
coming along one of the smaller thoroughfares they had to cross; there
was a brief bit of a scrimmage; and Maisrie, the better to keep hold of
her companion, slipped her hand from the muff that was slung round her
neck, and seized his hand, that was ready enough, be sure, to respond.
They got over without further trouble; they mixed once more in this
vast, slow-moving assemblage—only he retained the hand she had given
him, and that with no uncertain grasp.

It was a wonderful, mysterious, secret thing to be happening in the
midst of all this great, careless, dusky crowd.  Her hand, that was
ungloved, was soft and warm after coming out of its cosy resting-place;
and it was not likely to get cold, when it was held so tight, under the
concealment of the hanging sleeve.  And then—well, probably the girl did
not know what she was doing; she was affected by all this excitement
around her; it was "Look, grandfather, look!" from time to time; most
likely she thought no more of her hand being held than if she were
crossing a meadow in the spring-time with some careless
girl-companion—but however that may be, what must she do but open her
fingers, so that his should interclasp with hers! Nay, she opened them
again, and shut them again, the better to adjust that gentle clasp; and
every touch thrilled through him, so that he walked as one in a dream.
He dared hardly breathe, he durst not speak, lest some stray word of his
might startle her into consciousness, and shatter this miracle.  She did
not seem to be in the least aware: it was "Which way, grandfather?" or
"Take care, grandfather!" and her eyes were turned to the brilliant and
parti-coloured devices in front of the Pall Mall clubs, and not at all
to the handsome lad who walked so close to her that now and again he
could detect some faint trace of the odour of sandal-wood that seemed to
hover around her neck and her hair.  What did he see or hear of the
crowd now, or of the garish lights along the houses?  He walked in an
enchanted land: there were only two people in it: and they were bound
together, in subtle intercommunion, by this magic grasp.  There was
wonder as well as joy in his mind; the sensation was so new and strange.
Did he remember that "palm to palm" was "holy palmer’s kiss"?  No, he
remembered nothing; he only knew that he held Maisrie’s hand interlocked
with his, in this secret fashion; and that all the wild phantasmagoria
around them was something unreal and visionary with which neither he nor
she had any concern.

And even now his cup of bliss and bewilderment was not yet full, on this
marvellous night.  When at last they drew away from the crowded streets
and found themselves in quieter thoroughfares on their way home, the old
man drew a breath of relief.

"This is better, Maisrie," he said.  "It seems as if we had been out on
a roaring sea, and had at length drifted into stillness and peace."

"And we were not separated once, grandfather," said she, cheerfully.
"Not once all the time."

And then it was Vincent who spoke.

"I don’t see why we should ever separate," said he.  "Friends are few
enough in this world."

"Yes, indeed, good friends are few," Maisrie said; and therewithal—ere
he could tell what was happening—she had taken his hand that she held in
hers and raised it, and for one brief moment pressed it against her
heart.  The little impulsive movement—of gratitude perhaps; perhaps of
affection; perhaps of both combined—could not have been perceived by any
passer-by; and yet the young man seemed to be struck by a sudden shock
of fear; he could not speak; his own heart was beating so that speech
was impossible.  For it appeared to him in that swift second as if the
scales had fallen from his eyes.  To him she was no longer an elusive
phantom—a mirage—a vision—pensive, and mysterious, and remote; now he
saw her a beautiful young creature of flesh and blood, whose hands and
heart were warm, who could cling for help and companionship and
sympathy, who was not afraid to speak and act, when love or gratitude
prompted her.  No longer the strangely isolated maiden: the
unapproachable had all at once come near; so near that the scent of
sandalwood touched him from time to time; so near that her soft fingers
were interclasped with his, pulsating there, nestling there, not
relaxing their hold, nor inclined to do that.  This was no piece of
statuary, to be worshipped from afar: this was Maisrie Bethune, whose
arm lay close and caressing against his, under the friendly shelter of
that hanging sleeve, whose step went with his step as they walked
together, whose breathing he could almost overhear, in the silence of
this gracious night.  And what had she not confessed, in that artless
way?

And then amid his bewilderment and breathless exultation a horrid fancy
shot across his brain. Perhaps that was no confession at all; but a
quite simple, unpremeditated, even unconscious, act of mere friendliness
and sympathy?  Did she know that she had done it?  Would she repeat it?
Would she give him further assurance?  Might she not herself wish to be
certain that he had understood—that he had received a message that was
to change all his life?

Well, he had hold of her hand.  Gently and with trembling and eager
touch he tried to raise it—he would have her replace his own hand where
that had been for one delirious moment: perhaps to ask if her heart had
still, and for ever and always, the same message to send.  Alas! she did
not yield to the mute invitation.  Perhaps she did not comprehend it.
For here they were at the corner of the little street in which they
lived; and she unclasped her fingers, so that his also might be released
from their too happy imprisonment; and she was talking to her
grandfather when the door of the house was reached.  Nor did her eyes
say anything as he bade her good-bye for the night. Perhaps it was all a
mistake, then?—some little involuntary act of kindness, and nothing
more?



                              CHAPTER IV.

                             INTERPOSITION.


Yes, she had come near—so near that she seemed to absorb his very life.
He could think of nothing but her.  As he walked away down through the
dark streets, he imagined her to be still by his side; he tried to fancy
he could detect some faint perfume of sandal-wood in the surrounding
air; his right hand tingled yet with the touch of her warm,
interclasping fingers.  And if at one moment his heart beat high with
the assurance that she had confessed her love and given herself to him,
the next he tortured himself with vague alarms, and wondered how the
long night was to be got through, before he could go up to her in the
morning, and challenge her to speak.  All the future was filled with
her; and there again he saw himself by her side, her strong and
confident protector.  And yet if he had mistaken that mute declaration
of hers?  What if, after all, it were merely a timid expression,
involuntary and unpremeditated, of her friendship, her kindness, her
gratitude?

Well, he knew he could get no confirmation of either his audacious hopes
or his depressing fears until the next day; and as the alternation
between the two moods was altogether a maddening thing, he resolved to
seek relief and distraction.  As soon as he got to his own room down in
Grosvenor Place he took out a foolscap sheet of paper which had certain
pencillings on it.  These formed, in fact, an outline sketch of a
lecture which he had undertaken to deliver before the Mendover Free
Library Association; and it was high time he was getting on with it, for
the meeting was to be held in the following week.  But strange things
happened with this sheet of paper.  Apparently the pencilled heading was
"_The Unscrupulousness of Wealth_;" but the longer he looked at the
title, the more clearly did it spell out "_Maisrie Bethune_."  The
sub-headings, too, began to reveal hidden mysteries.  Here was one which
on the face of it read "_Circumstances in which the capitalist may
become a tyrant in spite of himself_."  But behold! that scrawl slowly
disappeared, and in its place a picture grew into existence.  He seemed
to recognise the big grey building—was it not the mansion-house of
Balloray?—and well he knew the figure of the tall young girl with the
long-flowing hair who, in riding-habit, came out on to the terrace,
above the wide stone steps.  Is that her grandfather, proud-featured,
lion-hearted, with the same undaunted demeanour as of old, come to wave
her good-bye?  The splendour of the morning is all around her; there is
a white road outside the grounds, and an avenue of beech trees dappled
with sun and shade: when she vanishes into that wonderland of foliage,
she seems to take the light of the day away with her.  And again, what
further miracle is this?  Another vision interposes, and at length
becomes dominant; and this one is very different; this one is of a
street in Toronto.  And here also is a young girl; but now she is all in
black; and she is alone—she knows not one of those passers-by.  Pale and
pensive she walks on; her eyes are downcast; perhaps she is thinking of
wide intervening seas, and of her loneliness, and of one who used to be
her friend.  Tears?—but of what avail are these, here in this strange
city?—they are only a confession of helplessness—perhaps of despair...

Vincent Harris got up and walked about the room: at this rate the
members of the Mendover Free Library Association were not likely to
receive much instruction.  And indeed he did not return to that sheet of
foolscap; his brain could conjure up quite sufficient visions of the
future without having recourse to any palimpsest discoveries; while as
for his hand—well, perhaps the hand that Maisrie had held over her heart
for one wild, startling moment, was a little too unsteady to use a
pencil. If only the hours would go by!  He tried to read—and could not.
He got hold of a map of Scotland, and traced out the line of travel he
should like to follow if Maisrie and her grandfather and himself should
ever start on their long-projected tour.  He turned to a map of the
United States, and sought out Omaha: Maisrie’s birthplace was not
distinguished by any difference of type, and yet he regarded those five
letters with a curious interest and fascination.  He recalled his having
stood on the heights of Council Bluffs, and looked across the yellow
Missouri; and now he marvelled that he could have contemplated the wide,
straggling city with comparative indifference.  Perhaps, by diligent
seeking on the morrow—for the capital of Nebraska is an important
place—he might even in London discover a photograph or two to put on his
mantel-shelf; and then he could stand opposite them and say, "Why,
Maisrie must have passed that railway station many a time!" or "Maisrie
must often have looked up to the spire of the High School, there on the
hill."  To think that he had been twice in Omaha—without caring—without
knowing!  And so his eyes rested on this little word in the middle of
the big map; but his imagination was far away.

Well, the longest night must have an end; and yet the new dawn brought
no surcease to his anxieties; for how was he to have an opportunity of
speaking with Maisrie alone?  He was up in the little Mayfair street
betimes; and made some pretence of beginning work; but that was soon
abandoned.  He could not keep his eyes on any book or paper when there
were those two windows over the way.  When would she appear there to
water the chrysanthemums in the little balcony? If she accidentally
caught sight of him, might not some tell-tale flush reveal all he wanted
to know? Or she might be coming out on some errand—so that he could
quickly follow her?  Or perhaps her grandfather might be going to the
library, leaving her at home by herself?  The door of the house opposite
grew to be as fascinating as the windows; unknown possibilities might be
sprung upon him at any moment.

It was quite a cheerful morning—for London in November.  If pale mists
hung about the thoroughfares, at least some trace of blue was
discernible overhead; and on the panes of the higher windows the
sunlight shone here and there a dull gleaming gold.  The butcher’s boy
whistled loudly as he marched by; the cabman flicked at his horse out of
mere good humour; the ostlers in the adjacent mews made merry with
bandied jests.  It seemed too fine a morning for the collation of Scotch
ballads; and so indeed it proved to be; for about eleven o’clock the
door across the way was opened, and out came Mr. Bethune and his
granddaughter into the wintry sunlight.  Maisrie did not look up. The
two were talking together as they went along the little thoroughfare and
turned into Park Street. The next moment Vincent had snatched up his hat
and gloves, and was off in pursuit.

But he did not seek to overtake them.  On the contrary, he kept as wide
a space between them and him as he had done before he had ever dared to
address them; and yet the distance was not so great but that he could
observe Maisrie’s every gesture and the graceful motion of every step.
She wore those hanging sleeves, too, that had hidden his arm on the
preceding night—those hanging sleeves that had allowed her to say
something in secret to him, even amid the noise and movement of a great
crowd.  And now that he saw her actual self instead of the vague phantom
of his reveries, he plucked up courage.  Yes, she must have known what
she was doing.  Those were flesh and blood fingers that had taken hold
of his; when she raised his hand to her heart, it could not have been
altogether through inadvertence.  Once or twice a wild fancy got into
his head that here and now he would hasten forward, and seize her arm,
as if by right, and say ’Maisrie, there is no need of words between us:
I am here at your side, and mean to remain here.  Whatever that message
meant, I claim you as mine.’  And then again he drew back.  What if
there were some mistake?  Hyde Park did not seem a fitting place for
explanations.  And then, her grandfather might be more than astonished.

Yet hour after hour of this terrible day went by, and brought him no
nearer to the discovery he longed for.  When Maisrie and her grandfather
returned from their stroll through the Park, the young man went back to
the sheet of foolscap on which he meant to shadow forth the outlines of
his lecture.  The effort was absurd.  He might keep his eyes
mechanically fixed on the paper; but his brain refused to act.
Industry—capital—the proposed resumption by the workers of the world of
the mines, factories, docks, ships, canals, railways which their labour
had constructed—the impracticability of land nationalisation—and so
forth: what were these but mere lifeless phrases, when his heart was
listening for the smallest sound on the other side of the street?  And
ill-luck pursued him. She did not come once to the window.  The
chrysanthemums in the little balcony were quite neglected.  The
afternoon passed, and neither she nor her grandfather came out alone.
Then, when he went over as usual about half-past six, there was no
chance of his speaking to her by herself; in fact, both she and her
grandfather were seated at the one table, with a heap of books and
papers before them.

"Enough, Maisrie, enough," Mr. Bethune said blithely, and he rose at
once.  "You have had your wish—though I don’t see why you should
undertake any such drudgery—"

She also rose to receive the visitor; and as she gave him her hand for a
moment, and regarded him with very friendly eyes, there was not the
least trace of self-consciousness in her manner.

"Yes," said she, with a bright and frank smile, "grandfather has
conferred a new dignity on me. I am become his amanuensis.  Not that I
am the slightest real use to him, I suppose; it is only done to please
me; still, I take it seriously, and pretend to be doing my share.  Time
to go, is it?—very well, I shall be ready in a minute."

He was amazed and mortified beyond measure by this perfect
self-possession.  Had nothing whatever happened the night before, then?
There was no secret between them at all?  She had made no
confession—given him no message?  And then wounded pride stepped in and
spoke—with its usual violence and cruel injustice.  Perhaps there were
people who dispensed their caresses so freely that they thought nothing
of them?  What had startled him, a man, might be only a matter of course
to her, a girl?  Nay,—for what will not a lover say in a passion of
jealous anger and disappointment?—perhaps he was not the first nor the
only one who had been similarly bewildered?

He had no word for Maisrie on her return to the room.  When the three of
them went out into the street, he forsook his usual post by her side,
and walked with her grandfather, to whom he talked exclusively.  And of
course, as his questions were all about the projected compilation of
ballads, and as old George Bethune was always keenly enthusiastic about
any new undertaking, there was no stint to their conversation.  Maisrie
walked on in silence and unheeded.  When they reached the restaurant,
and as they were taking their seats at the little table, she glanced at
the young man; but his eyes did not happen to meet hers.  And there was
no place for her in their talk.

"No," old George Bethune was saying—and with considerable animation, for
he appeared to have been looking over some of the ballads during the
day, and his mind was still fired by the recollection of them, "I think
they are beyond the reach of illustration, even if there should be an
_édition de luxe_.  I have considered your suggestion more than once;
but I fear the drawing would in almost every instance be an anticlimax
to the power and simplicity and pathos of the printed page.  No picture
could be as vivid and clear and striking as the verses themselves: why,
just think of such lines as these—

    ’’Tis not the frost that freezes fell,
      Nor blowing snaw’s inclemencie;
    ’Tis not sic cauld that makes me cry,
      But my love’s heart grown cauld to me.
    When we came in by Glasgow town,
      We were a comely sight to see;
    My love was clad i’ the black velvet,
      And I myself in cramoisie.’

What picture could better that?  What picture could do anything but
weaken it?  You remember in ’Edom o’ Gordon’ how the young maiden is
lowered from the burning tower only to be slain by Edom o’ Gordon’s
spear—

    ’They row’d her in a pair o’ sheets,
      And tow’d her owre the wa’;
    But on the point o’ Gordon’s spear
      She gat a deadly fa’.

    O bonnie, bonnie was her mouth,
      And cherry were her cheeks,
    And clear, clear was her yellow hair,
      Whereon the red blood dreeps.

    Then wi’ his spear he turned her owre;
      O but her face was wan!
    He said, "Ye are the first that e’er
      I wish’d alive again."

    He turned her owre and owre again,
      O but her skin was white!
    "I might hae spared that bonnie face
      To hae been some man’s delight.

    "Busk and boun, my merry men a’,
      For ill dooms I do guess;—
    I cannot look on that bonnie face
      As it lies on the grass,"’—

What illustration could improve on that?—why, it burns clear as flame!
Then, again, take the girl who was drowned by her sister in ’the bonnie
mill-dams o’ Balloray’——"

At this point the silent and neglected Maisrie suddenly looked
up—glancing from her grandfather to the young man in a curiously
appealing way. She seemed to say ’Grandfather, you forget: it is not
Balloray, it is Binnorie;’ and again ’Vincent, he has forgotten: that is
all.’  But neither of them took any notice of her; nay, the younger man,
in his insensate indignation and disappointment, would not look her way
at all; while old George Bethune, with his mind fixed on those imaginary
pictures, went on in a rapt fashion to repeat certain of the verses—

    "Ye couldna see her yellow hair,
      Balloray, O Balloray,
    For gowd and pearls that were sae rare,
      By the bonnie mill-dams o’ Balloray.

    Ye couldna see her middle sma’,
      Balloray, O Balloray,
    Her gowden girdle was sae braw,
      By the bonnie mill-dams o’ Balloray.

    Ye couldna see her lily feet,
      Balloray, O Balloray,
    Her gowden fringes were sae deep,
      By the bonnie mill-dams o’ Balloray.

    ’Sair will they be, whae’er they be,
      Balloray, O Balloray,
    The hearts that live to weep for thee!’
      By the bonnie mill-dams o’ Balloray!"


"It is like a picture by one of the pre-Raphaelites," Vincent said; and
then the old man proceeded to talk of paper and type and binding, as if
the new work were just ready for press.

But silence was not to reign for ever between those two.  On their way
home Mr. Bethune was talking of "The Demon Lover," of its alleged
Italian origin, and of a suggestion he had seen somewhere that it was no
forsaken sweetheart who had come to tempt the wedded wife, but a fiend
adopting that disguise.  When they reached the little parlour he began
to search about for the volume in which "The Demon Lover" was thus
treated; but could not find it; whereupon he went off upstairs, to see
if it was not among his books and papers there.  As soon as he had gone,
Maisrie rose and came over to where the young man was standing by the
fireplace.

"What have I done, Vincent?" she said.

"Oh, nothing," he made answer, avoiding her eyes.

"I have a right to know," she said, proudly.

"It is nothing," said he.  "I—I made a mistake; that is all."

She looked at him in mute reproach: then she turned away, and went back
to her seat.  There was a paper-knife on the table beside her; she took
that into her hands, and began to finger it; her eyes were downcast; he
was free to go now, when he chose.

But he did not go.  On the contrary, after a second or two of
vacillation, he followed her.

"Maisrie," said he, in a very different tone, "perhaps it’s all a
mistake on my part.  If so, I am sorry.  I don’t want to vex you—

"I don’t want to vex you, Vincent," said she, in a somewhat low voice.
"Tell me what it is."

"Well," said he, "I came here this afternoon thinking—hoping—there might
be some more definite understanding between you and me: yes, I was
hoping for much—and then—and then I found you quite careless and
thoughtless, just as if nothing at all had happened last night——"

"Last night?" she repeated.

"Yes," said he, rather reproachfully.  "Don’t you remember what happened
last night?  Don’t you know that you pressed my hand to your heart? But
perhaps that was nothing—perhaps that meant nothing at all——"

"It meant a very great deal, Vincent," said she, warmly, looking up at
him with honest eyes.  "We were talking of the value of true friends—and
I could not say much—yet I wished to tell you what I thought of all your
goodness and kindness.  Indeed, indeed it meant a great deal,
Vincent—and I hoped you would understand——"

"I have understood too much," said he, and he was silent for a second.
Then he went on.  "I thought you had something more than that to say to
me, Maisrie.  For why need I tell you what you must have guessed
already?  You know I love you; you must have seen it all this time;
there was no need for me to speak.  And when the future has but the one
hope for me, that some day or other you should be my wife, then perhaps
I was too eager to believe it had all come true—that you were giving me
a promise in that quiet way—and no need of a spoken word between us.
But I was mistaken, I see. You only meant friendship.  You only wanted
to say ’Thank you!’ to a friend——"

But by this time she had risen from her chair; and there was in her eyes
the strangest look of pride, and joy, and perhaps, too, of sadness.

"Do you know what you are saying, Vincent?" she said, quite gently.
"You—of all people in the world—"

She hesitated: she regarded, with admiring, and grateful, and
affectionate eyes, this handsome lad on whom fortune had shed all good
things—and perhaps she could not quite confess all she thought.

"You—of all people in the world—every one making much of you—every one
hoping such great things of you—and you come seeking a wife here."  She
glanced round at the shabby little apartment. Then she turned her eyes
towards him again; and there was a smile in them, of an unstable kind;
and tears were gathering in the lashes.  "Well," she said, "it will be
something for me to think of.  It will be something for me to be proud
of.  There can be no harm in that.  I shall be able to say to myself
’Vincent thought so well of you that he once asked you to be his
wife’——"

"But I don’t know what you mean, Maisrie!" he exclaimed, and in spite of
her he seized her hand and held it tight between his two.  "What do you
mean?  You are going to be my wife!  Oh, I don’t want you to make rash
promises; I don’t want to frighten you; no, I want you to be of good
heart, and you will see things will turn out all right in the end.  And
if you don’t know your own mind yet—if you are afraid to say
anything—won’t you let me guess?  Surely we have not been all this time
together, and seeing so much of each other, without getting to know each
other pretty intimately?  And if I did make a mistake last night—well,
that is a trifling matter—and I was too presumptuous——"

She managed to release her hand.

"Sit down, Vincent, and let me talk to you," she said.  "Perhaps I may
not have another chance; and I do not wish you ever to look back and say
I was ungrateful, or unreasonable, or cold-hearted. Cold-hearted?—not
that—not that—towards you!"  And then she went on in rather a sad way,
"I think the time has about come that we should part.  It has been a
pleasant companionship: I am not likely ever to forget it.  But your
future is so important, and ours so uncertain, that I am sure the sooner
we go separate ways the better.  And I am anxious to make a change now.
I think if my grandfather and I went away somewhere where we could live
more cheaply—where there would be fewer temptations towards the spending
of money—I could do something to support him, and leave him the luxury
of his books.  I am a woman now—I want to work——"

"You work?  Not while I can!" he said, hotly.

She went on without heeding him.

"That is why I have been glad to see him so eager about this book of
ballads.  If he could only get rid of all indebtedness, to friends and
others, through this book, then we should start clear; and I should ask
him not to fret any more about his literary schemes.  He is an old man.
He has done everything for me: why should I not do something for him
now?  And I have no pride.  The story about those Scotch estates was
always a kind of fairy tale to me; I never had any real belief in the
possibility of their coming to us; I was never a fine lady even in
imagination.  So that it matters little to me what I turn my hand to; if
what little education I have had is useless, I would take to something
else; I would work about a farm-house as soon as anything—for I am a
great deal stronger than you may imagine——"

"Oh, what are you talking about, Maisrie!" he said, with simulated
anger.  "If you think I am going to allow any such folly, you are
mistaken. There are plenty of dairymaids in the world without you.  And
I have the right to say something—I claim the right: I am going to
interfere, whether you like it or not.  When you speak of your duty
towards your grandfather, that I understand.  He has been everything to
you: who would ask you to forsake him?  But, as you say, he is an old
man.  If anything were to happen to him, think of your own position.
You have hardly a friend in the world—a few acquaintances in Canada,
perhaps—but what is that?  You will want some one to protect you: give
me that right!  If I let you go from me now, how am I to find you
again?—how am I to know what may happen?  Maisrie, have courage!—be
frank!—tell me that the little message of last night meant something
more!"

The eloquence was not in the words, but in the vibrating tones of his
voice; and there were tears in her eyes as she answered—

"Vincent, I cannot—I dare not!  You don’t know how grandfather and I are
situated: you are so generous, so open-minded, that—that you see
everything in so favourable a light; but then other people might step
in——

"Between you and me?  Who?" he demanded, with set lips.

"Ah," she said, with a sigh, "who can tell?  And besides—besides—do you
not think I am as proud of you as any one?—do you not think I am looking
forward to all that is expected of you?—and when I hear of you as this
or that, I will say to myself ’I knew what Vincent was going to do; and
now he is glad that he did not hamper himself out of—out of pity—for a
friendless girl’——"

But here she broke down altogether, and covered her face with her hands,
and sobbed without possibility of concealment.  He was by her side in a
moment; he laid his hand on the down-bent head—on the soft hair.

"Maisrie," he said, with the utmost gentleness, "don’t make me angry.
If you have anything to say why you cannot, or will not, be my wife,
tell me; but do not be unreasonable and foolish.  You speak of my
future: it is nothing to me without you. You talk of the expectations of
my friends: I tell you that my life is my own.  And why should you be
any drag or hamper—you!  I wish you would think of yourself a little:
not of me.  Surely there is something better in the world than ambition,
and figuring before the public in newspapers."  Then he stopped for a
second or two; and resumed in a lower and different tone.  "Of course,
if you refuse me your love, that is different.  That I can understand. I
have done nothing to deserve it: I have come to you as a beggar.  If you
refuse me that, there is nothing more to be said.  I do not blame you.
If I have made a mistake, so much the worse for me——"

She rose.

"Vincent," she said, between her half-stifled sobs, "you are not very
kind.  But it is better so—much better.  Now I must go and help
grandfather to find that book.  And as this is to be the last word—well,
then—dear friend—don’t be so ungenerous to me when in after years you
look back——"

But he was not likely to let her go like that. He interposed between her
and the door; nay, he drew her towards him, and took her head between
his hands, and pushed back the hair from her brow, as though he would
read down to the very depths of those beautiful, tear-dimmed eyes.

"You have not refused me your love, Maisrie—because you dare not!" he
said.  "And what do I care whether you say it or not—when I know?"  And
therewith he kissed her on the mouth—and again—and again.  "Now you are
mine.  You dare not deny your love—and I claim you as my wife——"

She struggled backward to be free from him, and said almost wildly—

"No, no—Vincent, you do not understand—I have not been frank with you—I
cannot ever be your wife!—some day I will tell you——"

There was no chance for any further entreaty or explanation, for at this
moment there was the sound of a footstep outside, the door was opened,
and old George Bethune appeared, carrying in his hands some half-dozen
books.  When he saw those two standing opposite to each other, the young
man pale and agitated, the girl also pale and with her eyes streaming
over with tears, he glanced from the one to the other in silence.  Then
he walked deliberately forward to the table, and laid down the books.
Maisrie escaped from the room.  Vincent returned to the fireplace, too
bewildered by her last words to care much what construction might be
placed upon this scene by her grandfather.  But he had to recall
himself: for the old man, just as if he had observed nothing, just as if
nothing had happened, but yet with a certain measured precision in his
tones, resumed his discussion of "The Demon Lover," and proceeded to
give his reasons for thinking that the story had migrated from the far
north to the south.

But presently Mr. Bethune had turned from those books, and was staring
into the fire, as he said with a certain slow and significant emphasis—

"It will be an interesting subject; and yet I must guard against being
wholly absorbed by it. And that for my granddaughter’s sake.  I imagine
we have been living a much too monotonous life for some time back; and
that is not well for anyone, especially for a young girl.  A limitation
of interests; that is not wholesome.  The mind becomes morbid; and
exaggerates trifles.  And in the case of Maisrie, she has been used to
change and travel; I should think the unvarying routine of our life of
late, both as regards our employments and amusements, extremely
prejudicial to her health and spirits——"

"Why, she seems very well!" Vincent said, anxiously—for he knew not what
all this might mean.

"A change will do her good—will do all of us good, perhaps," said the
old man.  "Everyone knows that it is not wise for people to see too much
of each other; it puts too heavy a strain on friendship. Companionship
should be a volunteered thing—should be a reward, indeed, for previous
isolation and work——"

Vincent’s forehead flushed; and the natural man within him was crying
out ’Oh, very well, then; I don’t press any further acquaintance on
you!’  But for Maisrie’s sake he curbed his pride.  He said, as quickly
as might be—

"In our case I thought that was precisely how our companionship stood—a
little relaxation after the labours of the day.  However, if you think
there has been too much of that——"

"I was speaking of general principles," Mr. Bethune said, with
equanimity.  "At the same time I confess that, as regards Maisrie, I
think that some alteration in our mode of existence might be beneficial.
Her life of late has been much too monotonous."

"Again and again she has told me that she delights in the quietude of
it!" the young man protested—for it suddenly occurred to him that
Maisrie was to be dragged away from England altogether.  "Surely she has
had enough of travel?"

"Travel?  That is not what I have in mind," old George Bethune said.
"We have neither the time nor the means.  I should merely propose to
pack up a few books and things, and take Maisrie down to some sea-side
place—Brighton, perhaps, as being the most convenient."

The young man’s face flashed instant relief; Brighton—that was something
different from what he had been dreading.  Brighton—Brighton was not
Toronto nor Montreal; there was going to be no wide Atlantic between him
and her; a trivial matter of an hour’s railway journey or something of
the kind!

"Oh, Brighton?" said he, quite gladly.  "Yes, that will be very pleasant
for her.  Brighton is brisk and lively enough at this time of the year;
and if there is any sunlight going, you are sure to get it there.  I am
afraid you will find the hotels full——"

"We shall not trouble the hotels," Mr. Bethune said, with grave dignity.
"Some very humble lodgings will suffice.  And perhaps we might get rooms
in a house on the hill at the back of the town; that would give me
seclusion and quiet for my work.  Yes, I think the change will be
wholesome; and the sooner we set about it the better."

Well, to Vincent it did not seem that this proposal involved any great
alteration in their mode of life, except that he himself was obviously
and unmistakeably excluded; nevertheless, he was so glad to find that
the separation from Maisrie was of a mild and temporary nature that he
affected to give a quite cordial approval.  He even offered to engage
the services of his aunt, Mrs. Ellison, in securing them apartments; but
Mr. Bethune answered that Maisrie and he were old travellers, and would
be able to shift for themselves.  And when did they propose to go?
Well, to-morrow, if his granddaughter were content.

While they were yet talking, Maisrie made her appearance.  She had
bathed her eyes in water, and there was not much trace of her recent
agitation, though she was still somewhat pale.  And Vincent—to show her
that he refused to be alarmed by her parting words—to show her that he
was quite confident as to the future—preserved his placid, not to say
gay, demeanour.

"Do you know what your grandfather is going to do with you, Maisrie?"
said he.  "He is going to take you down to Brighton for a time.  Yes,
and at once—to-morrow, if you care to go."

She glanced quickly from one to the other, as if fearing some conspiracy
between them.

"And you, Vincent?" she asked, turning to him.

He did not meet her look.

"I?  Oh, I must keep to work; I can’t afford to go away down and idle
among those fashionable folk. My Mendover lecture isn’t half sketched
out yet. And then, again, you remember the article I told you
about?—before beginning it I ought really to run down to Scotland, or at
least to Yorkshire, and see one of those Municipal Lodging-houses in
actual operation.  They seem to me marvellous institutions," continued
this consummate hypocrite (as if the chief thought in his mind at this
moment was the housing of the industrious poor!), "and of the greatest
importance to the country at large; worked at a profit, too, that is the
amazing thing!  Fancy at Huddersfield; threepence a day includes use of
cooking and table utensils, a smoking-room, reading-room, and
conversation-room, and then a bed at night—all for threepence!
Belonging to the rate-payers, themselves—under the management of the
Corporation—and paying a profit so that you can go on improving and
extending.  Why, every big town in the kingdom ought to have a Municipal
Lodginghouse, or half a dozen of them; and it only needs to be shown how
they are worked for the example to be copied everywhere——"

"And when do you go, Vincent?" she asked, with downcast eyes.

"Oh, I am not sure yet," he made answer cheerfully.  "Of course, I ought
in duty to go; but it will cost me half what I shall get for the
article. However, that is neither here nor there.  But if this is to be
our last night together for a little while, Maisrie," he went on, to
keep up his complacent acquiescence in this temporary separation, "you
might give us a little music—won’t you?—you haven’t had the violin out
of its case for a long time."

She was very obedient.  She went and got the violin—though she was in no
playing or singing mood.

"What, then, grandfather?" she said when she was ready.

"Whatever you please."

Then she began, and very slowly and tenderly she played the air of a
Scotch song—"Annie’s Tryst."  It is a simple air, and yet pathetic in
its way; and indeed so sensitive and skilful was her touch that the
violin seemed to speak; any one familiar with the song might have
imagined he could hear the words interpenetrating those vibrant notes—

    "Your hand is cauld as snaw, Annie,
        Your cheek is wan and white;
    What gars ye tremble sae, Annie,
        What maks your e’e sae bright?
    The snaw is on the ground, Willie,
        The frost is cauld and keen,
    But there’s a burnin’ fire, Willie,
        That sears my heart within.

      *      *      *      *      *

    Oh, will ye tryst wi’ me, Annie,
        Oh, will ye tryst me then?
    I’ll meet ye by the burn, Annie,
        That wimples down the glen.
    I daurna tryst wi’ you, Willie,
        I daurna tryst ye here,
    But we’ll hold our tryst in heaven, Willie,
        In the springtime o’ the year."


"That is too sad, Maisrie," her grandfather said, fretfully.  "Why don’t
you sing something?"

She turned to Vincent: there was a mute question in her eyes.

"Will you sing the _Claire Fontaine_, Maisrie?" said he.

She seemed a little surprised: it was a strange song to ask for on a
night of farewell; but she did as she was bidden.  She went and got the
book and placed it open before her on the table: then she drew her bow
across the strings.

But hardly had she began to sing the little ballad than it became
evident that there was something added to the pure, clear tones of her
voice—some quality of an indefinable nature—some alien influence that
might at any moment prove too strong for her self-control.

    _Sur la plus haute tranche—_

this was the point at which she began—

    _Le rossignol chantait;_
    _Chante, rossignol, chante,_
    _Toi qui as le coeur gai—_

And so far all was well; but at the refrain

    _Lui ya longtemps que je t’aime,_
    _Jamais je ne t’oublierai_

her voice shook a little, and her lips were tremulous. Vincent cursed
his folly a hundred times over: why had he asked her to sing the _Claire
Fontaine_?  But still she held bravely on:

    _Chante, rossignol, chante,_
    _Toi qui as le coeur gai;_
    _Tu as le coeur à rire,_
    _Moi je l’ ai-t-à pleurer—_

And here she could go no further for those choking tears in her voice;
she stood for a moment all uncertain, trying to master herself; then she
laid the violin on the table, and with a broken "Good-night, Vincent—and
good-bye!" she turned and left the room, her hands hiding her face, her
frame shaken by the violence of her sobbing.

There was an instant of silence.

"Yes, it is time she was taken away," old George Bethune said, with a
deep frown on his shaggy eyebrows.  "Her nerves are all wrong.  Why
should she make such a to-do about leaving London for a fortnight?"

But Vincent Harris knew better than that.  It was not this unexpected
departure that was in Maisrie’s mind: it was the words that he had
spoken to her, and she to him, earlier in the evening.  It was of no
fortnight’s absence she was thinking, but of a far wider and longer
farewell.



                               CHAPTER V.

                            THE GNAWING FOX.


But he was not disheartened by those ominous words of hers, not even on
the following morning, when he found the little thoroughfare so
strangely silent and empty, and the two windows over the way become
vacant and devoid of charm.  He had the high courage and impetuous will
of youth; seeing no difficulties or dangers ahead, he refused to believe
in any; Maisrie had not denied him her love, therefore she must be his
wife; and all the future shone fair.  And so he set to work on his
Mendover lecture; and made good progress, even if his thoughts went
sometimes flying away down to Brighton.  As for the lecture itself—well,
perhaps certain of its contentions and illustrations would have
surprised and even shocked that Communist-capitalist, his father; but
the young man was accustomed to think for himself.

Yes, this little street was terribly empty, and those windows
indescribably blank.  And the room was lonely, work or no work.  But as
he was standing looking out, cigarette in hand, after his frugal
luncheon, a happy inspiration sprung into his head; for here was Hobson,
the husband of the landlady across the way, coming along the pavement;
and would it not be a comforting thing to have him in to talk about the
two lodgers who had just left?  Vincent opened the window a bit, and
said into the street (there was no need to call)—

"Hobson!"

The man looked up.

"Yes, sir?"

"I want you for a moment."

Then Vincent went himself downstairs and opened the door; and here was
the shabby-genteel ex-butler, obsequiously waiting, with an excess of
imbecile amiability in his weak, prominent, nervous eyes.

"Come in and have a smoke, Hobson," the young man said.  "You must be
lonely over there now. Makes a difference, doesn’t it?"

"Wonderful, sir, wonderful;" and the docile Hobson obediently followed
up the stairs, and accepted a big cigar, and was prevailed on to draw in
a chair to the fire.  Vincent took a seat opposite him, and lit another
cigarette—in a quite friendly fashion.

"You’ve seen a good deal of Mr. Bethune since he came to live in your
house?" the young man began, in a sort of tentative and encouraging way.
And Hobson responded with instant enthusiasm——

"Ah, yes, indeed, sir, and proud of the same. A great man, sir—oh, a
very great man—and how he came to be where he is, sir, well, that beats
me, sir.  And that haffable, sir!—if he ave somethink on the table,
he’ll say, ’Hobson, bring two tumblers’—yes, sir—’Hobson, bring two
tumblers’—and I must take a seat, just as kind and condescending as you
are, sir.  ’Fill your glass, Hobson,’ he says, just that haffable like—"

"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Vincent, looking guiltily towards his
vacant sideboard.  "The fact is, I haven’t anything of the kind in these
rooms; but I can send out.  Which would you like, gin or whiskey?"

"Whichever you please," said Hobson, complacently, "being so kind as to
think of it, sir."

The necessary fluid was soon procured; and Hobson was liberally helped.
And when at length he began to expatiate on the character and the
wonderful attainments and abilities of Maisrie’s grandfather, there may
have been a little exaggeration (for gin tends towards exaggeration) in
his speech; but his aim and admiration were genuine enough at the core.
He grovelled in the dust before that impressive old man.  He spoke in
almost a breathless way of his haffability.  Why, that a great personage
in literature should condescend to read his, Hobson’s, poor little
verses was extraordinary; but that he should give advice, too, and
encouragement, that was overwhelming.  And as for the young lady—but
here Hobson’s language failed him.  With tears in his eyes he declared
that she was a hangel of sweetness—which did not convey much to
Vincent’s eager-listening ears. But when he went on to tell about all
sorts of little acts of kindness and consideration—when he spoke of her
patience with the old gentleman’s temper, of her cheerfulness over small
disappointments happening to herself, of her gentleness, and sunniness,
and invariable good humour—here he was on more intelligible ground; and
his delighted and grateful audience was not slow to press on him another
cigar, which was not refused.  Indeed, what with so much courtesy shown
him, and what with the stimulating influence of the gin and water,
Hobson grew valiant; and began to broach wild and iconoclastic theories
about filthy lucre, and to describe in dark colours the character of any
one—presumably his own wife—who could be so base as to take every
farthing of her rent, fortnight after fortnight, from a grand and noble
old gentleman and a beautiful young lady both of whom seemed to have
known better days.

"Do you know how long they are to be away?" Vincent asked.

"Well, sir, the old gentleman, sir, he says perhaps two weeks and
perhaps three."

"I see you’ve put up a notice that the rooms are to be let."

"Yes, sir; but that ain’t much use, not for so short a time, sir."

And here another sudden fancy struck the young man.

"But I know how you can get them let," said he.

"How, sir?"

"You can let them to me."

"Law, sir!"

There was a doubtful look about Hobson’s big, vacuous eyes: being of a
poetic and sensitive nature he did not like jokes, and was suspicious.
However, the young gentleman, to judge by his manner, seemed fair and
honest and above-board.

"I will take them," said Vincent, "until Mr. Bethune and his
granddaughter come back.  Not to occupy them myself, you understand; but
I don’t want any stranger to be going into these rooms, you see—that is
all."

"How kind, sir—how thoughtful!" Hobson said, in a pathetic way.  "That
it is to have good, kind friends!"

"And as the rooms are now mine, I suppose I might go over and look at
them—if you will finish up your tumbler?"

"Certainly, sir, certainly," Hobson said, jumping to his feet with
alacrity, and hastily draining his glass.  "They’re all tidied up, sir,
against the chance of a lodger.  And won’t the missus be surprised!—for
the women, sir, the women, you see, sir, they likes to haggle and
bargain, but with men, sir, begging your pardon, sir, it’s a word and
done!"

Indeed he seemed quite proud of the promptitude with which he had
conducted and concluded this negotiation; and it was with an unusual air
of authority and importance that he led the way upstairs and showed
Vincent into the little parlour, with which he was already abundantly
familiar. There were few alterations.  The old man’s books, Maisrie’s
music, and similar personal belongings, had disappeared; and a hideous
purple vase stood for ornament in the middle of the table.  The pallid
lithographs were still on the walls; Maisrie’s chrysanthemums were out
there in the little iron balcony.

"Would you like to see the rooms upstairs, sir?"

The young man hesitated for a second.

"Oh, very well."

Hobson led the way up to the next landing; and there the first door he
came to he flung wide open.

"The young lady’s room, sir."

But Vincent did not accept the implied invitation. He hung shamefacedly
back.

"Oh, yes, that’s all right," said he.  "I—I only wished to—to have it
kept for her."

And yet he lingered for another second at the door of this chamber—that
seemed so sacred—that seemed to shut him out.  He could see the
dressing-table, the chest of drawers, the neatly folded bed, the rather
dingy window.

"Look here, Hobson," said he, "if I were to get a few things to make the
room a little more cheerful, I suppose that could be done without
letting Miss Bethune know who sent them?  The looking-glass there—you
know, that is not the right kind of thing at all; there should be a
pretty mirror on the dressing-table, with some lace round the top of
it——"

Here he ventured in half a step or so, and rather timidly looked round.

"That one gas-jet can’t be half enough, when Miss Bethune is dressing to
go out in the evening," he said, complainingly—perhaps to conceal his
incomprehensible diffidence and shyness.  "She must have candles—one on
each side of the mirror, for example.  And that screen across the
window, why, it is so common!—it ought to be a piece of pale silk—to let
the light through."

He ventured a few inches further, and again looked round.

"What do you call that thing?—the coverlet—the counterpane—isn’t it?
Well, it shouldn’t be white, and cold, and cheerless like that; it
should be a deep crimson satin—and there should be pretty things at the
head of the bed—loops and bows of ribbon—my goodness, what is Mrs.
Hobson about!—a young lady’s room shouldn’t be like a cell in a prison!"

"Law, sir, I’m very sorry," Hobson said, in a bewildered way: a crimson
satin coverlet sounded a grand thing; but it also meant a heap of money.

"But come away out and I will talk to you," Vincent said, just as if
they were in a mysteriously sacred shrine, where the discussion of
business affairs was a sort of profanation.  Or perhaps he resented the
intrusion of the amiable but gin-odorous Hobson?  At all events, he did
not resume the conversation until they were both downstairs again in the
parlour.

"You understand, then," he said, and there was no more timidity about
his speech now, "I am willing to get a number of things for the room,
and to make you and Mrs. Hobson a present of them, on the distinct
condition that Miss Bethune is kept in absolute ignorance how they came
there. One word to her—and out they come again, every rag and stick.
Why, you can easily invent excuses!  You can tell them you took the
opportunity of their absence to brighten up the place a bit.  It is in
your own interest to keep the rooms smart: it doesn’t imply any favour
conferred on your lodgers.  Don’t you see?"

"Yes, sir.  Very kind of you, sir, indeed," said Hobson, who seemed a
little confused.  "And what did you want me to do?"

"Do?  I want you to do nothing: and I want you to say nothing.  Don’t
you understand?  I am going to send in a few things to smarten up that
room; and they are yours so long as not any one of you hints to Miss
Bethune where they came from. Isn’t that simple enough?"

But far less simple was his own part in this transaction, as he was
speedily to discover.  For when he went outside again, and made away
towards Regent-street, thinking he would go to a famous shop there, and
buy all sorts of pretty things, it gradually dawned on him that he had
undertaken a task entirely beyond his knowledge. For example, he could
purchase any quantity of crimson satin; but how or where was he going to
get it made up into a coverlet, or counterpane, or quilt, or whatever
the thing was called?  Then supposing he had the mirror and the lace,
who was going to put the lace round the top of the mirror?—he could not
do that for himself.  A little set of ornamental book-shelves he could
buy, certainly; but how was he going to ask for the bows of ribbon, or
the silk drapery, or whatever it was that ought to adorn the brass rods
at the head of the bed? The more he considered the matter the more
clearly he saw that he must consult a woman, and the only woman he could
consult in confidence was his aunt, Mrs. Ellison, who had now returned
to Brighton. And perhaps he strove to conceal from himself what it was
that so easily and naturally drew his thoughts to Brighton; perhaps he
was hardly himself aware how this secret hunger of the soul was minute
by minute and hour by hour increasing in its demands.  Maisrie had not
been so long away; but already he felt that one brief glimpse of her, no
matter at what distance, would be a priceless thing.  And then again it
would not be breaking any compact.  He would not seek to go near her, if
there was this understanding that these two were for the present
separated the one from the other. She would not even know he was in the
town. And surely it would be a new and wonderful experience to look at
Maisrie from afar off, as if she were a stranger.

So instead of going to Regent-street, he went to the nearest post-office
and telegraphed to Mrs. Ellison, asking if she could take him in for a
day or two.  Then he walked on home; and by the time he had reached
Grosvenor Place, the answer was there awaiting him; he was to go down at
once.  He put a few things in his bag; jumped into a hansom and drove to
Victoria-station; caught the four-thirty train; and eventually arrived
at Brunswick Terrace about six.  He guessed that his aunt’s afternoon
visitors would be gone; and he would have ample opportunity of a long
talk with her before dinner.

His anticipations proved correct.  When he was shown into the big
drawing-room—which looked very snug and warm amid its magnificence—he
found the tall and bright-eyed young widow in sole possession; and she
came forward to welcome him with great complaisance.

"Very sensible of you, Vin.  You know I can always make room for you, no
matter who is in the house."

"If I had gone to a hotel, aunt, you would have made an awful row; and I
don’t want to quarrel with you just at present: the fact is, I have come
to you for advice and help," said he.  "But first—my congratulations!  I
was hardly surprised when I got your letter; and I am sure no one can
wish you more happiness than I do——"

"Oh, be quiet," she said; and she took a seat at a little distance from
the fire, by the side of a small table, and put a fan between her eyes
and the crimson-shaded lamp.  "Congratulations?  Well, I suppose there
are no fools like old fools.  But if grown-up people will play at being
children, and amuse themselves by writing things in the sand—did I tell
you how it all happened?—they must take the consequences.  And I, who
used to be so content!  Haven’t I often told you?  Perhaps I boasted too
much——"

"Oh, yes, pretend you regret it!" said he.  "And you talk of your being
so old—you!—why, what girl of all your acquaintance has half your life
and spirit, or half your good looks, either——"

"Vincent Harris," said she, and she turned round and faced him, "what do
you want?"

He laughed.

"It is a very simple matter, aunt."

And then he began to tell her of the little predicament in which he was
placed; and to beseech her help.  Would she come and choose the things
for him?  There were plenty of bric-à-brac shops in Brighton: she would
know what was most appropriate: her own house was evidence of her taste.
But his ingenuous flattery was of no avail. Mrs. Ellison’s face grew
more and more serious, until at length she exclaimed—

"Why, Vin, this is the very madness of infatuation! And I had been
hoping for far other things. I had imagined from the tone of your last
letter that perhaps there might be a change—that your eyes had been
opened at last.  So this is going on just the same as ever?"

"It is going on, as you call it, aunt; and is likely to go on—so long as
I live."

"Then I, for one, wish to have nothing to do with it," she said,
sharply.  "And this last proposal is really too audacious.  What
business have you with that girl’s room?—what right have you to go into
it?"

He was rather taken aback—for a moment.

"Business?—oh, none of course.  None whatever—that is to say—oh, yes, I
have, though!—I have a perfect right to go into it.  The room is not
hers.  It is mine.  I have paid for it.  When she comes back it will be
hers; and where is the harm of her finding it a little prettier?—that is
all."

"I must say, Vin," she continued, in a very reserved fashion, "that the
infatuation of a young man may excuse a good deal; but this is a
little—a little too much.  Do you consider it quite nice—quite becoming?
A satin counterpane!  I wonder what the girl would think herself—if she
has any refinement of feeling—if she has any delicacy—"

His face grew very pale.

"’If she has any refinement of feeling—if she has any delicacy,’" he
repeated.

Then he rose.

"It is useless to say anything further, aunt; there is an end this
time."

But she had risen too.  He tried to pass her—and failed; nay, she went
to the door, and stood with her back against it, and faced him.

"No, you shall not go," she said.  "Why should there be any dissension?
You are my own dear boy; I would do anything for you—except in this one
direction——"

"Except in this one direction!" he repeated, scornfully.

"Why cannot we remain friends," she said, with appealing eyes, "good and
true friends—and agree to leave this one subject alone?"

"This one subject—that is my life!" he said, vehemently.  "What folly
you talk!  You wish to cut away the very thing I live for; the very
thing that is my life; and to continue your friendship with what
remains—a senseless stick or stone! And why?  Because of your insensate
prejudice, your cruel and baseless suspicions.  Why do you talk to me as
if I were a boy?  I have seen twice as much of the world as you have; I
have had better opportunities of learning how to judge strangers.  But
you—you live in a narrow groove—you have your maid to talk to—your
acquaintances to call in the afternoon—your friends to dinner—and what
besides?  That is your world.  What do you know of the human beings
outside it?  Must they all be dishonest—because they have not been heard
of by your handful of a set?  Must they all be thieves and
swindlers—because they are not in the Court Directory?  But it is little
matter.  If this subject is debarred, then all is debarred, as between
you and me.  You can go your own way, and I mine.  I did expect, now
that you have your own happiness secured, you might show some little
generosity, some little sympathy; but I see it is different; and I will
not allow one who is dearer to me than all the world to be treated with
such enmity, while I am supposed to stand by and accept it as a natural
condition of affairs.  I do not; I have had enough; and so here is an
end, as between you and me; and I hope you will have more happiness than
you seem to wish for other people."

Well, Mrs. Ellison was not used to giving way; but she was very fond of
this proud and handsome boy; and she gave just one sob, and tears
gathered in her eyes.

"You are not very kind, Vin," she said.

And what marvellous thing was this that instantaneously smote his heart?
Why, Maisrie had made use of this very expression on the preceding
afternoon!  And all of a sudden he seemed to recognise that his
adversary here was a woman; she was akin to his beloved—and therefore to
be treated gently; Maisrie’s voice and eyes seemed to be pleading for
her: surely that was enough?  He hesitated for a moment: then he said—

"Very well; let it be as you wish.  We shall see how we get on, with the
one thing that is of more importance to me than anything else shut out
from mention.  But I must say this to you, aunt: I do not see I am doing
anything that the most fastidious person can object to if I put a few
pretty things into the room of the girl who is to be my wife."

"How do you know that she is to be your wife, Vin?" she said, rather
sadly.

"I know," he made answer.

"My poor boy!" she said; and then she took him by the hand and led him
back to the little table at which they had been sitting; and there they
had some further conversation about more or less indifferent things,
with the one all-important subject carefully avoided.  And then it was
time for them to go away and dress for dinner.

Lord Musselburgh dined with them that evening, and remained some time
after the other guests had gone.  To Vincent it seemed a puzzling thing
that two betrothed people should make so merry.  They appeared so well
content with their present estate; they were so assured as to the
future; no anxieties; no conflicting hopes and fears; they were in the
happiest mood.  Next morning, too, Lord Musselburgh again made his
appearance; and the three of them went out for a stroll along the
promenade. All the world was shining fair and clear; Mrs. Ellison was
looking her best, and seemed to know it; her fiancé was in a gay humour.
Why, they were almost like the ’lover and his lass’ of whom Thomas
Morley sang nigh three hundred years ago—those ’pretty country folks’
who lived in a perpetual spring-time, with birds singing
hey-ding-a-ding-a-ding to them through all the jocund hours. The tall
and elegant young widow blushed and laughed like a maid; her eyes were
sarcastic, playful, amused, according to her varying mood; the sunlight
touched her pretty brown hair.  There was, indeed, a sort of audacity of
comeliness about her, that set Vincent thinking of a very different kind
of beauty—the beauty that seems to be dowered with a divine and angelic
sadness.  He was walking with these two; but he did not take part in
their frolic talk; nor did he pay much attention to the crowd of people,
the butterflies of fashion, who had come out into the pleasant sunshine.
He seemed to see before him a face that, with all its youth, and its
touch of colour, and its grace of outline, was strangely pensive and
wistful.  And again he asked himself, as many a time he had asked
himself, what that expression meant: whether it had been brought there
by experience of the many vicissitudes of life, or by loneliness, or
whether it was not something more tragic still—the shadow of an
impending fate. There was more than that he could not understand: her
curious resignation, her hopelessness as to the future, her wish to get
away.  And what was it she had concealed from him?  And why had she
declared she could not ever be his wife?

"You are very silent, Vin," his fair neighbour said, turning her merry
eyes towards him at last. "Here is Lord Musselburgh declaring that if he
were a Jew he would turn dentist, to have it out with the Christians for
what they did in the Middle Ages.  A horrid revenge, wouldn’t it be?—and
so mean—under pretence of affording relief.  Oh, look at that girl over
there—I do believe the ruff is coming back—we shall all be Elizabethans
by-and-by."

"But what business had women ever with ruffs?" Lord Musselburgh
interposed.  "Why, when the dandies and bucks of Henry VIII.’s time
began to make themselves splendid by puffing themselves out round the
neck, of course it was in imitation of the stag—as the stag becomes when
he is supposed to captivate the fancy of the hinds; but you don’t find
the hinds with any similar adornments.  Such things are proper to males:
why should women try to look magnificent round the back of the neck? Why
should a hen covet a cockscomb?  It’s all wrong—it’s against natural
laws."

"Natural laws in a milliner’s shop!" she said. "Oh, do look at those two
Italian girls; what English peasant-girl could choose colour like that?
I _should_ like to speak to them—for a moment."

Lord Musselburgh did not seem inclined to interfere.

"I dare say they may have been long enough in England," said he, "to
have picked up a little of the Italian that English ladies speak.  You
may try them."

But she refrained; for at this moment one of the girls began to play a
few bars of _Funiculi-funicula_ evidently as an introduction to the
singing of her companion; whereupon Lord Musselburgh proposed that Mrs.
Ellison should cross over to look at the windows of one or two
jewellers’ shops—in which both of them happened to be much interested
just at this time.

The morning went by, and Vincent had caught no glimpse of Maisrie
Bethune or her grandfather; but indeed he had not expected that; the old
man would be busy with his books, and it was not likely that Maisrie
would come wandering by herself through this fashionable throng.  When
at last the three friends got back to Brunswick Terrace, it was close on
luncheon-time; though here Mrs. Ellison was much surprised to learn that
Lord Musselburgh had engaged Vincent to lunch with him at the Bedford
Hotel.

"What’s the matter?" said she.  "Business or billiards?"

"Neither," her fiancé made answer, "I only wanted to give you a little
holiday, for an hour or two."

"Not longer, then," she said.  "For I am going out driving at three, and
I shall expect you both."

Soon the two young men were seated at a little window-table in the
spacious and cheerful coffee-room; and again Vincent was struck by the
eminently practical manner in which his companion spoke of his
forthcoming marriage.  It was going to be, he frankly intimated, a very
useful arrangement for both Mrs. Ellison and himself; and their combined
fortunes would enable them to do what hitherto had been impossible for
either of them. Mrs. Ellison was fond of society; he had always looked
forward to the formation of a political salon when once he got married;
and now he thought he could afford to have a much bigger house, which
would be necessary for that purpose, than his present one in Piccadilly.
Then there were speculations as to whether he, Musselburgh, ought to
accept office—some subsidiary office, of course, as befitting his
years—when his party came into power again: you see, Vin Harris was
being consulted now as if he were a friend of the family.  But as for
Vincent’s own affairs—not a word: Lord Musselburgh had received a hint;
and he was discretion itself.

And yet if ever in his life the younger of those two friends had need of
a confidant, it was that afternoon; for something then happened that
seemed to strike at the very roots of his being.  When it was about time
for them to go along to keep their appointment with Mrs. Ellison,
Vincent was standing in the hall of the hotel, waiting for Lord
Musselburgh, who had momentarily gone upstairs; and he was idly looking
out upon the passing crowd. Idly and absently; there was no one there to
interest him; very different it would be (he was saying to himself)
towards six or seven o’clock, when perhaps Maisrie and her grandfather
would come out for a stroll before going to dine at one of the
restaurants.  At present he had no sort of concern with all those people
who went driving and walking past, in the dull wintry sunshine.  It was
a pretty show; and that was all.

But of a sudden his heart stood still; and his startled vision beheld
what seemed incredible, and yet was there, and actual, and beyond any
doubt. Ere he was aware, a vehicle had driven by—a tall dog-cart, with
two figures in front and one behind; but another glance revealed to him
that the one behind was old George Bethune: who could mistake at any
distance the powerful and striking head, the shaggy eyebrows, the
flowing white hair?  And the two in front?—one was a young man, to
Vincent unknown: the other—a terrible misgiving told him that was
Maisrie, though they were now some way off.  What did it all mean?  He
had never heard of their knowing anyone in Brighton.  They had come down
for seclusion, for work; yet here they were in the midst of the
fashionable crowd; and a young man—a stranger—was making ostentatious
display of his acquaintance with them.  A thousand wild surmises, the
offspring of a very madness of jealousy, sprang into his brain.  Why had
the old man so clearly intimated to him that he was not wanted—that they
wished to go to Brighton by themselves?  And who was this person who was
making such open parade of his intimacy with them?  Alas! there was no
answer to these burning and bewildering questions; and he stood there
breathless, alarmed, yet not daring to ask the cause of his alarm.

Lord Musselburgh came along the hall.

"Sorry to have kept you waiting, Vin——"

"Oh, don’t mind that," the young man said, striving to conceal his
agitation.  "The fact is—I—I don’t think I will go driving this
afternoon: will you make my excuses to my aunt——?"

"What’s the matter?" said Musselburgh, regarding him.  "You look as if
you had seen a ghost or a creditor: what is it, man?"

"Never mind—never mind—it is nothing," Vin said, hastily.  "I will see
you later on.  Will you make my excuses—thanks!"

The hall porter swung the door open; and before his astonished companion
could remonstrate, he had passed out and down the stone steps.  He
crossed over, to lose himself in the throng on the opposite promenade.
The dog-cart would be coming by again: he would see who this new friend
was. Could he not hide somewhere?——he felt like a spy, like a traitor,
with all those dire imaginings surging through his brain.  And sudden
wrath, too: he would demand to know by what right any stranger was
allowed to make Maisrie Bethune so conspicuous.  Why, it was too
public!—it was a boast; and hardly decent, either; ought not respect for
age and white hair to have placed the old man in front, instead of
inviting all the world to witness the flattering of a young girl?  And
as for Maisrie—well, even in his wildest and blackest surmises he could
think no serious harm of Maisrie; but she was too yielding; she was too
generous with her favours; she ought to make distinctions; she ought not
to permit this great, idle crowd to draw false conclusions.  It was ill
done of her—behind his back: had she so soon forgotten that he had
pledged his life to her not so very many hours ago?

By-and-bye he knew rather than saw that they were returning.  He was on
the seaward side of the road; there were a good many people passing to
and fro; moreover, he was partly concealed by an open fly that stood
close to the railings.  The tall dog-cart came swiftly along: an
unprejudiced spectator would have said that the young man who was
driving was rather a good-looking young fellow, of the pink and white
type, with a small yellow moustache carefully waxed at the ends, and
clear grey eyes.  He wore a buff-coloured coat, with a velvet collar of
similar hue; he had a flower in his button-hole.  Then, again, his
turn-out was faultless—a neatly-appointed cart—a beautiful,
high-stepping roan.  All this was visible at a glance.

But it was on Maisrie Bethune that Vincent’s gaze was bent; and as she
drew near, his heart was smitten at once with remorse and with
gratitude. Had he expected, then, that she would be smirking and smiling
and coquetting with this new acquaintance? On the contrary, Maisrie sate
there grave and silent and reserved; her eyes were neither observant nor
conscious: once or twice they were turned towards the sea.  To Vincent
she seemed so distinguished-looking, so refined, and noble, and
self-possessed, as contrasted with that fresh-complexioned country clown
who had the monstrous audacity to claim her as his companion!  Then, as
the dog-cart went by, he caught sight of George Bethune.  He was sitting
rather side-ways, to permit of his addressing an occasional remark to
the young gentleman who was driving: no doubt that was why Maisrie was
allowed to remain silent. Perhaps she was thinking—of someone whom she
thought to be far away——?

Strangely enough, as soon as they had disappeared from view, his doubts
and imaginings grew black again.  For a moment, that vision of Maisrie’s
sweet face had charmed him out of himself; but now these hideous
questions rushed back upon him, demanding an answer where there was no
answer. He did not attempt to reason himself out of this paroxysm of
jealousy; that would have been useless; he could but submit to this
gnawing torture of anxiety and suspense, while walking up and down, and
waiting, and fearing to find them coming within sight once more.

They did not return.  Shortly after four the dusk began to fall; by
half-past five black night had enveloped sky and sea, and the town was
all ablaze with golden stars.  There were hardly any carriages now; the
people had betaken themselves to the other side of the road, to look in
at the glaring shop-windows on their way home.  Vincent found himself
more alone than ever; and knew not what to do or which way to turn.  In
his present frame of mind he dared not go near the house in Brunswick
Terrace; he could not submit to cross-examining eyes.  It would drive
him mad to talk, while those rankling conjectures were busy at his
heart.  He wanted to see Maisrie again; and yet dreaded to see her, lest
he should find her once more in the society of that man.

But about half-past six his aimless perambulation of the streets became
circumscribed.  He drew nearer to the neighbourhood of the restaurants.
If old George Bethune had brought his London habits down with him, as
many people did, would not he soon make his appearance, along with his
granddaughter?  Here in East-street, for example, were _cafés_, both
French and Italian, where they could have a foreign dinner if they
chose.  Would he venture to address them?  Would he confess he had seen
them driving—in the hope they might volunteer information for which he
dared not ask? He could not tell; his brain was in a bewilderment of
anxiety and unreasoning misery; and this grew worse, indeed, as the slow
minutes went by, and there was no sign of the two figures for whom he
was so eagerly watching.

And then a sickening thought occurred to him. What if those two had been
invited to dine at a hotel by the country clod—by the young man from the
plough—by the rustic dandy with the velvet collar?  At the Old Ship,
most likely—a private room—a profusion of flowers—plenty of
champagne—Hodge Junior gay and festive—cigarettes between the
courses—Arry having learnt so much from the cheap society journals; and
will not Miss Bethune be persuaded to join?  Ah, well, perhaps after
dinner, when the liqueurs come to be handed round? There is a piano in
the room: will Miss Bethune oblige with an accompaniment?—here is a
smart little thing—"Kiss me on the sly, Johnnie!"—the latest draw at the
music halls....

Seven by the big clock over the stationer’s shop; and still no sign of
them.  Clearly they were not coming to any restaurant hereabouts.  So at
length he left East Street, and went down to the King’s-road, and
wandered slowly along, glancing furtively into this or that
hotel—especially where some coffee-room window happened to have been
left with the blind up.  It was a vain quest, and he was aware of it;
but something, he knew not what, drew him on.  And meanwhile his mind
was busy with pictures—of a private room, and flowers, and three figures
seated at table.  _Ach weh! mein Liebchen war die Braut!_

At a quarter to eight, Lord Musselburgh was shown into Mrs. Ellison’s
drawing-room.

"Haven’t you seen anything of Vin?" she said, with astonished eyes.

"No—nor you?"

"Nothing at all—and now he won’t have time to dress for dinner."

"I shouldn’t wonder if he did not turn up for dinner," Musselburgh said.
"Something very peculiar happened to him to-day—I could not precisely
gather what—but he was obviously upset."

"Yes," said Mrs. Ellison, and her face was graver than its wont.
"Something has indeed happened to him to-day—though he himself is not
aware of it as yet."

She went to a little cabinet, and took from it two letters.

"I thought you ought to see both of these," said she.  "One is from my
brother-in-law; I got it just a minute or two after you left.  The other
is my answer; I will have it posted as soon as you have read it."

He took the first letter, which was from Vincent’s father, and read it
carefully through, without a word of comment.  Then he took the other,
which ran as follows:—


"DEAR HARLAND,

"It is very terrible; but I half suspected as much; and terrible as it
is there is nothing to be done but to tell Vin the whole truth, and at
once.  Telegraph for him to-morrow morning—on business of importance; if
he wants to come down again, I shall be ready with such consolation as I
can think of.  I fancy from one or two things that those people are here
in Brighton just now: all the more reason why you should summon him home
at once.  Poor boy, it will be a sad awakening.  But he is young; he
will get over it; and perhaps be none the worse in the end for this
cruel experience of the deceit and wickedness of the world.  Let me know
how he takes it.

"Yours affectionately,
       "MADGE."


No, Vincent did not come in to dinner that evening.  He was still
walking up and down the King’s-road, glancing now and again, but with a
sort of hopelessness, at any little group of people that might appear at
the hall-door of this or that hotel; and all the while there was a fire
eating at his heart.



                              CHAPTER VI.

                           PUT TO THE PROOF.


To say that Vin Harris’s jealousy was unreasoning, ungovernable, and the
cause of cruel and incessant torture to himself, is merely to say that
it was jealousy; but by an unhappy coincidence this was the very moment
chosen by his father to make a disclosure which, for a startled second
or so, seemed to recall and confirm the young man’s wildest suspicions.
When Vincent, in obedience to the telegraphic summons, arrived at the
house in Grosvenor Place, he found his father in the library, standing
with his back to the fire.  On this occasion the great
capital-denouncing capitalist did not wear the suit of hodden grey
which, at dinner in his own house, was designed to show his contempt for
conventionality; no; when this interview was over, he meant to lunch at
the Athenæum Club, and with a view to that solemn rite he had donned a
black frock-coat which was tightly buttoned over his substantial form.
A stiff upstanding collar and a satin tie added to the rigidity of his
appearance; while his manner was, as usual, pompous and cold. With a
roll of paper in his hand, he would have looked as if he were going to
deliver an afternoon lecture at some public institution.

"I have sent for you, Vin," he began, "because I have something of
importance to say to you, and the sooner it is said the better.  You are
aware that I have never sought to interfere with your way of life.
Indeed I have seen no cause to do so.  Your line of study I approve;
your ambitions I would encourage; and as for the amusements and
pleasures natural to your years, I can trust you to remember your own
self-respect.  But in one direction I confess I am disappointed.  My
chief aim in your education has been that you should see and know the
world; that you should understand men; and by contact learn to cope with
them, and hold your own.  Yes, I confess I am disappointed; for if I am
not misinformed—and I have taken the greatest trouble not to be
misinformed—here are you, after all your travel and experience of the
world, become the dupe of two common begging-letter impostors."

The young man looked up quickly; but he held his peace.  Now this
somewhat disconcerted Harland Harris, for he had expected an instant and
indignant protest, which would have justified a little judicious warmth
on his side in production of proofs. But Vincent sate calm and
collected, listening with apparent respect.

"Yes, deeply disappointed," his father continued, with a little more
animation, "for this old charlatan who seems to have got hold of you is
altogether too bare-faced and preposterous.  Did you ever ask yourself
how he lived; what was his business or profession; where he got the
money to go from one country to another?  Well, if you have not, I have;
I have made enquiries; I have had him traced; I can tell you his story,
and a very pretty story it is. Would you like to hear it?"

"I don’t know that it concerns me much," said Vincent, with composure.

"Oh, it does not?" said the gentleman with the pompous professional air,
upon whom this indifference seemed to have a somewhat irritating effect.
"Well, there’s nothing very grand about it—except the magnificent and
wholesale lying!  And perhaps also the incredible simplicity of the
people who allowed themselves to be imposed on.  Why, in Canada he
called himself Lord Bethune!—was there no second-hand copy of Burke
anywhere about to show them there was no such peerage in existence?
Lord Bethune haunting newspaper-offices, and borrowing money right and
left, because of his Scotch name, and his bogus literary schemes!  His
sham estates—his sham lineage—his sham coat of arms: did nobody think of
turning up a book?  ’Stand Fast, Craig-Royston!’  Craig-Royston!——"

He crossed the room and took down a volume from one of the shelves.

"There," he said, putting the book on the table, "there is Black’s Guide
to Scotland.  Can you find out where Craig-Royston is?  Turn up the
index."

Mechanically and carelessly Vincent did as he was bid.

"No, I don’t see it there," he said.

"I should think not!  Nor Balloray either: can you find Balloray?  An
easy thing to claim estates that don’t exist; and wear armorial bearings
of your own invention!  Cadzow—oh, yes, Cadzow you will find—Cadzow
undoubtedly exists; but most people thought that Cadzow belonged to the
Duke of Hamilton.  Or does Lord Bethune claim to be Marquis of Douglas
and Earl of Angus as well?"

He paused; so Vincent was bound to answer.

"I don’t know that it concerns me much," the young man said, repeating
his former phrase. "Even if all you say is true, what then?  You sent me
out to see the world, and take people as I found them.  Well, I found a
good many liars; and one more or less doesn’t matter much, does it?"

But Harland Harris was no fool; he instantly divined wherein lay the
secret of Vincent’s real or assumed indifference.

"Ah, I understand," said he.  "I understand. You don’t care so much
about him.  You are willing to let him go.  You think you can dissociate
him from his granddaughter.  He may be a swindler—but you fancy she
manages to keep aloof—"

The young man grew somewhat pale.

"Take care," said he, and he held up his hand as if he would enjoin
silence.  "Words that are said cannot be unsaid."

His father regarded him for a second, and then he endeavoured to bring a
little more friendliness and consideration into his manner.

"I have heard of this infatuation," he said. "And if you had been like
other young men, Vin, I should have said nothing.  I should have left
you to find out for yourself.  But, you see, you have the misfortune to
imagine other people to be as straightforward and honourable as
yourself; you do not suspect; and you are inclined to trust your own
judgment.  But even if this girl were all you think she is, what madness
it would be for you to contemplate marrying her!  Look at her
position—and at yours: look at her upbringing and present
surroundings—and at yours; think of what is expected of you; what
chances you have; what an alliance with a great family might do for you
in public life.  What good ever comes of overleaping social barriers—of
Quixotism—of self-sacrifice for sentiment’s sake?  What does a marriage
between two people in different spheres mean?—what is the inevitable
result?—it is not the one that is raised—it is the other that is dragged
down."

"These are strange doctrines for a socialist and a communist," Vincent
observed.

"They are the doctrines of common sense," his father retorted, sharply.
"However, it is unnecessary to say anything further on that score.  You
will abandon all this nonsense when you understand who and what this
girl is; and you will thank God you have had your eyes opened in time.
And indeed, if all that I am told is true—if I guess aright—if I piece
the story properly together—I should say she was by far the more
dangerous of the two accomplices—"

Vincent’s lips curled: he did not put his disdain into words.

"A painful revelation?" his father continued, in more oracular fashion.
"Oh, yes, no doubt.  But occasionally the truth is bitter and wholesome
at the same time.  What you believe about the girl is one thing; what I
know about her is another: indeed I can gather that it was only through
her artifice that the old man’s impostures were accepted, or tolerated,
at all.  What is he?—a farceur—a poseur—who would at once have been sent
to the right about but for the ingenue by his side, with her innocent
eyes and her sad look.  When the writer of the begging-letter calls, his
story might be inquired into: but no!—for here is this interesting young
lady—and the hardest heart declines to cross-examine while she is
standing there.  And of course she must go to the newspaper-offices, to
beguile the editor with her silent distress, while her grandfather is
wheedling him out of a loan; or she accompanies him to the wine
merchant, or the bookseller, or the tailor, so that nothing can be said
about unpaid accounts while she is by; and of course there is a renewal
of credit.  A very simple and effective trick: even where the people
know the old man to be a rogue, they are sorry for the girl; and they
have a pleasing sense of virtue in allowing themselves to be further
mulcted: they little suspect that she is by far the more accomplished
swindler of the two——"

Here Vincent laughed, in open scorn; but the laugh was a forced one; and
his eyes were lowering.

"I am glad you consider it a laughing matter," said Mr. Harris—who found
it less easy to combat this contemptuous unbelief than if he had been
met with indignation and wrath.  "Perhaps, after all, the story is no
revelation?  Perhaps your complaisance goes further than merely
tolerating the old man’s lies?  Perhaps the glamour the girl has thrown
over you would lead you to accept her just as she is, her hypocrisy, her
craft, and all?  Or perhaps you have planned out for yourself a still
more brilliant future than any that had occurred to your friends?
Perhaps you aim at being the old man’s successor?  It is an easy way of
getting through life, having a woman like that by your side, to earn
your living for you.  The lover of Manon Lescaut——"

Vincent leapt to his feet, his eyes aflame.

"You go too far," he said, breathing hard. "You go too far.  I have been
trying to remember you are my father: don’t make it too difficult. What
do I care about this farrago of nonsense that some one has put into your
head—this trash—this venomous guessing?  It is nothing to me.  It is
idle air.  I know otherwise.  But when it comes to insult—well, it is
all an insult; but something must be forgiven to ignorance: the people
who have supplied you with this guess-work rubbish are probably as
ignorant as yourself about those two. Only—no more insults, if you
please!  I am your son; but—but there are limits to what you ask me to
hear in patience.  You talk of my madness and infatuation; it is your
madness, your infatuation! What can you say of your own knowledge of
that old man and his granddaughter?  Why, nothing. You have never spoken
to them; never seen them. And yet, without an atom of inquiry, without
an atom of proof, you go and accept all this tissue of guess-work—this
rubbish—this trash—as if it were gospel; and you expect me to give it a
patient hearing?  It is too contemptible!"

"Yes, but unfortunately," said Mr. Harris, with great calmness—for now
he felt he had the advantage on his side, "you are mistaken in supposing
that I have made no inquiry, and have received no proof.  The inquiry
has been made for me with great skill and patience, during the past
month; and the proofs seem to me sufficient. Proofs?—you yourself shall
furnish one."

This was a kind of challenge; and the young man accepted it.  His eyes
were fixed on his adversary.

"What, then?"

"When you find," said his father, with deliberation, "two people
wandering from town to town, without any visible means of subsistence,
you naturally wonder how they manage to live.  Very well.  But now, if
you discover they have a pretty knack of falling in with this or that
rich young gentleman, and allowing him to pay for them on all occasions,
isn’t the mystery partly solved?  I am informed that these two people
and yourself have been in the habit for a considerable time back of
dining together in the evening—indeed, I have the name of the
restaurant.  Now I wish to ask you this question point-blank: is it not
the fact that in every case you have paid?"

Vincent did not answer; he was not thinking of himself at all; nor yet
of the direct question that had been put to him.  A terrible wave of
bewilderment had passed over him; his heart seemed to have within it but
one sudden cry—’Maisrie—Maisrie—why were you driving—with that
stranger?’—and all the world grew black with a horror of doubt and
despair.  He thought of the young man driving along the King’s Road in
Brighton: was there another paying for those two now?—had they another
friend now to accompany them every evening?  And Maisrie?  But all this
wild agony lasted only a moment.  He cast this palsy of the brain behind
him.  His better self rose confident and triumphant—though there was
still a strange look left in his eyes.

"Paid?" he said, with a kind of scornful impatience.  "Who paid?  Oh, I
did—mostly. What about that?  That is nothing—a few shillings—I found it
pleasanter not to have to settle bills before a young lady; and of
course she did not know who paid; I made an arrangement——"

"An arrangement by which you gave those people their dinner for nothing
for months and months!"

"And what then?"

For Vincent had entirely recovered his self-command: he affected to
regard this story that had been told him as quite unworthy of serious
attention.  It was his father who was growing exasperated.

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" Mr. Harris demanded.  "Is it
nothing that you yourself have shown this old man to be a pauper,
getting his dinner on charity every evening? And what better was the
girl?  She must have known!  Do you imagine she was not aware of his
receiving money for bogus books that he never meant to publish; and of
his inveigling soft-headed Scotchmen—I suppose there must be one here
and there—into giving him a loan because of his sham patriotism?  And
these are the people you have chosen to consort with all this time; and
this is the girl you would bring into your family—you would introduce to
your friends as your wife!  But you cannot be so mad!  You may pretend
indifference: you cannot be indifferent.  You may consider it fine and
heroic to disbelieve the clearest evidence: the world, on the other
hand, is apt to say that it is only a fool and an idiot who keeps his
eyes shut and walks into a trap blindfolded. And—and I do think, when
you begin to reflect, that your own common-sense will come to your aid."

He turned to the mantel-piece, and took from it some papers.

"I have given you," he continued, "the sum and substance of the
enquiries I have made, in this country and in America.  I can show you
here still further details; but before allowing you to examine these
communications, I must exact a promise that they shall be treated as in
strictest confidence."

"Thank you," said Vincent, "I will not trouble you.  I can guess at the
kind of creature who would accept such a task, and at his interpretation
of any facts that might come across him."

Then he rose.

"And is this the important business on which you sent for me?" he asked,
but quite civilly.

"You do not think it is important?" the other demanded.  "But at least
you have been warned. You have been advised to keep your eyes open. You
have been shown what kind of people they are who have got hold of you:
it is for you yourself to say whether you will be any longer their
dupe."

"Very well," said the young man; and he rose and took up his hat and
cane.  "Oh, by the way, I presume you have come to an end of your
enquiries?  Because, if not, I would advise your spy—your detective, or
whatever he is—not to come prowling to any restaurant or keyhole when I
am along with my friends, or he might find things become very unpleasant
for him.  Good-morning!"

So this was the end of the interview; and Harland Harris shortly
thereafter made off for the Athenæum Club, well satisfied that his
narrative had produced a far deeper impression than the young man would
acknowledge.  And in truth it had.  When Vincent left the house, and
walked away to the solitary little rooms in Mayfair, his face was no
longer scornful; it was serious and troubled; for there was much for him
to ponder over.  Not about Maisrie.  He put Maisrie aside. For one
thing, he was a little vexed and angry with her at the moment—quite
unreasonably, as he strove to convince himself; nevertheless, he would
rather not think about her just then; and, indeed, there was no
occasion, for the idea that she could be the participator in any fraud
or series of frauds was simply not a thinkable thing.  He knew better
than that; and was content.  Maisrie driving with a stranger—perhaps
that was not so well done of her; but Maisrie as a skilful and
accomplished professional swindler?—then you might expect to see the
stars fall from their places in the midnight sky.

But as regards the old man, that was very different; and he could not
deny that there were certain points in the story just told him which
were corroborated by his own knowledge.  He knew, for example, that
George Bethune had got money for one book which, as circumstances would
have it, was not produced and published; he knew that those dinners at
the Restaurant were paid for by himself; he knew that he had heard Mr.
Bethune speak of Cadzow as belonging to his family; and he had to
confess that he could not find Craig-Royston in the index of his
father’s guide-book.  And yet he could not give up this magnificent,
this heroic old man all at once.  He could not believe him to be a mean
and crafty trickster.  Surely his love for Scotland was sincere.  Surely
his passionate admiration of the old Scotch ballads was genuine enough.
Surely it was not to impose on any one that old George Bethune sang
aloud the songs of his youth as he walked through the crowded streets of
London. There was a grandeur in his very presence, a dignity in his
demeanour, that was far from the artful complaisance of a schemer.  Then
his undaunted courage—his proud spirit—and above all, the tender and
affectionate guardianship he bestowed on his granddaughter: Vincent
could not forget all these things.  No, nor could he forget how he had
enjoyed George Bethune’s society on these many and pleasant evenings;
and how he had learned more and more to respect him, his unflinching
fortitude, his generous enthusiasms, and even, at times, his innocent
vanity.  He had had a hard life, this old man, and yet he bore no
enmity.  He had had many trials and misfortunes, many hopes
disappointed; yet his temper was not soured.  But the conclusive proof,
after all, was the character of Maisrie herself—her noble sweetness, her
refinement, her sympathy, her quick gratitude for the smallest of
kindnesses: could such a beautiful human flower have grown up under the
fostering care of an unscrupulous vagabond and knave?

When he got to his rooms, the first thing he did—but with no very
definite purpose——was to take up his copy of Black’s Guide to Scotland.
It was a recent edition; he had got it so that he might trace out that
long wandering of which old George Bethune and Maisrie had spoken so
often.  And mechanically he turned to the index—with which he had been
confronted in his father’s library; and mechanically he glanced at the
successive columns.  But what was this?—why here was Craig-Royston!  His
eyes were not deceiving him; for he at once referred to the page
indicated, and found Craig-Royston described as a district in the
neighbourhood of Loch Lomond—though, to be sure, he could discover no
trace of it on the map.  So he had jumped to conclusions all too
prematurely?  He had allowed that unknown enemy of his—that dark and
malignant creature in the background—too facile a triumph?  He began to
be ashamed of himself.  ’Stand fast, Craig-Royston!’ had not been his
motto, as it was that of the proud old man whom he had injured by
listening to those childish tales.

He returned to the index, and sought for Balloray. Well, there was no
Balloray; but then Balloray was a private house; and private houses,
unless of historical interest, are seldom mentioned in guide-books.  And
then again he bethought him: why, the old ballad!—the ’bonnie mill-dams
o’ Balloray’: surely that was sufficient evidence of there being such a
place?  He could almost hear George Bethune’s voice as he recalled the
opening lines—

    ’There were twa sisters lived in a bower;
      Balloray, O Balloray;
    The youngest o’ them, O she was a flower!
      By the bonnie mill-dams o’ Balloray.

    There came a squire frae out the west,
      Balloray, O Balloray;
    He lo’ed them baith, but the youngest best,
      By the bonnie mill-dams o’ Balloray.’

"Why, what a fool he had been, to be disconcerted by an index—and that
the index of some old and obsolete edition!  He prosecuted his
researches. He turned to Cadzow.  Yes, here was Cadzow: Cadzow Castle
and Cadzow Forest; and undoubtedly these were the property of the Duke
of Hamilton. But might there not be some other property of the same
name, as a sort of appanage of Balloray? It was no unusual thing, in
Scotland or anywhere else, for two places to have the same name; and in
this instance it was the more important one, the ducal one, that would
naturally figure in the guide-book.  He seemed to see old George Bethune
regarding him, with something of a haughty look on his face, as though
he would say ’Of what next will you accuse me?’"

Well, all this was very fine and brave; it was a manful struggling with
certain phantoms; and he was trying to cheat himself into an elation of
confidence.  But ever and anon there came to him a consciousness of
something behind; something inexplicable; and his thoughts would wander
away back to Brighton.  Fugitive lines of that terrible poem of Heine’s
would come into his brain—_Zu Tafel sassen froh die Gäst’ ... und wie
ich nacht dem Brautpaar schaut’ ... O weh! mein Liebchen war die Braut_.
He began to imagine for himself what those three had been doing this
morning.  The weather being so fine, no doubt Mr. Bethune had laid aside
his books for the time being; and he and Maisrie would be ready to go
out by half-past ten or eleven.  Would their new friend call for them,
or would there be some place of appointment down in the King’s-road?  He
could see them walk out the West Pier.  The old man with the firm-set
figure and the flowing white locks would probably be thinking but little
of what was going on around him; as likely as not he would be singing
gaily to himself about the Pier o’ Leith and Berwick Law, and ’leaving
thee, my bonnie Mary.’  Yes, and so far those two others would be left
to themselves; they could talk as they chose—eyes meeting eyes. And what
had the bumpkin squire to say?  Oh, horses and hounds—the county
balls—the famous bin of port to be opened at Christmas.  Christmas was
coming near now; might there not be an invitation to the two
world-wanderers—to come and be hospitably entertained at the big
country-house and introduced to friends?  And Maisrie—would she think
twice?—would she refuse?  The old man would consent to anything that
promised him present comfort; he accepted favours with a sort of royal
complacency; it would matter little to him so long as the fire was
bright, the wine good, the company cheerful, and himself allowed a fine
latitude of oration.  But Maisrie——?

It was nearly four o’clock now.  That previous afternoon at Brighton had
been a time of misery; and long into the night he had been kept awake by
dull and brooding speculation, varied by bitter self-reproach.  All the
same he felt himself irresistibly drawn thither again; whatever was
happening down there by the sea-side, he wanted to know; his imaginings
were a more cruel torture than anything his eyes could tell him.  And
perhaps—he added to himself, with an ominous darkening of the
brows—perhaps there might be a chance of his meeting this rival of his
face to face, the better to measure him, and learn what both of them had
to expect.

He caught the four-thirty express at Victoria, and got whirled away
down.  But he did not go to Mrs. Ellison’s house, nor yet to the Bedford
Hotel, at which his friend Musselburgh was staying; he went to the
Bristol, so as to keep himself a little out of observation.  He was
lucky enough to get a bedroom; and that was all he required; he did not
even wait to look at it; he left the hotel and went wandering down the
Marine Parade, which was now a mass of darkness lit up by innumerable
points of yellow fire.

Whither away then?  If only he knew the street in which they had taken
lodgings he could soon find out their daily habits, himself remaining
unseen; but he had nothing beyond a vague recollection that they had
spoken of some hill behind the town.  However, Brighton, though now
grown a big place, has a few leading thoroughfares in which everybody
who is a visitor is pretty sure to be encountered sooner or later; and
in this particular instance it was a good deal sooner than he could have
dreamed of.

He was walking along the seaward side of the Parade, with but a casual
glance now and again at this or that passer-by, when suddenly, on the
other side, at the corner of German Place, three figures came under the
glare of a gas-lamp, and these he instantly recognised.  Occasionally as
they went on they became indistinguishable in the dusk; then again a
gas-lamp would bring them into vivid relief—the tall and slim young
girl, the square-set old man with the picturesque white hair, the young
gentleman with the yellow cover-coat.  They were talking together, and
walking quickly, for the night was cold.

"Yes," said Vincent to himself, in the bitterness of his heart, "I am
displaced and superseded now. Without much difficulty, either.  Quickly
done. And no doubt he is taking them along to some restaurant.  He will
hear about the rocks and dales of Scotland—about the ballads and
songs—perhaps he has subscribed for the new book.  Then they will ask
him to go home with them again; and Maisrie will take out her violin;
and perhaps—perhaps she will sing ’_C’était une frégate, mon joli coeur
de rose_—perhaps she will sing that for him, or any other of the
Canadian songs, except the one.  But surely, surely, Maisrie will not
sing ’_La Claire Fontaine_’?"

And then again he said to himself, with his eyes fixed on those three,
but most of all on the young girl who walked with so light and joyous a
step—

"Ah, I have suffered to-day, you do not know how much, in repelling
insinuations brought against you, and in silencing my own doubts; but
what do you care?  One restaurant is as good as another; one friend as
good as another; let the absent expect to be forgotten, when it is a
woman who is asked to remember.  _La Claire Fontaine_?—why not _La
Claire Fontaine_, for him as well as anyone else? All that past
companionship has gone by; here is a new friend to be welcomed with
smiles and graces. And as for the old man—what does it matter to him so
long as there is someone to settle up the tavern score?"

Nay, his madness of jealousy overmastered him altogether.  When they got
down to East-street, they did not at once go into the restaurant, for it
was yet somewhat early; they began to examine the windows of one or two
of the shops, and the trinkets displayed there.  And again and again
Vincent was on the point of going up to his enemy, and saying "Well, why
don’t you buy her something?  If you haven’t got money, I will lend it
to you!"  Surely this would suffice to provoke a quarrel?—to be settled
next morning, out on the downs, and not by any pistol accident or trick
of foil, but by a fair stand-up trial of strength, those two facing each
other, with clenched fists and set mouth.  The young man in the
cover-coat was looking at some Austrian garnets: little did he know what
wild beast was within springing distance of him.

At length they left the shops, and leisurely strolled along to the
Italian restaurant, and entered. Vincent gave them time to get settled,
and then followed.  He did not wish to interfere with them; he merely
wished to see.  And when he went upstairs to the room on the first
floor, it was with no abashment; he did not slink, he walked resolutely,
to a small unoccupied table at the further end; but he was some way from
them; perchance he might be able to observe without being noticed. The
waiter came to him.  "Anything!" was his order: gall and wormwood there
were likely to be in any dish that might be brought.  Wine?—oh yes, a
flask of Chianti—why not a flask of Chianti?—one might fill a glass, and
send a message to a faithless friend—a message to recall her to herself
for a moment.  You who are sitting there, will you not drink to the
health of all false lovers—you who are sitting there in such joyful
company—_toi qui as le coeur gai_!

He could see them well enough.  There was champagne on the table: that
was not of George Bethune’s ordering: the booby from the swedes and
mangold was clearly playing the part of host.  And what was she saying
to him in return?  What form did her thanks take?  _Je ne puis rien
donner—qu’ mon coeur en mariage_: that was easily said; and might mean
no more than it meant in the bygone days.  Women could so readily pour
out, to any chance new comer, their _petit vin blanc_ of gratitude.

But suddenly he became aware of some movement at the table along there;
and quickly he lowered his look.  Then he knew—he did not see—that
someone was coming down the long room.  He breathed hard, with a sort of
fear—and it was not the fear of any man; he wished he had not come into
this place; could he not even now escape?

"Vincent!"

The voice thrilled through him; he looked up; and here was Maisrie
Bethune regarding him—regarding him with those eyes so beautiful, so
shining, so tender, and reproachful!

"Did you not see us?  Why should you avoid us?"

The tone in which she spoke pierced his very heart; but still—but
still—there was that stranger at the table yonder.

"I thought you were otherwise engaged," said he. "I did not wish to
intrude."

"You are unkind."

Then she stood for a moment uncertain.  It was a brave thing for this
girl to walk down a long room to address a young man, knowing that more
than one pair of eyes would be turned towards her; and here she was
standing without any visible aim or errand.

"Won’t you come to our table, Vincent?" she asked hesitatingly.

And then he noticed her embarrassment; and he felt he would be a craven
hound not to come to her rescue, whatever the quarrel between them.

"Oh, yes, certainly, if I may," but with no sort of gladness in his
consent; and then he bade the waiter fetch the things along.

She led the way.  When he reached the table he shook hands with George
Bethune, who appeared more surprised than pleased.  Then Maisrie made a
faint little kind of introduction as between the young men: Vincent—who
had not caught the other’s name—bowed stiffly, and took the seat that
had been brought for him.  And then, seeing that it was on Maisrie that
all the responsibility of this new arrangement had fallen, he forced
himself to talk—making apologies for disturbing them, explaining how it
was he came to be in Brighton, and begging Maisrie not to take any
trouble about him: it was only too kind of her to allow him to join
them.

And yet it was very awkward, despite Maisrie’s assiduous little
attentions, and her timid efforts to propitiate everybody.  The
fresh-complexioned young gentleman stared at the intruder; grew sullen
when he observed Maisrie’s small kindnesses; and eventually turned to
resume his conversation with Mr. Bethune, which had been interrupted.
Vincent, who had been ready, on the smallest provocation, to break forth
in flame and fury, became contemptuous; he would take no heed of this
person; nay, he would make use of the opportunity to show to anyone who
might choose to listen on what terms he was with Maisrie.

"Where are you living, Maisrie?" said he, and yet still with a certain
stiffness.

She gave him the number in German Place.

"Then we are neighbours, or something near it," he said.  "I am at the
Bristol—the Bristol Hotel."

"Oh, really," she made answer.  "I thought you had an aunt living in
Brighton—the lady who came to see us at Henley."

"Oh, can you remember things as long ago as Henley?" said he.  "I did
not think a woman’s memory could go so far back as that.  A week—a day—I
thought that was about as much as she could remember."

For a moment she was silent, and wounded; but she was too proud to
betray anything to those other two; and she resumed her conversation
with Vincent, though with a trifle more of dignity and reserve. As for
him, he knew not what to do or say.  He could perceive, he could not but
perceive, that Maisrie was trying to be kind to him; and he felt himself
a sort of renegade; but all the same there was that other sitting at the
table—there was an alien presence—and all things were somehow awry. And
yet why should he despise that stranger?  In the bucolic dandy he could
see himself, as he himself was seen by certain of his friends.  This
other dupe, his successor, had a countrified complexion and a steely
blue eye, he wore a horse-shoe pin in diamonds, and had a bit of
stephanotis in his button-hole; but these points of difference were not
of much account.  And the old man—the old man with the grand air and the
oracular speech: no wonder he thought himself entitled to call himself
Lord Bethune; but why had he chosen to abate his rank and style?  Oh,
yes, a striking presence enough—a magnificent presence—with which to
cozen shopkeepers!

For indeed this young man’s mind was all unhinged.  He had had a hard
fight of it that day; and perhaps if Maisrie had known she would have
made allowances.  What she did clearly see was that her well-meant
invitation had been a mistake. She strove her best to remove this
embarrassment; she tried to make the conversation general; and in some
slight measure she succeeded; but always there was an obvious restraint;
there were dark silences and difficult pauses; and, on the part of the
young men, a sullen and dangerous antagonism that might at any moment
leap forth with a sudden tongue of flame—a retort—an insult.

This hapless entertainment came to an end at last; and, as Vincent had
expected, while Maisrie was putting on her cloak, their new friend
stepped aside and paid the bill—the bill for three, that is. And the
next step?  An invitation that the generous host of the evening should
go along to the rooms in German Place?  There would be tobacco, and
Scotch whiskey, and reminiscences of travel, and dissertations on
literary and philosophical subjects—and perhaps Maisrie would play for
him ’The Flowers o’ the Forest’ or sing for him ’Isabeau s’y promène.’
Perhaps the bucolic soul was penetrable by fine melody?  There would be
whiskey-and-soda, at any rate, and a blazing fire.

And as a matter of fact, when the four of them paused for a second at
the door of the restaurant, the new acquaintance did receive that
invitation—from George Bethune himself.  But he declined.

"Thanks, awfully," said he, "but I can’t to-night. Fact is, there’s a
big billiard match on this evening, and I’ve backed my man for £20, and
I may want to hedge a bit if he isn’t in his best form.  Some other
evening, if you’ll allow me.  But to-morrow morning—what are you going
to do to-morrow morning?  You can’t stay indoors while the weather is so
fine; you must leave your work until the wet comes.  So I dare say I
shall find you somewhere along the front about eleven to-morrow; and if
I don’t, why, then, I’ll come along to German Place, and drag you out.
For who ever knew such a glorious December?—quite warm in the
sun—primroses and violets all a-growing and a-blowing—in the baskets.
Good-night to you!—good-night, Miss Bethune!—mind you bring your
grandfather along to-morrow morning; or I’ll have to come and drag you
both out; good-night—good-night!"—and then with a brief nod to Vincent,
which was frigidly returned, he departed.

"You are going our way, Vincent?" Maisrie said, timidly.

"Oh, yes," he made answer, as they set out together.

For a few seconds they walked in silence.  But when they had crossed the
Old Steine, and got into the Marine Parade, the moon came into view,
away over there in the east; it was at the full, but rather dusky, for
the north wind had blown the smoke of the town down on the sea-front.

"Bid you notice how clear the moon was last night?" she said, to break
this embarrassing silence.

"Yes, I did," he said.  "I was walking about a good deal last night.
The moonlight was beautiful on the water."

"Oh, were you down in Brighton last night?" she asked, rather anxiously.

"Yes."

That was all.  She did not dare to ask what had brought him down; and he
did not choose to invent an excuse.  Again they walked on for a little
while in silence, until they reached the corner of German Place.

"Well, good-night!" said George Bethune, holding out his hand.  "Quite a
surprise to meet you—quite a surprise.  Hope we shall see you again
before you go back."

And now it was Maisrie’s turn.

"Good-night, Vincent!" she said, with her eyes seeking his in mute
appeal.

"Good-night," said he; and he did not respond to that look: so these two
parted.

And soon, as he walked aimlessly onward, he was away from the town
altogether.  To him it was a hateful place—with its contrarieties, its
disappointments, its distracting problems in human nature. When he
turned to look at it, it was like some vast and dusky pit, with a dull,
red glow shining over it from its innumerable fires.  But here, as he
went on again, all was peace.  The silver moonlight shimmered on the
water.  There was not a whisper or murmur along these lofty and solitary
cliffs.  A cold wind blew from the north, coming over the bare uplands;
but it brought no sound of any bird or beast.  His shadow was his sole
companion—vague and indefinite on the grass, but sharper and blacker on
the grey and frosted road.  He was alone, and he wished to be alone; and
if certain phrases from the _Claire Fontaine_ would come following and
haunting him—_jai perdu ma maîtresse—sans l’ avoir mérité—pour un
bouquet de roses—que je lui refusai_—he strove to repel them; he would
have none of them; nor any remembrance of what was past and gone.  The
world was sweet to him here, because he was alone with the sea, and the
shore, and the mystic splendour of those shining heavens; and because he
seemed to have shaken himself free from the enmities and the treacheries
and ingratitudes that lay festering in yonder town.



                              CHAPTER VII.

                          RENEWING IS OF LOVE.


Next morning broke bright and clear, for the north wind had blown
freshly all the night, and swept the smoke of the town right out to sea,
where it lay along the horizon as a soft saffron-reddish cloud.
Accordingly the sky overhead was of a summer-like blue; and the sea was
of a shining green, save where it grew opaque and brown as it neared the
shore; while the welcome sunlight was everywhere abroad, giving promise
of a cheerful day, even now in December.  And Vin Harris was standing at
a window of the hotel, looking absently out on the wide and empty
thoroughfares.

A waiter brought him a note.  He glanced at the handwriting with
startled eyes, then tore the envelope open.  This was what he read—


"Dear Vincent, I wish to speak with you for a moment if you are not
engaged.  I am going down to the breakwater, and will wait there for a
little while.

"MAISRIE."


He called to the waiter.

"When did this come?"

"I found it lying on the hall table, sir—just this minute, sir."

He did not waste time on further questions.  In a couple of seconds he
was outside and had crossed the road; and there, sure enough—far below
him—out on the breakwater—was a solitary figure that he instantly
recognised.  He went quickly down the steps; he did not stay to ask what
this might mean, or to prepare himself in any way; as he approached her,
all his anxiety was to know if her eyes were kind—or hostile.  Well,
they were neither; but there was a certain pride in her tone as she
spoke.

"Vincent, you were angry with me last night.  Why?"

"Maisrie," said he, "why don’t you put up that furred collar round your
neck?  It is so cold this morning.  See, let me put it up for you."

She retreated an inch, declining: she waited for him to answer her
question.

"Angry with you?" he said, with obvious constraint.  "No, but I was
vexed.  I was vexed with a lot of things—that I can hardly explain. Not
with you personally—at least—well, at any rate I did not mean to offend
you.  If I have offended you I ask your pardon——"

Here he paused: these stammering sentences were so insufficient.  And
then all at once he said——

"Maisrie, who was that young man?"

She looked surprised.

"Do you mean Mr. Glover?"

"Glover?—oh, that is his name.  But who is he?—what is he?—how did you
come to know him so intimately?——"

Perhaps she began to see a little.

"I don’t know him at all, Vincent.  He is a friend of my
grandfather’s—or rather he is the son of a friend of my grandfather’s—a
wine-merchant in London.  We met him on the day we came here——"

"And he lost no time in showing off his acquaintance with you," said
Vincent, bitterly, "—driving you up and down the King’s Road, before all
Brighton!"

At this she lowered her head a little.

"I did not wish to go, Vincent.  Grandfather pressed me.  I did not like
to refuse."

"Oh," said he, "I have no right to object.  It is not for me to object.
If new friends are to be treated as old friends—what does it matter?"

She regarded him reproachfully.

"You know very well, Vincent, that if I had thought it would vex you, I
would not have gone—no—nothing in the world would have induced
me—nothing!  And how cruel it is of you to speak of new friends—and to
say that old friends are so quickly forgotten!  Is that all you believe
of what I have told you many a time?  But—but if I have pained you, I am
sorry," she continued, still with downcast lashes.  "Tell me what you
wish me to do.  I will not speak to him again, if you would rather I
should not.  If he comes to the house, I will stay in my own room until
he is gone—anything, anything rather than that you should be vexed.  For
you have been so kind to me!"

"No, no," said he, hastily.  "No, I have been altogether wrong.  Do just
as you please yourself, Maisrie: that will be the right thing.  I have
been an ass and a fool to doubt you.  But—but it made me mad to think of
any man coming between you and me——"

"Vincent!"

She raised her head; and for one ineffable moment her maiden eyes were
unveiled and fixed upon him—with such a tenderness and pride and trust
as altogether bewildered him and entranced him beyond the powers of
speech.  For here was confession at last!—her soul had declared itself:
no matter what might happen now, he knew she was his own!  And yet, when
she spoke, it was as if she had divined his thoughts, and would
dissipate that too wonderful dream.

"No," she said, rather wistfully, and her eyes were averted again, "that
is the last thing you need think about, Vincent; no man will ever come
between you and me.  No man will ever take your place in my
regard—and—and esteem——"

"Is that all, Maisrie?" he said, gently; but in truth that sudden
revelation had left him all trembling and overjoyed.  He was almost
afraid to speak to her, lest she should withdraw that unspoken avowal.

"And—and affection: why should not I say it?—I may not have another
chance," she went on. "You need not fear, Vincent.  No man will ever
come between you and me; but a woman will—and welcome!  You will
marry—you will be happy—and no one will be better pleased to hear of it
all than I shall.  And why," she continued, with a kind of cheerfulness,
"why, even in that case, should we speak of any one coming between us?
We shall have the same affection, the same kind thoughts, even then, I
hope——"

"Maisrie, why do you talk like that!" he protested.  "You know quite
well that you will be my wife—or no one."

She shook her head.

"If you do not see for yourself that it is impossible—if you do not
understand, Vincent—then some day I must tell you——"

"Ah, but you have told me something far more important, and only a
minute or two ago," said he. "You have told me all I want to know, this
very morning!  You are not aware of the confession you have made, since
you came out on this breakwater? I have seen in your eyes what I never
saw before; and everything else is to me as nothing. Difficulties?—I
don’t believe in them.  I see our way as clear as daylight; and there’s
neither man nor woman coming between us.  Oh, yes, I have discovered
something this morning—that makes our way clear enough!  Maisrie, do you
know what wonderful eyes you have?—they can say so many things—perhaps
even more than you intend.  So much the better—so much the better—for I
know they speak true."

She did not seem to share his joyous confidence.

"I must be going now, Vincent," she said. "Grandfather will wonder why I
am so long in getting his newspapers.  And I am glad to know you are no
longer vexed with me.  I could not bear that.  And I will take care you
shall have no further cause—indeed I will, Vincent."

She was for bidding him good-bye, but he detained her: a wild wish had
come into his head.

"Maisrie," said he, with a little hesitation, "couldn’t you—couldn’t you
give me some little thing to keep as a souvenir of this happy morning?
Ah, you don’t know all you have told me, perhaps! Only some little
thing: could you give me a sandal-wood bead, Maisrie—could you cut one
off your necklace?—and I will get a small gold case made for it, and
wear it always and always, and when I open it, the perfume will remind
me of you and of our walks together, and the evenings in that little
parlour——"

But instantly she had pulled off her gloves, and with busy fingers
unclasped the necklace; then she touched it with her lips, and placed
the whole of the warm and scented treasure in his hand.

"I only wanted one of the beads, Maisrie," said he, with something of
shamefacedness.

"Take it, Vincent—I have not many things to give," she said, simply.

"Then—then would you wear something if I gave it to you?" he asked.

"Oh, yes, if you would like that," she answered at once.

"Oh, well, I must try to get something nice—something appropriate," said
he.  "I wonder if a Brighton jeweller could make me a small white dove
in ivory or mother-of-pearl, that you could wear just as if it had
alighted on your breast—a pin, you know, for your neck—and the pin could
be made of a row of rubies or sapphires—while the dove itself would be
white."

"But, Vincent," she said, doubtingly, "if I were to wear that?"

"What would it mean?  Is that what you ask? Shall I tell you, Maisrie?
It would mean a betrothal!"

She shrank back.

"No—no," she said.  "No—I could not wear that!"

"Oh, are you frightened by a word?" said he, cheerfully.  "Very
well—very well—it shan’t mean anything of the kind!  It will only serve
to remind you of a morning on which you and I went for a little stroll
down a breakwater at Brighton, when the Brighton people were so kind as
to leave it all to ourselves.  Nothing more than that, Maisrie!—if you
wish it.  Only you must wear the little white dove—as an emblem of peace
and goodwill—and a messenger bringing you good news—and a lot of things
like that, that I’m too stupid to put into words.  For this is a morning
not to be forgotten by either of us, all our lives long, I hope.  You
think you have not said anything?—then you shouldn’t have such tell-tale
eyes, Maisrie!  And I believe them.  I don’t believe you when you talk
about vague impossibilities.  Well, I suppose I must let you go; and I
suppose we cannot say good-bye—out here in the open——"

"But you are coming, too, Vincent—a little way?"

"As far as ever you will allow me," said he. "Till the end of life, if
you like—and as I hope."

But that was looking too far ahead in the present circumstances.

"What are you going to do to-day, Maisrie?" he asked, as they were
leaving the breakwater and making up for the Marine Parade.  "Oh, I
forgot: you are going out walking at eleven."

She blushed slightly.

"No, Vincent; I think I shall remain at home."

"On a morning like this?—impossible!  Why, you must go out in the
sunlight.  Sunlight is rare in December."

Then she said, with some little embarrassment, "I do not wish to vex you
any more, Vincent.  If I went out with grandfather, we should meet Mr.
Glover——"

"Mr. Glover?" he said, interrupting her. "Dearest Maisrie, I don’t mind
if you were to go walking with twenty Mr. Glovers!—I don’t mind that
now.  It is the sunlight that is of importance; it is getting you into
the sunlight that is everything.  And if Mr. Glover asks you to go
driving with him in the afternoon, of course you must go!—it will
interest you to see the crowd and the carriages, and it will keep you in
the fresh air. Oh, yes, if I’m along in the King’s Road this afternoon,
I shall look out for you; and if you should happen to see me, then just
remember that you have given me your sandal-wood necklace, and that I am
the proudest and happiest person in the whole town of Brighton.  Why, of
course you must go out, both morning and afternoon," he continued, in
this gay and generous fashion, as they were mounting the steps towards
the upper thoroughfare. "Sunlight is just all the world, for flowers,
and pretty young ladies, and similar things; and now you’re away from
the London fogs, you must make the best of it.  It is very wise of your
grandfather to lay aside his work while the fine weather lasts. Now be a
good, sensible girl, and go out at eleven o’clock."

"Vincent," she said, "if I do go with grandfather this morning, will you
come down the town, and join us?"

"Oh, well," said he, rather hesitating, "I—I do not wish to inflict
myself on anybody.  But don’t mistake, Maisrie: I shall be quite happy,
even if I see you walking up and down with the purveyor of bad sherry.
It won’t vex me in the least: something you told me this morning has
made me proof against all that.  The important thing is that you should
keep in the sunlight!"

"I ask you to come, Vincent."

"Oh, very well, certainly," said he—not knowing what dark design was in
her mind.

He was soon to discover.  When he left her in St. James’s Street,
whither she had gone to get the morning newspapers for her grandfather,
he went back to the hotel, and to his own room, to take out this
priceless treasure of a necklace she had bestowed on him, and to wonder
how best he could make of it a cunning talisman that he could have near
his heart night and day.  And also he set to work to sketch out designs
for the little breast-pin he meant to have made, with its transverse row
of rubies or sapphires, with its white dove in the centre.  An
inscription?  That was hardly needed: there was a sufficient
understanding between him and her.  And surely this was a betrothal,
despite her timid shrinking back?  The avowal of that morning had been
more to him than words; during that brief moment it seemed as if Heaven
shone in her eyes; and as if he could see there, as in a vision, all the
years to come—all the years that he and she were to be together—shining
with a soft celestial radiance.  And would not this small white dove
convey its message of peace?—when it lay on her bosom, "so light, so
light."

Then all of a sudden it occurred to him—why, he had been talking and
walking with an adventuress, a begging-letter impostor, a common
swindler, and had quite forgotten to be on his guard!  All the solemn
warnings he had received had entirely vanished from his mind when he was
out there on the breakwater with Maisrie Bethune.  He had looked into
her eyes—and never thought of any swindling!  Had this sandal-wood
necklace—that was sweet with a fragrance more than its own—that seemed
to have still some lingering warmth in it, borrowed from its recent and
secret resting-place—been given him as a lure?  The white
dove—significant of all innocence, and purity, and peace—was that to
rest on the heart of a traitress?  Well, perhaps; but it did not appear
to concern him much, as he got his hat and cane, and pulled on a fresh
pair of gloves, and went out into the open air.

Nay, he was in a magnanimous mood towards all mankind.  He would not
even seek to interfere with Sherry, as he mentally and meanly styled his
rival.  If it pleased the young gentleman in the cover-coat to walk up
and down the King’s Road with Maisrie Bethune—very well.  If he took her
for a drive after luncheon, that would amuse her, and also was well.
The time for jealous dread, for angry suspicions, for reproachful
accusations, was over and gone.  A glance from Maisrie’s eyes had
banished all that.  Sherry might parade his acquaintanceship as much as
he chose, so long as Maisrie was kept in the open air and the sunlight:
that was the all-important point.

By-and-bye he went away down to the King’s Road, and very speedily
espied the three figures he expected to find there, though as yet they
were at some distance.  They were coming towards him: in a few minutes
he would be face to face with them. And he had made up his mind what he
meant to do.  Maisrie should see that he was actuated no longer by
jealous rage; that he had confidence in her; that he feared no rival
now.  And so it was that when they came near, he merely gave them a
general and pleasant "Good-morning!" and raised his hat to Maisrie, and
was for passing on.  But he had reckoned without his host—or hostess
rather.

"Vincent!" said Maisrie, in expostulation.

Then he stopped.

"Aren’t you coming with us?  We are going along to the Chain Pier, to
get out of the crowd. Won’t you come?"

"Oh, yes, if I may!" said he, gladly enough—and he knew that the other
young man was staring, not to say scowling, at this unwelcome intrusion.

Now Maisrie had been walking between her grandfather and young Glover;
but the moment that Vincent joined the little party, she fell behind.

"Four abreast are too many," said she.  "We must go two and two;
grandfather, will you lead the way with Mr. Glover?"

It was done, and dexterously done, in a moment; and if the selection of
the new comer as her companion was almost too open and marked, perhaps
that was her intention.  At all events, when the two others had moved
forward, Vincent said in an undertone—

"This is very kind of you, Maisrie."

And she replied, rather proudly—

"I wished to show you that I could distinguish between old and new
friends."

Then he grew humble.

"Maisrie," said he, "don’t you treasure up things against me!  It was
only a phrase.  And just remember how I was situated.  I came away down
to Brighton merely to catch a glimpse of you; and about the first thing
I saw was this young fellow, whom I had never heard of, driving you up
and down among the fashionable crowd.  You see, Maisrie, you hadn’t
given me the sandal-wood necklace then; and what is of far more
consequence, you hadn’t allowed your eyes to tell me what they told me
this morning.  So what was I to think? No harm of you, of course; but I
was miserable;—and—and I thought you could easily forget; and all the
afternoon I looked out for you; and all the evening I wandered about the
streets, wondering whether you would be in one of the restaurants or the
hotels.  If I could only have spoken a word with you!  But then, you
know, I had been in a kind of way shut off from you; and—and there was
this new acquaintance—"

"I am very sorry, Vincent," she said also in a low voice.  "It seems
such a pity that one should vex one’s friends unintentionally; because
in looking back, you like to think of their always being pleased with
you; and then again there may be no chance of making up—and you are
sorry when it is too late——"

"Come, come, Maisrie," he said with greater freedom—for some people had
intervened, and the other two were now a little way ahead, "I am not
going to let you talk in that way.  You always speak as if you and I
were to be separated——"

"Wouldn’t it be better, Vincent?" she said, simply.

"Why?"

"Why?" she repeated, in an absent kind of way. "Well, you know nothing
about us, Vincent."

"I have been told a good deal of late, then!" he said, in careless
scorn.

And the next instant he wished he had bitten his tongue out ere making
that haphazard speech. The girl looked up at him with a curious quick
scrutiny—as if she were afraid.

"What have you been told, Vincent?" she demanded, in quite an altered
tone.

"Oh, nothing!" he said, with disdain.  "A lot of rubbish!  Every one has
good-natured friends, I suppose, who won’t be satisfied with minding
their own business.  And although you may laugh at the moment, at the
mere ridiculousness of the thing, still, if it should happen that just
at the same time you should see some one you are very fond of—in—in a
position that you can’t explain to yourself—well, then——  But what is
the use of talking, Maisrie!  I confess that I was jealous out of all
reason, jealous to the verge of madness; but then I paid the penalty, in
hours and hours of misery; and now you come along and heap coals of fire
on my head, until I am so ashamed of myself that I don’t think I am fit
to live.  And that’s all about it; and my only excuse is that you had
not told me then what your eyes told me this morning."

She remained silent and thoughtful for a little while; but as she made
no further reference to his inadvertent admission that he had heard
certain things of herself and her grandfather, he inwardly hoped that
that unlucky speech had gone from her memory.  Moreover, they were come
to the Chain Pier; and as those two in front waited for them, so that
they should go through the turnstile one after the other, there was just
then no opportunity for further confidential talking.  But once on the
Pier, old George Bethune, who was eagerly discoursing on some subject or
another (with magnificent emphasis of arm and stick) drew ahead again,
taking his companion with him.  And Vin Harris, regarding the
picturesque figure of the old man, and his fine enthusiastic manner,
which at all events seemed so sincere, began to wonder whether there
could be any grains of truth in the story that had been told him, or
whether it was a complete and malevolent fabrication.  His appearance
and demeanour, certainly, were not those of a professional impostor: it
was hard to understand how a man of his proud and blunt self-assertion
could manage to wheedle wine merchants and tailors.  Had he really
called himself Lord Bethune; or was it not far more likely that some
ignorant colonial folk, impressed by his talk of high lineage and by his
personal dignity, had bestowed on him that title?  The young
man—guessing and wondering—began to recall the various counts of that
sinister indictment; and at last he said to his companion, in a musing
kind of way——

"Maisrie, you know that motto your grandfather is so proud of: ’Stand
Fast, Craig-Royston!’  Have you any idea where Craig-Royston is?"

"I?  No, not at all," she said simply.

"You have never been there?"

"Vincent!" she said.  "You know I have never been in Scotland."

"Because there is such an odd thing in connection with it," he
continued.  "In one edition of Black’s Guide to Scotland, Craig-Royston
is not mentioned anywhere; and in another it is mentioned, but only in a
footnote.  And I can’t find it in the map.  You don’t know if there are
any people of your name living there now?"

"I am sure I cannot say," she made answer. "Grandfather could tell you;
he is always interested in such things."

"And Balloray," he went on, "I could find no mention of Balloray; but of
course there must be such a place?"

"I wish there was not," she said, sadly.  "It is the one bitter thing in
my grandfather’s life.  I wish there never had been any such place.  But
I have noticed a change in him of late.  He does not complain now as he
used to complain; he is more resigned; indeed, he seldom talks of it.
And when I say complain, that is hardly the word.  Don’t you think he
bears his lot with great fortitude?  I am sure it is more on my account
than his own that he ever thinks of the estate that was lost.  And I am
sure he is happier with his books than with all the land and money that
could be given to him.  He seems to fancy that those old songs and
ballads belong to him; they are his property; he is happier with them
than with a big estate and riches."

"I could not find Balloray in the index to the Guide," Vincent resumed,
"but of course there must be such a place—there is the ballad your
grandfather is so fond of—’The bonnie mill-dams o’ Balloray.’"

She looked up suddenly, with some distress in her face.

"Vincent, don’t you understand?  Don’t you understand that grandfather
is easily taken with a name—with the sound of it—and sometimes he
confuses one with another?  That ballad is not about Balloray; it is
about Binnorie; it is ’The bonnie mill-dams o’ Binnorie.’  Grandfather
forgets at times; and he is used to Balloray; and that has got into his
head in connection with the ballad.  I thought perhaps you knew."

"Oh, no," said he, lightly, for he did not attach any great importance
to this chance confusion. "The two words are not unlike; I quite see how
one might take the place of the other.  Of course you will make sure
that he puts in the right name when he comes to publish the volume."

And so they walked up and down the almost deserted pier, in the bright
sunlight, looking out on the lapping green waters, or up to the terraced
yellow houses above the tall cliffs.  Sometimes, of course, the four of
them came together; and more than once the horsey-looking young
gentleman insidiously tried to detach Maisrie from her chosen
companion—and tried in vain.  At last, when it became about time for
them to be going their several ways home, he made a bold stroke.

"Come, Mr. Bethune," said he, as they were successively passing through
the turnstile, "I want you and Miss Bethune to take pity on a poor
solitary bachelor, and come along and have a bit of lunch with me at the
Old Ship.  It will be a little change for you, won’t it?—and we can have
a private room if you prefer that."

The old gentleman seemed inclined to close with this offer; but he
glanced towards Maisrie for her acquiescence first.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Glover," said she, promptly; "but I have everything
arranged at our lodgings; and we must not disappoint our landlady.  Some
other time, perhaps, thank you!  Good morning!"

Then the moment he was gone, she turned to her companion.

"Vincent, have you any engagement?  No? Then, will you be very
courageous and come with us and take your chance?  I can promise you a
biscuit at least."

"And I’m sure I don’t want anything more," said he, most gratefully; for
surely she was trying her best to show him that she distinguished
between old and new friends.

And then again, when they reached the rooms, and when the three of them
were seated at table, she waited upon him with a gentle care and
assiduity that were almost embarrassing.  He wished the wretched things
at the bottom of the sea: why should commonplace food and drink
interfere with his answering Maisrie’s eyes, or thinking of her
overwhelming kindness?  As for old George Bethune, the sharp air and the
sunlight had given him an admirable appetite; and he allowed the young
people to amuse themselves with little courtesies, and attentions, and
protests just as they pleased.  Cheese and celery were solid and
substantial things: he had no concern about a drooping eyelash, or some
pretty, persuasive turn of speech.

And yet he was not unfriendly towards the young man.

"Wouldn’t you like to go to the theatre this evening, Maisrie?" Vincent
asked.  "It is the _Squires Daughter_.  I know you’ve seen it already;
but I could go a dozen times—twenty times—the music is so delightful.
And the travelling company is said to be quite as good as the London
one: Miss Kate Burgoyne has changed into it, you know, and I shouldn’t
wonder if she sung all the better because of the £3000 damages that Sir
Percival Miles has had to pay her.  Shall I go along and see if I can
get a box?"

"What do you say, grandfather?" the girl asked.

"Oh, yes—very well, very well," said he, in his lofty way.  "A little
idleness more or less is not of much account.  But we must begin to work
soon, Maisrie; fresh air and sunlight are all very well; but we must
begin to work—while the day is with us, though luckily one has not to
say to you as yet—_jam te premet nox, falulæque Manes, et domus exilis
Plutonia_."

"Then if we go to the theatre," said Maisrie, "Vincent must come in here
for a little while on his way home; and you and he will have a smoke
together; and it will be quite like old times."—And Vincent looked at
her, as much as to say, ’Maisrie, don’t make me too ashamed: haven’t you
forgiven me yet for that foolish phrase?’

The afternoon passed quickly enough: to Vincent every moment was golden.
Then in the evening they went to the theatre; and the young people at
least were abundantly charmed with the gay costumes, the pretty music,
and the fun and merriment of the bright little operetta.  George Bethune
seemed less interested.  He sate well back in the box, his face in
shadow; and although his eyes, from under those shaggy eyebrows, were
fixed on the stage, it was in an absent fashion, as if he were thinking
of other things.  And indeed he was thinking of far other things; for
when, after the piece was over, those three set out to walk home through
the dark streets, Maisrie and Vincent could hear the old man, who walked
somewhat apart from them, reciting to himself, and that in a proud and
sustained voice.  It was not the frivolity of comic opera that he had in
his mind; it was something of finer and sterner stuff; as they crossed
by the Old Steine, where there was a space of silence, they could make
out clearly what this was—

    ’Thy faith and troth thou sall na get,
      And our true love sall never twin,
    Until ye tell what comes of women,
      I wot, who die in strong travailing?’

    ’Their beds are made in the heavens high,
      Down at the foot of our good Lord’s knee,
    Weel set about wi’ gillyflowers,
      I wot sweet company for to see.

    ’O cocks are crowing a merry midnight,
      I wot the wild-fowl are boding day;
    The psalms of heaven will soon be sung,
      And I, ere now, will be missed away.’


There was a curiously solemn effect about this solitary voice, here in
the dark.  The old man did not seem to care whether he was overheard or
not; it was entirely to himself that he was repeating the lines of the
old ballad.  And thereafter he walked on in silence, while the two
lovers, busy with their own little world, were murmuring nothings to
each other.

But Maisrie, for one, was soon to be recalled to the actualities, and
even grim incongruities, of every day life.  When they reached their
lodgings the servant girl, who opened the door to them, paused for a
second and looked up and down the street.

"Yes, sir, there he is," said she.

"Who?" George Bethune demanded.

"A man who has been asking for you, sir—and said he would wait."

At the same moment there came out of the gloom a rather shabby-looking
person.

"Mr. George Bethune?" he said.

"Yes, that is my name," the old man answered, impatiently: probably he
suspected.

"Something for you, sir," said the stranger, handing a folded piece of
paper—and therewith he left.

It was all the work of a second; and the next instant they were indoors,
and in the little parlour; but in that brief space of time a great
change had taken place.  Indeed, Maisrie’s mortification was a piteous
thing to see; it seemed so hard she should have had to endure this
humiliation under the very eyes of her lover; she would not look his way
at all; she busied herself with putting things on the table; her
downcast face was overwhelmed with confusion and shame.  For surely
Vincent would know what that paper was?  The appearance of the man—his
hanging about—her grandfather’s angry frown—all pointed plainly enough.
And that it should happen at the end of this long and happy day—this day
of reconciliation—when she had tried so assiduously to be kind to
him—when he had spoken so confidently of the future that lay before
them!  It was as if some cruel fate had interposed to say to him: ’Now
you see the surroundings in which this girl has lived: and do you still
dream of making her your wife?’

And perhaps old George Bethune noticed this shame and vexation on the
part of his granddaughter, and may have wished to divert attention from
it; at all events, when he had brewed his toddy, and lit his pipe, and
drawn his chair in towards the fire, he set off upon one of his
monologues, quite in the old garrulous vein; and he was as friendly
towards Vincent as though this visit had been quite anticipated.
Maisrie sat silent and abashed; and Vincent, listening vaguely, thought
it was all very fine to have a sanguine and happy-go-lucky temperament,
but that he—that is, the younger man—would be glad to have this
beautiful and pensive creature of a girl removed into altogether
different circumstances.  He knew why she was ashamed and
downcast—though, to be sure, he said to himself that the serving of a
writ was no tremendous cataclysm.  Such little incidents must
necessarily occur in the career of any one who had such an arrogant
disdain of pounds and pence as her grandfather professed.  But that
Maisrie should have to suffer humiliation: that was what touched him to
the quick.  He looked at her—at her beautiful and wistful eyes, and the
sensitive lines of her profile and under-lip; and his heart bled for
her.  And all this following upon her outspoken avowal of that morning
seemed to demand some more definite and immediate action on his
part—when once the quiet of the night had enabled him to consider his
position.

When he rose to leave, he asked them what they meant to do the next day.
But Maisrie would hardly say anything; she seemed rather to wish him to
go, so distressed and disheartened she was. And go he did, presently;
but he bore away with him no hurt feeling on account of his tacit
dismissal.  He understood all that; and he understood her.  And as he
went away home through the dark, he began to recall the first occasions
on which he had seen Maisrie Bethune walking in Hyde Park with her
grandfather; and the curious fancies that were then formed in his own
mind—that here apparently was a beautiful, and sensitive, and suffering
soul that ought to be rescued and cheered and comforted, were one found
worthy to be her champion and her friend.  Her friend?—she had confessed
he was something more than that on this very morning.  Her lover,
then?—well, her lover ought to be her champion too, if only the hours of
the night would lend him counsel.



                             CHAPTER VIII.

                             ON THE BRINK.


Nay, he could see but the one clear and resolute way out of all these
perplexities, which was that he should forthwith and without further
preamble marry Maisrie Bethune: thereafter his relatives might do or say
whatever it most pleased them to do or say.  This would be his answer to
the vague but persistent suspicions of Mrs. Ellison, and to the more
precise but none the less preposterous accusations of his father.  Then
as regards Maisrie herself, would not this conclusive act banish all
those dim presentiments and alarms with which she seemed to regard the
future?  And if her present circumstances involved her in humiliation,
lie would take her out of these.  As for old George Bethune, ought he
not to welcome this guardianship that would succeed his own?  The
happiness of his granddaughter seemed to be his first care; and here was
a stay and bulwark for her, a protection for her when his own should be
withdrawn in the natural course of things.

This solution of the difficulty seemed reasonable and simple, though
sometimes his arguments would suddenly get lost in a flood of wild
wonder and joy; and entrancing visions of that pretty canary-cage he
meant to secure—down by Chelsea way, perhaps, or up about Campden Hill,
or it might be out among some suburban gardens—would interfere with the
cool and accurate representations he was preparing to lay before his
friends.  For after all, simple as the solution appeared, there were
ways and means to be considered.  Vincent was now about to discover—nay,
he already perceived—that for a young man to be brought up without any
definite calling meant a decided crippling of his independence. The
canary-cage, charming and idyllic as it might be, would cost something,
even if he went as far as Shepherd’s Bush or Hammersmith; and the little
fortune that had been left him did not produce much of an annual income.
Then again his father: would not the great socialist (on paper)
instantly withdraw the handsome allowance he had hitherto made, on
hearing that his son contemplated marrying that dangerous person, that
low-born adventuress, that creature of the slums?  For Vincent Harris
was not given to disguising things from himself. He knew that these were
the phrases which his father would doubtless apply to Maisrie Bethune.
Not that they or any other phrases were of much import: the
capitalist-communist was welcome to invent and use as many as he chose.
But his opposition to this marriage, which was almost to be counted on,
might become a very serious affair for everybody concerned.

Next morning Vincent was up betimes; and at an early hour he went along
to the Bedford Hotel. He was told that Lord Musselburgh was in the
coffee-room; and thither he accordingly proceeded.

"Oh, yes, I’ll have some breakfast, thank you," said he, as he took a
seat at the small table. "Anything—anything.  The fact is, Musselburgh,
I want to speak to you, if you can give me a little time.  Something of
importance, too—to me at least——"

"Let me tell you this, Vin, first of all," said the elder of the two
young men, with a smile.  "You’ll have to make your peace with Mrs.
Ellison.  She is mortally offended at the notion of your coming to
Brighton, and going to a hotel.  I suppose you imagined she didn’t know
you had come down? We saw you yesterday."

"Where?" said Vincent, quickly.

"In the Marine Parade.  We followed you some little way—if you had
turned round you would have seen us."

"What time?"

"Why, about one, I should think."

"Then—then you saw—"

"Yes, we saw—" said the other.

There was a moment’s silence; Vin’s eyes were fixed on his companion
with a curious expectancy and prayer; had this friend of his, if he were
a friend at all, no approving word to say about Maisrie?

Well, Lord Musselburgh was an exceedingly good-natured young man; and on
this occasion he did not allow a selfish discretion to get the better of
him.

"I don’t know that I intended to tell you," said he.  "Fact is, Mrs.
Ellison hinted that I’d better follow her example; and have nothing to
say on a certain subject; but really, Vin, really—I had no
idea—really——"

"Yes?—what?" said Vincent, rather breathlessly.

"Well, to be candid with you, I never was so surprised in my life!  Why,
you remember that afternoon in Piccadilly, when I first saw them—perhaps
I did not pay much attention to the girl—she seemed a slip of a
thing—pretty, oh, yes, pretty enough; but yesterday—when I saw her
yesterday—by George, she’s grown to be one of the most beautiful
creatures I ever beheld!  And so distinguished-looking—and apparently so
unconscious of it too!  Again and again I noticed people half-turn their
heads to get another glimpse of her as she went by—and no wonder—why,
really, such a carriage—such an air of distinction and quiet
self-possession, for all she looked so young—I never was so surprised in
all my life!  Oh, a most beautiful creature!—and that I must say in
common honesty, whatever comes of it."

Nay, the very incoherence of his praise was proof of its sincerity; and
Vincent’s face burned with pleasure and pride.  How could sweeter words
have been poured into a lover’s ears?

"Did you chance to notice her hair?—did you?" said he, eagerly.  "Did
you chance to see the sunlight on it?  And—and you were behind her—you
must have seen how she walked—the lightness and grace of her step.  Mind
you, Mussel burgh," he went on—and his breakfast received but scant
attention, now that he had found someone to whom he could talk on this
enchanting and all-engrossing theme.  "A light and graceful step means
far more than mere youth and health—it means a perfect and supple figure
as well.  Did you think she was rather pale?" he asked—but only to
answer his own question.  "Yes, I dare say you might think she was
rather pale.  But that is not because she is delicate—oh, dear, no!—not
in the least: it is the natural fineness of her complexion; and when
brisk walking, or a cold wind blowing, brings colour into her cheeks,
then that is all the rarer and more beautiful.  Of course you couldn’t
see her eyes at all?—she doesn’t stare at people in the streets; she
seems to find the sea more interesting when we are walking up and clown;
but they are the clearest, the most expressive, eyes you could imagine!
She hardly has to speak—she has only to look!  I do think blue-grey is
by far the prettiest colour of eyes; they vary so much; I’ve seen
Maisrie Bethune’s eyes quite distinctly blue—that is when she is very
strong and well, and out in the open air. I don’t suppose it possible
that any reflection from the sky or sea can affect the colour of the
eyes; it must be simply that she is in the fresh air, and stimulated
with exercise and happy——"  He paused for a second.  "Is there anything
so very amusing?"

"To tell you the truth, Vin," his companion admitted, "I was thinking
that when you came in you announced you had something of importance to
say——"

"Instead of which I have been talking about Miss Bethune," Vincent said,
without taking any offence.  "But who began?  I thought it was you who
introduced the subject—and you seemed interested in her appearance——"

"Oh, yes, of course, of course," the young nobleman said, goodnaturedly.
"I beg your pardon. And I understand how the subject may be of
importance to you——"

"Well, yes, it is," said Vincent, calmly.  "For I propose to marry Miss
Bethune, and at once, if she will consent."

Lord Musselburgh looked up quickly, and his face was grave enough now.

"You don’t mean that, Vin?"

"That is precisely what I do mean," the young man said.

"I thought—I had fancied—that certain things had been found out," his
friend stammered, and then stopped; for it was a hazardous topic.

"Oh, you have been told too?" Vincent said, with a careless disdain.
"Well, when I heard those charges brought against Miss Bethune’s
grandfather, I did not choose to answer them; but speaking about him to
you is another thing; and I may say to you, once for all, that more
preposterous trash was never invented.  I won’t deny," he continued,
with a perfectly simple frankness, "that there are one or two things
about Mr. Bethune that I cannot quite explain—that I rather shut my eyes
to; and perhaps there are one or two things that one might wish
altered—for who is perfect?  But the idea that this old man, with his
almost obtrusively rugged individuality, his independence, his self-will
and pride, should be a scheming impostor and swindler—it is too absurd!
To my mind—and I think I know him pretty intimately—he appears to be one
of the finest and grandest characters it is possible to imagine; a
personality you could never forget, once you had learned to know him
even a little; and that this man, of all men, should be suspected of
being a fawning and wheedling writer of begging-letters—it is too
laughable!  I admit that he has little or no money—if that is a crime.
They live in straitened circumstances, no doubt.  And of course there
are many unpleasant things connected with poverty that one would rather
hide from the eyes of a young lady, and that can’t well be hidden:
though I don’t know that her nature, if she has a fine and noble nature,
need suffer from that.  For example, it isn’t nice for her to see her
grandfather served with a writ; but many excellent people have been
served with writs; it doesn’t follow that Mr. Bethune must be a thief
because he has no money—or perhaps because he has been negligent about
some debt or other.  But even supposing that he was a questionable
person—even supposing that he was in the habit of using doubtful means
to supplement his precarious income; isn’t that all the greater reason
why such a girl should be taken away from such circumstances?"

Lord Musselburgh did not reply to this question. He had heard from Mrs.
Ellison that the granddaughter was suspected, or more than suspected, of
being an accomplice; and although, of course, he could not in the least
say whether there was any truth in this allegation, he deemed it wiser
to hold his tongue.

"Now you may put all that aside," Vincent went on.  "That is all rubbish
and trash—a pack of old wives’ stories.  And what I want of you,
Musselburgh, is to give me your honest opinion on a certain point.  I
ask for your advice.  I want you to tell me what you think would happen
in a possible case.  And the main question is this: assuming that I
could persuade Miss Bethune to marry me at once, and assuming also that
her grandfather approved—when the marriage had actually taken place,
what would my relatives say? Or rather, that is not the question: the
question is what they would do.  I know what they would say. They would
be wild enough.  Their heads are full of these foolish fancies and
suspicions; and beside that, I gather that they want me to marry some
noble damsel whose family would have political influence.  Yes, they
would be wild enough, no doubt; but when they found the thing actually
settled, what would they do?  Would my father make a deadly quarrel of
it and cut me off with a shilling, like something out of a play; or
would he exercise a little common-sense, and make the best of it, seeing
the thing was done?"

"Really," said Musselburgh, who seemed more concerned than one might
have expected from his half-cynical, half-careless temperament, "you ask
me what I can’t answer.  And giving advice is a perilous business.  All
I can say is this, Vin—you seem to me to have got into a devilish
awkward position, and I wish to goodness you were out of it."

"You think I regret anything that has happened?" Vincent said.  "Not I!
I would not go back—not for all the world.  But as for this monetary
difficulty, there it is; and it has to be faced. You see, I have been
brought up to do nothing; and consequently I am in a measure dependent
on my father.  My own little income doesn’t amount to much.  Then again,
if I were to marry Maisrie Bethune, I should have to leave her
grandfather whatever small fund they have—I don’t quite understand about
it—anyhow, I couldn’t take that away, for I imagine the old gentleman’s
earnings from newspaper work are not very substantial or regular.  Now
what do you think my father would do?"

"Wouldn’t it be the simplest thing to go and ask him—to go and ask him
now?" said Lord Musselburgh, who clearly did not wish to assume any
responsibility in this serious matter.

"I can tell myself what he would say now," Vincent made answer; "the
question is what he would say then."

"After the marriage?"

"Yes."

His companion across the little table hesitated for a second or two.

"You see, Vin, it isn’t only in plays that fathers get
angry—unfortunately, it sometimes happens in real life; and occasionally
they get very angry indeed.  According to your own showing, if your
father refused to acknowledge this marriage—if he declared he would have
nothing further to do with you—you would find yourself in rather
desperate straits.  Why should you, with your eyes open, walk into any
such straits?  You know what may happen.  And then—with a young
wife—with next to no resources—what would you do?  Let us come to one
definite and immediate thing, that I hope is not far off now; who would
pay your election expenses at Mendover?"

"You yourself, Musselburgh, in the interests of the party!"

"I am glad you can make a jest of the situation, Vin——"

"No, really, I don’t," Vincent said, more seriously.  "But if I were to
ask for my father’s consent I should not get it—I know that quite well;
and meanwhile this girl is supposed to be—oh, I need not name the
things!  You don’t understand! She is my dearest in all the world; how
can I stand by and allow these base accusations to be brought against
her, without protest?  And that would be my protest!  That would show
them what I thought of their mean suspicions and their preposterous
charges."

"And thereafter?" said Lord Musselburgh.

"Thereafter?  Well, as I say, my father might show some common sense and
accept the thing, seeing it was done.  I can tell you it isn’t very
pleasant to find myself so dependent on any other human being’s
reasonableness.  I haven’t been used to it.  I dare say I have been
spoiled—things made too easy for me.  And now when I look round and
wonder what I could turn to, I suppose I am simply in the position of a
thousand others, who haven’t had any special training.  The few articles
I have written have paid me well enough; but at present I don’t see
anything substantial and permanent in that direction.  If you were in
office I should ask you for a private secretaryship——"

"Why not ask someone who is in office?"

"I could not change my coat quite so quickly as that."

"Ah, you haven’t had much experience in practical politics," Lord
Musselburgh observed.  "Well, now, Vin, look here: it seems to me you
are on the brink of a tremendous catastrophe.  You have asked for my
advice; I will give it you frankly.  For goodness sake, don’t marry that
girl!  She may be everything you say; her grandfather may be everything
you say; but don’t do anything rash—don’t do anything irrevocable.  And
consider this: if your relations should look on such a marriage with
disfavour, it is in your own interest; it is no selfish wish on their
part that you should marry well—marry in your own sphere—marry some one
who would do you credit and be a fit companion for you. Mind you, I say
nothing against Miss Bethune—nothing; I would not even if I could—I am
not such a fool—for I should simply anger you without convincing you;
but just consider for a moment what her experiences must have been.  You
know what Mrs. Ellison so frequently talks about—the sentimental fallacy
of supposing that there is anything intrinsically noble or beautiful
about poverty. I’m afraid she’s right.  I am afraid that poverty is
altogether a debasing and brutalising thing, destroying self-respect,
stunting the mind as well as the body."

"Yes," said Via Harris, rather scornfully, "I am quite aware that is the
opinion of poverty held by the rich.  They show it.  They profess to
believe what the Sermon on the Mount says about the Kingdom of Heaven
being reserved for the poor; but catch any single man-jack of them
putting aside his riches in order to secure that other inheritance!  Not
much!  He prefers the Kingdom he has got—in consols."

"I was only wondering," Musselburgh said, with a little hesitation,
"what influence those—those associations might have had on Miss Bethune
herself. Not the best training for a young girl, perhaps?"

"If she had been brought up in a thieves’ den," said Vincent, hotly,
"she would have remained the pure and beautiful-souled creature that she
is now. But I see there is no use talking.  I have asked for your
advice—for your opinion; and you have given it to me.  I thank you, and
there’s an end."

He rose.  But his friend also rose at the same moment.

"No, no, Vin, you’re not going to quarrel with me.  Come into the
smoking-room, and we’ll have a cigarette."

Nor did he wish to quarrel.  They left the coffee-room together.  But as
luck would have it, in crossing the hall, he chanced to look towards the
front door; and behold!  all the outer world was shining in clear
sunlight.  It suddenly occurred to this young man that he had been
sitting plunged in gloom, listening to coward counsels, regarding the
future as something dark; while there—out there—the golden pavements,
and the far-shimmering sea, and the wide white skies spoke only of hope,
and seemed to say that Maisrie would soon be coming along, proud and
tall and sweet.  Why, it was to her that he ought to have appealed—not
to any timorous, vacillating temporiser; it was her hands he ought to
have taken and held, that he might read the future in her true eyes.
And so, with some brief words of apology and thanks, he left Lord
Musselburgh, and made his way into the outer air: this was to breathe
more freely—this was to have the natural courage of youth mounting into
the brain.

He walked away along the King’s Road; and unconsciously to himself he
held his head erect; as if in imitation of the stout-hearted old man
who, despite his threescore years and ten, could still bear himself so
bravely in face of all the world.  Moreover, there were some lines in
one of Maisrie’s songs haunting him; but not in any sad way; nay, he
found himself dwelling on the _r_’s, as if to recall her soft
pronunciation:—

    Elle fit un’ rencontre
    De trente matelots,
    De trente matelots
      Sur le bord de l’ île.

He had thrust aside those pusillanimous counsels: out here was the
sunlight and the fresh-blowing wind; his soul felt freer; he would gain
new courage from Maisrie’s eyes.  This was the kind of morning to bring
a touch of crimson to the transparent pallor of her cheek; her teeth
would glisten when she laughed; her graceful step would be lighter, more
buoyant, than ever.  _Sursum corda_! Nay, he could have found it in his
heart to adopt the proud-sounding ’Stand Fast, Craig-Royston!’—if only
to fling it back in the face of those who had brought those monstrous
accusations.

His long and swinging stride soon carried him to the house in German
Place, where he found George Bethune and his granddaughter just making
ready to come out.

"This will not do, Maisrie," said old George Bethune, in his gay,
emphatic fashion.  "Too much idleness.  Too much idleness.  Fresh air is
all very well; but we must not become its slaves. Remember Horace’s
warning.  ’_Tu, nisi ventis debes ludibrium, cave_.’"

"Why, who could keep at work on a morning like this!" Vincent protested.
"A west wind and brilliant sunlight are not so common in December. It
makes it hard for me that I’ve to go away to-morrow."

"Are you going away to-morrow, Vincent?" said Maisrie, regarding him.

"Yes," said he.  "I have to go down to Mendover on Thursday, to deliver
a sort of address—a lecture—and I’ve only got the heads and divisions
sketched out as yet.  I wish I could escape it altogether; but I dare
not play any tricks at present; I’m on my best behaviour.  And this time
at least I don’t mean to drag Lord Musselburgh down with me; I’m going
alone."

"And after that you return to London?" she asked.

He hardly knew what to say.  A single word of encouragement from either
of them, and he would at once and gladly have promised to come back to
Brighton at the earliest possible moment; but he had not forgotten the
implied understanding on which Maisrie and her grandfather had come away
from their lodgings in Mayfair.

"Yes, to London," he replied vaguely.  "But I have no definite plans at
present.  I dare say my aunt, Mrs. Ellison, will want me to come down
here at Christmas."

When they were outside, and had gone on to the Parade, he besought his
two companions, instead of taking their accustomed stroll into the town,
to come away out into the country.  The Downs, he said, would be looking
very cheerful on so pleasant a morning.  And of course it mattered
little to them whither they went.  They acceded at once; and by-and-bye
they had left the wide thoroughfare and the houses behind them, and were
walking along the soft turf, alone with the cliffs, and the sea, and the
smooth, faintly-coloured uplands.  The spring-time was not yet; but
there were hues of green and red in those far-stretching breadths of
soil; and the sky was of a cloudless blue.

And how strange it was that out here in the open, in the clear sunlight,
those dark imaginings of the Private Inquiry Offices seemed to fall
helplessly away from these two friends of his, and they themselves stood
sharply defined just as he had always known them—the two solitary and
striking figures that his fancy had invested with so pathetic an
interest.  Mentally he addressed Lord Musselburgh: ’Come and see them
here—in the white light of day—and ask yourself whether you can believe
in those midnight things you have heard of them.  Look at this girl: you
say yourself she is of extraordinary beauty; but is there not a still
stranger fascination—is there not something that wins the heart to
sympathy, and pity, and respect?  Look at the pensive character of her
mouth—look at the strange resignation in the beautiful eyes: perhaps her
life has not been altogether too happy?—and is that to be brought as a
charge against her?  Then this old man—look at his proud bearing—look at
the resolute set of his head—his straight glance—the courage of his firm
mouth: has he the appearance, the demeanour, of a sharper, of a
plausible and specious thief?’  At this moment, at all events, it did
not seem as if George Bethune’s mind was set upon any swindling scheme.
As he marched along, with head erect, and with eyes fixed absently on
the far horizon, he was reciting to himself, in sonorous tones, the
metrical version of the Hundredth Psalm—

    ’O enter then His gates with praise,
      Approach with joy his courts unto;
    Praise, laud, and bless His name always,
      For it is seemly so to do.
    For why? the Lord our God is good,
      His mercy is for ever sure;
    His truth at all times firmly stood,
      And shall from age to age endure.’

No doubt it was some reminiscence of his youthful days—perhaps a
Saturday night’s task—that had lain dormant in his memory for sixty
years or more.

The two young folk were mostly silent; they had plenty to think
about—especially in view of Vincent’s departure on the morrow.  As for
him, his one consuming desire was to make sure of Maisrie, now that she
had disclosed her heart to him; he wished for some closer bond, some
securer tie, so that, whatever might happen, Maisrie should not be taken
away from him.  For he seemed to know as if by some inscrutable instinct
that a crisis in his life was approaching.  And it was not enough that
her eyes had spoken; that she had given him the sandal-wood necklace;
that she had striven with an almost pathetic humility to show her
affection and esteem.  He wished for some clearer assurance with regard
to the future.  Those people in the background who had pieced together
that malignant story: were they not capable of further and more deadly
mischief?  He had affected to scorn them as mere idle and intermeddling
fools; but they might become still more aggressive—enemies striking at
him and at his heart’s desire from the dim phantom-world that enshrouded
them.  Anyhow, he meant to act now, on his own discretion. Lord
Musselburgh’s advice was no doubt worldly-wise enough and safe; but it
was valueless in these present circumstances.  Vincent felt that his
life was his own, and that the moment had come when he must shape it
towards a certain end—for good or ill, as the years might show.

After a pretty long walk along the cliffs, they returned to the town (on
the Parade they met Sherry, who cheerfully informed them that he was on
the point of starting for Monte Carlo, and hoped they would wish him
good luck) and Vincent was easily persuaded by Maisrie to share their
modest luncheon with them.  Thereafter, when tobacco was produced, she
begged to be excused for a little while, as she had some sewing to do in
her own room; and thus it was that Vincent, quite suddenly and
unexpectedly, found himself presented with an opportunity of approaching
the old man on the all-important theme.  But on this occasion he was
much more precise and urgent in his prayer; for he had thought the whole
matter clearly out, through many a sleepless hour; and his plans lay
fixed and definite before him.

"You yourself," he went on, "have often hinted that your future
movements were uncertain—you might have to go away—and—and then I don’t
say that either Maisrie or I would forget—only I am afraid of absence.
There appear to be certain people who don’t wish you well; there might
be more stories; who can tell what might not happen? Indeed," said he,
regarding the old man a little anxiously, "I have been thinking
that—that if Maisrie would consent—our getting married at once would be
the safest and surest tie of all.  I have not spoken of it to her—I
thought I would put it before you first——"

Here he paused, in something of anxious uncertainty.

"Married at once?" George Bethune repeated, slowly.  There was no
expression of surprise or resentment; the old man waited calmly and
courteously for further elucidation of these plans; his eyes were
observant and attentive—but quite inscrutable.

"And I want to show you how I am situated," Vincent went on (but not
knowing what to make of that perfectly impassive demeanour).  "I hope
there is no need to conceal anything—indeed, I should think you were
pretty well acquainted with my circumstances by this time.  You know my
father is a rich man.  I am his only son; and I suppose I shall inherit
his fortune.  I have a little money of my own—not much of an annual
income, to be sure; and I have some friends who would help me if the
worst came to the worst, but I don’t see how that necessity should
arise.  For myself, I have unfortunately been brought up to no
profession; I was trained for public life—for polities—if for anything:
it has never been considered necessary that I should learn some method
of making my own living.  That is a misfortune—I can see that now; but
at least I have been trying to do something of late; and I have got some
encouragement; if there were any need, I fancy I could earn a modest
income by writing for the newspapers.  You have seen one or two of those
articles—and I have been offered introductions, as you know.  Well,
now——"

And again he paused.  All this had been more or less of plain sailing:
now he was approaching a much more delicate matter.

"Well—the fact is—there has been some envious tittle-tattle—wretched
stuff—not worth mentioning —except for this: that if I went to my father
and told him I wished to marry your granddaughter, he would be opposed
to it.  Yes, that is the truth.  He does not know you; he has never even
seen Maisrie; and of course he goes by what he hears—absolute folly as
it is.  However," Vincent continued, with some effort at cheerfulness
(for he was glad to get away from that subject without being
questioned), "the main point is this: if Maisrie and I were to get
married, at once—as we have the right to do—we are surely of sufficient
age—we know our own minds—I am quite certain my father would accept the
whole affair good-naturedly and reasonably, and all would be well.  Then
see what it would be for Maisrie to have an assured position like that!
She would be able to give up her share in the small income you once
spoke of; that would be altogether yours; and surely you would be glad
to know that her future was safe, whatever might happen.  There would
practically be no separation between you and her; it isn’t as if she
were moving into another sphere—among pretentious people; in fact, all
the advantages are on her side; if we have plenty of money, she has
birth and name and family; and then again, when Maisrie and I took up
house for ourselves, there would be no more welcome guest than her
grandfather.  I think I can promise that."

There was silence for a moment—an ominous silence.

"Has Maisrie," said George Bethune, with slow and measured enunciation,
and he regarded the young man from under his shaggy eyebrows, "has
Maisrie intimated to you her wish for that—that arrangement?"

"No," said Vincent, eagerly.  "How could she? I thought I was bound to
speak to you first; for of course she will do nothing without your
approval. But don’t you think she has had enough of a wandering
life—enough of precarious circumstances; and then if her heart says yes
too——?"

Well, if this venerable impostor had at last succeeded in entrapping a
rich man’s son—in getting him to propose marriage to his
granddaughter—he did not seem to be in a hurry to secure his prey.

"Maisrie has said nothing?" George Bethune asked again, in that
curiously impassive fashion.

"No——"

"Has expressed no wish?"

"No—I have not spoken to her about this immediate proposal."

"Then, until she has," said the old man, calmly, "I must refuse any
consent of mine.  I think you have described the whole situation very
fairly—clearly and honestly, as I imagine; but I do not see any reason
for departing from what I said to you before, that I would rather my
granddaughter was not bound by any formal tie or pledge—much less by
such a marriage as you propose.  For one thing, she may have a future
before her that she little dreams of.  Of course, if her happiness were
involved, if she came to me and said that only by such and such an
arrangement could her peace of mind be secured, then I might alter my
views: at present I see no cause to do so.  You are both young: if you
care for each other, you should be content to wait.  Years are a
valuable test.  After all, according to your own showing, you are
dependent on your father’s caprice: some angry objection on his part—and
where would the fortunes of the young married couple be?"

But Vincent was too impetuous to be easily discouraged.

"Even then I should not be quite helpless," he urged.  "And is my
willingness to work to count for nothing?  However, that is not the
immediate question.  Supposing Maisrie’s happiness _were_
concerned?—supposing she were a little tired of the uncertainty of her
life?—supposing she were willing to trust herself to me—what then?  Why,
if she came to you, and admitted as much, I know you would consent.  Is
not that so?—I know it is so!—you would consent—for Maisrie’s sake!"

The old man’s eyes were turned away now—fixed on the slumbering coals in
the grate.

"I had dreamed of other things," he said, almost to himself.

"Yes; but if Maisrie came to you?" Vincent said, with the same
eagerness—almost, indeed, with some trace of joyous assurance—"She would
not have long to plead, I think!  And then again, at any moment, my
circumstances might be so altered as to give you all the guarantee for
the future which you seem to think necessary.  A word from my father
to-morrow might settle that: if I went to him, and could get him to
understand what Maisrie really was.  Or I might obtain some definite
post: I have some good friends: I am going up to London to-morrow, and
could begin to make inquiries.  In the meantime," he added hastily—for
he heard someone on the stair—"do you object to my telling Maisrie what
you have said?"

"What I have said?  I dare say she knows," old George Bethune made
answer, in an absent sort of way—and at this moment Maisrie entered the
room, bringing her sewing with her, and further speech was impossible.

It was on this same afternoon that Lord Musselburgh carried along to his
fair fiancée a report of the interview he had had with Vincent in the
morning.  The young widow was dreadfully alarmed.

"Oh, my goodness!" she exclaimed, and she began to pace up and down the
room in her agitation.  "Marry the girl at once?  Why, it is
destruction!  Fancy what all our plans and interests, all our lives,
would be—with Vin cut out! It cannot be—it shall not be—it must be
prevented at any cost!  He would be dead—worse than dead—we should be
pitying him always, and knowing where he was, and not able to go near
him.  You don’t mean to say he is definitely resolved?" she demanded in
her desperation.

"Indeed, there is no doubt about it—he spoke as plainly as you could
wish," said Lord Musselburgh. "And he has argued the thing out; his head
is clear enough, for all this wild infatuation of his. He sees that his
father will not consent—beforehand; so he means to marry, and then hope
for reconciliation when the whole affair is past praying for. That’s the
programme, you may depend on it."

"Harland must know at once," said Mrs. Ellison, going instantly to her
writing-desk.  "This must and shall be prevented.  I am not going to
have my boy’s life ruined by a pack of begging-letter swindlers and
cheats!"



                              CHAPTER IX.

                    "AND HAST THOU PLAYED ME THIS!"


And now in this time of urgency the appeal was to Maisrie herself; and
how could he doubt what her answer would be, in spite of all those
strange and inexplicable forebodings that seemed to haunt her mind?

But when he got up next morning he found to his dismay that a sudden
change in the weather was like to interfere in a very practical manner
with his audacious plans.  During the night the wind had backed to the
south-west, accompanied by a sharp fall of the barometer; and now a
stiff gale was blowing, and already a heavy sea was thundering in on the
beach.  There was as yet no rain, it is true; but along the southern
horizon the louring heavens were even darker than the wind-driven
waters; and an occasional shiver of white sunlight that swept across the
waves spoke clearly enough of coming wet.  Was it not altogether too
wild and stormy a morning to hope that Maisrie would venture forth?  And
yet he was going away that day—with great uncertainty as to the time of
his return; and how could he go without having some private speech with
her?  Nor was there any prospect of a lightening up of the weather
outside; the gale seemed to be increasing in fury; and he ate his
breakfast in silence, listening to the long, dull roar and reverberation
of the heavy-breaking surf.

Nevertheless here was a crisis; and something had to be done; so about
half-past ten he went along to the lodging-house in German Place.  The
servant-maid greeted this handsome young man with an approving glance;
and informed him that both Mr. and Miss Bethune were in the parlour
upstairs.

"No, thank you," said he, in answer to this implied invitation, "I won’t
go up.  I want to see Miss Bethune by herself: would you ask her if she
would be so kind as to come downstairs for just a moment—I won’t detain
her——"

The girl divined the situation in an instant; and proved herself
friendly.  Without more ado she turned the handle of a door near her.

"Won’t you step in there, sir?—the gentleman ’as gone out."

Vincent glanced into the little parlour.  Here, indeed, was a refuge
from the storm; but all the same he did not like to invade the privacy
of a stranger’s apartments.

"Oh, no, thanks," he said.  "I will wait here, if Miss Bethune will be
so kind as to come down for a minute.  Will you ask her, please?"

The girl went upstairs; returned with the message that Miss Bethune
would be down directly; then she disappeared, and Vincent was left alone
in this little lobby.  It was not a very picturesque place, to be sure,
for an interview between two lovers: still, it would serve—especially if
the friendly chambermaid were out of earshot, and if no prying landlady
should come along.  The gale outside was so violent that all the doors
and windows of the house were shaking and rattling: he could not ask
Maisrie to face such a storm.

But in a second or so here was Maisrie herself, all ready
apparelled—hat, muff, gloves, boa, and the furred collar of her jacket
turned up.

"Why, Maisrie," he said, "you don’t mean you are going out on such a
morning—it is far too wild and stormy!——"

"That is of no consequence," she made answer, simply.  "I have something
to say to you, Vincent, before you go."

"And I have something to say to you, Maisrie. Still," he continued, with
some little hesitation (for he was accustomed to take charge of her and
guard her from the smallest harms), "I don’t want you to get wet and
blown about—"

"What does that matter?" she said: it was not of a shower of rain that
she was thinking.

"Oh, very well," said he at last.  "I’ll tell you what we’ll do; we’ll
fight our way down to the sea-front, and then go out to the end of the
Chain Pier. There are some places of shelter out there; and there won’t
be a living soul anywhere about on such a morning.  For I am going to
ask you to make a promise, Maisrie," he added in a lower voice, "and the
sea and the sky will be quite sufficient witnesses."

And truly this was fighting their way, as they discovered the moment
they had left the house; for the gusts and squalls that came tearing
along the street were like to choke them.  She clung to his arm tightly;
but her skirts were blown about her and impeded her; the two ends of her
boa went flying away over her shoulders; while her hair was speedily in
a most untoward state—though her companion thought it was always
prettier that way than any other.  Nevertheless they leant forward
against the wind, and drove themselves through it, and eventually got
down to the sea-front.  Here, again, they were almost stunned by the
terrific roar; for the tide was full up; and the huge, brown, concave,
white-crested waves, thundering down on the shelving shingle, filled all
the thick air with spray; while light balls of foam went sailing away
inland, tossed hither and thither up into the purple-darkened sky.  So
far the driving squalls had brought no rain; but the atmosphere was
surcharged with a salt moisture; more than once Vincent stopped for a
second and took his handkerchief to dry Maisrie’s lashes and eyebrows,
and to push back from her forehead the fine wet threads of her
glistening hair.

But soon they had got away from this roar of water and grinding pebbles,
and were out on the pier, that was swaying sinuously before these fierce
trusts, and that trembled to its foundations under each successive shock
of the heavy surge.  And now they could get a better view of the wide
and hurrying sea—a sea of a tawny-brownish hue melting into a vivid
green some way further out, and always and everywhere showing swift
flashes of white, that seemed to gleam all the more suddenly and sharply
where the weight of the purple skies darkened down to the horizon.

"What a shame it is," he said to her (perhaps with some affectation of
cheerfulness, for she seemed curiously preoccupied), "What a shame it is
to drag you out on such a morning!"

"I do not mind it," she made answer.  "It will be something to
remember."

When they reached the end of the pier, which was wholly deserted, he
ensconced her snugly in a corner of one of the protected seats; and he
was not far away from her when he sate down.  Her lips had grown pale
with the buffeting of the wind; the outside threads and plaits of her
hair were damp and disordered; and her eyes were grave even to sadness;
and yet never had the strange witchery of her youthful beauty so
entirely entranced him. Perhaps it was the dim fear of losing her, that
dwelt as a sort of shadow in his mind even when he was most buoyed up by
the radiant confidence of four-and-twenty; perhaps it was the knowledge
that, for a time at least, this was to be farewell; at all events he
sate close to her, and held her hand tight, as though to make sure she
should not be stolen away from him.

"Maisrie," said he, "do you know that I spoke to your grandfather
yesterday?"

"Yes," she answered.  "He told me."

"And what did he say?"

"At first," she said, with a bit of a sigh, "he talked of Balloray.  I
was sorry that came up again; he is happier when he does not think of
it. And, indeed, I have noticed that of late he has almost given up
speaking of the possibility of a great change in our condition.  What
chance is there of any such thing?  We have no money to go to law, even
if the law had not already decided against us.  Then grandfather’s idea
that the estates might come to us through some accident, or series of
accidents—what is that but a dream?  I am sure he is far more content
when he forgets what might have been; when he trusts entirely to his own
courage and self-reliance; when he is thinking, not of lost estates, but
of some ballad he means to write about in the _Edinburgh Chronicle_.
Poor grandfather!—and yet, who can help admiring his spirit—the very
gaiety of his nature—in spite of all his misfortunes?"

"Yes, Maisrie—but—but what did he say about you?"

"About me?" the girl repeated.  "Well, it was his usual kindness.  He
said I was only to think of what would tend to my own happiness.
Happiness?" she went on, rather sadly.  "As if this world was made for
happiness!"

It was a strange speech for one so young—one who, so far as he could
make out, had been so gently nurtured and cared for.

"What do you mean, Maisrie?" said he in his astonishment.  "Why should
you not have happiness, as well as another?  Who can deserve it more
than you—you who are so generous and well-wishing to everyone—"

"I would rather not speak of myself at all, Vincent," she said.  "That
is nothing.  I want to speak of you.  I want you to consider—what is
best for you.  And I understand your position—perhaps more clearly than
you imagine.  You have made me think, of late, about many things; and
now that you are going away, I must speak frankly.  It will be
difficult.  Perhaps—perhaps, if you were more considerate, Vincent—?"

"Yes?" said he.  That Maisrie should have to beg for consideration!

"There might be no need of speaking," she went on, after that momentary
pause.  "If you were to go away now, and never see us any more, wouldn’t
that be the simplest thing?  There would be no misunderstanding—no
ill-feeling of any kind.  You would think of the time we knew you in
London—and I’m sure I should always think of it—as a pleasant time:
perhaps something too good to last. I have told you before: you must
remember what your prospects are—what all your friends expect of you—and
you will see that no good could come of hampering yourself—of
introducing someone to your family who would only bring difficulty and
trouble—"

"Yes, I understand!" he said—and he threw away her hand from him.  "I
understand now. But why not tell the truth at once—that you do not love
me—as I had been fool enough to think you did!"

"Yes, perhaps I do not love you," she said in a low voice.  "And yet I
was not thinking of myself. I was trying to think of what was best for
you—"

Her voice broke a little, and there were tears gathering on her
eyelashes: seeing which made him instantly contrite.  He caught her hand
again.

"Maisrie, forgive me!  I don’t know why you should talk like that!  If I
have your love I do not fear anything that may happen in the future.
There is nothing to fear.  When I spoke to your grandfather yesterday
afternoon, I told him precisely how I was situated; and I showed him
that, granting there were some few little difficulties, the best way to
meet them would be for you and me to get married at once: then
everything would come right of its own accord—for one must credit one’s
relatives with a little common sense.  Now that is my solution of all
this trouble—oh, yes, I confess there has been a little trouble; but
here is my solution of it—if you have courage, Maisrie. Maisrie, will
you give me your promise—will you be my wife?"

She looked at him for a second; then lowered her eyes.

"Vincent," she said slowly, "you don’t know what you ask.  And I have
wished that you would understand, without my having to speak.  I have
wished that you would understand—and go away—and make our friendship a
memory, something to think over in after years.  For how can I tell you
clearly without seeming cruel and ungrateful to one who has through my
whole life been kindness and goodness to me?—no!—no!"

She withdrew her hand; she turned away from him altogether.

"Maisrie," said he, "I don’t want you to say anything, except that you
love me, and will be my wife."

"Your wife, Vincent—your wife!" she exclaimed, in a piteous sort of way.
"How can you ask any one to be your wife who has led the life that I
have led?  Can you not guess—Vincent—without my having to speak?"

He was astounded—but not alarmed: never had his faith in her flinched
for a single instant.

"The life you have led?" said he, rather breathlessly; "Why—a—a
beautiful life—an idyllic life—constant travel—and always treated with
such kindness and care and affection—an ideal life—why, who would not
envy you?"

She was sobbing—with her head averted.

"Don’t, Vincent, don’t!  I cannot—I will not—tell you," she said, in a
kind of despair.  "What is the use?  But it is you who have made me
think—it is you who have shown me clearly what I have been.  I—I was
young—I was only a child; my grandfather was everything to me; whatever
he did was right.  And now I have become a woman since I knew you—I can
see myself—and I know that never, never can I be your wife."

"Maisrie!"

But she paid no heed.  She was strangely excited.  She rose to her feet:
and for a moment he thought he saw a look of her grandfather in her
face.

"And yet even in my degradation—my degradation," she said, repeating the
words with cruel emphasis, "I have some pride.  I know what your friends
think of me: or I can guess.  Perhaps they are right.  Perhaps the
stories you spoke of were all to be believed.  That is neither here nor
there now.  But, at least, they need not be afraid that I am coming to
them as a suppliant.  I will not bring shame upon them; they have
nothing to fear from me."

He regarded her with astonishment, and with something of reproach also:
these proud tones did not sound like Maisrie’s voice.  And all of a
sudden she changed.

"Why, Vincent, why," she said, "should you put yourself in opposition to
your friends?  Why give up all the splendid future that is before you?
Why disappoint all the hopes that have been formed of you——?"

"If need were, for the sake of your love, Maisrie," he said.

"My love?" she said.  "But you have that, Vincent—and—and you shall have
that always!"

And here she burst into a passionate fit of weeping; and in vain he
tried to soothe her.  Nay, she would not have him speak.

"Let this be the last," she said, through her bitter sobs.  "Only—only,
Vincent, don’t go away with any doubt about that in your mind.  I love
you!—I shall love you always!—I will give my life to thinking of
you—when you are far too occupied—ever to think of me.  Will you believe
me, Vincent!—Will you believe, always, that I loved you—that I loved you
too well to do what you ask—to become a drag on you—and a shame."  The
tears were running down her cheeks; but she kept her eyes fixed bravely
and piteously on him, as she uttered her wild, incoherent sentences.
"My dearest—my dearest in all the world—will you remember—will you
believe that always?  Will you say to yourself, ’Wherever Maisrie is at
this moment, she loves me—she is thinking of me.’  Promise me, Vincent,
that you will never doubt that!  No—you need not put it into words: your
heart tells you that it is true.  And now, Vincent, kiss me!—kiss me,
Vincent!—and then good-bye!"

She held up her face.  He kissed her lips, that were salt with the
sea-foam.  The tangles of her wind-blown hair touched his cheek—and
thrilled him.

He did not speak for a moment.  He was over-awed. This pure confession
of a maiden soul had something sacred about it: how could he reply with
commonplace phrases about his friends and the future?  And yet, here was
Maisrie on the point of departure; she only waited for a word of
good-bye; and her eyes, that were now filled with a strange sadness and
hopelessness, no longer regarded him.  The farewell had been spoken—on
her side.

"And you think I will let you go, after what you have just confessed?"
he said to her—and his calm and restrained demeanour was a sort of
answer to her trembling vehemence and her despair.  "You give me the
proudest possession a man may have on this earth: and I am to stand idly
by, and let it be taken away from me.  Is that a likely thing?"

He took her hand, and put her back into the sheltered corner.

"Sit down there, Maisrie, out of the wind.  I want to talk to you.  I
was a fool when I mentioned those stories the other day: I could have
cut my tongue out the next moment.  And indeed I thought you took no
notice.  Why should you take any notice?  Insensate trash!  And who
escapes such things?—and who is so childish as to heed them?  Then again
I remember your saying that I knew nothing about your grandfather or
yourself. Do you think that is so?  Do you think I have been all this
time constantly in your society—watching you—studying you—yes, and
studying you with the anxiety that goes with love—for, of course, you
want the one you love to be perfect—do you imagine, after all this that
I do not know you and understand you?  Degradation!—very well, I accept
that degradation: I welcome all the degradation that is likely to be
associated with you. If I were to wash my hands in that sort of
degradation, I think they would come out a little whiter! I know you to
be as pure and noble as the purest and noblest woman alive; and what do
I care about your—your circumstances?"

"Don’t, Vincent!—don’t be kind to me, Vincent!" she said, piteously.
"It will be all the harder to think of when—when we are separated—and
far away from each other."

"Yes, but we are not going to separate," said he briefly.  "Your
grandfather has left you to decide for yourself; and surely after what
you have said to me this morning, surely I have the right to decide for
you.  I tell you, we are not going to separate, Maisrie—except for a few
days.  When I am up in London I mean to look round and see what
dispositions can be made with regard to the future.  Oh, I assure you I
am going to be very prudent and circumspect; and I am ready to turn my
hand to anything.  Then, in another direction, Maisrie, you might give
me a hint," he went on, with much cheerfulness, but watching her to see
how she would take it.  "What part of London do you think you would like
best to live in?  If we could get a small house with a garden up
somewhere about Campden Hill—that would be pleasant; and of course there
must be a library for your grandfather, for we should want the privacy
of the morning-room for ourselves."

She shook her head.

"Dreams, Vincent, dreams!" she murmured.

"But sometimes dreams come true," said he, for he was not to be daunted.
"And you will see how much dream-work there will be about it when I get
things put into trim in London.  Now I’m not going to keep you here any
longer, Maisrie; for I fancy there is some rain coming across; and you
mustn’t be caught.  I will go in and say good-bye to your grandfather,
if I may; and the next you will hear of me will be when I send you some
news from town.  In the meantime, hearts up, Maisrie!—surely the
granddaughter of your grandfather should show courage!"

When, that afternoon, Vincent arrived in London, he did not go to his
temporary lodgings (what charm had the slummy little street in Mayfair
for him now?) but to Grosvenor Place, where he shut himself up in his
own room, and managed to get on somehow with that detested lecture.  And
next day he went down to Mendover: and next evening he made his
appearance before the Mendover Liberal Association; and there were the
customary votes of thanks to wind up the proceedings.  There was nothing
in all this worthy of note: what was of importance happened after, when
the President of the Association, who had occupied the chair in the
absence of Lord Musselburgh, accompanied Vincent home to the Red Lion.
This Mr. Simmons was a solicitor, and a great political power in
Mendover; so, when he hinted that the Red Lion had a certain bin of port
that was famous all over the county—and, indeed, was powerful enough to
draw many a hunt-dinner to this hostelry by its own influence alone—be
sure that Master Vin was not long in having a decanter of the wine
placed on the table of the private parlour he had engaged.  Mr. Simmons,
who was a sharp, shrewd-looking little man, with a pale face and
intensely black hair and short-cropped whiskers, suggested a cigar, and
took the largest he could find in his host’s case.  Then he proceeded to
make himself important and happy—with his toes on the fender, and his
shoulders softly cushioned in an easy chair.

"Yes," said he, complacently, when the cigar was going well, "I think I
can predict some good fortune for you, and that without having my hand
crossed with a shilling.  I hope I am breaking no confidence; we lawyers
are supposed to be as mum as a priest after confessional; but of course
what is said between gentlemen will go no further than the four walls of
this room."

"I think you may trust me for that," Vincent said.

"Very well, then," continued Mr. Simmons, with an air of bland
consequence.  "I will say this at least—that in January you may fairly
expect to be offered a very pretty New Year’s present."

"Oh, really," said Vincent, without being much impressed: he fancied the
Liberal Association were perhaps going to pass a vote of thanks—possibly
inscribed on vellum—with the names of all the officials writ large.

"A very pretty present: the representation of Mendover."

But at this he pricked up his ears; and Mr. Simmons smiled.

"Mr. Richard Gosford is my client, as I think you know," the
black-a-viced little lawyer went on, "but what I am telling you does not
come direct from him to me.  I need not particularise my sources of
information.  But from what I can gather I am almost certain that he
means to resign at the end of the year—he did talk of waiting for the
next General Election, as Lord Musselburgh may have told you; but his
imaginary troubles have grown on him; and as far as I can see there will
be nothing for you but to slip easily and quietly into his shoes next
January.  A very pretty New Year’s present!"

"But of course there will be a contest!" Vincent exclaimed.

"Not a bit," Mr. Simmons made answer, regarding the blue curls of smoke
from the cigar.  "The snuggest little seat in England.  Everybody knows
you are Lord Musselburgh’s nominee; and Lord Musselburgh has promised to
do everything for our public park that Mr. Gosford ought to have done
when he presented the ground.  See?  No bribery on your part.  Simple as
daylight.  We’ll run you in as if you were an infant on a wheelbarrow."

"It’s very kind of you, I’m sure," said Vincent. "Is there anything you
would recommend me to do——?"

"Yes; I would recommend you to go and call on old Gosford to-morrow,
before you leave for town."

"Wouldn’t that look rather like undue haste in seizing a dead man’s
effects?" Vincent ventured to ask.

"A dead man?" said Mr. Simmons, helping himself to another glass of
port.  "He is neither dead nor dying, any more than you or I.  And
that’s what you’ve got to remember to-morrow, when you go to see him.
For goodness’ sake, don’t tell him he’s looking well—as you’ve got to
say to most invalids.  Tell him he’s looking very poorly.  Be seriously
concerned.  Then he’ll be off to bed again—and delighted.  For what he
suffers from is simply incurable laziness—and nervous timidity; and so
long as he can hide himself under the blankets, and read books, he’s
happy."

"But what excuse am I to make for calling on him?" Vincent asked again.

"Oh," said Mr. Simmons, carelessly, "one public character visiting
another.  You were here delivering a lecture; and of course you called
on the sitting member.  You won’t want any excuse if you will tell him
he should take extraordinary care of himself in this changeable
weather."

"And should I say anything about the seat?" Vincent asked further.

"I must leave that to your own discretion. Rather ticklish.  Perhaps
better say nothing—unless he introduces the subject: then you can talk
about the overcrowding of the House, and the late hours, and the nervous
wear and tear of London. But you needn’t suggest to him, in set terms,
that as he is retiring from business he might as well leave you the
goodwill: perhaps that would be a little too outspoken."

As luck would have it, a day or two after Vin’s return to town, Mr.
Ogden came to dine at Grosvenor Place.  It was a man’s dinner—a dinner
of political extremists and faddists; but so far from Master Vincent
retiring to his own room and his books, as he sometimes did, he joined
the party, and even stipulated for a place next the great electioneerer
and wire-puller of the North.  Further than that, he made himself most
agreeable to Mr. Ogden: was most meek and humble and good-humoured (for
to what deeps of hypocrisy will not a young man descend when he is madly
in love?), and seemed to swallow wholesale the long-resounding list of
Reforms—Reforms Administrative, Reforms Electoral, Reforms Fiscal,
Reforms Social and Political.  For all the while he was saying within
himself: ’My dear sir, perhaps what you say is quite true: and we’re all
going headlong to the devil—with the caucus for drag.  And I could wish
you to have a few more A’s: still, many excellent men have lived and
died without them.  The main point is this—if one might dare to ask—Is
your Private Secretaryship still open; and, if so, what salary would you
propose to give?’  But, of course, he could not quite ask those
questions at his own father’s dinner-table; besides, he was in no hurry;
he wanted a few more days to look round.

The guests of this evening did not go up to the drawing-room; they
remained in the dining-room, smoking, until it was time for them to
leave: then Harland Harris and his son found themselves alone together.
Now the relations between father and son had been very considerably
strained since the morning on which the former had brought his
allegations against old George Bethune and his granddaughter; but on
this occasion Vincent was in a particularly amiable and generous mood.
He was pleased with himself for having paid court to Mr. Ogden; he
looked forward with some natural gratification to this early chance of
getting into Parliament; and, again, what was the use of attaching any
importance to those preposterous charges?  So he lit another cigarette;
stretched out his legs before the fire; and told his father—but with
certain reservations, for on one or two points he was pledged to
silence—what had happened down at Mendover.

"I am heartily glad to hear it," said the communist-capitalist, with a
certain cold severity of tone.  "I am glad to hear that you begin to
realise what are the serious interests of life.  You are a very
fortunate young man.  If you are returned for Mendover, it will be by a
concurrence of circumstances such as could not easily have been
anticipated.  At the same time I think it might be judicious if you went
down again and hinted to Mr.——what did you say?—Simmons?—Mr. Simmons
that in the event of everything turning out well, there would be no need
to wait for Lord Musselburgh’s contribution towards the completion of
the public park.  What Lord Musselburgh is going to gain by that passes
my comprehension. I can hardly suppose that he made such a promise in
order to secure your election: that, indeed, would be a wild freak of
generosity—so wild as to be incredible.  However," continued Mr. Harris,
in his pedantic and sententious manner, "it is unnecessary to seek for
motives.  We do not need to be indebted to him.  I consider that it is
of the greatest importance that you should enter Parliament at an early
age; and I am willing to pay.  Mendover ought to be a secure seat, if it
is kept warm. Promise them what you like—I will see to the rest. There
are other things besides a park, if they prefer to keep Lord Musselburgh
to his promise: a free library, for example—if they have one already,
another one: a clubhouse for the football club—a pavilion for the
cricketers—a refreshment tent for the tennis ground—a band to play on
the summer evenings—a number of things of that kind that you could
discover from your friend the solicitor."

Vincent could have laughed, had he dared.  Here he was invited to play
the part of a great local magnate, plutocrat, and benefactor; and it was
less than half-an-hour ago that he had been anxiously wondering whether
£200 a year, or £250 a year, would be the probable salary of Mr. Ogden’s
private secretary.  Harland Harris went on:

"It is so rarely that such an opportunity occurs—in England at
least—that one must not be niggardly in welcoming it.  Simmons—did you
say Simmons? is clearly of importance: if you make him your agent in
these negotiations, that will be enough for him—he will look after
himself.  And he will keep you safe: the elected member may steal a
horse, whereas as a candidate he daren’t look over the hedge.  And once
you are embarked on a career of public usefulness——"

"Bribery, do you mean?" said Vincent, meekly.

"I refer to the House of Commons: once you have your career open to you,
you will be able to show whether the training you have undergone has
been the right one, or whether the ordinary scholastic routine—mixed up
with monkish traditions—would have been preferable.  At all events you
have seen the world.  You have seen men, and their interests, and
occupations: not a parcel of grown-up schoolboys playing games."  And
therewithal he bade his son good-night.

A day or two passed: Vincent was still making discreet inquiries as to
how a young man, with some little knowledge of the world, and a trifle
of capital at his back, but with no specific professional training,
could best set to work to earn a moderate income for himself; and also
he was sounding one or two editors for whom he had done some occasional
work as to whether employment of a more permanent kind might be
procurable.  Moreover, he had ordered the little brooch for Maisrie—a
tiny white dove this was, in mother-of-pearl, on a transverse narrow
band of rubies; and besides that he had picked up a few things with
which to make her room a little prettier, when she should return to
town.  Some of the latter, indeed, which were fit for immediate
installation, he had already sent home; and one afternoon he thought he
might as well go up and see what Mrs. Hobson had done with them.

It was the landlady’s husband who opened the door; and even as he
ushered the young man up to the parlour, he had begun his story, which
was so confused and disconnected and inclined to tears that Vincent
instantly suspected gin.

"Lor bless ye, sir, we ev bin in such a sad quandary, to be sure, and
right glad I am to see you, sir, with them things a comin ome, and you
was so particular about not a word to be said, and there was the missis,
a angin of em up, and the beautiful counterpane, all spread out so neat
and tidy, ’why,’ says she, ’the Queen on the throne she aint got nothin
more splendid, which he is the most generous young genelman, and jest as
good as he’s ansome’—beggin’ your pardon, sir, for women will talk, and
then in the middle of it hall, here comes the old genelman as we were
not expecting of im, sir—ah, sir, a great man, a wonderful man, sir, in
sorrowful sikkumstances—and the young lady, too, and hall to be settled
up reglar—oh, heverythink, sir—like a genelman——"

"What the mischief are you talking about?" said Vincent, in his
bewilderment.  "Do you mean to say that Mr. Bethune and Miss Bethune
have been in London?"

"Yesterday, sir, yesterday, more’s the pity, sir, to give up their rooms
for good and hall, for never again shall we ’ev sich lodgers in this
poor ouse. A honour, sir, as was least knowed when it was most
appreciated, as one might say, sir, a man like that, sir, a great man,
sir, though awaitin his time, like many others, and oldin is ead igh
against fate and fortune whatever the world might say.  And the young
lady—beautiful she was, as you know, sir—as you know, sir—and as good as
gold—well, never again—in this poor ouse——"

"Look here," said Vincent, impatiently—for this rigmarole threatened at
any moment to dissolve in maudlin weeping, "will you answer me one
question: am I to understand that Mr. Bethune and his granddaughter are
not coming back here?"

"Indeed, no, sir, more’s the pity, sir, it was a honour to this pore
ouse, and heverythink paid up like a genelman, though many’s the time I
was sayin to the missis as she needn’t be so ard——"

"Where have they gone, then?" the younger man demanded, peremptorily.

"Lor bless ye, sir, it took me all of a suddent—they didn’t say nothin
about that, sir—and I was that upset, sir——"

Vincent glanced at his watch: five minutes past four was the time.

"Oh, I see," he said, with a fine carelessness (for there were wild and
alarming suspicions darting through his brain).  "They’re going to
remain in Brighton, I dare say.  Well, good-bye, Hobson! About those
bits of things I sent up—you keep them for yourself—tell Mrs. Hobson I
make her a present of them—you needn’t say anything about them to
anybody."

He left the house.  He quickly crossed the street, and went up to his
own rooms: the table there was a blank—he had almost expected as much.
Then he went out again, hailed a hansom, drove down to Victoria-station,
and caught the four-thirty train to Brighton.  When he reached the
lodging-house in German Place, he hardly dared knock: he seemed to know
already what was meant by this hurried and stealthy departure.  His
worst fears were immediately confirmed.  Mr. Bethune—Miss Bethune—had
left the previous morning.  And did no one know whither they had gone?
No one.  And there was no message—no letter—for any one who might call?
There was no message—no letter.

The young man turned away.  It was raining: he did not seem to care.
Out there in the dark was the solitary light at the end of the pier:
why, how many days had gone by since she had said to him, with tears
running down her cheeks—’Vincent, I love you!—I love you!—you are my
dearest in all the world!—remember that always!’  And what was this that
she had done?—for that it was of her doing; he had no manner of doubt.
Enough: his heart, that had many a time been moved to pity by her
solitariness, her friendlessness, had no more pity now.  Pride rose in
its place—pride, and reproach, and scorn.  There was but the one
indignant cry ringing in his ears—"False love—false love—and traitress!"



                            END OF VOL. II.



          LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
                   STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.





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