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´╗┐Title: Hugh Crichton's Romance
Author: Coleridge, C.R.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Hugh Crichton's Romance
By C.R. Coleridge
Published by Macmillan and Co, London.
This edition dated 1875.

PART ONE, CHAPTER ONE.

HUGH'S STORY.

  "The light that never was on sea or land."

PART ONE, CHAPTER TWO.

VIOLANTE.

  Elle etait pale et pourtant rose,
  Petite, avec de grands cheveux,
  Elle disait souvent, "Je n'ose,"
  Et ne disait jamais, "Je veux."

The sunshine of a summer evening was bathing Civita Bella with an
intensity of beauty rare even in that fair Italian town.  When the
shadows are sharp, and the lights clear, and the sky a serene and
perfect blue, even fustian and broadcloth have a sort of
picturesqueness, slates and bricks show unexpected colours, and chance
tree tops tell with effect even in London squares and suburbs.  Then
harsh tints harmonise and homely faces look fair, while fair ones catch
the eye more quickly; every flower basket in the streets shows whiter
pinks and redder roses than those which were passed unseen in
yesterday's rain, the street gutters catch a sparkle of distant
streamlets, and the street children at their play group into pictures.
For the sun is a great enchanter, and nothing in nature but sad human
hearts can resist his brightness.  Civita Bella needed no adventitious
aid to enhance its beauty.  The fretted spires and carved balconies,
quaint gables and decorated walls, were the inheritance of centuries of
successful art, and their varied hues were only harmonised by the years
that had passed since some master spirit had given them to the world, or
since they had grown up in obedience to the inspiring influence of an
art-loving generation.  Down a side street, apart from the chief centres
of modern life, stood an old ducal palace.  The very name of its
princely owners had long ago faded out of the land, and no one alive
bore on his shield the strange devices carved over its portico.  It lay
asleep in the sunshine, lifting its broken pinnacles and mutilated
carvings to the blue sky, still beautiful with the pathetic beauty of
"the days that are no more."

The old palace was let in flats, and on one of the upper stories
flower-pots and muslin curtains peeped gaily out of the dim, broken
marbles with a kind of pleasant incongruity, like a child in a convent.

Within the muslin curtains was a long, spacious room, with inlaid floor
and coloured walls, with a broad band of bas-reliefs round the top
leading the eye to the carved and painted ceiling above.  There was very
little furniture, a grand piano being the most conspicuous object, and
the lofty windows were shaded by Venetian blinds; but round the
farthest, which was partly open, were grouped a few chairs and tables,
with an unmistakable attempt to give an air of modern, not to say
English, comfort to one part of the vast, half-inhabited chamber.

A brown-faced, shrewd-eyed Italian woman, with gold pins in her grey
hair and gold beads round her neck, and a young lady in an ordinary
muslin dress, were standing together contemplating and criticising a
young girl who stood in front of them, dressed in the costume of an
Italian peasant.  That is to say, she wore a short skirt and a white
bodice, but the skirt was of rose-coloured silk, the bodice of fine
cambric; her tiny hat was more coquettish than correct in detail, and
the little hands playing with the cross round her neck had surely never
toiled for their daily bread.  Yet she looked a little tired and a
little sad, and her companions were noticing her appearance with the
gravity that pertains to a matter of business.

"I think that will do," said the young lady, in a clear, decided voice.
"She looks very pretty."

"Oh, bella--bellissima!" said the old Italian woman, clapping her hands.
"But when is not la signorina charming?"

"It does not alter her much.  Violante, does it inspire you?"

"I think it is very pretty; and you know, Rosa, I shall be rouged, and
perhaps my eyes will be painted if they don't show enough," said
Violante, simply.

"You don't mind that?" said Rosa, curiously.

"No!" with a half-surprised look in the soft pathetic eyes; "I am glad.
Then father will not see when I am pale.  It will be hidden."

"Oh, my child, you will not look pale then.  So, Zerlina, you want
another bow on your apron; and then this great dress is off one's mind.
We must let father look at you."

"Do you think he will say I look handsome enough?" said Violante,
anxiously.

Rosa laughed.  "I don't know what he may say, but I am sure of what he
will think.  And besides, he is not the public.  Thank you, Maddalena,
we need not keep you now."  And, as the old woman departed, Rosa took
the little muslin apron and began to sew a bright bow on it; while
Violante stood by her side, manifestly afraid of injuring her costume by
sitting down in it.  She looked very pretty, as her sister had said, but
her anxious, serious look was little in accordance with her gay stage
costume.

"You see," said Rosa, as she pinched up her loops of ribbon, "we have a
great many friends.  All the members of the singing-class will go, so
you will not feel that you are acting to strangers."

"I think Madame Tollemache will go," said Violante.

"Of course, and her son, and Emily, and they will take Mr Crichton."

A sudden brightness came over the girl's soft eyes and lips, as she
stood behind her sister's chair.

"Rosa, mia," she said, "you understand about England.  What is it il
signor--ah, I cannot say his name--does in his own country?"

"Violante, you talk a great deal of English, why cannot you learn how to
call people's names?  Crichton; Spencer Crichton."

"He should not have two hard names," said Violante, with a little pout.
"I would rather call him il signor Hugo."

"Well, as you like," said Rosa, laughing.  "And he lives in a beautiful
palazzo, with trees and a river?"

"Does he?" said Rosa, "I should doubt it exceedingly.  I dare say he has
a very nice house.  There are no palaces, Violante, in England, except
for bishops, and for the Queen; certainly not for bankers."

"And what is a banker?"

"Well," said Rosa, a little puzzled in her turn; "he takes care of
people's money for them; it is a profession."

"And he is not noble?"

"No; but as he has this country-seat, I suppose he has a position
somewhat equivalent to what we mean here by noble.  You can't understand
it, dear; it is all different.  Mr Crichton works very hard, no doubt,
in his own country, and I suppose his long holiday will soon be over."

Violante started, and as she stood behind her sister's chair, she hid
her face for a moment in her hands.

"But his brother is coming--his brother, who so loves art," she said,
after a pause.

"Ah, yes; then I daresay they will go home together.  But you will have
this artistic gentleman to look at you on Tuesday; and we must take care
and please your chief admirer before all."

"Shall I please him?" said the girl, with a smile shy and yet
half-confident.

"I hope so.  Signor Vasari's opinion is of importance."  Violante's face
fell, as if it were not the manager of the Civita Bella opera-house
whose opinion she had thought of such consequence, but she did not speak
till a hasty step sounded on the stair without.

"That is father!"

"Yes!  Here, the apron is ready; tie it on.  Oh, my darling, do not look
so frightened; you will spoil it all!"

Violante crept close to her sister and took her hand; her bosom heaved,
her mouth trembled.  Manifestly either the result of the inspection was
of supreme importance, or she greatly feared the inspector.

Rosa kissed her, and, with an encouraging pat on the shoulder, put her
away, and Violante stood with her gay fantastic dress, a strange
contrast to the timid, uneasy face of the wearer.

"Ah ha, Mademoiselle Mattei!  So; very pretty, very pretty.  But no;
this is fit for a drawing-room.  She might go and drink tea with Madame
Tollemache at the Consulate; she might wear it on a Sunday to church."

"Oh, father, I am sure I could not!" cried Violante, scandalised.

Signor Mattei stood with his head on one side, contemplating her with
critical attention, and stroking his long grizzled beard the while.
"She will be effaced by the footlights and the distance!  More ribbons,
Rosa; more braid, more chains, more gilding.  A knot there, a bow
_there_; here a streamer, here some--some effect!"

"But, father, Zerlina was only a peasant girl," said Violante, timidly.

"Tut-tut, what do you know about it?" he said, shortly.  "A peasant
girl!  She is the sublimated essence of the coquetry and the charm of a
thousand peasant girls; and till you see that, you silly child, you will
never be her worthy representative!"

"I understand, father," interposed Rosa, hastily.  "It is soon done.
Will you go and take the dress off, Violante?"

But as Violante moved, there was the sound of another arrival, and
Maddalena announced "Il signor Inglese."

"Stay, child," cried Signor Mattei, as Violante was escaping in haste.
She paused with a start which might have been caused by the sudden sound
of her father's voice, for he let his sentences fall much as if he were
cracking a nut.  "Stop!  I have no objection to give the world a tiny
sip of the future cup of joy!  What, how will you face the public on
Tuesday, if you are afraid of one Englishman, uneducated, a child in
Art?"

The little _cantatrice_ of seventeen stood flushing and quivering as if
only one atom of that terrible public were enough to fill her with
dread.  But perhaps her father's eye was more terrible than the
stranger's, for she stood still, a spot of gaudy colour in the centre of
the great bare room, yet shrinking like a little wild animal in the
strange new cage, where it looks in vain for its safe shady hole amid
cool ferns and moss.

Rosa came forward and shook hands with the new comer, saying, in
English, "How do you do, Mr Crichton?  You find us very busy."

"I hope I am not in the way.  I came for one moment to ask if I might
bring my brother to the singing-class to-morrow.  He is very fond of
music."

The speaker had a pleasant voice and accent, spite of a slight formality
of address, and although he carried himself with what Signor Mattei
called "English stiffness," there was also an English air of health and
strength about his tall figure.  The lack of colour and vivacity in his
fair grave features prevented their regularity of form from striking a
casual observer, just as a want of variety in their expression caused
people to say that Hugh Spencer Crichton had no expression at all.  But
spite of all detractors, he looked handsome, sensible, and well bred,
and none of his present companions had ever had reason to say that he
was grave because their society bored him, formal because he was too
proud to be familiar, or silent because he was too unsympathetic to have
anything to say.  Such remarks had sometimes been made upon him, but it
is always well to see people for the first time under favourable
circumstances, and so we first see Hugh Crichton in the old Italian
palace, enjoying a private view of the future _prima donna_ in her stage
dress.

"We shall be delighted to see your brother, signor," said the musician,
"as your brother, and, I understand, as a distinguished patron of our
beloved art."

"He would much enjoy being so considered," said Hugh, with a half smile;
and then, to Violante, "Is that the great dress, signorina?"

"It is only a rehearsal for it," said Rosa, as Violante only answered by
a blush.

"No doubt it is all it should be," said Hugh.

It was not a very complimentary speech, and Hugh offered no opinion as
to the details of the dress.  It were hard to say if he admired it.  But
Violante looked up at him and spoke.

"They don't think it fine enough," she said.

Hugh gave here a quick sudden glance, and a smile as if in sympathy
either with the words or the tremulous voice that uttered them.  Then he
said something both commonplace and extravagant about painting the lily,
which satisfied Signor Mattei, and astonished Rosa, who thought him a
sensible young man, and, saying he was bound to meet his brother, he
rather hastily took his leave.

Violante went into her own room and gladly took off Zerlina's dress, for
it was hot and heavy, and her shabby old muslin was far more
comfortable.  She pulled her soft hair out of the two long plaits into
which Rosa had arranged it, and let it fall about her shoulders, and
then she went to the window and looked out at the deep dazzling blue.
She could see little else from the high casement but the carving of the
little balcony round it, a long wreath of rich naturalistic foliage
among which nestled a dove, with one of its wings broken.  Violante's
pet creepers twined their green tendrils in and out among their marble
likenesses, a crimson passion flower lay close to its white image, and
sometimes a real pigeon lighted on the balcony and caressed the broken
one with its wings.  Violante encouraged the pigeons with crumbs and
sweet noises, and trained her creepers round her own dove, making
stories for it in a fanciful childish fashion, she would go and sing her
songs to it, and treat it like a favourite doll.  But she took no heed
of it now, she gazed past it at the sky as if she saw a vision.  She was
not thinking of the brilliant dreaded future that lay before her, not
consciously thinking of the scene just past.  She was only feeling to
her very finger tips the spell of one glance and smile.  Poor Violante!

PART ONE, CHAPTER THREE.

MR SPENCER CRICHTON.

  "Just in time to be too late."

Hugh Crichton walked away from the musician's apartments towards the
railway station, where he had promised to meet his brother.  His tweed
suit and large white umbrella were objects as incongruous with the
picturesque scene around him as the somewhat similar figure often
introduced into the foreground of photographs of buildings or mountains;
but his thoughts, possibly, were less unworthy of the soft and lovely
land in which he found himself, were less taken up with the home news
which he expected to receive than perhaps they should have been.

Hugh was scarcely eight and twenty, but the responsibilities of more
advanced life had early descended on him, and he owed his present long
holiday to a fall from his horse, from the effects of which, truth to
tell, he had some time since entirely recovered.  But busy men do not
often reach Italy, and his friend, the English consul, was about to
leave Civita Bella for a more lucrative appointment, and why should not
Hugh see as much as possible, when he would never have another chance?
"Never have another chance."  Those words echoed in Hugh's ears and bore
for him more than one meaning.

Some thirty years before, the Bank of Oxley, a large town not very far
from London, with the old red-brick house belonging to it, had descended
to a young James Spencer, who thenceforth held one of the best positions
in the neighbourhood.  For Oxley was a town of considerable importance,
and the Spencers had been bankers there for generations, and had
intermarried with half the families round.  Nevertheless, when Miss
Crichton, sole heiress of Redhurst House, refused Sir William Ribstone
to marry Mr Spencer, it was said by her friends that she might have
looked higher, and by his relations that no name, however aristocratic,
should have been allowed to supersede the old Spencer, with all its
honourable and respected associations.  But Lily Crichton laughed and
said that Sir William's father had drunk himself to death, and had been
known to throw a beef steak at the late Lady Ribstone, and she was
afraid that the practices might be hereditary.  Mr Spencer smiled and
said that he hoped his friends would find Spencer Crichton as safe a
name as Spencer had been before it, he would not refuse his wife's
estate because this condition was attached to it, and he could come into
the Bank every day from Redhurst.  And so, in Redhurst House, Mr and
Mrs Spencer lived and loved each other, and their two sons, Hugh and
James were born; while in course of time the banker's younger brother
died, and his three children, Arthur, Frederica, and George, were
transferred to their uncle's guardianship, and a little cousin of his
wife's, Marion or Mysie Crofton, was left with her eight thousand pounds
in the same kind and efficient care.

These boys and girls, all grew up together in the careless freedom of
so-called brother and sisterhood, till the sudden death of the father
clouded their happiness, and, in the absence of near relations, left all
these various guardianships to his wife and to his son Hugh.

It was a great honour for a young man of twenty-five to be so trusted,
and a great burden; but Hugh was sensible and steady, his cousin Arthur
was already nearly of age, and his mother, whose elastic spirits soon
recovered more or less from the shock of grief, was, of course,
practically responsible for the girls.  Hugh's own career at Rugby and
at Oxford had been unexceptionable: he had no intention of making his
office a sinecure.  Conscientious and inflexible both in opinion and
action, it would have been strange indeed if at twenty-five he had not
been also rather hard and dictatorial; but the mischievous effects of
these qualities was much modified by a certain clearness of judgment and
power of understanding his own position and that of others which almost
seemed to stand him in the stead of skilful tact, or even of gentle
charity.  He was really just, and, therefore, he saw difficulties as
well as duties, and knew exactly where it would be foolish to strain an
authority which he was too young to support, where it was wise to take
the advice of others, and where it was necessary to depend on himself.
He was often lenient in his judgment of others' actions; but then he
thought that there was not much to be expected of most people, and he
was seldom made angry, because other people's folly did not signify much
as long as he was perfectly sure that he was acting rightly himself.  If
a man did do wrong he was a coward if he would not own it, even to a
child.  And so Hugh on the rare occasions when he was cross or unjust,
invariably begged pardon.  But he did not care at all whether he was
forgiven.  He had done his part, and if the other side cherished anger,
that was their own look out.

The ownership of the bank had descended to him, and he lived with his
mother and helped her to manage the Redhurst property, which would some
day be his own, fulfilling all his various offices with much credit to
himself, and, on the whole, much advantage to other people.  For if he
thought most of what was due to himself, his view of his own duty
included great attention to the interests of others, even to
self-sacrifice on their behalf.  Indeed, as his cousin Arthur said,
"although the old saying might have been parodied with regard to Hugh,
that--

"Though he never _did_ a cruel thing, He never _said_ a kind one."

"Neither did he ever say anything unkind, so they might all be thankful.
Most likely old Hugh thought them all prodigies if they could only see
into his heart."

"You never were more mistaken in your life, Arthur," said Hugh with
perfect truth and much coolness.

"Now, why won't you take the credit of having some fine feelings to
repress?" said Arthur, who was often guilty of trying to get a rise out
of Hugh for the benefit of the younger ones.

But Hugh was so unmoved that he did not even reply that he did not care
about credit.

"You'll get a scratch some day, Arthur," said James, who nearest in age
to Hugh, and exempt from his authority might say what he pleased.

"Oh no, he won't," said Hugh, with a not unpleasant smile.  "At least,
if he does, I shall be much ashamed of myself."

"What?" said Arthur, "I should respect myself for ever if I could put
Hugh in a rage."

"People should never be in a rage," said Hugh--"they should control
themselves."

"If they can," said Arthur, conscious of the minor triumph of having
caused Hugh to be very sententious.

Hugh was silent.  It is one thing to have a theory of life, and quite
another to mould your character and tame your passions into accordance
with it.  Years before, when Hugh was at Oxford and James had just left
school for a public office; they, in the curious repetition and reversal
of human events, had come across a certain Miss Ribstone, the daughter
of their mother's old admirer, to whose many charms Hugh, then scarcely
twenty, fell a victim.  For one whole long vacation he had ridden,
danced, talked fun and sentiment with her, until the whole thing had
been put an end to by the announcement of her engagement to--somebody
else.  Then Hugh's pride and self-control proved weak defences against
the sudden shock, and he met the girl and her half-saucy,
half-sentimental demand for congratulations with such passionate
reproaches as she never forgot.  Probably she deserved them, but the
mortification of having so betrayed himself, almost killed regret in
Hugh's bosom.  "It was not my fault, I was not to blame," he said to his
brother.  "I should have remembered that," and as he spoke he made a
holocaust of all the notes and flowers and ribbons he had hitherto
cherished.

"Dear me," said sentimental James, "what a pity, I keep dozens of them."

"I'll never have another," said Hugh.

The incident was only remembered as "Hugh's old flirtation with Nelly
Ribstone," but Hugh forswore fine ladies and folly, and never forgot
that he had once lost all control of his own words and actions.  But all
that was long ago when he had been a mere boy, not a shadow of sentiment
hung over the recollection of it, and Hugh awaited his brother's arrival
at Civita Bella with a certain self-consciousness and desire to appear
specially pleased to see him, which perhaps he had not experienced since
his relations had been wont to wonder "what Hugh _could_ be doing
_again_ at Ribstone House."  He had not left himself much time to wait,
for as he came up to the station, a slender little man in a velvet coat,
with a conspicuously long, silky light brown beard, advanced to meet
him.

"Ah, Hugh, there you are yourself."

"How d'ye do, Jem?  I never knew the train so punctual.  I thought I'd
ten minutes to spare.  I'm so glad you have got your holiday."

James Spencer would have been a much handsomer man than his brother if
he had not been on so small a scale; as it was, the delicacy of his
features, and the fairness of his complexion, gave him something of a
finicking aspect; which was not diminished by the evident pains taken
with his dress, hair, and beard; which were arranged with a view to the
picturesque, rather trying to the patience of an ordinary observer.  But
on a close inspection, he had a good-tempered and kindly expression,
which showed that he combined appreciation of other things and people
with admiration for himself.  And though he was very fond of talking
Bohemianism, he went to his office every morning, and to church every
Sunday with the regularity of a Philistine.

"Well, you look uncommonly jolly," he said.  "The Mum was afraid that as
you had made so few expeditions, your back was not strong yet."

Hugh despised excuses, so we will not suppose that this ready-made one
offered him any temptation as he answered--

"Oh no; I was quite well a week after I got here.  There is plenty to
see here, I assure you."

"I believe you," said James ecstatically.  "Were ever such colours and
such a sky?  Look there," seizing his brother's arm, "there's a girl in
a red petticoat--under that arch in the shadow--white on her head--oh!"

"You will have to get used to girls under archways in red petticoats,"
returned Hugh.

"How were they all at Oxley?"

"Oh, very well; the mother was groaning after you.  She said she
couldn't get the fences mended, and Jones' cow had eaten the geraniums.
Oh, and she wants to have a garden-party."

"Well," said Hugh, "what should hinder her having a dozen if she likes?"

"She can't do it without you."

"Isn't Arthur there?"

"Arthur? yes.  But it isn't worth while asking the Miss Clintons to meet
Arthur."

"I should think that chattering Katie Clinton was just the girl he would
admire."

"Should you?" said Jem, rather meaningly.  "However, Hugh, when are you
coming home?"

"As soon as you do."

"I have only a fortnight."

"Then we can go back together.  That church is considered very fine.
Look at the spire."

James looked with undisguised and genuine delight at the fair
proportions and exquisite colouring of the building before him, and
after various half-finished and inarticulate expressions of delight,
exclaimed: "It's intoxicating!  Can't we go in?"

"Not now.  Mrs Tollemache will be waiting for us.  There are a dozen
such churches, besides the cathedral, and there's an old amphitheatre,
at least the remains of one."

"Perish Oxley and its garden-parties in the ruins of its new town-hall
and its detestable station," cried James, mock-heroically, and striking
an attitude.

"Then there's a very good opera," said Hugh--"and oh, wouldn't the great
singing-class be in your line to-morrow."

"What singing-class?"

"Why, there's a certain Signor Mattei here.  He is first violin in the
opera orchestra, and a very fine musician.  I believe he followed music
entirely from choice in the first instance."

"Then I respect him," said James.  "What could he do better?"

"Exactly.  I thought you would say so.  Well, he has a great
singing-class--more, I suppose, what would be called a choral society."

"Yes," said Jem; "I belong to the Gipsy Singers, and to Lady Newington's
Glee Society, and sometimes I run down to help the choir of that church
at Richmond.  I took you there once."

"Well, Signor Mattei's class is the popular one here.  Tollemache takes
his little sister, and having nothing better to do, I joined it.
To-morrow is the last of the course, so you can go if you like."

"I should like it immensely.  Quite a new line for you though."

"I don't see why I should not sing as well as you or Arthur.  I mean why
I should not attempt it: of course I am no musician," said Hugh, who had
rather a morbid horror of boasting.

"No," said Jem, "I have a theory that people's lives are divided by too
sharp lines.  They should run into each other.  Let each give something
out, and each will get light and warmth and colour.  Nobody knows how
much there is in other people's worlds till they get a peep at them.  I
should like to teach everybody something of what was most antipathetic
to them, and show everyone a little of the society to which he was _not_
born, whatever that may be."

"There's a great deal in what you say," said Hugh, so meekly that Jem,
on whose theories the sledge hammer of practice was commonly wont to
fall, was quite astonished.

"Why, how mild and mellow Italian sunshine is making you.  You're a case
in point.  We shall have you getting that precious town-hall painted in
fresco, and giving a concert in it, at which you'll sing the first
solo!"

And James burst into a hearty laugh, in which Hugh joined more joyously
and freely than was often his wont.  "Don't you be surprised whatever I
do," he said.  "See if I can't catch some Italian sunshine and bring it
home to Oxley!  But here we are, come in, and you'll see Mrs
Tollemache."  James followed his brother; but an expression of
unmitigated astonishment came over his face.

"Hallo! there's something up," he ejaculated under his breath.  "_Is_ it
Miss Tollemache?"

PART ONE, CHAPTER FOUR.

THE SINGING-CLASS.

  The little maiden cometh,
  She cometh shy and slow,
  I ween she seeth through her lids
  They drop adown so low.
  She blusheth red, as if she said
  The name she only thought.

"So you mean to accompany our party, Mr James Crichton, to the
singing-class?  I am very glad that you should go," said Mrs
Tollemache.

"Yes, for you will see Violante!" cried her daughter, Emily.

Mrs Tollemache was a little gentle lady, who, spite of several years of
widowhood, spent in keeping house for her son in Civita Bella, always
looked as if she were ready for an English country Sunday, with her soft
grey dresses and white ribbons, slightly unfashionable, not very well
made, and yet unmistakably lady-like, just as the diffidence and
unreadiness of her manner did not detract in the least from its good
breeding.  Her daughter was a tall girl of sixteen, with bright,
straight falling hair, and a rosy face, simple and honest, though her
frank, fearless manners, and capacity for conversation, indicated a
young lady who had seen something of the world.  Her brother, the
consul, many years her elder, represented English diplomacy in a
pleasant, cheery, if not very deep or astute fashion to the benighted
foreigners by whom he was surrounded.

"And who is Violante?" asked James.

"Violante," said Mr Tollemache, "is the rising star of Civita Bella."

"Violante," said Emily, "is the dearest, sweetest, most beautiful
creature in the world!"

"Violante," said Mrs Tollemache, "is a very sweet young person, whose
mother I knew something of formerly, and whose sister gives Emily music
and Italian lessons."

"She is Signor Mattei's daughter?" said Hugh.

"I will tell you all about her, Mr Crichton," said Emily.  "Signorina
Rosa--that's her sister--brings her to talk Italian with me.  But some
time ago they found out that she had a wonderful voice, and so she is to
go on the stage.  She is to make her first appearance next Tuesday, as
Zerlina in `Don Giovanni;' but the odd thing is that she hates it, she
is so shy.  Fancy hating it, I wish I had the chance!"

"Emily, my dear!" ejaculated her mother.  "A couple of nights will rub
off all that," said Mr Tollemache, "even if it is genuine."

"Genuine!" cried Emily.  "For shame, Charles.  She cannot help it, and
even singing in the class has not cured her.  It is quite true, isn't
it, Mr Crichton?" turning to Hugh.

Hugh paused for a moment, and--Jem could hardly believe his eyes--
blushed, as he answered decidedly, "Yes, but she is more afraid of her
father than of the public."

"Dear me," said James, "this sounds very interesting.  And she is a
beauty, too, Hugh?"

"I don't know if you would consider her so.  I do, undoubtedly!" said
Hugh, with a sort of desperate gravity.

"Very unlikely acquaintance for old Hugh," thought James.  "See if I
submit to any more criticisms about my mixed society.  Is she very
young?" he said aloud.

"Oh, yes," said Mrs Tollemache.  "You see, the circumstances are
altogether peculiar.  These two sisters are most excellent girls, and
knowing their antecedents, and having them here as occasional companions
for Emily, I could not, I cannot suppose that anything would ever accrue
to cause me to repent the arrangement."

There was a peculiar emphasis in Mrs Tollemache's manner of making this
remark, and it was accompanied by a little blush and nervous movement of
her knitting needles.

"It must be a very pleasant kind of place," said James, wondering if
Charles Tollemache found this young songstress too bewitching.

"Yes, but perhaps it is not altogether inopportune that our leaving
Civita Bella should coincide with Violante's _debut_.  Things will be
altered now, and I shall wish Emily to have more regular instruction."

"Mamma, I shall love Violante as long as ever I live," said Emily, "and
I should not care if she sang at fifty operas."

"You must go to school, Emmy," said her brother, "and attend to the
three R's with twopence extra for manners."

"I shall not mind if you will send me to that nice school Mr Crichton
was talking about, where the governess is nearly as young as I am," said
Emily.

"Not quite," said Hugh, laughing.  "I only told you Miss Venning had a
young sister."

"I shall ask Mr Spencer Crichton about it," said Mrs Tollemache.

"Have you been telling them about Oxley Manor?" said James.  "I am sure
Flossy Venning _is_ the governess, whatever she may be called.  You
would make friends with our girls, Miss Tollemache?"

"Yes, I should like that.  But now I want to show you my friend, and if
we don't make haste we shall be late," said Emily, as she ran out of the
room.

The little party of English took their way through the quaint and richly
coloured streets of the Italian city to Signor Mattei's apartments, and
James could not repress his exclamations of delight at every patch of
colour, every deep full shadow, and every graceful outline that met his
eye.  Emily pointed out the various lions, and asked questions in her
turn about the England which was but a dim memory of her childhood, her
bright English face gaining perhaps something of an added charm from its
fair foreign setting, and itself giving just the last touch of piquante
contrast to her companion's sense of delightful novelty.

Young ladies never came amiss to James, and in the intervals of his
raptures he amused himself by drawing out Emily's ideas of English
society derived from much and earnest study of such novels and tales as
Mrs Tollemache allowed her to peruse, and which had evidently rendered
Sunday-school teachings, parsonages, riding in the park, picnics,
sportsmen, smoke, and rain, as great a jumble of picturesque confusion
as Italian palaces and _prima donnas_ might be to James.  Such a state
of mind entertained him, and while Hugh walked silently beside Mr
Tollemache, he persuaded her to express her admiration of "The Daisy
Chain" and "Dr Thorne," her fervent wish to resemble the heroines of
the former book; her rather more faintly expressed supposition that
English country squires were like Frank Gresham; her desire to be kind
to little girls in straw hats, and old women in red cloaks--though Mr
Crichton says he never saw an old woman in a red cloak--and her evident
belief that benevolent rectors, honest cottagers, and useful young
ladies, were plenty as blackberries in the England that was a land of
romance for her.  "How delightful it would be to know such!"

"I am afraid you will be disappointed, Miss Tollemache," said James.
"Our lives in England are very commonplace, and the real Frank Greshams
are rather stupid fellows, who wear muddy boots, care for little but
riding and shooting, and are out of doors all day."

"But that seems so manly," said Emily, with a romantic vision of heather
and mists, mountains and dashing streams, floating before her
imagination.

"Well," said James, "I suppose the romance is in people's hearts, and
anything may be picturesque if you can get the right point of view, and
see it in the right light, and the truest artists are those who have the
quickest insight, and the widest sympathies.  But your dazzling beauty
in this Palace of Art that we are approaching seems more like romance to
me."

"Violante?" said Emily, to whom the first part of his speech had been an
enigma.  "Oh, there is nothing romantic about her.  She's just a
_cantatrice_, you know, but she is a clear little thing, and I love
her."

As Emily spoke they were mounting the great marble staircase that led to
Signor Mattei's apartments, and presently entered the long room, now
arranged for the convenience of the musical performance that was about
to take place.  James looked round at the painted walls and delicate
carvings, faded and injured, yet still soft and harmonious.  This was a
wonderful enchanted palace; where was the fairy princess?  He was
presented to Signor Mattei, who, in very good English, expressed his
pleasure at seeing him there, and found him a place.  Rosa came and
offered him a copy of the music that they were going to sing, and as his
companions took their seats, and the performance began, he had leisure
to study, not his score, but the motley scene around him.

Signor Mattei was a tall striking man, with a long grizzled beard, a
narrow face with a high forehead and ardent enthusiastic eyes.  His long
slender fingers looked as if they would have been at home on any
instrument, and indeed he was a first-rate violinist as well as an
admirable musician, and as he stood before the class conducting and
teaching, he seemed pervaded by his art from top to toe, and though
James could not follow his rapid vehement Italian, he perceived that no
imperfection escaped him.  Hugh's hint that he might have held a
different position but for his youthful musical enthusiasm seemed
credible enough in sight of his refined features and fervid eyes.

He was a very popular teacher, and the class was a large one.  Three or
four English girls like Emily Tollemache attended it, whose fair
rosiness and bad singing were alike conspicuous.  Several slim, dark,
demure Italian signorinas, with downcast eyes, shy or passionate, under
charge evidently of elder ladies, were to be seen.  Some looked like
teachers, and the professional air of some caused James to guess that
they were being prepared for the stage, or perhaps, their education
already finished, were assisting the class with their voices.  The men
were mostly young teachers or singers, except Hugh and Mr Tollemache,
and an enthusiastic English curate, music-mad, who was taking a holiday
in Italy.

But where was the most beautiful creature in the world?  James looked
for her in vain.  She was Italian, she was going to sing on the stage,
she was a wonder of beauty.  Which could she be?

A handsome girl, with splendid black eyes and crisp black hair, who was
standing at the end of the sopranos and singing with a clear fine voice,
suggested herself to James as the most likely person.  Certainly she was
very handsome, but she did not look a bit shy; however, Tollemache had
insinuated a suspicion that shyness was interesting.  She looked frank
and bright, bold enough to face a crowd.  Very picturesque, she knew
that pomegranates became her.  A model for any artist; but rather an
unlikely friend for Miss Tollemache, and a very unlikely here James'
thoughts suddenly pulled themselves up with a start.  "What an absurd
fellow old Hugh is!" he mused.  "Some one has been chaffing him about
these classes, and he stands on his dignity until anyone would imagine--
but _that_ girl, oh dear, no!"

Suddenly there was a pause for the solo.  Emily looked at James and
nodded.  Hugh gazed intently at his score.  The dark beauty sat down,
and a girl in grey, with a coral necklace, came forward and stood in
front, alone.  She stood in the full stream of the dusty evening
sunlight, and James thought,--

"Why, this is no beauty, they are mad!"

She was tall rather than otherwise, and very slim.  Her soft misty hair
was twisted loosely about her head, and fell partly on her neck; it was
of so dull a shade of brown that the sunshine whitened it instead of
turning it to gold.  Her skin was fair for an Italian, and now pale even
to the lips.  Her eyes were large, dark, and soft, and in them there
dwelt an expression of terror that marred whatever beauty they might
otherwise have possessed.  She did not blush and bridle with a not
unbecoming shyness, but she looked, as the saying goes, frightened to
death.

"Poor little thing, what a shame to make her sing!" thought James, "but
she is no beauty at all."

And yet, what was it?  Was it the fall of her hair, the curve of her
cheek, or the piteous setting of her mouth, that made him look again and
again as she began to sing?

James really loved music, and the sweet birdlike notes entranced him.
It seemed the perfection of voice and execution, and the tones were full
of power and pathos.  She stood quite still with her hands before her--
for she had no music--little child-like hands, and she never smiled or
used her eyes, hardly moved her head, the voice seemed produced without
effort, and she made no attempt to add to its effect.  When it ceased
there was an outburst of applause; she looked towards her father, and at
a sign from him made the ordinary elaborate curtsey of a public singer;
but still with never a smile.  Then she went back to her place, and as
she passed Hugh he whispered a word.  She hung down her head and passed
on, but her face changed as by magic, and then James knew that she was
beautiful.

She did not sing again, her father was very chary of her voice, and she
did not come forward when the music was over, though Signor Mattei hoped
"il signor" had been pleased, and Emily lingered, spite of her brother's
sign to her to make haste.

"Indeed," said James, "I have been delighted; one does not often hear a
voice like your daughter's."

"Her voice is good," said the father, "but she does not give it a
chance; she has no notion what study was in my day."

"Oh, father!" said Rosa Mattei, as these words were evidently intended
to reach the ears of Violante, who was standing at a little distance.
"She does practise, but she is so soon tired.  My sister is only
seventeen," she added to James; "and her voice is not come to its full
strength yet."

"She must not over-strain it--it is so beautiful," said James, while
Emily echoed--

"Oh, it is lovely! oh, cara Violante, come here and let us tell you how
beautifully you sang."

"Violante!" said her father; and she came towards them, while James on a
nearer view saw how lovely were the curves of cheek and throat, and how
delicate the outline of the still white features.  With a view to
hearing her speak, he thanked her for her song, and said--

"I suppose I need not ask you if you are fond of music?"

Violante cast down her eyes, blushed, and stammered out under her
breath,--

"Yes, Signor, thank you;" while her father said, "My daughter is very
glad to have given you pleasure, and very grateful to those who are kind
enough to express it.  You must excuse her, Signor, she is not used to
strangers."

The poor child looked ready to sink into the earth beneath this public
notice of her bad manners.  Hugh looked so stern and fierce that, had he
asked the question, she might well have feared to answer him; but Emily
broke the awkward silence by saying eagerly--

"You will come and give me my lesson to-morrow, Signorina Rosa?  Will
Violante come too?"

"I am afraid," said Rosa, "that she will be too busy."

"Ah, well, I shall see her if she does not see me, next Tuesday.
Good-bye, Violante.  Good-bye, Signorina."

"Why!" exclaimed James, as they emerged into the street, "That poor girl
looked frightened to death."

"Oh," said Emily, "she is always frightened before strangers.  How ever
she will sing on Tuesday I cannot think; but what do you think of her,
Mr Crichton?"

"I think she is very pretty," said James, rather dryly.

"A pretty little simpleton," said Mr Tollemache: "but a month or two's
experience will make all the difference.  It is to be hoped her father
will take care of her.  But I believe she has an admirer--the manager of
the operatic company here--so I suppose she may be considered very
fortunate.  Her voice is valuable, and she will be very handsome."

James nodded assent, but something in the thought of the young childish
girl with her shy solemn face and frightened eyes touched him.

"It's rather a case of `Heaven sending almonds to those who have no
teeth,' isn't it?" he said.  "Poor little thing!"

"Oh, the almonds will taste sweet enough, I daresay," said Mr
Tollemache.  "If not, they must be swallowed, somehow."

"Well," said Emily, "on Tuesday we shall see how she gets on."

PART ONE, CHAPTER FIVE.

THE MATTEI FAMILY.

  Then joining hands to little hands
  Would bid them cling together,
  For there is no friend like a sister
  In calm or stormy weather.

"Violante!  Will you never learn common-sense?  Your want of manners
will give perpetual offence.  And let me tell you, English people of
influence are not patrons to be despised.  It is always well for a
_prima donna_ to have irreproachable private friends.  If ever we should
go to England, and the Signora Tollemache would notice you, it would be
a great advantage; and not amiss that those young men should report well
of you."

"Oh, father!"

"Why!  They see your name announced.  They say, `Ah, Mademoiselle
Mattei!  We knew her in Italy--pretty--fine voice.  My friend, you
should go and see her.'  They take a bouquet and applaud you; and you
become the fashion.  You should be grateful, and show it.  But you--you
are a musical box!  You sing like a statue, like a wax-doll.  Ah, where
is your fire and your expression?  You have no soul--you have no soul!"

"Father, I did try."

"Oh, I have no patience!  Where is my music?  I have a private lesson.
Go and practise, child, and study your part better;" and off whisked
Signor Mattei in a great hurry, and a much disturbed temper.

Such scenes had been frequent ever since one unlucky day, two years ago,
when the great opera manager, Signor Vasari, had heard Violante sing,
and had told her father that she promised to have the sweetest soprano
in Italy, and he must educate her for the stage, where she would make
her fortune.  And the owner of this sweet soprano was so timid that her
music-master made her tremble, and possessed so little dramatic power
that she could scarcely give a song its adequate expression, and was
lost when she attempted to act a part.  But the music is all important
in Italy, and the middle course of concerts and oratorios did not there
lie open to her.  Her father hoped that her voice and her beauty would
carry off her bad acting, and that perpetual scolding would cure her
fears, since he gloried in her talent, and much needed her gains.

He was, as has been said, fairly well born and well educated, and had
chosen music as his profession.  When quite young he had gone to
England, where he played the violin in London orchestras, and gave
private lessons on the piano.  In England he fell in with a young lady,
the daughter of a clergyman, who was governess in the family of Mr
Tollemache's uncle, where Signor Mattei taught.  Rose Grey was
unmistakably a lady, a quiet fair-faced girl, with her share of talent
and originality and a passion for music.  She fell in love with the
handsome enthusiastic Italian, and, having no prospects and no friends
to object, she married him.  They lived for some time in England, where
Rosa was born, and finally returned to Italy.  The world went fairly
well with them, but they were not without debts and difficulties, and
when Rosa grew up, and Madame Mattei's brother, now a London solicitor,
wrote to offer her a year or two's schooling in England, the proposal
was gladly accepted, since she had no voice and could not be made useful
at home.  Rosa went to England, went to school, taught Italian and
music, and learnt the usual branches of education, spent her holidays
with her uncle, and finally helped to educate her cousins, till, three
years before our story opens, her mother died, and Rosa came home to
take care of the little Violante, a girl of fourteen.  Rosa was then
twenty-two, entirely English in manner, accent, and appearance, with
pretty brown hair, a sensible face, bright hazel eyes, full of force and
character, grave manners, a sweet smile, and a strong will of her own
which she was not afraid to enforce if necessary.  She had a warm heart,
too, with nothing much just then to fill it.  She almost idolised the
little sister, who clung to her, sobbing out, "Oh Mamma mia!" and from
that day forward guarded, petted, and, it must be confessed, spoiled
her.

Violante was delicate and sensitive, with a certain Italian fervour of
temperament beneath her timidity, which expended itself in the warmest
affection for her sister.  She was more Italian than Rosa in appearance,
and though she spoke fluent English, and they used either language when
together, her low sweet tones were unmistakably foreign.  Her musical
education was so pressed on her and took up so much of her time that she
learnt little else, and at seventeen was sadly ignorant of much which
she ought to have known.

The two sisters belonged to their mother's Church, which unfortunately
had the practical effect of their belonging to none at all.  When Rosa
went to England she did as others did, but it was not her lot to come
across anyone of sufficient depth to influence her practical
self-reliant temper, and, though a very good and conscientious girl, her
education had made her indifferent to the outward duties of religion.
She thought that she did her duty by Violante when she prevented her
from attending Roman Catholic services unless the music was very fine,
and heard her read a chapter in the Bible on Sunday, while the rest of
the day was spent as usual.  Madame Mattei had never had health or
opportunity to attend English services, and the two girls only went
occasionally; though lately, under Mrs Tollemache's influence, they had
been a little more conscious of their nationality and the duties
involved in it.  Rosa impressed Violante with a strong sense of the
necessity of doing right, and believed that circumstances absolved her
from attending to anything further.  Violante was of a different mould,
and when she saw beautiful ritual and devout worshippers she felt sad,
she did not know why.

Rosa was well aware that she could not protect Violante from the
approaching ordeal of her first appearance, and knew too of debts that
rendered it necessary; but she interposed between her sister and many a
reproof, and tried by her alternate coaxing, sympathy, and argument to
diminish the girl's dread of the future that lay before her.  Violante
had made fewer complaints of late, and Rosa hoped that she was becoming
more reconciled to the inevitable.

On the present occasion Rosa's pleasant cheerful voice was heard talking
to Maddalena, who, besides doing all their housework, took Violante to
her lessons and rehearsals when Rosa was busy, the latter retaining her
English habit of walking alone.  She reentered the room as her father
quitted it, and began to divest it of its concert-room air, to put away
music-stands and books, and to give once more a look of English comfort
to the further end of it, where Violante had thrown herself into a big
chintz-covered chair, turning her face towards the cushion, when Rosa
said,--

"Well dear, you were very successful to-day.  I never heard you in
better voice."

"I wish--I wish I had no voice at all."

"Violante!  That is really quite wrong.  You should not despise such a
glorious gift."

"It only makes me wretched.  Oh, what shall I do!"

Now Rosa had resolved against weak-minded sympathy, and had made up her
mind that her sister must not, at this last moment, be permitted to
flinch, so, though the hidden face and despairing attitude went to her
heart, she replied briskly,--

"Do?  Win a dozen bouquets and bring the house down.  What a silly child
you are, Violante!"

Violante lifted her head, astonished at the shadow of a reproof from
Rosa, who little guessed at the tumult of feeling that was making the
poor child's heart beat so terribly.

"You angry, too, Rosa!" she said, for reproaches never made Violante
angry, only miserable.

"Angry, my darling, no," exclaimed Rosa.  "I only want you to take heart
and courage.  My child, don't cry so dreadfully.  What is it, did father
scold you?"

Violante crept into the warm comforting embrace, and, laying her head on
Rosa's shoulder, wept so bitterly that her sister could only think how
to soothe her; till Violante's sobs grew quieter and she put up her
quivering lips to be kissed, while Rosa smoothed back her hair and began
to try the effect of argument.

"You see, darling, father is so anxious.  When Tuesday is over and he
sees how successful you are, he will be delighted.  And you will feel
quite differently.  Just think of the pleasure of seeing everyone
hanging on your voice, and of hearing the applause, and seeing the
bouquets thrown at you!"  (Violante shivered.) "Oh! it would be worth
living for."

"Oh, Rosa mia, if the voice was yours!"

"Ah, if--But, darling, I shall be as much pleased to see your triumph as
if it were mine."

"But if I fail--and my bad acting--"

"You won't fail.  And as for the acting, you will act much better when
you are less nervous.  People will care for your voice and your beauty--
they won't be hard on you."

"Rosa, you are so different, you cannot understand.  I should not mind
so much about failing if it did not vex father.  It is doing it at all.
When I stand up to sing it is as if all the eyes turned me cold and
sick, and my own eyes get dizzy so that I cannot see, and if they
applaud--even here at the class--it is like the waves of the sea, and I
cannot sleep at night for thinking of it."

"You don't know how pleasant the real applause will be," said Rosa,
feeling as if she were telling a snowdrop to hold up its head, for the
sun was so pleasant to stare at.  What could she say to the child, who
had no vanity and no ambition--nothing but a loving heart.

"You will like to please me and father?"

"Yes," said Violante, "but if I should cry, father would--would--"

"Oh, nonsense, you won't cry."

"If father would let me--I would rather teach singing all day!"

"But you know you could not make nearly so much money in that way.  And
father wants the money, Violante, indeed he does."

"Oh yes--I know it must be done--I will not make a fuss."

"That's a good child.  And you will not have to sing only to strangers.
Think how kind the Tollemaches are to us, how pleased they will be with
you."

Violante flushed to her very finger tips, and Rosa felt her heart throb.

"They will not like me _then_," she murmured.

"Not like you, what can you mean?  Why should they not like you?"

"English people don't like actresses."

"Well, but you don't suppose Mrs Tollemache has any prejudice of that
sort?"

"She would not like Emily to do it."

"Emily!  Of course not.  Young ladies like Emily don't sing in public.
She would not be a governess or do anything to get her living.  But they
would think it quite right for you.  Why, you will have Mr Crichton and
his brother to throw bouquets at you!"

"Yes!" exclaimed Violante, with sudden passion.  "He will throw bouquets
at _me_.  He will `tell his friends I am pretty,' and he will think--"

"He?  Mr Crichton?  Violante, what can it matter to you what he
thinks?"

Violante shrank away from her sister, and covered her face with her
hands.

"Violante," cried Rosa, too anxious to pick her words, "don't tell me
you have been so silly as to think about him--that you have let yourself
care for him."

"Oh--I do--I do, with all my heart," cried Violante, with all the
fervour of her Italian nature, speaking from her shining eyes and parted
lips.

"What has he said to you--what has he done?  He has not made love to
you--child--surely."

"I don't know," murmured Violante.

"Oh, I must have been mad--what have I been doing to let this go on?"
cried Rosa, starting up and walking about in her agitation, while
Violante cowered, frightened, into the great chair, but with a certain
self-assertion in her heart, too.

"Now," said Rosa, recovering prudence, and sitting down on the arm of
the chair, "you see, I have not taken care of my pretty sister.  Tell me
all about it."

"You are not angry with me, Rosa?"

"Angry, my little one," said Rosa, while tears, rare in her eyes, fell
on her cheeks--"no, only angry with myself.  Now, tell me what it is;
how long have you felt in this way?  What has he said to you?"

"All, how can I tell?  He looks at me--he gives me flowers--he speaks to
my heart," said Violante with downcast eyes, but lips that smiled and
needed no sympathy in their satisfaction.

"Don't be silly," said poor Rosa, irritated both by the smile and the
sentiment.  "Is that all?"

"He told me of his home--he said we should be friends--he asked me for a
rose, and kissed my hand for it--he said he thought it was Italian
fashion."

"Oh, Violante, why didn't you tell me before?"

"Oh," with a funny little air of superiority, "one does not think of
telling."

Rosa pressed Violante tight in her arms, and set her lips hard, and when
she spoke it was very low and steadily.

"My child, you know how I love you, that I only think how to make you
happy.  Mr Crichton had no right to play with you so; but it was my
fault for letting you be thrown in his way.  Young men will do those
things, just to amuse themselves."

"Some will."

"_Some_?" said Rosa bitterly.  "You little foreign girl--he would think
of you just as of a pretty flower, to please him for a time, and then he
will go home and leave you to repent that you have ever known him!"

"Never--never," cried Violante, clasping her hands.  "Never--if my heart
should break."

Rosa stamped her foot, and hot, cruel tears, that burnt as they fell,
half choked her.

"I dare say he has never thought that you would take what he said
seriously.  If he likes you, he could not marry you--he must marry some
English girl of his own rank.  You must put him out of your head, and I
must take better care of you."

Violante's views of the future were scarcely so definite as these words
implied, but she shivered, and a chill fell on her spirits.

"Now," said Rosa, "I believe Signor Vasari does really care for you."

"Signor Vasari!  I hate him!" cried Violante.  "Rosa, I will be good--I
will act--I will sing--but I will not hear of Signor Vasari.  If he
kissed me, I would kill him!"

"For shame, Violante, that is a very improper way of speaking.  Oh, my
child, will you promise me to be good?"

Violante did not answer.  Was there a secret rebellion in the heart that
had always given Rosa back love for love?

"Violante mia--you don't think me unkind to you?"

Violante looked up and smiled, and taking Rosa's face between her two
little hands, covered it with sweet, fond kisses.

"Rosa, carissima mia, shall you do anything?"

"No," said Rosa, considering.  "I think not.  If you will be a good
child, and steady--now father will be coming back."

"Oh, you will not tell him?"

"No, no--certainly not; but you have not practised."

"I could not sing a note!"

"No, not now," said Rosa steadily.  "You must drink some coffee, and go
and lie down for a little.  And then you must bathe your eyes, and put
up your hair, and come and sing for as long as father wishes."

Violante obeyed, and Rosa having administered the coffee, and seen that
no more tears were likely to result from solitude, left her to rest, and
came back to await her father and consider the situation.  She did not
like the look of it at all.  Violante was a good, obedient child, who
tried to do as she was told, and had no power to rebel against fate.
But she knew nothing of self-conquest or of self-control, and when she
was unhappy had no thought but to cling to Rosa, and cry till she was
comforted; while under all her timidity lay the power of a certain
fervour of feeling against which she had never dreamed of struggling.
Sweet and humble, innocent and tender, yet with a most passionate
nature, how could she contend with feelings which were more

  "Than would bear
  Of daily life the wear and tear,"

how endure the pangs of disappointment, added to the strain of an
uncongenial life?

"I think she will break her heart," thought Rosa to herself.  But then
arose the consolatory thought that a life which seemed attractive to
herself could not be so painful to her sister, and the probability that
Violante's feeling for her lover had not gone beyond the region of
sentimental fancy.

Rosa, being naturally of a sanguine temperament, inclined to the latter
opinion, and rose up smiling as her father came in.

"Well, and where is Violante--has she practised yet?" demanded Signor
Mattei.

"No, father; she was too tired, she will come directly and sing for as
long as you like."

"The child is possessed," muttered Signor Mattei.

"Now, father," said Rosa, in a tone rather too decided to be quite
filial, "you must leave Violante to me.  I will manage her, and take
care that she sings her best on Tuesday.  But if she is scolded and
frightened, she will break down.  I know she will."

"Well, figlia mia," said Signor Mattei, somewhat meekly, for Rosa was
the domestic authority, and was at that moment chopping up an excellent
salad for him, and pouring on abundance of oil with her own hands.  "But
it is hard that my daughter should be such a little fool."

"So it is," said Rosa laughing, "but she will be good now.  Now then,
Violante," opening the bedroom door.

There lay Violante, her sweet round lips smiling, her soft eyes serene,
her own fears and Rosa's warnings driven into the back-ground by the
excitement of her confession, and by the thought of how Hugh had thanked
her for her song.

She threw her arms round Rosa with a hearty, girlish embrace, quite
different from the despairing clinging of an hour before.

"Yes, I am coming.  My hair?  Oh, father likes it so," brushing it out
into its native ripples.  "There, my red ribbon.  Now I will be buona--
buonissima figlia."  And she ran into the sitting-room and up to her
father, pausing with a full, sweeping curtsey.

"Grazie--mille grazie--signore e signori," she said.  "Is that right,
padre mio?"

And her father, seeing her with her floating hair, her eyes and cheeks
bright with the excitement that was making her heart beat like a bird in
its cage, might well exclaim--"Child, you might bring the house down if
you would.  Come and kiss me, and go and sing `Batti batti,' before you
have your supper."

PART ONE, CHAPTER SIX.

IL DON GIOVANNI.

  Oh, the lute,
  For that wondrous song were mute,
  And the bird would do her part,
  Falter, fail and break her heart--
  Break her heart and furl her wings,
  On the inexpressive strings.

  "My dearest Hugh,--

  "I write at once to tell you our good news.  The class lists are out,
  and Arthur has got a second.  I am sure he deserves it, for he has
  worked splendidly, and I always thought he would do well.  I hope his
  success will not alter his wishes with regard to the bank where your
  dear father so much wished to see him take a place; but the life may
  seem rather hum-drum, and Arthur is naturally much flattered at all
  the things that have been said to him at Oxford.  The girls are
  delighted.  I am so glad you are enjoying yourself, but how much time
  you have spent at Civita Bella!  When do you think of returning?  I am
  going to give some parties as a sort of introduction for Mysie.  The
  Clintons are coming.  I don't know if _you_ admire Katie Clinton; she
  is a _very_ nice girl, and she is thought a beauty.  That fence by the
  oak copse is in a sad state; do you think James Jennings ought to mend
  it?  We have a very good hay crop.  I have had a rapturous letter from
  Jem, but you say less about your delights.  I wish you would choose a
  present for me for each of the girls from Italy, and I should like to
  give Arthur something on his success, but I dare say he would rather
  choose some books for himself.

  "Ever my dearest boy,--

  "Your loving mother,--

  "L.  Spencer Crichton."

  Redhurst House, Oxley.

This letter was brought to Hugh Crichton as he was dressing for the
performance of "Don Giovanni," at which "Mademoiselle Mattei" was to
make her first appearance before the public of Civita Bella.  The
Tollemaches were full of interest in her success; and Hugh and James had
selected the bouquets which were to be thrown to her, with both the
ladies to help them, and Hugh's choice of white and scented flowers was
declared by Emily to be remarkably appropriate to Violante.

The pleasant commonplace letter came like a breath of fresh, sharp wind
from Oxley into the midst of the soft Italian air, good in itself, may
be, but incongruous.  Arthur's success?  Hugh was gratified; but not
immoderately so, and it crossed his mind to think "What a fuss every one
will make!  But he shall have his way about the bank; it is not fair to
tie any one down to other men's wishes.  Katie Clinton!  If the mother
only knew!"  If his mother had only known how his heart beat and his
face burnt with excitement at the crisis in one little foreign girl's
life, if she knew how far Redhurst seemed away to him!  If she knew that
he had fallen entirely in love with Violante Mattei!  Would she ever
know?  And Hugh, perhaps for the first time, saw that question and all
it implied looming in the distance.  Was it to be "all for love and the
world well lost?"  Would the world be lost?  What did he mean to do?
Hugh knew quite well what he would have advised Jem to do under similar
circumstances.  It was a foolish, unsuitable thing, likely to make every
one unhappy, it--.  "I must sing, but I am frightened, Signor Hugo."

"Will she be so frightened to-night?  She said she liked stephanotis.  I
wonder if they can see on the stage where a bouquet comes from!  I have
not seen her for days.  We should all be at sixes and sevens.  Well,
there's no time now for consideration; but this letter has given me a
shake, and I'll play neither with her nor myself," and Hugh took up his
bouquet, and resolved for the moment to do the one thing possible to
him--look at and think of Violante.

The house was full, but the Tollemaches had taken care to secure good
places.  Emily was full of excitement, proud of having a private
interest in the public singer, and eagerly wondering how Violante felt
then.  Jem discoursed to her on the various great stars whom he had seen
fulfilling Zerlina's part, nothing loth to show his acquaintance with
little scraps of their history, and with some of the technicalities of
their profession, for Jem was great in private and semi-public
theatricals and concerts, and was much amused and interested by what he
had seen and heard of Mademoiselle Mattei.

Hugh sat leaning forward on the front of the box, and during the two
first scenes he kept his eyes fixed on the stage as if he had never seen
an opera before, and though he was not continuously attending, he never
all his life long heard a note of the music without recalling that
little Italian opera-house, with its dim lights and imperfect scenery,
its true sweet singers, and the throb of excitement and expectation as
the third scene in which Zerlina makes her first appearance opened.

"There she is!" cried Emily, and there was nothing more in the theatre
for Hugh but one little terrified face.  Ah, so terrified, so white, he
knew, under all its rouge, with eyes that saw nothing and looked through
the carefully practised smiles as if longing and appealing for the help
no one could give her.  Hugh felt a wild desire to jump down and snatch
her in his arms, stop the music, drive away all those fantastic
figures--anything, rather than that she should suffer such fear.  What
right had anyone to applaud her, to look at her--ah! she was going to
sing!

She sang; and after a few faint notes the exquisite quality of her voice
asserted itself, and, with her look of extreme youth and shyness,
excited an interest that made the audience lenient to the stiffness of
her gestures and the gravity and formality of what should have been
coquettish dalliance between the peasant and the noble lover.

The notes were true and pure as those of a bird; but in their beautiful
inflexions was no human passion, no varieties of meaning.  Her face was
lovely; but it did not image Zerlina's affectionateness, vanity,
triumph, and hesitation, her mischievous delight in the new admirer, and
her lingering concern for the old one; it spoke nothing to the audience,
and to Hugh only Violante's fear and pain.  But the music was perfect,
and Violante, with her gay dress and mournful eyes, was a sweet sight to
look on; so she was well received enough, and Hugh, as he saw her mouth
quiver, thought that the noisy plaudits would make her cry.

"Oh, doesn't she look just as sweet as ever?" cried Emily.

"She looks just the same as ever; she has no notion of her part," said
Mr Tollemache, "but the voice is first-rate."

"She would be a study for a picture, `The Unwilling Actress,'" said Jem.
"What say you, Hugh?"

"Oh; it is a great success--it is very good," said Hugh vaguely; but his
face was crimson, and he felt as if he could scarcely breathe.

The piece went on, and when the famous songs were heard in those perfect
tones, when it was only necessary for her to stand and sing instead of
to act, her voice and her youth and her beauty gained the day, there was
a storm of applause, and a shower of bouquets fell at her feet.  Hugh
flung his white one, and Don Giovanni took it up and put it in her hand.
Then suddenly the eyes lit up, the face was radiant, and the real
passion which she had no power to assume or to mimic seemed to change
her being.

"By Jove, she _is_ lovely!" cried Jem.  The next moment she had hidden
her face in the flowers, and her next notes were so faltering that they
were hardly heard.  Hugh felt a fury of impatience as the public
interest turned to the other heroines of the piece, and yet he had time
to watch Violante as she stood motionless and weary, forgetting the
bye-play that should have kept her in view while she remained silent.
Hugh did not think that she saw him; he could not catch her eye, and
felt angrily jealous of the stage lovers.

"Now's the trial," said Mr Tollemache.  "Let us see how she will make a
fool of Masetto."  Masetto was a fine actor as well as a good singer,
and the part of Don Giovanni was played by Signor Vasari, the manager of
the company himself.  Even Hugh, preoccupied as he was, could not but
perceive that Zerlina gave them few chances of making a point.

"I feel just as if it was Violante herself who was unhappy," said Emily.
"She looks as if Signor Mattei had been scolding her."

Hugh, at any rate, felt as if it were Violante whom Don Giovanni was
persecuting, and was utterly carried away by the excitement of the
scene, till, just as the wild dance came to a climax, and Zerlina's
screams for help were heard, his brother touched his arm.  Hugh started,
and came suddenly to himself.  James was gazing decorously at the stage.
Hugh was conscious of having been so entirely absorbed as not to know
how he might have betrayed his excitement.  Of course he was in a rage
with Jem for noticing it, but he sat back in his place and became aware
that his hand trembled as he tried to put up his opera glasses, and that
he had been biting his lip hard.  He saw very little of the concluding
scenes, and could not have told afterwards whether Don Giovanni died
repentant or met the reward of his deeds.  Even when the curtain dropped
and Mademoiselle Mattei was led forward, to receive perhaps more
bouquets and more "bravas" than she deserved, he felt a dull cold sense
of disenchantment, though he clapped and shouted with the rest.

"It is all very well," said Mr Tollemache, as he cloaked his mother;
"her extreme youth and her voice attract for the present, but she is too
bad an actress for permanent success."

"She hasn't the physical strength for it," said Jem; "her voice will
go."

"It is to be hoped Vasari will marry her," said Mr Tollemache.

"It is a very pretty opera," said Hugh; "and I thought Donna Elvira had
a fine voice."

"The theatre was very hot," said Mr Tollemache, when they reached home;
"has it made your head ache, Mr Crichton?"

"No, thank you, but I'll go to bed, I think.  I don't care for a smoke,
Jem, to-night."

"Jem," said Mr Tollemache, as they parted after a desultory discussion
of Violante, the opera, the Matteis, and the chances of Violante's voice
being profitable to Signor Vasari, "if you and Hugh care to go on and
see a bit more of Italy, to push on to Rome, for instance, for the few
days you have left, you mustn't stand on ceremony with me."

"Thank you," said James.  "I'll see what Hugh says; I should like to see
the--the Vatican, immensely."

PART ONE, CHAPTER SEVEN.

BROTHERLY COUNSEL.

  "They were dangerous guides, the feelings--"

James Crichton had a certain taste for peculiarity, and anything
unexpected and eccentric attracted him as much as it repels many other
people.  He piqued himself on his liberality, and had friends and
acquaintances in many grades of society, to whom he behaved with
perfectly genuine freedom and equality.  He also loved everything that
the word "Bohemian" implies to those classes who use it entirely _ab
extra_.  His mother's vision of Jem's daily life was a confused mixture
of shabby velveteen, ale in queer mugs, colours which she was told to
admire but thought hideous, mingled with musical instruments of all
descriptions.  He teased her to ask the Oxley photographer to dinner,
and perpetually shocked her by revealing the social standing of
acquaintances, whom he spoke of in terms of the greatest enthusiasm,
till her dread was that he would marry some of "the sweet girls and
perfect ladies" who supported their families by their own exertions in
ways, which, though doubtless genteel, were not exactly aristocratic.
She would have expected him to fall a victim to Violante at once.

But people do not always act in the way that is expected of them, and
Mrs Crichton would have been saved much uneasiness had she known that
Jem's affections, so far as they were developed, were placed on the
daughter of an Archdeacon, who dressed at once fashionably and quietly,
did her hair in accordance with custom and not art, was such a lady that
no one ever called her lady-like, and so exactly what she ought to have
been that no one would have ventured to say she was dull.  Jem had a
great many flirtations, but if ever a vision of the wife that years
hence might reward his devotion to his work at the Foreign Office,
crossed his mind that vision bore the form of Miss Helen Hayward.  It
takes a great deal of theory and very strong opinions to contend in
practice with the instincts to which people are born; but instincts have
less chance where feeling and passion rise up to do battle with them.

James looked into Hugh's dazzled absent eyes as they stood at his room
door on their return from the opera, and felt that it was a bad moment
for trying to bring him to reason; but the awkwardness of taking his
elder brother to task in cold blood on the following morning made him
seek for a conversation at once.  So he followed him into his room and
began:--

"Did you hear what Tollemache said about going to Rome?"

"Rome?  No; do you want to go there?"

"Why, yes!  Of course.  Who doesn't?"

"I don't," said Hugh quietly.

"No; but isn't it a pity to miss the opportunity?  In short, Hugh,--I
say,--you know, aren't you coming it rather strong in that quarter?"
said Jem, who was so astonished at the novel position in which he found
himself that he plunged into his task of Mentor at once.  "In short,
suppose it was Arthur, you know, what should you say?"

"I should say exactly what you want to say to me," said Hugh, and made a
little pause.  "If I do this thing," he went on, looking straight before
him, "it will, I know, cause a great deal of vexation for the moment."

"It's not that; but it could not possibly answer, Hugh, you can't be
such a fool.  Go away and take time to reflect; no one is more
reasonable than you."

Hugh roused himself as if with an effort, and, sitting down on the edge
of his bed, looked up at his brother and prepared for the contest.  "I
will tell you all you are going to say," he said.  "This young lady--for
she _is_ a lady, Jem, and the daughter of a lady--is half a foreigner;
she is only seventeen, she has no money, she has hardly any education,
she has sung in public, on compulsion, and much against her will.  If I
marry her--"

"You will break mamma's heart," said Jem, going back in his vexation to
his childish mode of speech.

"No, I shall not.  She won't like it, of course, but she'll come round
to it.  Of course some women would not, but she would never make the
worst of a thing.  There's an end of her plans for me, what else is
there to matter?"

"No one would visit her," muttered Jem, who had often inveighed at the
folly of social prejudice.

"Oh, yes, they would, if my mother received her.  It would be a bad
match, of course, but not so bad as that when all the circumstances were
explained."

"You seem to have considered it all."

"Did you suppose I should do it without considering?  I'm not the man,
James, not to see all these difficulties; I am not going to take a leap
in the dark."

"It's just as bad if you leap over a precipice in the light!"

Hugh was silent.  It was perhaps owing to his clear sense of what was
due to everyone, and to his power of seeing both sides of a question,
that he was not offended by his brother's displeasure.  What else could
James say?  He himself, as he had told him, could say it all, had said
it, did say it still.  And what could he answer?  That, though a broken
heart was a form of speech, his would in future be a broken life without
Violante was a statement that he could not bring himself to make, and
which James would not have believed.  "Of course I can give her up," he
thought; "but if I do shall I ever live my life whole and perfect again?
Is it not in me to be to her what I never have been, never could be, to
anyone else?"

Hugh was a self-conscious person, as well as a conscientious one; he was
not very young, and thus it will be perceived that he knew well what he
was about.  He was enough himself to wonder at himself; but in these
sweet holiday weeks something had possessed him beyond his own control.
He could fly from it, but he could not conquer it.

"Well," he said, as James continued his arguments, "grant that I should
forget her, what should I be worth then? how much of myself should I
have lost!"

"Anyone might say that about any temptation of the sort," said Jem.

"And truly.  But--`halt or maimed,' you know, Jem.  There are times when
we must pay the price.  You can't say this is a case in point."

"But how about the girl?" said Jem.  "Have you involved yourself with
her?"

"No," said Hugh, and then added: "Not intentionally."

"Ah!" said Jem, with a whistle.  He was surprised to perceive that the
argument of Violante's probable disappointment had not been the first to
be put forward by Hugh.  His brother had argued out the question of
right and wrong for himself first, though now he eagerly took up this
point.

"I think she _does_ like me," he said, in a much more lover-like manner;
"and her father tyrannises over her, poor child: she hates her
profession; she would never want to hear of it again."

"Well, and how did it all come about?"  To this question James did not
obtain a direct answer; but after about half-an-hour of explanation,
description, and rapture, he said:

"Well, Hugh, you _are_ in for it, and no mistake.  I'm sorry for you.
And, pray, what do you intend to do?"

"I wish to act as considerately as possible to everyone," said Hugh.  "I
shall go home and tell my mother myself--"

"Without engaging yourself to Violante?"

"I shall do nothing in a hurry; but you cannot suppose that it needs
spoken words to bind me now."

"But I say," said James suddenly, "did not some one say she was engaged
to the manager?"

"That is not true," said Hugh, colouring up; "she cannot endure him."

"Oh!" said James, dryly.  "All things considered, I wonder you did not
speak before to-night."

"I should not have expected _you_ to take that view," returned his
brother.

"Well, she's none the worse for it, of course; but, still, when it comes
to one's wife, you see, Hugh, there are advantages in plain sailing."

"Look here, James," cried Hugh, starting up, "we have talked long
enough; I'll take care of my mother, but I love Violante, and I believe
she loves me, and our lives shall not be spoilt for anyone's scruples.
Do you suppose _I_ don't know my own mind? do you think _I_ should act
in a hurry, and repent of it afterwards?  I would give her up now if I
thought it right.  It might be right in some cases, but this stands
apart from ordinary rules--"

"I _think_ I've heard that remark before," James could not resist
interposing.

"Very likely.  In my case it is true.  Not answer?  It _shall_ answer!
Do you think I shall ever be afraid of the consequences of my actions?"

Hugh had the advantage of definite purpose and strong feeling.  He spoke
low, but his whole face lighted up as he, usually scrupulously
self-distrustful in his speech, uttered this mighty boast.  James,
fluent and enthusiastic as he was, had for the moment nothing to say.
He meant well; but his objections were vague and inconsistent with much
of his own conduct.  Hugh had the better of him, and reduced him to
looking dissatisfied and cross.

"Well, if you will make a fool of yourself," he muttered, "I'll say good
night."

"Good night!" said Hugh, coming out of the clouds.  "You were quite
right to say your say, Jem."

James was a very good-tempered person, but this was a little more than
he could stand.

"Some day you may wish you had listened to it," he said.  "If you had
seen as much of girls as I have, you would know there was nothing
extraordinary in being extra silly and sentimental.  Good heavens!  I
might have been married a dozen times over if I'd been so heroic over
every little flirtation."

Not being a woman, Hugh left the last word to his brother.  He had no
particular respect for Jem's opinion, and did not care at all whether he
approved of his choice or not.  He believed that he could make his
mother content with it; and his mother's contentment would silence all
active opposition of the outer world.  His boy and girl cousins had no
right to a remark: he supposed he could put up with Arthur's nonsense.
Here he took the flower out of his coat, and thought that the scent of
stephanotis would always remind him of Violante.  And then he went and
leaned out of his window in the soft starlit southern night, and
wondered if Violante was dreaming of her success or of him.

How strange it was that to him, of all people, should have come this
wonderful and poetical experience!  Hugh was not aware that the beauty
of the scene, the clearness of the sky, the delicate shadowy spires and
pinnacles that stood out soft and clear against it, the light of the
stars, the breath of the south, in any way influenced him; he would have
laughed even then at a description of a lover looking at the stars and
thinking of his lady.  It never occurred to him to call to mind any song
or poem that put into words such commonplace romance.  For the place,
the circumstances, Violante herself, the flower in his hand, the notes
yet ringing in his ears, appealed to a simplicity of sentiment any
school-girl might have shared with him.  Yet real honest feeling might
give for once reality to these hackneyed images, just as it could as
easily have dispensed with them altogether.

PART ONE, CHAPTER EIGHT.

WHITE FLOWERS.

                  "True love
  Lives among the false loves, knowing
      Just their peace and strife;
  Bears the self-same look, but always
      Has an inner life.

  "Tell me, then, do you dare offer
      This true love to me?
  Neither you nor I can answer:
      We must--wait and see!"

The fearful ordeal was over; the first night had come and gone, and the
earth had not opened to swallow Violante up; the disgraceful tears had
been successfully controlled; and through all the fear and confusion,
the dread of the audience and of her fellow-actors, the physical
discomfort of the noise and the heat, had penetrated a little thrill of
pleasure; and for one moment, when all the "Bravas" seemed to ring with
Hugh's voice, and his sweet white bouquet fell at her feet, the
excitement was not all pain.  But, painful or joyful, it was far too
intense for so delicate a creature to bear; and tears, sleeplessness,
and excessive exhaustion, were its natural result.  Both Rosa and her
father were so much relieved that no break-down had taken place that,
though both were fully capable of criticising her performance, they
rejoiced as if it had been an absolute success; and even the tender
sister could not believe but that the pleasure must have predominated
over the pain.  So poor Violante dried her tears as fast as she could,
conscious of being too silly a child even for Rosa's sympathy, and not
daring to say that the worst terror of all was Signor Vasari's
commendation.  She had no need to suffer from Masetto's, who declared
with indignation that it was impossible to execute scenes of passion and
sentiment with so irresponsive a soprano.  On the Wednesday another
opera was to be given; on the Thursday "Don Giovanni" would be repeated,
and then there loomed before Violante the dreadful impossible archness
of the playful heroine of "Il Barbiere."  Surely, when she came back
from the rehearsal on Wednesday, some one would come to hear how she had
fared!  There was no one.  Even Emily Tollemache neither came nor wrote.
So he only wanted to throw bouquets at her!

"Oh, I hate the flowers!  I hate their very smell," sobbed poor Violante
to herself; but she did not throw them away; and when, on Thursday
night, as the opera proceeded, no white bouquet fell, her spirit died
utterly within her, and then rose in passionate despair.  She could not
bear her troubles--this poor child--for one day; but, weak and soft as
she was, it was no mere tender sentiment that gave her face a sort of
power and thrilled her voice with a new energy.

When the curtain rose on the performers after the opera was over, a
great white bridal-looking bouquet fell at Violante's feet.  Don
Giovanni, impelled perhaps by various jealousies of the favour shown to
the little debutante, picked it up and gave it to Donna Elvira, who
graciously curtseyed thanks.  Zerlina started; she could see no one; and
the curtain fell.

"Mademoiselle, I think those are my flowers."

Donna Elvira burst out laughing and pointed the bouquet scornfully at
Zerlina.

"Eccola--Brava, brava!  Mademoiselle learns quickly.  She wants other
ladies' bouquets, not content with her own!"

"Mademoiselle's thoughts are elsewhere than on the stage," sneered
Masetto.

"All--it is a love token!  Is it il Signor Inglese?  Ah, ha, ha!"

Violante, in an agony of shame at her own folly, with burning cheeks and
beating heart, shrank away without a word; but when she reached home and
could hide her face on Rosa's shoulder, her first words were--

"Oh, my flowers, my flowers!" and when Rosa understood the story she
could give no adequate consolation.

"Oh, child--child!" she cried at last, "do not sob and cry in this way.
Who ever cured their troubles so?  Now I will not have it.  Perhaps he
did not throw the flowers after all!  Lie down and go to sleep."

Violante endeavoured to obey; she put the damp tumbled hair off her
face, and lay down and closed her eyes.  "But he did throw them," she
thought to herself; but she did not say so to Rosa, for her sorrow was
beginning to give the child a stand-point of her own.

Hugh, meanwhile, was the victim of circumstances.  Mrs Tollemache had
planned an excursion, which carried them off early on the morning after
the first opera, and from which they did not return till late in the
evening of the second day.  Hugh was annoyed; but he knew that he should
have other opportunities of seeing Violante, and he could not escape
without more commotion than was expedient.  So he went and enjoyed
himself all the more, because the excitement of his whole nature made
him more than usually open to enjoyment.  Hugh had never thought scenery
so beautiful or sights so interesting; he was ready to be amused by
every trifling incident of their trip.  _He_ knew that Violante would be
there when he came back; while _she_, poor child, knew nothing.  But he
managed to look in at the end of the opera and throw his bouquet; and on
the next day he thought no one could have objected to his making a visit
of enquiry, particularly as most likely Violante would not be at home.
James's remarks had not been without their effect, in so far as they
increased his desire to act with the greatest possible tact and caution;
and he much wished to secure his mother's consent, certainly before any
public disturbance took place, and even, if possible, before actually
engaging himself to Violante, and this for her sake.  He had no dreams
of hiding himself from the world with her: he could do no other than
follow his profession, and live with his wife in the midst of his
friends.  In short, Hugh wished to eat his cake and have it--to do a
wild, foolish, utterly romantic thing, and yet sacrifice no conventional
or real advantage.  And he had quite sense enough to know that
conventional advantages _were_ real in this case, and quite confidence
enough in himself to believe that, he, in his wisdom, could succeed in
doing what most other men had failed in attempting.

"There shall be no secrecy and no quarrelling," he thought; "and yet I
will judge for myself."

However, this evening, politeness would have prompted a call on Signor
Mattei had Violante never existed; and as Jem had promised to take some
drive with the Tollemaches it was not worth while to ask for his
company; so he asked if Signor Mattei was at home.  "No--il signor was
out."

"La signorina Rosa?"

"Out too, she was giving a lesson--ah, it was only English people who
went out in such a sun.  What a pity!  Even Mademoiselle Mattei
(Maddalena proudly gave Violante the French title by which she was known
to the public) was not there; she was tired with the rehearsals; she was
lying down.  Would il signor wait?  They would be in soon."  Hugh
thought that he would wait.  This was not the first time that he had
seen Maddalena.

Hugh came into the great shady room, where the Venetian blinds were down
and the light was green and cool.  Only one window was open--a little
one at the end facing east--and on its ledge stood a great bowl of
flaming flowers, the blue sky and a distant marble pinnacle, fretted and
pierced, behind them; a girl in an old white dress on the low cushioned
bench beneath--Violante's delicate face and floating hair clear against
the sky.  There were red flowers and blue flowers in the great china
bowl, but white ones in Violante's little hands; and as Hugh's foot fell
on the old scratched inlaid work of the floor she held them to her lips.
Then the foot-fall sounded, and she turned her head and sprang up with
such a start that down fell flowers, red, white, and blue, with the
china bowl in one common ruin.  In another moment Hugh and Violante,
both laughing and exclaiming, were picking them up, and Hugh was
pursuing the bowl as it rolled along the polished floor.

"No harm done," he said, as he brought it back, "it is not broken."

"Oh, I am so glad!  Father is so fond of it.  Oh, how wet the cushion
is!"

"Hang it out of window," said Hugh, as he pulled it off the seat.  "I
don't want it.  And there," taking it from the chair, "is another one
for you."

And Hugh sat down on the vacant half of the window-seat; and, replacing
the bowl on the ledge, began to arrange the wet flowers in it.  Violante
sat down also; and, shaking the drops from the roses and oleanders, held
them to him one by one.

She felt quite happy; past and future had floated away from her.  She
did not think of saying anything; the flowers were enough.

"I don't think I understand much about arranging flowers," said Hugh.

"They were dying, or I should not have taken them to pieces," said she,
with a glance at the white bouquet.

"You had a _white_ bouquet?"

"Oh--I had so many--this beautiful one--all roses," said Violante,
trying, in her heightened spirits, this elementary piece of coquetting.

"Too many to count?"

"Oh, yes--quite too many.  There were three red ones and this--all
colours--and _one_ white."

She looked at Hugh, seized with a sudden fear.  Perhaps he had not
thrown the white one, after all!

"Your trophies, Mademoiselle Mattei.  Were you very proud of them as you
were counting the spoils?" said the equally foolish Hugh, as he thought:
"Of course, she _does_ care for it, after all."

Violante blushed intensely and her lips quivered.

"I like the _flowers_," she said.

"And the applause?" said Hugh, jealously.  "Don't you know you had a
great triumph?  We shall all boast of your acquaintance."  Violante bent
her head low, her lashes heavy and wet.

"Still, you don't like it," cried Hugh; and suddenly the tones were
tender.  "Does it still frighten you so much, Violante?"

"Oh yes--so much!"

"Ah, I saw you were frightened.  It was Violante, not Zerlina, that I
was looking at."

"Yes, that's the worst of it."

"The worst of it?"

"I never act enough, they say.  I can only sing."

"Well, what more would anyone have?  You sing like an angel.  And
Violante is much better worth looking at than Zerlina, any day."

"Ah," said Violante, more brightly, "but you would not think so if you
were Signor Rubini."

"What--Masetto--shouldn't I?"

"He said," continued Violante, with penitence, "that he would rather act
with a wax-doll, and--and that I show off my own voice and do not think
of his.  But I cannot help it, indeed."

"What an insolent scoundrel!  You shall--why do you ever act with him
again?"

"Oh, but it is a great honour!  I ought to please him if I could.  But I
don't know how."

The sorrowful, contrite tones, and the droop of her lip were almost more
than Hugh could bear.  James had told him that it would be cruel to make
this poor little child unhappy by the uncertainties of an engagement
that could not be immediately-fulfilled.  Would she be any happier if he
left her to cry over her bad acting, and to be criticised by Italian
singers?  He was coming to a resolution, but for a moment he held it
back.

"Give yourself airs," he said.  "Say you'll never sing again if they
find fault with you!  See what they will say then."

"I?" said Violante, opening round eyes of amazement.  "How could I?"

"All," said Hugh, with growing excitement, "but one of these days you
will say, `_I_ will not act with Signor Rubini!'  We are going home, you
know, when I come back--"

He paused, and Violante turned cold and sick, as when the eyes of the
whole theatre were fixed upon her.  He was going away!  Hugh started up
and walked away from her for a moment; then he came back and stood
before her, and spoke.

"No, you cannot say that.  I will tell you what to say.  Say you have
promised to be my wife, my darling; and it does not matter if you act
well or ill.  Listen to me one moment.  Signorina, I love you; though I
cannot tell you so in persuasive words.  If you will trust me for a
little while, I will come back and bring my mother, who will welcome you
and love you.  Can you care for me, Violante?"

Hugh, scrupulous and self-conscious, wasted many words.  He had said
within himself that he would show more deference to Violante than he
would have thought necessary to a princess; that with his first words he
would make it plain, both that there were difficulties, and that he
would overcome them.  There was a suppressed fire in the eyes generally
so quiet, and a sort of courtliness in the manners that were sometimes
so stiff, a deference that would soon be tender, an earnestness just
held back from passionate force.

Violante heard but three words: "I love you."  Shy as she was, she was
utterly trustful, and was too innocent and too fervent for any pretence
of coyness.

"Do you love me, Violante?"

"Oh, yes!" and she let him take her in his arms, while her tears fell
with the soft relief of having found a comforter.  She was won, this
little southern Juliet, won--ah, how easily!--and Hugh vowed to himself
that he would justify her innocent trust, and give her all she knew not
how to demand.

"You are not frightened now, my child?"

"Oh, no!"

"Let me look and see;" and, as Hugh drew away the veiling fingers, she
did not shrink from the kiss that came in their stead.

"What will father say?" murmured she presently.

Now, it would have suited Hugh better could he have left Signor Mattei
in ignorance until he had settled the affair with his own people; but he
was too generous to involve Violante in the toils of a secret.  Never
should she be tempted by him to one doubtful action.  So he answered--

"That I will soon find out; and to do so, my darling, I must go."

And so, with many tender words, and with a wonderful delight in his own
love as well as in the sweet child who had awakened it, Hugh took his
leave for the present; and she, who was conscious of no delight but ill
him, watched him for a moment, then came and turned the old lock of the
door, which he suddenly found so perplexing; so that, as he went away,
he saw her standing in the dim, lofty corridor, with the sunlight
shining halo-wise behind her hair, and the still brighter aureole of his
passionate fancy glorifying her innocent face.

PART TWO, CHAPTER NINE.

CONTRASTS.

  "There's none so sure to pay his debt.
  As wet to dry, and dry to wet."

PART TWO, CHAPTER TEN.

THE TIME OF ROSES.

  "When all the world was young, lad,
  And all the trees were green."

While the bright southern sunshine was filling the old palace with its
rays; and while, beneath the blue Italian sky, Hugh Crichton was
arranging Violante's flowers; the same fair summer weather was making
life enchanting in the English county where Oxley lay.  Instead of deep,
unbroken azure, see a paler tint, with fleecy, snowy clouds; and, for
the fretwork and the imagery, the marble, and the alabaster of Civita
Bella, broad, green, low-lying meadows, where dog-roses tossed in the
hedges, and dog-daisies and buttercups were falling beneath the scythe;
a slow, sleepy canal, with here and there a bright-painted boat; and, on
the low hill side, the clustering white villas and modern streets,
surmounted, not by innumerable pinnacles and domes, but by one tall,
grey spire.

Oxley was a large, flourishing town, some forty miles from London--next
to the county town in dignity, and before it in size and enterprise.  It
could boast no architecture and no antiquities, save a handsome church--
neither very old nor very new--and some tumble-down, red-tiled, dirty
streets, sloping down from the back of the town to the canal--unless,
indeed, like some of its townsmen, you counted the Corinthian facade of
the railway station, the Gothic gables of the new Town-Hall, or the
sober eighteenth-century squareness of the Oxley Bank.  These two latter
public buildings opened on to a broad, sunny market-place; from which
started a clean, white, sunny road, which led past villas, nursery
gardens, meadows, and bits of furzy, heathery waste, all the way to
Redhurst, and was the old coach-road from the county town to London.

Along this road were the prettiest residences, the gayest little
conservatories, the most flowery lilacs, laburnums, and acacias of
suburban Oxley.  Here was the "best neighbourhood," and here, on the
clean, gravelled footway, the nursery-maids and children went to walk on
fine mornings; ladies and little dogs paid calls of an afternoon; and
groups of slim, long-haired girls came out to attend classes at Oxley
Manor, the famous Young Ladies' School.  The Manor House lay back from
the road behind high, substantial, red-brick walls, with mossy crevices,
and bushy ivy peeping over the top; showing beyond, garden trees,
walnuts, acacias, and horse-chestnuts, surrounding the big, substantial
house, where, from the small-paned windows, peeped now and then a girl's
face.

There was no better school in the country than the Miss Vennings' at
Oxley Manor; and it was considered a great privilege for the girls of
Oxley that certain classes there were opened to them; and a still
greater that Miss Spencer and Miss Crofton were allowed to attend
regularly as day scholars.  But these young ladies did not come from
Redhurst by the road.  There was a pretty, quiet path through the
meadows--half-way between the public road and the towing-path by the
canal--that led here through a bit of copsewood famous for primroses,
there across a sunny, open meadow; now over a low, wooden stile, then
between high hedges, full of brambles, honey-suckles, and roses; till
the hedges grew neater and closer, and terminated in the high red wall
of the Manor kitchen-garden, from which opened a little green gate.  On
the other side of the road was a paddock, with a shallow pond where
ducks flourished, and where, on the opposite bank, an old pollard willow
threw its slender branches across the muddy water.

On that sunny afternoon a sunnier spot could hardly have been found than
the narrow path under the wall; and yet here lingered two figures: a
girl, who had poised herself on the end of a great garden-roller, and a
young man who leaned against the white railing of the pond beside her.
She was a graceful little lady, small and soft-faced; with brown hair,
shining and neat, round rosy lips, and clear, steady eyes of a hazel
tint.  Her white dress was elaborately trimmed with handsome embroidery,
and all her blue ribbons were fresh and smart, as if they had no need to
see sunny days enough to dim their brightness.  There was a bag of books
at her feet, and her pretty eyes were cast down towards them; and her
pink cheeks were flushed with considerable, yet not excessive,
embarrassment.

"But, Arthur," she said, with a clear, distinct, and yet soft utterance,
"but, Arthur, I think we ought to consider about it a great deal."

"I have never considered it at all," said Arthur Spencer.

He was a tall young man, slight and graceful; with--spite of his second
class and his cultivated expression--a sort of happy-go-lucky air, that
seemed hardly to have outgrown the right to his old appellation of a
"very pretty boy," earned by his bright colour, dark hair, with a
picturesque wave in it, and black-lashed eyes, of that distinct shade of
grey which cannot be mistaken for blue or hazel.  He was an elegant,
rather handsome young man at three-and-twenty, with a light-hearted,
self-reliant manner that might have been careless and even conceited had
a less earnest and genuine affection looked out from his bright eyes at
the pretty creature beside him.  Arthur thought himself clever,
good-looking, rather a fine fellow in his way; but what did he not think
of Mysie Crofton?

"There's nothing _new_ in it; is there, Mysie?" he continued, as he took
her prettily-gloved hand, with the freedom of old intercourse, just
touched with something sweeter.  "Nothing new.  We were always the
friends of the family, and it _must_ have come to this soon."

"Yes," said Mysie, simply; "but I thought--I thought--those things never
_did_ come to anything."

"You thought?  Ah, Mysie, I have my answer now: You thought, you little
worldly-minded thing, that first love was all humbug, eh?  Well, we'll
be an instance to the contrary."

Mysie blushed.

"I'm sure," she said, "you were always telling me about young ladies."

"But I always told you about them, Mysie!  And now I could not go on any
longer without having it out.  _I_ knew it; and _you_ knew it--oh, yes,
you did; and Aunt Lily was beginning to find out."

"But there's Hugh?"

"Ah, Hugh.  I daresay he won't quite like it; those things are not in
his line.  But he is too good to make foolish objections.  To be sure,
there is one he may fairly make."

"What's that?" said Mysie, frightened.

"Your fortune, Mysie; and when I think of it, it half frightens me."

"I don't think it is so very much," said Mysie.

"It is enough to give you a right to all this," said Arthur, touching
her pretty dress; "and if I thought I could not give it you, I would be
silent.  But, Mysie, I have not much of my own; but I think I have
earned the right to say I have a good chance of success in any career I
might choose; and there is always the Bank.  I know I cannot marry you
now, Mysie, my darling," he continued, with a sort of frank, eager
deference; "and if anyone you like better comes by I will never hold you
to your promise.  But in the meantime are we the worse for acknowledging
that which has existed so long--so long?  Oh, Mysie, I don't know how to
make love to you.  I think it's all made, but you are part of myself.  I
could have no life without you.  I cannot imagine myself _not_ loving
you, not looking to have you one day for my own."

If Mysie was a little slow to answer, it was not because she could
imagine her life without Arthur.  All this was only the right name for
that which had always been.  They _were_ Arthur and Mysie; and they
would be Arthur and Mysie to the end of the chapter.

"Yes," she said, "that's quite true.  It just is.  But I'll try and be a
great deal better to you than ever I have been.  It ought to be like
`John Anderson.'"

Mysie had ideas, and was not afraid to express them.  She used nice,
pretty language, and when a thought struck her she would say it out in a
way sometimes formal, but always genuine and sweet.

"John Anderson?" said Arthur--not that he did not know.

And Mysie repeated the sweetest of all sweet love-songs, the one
fulfilment in the midst of so much longing desire.

As Arthur heard her gentle, fearless voice, and saw her clear eyes
raised to his own, as she repeated, without fear or falter:

  "And sleep thegither at the foot,
  John Anderson, my jo,"

a great awe came over him.

"Oh, Mysie, my love, my darling, may God grant it!  For nothing in life
could ever come between us."

And with this hope, that in its intensity was almost fear, he drew her
towards him, and gave her his first _lover's_ kiss.  She was silent; and
then, recovering herself, said, in a different tone:

"And I don't think it will be inconvenient to have a little money!"

The revulsion of ideas made Arthur laugh.

"Worldly wisdom!" he exclaimed; then suddenly sprang up from the other
end of the roller as a tall handsome lady, in a garden hat, came out of
the green gate.

"Miss Crofton!"

"I--I was only taking Mysie to school, Miss Venning," said Arthur; while
Mysie, pink and fluttered, picked up her books and hurried off up the
path.

Miss Venning was a stately, blue-eyed woman of forty or thereabouts;
with a fair, fresh complexion, and a manner that twenty-years of
school-keeping had rendered somewhat condescending, as if the world
consisted of pupils to be at once governed and encouraged; while her
blue eyes had a certain look of enquiry in them, as if she was in the
habit of passing judgment on those who came before her.  But, that the
judgment would be just and kind, the handsome face gave every promise;
and, perhaps, the scales might even drop a little in favour of a kind of
culprit that did not often come before her.  Besides, if Arthur Spencer
had brought the girls to school once within her recollection, he had
done so fifty times.

But Arthur did not give time for this awful monosyllable to frame itself
into an objection.

"Miss Venning," he said, persuasively, "I'm doing no harm.  I daresay
you have often thought of it before; it couldn't be helped, you see, any
longer."

"Arthur," said Miss Venning, in a deep, full voice, somewhat appalling
to hear, "if you had anything particular to say to Miss Crofton, you
have ample opportunities without following her here."

Arthur did not look much discomfited.  Perhaps there was the slightest
turn in the formidable voice that showed that the humour of the
situation was not quite lost on the speaker.

He blushed, and then said, with a straightforwardness that few ladies
would have resisted:

"Miss Venning, I want to have Mysie for my wife, if my aunt and Hugh
will consent to our engagement.  I don't know when we began to think of
it, but I suppose to-day it--well--came to a head."

"And what does Mysie say?" said Miss Venning, still judicial, but
interested.  She considered Arthur Spencer a very promising young man.

"Mysie sees no objection, Miss Venning.  I didn't mean to take a
liberty, I'm sure, with the sacred precincts of the Manor House; but,
since it has happened so, I do wish you would let me consult you."

Whether this appeal was the result of a delicate tact, or of the
overflowing happiness that longed for sympathy, it caused Miss Venning
to walk along the path beside him, saying:

"Well?"

"Well," said Arthur, "you see how it is with us; and we have our lives
before us, and there is time for me to make myself worthy of Mysie's
money--I'll not say of herself," he added, with a little softening of
his confident voice.

"Well?" said Miss Venning again, with a yet deeper intonation.

"I have not hitherto made up my mind as to my profession," said Arthur.
"I hardly looked beyond the examination; but the Bank has always been my
destination, and you know my uncle's kindness marked out my career there
long ago."

"And haven't you any further ambition?" said Miss Venning, who thought
young men ought to push themselves.

"Why," said Arthur, "I don't like teaching, in which career my degree
would be of most use to me; and the bar is very slow work.  Hugh really
wants help; and, in short, Miss Venning, when life is so crowded and the
world so over-full I think if a man has the good luck to have a line
marked out for him he ought to stick to it, unless his tastes point very
decidedly the other way.  Besides, I like Oxley.  And I think," he
added, laughing and colouring, "I should say this under _any_
circumstances.  But if not, one must take life as a whole, you know."

Miss Venning thought Oxley Bank rather a flat ending to so creditable a
career as Arthur's had been; but then, on the other hand, it was
eminently safe and respectable, and, with this early marriage, would
effectually "keep him out of mischief."

"But what will your cousin say?" she asked.

"Why, I'm afraid he'll think it his duty to object a little.  But Hugh
is such a good fellow, and has always been so thoroughly kind to me, and
is so fair in judgment, that I am sure he will own I have as good a
right to try for the prize as anyone else.  It's very odd that he has
never looked out for himself.  But, dear me! he would be so awfully
particular!"

"Well, Arthur," said Miss Venning, "I approve of young men marrying.
It's far more necessary for them than for girls."

"One couldn't well manage it without a girl," murmured Arthur.

"So that," said Miss Venning, "it's well young women have different
opinions on the subject.  Go home, and take the responsibility off my
shoulders by telling your aunt at once."

"I'll never do it in your garden again, Miss Venning," cried Arthur, as
he left her with a very hearty shake of the hand.

Certainly life lay fair before and behind Arthur Spencer.  He was
clever, with the technical skill needed for the attainment of his
scholastic honours more developed than the general power behind it.
That is to say, all his brains--and they were good ones--had been given
to the composition of Greek and Latin, and to the acquirement of the
knowledge necessary to the attainment of a good degree.  He was
naturally active, and industrious; and ambition and conscience had both
urged him to do well the work that nature had made easy to him.  He had
won plenty of praise, which he liked exceedingly; and plenty of
popularity, which came so naturally that he was hardly conscious of it.
But he had hitherto taken life outside the schools very much for
granted; thought Hugh infallible on matters of business, and James an
oracle in matters of art.  Indeed, Arthur's power of appreciation was
one of his best points.  Unlike many of her sons, he loved and believed
in Oxford--perhaps because he had given her his best and she had well
repaid him; and, while there, his time and thoughts had been fully
occupied with the work before him.  At once affectionate and
self-reliant, he took readily to the independence that circumstances
indicated, and at a very early age took good care of himself.  And,
though there was no one in his boyhood to bestow on him exclusive
affection, his warm heart gave out enough to all to make his kindly home
a happy and sunny one.  For Arthur liked most people.  It had been said
with some truth that one person was much the same as another to him, he
"got on" so well with all.  It would be praising the gay untried boy far
too highly to say that he had a spirit of universal charity; but he did
possess a sort of loving-kindness, a gift in whose soil the greatest of
all graces might grow; an entire absence of depreciating ill-nature.

But Arthur himself had long known that for him the human race was
divided into two parts--Mysie and other people.

PART TWO, CHAPTER ELEVEN.

OXLEY MANOR.

  "Oh, so many, many, many maidens!"

Under the great walnut-tree on the lawn the three Miss Vennings were
assembled in consultation.  The Manor House possessed one of the most
enchanting gardens that the past has ever handed down to the present.
High walls shutting it in safe, on winch grew jessamine and wisteria and
sweet old-fashioned roses; a narrow path running round the lawn, and
leading away into vistas of shrubbery; while on the soft turf grew
beautiful trees, and, in especial, an immense walnut.  Miss Venning sat
on a garden-bench communicating to her sisters the important event that
had just electrified her maidenly precincts.

"It _was_ very inconsiderate of Arthur to select our garden-roller for
the purpose," said Miss Clarissa, the second of the trio.

"Why, Clarissa?  You don't suppose people settle the exact spot
beforehand!" said Miss Florence, the third.

Miss Florence, as she now aspired to be called, had been little Flossy
not many years back; and the thick bright hair of fairest
flaxen--"Flossy's tow," as her sisters called it--now twisted round her
head, had not so very long ago hung down her back in all its native
lustre.  She was a tall girl of twenty, with a fine open face, handsome
in form, and coloured with a pink--"as pink as pink ribbon," Clarissa
said--bright enough to allow for a little fading as the years went by;
and her blue eyes were full of thought and energy.  Young as she was,
everyone knew that she was a much greater power in the house than Miss
Clarissa, and was hardly second to Miss Venning herself.  All the girls
obeyed her; she was full of life and force to the very tips of her
strong, slender fingers; could learn better than the girls, teach better
than the governesses, thought school-keeping a vocation and not a
drudgery, and spent her half-holidays in the parish; was never ill,
never tired, and never unhappy; and possessed such a store of spirits
and energy that--to quote again from Clarissa--if Flossy was not marked
out for misfortune Nature had wasted a great deal of good stuff in the
making of her.

Flossy was Miss Venning's darling, and need never have corrected an
exercise nor set a sum if she had not been so minded; but she had
replied to the offer of freedom with scorn and contempt: "Did sister
think she should be happier for being idle?" and set to work with all
her might and main to "enlarge the minds and improve the tone" of her
sister's pupils, introducing new studies, new authors, and new ideas;
talking over Miss Venning--or sometimes, perhaps, talking her down--with
an equal amount of self-confidence and self-devotion.

In Miss Clarissa's girlish days no such possibility of freedom had been
offered to her.  Nine or ten years ago, during the long illness of their
mother, and while the brothers who filled up the wide gaps between the
three sisters had been yet unsettled in life, the circumstances of the
school had required more personal exertion; and when Clarissa was at the
end of her teens she had been too busy--teaching all the English, that
the resident governess might be French--to consider if it was desirable
for the pupils to read Thackeray or to learn Latin and Euclid.  Clarissa
was a good girl and did her duty; but now, at eight and twenty, she felt
as if life might have offered her something more than school-keeping.
She told Flossy that she should like to marry a Duke and drink chocolate
out of Sevres china--and the scandalised Flossy perceived neither the
twinkle of the sleepy blue eyes nor the wistful fall of the well-curved
mouth, the delicate prettiness of which gave to the small curly-haired
Clarissa a look of youth which neither the absence of Sevres china nor
the presence of young ladies had hitherto impaired.  Flossy's eyes were
always wide open and rarely twinkled, though they often laughed.

They brightened into a laugh now, as she repeated her remark--

"You don't suppose, Clarissa, that people settle the exact spot
beforehand!"

"Really, Flossy, my experience is limited; but, as Mary says, as Arthur
lives in the house with Mysie, I think he might have managed matters at
home."

"Oh, but," said Flossy, "now he has sister on his side, you see."

"Yes, Mary; you're in the scrape," said Clarissa.

"Really, my dear, I don't see that at all.  I am not responsible for
Miss Crofton now, beyond her German and music lessons."

"I suppose she might do much better," said Clarissa.

"She couldn't do better," said Florence, decidedly, in her full rich
voice.  Will it quite detract from Flossy's character for feminine
softness if it be owned that she spoke rather loud?  "Arthur has very
good prospects, and is the very nicest young man I know."

"Dear me!  Flossy," said Clarissa.  "I thought you considered matrimony
a mistake."

"By no means," emphatically returned Flossy; "when everything is
suitable and people are fond of each other.  I don't think I shall ever
wish to marry anyone myself; and how anyone can say life is wanting in
interest I can't conceive; but I should never be so absurd as to lay
down general principles.  That is where people fall into error.  And
besides," she concluded heartily, "anyone could see dear little Mysie
was fond of Arthur, and I am so glad she will be happy!"

"Well, there are more words than hers and Arthur's to that," said
Clarissa.

"Mrs Crichton never objects to anything," said Flossy; "and as for Mr
Crichton, surely he won't be so horrid."

"Well, _I_ could not help it," said Miss Venning.

"No," returned Flossy; "and as Mysie is not exactly a girl it doesn't
signify."

Mysie was eighteen and a week; but Flossy used the term "girl" in a
strictly technical sense.

"Dear me!" she continued, "my class will be waiting for me."  And as she
ran into the house Miss Venning looked after her.

"I think young men have very strange tastes," she said.

"Because _Flossy_ has no lovers?" said Clarissa, with a slight emphasis.

"Well, I am sure I do not want her to have any," returned Miss Venning,
with a smile at her sisterly partiality.

"Dear me, no, Mary!  Flossy won't be fit for a lover for five years at
least.  She has all the world to reform first!"

Miss Venning laughed as she went to tend her beautiful roses, and
Clarissa, left alone, wandered on till she sat down under an acacia
tree.  She threw herself back on the soft turf, and gazed up at the sky
through its veil of delicate dancing foliage, while she caught the
fast-falling white blossoms in her hand.  It was a childish attitude and
a childish action; but it may have been absently done, for she was still
smiling at the joke of the surprised lovers.  At last the smile trembled
and ceased, and she hid her face on the mossy turf.  Lying there on the
grass, with her little slim figure and curly head, she looked like a
girl escaped from school, fretting over her tasks or dreaming of fairy
princes.  But Miss Clarissa was twenty-eight, and a schoolmistress; and
had tasks to set instead of to learn, and no lovers to dream of, past,
present, or future.  So she soon sat upright, brushed off the acacia
blossoms, and went into the house to get ready for tea.

Meanwhile, Flossy had taken her way to the long sunny school-room, where
sat some twelve or fifteen girls reading Wilhelm Tell with the German
governess--all, save one or two, evincing in tone, look, or manner a
conviction that German and hot afternoons were incompatible elements.
There was a little brightening as Miss Florence paused on her way to the
dining-room, where her own class of younger ones were preparing their
lessons.  Mysie sat with her clear eyes fixed on her book, her soft
round face pinker than usual, her little figure very still, her pencil
in her hand.  Was she taking notes of the lesson?

"Have you written out your translation, Mysie?" said Flossy,
mischievously.

"No, Miss Florence," said Mysie, in formal school-girl fashion; but she
could hardly restrain her little quivering smile.

"These young ladies are idle, Miss Florence," said their teacher.

"That is very wrong of them," returned Flossy.  "There is only one
excuse for being idle--" then, as Mysie looked up with a start, she
added, "the hot weather."

Neither romance not hot weather interfered with Miss Florence's energy
over her German lesson, and the sleepy little schoolgirls had small
chance with their brisk young teacher.  A bell rang, Flossy fired a
concluding question at the sleepiest and stupidest, extracted an
entirely wrong answer, and, but slightly disconcerted--for was not she
used to it?--ran off to her room, arranged her dress, stuck a great red
rose in her hair, and came down to tea.

Miss Florence was much admired by her pupils, and had a sort of
half-sympathetic, half-genial pleasure in their admiration.  Besides,
her rose was as a flag to celebrate the festal occurrence of the
afternoon.  "I always like to wear pretty things when I feel jolly," she
would say; "and if ever you see me going about in a drab dress and a
brown veil you may be quite sure I've had a disappointment!"

"Then," said Clarissa, "if you buy that very pink silk I shall think you
have had an offer."

"Oh, no; think I don't want one."

Flossy crushed her rose under a big straw hat, when she was set free
after tea, and took her way merrily along the fields to Redhurst.  The
way was very pretty, and the evening lights very charming; but Flossy
scurried along, much too full of human nature to care for any other.
She had been half playfellow and half teacher to Mysie for years, and
had grown up in familiar intercourse with all the household, and was on
terms with Arthur of mutual lecturing and teasing.

Redhurst was a square, red house, with white facings; and stood in the
midst of pretty, park-like meadows, through which ran the shallow,
sedge-grown river, which, nearer Oxley, merged in the sleepy canal.  The
garden came down to the river's brim, and great white fierce swans and
little furry black ducks swam up and down under the willows.  The
field-path led to an old white stone bridge, looking like a small model
of one of those over the Thames, and across it Flossy came into the
garden which led up to a terrace and steps in front of the house.  So
far the garden was rather stiff and old-fashioned, but croquet hoops
profaned the soft turf, garden chairs and a tea-table enlivened the
terrace; a girl of fifteen, with a mane of dark rusty hair, stood on the
step, and a lady was sitting in the most comfortable of the chairs above
her.

Mrs Spencer Crichton was as like her son Hugh as a stout,
cheerful-looking lady of eight-and-forty can be to a grave young man of
eight-and-twenty.  She was pale and handsome and fair, and hardly looked
her age, so smooth was her brow, so contented her mouth, so ready the
smiles that came with equal kindliness for all the young ones who had
grown up under her easy sway.  It was said that the young people at
Redhurst were sadly spoiled--spoiled, that is to say, not by being the
objects of devoted affection or too partial admiration, but by being
allowed their own way to an extent incredible to more idealistic
mothers.  Whether from the absence of any very marked individual
affections, or from something of the same cast of mind that produced in
her eldest son such even-handed justice, she not only treated all her
young kinsfolk with the same kindness, but, so far as they knew, felt
for them much the same amount of interest.  She did not think it
incredible that Arthur should surpass James; or that, in the few
contentions that crossed their sunshiny life, Hugh should sometimes be
mistaken.  All were sure of a kind judgment, and often of a sense of the
rights of their story: none of them made a demand for an exclusive or
individual tenderness; for their bringing-up had made them independent.
Mrs Crichton did not trouble herself much as to whether their
idiosyncrasies were suitable or desirable or likely to lead to any one
result.  It was all right that Hugh should keep to his business; she did
not wish that James was as fond of books as Arthur, since he preferred
Art and a great deal of conversation.  George preferred rats and rabbits
to either.  "Well, poor George did not like his lessons."  Mysie liked
needlework, and flowers, and Sunday schools--"so good of little Mysie."
Frederica thought happiness consisted in a day's hunting.  "She was
growing up quite a different sort of girl."  But Mrs Crichton was not
at all surprised when George got flogged at school for not knowing the
lessons, observing "that George was so stupid he was always in scrapes;"
and when Frederica pouted, sobbed, and scowled when some special friend
called her a Tom-boy she only heard: "But you are a Tom-boy, my dear,"
as consolation.  And when in young enthusiasm, anyone brought his or her
special hobby into notice, he or she well knew that, though that hobby
might prance unrebuked through the family circle, it was regarded as
nothing but "so-and-so's hobby," whether it concerned the destinies of
the human race or the best way of laying-out flower-beds.  There are two
sides to everything.  It is very pleasant never to be scolded; but when
Hugh had laid down some law in a way that bore heavily on his juniors,
it was not always quite pleasant to hear his mother placidly say: "My
dear, don't resist, it's Hugh's way to be particular"--as if Hugh's way,
and not the thing itself, were all that mattered.  Still, light hearts
and good tempers had resulted from the kindly, peaceable rule, and the
young Spencers lived their own lives and took each other for granted.
Hugh might hope that his little Italian song-bird might be accepted as
"Hugh's way," and Arthur and Mysie need fear no opposition, either
tyrannical or conscientious, little as the necessity of each to the
other's life might be realised.

"Ah, Flossy," said Mrs Crichton, "I thought we should see you to-night.
I suppose Miss Venning told you of what she saw?"

"Yes," returned Flossy, rather shyly; "so I came to see Mysie."

"Mysie is somewhere.  I have told them they must wait in secrecy and
silence till Hugh comes home, or he will never forgive us."

"Then you don't object, Mrs Crichton?" said Flossy, eagerly.

"No.  Mysie might do better, perhaps, but there is no use in making her
miserable if she does not think so herself.  Surely people _must_ choose
for themselves in these matters," said Mrs Crichton, uttering this
sentiment--so often practically ignored--as if it were such a truism
that Flossy felt as if life was really so easy as to be quite flat.

"I am sure Arthur will get on," she said.

"Oh, yes; and I don't know a nicer fellow anywhere.  Dear children, how
surprised Hugh will be!  I wish he would follow their example.  But,
dear me!  I cannot expect him to see with my eyes.  There is Arthur!"

Arthur came up and exchanged a hearty squeeze of the hand and delighted
smile with Flossy.

"Mysie is in the garden," he said; "do come and find her."

"Oh, Arthur, I am so glad," cried Flossy, impulsively, as she walked
away with him.  "I am so glad that Mrs Crichton--"

"Aunt Lily?  I prepared several irresistible arguments, and felt as if--
well, as if I might have kept them for Hugh.  How kind she is!  But,
now, Flossy, you are unprejudiced; don't you think I shall make Mysie as
happy as that swell in the air who is supposed to loom in the future?"

"Now, how angry you would be if I did not say yes!  How can you expect
me to sacrifice your friendship to a disinterested regard for truth?"

"I want somebody to convince!  I feel as if I had been reading hard and
the examiners had asked me to decline `Dominus.'"

"Oh, Arthur, anyone may see where you have been lately.  How ungrateful
you are!"

"No, I am not, Flossy," said Arthur; "but I really feel as if I ought to
object to myself as a duty to the family."

"Do wait for your cousin," said Flossy; "he will do that duty for you,
no doubt.  No, I am _very_ glad."

"Thank you--thank you," said Arthur, pleased at the hearty sympathy in
her voice.  "Ah, there's Mysie, picking roses."

"Now, Arthur, do stay away for five minutes.  How can we talk with you
there to listen?"

"Well--make haste."

Flossy ran away from him and seized Mysie in a warm, and--considering
their respective sizes--somewhat overwhelming embrace.

"My little darling, it's delightful.  I always meant you to have a fairy
prince, and to think it should be Arthur!"

"I am very glad he is not a fairy prince," said Mysie, smiling.

"What is he, then?" cried Flossy.

"Why, Flossy," said Mysie, "I think he's only what old Miss Rogers used
to call `Mr Right.'"

PART TWO, CHAPTER TWELVE.

PROS AND CONS.

  "Go back, my lord, across the moor!"

Signor Mattei was coming out from a rehearsal.  He often told Violante
that her work was nothing to his; and, indeed, his violin was always in
its place in the orchestra.  His work was his life, he would have been
miserable without it; and yet, with a not uncommon inconsistency, he
liked to pity himself for having got it to do.  He was a man with an
ideal, with a dream that was very difficult of fulfilment; and, perhaps,
did not need sympathy less than the girl who suffered so much and
disappointed him so sorely.  Whatever may have been Signor Mattei's
youthful hopes, in the days when he had thrown away the chance of a more
eligible profession to follow the art he so loved, he had long been
forced to limit them to making a fair livelihood by it.  Aspirations are
not always capabilities; and, spite of self-devotion and enthusiasm and
much technical skill, he was not destined to rise to the top of the
tree.  He was not, indeed, great enough to do as he liked; and his
temper and touchiness often brought good engagements to a premature end;
and, though he had never hitherto failed in obtaining fresh ones, there
was an element of uncertainty in his fortunes.  However different things
might be with him from what he had once desired, Signor Mattei had not
been a discontented man.  Small successes which he would once have
despised were much pleasanter than small failures; and he had grown to
limit his desires to such as were possible of fulfilment; when ambition,
desire of gain, and burning enthusiasm were all reawakened by the
discovery of Violante's wonderful voice.  Here was his chance again.
His daughter's name should be heard in every capital in Europe: the
fortunes of the whole family should be assured.  What sacrifices were
too great, what toil too arduous by which the possessor of this glorious
gift could turn it to account!  If such a voice had belonged to
Violante's father how he would have gloried and rejoiced, how he would
have worked early and late, how intoxicating would have been the success
that crowned his efforts!  People bear much harder on each other by the
inevitable workings of their alien natures than by wilful selfishness or
cruelty.  Violante and her father made each other miserable; yet he was
anxious to give her what would have been to himself the greatest good,
and she wore herself out in trying to obey and to please him.  It is not
easy for a bystander to judge between distaste and incapacity; it is
difficult to say which is the most provoking.  No amount of idleness on
Violante's part would have so provoked her father as did her
unenthusiastic performance of the amount of study required of her, her
tears and terror when she achieved a success.  Such folly _must_ be
curable by a sufficient amount of scolding and argument.  A person
_must_ enjoy what is enjoyable when the advantage is pointed out to them
with sufficient strength.  And Violante had been just successful enough
to make her father believe that it entirely depended on herself to
succeed better still.  Violante thought this belief cruel; and Rosa,
standing between both, while she prevented either from feeling the very
sharpest edge of the other's opinion, if she pitied her little sister
the most, to a certain extent sympathised with Signor Mattei.

So much for sentiment.  Violante was unworthy of her gift, but she
possessed it, and it brought substantial gains, much needed; for in a
life with so many ups and downs Signor Mattei had not held himself free
from debt.  Besides, no engagement had ever suited him so well as his
present one, and was not that confirmed to him by Signor Vasari's
interest in his young _prima donna_?  If Violante married the manager
_her_ success was certain, and the fortunes of the whole family were
assured; but if Vasari were offended there was an end of everything.

Her gains for her present engagement would belong to her father; and he
felt, though he would not own, that there was enough uncertainty about
her future to make the solid good of her marriage most desirable.  And
Signor Vasari had just made the flattering suggestion that Mdlle.
Mattei's timidity and reluctance might be in part owing to a maidenly
coyness and consciousness towards himself.  Once acknowledged as his
_promessa sposa_ she would gain courage and self-confidence.  Signor
Mattei joyously pledged himself to do everything in his power to favour
the manager's views.  Art, fame, and fortune all smiled upon him; and no
experience could make Signor Mattei believe that Violante was so unlike
other girls as not to view such a proposal with rapture.  Full of this
pleasing prospect he was walking hastily home from the theatre to his
own dwelling, when he was accosted by Hugh Crichton, who begged the
favour of a few words with him.

Hugh was courteous and deferential, but he had no expectation that his
proposal would not be received with pleasure; and was desirous, since he
must speak to Signor Mattei, to have so far committed himself before he
again encountered his brother, whose co-operation when he reached home
he felt that he could not altogether afford to despise.  Spite, however,
of his not unnatural confidence in the result, he felt very hot and shy;
blundered through a few unintelligible sentences; tried Italian, with a
view of being polite; forgot the Italian for "daughter," "proposal," for
every thing; and finally, with startling abruptness, hoped in plain
English that Signor Mattei would consent to his engagement to his
daughter.  Signor Mattei stopped short in the street, struck an attitude
of astonishment, and loudly exclaimed:

"Signor Hugo!  Do my ears deceive me?"

"No, sir, assuredly not," said Hugh, much discomposed at the sudden
standstill.  "I have long admired la signorina Violante, and to-day I
have ventured to tell her so."

"Tell her so! tell her so!" ejaculated Signor Mattei.  "Tell her so, in
her father's absence!  Signor, is this the conduct I could expect?"

"If I have acted in ignorance of Italian customs," said Hugh, "your long
residence in England must have informed you that in coming to you at
once I have done all that is required by our own.  If you will walk on,
sir," for Signor Mattei was still figuring about on the pavement in a
way that worried all the sense out of Hugh's head, "I will explain
myself further."

Signor Mattei, who had really been taken utterly by surprise by Hugh's
application, and was not undesirous to gain a little time for
consideration, bowed profoundly and walked on by Hugh's side; while the
latter, who, with all his desire to make a good impression, felt
irritated by his companion's way, began stiffly:

"I should tell you, Signor Mattei, that I am in all respects my own
master, and quite independent of everyone.  I am not afraid that my
mother will not give Mdlle.  Mattei a welcome; and of my own feelings, I
assure you, sir, they are most--most strong.  I love her, and I hope I
shall make her happy--happier than she can be in a profession to which
she is so unsuited."

Hugh was a good speaker, and generally said what he had to say on all
public and private occasions with perfect fluency and distinctness; but
his eloquence foiled him now, and he coloured up and looked entreatingly
at Signor Mattei as he made this false step.

"Unsuited to her profession, signor! unsuited to her profession!  Do you
mean to insult my daughter?"

"I mean that the profession is unsuited to her," said Hugh, not mending
matters.

"Signor, she has been dedicated to my beloved art from her earliest
years.  Music is her vocation, as in a lesser--I am proud to say in a
lesser--degree it is mine."

Hugh was not naturally conciliatory; and to listen patiently to what he
considered such nonsense, uttered with a flash of the eyes that proved
its sincerity, jarred upon him so much that there was as much annoyance
as entreaty in his voice as he answered:

"I venture to set myself up as a rival to your art, and I ask you for--
Violante.  Indeed, I don't think she will regret the fame she gives up."

Hugh was so sure that it was better for Violante to marry him, an
English gentleman, than to sing at all the operas in Europe, he felt
that he was making so good an offer, and yet he wanted her so much, that
the humility born of passionate desire conquered his sense of his own
merits, and he finished pleadingly:

"If I can help it she never shall."

"Signor, my daughter is already promised, and the arrangements for her
marriage will shortly be begun."

"That is impossible," exclaimed Hugh; "she has given her promise to me."

"Her promise?" cried Signor Mattei; "the promise of a little, foolish,
most foolish, girl!  No, sir, she knows what my views are, and she is
Signor Vasari's promised wife."

"She knows!"  She--the loving, trustful child whom he had seen kiss his
white flowers, who had given herself to him without one word of
misgiving.  Impossible, indeed.

"She shall not be sacrificed," cried Hugh, in his turn stopping short.
"She has told me that she loves me.  Whatever you may have intended her
to do is without her will or knowledge."

Now, in thus asserting Violante's individuality Hugh made a great
mistake.  The Italian father did not think that it made much difference
if Violante had told Hugh that she loved him twenty times.  It was his
part to arrange a marriage for her; and her little wishes, her foolish
tongue, went for nothing.

"I do not believe Mademoiselle Mattei is aware of your wishes," said
Hugh again, hotly.

Now this was an assertion which Signor Mattei could fairly face.
Violante _was_ well aware of her father's wishes.  That she was involved
in any positive promise she could not know, insomuch as the promise had
been made for her at the very time when she had been making a far
different one for herself.  Nor had she fully known her danger, since
Rosa, for the sake of peace and composure, had carefully kept the
subject out of sight.

"Nevertheless, she is aware of them," said Signor Mattei; and while Hugh
paused, silenced for the moment, he went on, not without dignity:

"Signor, I thank you.  Your proposal honours my little girl, and honours
you, since you mean to sacrifice much to win her.  But I know your
country and your manners, and I will not give up my daughter.  Your
noble ladies will not receive her well."

"There is nothing of the sort--we have no rank at all," interposed Hugh,
"and I will answer for my mother."

"My daughter, sir, has a great future before her; she shall not
sacrifice it.  She shall not marry out of her class and away from her
country and give up what Fortune has laid at her feet.  Your fancy,
Signor, will pass as it came, and hers--pshaw--she has nothing strong in
her but her voice, her voice of an angel."

Signor Mattei was a single-minded man, though he had not dealt singly
with Hugh.  The good match for his daughter shrank to nothing compared
to the career from which it would shut her out.  That underneath lurked
some consciousness of the advantage to himself is true; but never would
he have dreamed of claiming any like advantages from this other suitor.

Hugh walked on by his side pale and bewildered, a horrible doubt of
Violante weakening his arguments and chilling his entreaties.  At last
he said, desperately, "Signor Mattei, after what has passed I cannot
take my answer from you.  She told me nothing of a former promise.  She
must tell me that she has made none, and then I swear to you her life
shall have none of the trials you dread.  I will either go home and
bring you my mother's words of welcome--my mother herself," he
continued, rashly, "or I will seek no consent at all--none is needed.  I
would marry her to-morrow if you care for such a test."

"You in England, Signor, may marry spite of a parent's curse."

"Curse! nonsense," said Hugh, impatiently.

"But here a father's word is enough.  She _can_ give you no answer but
mine."

"I will have an answer from her," said Hugh; "and if she can tell me she
is not promised to that fellow I will never give her up till--till I
have persuaded you to take a different view of this."

"But she is promised, sir, and I refuse to entertain your proposals for
her."

"She never told me so!"

"She is timid," said Signor Mattei, with a shrug, "timid, and, like all
girls, a fool.  Enough; I can say no more, Signor.  I have the honour to
wish you good evening."  And, with a rapidity for which Hugh was
unprepared, Signor Mattei darted down a side street, and left him to
himself.

Baffled as he was, Hugh did not mean to rest satisfied with his answer.
He could not believe that the opposition would hold out after he had
proved himself to be thoroughly in earnest.  If only the horrible doubt
of Violante's own fair dealing could be removed!--and removed it should
be the first time he had the chance of a word with her.  For Hugh was
not a suspicious person, and it would have been hard indeed to doubt the
shy yet passionate tenderness of Violante's voice and face.  He did not
understand the entanglement, but he was not going to convict her without
a trial.  Still, this later interview had effectually brought him down
to earth; and he went back to the Consulate with the arguments which
were to bring James over to his side by no means in such order as he had
hoped.  He found the ladies drinking coffee and James discoursing on the
delights of his afternoon ramble.

"I assure you, Miss Tollemache, she had eyes like a gazelle, and her
smile--there was intelligence and intellect in it; you could see by the
way that she smiled that she had a mind, you know."

"But flower-girls always do smile, Mr Crichton."

"Ah, but how different this was from the made-up smiles you see in
England--such a sense of art, too, in her white handkerchief--no hats
and feathers.  She only said, `Grazie, signor!' but there was a sort of
recognition, you know, of one's interest in her."

"I shall go and look at her," said Emily.

"Now, if one lived in a simpler state of society," pursued Jem, "what
curious intercourse one might have with such a being--how much she might
add to one's knowledge of existence!  How one can imagine the great men
of old--Raphael in search of the Beautiful--dancing in the evening!  Oh,
Hugh, I didn't see you!  Where have you been?"

"Where have _you_ been would be more to the point," retorted Hugh.  "In
one of Bulwer's novels?"

"He has fallen in love with a flower-girl," said Emily.

"Emily, my dear," said her mother, "Mr Crichton was only describing an
artistic effect.  It is very desirable to cultivate a love of nature."

"Very," said Jem.  His enthusiasm had been perfectly genuine, though he
had not been without a desire to interest his audience; and he could not
resist a side glance at Hugh, who looked hot and cross.

"Have you seen any flower-girls, Mr Crichton?" said Emily, wickedly.

"No, Miss Tollemache, nothing so interesting;" and then a sudden sense
of the extreme falsity of his words came over him; and he blushed in a
violent, foolish way, which completed his annoyance with things in
general.

James saw the blush and knew that something had happened.  He did not,
how ever, quite like to question his brother; and when the ladies left
them they went out on the balcony and for some time smoked in silence.

At last Hugh knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and said, in a formal,
uncomfortable tone:

"James, I have made a proposal to Mdlle.  Mattei."

"The deuce you have!" ejaculated Jem.

"And what did she say?"

"She accepted it.  But, Jem, you may entirely disabuse your mind of the
idea that there has been any attempt to--to catch me; for her father has
just given me to understand that he will not consent to it."

"What! he prefers the manager!"

"So he says."

"And she doesn't?"

"No," very shortly.  "But I cannot suppose that if he was fully aware of
the genuineness of my intentions and knew that my mother would receive
her--In short, Jem, another person's words--"

"Another person?  Do you mean me?  Answer for mamma?  I declare, Hugh,
that's a little too much.  You're going to raise such a row at home as
was never heard of, and you want me to help you!"

Hugh said nothing, and James's momentary perturbation subsided.

"This is good!" he said.  "_You_ wanting help!  Did you ever live in
Oxley, Hugh, or is it all a mistake?  `Jones at the opera abroad' _is_
so _very_ unlike `Jones at the opera at home.'"

"I am in earnest, Jem," said Hugh, as James did all the laughing at his
own joke.

"It's a great mistake being in earnest," said Jem.  "Here have you
spoilt all your fun by it."

"I don't understand you."

"Why," said Jem, mischievously.  "Of course, Violante was intended to
amuse you during your holiday.  A little sentiment--study of life."

"I have asked Mdlle.  Mattei to be my wife," interrupted Hugh, in a tone
of high offence.

"I beg your pardon," said Jem, after a moment's pause.  "I'll be
serious.  So Signor Mattei is the difficulty?  H'm!  How far do you
suppose he is involved with this dangerous rival?"

"That is what I cannot make out.  He says that she, Violante, is engaged
to him but she never mentioned his name."

"Told you nothing about him?"

"No.  So the question is," said Hugh, in a voice that he tried hard to
keep at an even level, "the question is, who is deceiving me?"

"Both and neither," returned Jem.  "What?"

"I dare say she likes you best, and thinks she will try to get out of
her previous entanglement."

"She should have spoken the truth," said Hugh, frowning.

"Come, Hugh, that's expecting a great deal of a poor little frightened
thing like that, and an Italian, too.  What would you have?"

"You did not see her?" said Hugh.

James looked at him, and saw that his hand shook as he put his pipe back
into its case while he kept his face turned away.

"What shall you do?" he said.

"Find out," returned Hugh, "and act accordingly."

He walked away as he spoke.  James did not suppose it likely that
Violante would come out of the ordeal with such flying colours as to
satisfy his brother; and, though he was very little inclined to judge
the poor child harshly, he could not help hoping that here was a way of
escape for Hugh from a most unlucky prepossession, though, as he was
forced to acknowledge, at the cost of considerable pain.

PART TWO, CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

CONTRARY WINDS.

  "Oh, well for him whose will is strong!"

"Rosa! you were mistaken!  He loves me--he says so.  Oh, I am so happy--
he is so good!" cried Violante, as she ran to meet her sister and threw
herself into her arms.  Timid as the southern maiden might be she had
none of the proud, reticent "shamefastness" that would have led an
English girl to conceal her joy even from herself.  It was all right and
natural; and as Rosa, aghast, dropped into a chair she knelt beside her,
her sweet, pathetic eyes and lips transfigured as a flower by the sun.

"What did he say to you?" exclaimed Rosa.

"He loves me--he is coming back again.  He does not mind about my
singing--Ah, I cannot tell you," and the bright face drooped with sudden
bashfulness.

"Oh!" cried Rosa, passionately, as she pulled off her hat and fanned
herself with it; "what a foolish world this is!  What has he said? what
has he done?" she repeated, almost fiercely.

"He asked me to marry him," said Violante, with a sort of dignity.

"Oh, dear! he is a very foolish young man.  What is to come of it?--what
_can_ come of it?  Nothing but trouble."

Violante gazed at her, mute and frightened; then her face brightened
with an incredulous smile.

"Oh, if you had never seen him!"

"Rosa!" cried Violante, springing to her feet, "rather than that, I
would be miserable for ever--rather than _that_, I would die."

"Because you are as silly as the rest!  Oh, you unlucky child! don't you
see that it is impossible?  Either he will go back to his own people and
they will talk him out of it, or he will marry you in spite of them.
But no, he shall never do that!"

"But he said it would be right," said Violante; then, as Rosa laughed
bitterly, she went on, pleadingly: "Oh, Rosa mia, it is you who are
silly.  _He_ will make it right.  Indeed, I am happy; but I cannot bear
to see you cry.  I will act, I shall not care now, and you must keep
father from being vexed."  There was much in Violante's speech of the
unconscious selfishness of one to whom the part of comforter was a
strange reversion of ordinary life; but her caresses were very sweet to
Rosa, who, recovering herself with an effort, said:

"Well, Violante, you can't expect me to believe in him as you do!  I
never thought it would come to this!"

"But, Rosa, you will not try to stop it?"  Rosa hesitated.  Even
supposing Hugh entirely faithful, what doubtful happiness lay before her
sister; and, if not, what a blank of disappointment, what hopeless
injury, what misery how unendurable to the girl who shrank and trembled
at a harsh word!

Rosa sat upright and gazed straight before her, while Violante watched,
unable to understand her face.

"No!" at length she exclaimed, "you must take your chance with the rest
of us.  How can I or anyone help it?  But--but--I'll never stop anyone's
love--oh, my little darling, my little darling!" and Rosa broke down
into tears, hiding her face in the girl's soft hair.

"Rosa, you think I could not bear any trouble; but I could--for him."

There was a new fervour in her voice, and Rosa yielded to it.  "Oh, I
hope you will be happy," she said.

"Why, you see I am happy!" said Violante, with a childish laugh.
"Father is late; let us have some coffee--you are so hot and tired, I
will get it.  There is no terrible opera to-night.  Maddalena!
Maddalena!"

"Ah! signorina, _I_ know who nearly broke the china bowl."

"Why, _I_ did, Maddalena!  _I_ threw it down," said Violante, as she
tripped about after the old woman, whose gold hair-pins were quivering
with sly triumph.  "But it is quite safe--not a crack in it."

The coffee was finished; the bright, hot sun went down; and the sisters
sat long by the open window in the warm, pleasant twilight.  Violante
fell into dreamy silence; Rosa also.  But there was a great gulf between
their meditations, though they were thinking of the same subject and,
partly, of the same person.

"There's father!" cried Violante, as a step sounded.  "Oh, I will run
away, and you shall tell him."

"No, no, you little coward; he will be sure to ask for you--stay a
minute."

Violante leant back against the window-sill, her eyes drooping, her
breast heaving, and yet her face flushing and dimpling,--the new
confidence almost conquering the old fear.  Rosa looked far the more
frightened of the two.  Signor Mattei's step came up the great staircase
quick as a boy's; he seemed almost to skate across the polished floor,
so instantaneously did he bear down on his daughters.  In a moment his
roll of music was cast aside in one direction, his great white umbrella
in another; and, with accents rising every moment into higher
indignation, he exclaimed: "Violante, what folly is this that I hear?
Is this what all your idleness and obstinacy mean?  I'll not hear a word
of it.  A lover, indeed!  Never let me hear of it again!"

Violante stood breathless, but Rosa interposed:

"Has Mr Crichton been talking to you, father?"

"Ay, and a fine story he brought me.  Talking of promises, indeed!  How
dare she dream of making promises?  And you--what have you been doing?
Taking care of your sister?  No!  No!  Encouraging her in disobedience
and deceit!"

Now Signor Mattei was wont, on all occasions of domestic disturbance, to
relieve his feelings by the most voluble scoldings that the Italian
temperament could suggest and the Italian tongue express.  Had Violante
broken the china bowl she would probably have heard nearly as many
reproaches; but no amount of experience ever accustomed her to these
outbreaks; and, though practically she had never been ill-treated, she
feared her father far more than: he guessed; while Rosa usually answered
him back more promptly than respectfully, and, loving him better than
Violante did, often ended by having her own way.  Now she said:

"Why are you angry with Violante, father?  She has done nothing wrong.
Is it her fault if Mr Crichton loves her and has asked her to marry
him?"

"Asked her--asked _her_!  How dared he ask _her_?  Now, most undutiful,
most ungrateful child, how long has this conspiracy lasted?"

"He came to-day," stammered Violante.

"To-day?  You tell me this folly has begun to-day!  You, who have been
secretly sighing for this stranger, sighing for him instead of singing!
Ah--shame on you!--tell me--tell me--_tell me_!" in a rapid _crescendo_,
as he seized her wrist and pulled her towards him.

Violante burst into tears.

"Father! how can you speak to her so?" cried Rosa.  "Let her go--and I
will tell you.  Mr Crichton never said a word to her till to-day.  Why
will you not consent to their encasement?"

"Because I know my duty as a father better.  But it is all over.  Do you
hear, Violante?  I have ended it for ever!"

"Oh, father," cried Violante, holding out her hands imploringly, "I will
not neglect my singing, I will practise all day long; but you would
break my heart--oh, dear father, I love him;" and the poor child, with
unwonted courage, went up to her father and put her arms round his neck
with a look and gesture that, could she have called them up at will,
would have settled her stage difficulties for ever.

"No, Violante!"  Signor Mattei said.  "You know what my wish has been.
You were not free to promise yourself; and to-day I have made my
arrangements with Signor Vasari and have promised you to him."

"Father, father, I would kill myself first!" cried Violante, dropping on
her knees and hiding her face.  "Oh, Rosa--Rosa--help me!"

"Hugh, hush, my child.  Stand up and control yourself," said Rosa, with
English dislike to a scene--a kind of self-consciousness shared by
neither father nor sister.  "Go away--go into our room.  I will talk to
father first."

Violante rushed away with her hands over her face, and then the other
two prepared for war.

Signor Mattei divested himself of his neck-tie, rubbed his hands through
his hair, marched up and down the room, and said:

"Now, Rosa, be reasonable, be dutiful, and hear what I have to say."

Rosa sat down by the table, with a red spot on each cheek, and took up
her knitting.

"Yes, father, that is just what I wish.  I want to know what has
happened."

"Am I a cruel father?  Do I beat or starve you, or do I work all day for
my ungrateful children?"

"I think you were cruel to Violante, father, when you called her
deceitful."

"Violante is a little fool.  Now, once for all, Rosa, I will have no
disputes.  This very day I have promised her to Vasari."

"Father!" cried Rosa, in high indignation.  "It is one thing to forbid
her engagement to Mr Crichton, and quite another to insist on her
marrying Vasari.  _I_ would not stand it."

"But you, figlia mia, have the sense to decide for yourself," said
Signor Mattei, with a little flattery inexpressibly provoking to the
downright Rosa.  "Your sister is a child, and cannot judge.  Consider.
This young Englishman goes home.  The proud ladies of his house would
see him mouldering in his grave before they blessed his betrothal."

"I don't believe they would be so ridiculous!  And he is quite
independent.  But I agree with you, father, that it would be a very
unfortunate thing if he married her without his friends' consent, and
what we could not agree to.  But he speaks confidently of being able to
gain it."

"He speaks!" echoed Signor Mattei, with scorn.  "He speaks!  He goes
home--he sees his folly.  Flattered by the flowers of his own
aristocracy will he remember Violante?"

"I don't believe he has anything to do with the aristocracy!  Of course,
father, I see _all_ the risks--they are fearful ones; but the other way
is such certain misery," said Rosa, faltering.  "How will she bear it!"

"Rosa, I am surprised at you.  Can you not see the benefits of this
marriage?"

"Yes, I know all that," said Rosa, sturdily.  "I know, _if_ she could
make up her mind to it, it would be a very good thing for her and for
all of us.  But, father, married or single, she will never make an
actress, it will kill her; and she _hates_ Vasari."

Then Signor Mattei's patience fairly gave way.

"Hates him!  Don't tell me of anything so absurd.  How many girls, do
you think, have hated their suitors and been happy enough!  _That_ is no
reason."

In spite of Rosa's English breeding she had seen instances enough of the
truth of this remark not to have an instant contradiction ready.  It
_might_ turn out well; which was all that could be said in favour of
Hugh Crichton; and yet Rosa felt that, had she been Violante, she would
have willingly risked her all in favour of that one glorious
possibility.  "But it doesn't always pay," she thought, and while she
hesitated, thinking how such a risk had once been run and run in vain,
her father spoke again.

"Now, Rosa, listen.  Mild as a lamb in daily life, in emergencies I am a
lion; and my will is law, you cannot change it.  Violante shall be
Vasari's wife.  I have promised, I will perform."  Here Signor Mattei
struck his hand on the table in a highly effective manner.  "She will be
raised above all the uncertainties of our profession, need not work
beyond her strength, and we shall share in her success.  To this she
must agree, and if you will not promise to see that she does so I shall
send her to Madame Cellini's."

Madame Cellini was a fine old opera-singer who had married and settled
in Civita Bella.  She had shown much kindness to the motherless girls
and had not been an injudicious friend to them; but her contempt for
Violante's fears and her strenuous efforts to rouse her to a sense of
her privileges had rendered her instructions and herself an object of
dread; and Rosa answered, after a pause:

"I will promise to remain neutral.  If Violante can be happy without
Hugh Crichton I had far rather she did not marry him.  But if she is
sent away or too much coerced she will be utterly unable to act.  Let
her alone, and I don't suppose she will hold out very long."

"You will send no letters or messages?"

"No," said Rosa; "I promise that I will not.  I shall leave her to
herself."

To herself!  To her weak will and her cowardly spirit!  How long would
they hold out?

Rosa went in search of her; and, as Violante sprang towards her
exclaiming,--

"Oh, Rosa, you will help me!" she held her back.

"No, Violante, I cannot help and I will not hinder you.  Father is
determined, and you must do it, if do it you will, all yourself.  If I
move a finger, you will be sent away from me; but I will not try to
persuade you either way."

Violante stood still, with despair in her face.  How could she resist
her father for an hour?  She crept away to bed, at Rosa's suggestion;
received her kisses with passive absence of offence; and, as she hid her
face on her pillow, thought not of self-support but of the only help
left to her.  "_He_ will come again to-morrow--they will listen to
_him_."

PART TWO, CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

LEFT TO HERSELF.

  "As we have met, we shall not meet again
  For ever, child, for ever!"

Left to herself!  In the early morning Violante's senses awoke from the
confusion of disturbed and dreamy sleep; and, with burning eyes and
throbbing temples, she sat upright and tried to think "for herself."

"_He_ will come and persuade father."  She repeated this watchword over
and over again to herself; but the new confidence could hardly combat
the old experience, and she could not realise that "father" would be
over-persuaded--even by her lover.  Childish as Violante was she had
grown up too much in the constant discussion of ways and means not to be
quite aware of the worldly advantages of Signor Vasari's offer.  Those
attaching to Hugh Crichton's were like a dim and distant dream, scarcely
to be realised; nor had she, in the abstract, any sense that she would
be unfairly treated by being deprived of her right of choice.  Perhaps
no creature ever entered on a conflict with less hope of success.  She
felt so sure that neither prayers nor tears would move her father that
she never thought of trying their effect; while Signor Vasari seemed
still more inexorable.  If Hugh did not somehow set it right for her
what remained but submission?  "I had rather die; but I shall be so
frightened, I shall say yes," she thought.  "They have always made me do
what they wish.  I could not help it!  There's no one to help me--no
one!"  Her cowardice and weakness had been so often cast in the poor
child's teeth that she had lost every scrap of confidence in her own
powers.  Her father said, "You _shall_ give in," Rosa said, "You cannot
hold out;" and Violante knew nothing of a Strength not her own, of a
Hand that would hold hers more firmly than sister's or lover's.  Her
love was the strongest thing about her: would it hold her up?  She
thought with a kind of ardour of resisting and refusing, of holding out
and dying rather than yielding.  But all the time she knew that she
should yield; that she could not act and sing between the two fires of
father and suitor; that the long days of conflict would not kill her all
at once, but would each one be very miserable and hard to endure, and
would each one wear out a little of her strength.  For Violante had some
experience of troublous times, and knew very well what it meant to be
unhappy and in disgrace.

"He will come; he will help me."  She pushed aside the thought of what
was to follow and resolved to please her father as much as possible, in
the hope of protracting matters till Hugh should have time to interfere.
So, to Rosa's surprise, she appeared in a clean muslin dress and a pink
ribbon and sat down to sing her scales, instead of lying in bed and
crying, as inclination would have prompted.  Nay, she carried her father
his cup of chocolate, and kept her hand from trembling as he took it
from her.  Signor Mattei viewed all this as betokening intended
submission: Rosa was puzzled.  For the first time she could not
understand Violante.

The morning hours wore away; there was, fortunately, no rehearsal.
Violante sat in the window with some knitting in her lap.  She did not
say one word to Rosa of her fears or her intentions.  Steps came up the
stairs and across the corridor, and Signor Mattei ushered in the great
Vasari himself.  Rosa started up and came forward to receive him.
Violante shrank into her corner; she grew white and cold, but she set
her mouth, and under her long eyelashes her eyes looked hard and
strange.

"Signor," said Signor Mattei, "here is my daughter.  I give her to you
with profound pleasure, and assure you that she is sensible of the
honour of your choice."

Violante spoke not a word.  She rose up, obedient to her father's eye,
and, perhaps, somewhat urged by the long habit of obedience to the
manager.  She dared not utter the refusal on her lips.  What would they
do to her; what would they say?  It was better to submit--to submit till
_he_ came.  Signor Vasari took her by the hand, bowed profoundly, and
offered to her a handsome diamond cross and chain of pearls.

"Permit me, Signorina; they were the jewels of a princess."

He fastened it on her neck, and then, putting his arm around her, drew
her towards him as he had done before now--on the stage.  Violante
started and lifted her eyes.  There stood Hugh Crichton within the door,
his eyes fixed on her, his face as pale as hers.

"Signor Mattei, you were right, and I thank you," he said in English,
and in a hard, fierce voice.  Then he turned and was gone, before anyone
spoke a word.

Suddenly Violante wrenched herself out of Vasari's grasp.  She pulled
the cross off her neck, scattering the pearls far and wide as she threw
it on the floor.

"I hate you!" she said, "I hate you!  And if you marry me I will kill
you."

"Signorina!" ejaculated the astonished manager.

"Violante, Violante!" cried Rosa.

"I hate, you!" she repeated, and then she threw herself on her knees.

"Father, father, father, kill me, kill me first."

"Ungrateful, wicked child, you are driving a dagger into my breast!"
cried Signor Mattei.

"I am deceived, I am deceived, but I will have my rival's blood!"
exclaimed Vasari.

"Signor Vasari, you are treading on that cross and spoiling it," said
Rosa.  "Violante, for shame!  You don't know what you say."

"I do know," said Violante; but the quick reaction was coming, and she
let Rosa lift her up and cowered into her arms, trembling and shivering.
Her defiance was over, and had come, like the actions of most cowards,
five minutes too late.

"Signor Vasari," said Rosa, "I think you had better leave us and--and--
come again when my sister is more herself.  I will pick up the pearls,
and--and, father, isn't that best?"

"La Signorina has no lack of passion when it suits her turn," said
Vasari, with a sneer.  "Yes, I will go--but, as to coming again, that is
another matter."

Then Signor Mattei broke out into a perfect storm of invective and
adjuration, calling the Saints to witness his own honest dealing, and
speaking of and to Violante in terms of such anger and contempt as were
hardly calculated to excuse her to her lover.  Violante shook like a
leaf, but made no attempt at an answer, and Rosa at last pulled her away
from the room, leaving her father still in the full flow of his
eloquence and Signor Vasari stiff and upright with offended dignity, yet
casting involuntary and half-unconscious glances at his scattered
pearls.

Hugh Crichton, on the other hand, had suffered since his interview with
Signor Mattei, from a kind of doubt, not unnatural to a man treading on
unknown ground.  He would have had far more confidence in Violante had
she been the Miss Katie Clinton whose cause his mother advocated, little
as he would have believed anyone who had echoed the sentiment; and when
Mr Tollemache came in before dinner and said that all the world was
talking of Mademoiselle Mattei's great good luck in her encasement to
Signor Vasari, Hugh turned visibly pale, and James said:

"Is it a fact or a rumour, Mr Tollemache?"

"A fact, I believe.  I had it from young Contarini, who haunts the
musical world; and he said Vasari had told him of it himself."  Neither
looked at Hugh, who sat still for a moment and then got up and went
away.  James could not help a look of consternation, and Mr Tollemache
said:

"I assure you, Crichton, I had no notion anything serious was going on.
Hugh's the last fellow I should have suspected of--of--"

"Making such a fool of himself?" said James.  "Well--you see he never
could take things in moderation."

"He's well out of the scrape, in my opinion."

"Yes, poor old boy, I suppose he is.  The rest of us are, at any rate."

Dinner passed, of course, with no reference to the subject; nor did Hugh
mention it till the next morning, when, alone with Jem, he said, with a
nervous laugh but an odd twitch in his voice:

"Jem, you profess to understand young women.  Which should you have said
was the favoured one?"

Jem was driven into a corner.  He certainly had thought that Violante
had favoured Hugh.  He thought so still, and felt pretty sure that she
was not a free agent; but he did not wish to say so, and yet he could
not but be touched by the eager wistful look with which Hugh regarded
him.

"Well," he said, "I thought she looked graciously on you; but you see
the--"

"If so," interrupted Hugh, "I'd marry her to-morrow, spite of them all."

"Good heavens, Hugh!" cried Jem.  "Don't think of such a thing!  I don't
believe Tollemache would consent.  It's impossible!"

"Tollemache?"

"British Consul, you know.  You _can't_ get married out here as if it
was Gretna Green; and I won't have a hand in it; I declare, Hugh, I
won't," cried Jem.  "It's all very well, but I won't, you know; and
there's an end of it."

"I did not ask you," said Hugh, coldly, but becoming conscious that to
marry Violante without the consent of her friends or his was, under the
circumstances, utterly impossible.

He said no more to James, but resolved to see Violante once again at all
hazards.  How he saw her, and what effect the scene he beheld had on a
mind already full of doubts and suspicions, has been already told.
Anger, intensified by the recollection of how he had once before been
treated, swallowed up every other feeling.  He went back to the
Consulate and met his brother on the stairs.

"I shall go home, Jem," he said.  "I cannot stay here.  You can explain
and follow when you like.  Yes, it's all at an end.  Never speak of it
any more."

James could obtain no word of explanation--no single particular--as he
tried to help Hugh to pack up his things and to arrange some decent sort
of leave-taking.  Hugh was too desperate to care who was surprised at
his proceedings.  The ladies were out, and he wrote three lines of
courteous thanks to Mrs Tollemache, but wished her son good-bye without
any reason given, and never gave his brother a chance of sympathising
with or restraining him.

"I am going straight home," he said, as he went away.

"Well!" exclaimed Mr Tollemache, "who could have expected such a
tornado?"

"Oh," said Jem, "Hugh never could take circumstances into consideration.
I believe the poor little thing was as much in love with him as she
knew how.  How could he expect her to tell the truth about the manager?
Of course she liked Hugh, and of course she told fibs, and now she will
cry her eyes out, and then marry Vasari after all.  What else can she
do, poor little victim?  And then there's Hugh, who won't dance four
times with a girl for fear of `exciting false expectations,' has gone
and broken her heart--if hearts ever are broken.  Much he knows about
the tricks girls will play to avoid an uproar!  Poor little, pretty
thing!"

"I don't care for the girl," said Mr Tollemache, "but it's no joke
about Hugh."

"Poor old fellow, no; but those things pass off, you know; and, after
all, anything's better than that he should have married her."

"Undoubtedly," said Mr Tollemache.

"Poor little child!" repeated Jem, with a not unkindly pity, but which
yet made small account of Violante beside the other interests involved.

And so Hugh Crichton went away from Civita Bella, and Violante was left
behind him.

PART THREE, CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

ARTHUR'S STORY.

  "I love thee to the level of every day's
  Most quiet need--by sun and candle-light."

PART THREE, CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

MYSIE.

  "Oh, happy spirit, wisely gay!"

"What are you doing, Mysie?" said Florence Venning, as she came one
afternoon into the Redhurst drawing-room.

"I am sewing a button on Arthur's glove," returned Mysie, who was
sitting by herself on a low chair in the window with a smart little
work-basket by her side.  "Do you know, Floss, Hugh is coming back
to-night?  Aunt Lily had a line from him from Paris."

"Dear me!  And do you want to get the button sewn on before he comes?"

Mysie shook her head, smiling, while Flossy went on: "Seriously, Mysie,
aren't you in a great fright?"

"No!" answered Mysie, "I cannot see why I should be in a fright.  You
know, Flossy, I have never been at all afraid of Hugh.  I know he always
does what he thinks right.  And he knows what _is_ right, too."

"Well, but suppose he says you are too young?"

"But I shall explain to him," said Mysie, "that I am not young.  Now,
don't laugh, Flossy; but I can't help feeling that when people are so
very sure of themselves as I am they must be able to make others believe
in them."

"That's a profound remark," said Flossy.

"I'm not at all changeable," said Mysie, "and I know I shall be able to
make Hugh understand that I am quite in earnest."  There was a peculiar
intensity in her quiet voice; and as she lifted up her eyes, clear and
serene, Flossy felt that they would have convinced her of anything.

"It will be very unromantic if you don't get anything to try your
constancy," said Flossy, teasingly.

"Well, one can be very happy without romance," said Mysie, laughing.
"Romance generally means something rather uncomfortable."

"Well," said Flossy, in her full, dear tones, "so does love--generally.
I always observe that when a girl can't do her lessons, or can't eat her
dinner, and is dismal and rather a bore, Mary has a confidence from home
about her.  And if one happens to see the man he's generally such a
_creature_.  Now, I can imagine regarding Saint Ambrose--"

"Flossy!"

"Well, of course, I mean some one like him.  I think my ideal is a
mixture of intellect and strong common-sense, something like King
Alfred.  And I greatly admire the strength of Luther and Hampden; only
those people are so often on the wrong side.  But you see, Mysie, I
shall never meet the great man of the age, and I shall never care for
anyone unless he is wiser, cleverer, and better than I am myself!"

"That would be so difficult to find," said Mysie.

"Mysie, how dare you be so sarcastic!" cried Flossy, with a great,
hearty laugh.  "But I don't care; I can do without him, and when he
turns up I'll let you know."

"Is he to be anything like that man in your old story who never smiled?"
said Mysie.

"No, no, that was a _very_ juvenile idea.  But, Mysie," coming nearer
and speaking with slight embarrassment, "there _is_ a story and a hero
in it.  I wonder if you would like him."

"Oh, do show it to me."

"Then, you must promise not to tell Arthur.  Ah, is Arthur so cool as
you are about your cousin?"

"No," said Mysie, "he says that he should say `no' in Hugh's place.
But," she concluded quietly, "that is because it is coming so near."

"And what has become of Arthur now?"

"There's a cricket-match between Redhurst and Oxley, and Arthur is
playing.  Will you come down to the ground?  Aunt Lily's there and
Frederica; they went to pay a call first."

Flossy assented, and Mysie went upstairs to put on her hat.  She was a
girl with a great many quiet little tastes of her own, and her room gave
opportunities for the study of them.  There was something about her far
removed from the ordinary hurry and bustle of modern young-ladyhood.
She was noted in the family for always having time for everything.  So
on her table lay an album and a book of photographs, set in little
paintings, and a basket containing pincushions and needle-books of
wonderful shapes and capable workmanship, besides other varieties of
fancy-work.  Mysie dearly loved needlework, and secretly regretted the
days when she could have stitched Arthur's shirts for him.  There were
flowers, gathered and growing, and quiet, dainty little birds--avadevats
and the like--hanging in the window; while on the mantelpiece was almost
every little possession of Mysie's short existence: the China dogs and
the China shepherds of her babyhood, the little glass tea-set and the
spun-glass boxes of advancing childhood, up to the pots and scent
bottles--her schoolfellows' presents in later years.  For Mysie never
lost or broke anything, and never grew tired of anything because it was
old.  She kept her big wax-doll in her wardrobe, and all her old
story-books on the shelf in company with Arthur's birthday present of
Tennyson's poems, and such and so many works of fiction as might be
expected on a young lady's book-shelves whose taste was exceedingly
correct and who was able to gratify it.  Mysie had, however, two little
tastes of her own.  She was fond of very sentimental poetry, which she
read, copied, and learnt by heart quietly to herself, not feeling at all
hurt if Arthur laughed at it or Flossy declared that it lowered her
spirits; but, being an exceedingly happy little person, she had somehow
a peculiar relish for faded flowers, bygone days, sad hearts, and all
such imagery.  She also liked all books containing quaint and pregnant
sayings of wit or wisdom; read George Herbert and Bacon's essays; and
when asked, as a little girl, which part of the Bible she liked best to
read had replied: "The Book of Proverbs: it was so exceedingly true."

With every possibility of being an idle young lady Mysie was really
useful and industrious, good, and pious--in the simplest meaning of that
much abused word.  She was a far more developed person than her lover,
young as she was; and she loved him with all the force of old
association, sisterly admiration and anxiety, mingling with the newer
and sweeter dependence on his talents and his counsel.  She believed in
him, but her instinct was to advise him and to take care of him and to
think of what was good for him, even while his opinions had
unconsciously moulded many of her own; and to please him was her
greatest delight.

Carefully she arranged her little hat, with its wild-rose trimming, and
settled her pretty summer dress before she rejoined Flossy and started
with her for the cricket-field, where several ladies and other
spectators were already watching Arthur making runs in a white flannel
suit edged with scarlet, which Mysie thought exceedingly becoming.

Mrs Crichton made room for them on a bench beside her.  Frederica and
Flossy began to compare notes of the runs; while Mysie sat in the bright
sun, dreamily contemplating her lover's prowess.  Some of the cricketers
came up to speak to them; one of the Oxley curates, in black trousers
and a grey shirt, eagerly pointed out to Flossy the performance of a
mutual protege.  Mrs Harcourt, the wife of the old rector of Redhurst,
made the welcome announcement that she had ordered afternoon tea to be
brought into the field.  Mysie's Redhurst Sunday scholars curtseyed and
smiled at her from a distance; and the far more elegant damsels of
Oxley, who absorbed all Flossy's unprofessional efforts in the way of
teaching, made her gracious bows, and offered her an opportunity of
studying how to dress, or not to dress, hair of every shade of black,
brown, flaxen, and auburn.  A detachment from Oxley Manor, headed by
Clarissa and the German governess, appeared at a discreet distance.
Mysie became aware that Arthur saw her, and was making his thirtieth run
under the inspiring influence of her eyes when a tall shadow fell on the
dry, sunny grass, and a well-known voice said, "Well, mother, how are
you?"

"My dear Hugh!  _How_ you surprised me; we did not expect you till
dinner time!"

"I came half-an-hour ago; and finding you were all down here I thought I
would follow you."

"Quite right.  How are you, and have you enjoyed yourself?"

"Very well; and I have enjoyed myself exceedingly," said Hugh.

"Where's Jem?"

"In London, to-day, I believe, but we did not travel back together.  He
wanted to see some other places."

"And Civita Bella was charming?  You are sunburnt, Hugh."

"Civita Bella is a very charming place, with sun enough to burn anyone.
How d'ye do, Mysie?  I did not see you."

Mysie put her hand into Hugh's and felt her courage sink to her toes.

"I'm very well, Hugh, thank you," she said, in a small voice; and then
she perceived that Arthur had caught sight of his cousin, found himself
"out," he hardly knew how, and came over towards them with his face much
more crimson than exertion need have made it.

"Well, Arthur, I congratulate you," said Hugh.  "On your degree," he
added, as Arthur started and looked blank.

"Oh, I forgot," said Arthur, as he turned his back on Hugh and Mysie, in
an awkward boyish way, and began to talk vehemently to the two Miss
Dickensons, daughters of the Oxley doctor, with whom he had been
sometimes accused of flirting; while Hugh turned to receive various
greetings.  To all this he had looked forward, and his manner and look
did him credit, for, as his mother said, "he seemed as if he had never
been away."

Poor Hugh!  When miles away from Civita Bella he had come to himself, as
it were, after the passion of rage and grief in which he had left the
city, he had resolved to cut the past seven weeks out of his life and to
let them leave no trace behind.  No one knew anything about them but
James, who could well be trusted to keep the secret at home; they were
utterly apart from all the rest of his life, and they should remain so.
All their joy and all their pain should be buried for ever.  These few
short days should not influence all the rest of his life.  What
difference could it make to Redhurst and Oxley that a little Italian
girl had made a fool of him?  He had plenty of interests which remained
unaltered, and this thing should be, what James had called it, a foolish
holiday incident that was over and done.  This resolution, though
prompted by resentment, was agreeable to common-sense; and Hugh was not
likely to betray himself.  He knew that he must suffer a certain amount
of pain, and then he supposed it would be over; if not he must bear it.
What was there to see here while he waited for the train?  A cathedral:
he would go and see it.

And a girl offered him a great bouquet of roses and oleanders, such as
Violante had put in the china bowl.  Hugh turned off with a sharp
refusal; but suddenly thought: "What, if after all I was mistaken!  If I
had waited one moment longer--" and the torment of that doubt, which yet
was not strong enough to prompt any measure for its own satisfaction,
haunted him and fretted him as the actual sorrow could not do, for it
was a doubt of himself.

He had always been grave, and he was too strong and vigorous for trouble
to tell easily on his health; so his appearance struck no one as
unnatural, while he answered his mother's enquiries about the
Tollemaches, and described the beauties of Civita Bella--rather proud to
find that he could do it so easily.  Moreover, the home party had an
absorbing interest of their own; and as soon as the match had ended, in
the triumph of Redhurst, Mrs Crichton took her son's arm to walk home
with him, and Mysie and Arthur slipped away by a different path through
the lanes.

Arthur put out his hand and took hold of Mysie's, and they walked on for
a bit hand in hand--a fashion Mysie favoured, perhaps as reminding her
of holiday afternoons, when Arthur's big-boy companionship had been so
flattering and delightful to the little school-girl.  The air was
scented with meadow-sweet and with hay; the elms, in full leaf, threw
heavy shadows across their path; a thrush was singing; the church clock
chimed half-past six; everything was full of peaceful beauty.  Mysie
looked shyly into Arthur's eyes, and then they both laughed; they were
not really afraid or in suspense as to their fate, only Arthur wished
that the decisive interview was over.  "Suppose, for the sake of
supposing," he said, "that Hugh was really to act the cruel parent and
send me away.  What should you do, Mysie?"

"I don't know," said Mysie, lightly.  "If he locked me up I think I
should give in to him."

"Then I should blow my brains out!" said Arthur.  "I don't know why I am
talking such nonsense," he added.  "I know there is no reasonable
likelihood of any interference; but sometimes, Mysie, it comes over me
to think what have I done to deserve, what so few fellows get--my first
love--nothing in the way?  Everything in my life has gone well with me."

"We must be very good," said Mysie, in a low voice.

Arthur half shook his head.  He was not given to talk about himself, or
even to think much about himself from a critical point of view, but he
felt that life had been made uncommonly easy to him, by circumstances,
by temperament, and by the lodestar of Mysie's love; and it, perhaps,
proved that he was not spoiled by prosperity; since, with the stirring
of the deepest feeling that he had ever known, there came a profound
sense of these blessings and an almost exaggerated conviction of the
absence of effort by which they had been attained.

"I have done nothing to deserve any of it," he thought.  "My work was
pleasant to me.  How could I go wrong with _her_ before my eyes?"  The
kind actions, the ready aid which won much affection, the quick interest
in all around him which made him helpful and useful everywhere--what had
these ever cost him?  More pains, perhaps, and more virtuous effort than
he remembered or thought worth mentioning; but it was true that Arthur's
was a gracious nature, so kindly and genial that, though his life had
been singularly blameless, he had hardly been conscious of aims above
the average.

Mysie cut into the heart of his perplexity.

"I think it would be very ungrateful," she said, "not to be glad that we
are happy.  We should be very thankful to God for it, and try to make
other people happy, too; and trials are sure to come in this life," she
added, in her sweet, fearless, untried voice.

"You shall have few, my darling, if I can keep them away.  But you are
right; and it would be strange, indeed, if one were not thankful--for
you."

"The _Christian Year_ says," said Mysie, in her free, simple way:

  "`Thankful for all God takes away,
  Humbled by all He gives--'

"That is what you meant, isn't it?"

Arthur listened, half in admiration of Mysie's goodness--he thought, as
others like him have done, his lady-love so good--and half with the
shyness of young manhood of devotional, apart from theological,
language.

"Nothing so saintly, I fear, as that," he said.  "But I see what the
last part means.  What!"--as Mysie started and shrank up to him--"not
afraid of cows, still, my little one!"

"N-o," said Mysie, doubtfully, as half-a-dozen cows and a couple of
woolly little calves turned out of a field, noisily and quickly.  "No;
it is very silly, and I am almost cured; but I did not expect them."

Arthur put a protecting arm around her, very willing to forgive the fear
that made her cling to him.

"Flossy does tease me so about it; but I shall always hate cows and
strange dogs and guns," said Mysie, in whom a sort of physical timidity
contrasted strangely with her quiet self-possession in other ways.

"You must not walk by yourself if they frighten you, darling," said
Arthur; "but these are very harmless beasts.  Come, here's the
garden-gate--and there's Hugh.  Tastes differ, but a herd of buffaloes
would be a trifle; here goes!"

Mysie vanished, and Arthur advanced towards his cousin, into whose ears
Mrs Crichton had already poured the whole story.

Hugh had listened, but he was annoyed and unsympathetic.

"Arthur is too young."

"Oh, my dear Hugh, so much the better.  Your dear father was very little
older, and I only wish I could see you--"

"Mysie has a right to a wider out-look."

"But, my dear, she quite _adores_ him; she always did.  And she is the
most constant little creature.  There cannot be a word against Arthur."

"Oh, no; he is exceedingly well-conducted," said Hugh, dryly.

"And what a pity to come between young people!  It always does them
harm, even where it's inevitable.  Disappointments are very bad things."

"Most people have to survive them.  However, mother, if you are
satisfied on Mysie's behalf, I can have nothing to say.  I see Arthur.
I'll get it over at once."

Hugh crossed the lawn, but had he wished to win Mysie for himself he
could hardly have felt a bitterer pang of jealousy than that which came
upon him as he looked at Arthur's gladsome eyes and heard the proud
satisfaction in his tones through all their embarrassment.

"I have nothing to say, Hugh, but that we have chosen each other.  I
think I can make her happy, and I will do my best to be helpful to you,
and to place myself in a less unequal position as regards her fortune."

"As mother consents," said Hugh, "I cannot have a different opinion; but
as regards the Bank, you must know your own mind, and I shall not
consent to your taking any place there till you have taken time to
consider of it.  It is not exciting work nor satisfying, if you are
ambitious."

"I repeat," said Arthur, "I have chosen my lot in life.  I want Mysie,
and Oxley, and the Bank, if you'll have me; and Heaven knows I think
myself a lucky fellow!"

"You know," said Hugh, "by the terms of my father's will you have the
offer, but I should wish you to consider well of it."

"Oh, I'll consider," said Arthur, in rather an off-hand manner; "but why
lose time?  And you'll be very busy and want help now Simpson's getting
past his work."

"Thank you."  Hugh paused, and then said, he hardly knew how
ungraciously: "I shall not interfere with you: you can, of course, do as
you like.  I believe I ought to speak to Mysie; but, of course, you know
what she will say."

Arthur laughed joyously, little knowing how the gay, confident sound
smote on Hugh's ears.

"You're _very_ good, old fellow," he said.  "Don't imagine I think my
good fortune a matter of course.  But I want to hear all your
adventures.  We have set upon you before you have even had your dinner,
which is cruel.  How many girls did Jem fall a victim to?  Have you
brought him home safe?"

"Jem took very good care of himself.  But, as you say, it is dinner
time.  I must see if my things have come."

"You've never wished me good luck!  Well, you have assured it to me,
which is better."

"Oh, yes," said Hugh; "I wish you joy, and certainly would not be the
means of interfering with your good fortune."

PART THREE, CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

SMOOTH WATERS.

  "--The old June weather,
  Blue above lane and wall."

"You are quite sure of your own mind, Mysie?"

"Yes, Hugh.  I am quite certain."

"Because I ought to set before you that you might do much better for
yourself.  You have seen very few people, and I ought not to let you act
upon impulse," said Hugh, in the driest of voices.

Mysie had been prepared for this appeal; and, though she blushed crimson
and kept her eyes on her lap, she replied, not by protestations, but by
the arguments which she thought ought to prove convincing.  Hugh had
called her into the study, a little room looking out on the garden, and
more or less appropriated to himself.  There was another room which all
the young men shared when at home, and where pipes, guns, dogs, and
books were to be found in wild confusion; but this was Hugh's sanctum,
where he wrote letters and transacted business and possibly read the
highly-respectable volumes that lined its wails.  Mysie sat in a great
leather chair by the window, with the flickering sun on her bright brown
hair and the shadows of the roses on her gay green and white dress.

"I know," she said modestly, but quite clearly, "that perhaps some one
richer than Arthur might--might meet me by-and-by."

"Exactly," said Hugh.

"But then, Hugh, you cannot be sure of that, and what would it matter,
when--when my mind was made up?"

"If you know your own mind, Mysie."

"I might not know it if I had only just met him.  People often make
mistakes then.  But--but--"

"Well," said Hugh, kindly, as she stammered and stopped, "what is it,
Mysie?  Don't be afraid.  I only want to know your thoughts exactly."

"I think," said poor Mysie, though with much confusion, "that I ought to
say them, as you seem to think it is I who have the advantage.  I could
never give Arthur up, and there will be plenty of time for you to see,
as he says he thinks that--that--there must be a year at least.  I would
promise to tell you if I did change, and _I_ should not mind not being
_called_ engaged to him, though he wishes it.  I hope you believe me,
because I know it depends on that."

"Yes, Mysie," said Hugh, "I believe you.  You mean to say nothing can
change your love for Arthur, no one could over-persuade you, no one
could frighten you; you are so sure of it and of him that you don't care
for any outward tie to bind you?"

"Yes," said Mysie, rather appalled at the emphasis with which this
speech was uttered, but holding bravely to her colours; "that is what I
mean.  For you see, Hugh, we know all about each other so well."

"Then, Mysie, I shall not consider it necessary to make any opposition."

Mysie got up and said: "Thank you, Hugh," and slowly moved away.  She
thought Hugh would have congratulated her and kissed her, as he had done
all her life on set occasions; but he let her go in silence, and, left
alone, stood staring into the empty grate with bitter thoughts in his
heart.  Here was _this_ girl had won her way by her own fearless
confidence, her absolute trust in herself and her lover.  How fortune
smiled on the wishes of this pair!  How sure might Arthur be of his
happy future!  He turned restlessly round and, looking out of the
window, saw Mysie run down the garden-path with flying feet, saw Arthur
spring up from the grass, meet her, and draw her away into the
shrubbery; heard the low murmur of their voices, and the gay, careless
laughter, called forth by the reaction from Mysie's anxiety and
suspense.  It was but a fortnight since he, too, had laughed idly and
carelessly over Violante's flowers; but a fortnight since he, too, had
thought himself happy in his love.  But he had lost his faith in the
poor child who was all unknown and unvouched for, and she had had no
power to stand up for herself.  The difference between this perfectly
simple, straightforward engagement and the foolish, impossible dream
from which he told himself that it was well to wake struck him forcibly.
It was the contrast between good and ill fortune, between success and
failure.  There were times when Hugh felt utterly miserable, and when
the profound silence in which his short, wild love-story was buried was
intolerable to him--thankful as he was for it in cooler moments; times
when he longed so to hear Violante's name that he felt the wildest
desire to tell his foolish secret.  It is needless to say that he never
did tell it, not being of a confiding nature; but concealment is nearly
as fatal, in many cases, to the temper as to the complexion; and poor
Hugh was unaccountably and unromantically cross.  Why, when Arthur was
teaching his Skye terrier to jump over a stick, did Hugh feel that if
that little beast jumped over at exactly the same height once more he
must wring its neck?  Why, when his mother complained that the rabbits
had eaten her carnations, did he positively assert that no mortal rabbit
could possibly have come near them.  And was it not unworthy of him to
feel so exceedingly irritated when Arthur produced the corpse of the
offender, having shot it from his bedroom window the next morning in the
act of eating the one remaining shoot?  Why should he oppose the Mayor
of Oxley on the subject of gas and the Rector of Redhurst about the new
schools?  He advocated neither physical nor mental darkness, and when he
became aware that he was resting his objections on the colour of the
bricks proposed to be used in the building he pulled himself up and gave
in with a good grace.  But, surely, anyone with ordinary self-control
would not allow these trifles to irritate him.  Hugh sometimes felt a
dim suspicion that, though he had a very good self on the whole,
controlling it was not his strong point.  Moreover, Mrs Crichton had
made the engagement an occasion for a great deal of country summer
gaiety, and Hugh was persecuted by croquet and archery-parties, picnics
and dances.  He was usually very particular in what he called "doing his
duty to society;" but now these things were intolerable to him; and,
worst of all, perhaps, was the sunshiny, peaceful mirth of the happy
love-story that was working itself out beside him.  Arthur shrewdly
suspected that there was something amiss with his cousin; but they were
not on terms for him to invite a confidence, and he contented himself
with the idea of consulting Jem, and by taking on himself, with
unobtrusive good-nature, all the trouble of the many small arrangements
that devolve on the young men of a country house in times of unusual
gaiety, even to entertaining the visitors when Hugh might have been free
from business and when a stroll with Mysie would have been far
preferable to himself.

"Hugh doesn't like it," he would say; "and I think he's rather out of
sorts; so we mustn't bother him."

Hugh rewarded him by wondering how he could care for such trifles, and
by somewhat despising the comfortable, unsentimental terms of the two
lovers, even while he envied them only too bitterly.

Doubtless they were enviable; for in between-times many a sweet morsel
fell to their lot, and one shining hour rested in Arthur's memory in the
days to come as the typical instance of the warm home-like sunshine, the
everyday happiness, of the summer when he was engaged to Mysie.

Once upon a time--there seems no fitter beginning--on a still, hot
summer afternoon, Arthur and Mysie went down the new-mown meadows to the
water-side.  They were going in a boat down the canal to where it joined
the river at a place called Fordham Beeches, where Frederica and Flossy
Venning were to meet them, having walked through the woods.

Oxley canal was but a canal.  Its waters sparkled over no pebbles,
revealed no pellucid depths; but to-day its dull and sluggish face
reflected the "blue, unclouded weather," and the slow oars splashed up
living light.  The speedwells were hardly faded, the pink bindweed
blossomed all over its grassy edges.  The flat meadows were green as
emerald.  Pollard willows hung over one side, and brightly-painted
barges were tugged along by the towing-path on the other.

Arthur rowed slowly, and Mysie sat, in her big straw hat, facing him;
and they talked of the time when they should live together in the old
red-brick Bank House, in Oxley, unless Hugh married; and then there were
the pretty little villas on the Redhurst road.  They talked of ways and
means, pounds, shillings, and pence; and laid their plans, and settled
what they would and what they would not do; and how, in a year's time,
Hugh would be satisfied of Arthur's capacity and steadiness, and would
admit him to that share in the Bank proposed for him by his father.
And, as they talked, they passed along the back of Redhurst village and
past the turnip-fields, where the little partridges were beginning to
run and flutter, and Hugh's bit of copse, where little brown rabbits
were already taking their evening airing.

"Too many by half," said Arthur, and Mysie declared that he was cruel,
as their course was stopped by Redhurst lock, rendered necessary by the
more broken ground.

The lock-keeper's little cottage, in a bower of vines, stood on one
side; and Mysie blushed as she sat in the boat, for the men smiled as
they greeted Arthur and responded to his remark on the rabbits; and the
lock-keeper's daughter--a tall girl, with fair hair flying in the sun--
laughed as she curtseyed and called her little sister to "look at Miss
Mysie."

"Alice Wood sees us," whispered Mysie.

"We can see Alice Wood," said Arthur, as the nursery-gardener's smart
seedsman strolled by with a parcel, and whispered to the girl, who
turned off giggling, shy of the young lady, who gave her a
half-sympathetic smile as the boat slowly sank down--down into the cool,
damp shadow--down below the steep, dank sides, below the sparkling
water--till the great doors groaned back and they shot out into light
and sunshine and life, again.

Mysie drew a long breath.

"I am glad to get out," she said.  "It seems like the bottom of the
sea."

Arthur laughed.

"I am afraid we shouldn't make many scientific discoveries here.  It
would be hardly like dredging the deep sea-water."

"Do you know," said Mysie, "I always think of the bottom of the sea as
if it was like Andersen's Little Mermaid, with beautiful shells and
strange creatures and coloured sea-weeds covering the poor drowned
people like the leaves did the children in the wood?"

"`Should toss with tangle and with shells,'" quoted Arthur.  "I don't
think one associates the idea of rest with drowning."

"Oh," said Mysie, "I did, after I read that story.  It was my great
favourite."

"You must show it to me.  But I say, my darling, look out!  That old
swan wants your blue ribbons."

The great majestic swan, with white ruffled plumes and fierce writhes of
his long neck, bore down fiercely on them.

"Now, he has come down the river from Redhurst," said Mysie.  "Row
faster, Arthur; he is horribly fierce, and, besides, the others will be
tired of waiting."

"Never mind them," said Arthur, "we shall be in the river in a moment,
and then we're close on Fordham Beeches."

So they sped on their way to where the canal joined the bed of the
river, and here the banks were broken and picturesque; great yellow
flags, and white star-like lilies grew in the shallow water; and now the
great grey boles of Fordham Beeches appeared rising from their carpet of
bright brown leaves.

"There are the girls," said Mysie, waving her hand.

Arthur rested on his oars and tilted his hat back, with a sudden twinkle
of consternation in his merry grey eyes:

"I say, Mysie, we've forgotten the basket!"

"Oh, my dear Arthur, what shall we do?  You called me to look at that
horrid little tom-tit just as I was going to give it to you.  The
strawberries and _everything_!  And they have walked all these miles in
the heat!"

"I know," cried Arthur.  "Don't you say a word.  I'll settle it."

And as they pulled into the landing and Flossy and Frederica ran down to
meet them he called out:

"I say, Flossy, get into the boat.  I've got such a splendid idea.
We'll go and eat strawberries at `The Pot of Lilies.'"

"`The Pot of Lilies!'  But you've brought some strawberries, haven't
you?"

"Oh, never mind!  It's such a jolly place.  You can get a capital glass
of beer there, and it's only fifty yards further on.  Jump in, Freddie."

"But, Arthur, are you quite sure it's proper?" said Mysie.

"Proper? oh, dear, yes!  No one there on a week-day."

"Now, if you will humbly confess that you and Mysie forgot all about the
provisions, and that you never thought of `The Pot of Lilies' till this
moment, we'll come," said Flossy.

"Flossy!  I'll confess I never heard of `The Pot of Lilies' till Mysie
mentioned that you and she rowed up here now and then of an evening!
Come along.  I'll take care of you, and neither Hugh nor Miss Venning
will come and _proctorise_ us."

"The Pot of Lilies" was a tiny public-house, so called from the lilies
of the valley which were supposed to grow wild in Fordham Woods.  It
stood close by the water's edge, with a little landing-place of its own,
and a quaint, small-paned bow-window hanging over the river.  Bright
flowers grew on every window-sill and the Lily sign-board swung
overhead.  On one side was a garden, where arches and arbours, twined
with creepers, shaded one or two little tables; for here, on fine Sunday
evenings, Oxley and Redhurst sometimes came to tea.

Arthur sprang out of the boat and went in alone; but, soon reappearing,
said:

"Come along; it's all right," and a very smiling hostess escorted the
girls into the bow-windowed sitting-room while Arthur went to make his
further arrangements.

There were china shepherds and great shells on the mantelpiece, queer
coloured prints of the Queen and the Duke of Wellington on the wails,
which were broken up by endless beams and cupboards.

"What a dear little room!" said Mysie; and, though the floor was sanded
and there was a faint odour suggestive of beer and pipes, perhaps this
only gave a slight flavour of novelty to the situation.

"I'm sure, Miss," said the landlady, addressing Flossy, who looked the
most responsible of the party, "I only wish the gentleman had sent his
orders beforehand, for in the middle of the week, you see, Miss, we
don't have so much company.  If you'll excuse me, Miss--" and she
vanished in search of various necessaries.

Arthur soon returned, saying:

"We're going to have tea in an arbour.  It's a lovely spot!"

The three girls followed him down the little gravel path, bordered by
box edgings, to an erection which was termed by the proprietress "the
harbour," and which was built of wood and partly shaded by an
apple-tree.  Monthly roses climbed up its trellis-work front; and
stones, shells, and broken bottles were picturesquely disposed in heaps
at its two sides.  It contained some chairs and a round table, on which
preparations for their meal were begun, and at present consisted of a
cloth and large mustard-pot.  This was, however, followed by slices of
ham, bread and butter, and water-cresses, and by some tea, which--as
neither young lady would take on herself to pour it out--Arthur
superintended, and which proved so atrocious that he substituted
ginger-beer for the girls and some bottled beer for himself.  They might
have drunk the tea, however, rejoicing; for they hardly knew whether the
setting sun on the river or the steel forks and the great tall tumblers
were the most delightful, so full of merriment were they at this unusual
and amusing festivity, and they afforded quite as much amusement as they
received; for hearty landlady and pretty barmaid knew well enough who
these blushing, smiling, well-dressed young ladies were, and that Mr
Arthur Spencer, of Redhurst, was engaged to one of them.

Presently strawberries and raspberries and currants, red, black, and
white, appeared on the table.

"Mysie," whispered Arthur, as he helped her to the fruit, "the Oxley
folk always come out here for their wedding trip.  If they're very swell
they stay a week.  Shall we follow their example?"

Mysie, of course, blushed and bridled, and Arthur said aloud:

"I propose we come and have tea here every summer.  This is the 15th of
July; let us remember it next year."

"Perhaps it will rain next year," said Frederica.

"Then we will have tea inside the bow-window.  What, Mysie! you're not
looking at your watch?  It's _not_ time to go home."

It proved, however, time to think of it; and after a little more
lingering and a few more raspberries the four took boat again.  Flossy
and Frederica rowed home through the soft summer twilight, while Arthur
and Mysie sat side by side in the stern.  Mysie sang a melancholy little
song about "days of old," and how

  "The sky was blue in the days of old,
  But now it is always grey;"

and then they all laughed at the way they would describe what Arthur
called "their little summer outing" to the home party, for the sentiment
of Mysie's song found no echo in the heart of any one of them.

But the moon rose, and the boat came to land at last; they came home
through the meadows; and the tea-drinking at "The Pot of Lilies" was
over.

PART THREE, CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

OUT IN THE COLD.

  "Boys and girls, come out to play!"

So sang Florence Venning as she danced down the empty school-room at
Oxley Manor on the 3rd of August.  The last young lady had driven from
the door--even the French governess had gone to see her friends; and
Flossy, whose devotion to the cause of education by no means precluded a
thorough enjoyment of peace and liberty, sang and danced as she picked
up stray school grammars and dictionaries and consigned them to a
six-weeks' imprisonment in the cupboard.  Clarissa had been standing on
a form to reach its top shelf; and now she sat down on the desk, with
her feet on the form, and yawned.

"What are you going to do to-day?" said Flossy.

"Nothing," replied Clarissa, with emphasis.  "I shall go to sleep, or
read `Tom Brown'--that's all about boys--or nurse the kitten," picking
it up and kissing it, "which is babyish in a governess, you know."

"Dear me!" said Flossy, "I shouldn't care what it was if I liked to do
it.  Well, it's nice to have some time to oneself.  I shall draw hard.
I shall go to the School of Art twice a-week, and see if I can't get
into the Life class; and I shall be able to help at the drawing classes
they're having down at Oxley National School.  And I want to have a tea
for my Sunday class--I wonder if Mary would!  And I never do read
anything steadily when the girls are here.  Besides," with equal
vivacity, "I want a new dress, and must see about it; I think I'll do
that first."

"Anything else in a small way?" said Clarissa.

"Oh, fifty other things if I'd time to think of them."

"Well," said Clarissa, in languid, sleepy tones, "I don't want to read a
novel; there would be sure to be any number of girls in it!  I'd like to
be a man myself for the holidays, for a change.  One would take an
interest in girls then, at any rate!"

"Dear me, why _don't_ you take an interest in them?  I am sure forming
the minds of others is the most interesting thing possible."

"If one had a mind of one's own.  _I_ haven't."

"Clarissa, I call that affectation.  I don't consider you at all a
stupid person."

"Thank you," said Clarissa, again kissing the kitten.

"Only you are so lazy.  Now, will you come into Oxley about my dress?
You know we are to dine at Redhurst to-night."

"Oh, Mary will go with you about your dress.  Is James Crichton come
home?"

"Yes, for a fortnight.  I want to show him my sketches, and see those he
made in Italy.  Well, I'll try and get Mary; but I think she is busy.
She has been writing to Mrs Grey about a girl to come as
governess-pupil."

"That girl will be a bore," said Clarissa.  "Now, really," cried Flossy,
in tones of virtuous indignation, "I do think that's a shame.  I am very
glad of the opportunity.  I disapprove of all the books that are written
on that subject.  They put it into girls' heads to pity themselves, even
if they _are_ true.  And I intend that there shall be a tone here that
will be quite different.  Think what a chance it is for really helping a
girl!  I wish we could have two or three.  _I_ shall make a friend of
her, and then see if the big girls don't do so too.  But if you go and
have old-fashioned prejudices--"

"I won't make her do my hair, if that's what you mean," said Clarissa,
meekly.  "Well, Kitty, come along," and, with slow, lazy steps, she
sought the drawing-room, where she sat in an easy-chair with the kitten
in her lap and read "Punch."

Flossy, finding that her eldest sister was not inclined to spend her
first leisure hours in the hot walk to Oxley, got ready to go by
herself.  If Mysie Crofton's maiden bower was ordered and coloured by
the quiet completeness and tasteful arrangement that marked all her
doings, Florence Venning's afforded a proof of the variety and ambition
of her aims and of the many hobbies that chased each other through her
soul.  With so many irons in the fire it was no marvel that some of them
were apt to grow cold; that the plants and flowers, the arrangement of
which she considered a form of art, and in which she took great pride,
sometimes wanted water; that a chalk head was displaced, half-finished,
by a water-colour landscape; and that the books in use at the moment
were apt to tumble off the edges of her dressing-table, where they had
sought a last refuge.  Moreover, Flossy, in a severe fit of historical
and artistic fever, had once painted the panels of her room with scenes
from English history, set in frames of decorative flowers and scrolls.
The flowers were pretty, but the historical heroes--though exceedingly
creditable to Flossy's research and, indeed, to her powers of
execution--were hardly up to the mark of the cartoons; and their arms
and legs, as her artistic knowledge increased, became a source of
anxiety, if not of distress, though she could not resolve to have them
hidden by what Miss Venning called a "nice clean tint of buff."  At
present history and heroes were finding an outlet on sundry pages of
foolscap; which, as Clarissa observed, took up less room; and which
reflected, perhaps, better the pictures of Flossy's imagination.  With
her head full of the newest and most successful, Flossy set off down the
sunny road to Oxley.  She walked fast, regardless that the heat deepened
her pink cheeks to crimson--for Flossy had always rather more to do than
her time permitted--and she walked well, with a free, bounding step,
carrying her head well up in the air; with smiling eyes, satisfied with
their own thoughts, yet ready for any diversion from them.  The hero
gave place to blue and white muslin and to a new hat.  Flossy also
arranged her intended drawing lessons, paid a call or two, transacted a
little Sunday-school business, and came home in time to dress for the
Redhurst dinner-party.  She found Clarissa sighing over the family tea
that was to be resigned in consequence; but sighs were of no avail in
averting the evil any more than were the grumbles of Hugh over the
necessity of entertaining his neighbours.  Miss Venning was always a
pleasant and popular person.  Her fresh complexion and her blue eyes,
her handsome silk, and her pleasant tongue ornamented a party; but
Clarissa, though thought pretty, was regarded as more entirely the
schoolmistress, and, when so regarded, had little to say for herself.
Flossy was too devoid of sentiment and of vanity and too full of her own
concerns to be a favourite with young men.  James thought her
overpowering; and though Hugh was at ease with her, no one ever having
suggested that he ought to marry her--since Flossy, handsome as she was,
was just the sort of girl who does not easily get credited with a
lover--he rarely gave her a second thought.  But she and Arthur were
excellent friends, and she was much more intimate with the whole family
than was Clarissa, in whose younger days no girls had existed at
Redhurst to afford an excuse for intercourse.

James had arrived the day before.  He was warmly greeted by his mother;
and, as he congratulated Arthur and Mysie, was informed that Hugh had
gone to a magistrates' meeting.  Miss Katie Clinton, who was staying in
the house, had been playing croquet in pink muslin with Frederica and
the schoolboy George; and as they all sat on the terrace at tea and
Hugh's ordinary doings and sayings were mentioned, James began to feel
an odd sort of discrepancy between his thoughts and the actual facts.
"Hugh had been rather astonished at their news.  Yes, he gave very
prudent advice; but, still, he had given his consent."

"Hugh did not want the new railway to come through Fordham: he was going
to vote against it.  Had he talked much about Italy?  Yes, a good deal.
He had described Civita Bella and the art galleries there, and the
weather, and the Roman Amphitheatre."

And presently Hugh came back, greeted Jem much in his usual way, and,
sitting down, began to talk of his meeting, and how very foolish he
considered his brother-magistrates' opinion of the matter in hand.
James could not help staring at him.  Could this be the Hugh who had
declared to him in passionate language that life would be worth nothing
without Violante?  Had he _really_ lectured, advised, and reproved, and
altogether taken the upper hand of the brother now sitting before him?
"I could as soon call at Lambeth and lecture the Archbishop of
Canterbury," thought James.  "Surely he never begged and prayed me to
take his part with the Mum!  _Does_ he remember it all as well as I do?
He doesn't look altered."

And yet James missed something that had been in his brother's face
during that brief fortnight they had spent together at Civita Bella.
Lights and shadows had all been stronger then; the clear, sensible eyes
had changed and softened, and the handsome lips, that Hugh would never
hide by a moustache, had not been set so close together.  As James
turned his eyes away from this inspection they met Arthur's, looking at
him curiously.

"Well, Arty," he said, getting up, "come and have a smoke, and let's
hear all about it."

Jem and Arthur were much more companionable together than either of them
was with Hugh, and now strolled down the garden, and after a little
desultory talk Jem said:

"Well, and what did Hugh say to you?"

"I declare, Jem, I never was in such a funk in my life!  Hugh said--just
what he ought to have said, of course; but he wasn't gushing."

"No?  And how has he conducted himself since?"

"Well," said Arthur, "if it were possible that Hugh could have fallen a
victim to some lovely black-eyed peasant, or--you didn't meet any girls,
did you?"

"Nonsense, Arthur!  Everyone isn't in your predicament."

"Then the Bank must be shaky," said Arthur coolly.

"Do you mean to say that Hugh is out of sorts?" said Jem, after a little
pause.

"Well," said Arthur, more seriously, "I shouldn't like to think that he
was put out about Mysie and me; but everything rubs him up the wrong
way.  To give you an instance: You know there's to be a great gathering
to open the new Town-Hall, and a concert and dinner.  The
Lord-Lieutenant is to bring his bride, and Hugh is on the committee.
Well, I went to one of the meetings to represent the interests of
Redhurst, as the villages round are to send their choirs and
school-children to sing `God Save the Queen' in the square outside.  So
I went to see that our people were provided for, and also to get good
places for Aunt Lily and the girls.  There were the rector, and Sir
William Ribstone, and the mayor, and everyone else.  You never heard
anything like the way in which Hugh bothered them.  Not a suggestion
would he let pass without pulling it all to pieces, till they came to a
perfect deadlock.  Hugh was perfectly civil, but cantankerous enough to
drive the old gentlemen frantic, and generally he knows exactly where to
give in.  I thought he was overworked, and begged him to let me begin
going to the Bank; but he _will_ say I shall not pledge myself without
due consideration; which, you know, Jem, is really enough to drive a
fellow wild!  Consider?  As if I hadn't considered!  He seems to think
one can never cease to be a boy!" concluded Arthur, viciously.

James laughed.  He would much have liked to confide the story to Arthur;
but somehow he felt that Hugh regarded it so seriously that he could not
tell it as a good joke, in which light Arthur, never having seen
Violante, would be almost sure to regard it.  A few hours soon showed
him the truth of his cousin's remarks.  Hugh, though somewhat
condescending, was generally courteous and obliging enough; but the
captious way in which he complained of the approaching dinner-party, and
the spiteful comments he made on Miss Clinton's manners and looks, his
scornful laugh at Arthur's open boyish love-making, were the spray that
indicated the waters of a bitter fountain.  But he did not soften, even
to his brother; on the contrary, with defiant bravado, he referred to
the subject, asking James if he did not triumph in the result of his
predictions that all would soon be as if his foolish fancy had never
come to disturb him.

James was not a person to stir the waters, even with a view to their
final sweetening.  He disliked a fuss too much to face the matter out.
He did not sympathise with the feelings which he supposed to exist in
Hugh's breast; it was better to suppose the thing a trifle, after all;
so he answered:

"Oh, well, no one's the worse for a bit of romance in their life."

"To supply them with pleasant memories, eh?  You've hit it exactly."

Hugh said no more, but a sense of contempt for the brother who was his
only confidant added to the loneliness that oppressed him.  In this
humour, to sit down to dinner with Mrs Harcourt on one side of him and
Miss Clinton on the other seemed intolerable thraldom, and every subject
more unprofitable than the one before it.  He was so inharmonious a host
that the discussion on local politics grew rather warm, though Mrs
Crichton sat smiling through any amount of "gentlemen's talk."  James
wondered how anyone could excite themselves over drainage and rights of
way; and Arthur strenuously entertained the neglected ladies on either
side of him, glinting in between-times at Mysie as she sat far away on
the other side of the table.  He was the first to propose music after
dinner, and Flossy was the first lady to accede to his request.

She stood up, erect, fair, and rosy, and began to sing, clearly and
correctly, her last Italian song: "Batti, batti."

Flossy was tolerably self-confident.  She had a good voice and ear, and
she sang her Italian better than is usual with young ladies, sure of
applause at the end.  She little knew how her first notes startled two
of her audience.  James gave a great jump.  "Profanation!" he murmured,
as he thought of the exquisite voice and accent in which he had last
heard the words uttered, of the lovely scared eyes that had so belied
their meaning.  Jem smiled and sighed and drew nearer to listen, full of
the "associations" of the song, even while he glanced round to see how
his brother had taken it.

There is a vast gulf between passion and sentiment, and Hugh was too
much under the dominion of the one to endure the other.  He did not wait
for the second line of the song, but turned and escaped from it out into
the warm twilight garden, where the clear, strong notes pursued him
relentlessly.  He sat down on a bench and hid his face in his hands.
"Violante!  Violante!" he cried, half aloud.  "Oh, what a fool I was not
to wait one moment longer!  Then I should have been _sure_!  What is the
use of it all--" And then Hugh got up and laughed, keenly conscious of
the absurdity of sitting here in his dress-coat lamenting; hating
himself for his folly, and yet haunted by the old, soft accents: "I was
frightened, Signor Hugo."

Suddenly the quiet garden seemed filled with chattering and laughing.
All the younger ones had streamed out on to the terrace, and were
wandering about in twos and threes.  Arthur had Mysie to himself at
last, and as they wandered past Hugh's hiding-place, he heard her say,
mischievously, something about "Katie's charming conversation," and
Arthur retort with "That curate that was sitting by you;" and then she
threw a rose at him and they both laughed, till Hugh muttered
passionately to himself: "I wish I had never got to hear them play the
fool and laugh again."

PART THREE, CHAPTER NINETEEN.

SUNDAY AND MONDAY.

  "There is no time like spring,
  Like spring that passes by;
  There is no life like spring-life born to die."

Hugh Crichton was at this time in the sort of humour which, dignified by
the name of misanthropy, would have admirably suited, one of those
interesting and uncomfortable heroes who stalk through the pages of
romance with masks over their faces, under a vow to speak to no one; or
who, like Lara, cloaked and with folded arms, look on at life from an
altitude of melancholy and disenchantment.  The world seems to have
watched such vagaries in former days with much patience; but times are
changed, and Hugh had far too much to do to fold his arms, and was
forced to put on a frock-coat and white waistcoat on Sunday morning as
usual.  But an invisible and impalpable mask may be as stifling as one
made of black velvet; and the mysterious silence which everyone
respected was scarcely a greater effort than the silence of which no one
was to suspect the necessity, or the words that seemed so trivial or so
foolish.  In truth, it was as much to avoid Arthur's constant
companionship as for any other reason that Hugh had so persistently
refused to allow him to begin his work at the Bank.  He could not stand
Arthur's bright, shrewd eyes upon him as they went to and fro, or endure
his notice of the fits of idleness which alternated with the hard work
to which he thus condemned himself.  For after his long absence he had
more on hand than usual; and Arthur, who was brisk and business-like and
just then full of an energy that would have made stone-breaking light
and interesting work, might have been very helpful to him.  Hugh did
not, perhaps, dislike the notion of being overworked; but the fact that
he was so did not tend to smooth his temper or to raise his spirits.
For, of course, the life of a man of business, with all the calls and
occupations of a country gentleman added to it, was an exceedingly
laborious one; but it was Hugh's pride that he had never shirked any of
the work to which his father had been born, and that he made the squire
give way to the banker where the two clashed.

James, on growing up, had so decidedly declared in favour of a London
life that all notion of his coming into the business had been abandoned;
but there was more since his father's death than Hugh could properly
manage; and so his determination that no pressure should be put on
Arthur if his success at Oxford induced him to wish for a more ambitious
career had been a real act of kind and liberal judgment.  His refusal to
accept at once Arthur's decision in his favour sprang partly from a
foolish and unworthy pride, which refused to be the better for anyone's
sense or good behaviour, and, partly, as has been said, from a sort of
personal distaste to his bright young cousin--a feeling which Arthur had
done nothing to deserve.  Nor was his brother's presence any
satisfaction to Hugh.  Now that the danger was past, James was quite
ready to forget all the annoyance with which he had regarded the matter,
and to find the recollection of so romantic an incident rather pleasant
than otherwise.  "What is it to him?" thought Hugh bitterly; but it was
quite true that, even had James been himself concerned and had sincerely
felt the disappointment, he would have taken a certain pleasure in
recalling the picturesque aspects of the affair; could have laughed at
himself with a smile on his lip and a tear in his eye have made full
allowance for Violante's difficulties, and even speculated a little
about her future lot, honestly wishing it to be a prosperous one.  He
found room for kindly sentiment in his flirtations, and would have
derived amusement from the externals even of a real passion.  But Hugh's
equal judgment fell before the force of personal feeling; and as he had
thought of nothing at the time but Violante herself his brother's view
of the matter seemed to him utterly heartless and frivolous.

Sunday was a pleasant day to the young people of Redhurst.  Mr
Harcourt, the Rector, was a very old man, who had christened their
mother, and to whom "Mr Spencer, of Oxley Bank," meant their
grandfather.  He was still fully capable of managing his little country
parish; and though they had heard his sermons very often, and had not
had the satisfaction of assisting at many improvements in his church--
since the work had been well done for them in a former generation, when
Mr Harcourt, now so cautious, had been regarded as a dangerous
innovator--they were very fond of him and of his wife; and had any one
of them, in a foreign country or in future years, recalled the Sundays
of their youth it would have been the unaltered and seemingly
unalterable services of Redhurst Church and its white-haired Rector that
would have risen before their eyes.  Not but that they liked a walk to
Oxley and an evening service at the new Saint Michael's considerably
better than an afternoon one at Redhurst; but, whether they deserted his
second sermon or not, they rarely failed to present themselves at the
Rectory after it was over for a cup of tea and a chat.  Indeed, it was
almost a second home to Mysie, who had grown up to be the young lady of
the village--all the Miss Harcourts having married almost before she was
born.  Hugh was a very useful and conscientious squire; his mother, by
nature and position, a Lady Bountiful: so Redhurst was a favoured spot.

"So you come and eat my apricots, young people, and run away from my
sermons?" said Mr Harcourt, as he picked out a specially-perfect
specimen of the fruit in question and offered it to Mysie, who, with her
smiling face peeping out from a sky-blue bonnet, looked much like a
bright-eyed forget-me-not.

"I've been to church and to school, too, this afternoon," said Mysie,
with a deprecating look.

"Ah, you are always a good girl.  Why didn't you bring Arthur with you?"

"She wouldn't let me come to the Sunday-school," said Arthur.  "She says
the girls laugh at her.  So you see, sir, I can't be useful if I would."

"For shame, Arthur!  Mr Harcourt, he did not want to be of any use,
only to walk down with me."

"Well, my dear, in my young days we liked a walk with our sweethearts on
Sundays."

"And I am going to walk with him to Oxley," said Mysie, slipping her
little hand into the old Rector's arm and very little discomposed by his
joke.

"Ay, ay, walk away, and come back and tell me what fine things they're
doing at Saint Michael's.  There is Hugh has never told me a word about
Italy.  When young men made the grand tour formerly their conversation
was quite an enlightenment to their friends."

"Weren't they rather a bore, sir?" said Arthur.

"We weren't so easily bored in those days, my dear boy, by useful
information."

"No," said James, "those were the days to live, when each event had time
to round into its proper proportion--the days of taste and leisure, when
people were simple enough to be excited by a Christmas party or by the
coming in of a coach."

"But don't you think, Jem," said Mysie, "that they must have been rather
dull to care about the coach coming.  I've heard Arthur say he used to
go at school on a wet half-holiday and watch the trains.  I'm sure he
wouldn't have done it if he had had anything else to amuse him."

"Very true," said Arthur.

"Well," said Mrs Harcourt, "when I was a girl I used to read Sir
Charles Grandison, but I took it down the other day and found it very
lengthy."

"Such a prig as Sir Charles Grandison never can have really existed,"
said Hugh.

"Well, Hugh," said the Rector, with a humorous twinkle, "we none of us
know what we might come to under favourable circumstances.  But, now,
what day do you think to-morrow is?"

"Your wedding-day, Mr Harcourt," said Mysie, after a moment's pause.
"I remember it was on Sunday last year, and you gave Mrs Harcourt an
apricot."

"Ah, you're the little girl for a good memory.  Our golden wedding.
Yes, it's fifty years ago that I married Mrs Harcourt, and she wore a
dark green riding-habit for the occasion.  Fifty years to be thankful
for!"

"Fifty years ago!" said Mysie, rather awestruck.

"Yes," said the Rector's wife, "and we have asked the school-children to
come up after school and drink our health; but not having such a good
memory as Mysie I have forgotten some of them.  If you could ask the
little Woods, my dear, and the Masons to-morrow I should be glad."

Mysie promised to do so, and distant chimes sounding on their ears
reminded them that it was time to start for Oxley.  Hugh and his mother
went home, the old couple went slowly up their sunny garden-path
together, while the young pair, lingering a little behind their
companions, looked back and smiled.

"There's our model, Mysie," said Arthur, as he drew her hand through his
arm.  "In fifty years' time--"

"Oh, don't, Arthur!"

"Why not?"

"It frightens me to think of fifty years," said Mysie, with quivering
lips.  Then suddenly she said, "I wonder which are the happiest, they or
we!"

"Let us go to-morrow and ask them," said Arthur, more lightly, perhaps,
than he felt.

"Oh, yes!  Let us go the first thing to-morrow and take them some
flowers ready for their breakfast--they always breakfast at eight."

"Very well," said Arthur, "and they will give us some breakfast.  I
promised George to take him out shooting to-morrow--the rabbits are
really getting intolerable.  I want Hugh to come home early and join
us."

They soon reached Saint Michael's and dispersed in search of places, for
the church was crowded.  Arthur and Mysie had the good luck to find them
side by side.  Mysie's feelings had been somewhat disturbed by what had
passed, and she was glad of the quiet and of the service, which took her
out of herself.  The sermons at Saint Michael's were considered
striking, and this one was about thankfulness.  "He giveth us all things
richly to enjoy."  Mysie listened, and thought that she had more to be
thankful for than anyone in the world; and she turned her listening into
a prayer that she might never forget it.  Arthur listened too, but his
thoughts were less defined and were pervaded by a certain sense of the
prettiness of Mysie's face in its blue setting.

And then they stood up and sang--

  "Brief life is here our portion,
  Brief sorrow, short-lived care;
  The life that knows no ending,
  The tearless life, is _there_."

Brief?  And yet they might keep their golden wedding after those long
fifty years!

Fifty years of going to church together, of sorrows shared and joys
doubled!  And as Mysie's heart went forward to what those joys and
sorrows might be it was no wonder that she walked home hushed and
silent, though there never came to her a moment's doubt of how she might
regard her young lover after the fifty years were past.

The morning light brought the golden wedding before her in a more
cheerful aspect, and she had gathered most of her flowers and was
arranging them in a large basket before Arthur joined her, accusing her
of being unnecessarily early.

"Oh, I wanted to gather plenty.  Look.  I have put the hothouse flowers
in the centre, and then the outdoor ones, and ferns round the edge."

"And what's that?"

"That is a note from Aunt Lily to ask them to come up to dinner
to-night.  It is all ready now."

Arthur took up the basket, and they went down the garden, out at a
side-gate, and across the road into the almost adjoining garden of the
Rectory.  This was small, but within walls, and so gay with flowers as
to seem to render Mysie's gift unnecessary.  Arthur gave her one side of
the basket, and they came across the lawn in the bright morning sunshine
up to the open French window of the dining-room, where Mr and Mrs
Harcourt had already perceived them.

"Here comes the young couple to see the old one!"

"We have brought you some flowers."

"We have come to wish you many happy returns of the day," said both at
once.

Mrs Harcourt took the flowers, and her husband, kissing Mysie, held out
his hand to Arthur.

"God bless you, my dear children, and give you fifty such happy years as
He has given to my wife and me!"

"Amen!" said Arthur, and he turned, and, drawing Mysie towards him, he
kissed her, as if the blessing had been the seal of their betrothal.
The tears came into her eyes, and she was glad to turn to the old lady
to be praised and thanked for her beautiful flowers.

"Now, then, of course you are come to breakfast?  Arthur, when you were
a little boy you always liked my pine-apple preserve; so I shall get you
some."

"At his present stage of existence, my dear, I should think he would
rather begin upon eggs and bacon."

"But don't forget the jam for a finish, Mrs Harcourt," said Arthur.

So they sat down and had a merry breakfast, lingering over it till
Arthur jumped up, saying:

"I must go home to catch Hugh before he goes to Oxley, to ask him where
we shall shoot."

"But you are not going to carry away Mysie?"

"Oh, no," said Mysie.  "I don't like the neighbourhood of guns at all,
and I must stay to put my flowers in water."

"Very well, then, I'll leave you.  Mr Harcourt, we shall see you
to-night."

Mysie stayed behind, and arranged her flowers and renovated Mrs
Harcourt's dinner-cap, by which time the morning was so far advanced
that she was persuaded to stay to lunch, before going to give the
forgotten invitations.  Meanwhile Mrs Harcourt entertained her with
much pleasant gossip about the days of her courtship and the wedding
that had followed it.

"Did not fifty years seem a long time to you then?" asked Mysie.

"Well, my dear, I don't think I looked forward to any special time, or
to any end at all in those days.  And I don't now, Mysie--I don't now,
in another sense, for fifty years is a very little bit of eternity."

The old lady spoke rather to herself than to the girl; but the words
chimed in with Mysie's previous thoughts.

"I think," she said, dreamily, "you _are_ the happiest.  If Mr Harcourt
were to die you would have such a little while to wait; but if Arthur--
It's almost all _life_, if it is but a little bit of eternity."

"Die, my dear?  What has put such sad thoughts into your head this
bright morning?"

"I don't know.  But I shall remember this morning as long as I live."
Then, shaking off her sadness, she started up, and, kissing the old
lady, went off rather hastily on her errands.

The everyday occupation soon chased away the solemn thoughts that had
oppressed her, and having disposed of her other business she went down
to the canal, along the bank, and across the gates of the lock--the
unrailed condition of which was one of those grievances which are always
talked of and never remedied--to the lock-keeper's cottage, where she
gave her message about the health-drinking; and sent two little girls,
who were at home from school, off in a great hurry to join their
companions.  These children were motherless, and Mysie took great
interest in the pretty sister Alice, who had charge of them.

The youngest boy was ill, and Mr Dickenson, the Oxley doctor--who was
most favoured at Redhurst--was paying him a visit.  Mysie heard his
opinion, and promised sundry delicacies to assist the child's recovery.

"Then you will send the children down to the Rectory, Alice?" she said.

"Yes, Miss Mysie.  I can't come with them, because of Freddy."

"No, of course not.  Good-bye."

"Good-bye, miss."

Mysie tripped out into the sunshine, and on to the gates of the lock,
Alice thinking how pretty her white dress and muslin-covered hat looked
on this hot August day.  "She always wears her prettiest things now Mr
Arthur's here," she thought, when the sudden loud report of a gun
sounded from the copse close at hand.  Alice gave a little scream and
start.  Mysie, half-way across, started violently also, and, either
losing her balance or catching her foot on the rough surface, slipped
and fell, out of the sunshine, out of the light, down into the cold,
dark water below.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

End of the First Volume.

PART THREE, CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE GOLDEN WEDDING.

  "Tina died."

  Mr Gilfil's Love Story.

Arthur went away from the Rectory whistling gaily, and succeeded in
catching Hugh before he started for Oxley.  Hugh was a good but not a
very keen sportsman, and the rabbits were rather a sore subject; and he
replied to Arthur's representations that, as they had been left entirely
for the delectation of himself and George, it was his own fault if they
were too numerous.  Arthur answered that he knew Hugh had asked two
friends next week, and had supposed he would want something for them to
shoot.

"The Molyneuxes, do you mean?  They're not sportsmen.  Never take out a
gun."

"So you said yesterday, and if you have no objection George and I will
polish a few off to-day.  And if you will just come out early and meet
us in the plantations down by the canal, you'll see if I'm not right."
Hugh never liked to appear indifferent about sporting matters, so he
agreed to the proposal, though not very willingly, and they appointed a
place and time of meeting in the afternoon.  Meanwhile, Arthur, who
enjoyed most things that fell to his lot, and George, who lived for the
pursuit of rats and rabbits, spent a pleasant and successful morning,
and when Hugh joined them could display a sufficient number of rabbits
to presuppose either considerable skill on their parts or the existence
of plenty of food for powder.  Hugh, at Arthur's suggestion, despatched
George with three couple of rabbits to the tenant-farmer on whose land
they had been shooting, and sent the keeper for some more cartridges, as
their supply seemed likely to run short.  Hugh and Arthur, thus left
together, went on through the copses, now in the full weight and depth
of their summer foliage, before the first tints of autumn varied them.
It was, perhaps, the time when the woods were least attractive, since
they were powerless and almost silent.  Hugh was unsuccessful, and not
particularly pleased thereat.

"You have got your hand out in Italy," said Arthur, "and you have never
given yourself a day's shooting since you came home."

"I _am_ unlucky," said Hugh, "but you know I am never a very good shot."

"I wanted Jem to come; but he began to discuss the whole question of
cruelty, etc, from beginning to end.  So I made myself scarce."

"It does seem a barbarous way for civilised gentlemen to spend their
time," said Hugh, but the appearance of a rabbit cut his remark short as
he fired and missed it, with an exclamation of annoyance rather strong
for a civilised gentleman with a contempt for sport.

"So that rabbit thinks," said Arthur, laughing.

"Ah, there's Mysie talking to the Woods," he added, as they came across
a stile into the copse by the canal and saw, through an opening, the
lock and Mysie and Alice standing by it.

"Hugh, I wish you would make them put a rail on to those gates."

"It's not my affair," said Hugh, "and they're safe enough.  You had
better go and help her across."

As Hugh spoke, rather irritated by Arthur's fancifulness, as he
considered it, another little brown rabbit started out of the ferns.

"I'll have that one!" he said.

"Don't fire," said Arthur.  "Look, you'll startle Mysie."

"Nonsense, it's too far off," answered Hugh sharply, and fired.

They saw the white figure start and reel, then vanish from their eyes.
With a loud shout of horror Arthur flung aside his gun, and leapt down
through the bushes on to the path, pursued, almost outstripped, by Hugh,
who sprang right into the water, as Alice's screams brought her father
and the doctor both at once to the spot.

Arthur stopped short on the brink, as nothing but the blank water met
his eyes.

"She fell in here!" he cried, clutching Alice's arm.

"Oh yes, sir; yes--off the gates!  Oh, where is she?"

"She must have caught her dress in the gate!" cried Wood.

"Or struck her head?" said Mr Dickenson.

"Let off the water--is there no boat-hook--nothing?"

What gave to Arthur the power of acting and judging he knew neither then
nor afterwards.  He turned round and said, low and clear:

"No, that will take too long.  Open the gates, and she will be washed
down the stream.  Come out, Hugh, that is useless."

"Yes, sir, for the Lord's sake come out, or you'll be drowned too,"
cried the lock-keeper, as he turned to the great handles of the gates.

"Run, Alice, open the other!"

Quick as thought, Alice crossed the upper gates, and seized the handle.
Arthur held out his hand, and, holding by a post, helped Hugh up the
steep side, then ran down the bank, and stood some yards below the lock,
waiting.  Slowly the great doors groaned back and, with a swirl and a
rush, out poured the muddy water, for the lock was full.  Hugh would
have thrown himself in again, but Wood held him back.  Arthur strained
his eyes as the water rushed through, saw something dim and white above
him; sprang after it; dived, disappeared, then rose to the surface--
empty-handed.  The impetus of the water had carried her further than he
had calculated on.  Both Hugh and the lock-keeper had come to his help
before the white dress rose again: but it was his hand that caught it--
he caught _her_ once more in his arms, gained his feet in the shallow
water, and carried her to the bank.

There he laid her down with her head on Alice's lap, and wrung the water
from her soft, clinging dress.  She had lost her hat; but her
tightly-folded hair was still in its place, and one was left of the
carnations that he had put in front of her dress in the morning.

Mr Dickenson knelt down and examined her carefully.

"It was not the length of time," he said, after a few moments.

"Oh, sir, sir, she's not _dead_, not _drowned_!" screamed Alice.

"She is not drowned.  She struck her head and the back of her neck
against the side.  It was all over before she touched the bottom."

He added a few technical words to explain his meaning, and Arthur
understood and knew that it was true.

"Yes, she is dead," he said, and the tone was as quiet, far quieter than
the doctor's own.  He stood up, put Hugh aside, and took her in his arms
again.

"Will you get into that boat, Alice?" he said, pointing to one moored at
the side.

Awe-struck and sobbing, Alice obeyed.

"Sit down in the stern," he said.

And then he laid Mysie down with her head once more on Alice's lap,
unmoored the boat, and, with quick, vigorous strokes, rowed down towards
Redhurst; rowed past the meadows and the copses, as once before he had
rowed his love in the same bright evening sunlight, under the same blue
sky, and had talked of the future.  Now the boat went on, the girl's
long fair hair dancing and waving, but her face all white and
tear-stained; Arthur bare-headed, his eyes fixed far away and his lips
set; and the white motionless figure, with Alice's little handkerchief
over the face, between them.  Those who followed them on the bank said
that it was the most awful sight their eyes had ever seen--all the more
awful in that it was in a way picturesque and beautiful.

Arthur stopped at the landing.  He fastened up the boat and once more
lifted up his burden.

"Mr Arthur, you'll want help," cried Wood.

"No," said Arthur, "she is very light.  Go first, Mr Dickenson, and
tell them."

But, as he said "and tell them," a sort of quiver came over his face,
and he faltered for a moment.

"Keep close to him," said the doctor, "I'll go on.  But where's Mr
Crichton?"

"He may have gone ahead, sir, to break the news first."

This seemed very probable; but, in case it had not been so, Mr
Dickenson hastened on across the meadow, up the shrubbery, and into the
garden.  No messenger of evil tidings could have forestalled him in his
cruel task of breaking up that happy summer peace.  Mr Crichton sat
restfully on the terrace, watching for the arrival of Mr and Mrs
Harcourt.  James, on the step below her, was smoking, stroking his long,
brown beard, and discoursing dreamily.  Frederica, in her white muslin
and red ribbons, was teasing Snap.  Mysie's doves, at a safe distance
from Snap, were cooing on the grass; the great peacock strutting along
in the background.

"Mr James Crichton!" said Mr Dickenson, stopping short of the terrace,
with a glance that brought James to his side in a moment.

"What's the matter?"

"Mr James, Miss Crofton has met with an accident.  She has fallen into
the water, and Mr Arthur is bringing her home.  You had better get the
ladies into the house."

But, as he spoke, up from the sunny meadows came Arthur, with Mysie in
his arms, closely followed by Alice Wood, now sobbing and clinging to
her father's coat.  James gave one look, and saw that Mysie's face was
covered.

"Mamma! there's an accident!  Come in.  Come in."  But Mrs Crichton had
started up with a shriek and rushed down the path.

"What is it; what is it?  The water?  Has she come to herself?"

"You must let me take her in," said Arthur, in a low, quiet voice, while
James held back his mother; and Wood said, choking: "Lord have mercy on
us, ma'am; she'll never come to herself in this world!"  Arthur took no
notice; he went on, and they all followed indiscriminately, the servants
rushing out with wild cries and questions.  Arthur went up the steps,
across the terrace, and through the open window, into the drawing-room,
where, on the sofa, he laid his dead love down.  Then he paused, hanging
over her, and drew the handkerchief a little back, and put his hand
softly on her wrist.

"Arthur!  Arthur, my poor boy, come away," said James, in his ear.

Arthur turned round and faced them.

"How did it happen? how did it happen?" gasped Mrs Crichton.

"The noise of the gun startled her, and she fell off the lock.  She
struck her head against the side, and she is dead--she is dead," he
repeated.  And, in the moment's blank pause that followed, Alice Wood's
voice rose in a wild shriek: "Dead! oh, Miss Mysie's dead!"

"Take care of that poor little girl," said Arthur; "she has--" but with
the words his voice failed him; he staggered, and fell down in a dead
faint, before James could catch him, for they had all fallen back with a
sort of awe, before his collected voice and the wild stare in his eyes.

They lifted Arthur up and carried him into the house and upstairs to his
own room, whither the doctor followed them.  The maid-servants pressed
into the drawing-room, with tears and cries of pity, till the old nurse
came and put them all back.  She knew what to do.

Mrs Crichton sat down again in her chair on the terrace, Frederica
crouching with her head in her aunt's lap, while Wood, whose daughter
had been carried off by the maids, repeated the sad story.

It was not very easy to understand its details, told with sobs and
comments innumerable; but the fact was slowly borne in on them--Mysie
was dead!

Presently James returned.

"He is coming to himself," he said.  "Dickenson is going to give him
some strong opiate; then he hopes that he will sleep before he knows
what has happened.  No one must go to him or try to rouse him now."

"I cannot understand, now, how it happened," said Mrs Crichton.  "Where
is Hugh?"

Where was Hugh?  His brother's absence struck James for the first time
as extraordinary.

"Mother," he said, "you had better let me take you into the house, and I
will ask Dickenson if he knows where Hugh has gone to.  Get up, Freddie,
my dear girl, take care of mother.  Yes, that's right," as Frederica,
with unexpected self-command, stood up, choked back her sobs, and took
her aunt by the hand.  Perhaps it had hardly come yet to the time for
overwhelming grief, for Mrs Crichton rose and walked into the house,
unable to realise the truth of what still seemed like a frightful dream.

"What became of my brother?" he said to Wood.

"Indeed, sir, I can't remember.  I saw nothing but Mr Arthur with the
dear young lady in his arms; but Mr Crichton all the time was like one
demented, and would have been drowned too if Mr Arthur had not dragged
him out, and I held him back from jumping into the water before the
gates were fairly open.  O Lord! sir, there's the Rector coming.  This
news will kill the poor old gentleman, surely."

But the ill news had flown faster than they thought for, and the office
of comforter had been familiar for too many years to Mr Harcourt for
him to shrink from it now; and, instead of the merry dinner-party to
which he and his wife had been summoned, he had left her to realise that
she had bidden little Mysie farewell for ever only a few hours before.

"Her golden wedding--her golden wedding!" he said; but with what force
of allusion James hardly knew.  He took the Rector, however, to his
mother; and when he came out again, with a vague idea of watching for
Hugh, Wood had gone to look after his daughter; and Mr Dickenson came
out, reporting that Arthur, under the influence of the opiate, had
fallen asleep, without rousing to the consciousness of what had
happened.

"So best," said James, with a heavy sigh; "but, Mr Dickenson, what can
have become of Hugh?"

"Your brother?  I never thought of him till this moment!"

"Nor I, till my mother asked for him.  There--no--that's George.  What
can have become of him?"

As he spoke, George, white and terrified, came panting up the path and
threw himself upon James.

"Jem!  Where's Mysie; where's Mysie?"  Involuntarily James glanced back
at the drawing-room, where now the window was shut and the blind drawn
down behind it.

"Have you heard anything, George?" he said; "there has been a sad
accident on the lock."

"I have seen Hugh," said George.

"Hugh!  Where?"

"In the copse by the lock.  Oh, Jem, he was sitting on the ground, and
he had Arthur's gun in his hand--not his own--and there was a dead
rabbit.  He looked--I couldn't ask him a word.  He said: `Go home,
George, there's no more shooting; Mysie is drowned, and--and--'"

"Steady, my boy," said the doctor, as George paused and gasped, "take
your time.  What did he say?"

"He said--he said, `I have killed her!'"

"Nothing," interposed Mr Dickenson, as James almost dropped into a
chair with a start of horror, "_Nothing_ that anyone says on a night
like this is of the slightest consequence whatever.  We don't know what
we say.  What followed, George?"

"I said, `Oh, come now, Hugh, you had better come home.  Where's
Arthur?'  And he stood up and cried out `Arthur!  Arthur!  Never--
never!' and then he rushed off out on to the heath.  So," concluded
George, "I thought he was mad or something, and I ran as hard as I could
to fetch someone.  I never thought it was true till I saw the lock gates
open and little Bessie Wood, screaming and crying, with Mysie's wet hat;
and I ran on, and there was this pink bow she wore round her neck, wet,
on the path in the meadow.  Oh, Jem, she's never drowned, really--not
_really_," as Jem burst into tears at sight of the gay pink ribbon.

"George," said the doctor, "you must be a man, there's need of it.  Go
and fetch Mr James some wine, and drink some yourself; then come back,
we shall want you.  Call Wood, too."

"I think," said George, as he went, "someone had better look for Hugh."

"I think so too," said Mr Dickenson.  "If Mr Crichton has any morbid
ideas in his head, the sooner they are dispelled the better."

"He could not have done it," said James, confusedly; "she was not
_shot_."

"Of course not, and if she was accidentally startled by the sound of the
gun no blame could attach to anyone.  Here," as George returned with the
wine, "take some; we have all work before us.  Wood," he added, "do you
think poor Mr Spencer right in saying Miss Crofton was startled by the
sound of a gun?"

"All I know, sir, is that my daughter she screamed out, `The gun--the
gun!' and I ran out of the house, and Mr Arthur came tearing down from
the copse without his gun.  Mr Crichton he threw his away as he jumped
into the water.  I heard no gun in the house."

"Neither did I," said the doctor, "but, you see, we shall have to have
their evidence to-morrow."

"The inquest!" said James.  "Ah, I never thought of that.  What?  Must
poor Arthur?--"

"I am afraid he must; but, of course, if your brother is there to tell
the story, he need say very little.  But Mr Crichton _must_ be there,
you know, and we must get him home without delay."

"I had better go and look for him," said James, "though I hardly like to
leave my mother."

"I can stay here," said Mr Dickenson; "and I can arrange for to-morrow
better than you.  Could any lady come to Mrs Crichton; and are there
any relations to be sent for?"

"No," said James, "Mysie has no near relations but my mother.  But Miss
Venning would come to us I am sure.  George, you might go and fetch
her."

"Yes; but where's Arthur?"

"He fainted; he is asleep.  You can't go to him now.  Say nothing about
Hugh.  Of course, he would come back soon, but I shall go for him.  Why,
it is getting dusk; is it night or morning?  What time can it be?"

"It is eight o'clock," said Mr Dickenson; "or but a little after."

James felt as if years had passed since he had seen Arthur come up the
path with his sad burden, but the excitement of looking for Hugh came in
almost as a relief.  James was less alarmed by his absence than anyone
less well acquainted with Hugh might have been.  He knew the violence
with which Hugh's feelings were apt to overpower him in the first
moments of a great shock, and also how completely he was soon able to
govern and conceal them.  James had little doubt of his speedy return;
but it was less wretched to walk rapidly away with Wood, who wanted to
return to his children--Alice having been left with the maids at
Redhurst--than to sit at home and begin to realise what a blow had
fallen on the home which had always seemed, in the few holiday weeks
that he spent there, the realisation of sunshine and peace.

They came down towards the lock, which did not yet impress James with
any sense of horror, so little realised was the scene connected with it.

"Why, if there ain't the whole place turned out!" cried Wood, as they
came in sight of it, and voices broke on the stillness.  The banks of
the canal were covered with people, gaping and staring, and surrounding
the Wood children, who enjoyed the honour of having been first in the
field.

"Well, here's all Redhurst and half Oxley, and more coming along the
path.  Get into the house, Bessie, you little forward, unfeeling hussy,
a-chattering about the poor dear young lady you saw drowned before your
eyes!" cried Wood, not knowing why his real share in the sad tragedy
made him so impatient of idle curiosity regarding it.  Not but what
there would be many genuine tears shed from many eyes for sweet Mysie
Crofton; but excitement is a powerful rival at first to grief.

James stood aghast.  How could he go and look for Hugh in all this
confusion?  How would Hugh face it?

Up stepped the inspector of police from Oxley.

"Mr James Crichton, I was fortunately on the spot first, and I have
secured the gentlemen's guns.  One was found in the wood and one on the
bank; also this rabbit."

"Is Mr Spencer Crichton here?" said James.

"No, sir, I have not seen him."

"Can't you get all these people away?"

"Well, sir, accidents always collect a crowd."

"My brother," said James, "was here at the time.  Perhaps, if you see
him, you would tell him he is wanted at home."

"Very well, sir," said the inspector, with an absence of comment which
was a great relief to James, who was now beset by a crowd of Redhurst
folk, with questions and lamentations.

"It is all true," James said.  "We and all the place are in sad trouble.
I think our friends had better go home and leave it to strangers to
stare about this place."

This produced a little effect, and Bessie, picking up the cue, hustled
off the younger ones, telling them "to go in and not to be a-staring.
Wasn't Miss Mysie always telling them as little girls shouldn't run
after crowds like that of evenings?"

James ran up into the copse and out on the heath behind it; but he saw
no signs of Hugh, and as the light failed he went home in despair, with
the picture of his brother, as George had described him, more vividly
impressed on his mind than any other of the sad events of the evening.
Poor James! he did not know how to contend with the difficulties that he
was left alone to bear.  He was frightened to death at Hugh's
disappearance, and was almost ready to hope that Arthur might have
awakened in his absence to bring his quicker powers of action to bear on
the matter.  For James felt that he had done just nothing.

It was some relief to find that no one could suggest any other course of
action.  Miss Venning had arrived and had persuaded his mother to go to
bed; and James sat up, waiting and speculating on every possible and
impossible cause and result of Hugh's absence.  The unalterable fact of
Mysie's death left no room for fear.  Arthur was, for the moment, at
rest; but what was Hugh doing?

PART THREE, CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

THE MORNING LIGHT.

  "All joys took wing,
  And fled before the dawn.
  Oh, love, I knew that I should meet my love--
  Should find my love no more."

In the still grey silence of early morning Arthur awoke slowly, and with
a confused sense that things were not as usual.  He looked round the
room.  It had been a hot night, and the window was wide open and the
blind up, so that he could see the quiet cloudy sky and hear the
twittering of the birds in the ivy.  He put his hand to feel for his
watch, and could not find it.  Then he tried to recollect what he had
done with it the night before, and could recollect nothing.  Presently
the church clock chimed four.  It was very early; what could bring James
into his room fully dressed, and with a pale wide-awake look on his
face?  James came up to the bed without speaking, and put his hand on
Arthur's.

"What is the matter; have I been ill?" said Arthur.

"You fainted," said James, in a much-shaken voice.

"Did I?  I am quite well now.  I can't remember."  Poor James blamed
himself severely, both then and afterwards, for having no words with
which to help or hinder Arthur's recollection; but the great grey eyes
in their black circles, fixed on him with a trouble not yet understood,
completely unnerved him: he could not speak or look.  Perhaps his
silence answered the purpose as well as any speech.  Arthur grew
frightened; his heart began to beat, and his hands to tremble--his face
flushed.

"What is the matter, Jem?" he said again, but with a sharper accent.

"Try to remember all you did yesterday," said James, at length.

"Yesterday?  We went to the rectory with some flowers, and I left Mysie
there.  Mysie?"  He repeated the name with a sort of enquiry, and then
James saw the trouble in his face increase as memory began to awaken and
pictures, dim, yet terrible, to form themselves in his mind.  He dropped
back on the pillow, and lay silent, grasping Jem's hand hard.  "Is it a
bad dream, Jem?" he said at length.

"No, no; not a dream," faltered Jem.

"Then I remember; then I know, now."

Probably his senses were still dulled and quieted by the opiate, for
there was no violent outbreak of misery; he only turned away and hid his
face, and James dared not put a single question to him, keen as was his
curiosity, for Hugh had not yet come home.  He thought it best to leave
Arthur alone, as the doctor, when obliged some hours since to leave
them, had advised that no attempt should be made to rouse him.  Arthur
lay quiet for a long time, slowly recalling step by step what had
passed, till every incident was clear before him; till he saw again the
copse and the rabbits, the swirling water, the boat in the sunshine;
felt again the burden in his arms, yet was, perhaps, half asleep still;
for, all at once, he roused up and sat upright with a start.  After all,
was it true?

It was quite broad daylight, and he heard movements in the house.  He
would get up.  Had he had a bad dream after all?  He got up, and the
first thing he saw and touched was the coat he had worn the day before,
which had been thrown aside and was still wet through.  The keenest pang
he had yet known shot through him as he touched it but still he began to
dress, and came down stairs and went out into the garden.  Was it really
only twenty-four hours ago that Mysie had left the print of her footfall
on the dew as she gathered the flowers for her Golden wedding gift?  Had
she really sat here on the top of the steps and filled her basket with
them?  Arthur looked down the path towards the meadows, then turned
towards it.  "If I see that," he thought, "I shall understand.  Surely
it cannot be!"  But he did not set his foot on it, but shrank away with
a shiver; for he knew that the sight of the meadows would have brought
the truth home, and he knew what was the truth.  He went back to the
house, and, in a sort of instinctive fashion, turned his steps to the
dining-room, where Miss Venning was making breakfast; James and the two
younger ones were standing about in a vague, uncertain fashion.  They
all started at sight of Arthur.  George slunk out of the room in a
shame-faced, school-boy fashion; while Frederica burst into tears and
looked much inclined to follow his example.  They were afraid of their
brother, afraid of his awful, uncomprehended sorrow.  Even Miss Venning
could not speak to him as she took his hand, and James said, half-shyly:
"Will you have some breakfast, Arthur?"

"Not here," he said, "not here," as their manner began to bring the
great change home.

James brought some to him in the study, and began affectionately to coax
him to eat something.

"You must," he said.  "You know there is something before you to-day.  I
wish we could spare you from it; but they must have you at--at--"

"I know," said Arthur.  "Thanks, Jem; but it won't make much difference.
When is it?"

"About eleven.  Arthur, I must ask you, do you know anything about
Hugh?"

"About Hugh?  No; where is he?"

"He has never come back."

"Never come back?" said Arthur, in a much more wide-awake and natural
manner.

"Why, where can he be?"

"George saw him in the copse; he seemed--he seemed to blame himself."

"What?  Because I told him not to fire?"

"You told him not to fire?" ejaculated James.

Arthur leant back and shaded his eyes with his hand.

"I don't think I'll talk about it now," he said gently.  "I must tell
them by-and-by.  But it is nothing--nothing that you fancy."

"But Hugh should be there?"

"Of course he should.  I can't remember anything about him," he added,
after a moment, "except that I pulled him out of the water."

"Don't talk now, my dear boy," said Jem, as Arthur's voice failed.  "It
will soon be over, and Hugh will surely come."

"Jem!"

"Yes?"

"I know it is true now.  Don't let me forget and get confused again.  I
feel so stupid."  Then, after a moment: "Let me go and see her."

"Oh, not now, Arty; not till this wretched business is over.  Stay here
and rest till then.  I'll call you in time."

Arthur yielded; he even drank some tea and ate a little at James's
entreaty; and the latter was wondering whether to leave him alone, when
he caught sight of Hugh coming up the path.  Arthur saw him too, and the
presence of another actor in the terrible scene effectually roused him.

"Go to him," he said.  "Go to him; leave me alone; no one can do
anything for me.  I shall be ready when you want me--don't be afraid."

James's anxiety could endure no longer, and he hurried out to meet his
brother, upon whom no merciful boon of unconsciousness had descended;
who had had no period of uncertainty in which to grow accustomed to the
shadow of the truth.

He had turned his head as he fired, and had seen her fall; and in a
moment his ill-tempered disregard of Arthur's warning flashed back on
him, never again to be forgotten.  To risk his own life in saving hers
was his one thought, and his self-possession and power of judgment had
failed him entirely, so that his efforts, even had there been a chance
for her, would have been utterly useless.  He stood by and heard the
doctor's verdict, and Arthur's steady "Yes, she is dead;" felt Arthur
push him away, and took the unconscious action as a proof of the horror
with which Arthur must henceforth regard him, of the horror with which
he must regard himself.  He stood still, and saw the boat start on its
sad and awful way, saw them all follow, forgetful of everything but the
freight that it contained.

"Poor, sweet young lady!" groaned Wood, as he followed.

"Poor boy--poor boy; it's a life ruined," sighed the doctor.  But Hugh
stood still, and thought--

"_I_ have done it.  Was ever such a fate as mine?"

He slunk away back into the wood, and stood looking at the lock, there
from the spot where that last shot had been fired.  He repeated over to
himself those words exchanged between himself and Arthur; he saw the
rabbit lying dead on the ground.  "It's the first I've hit to-day," he
thought.  A moment's hastiness, a moment's want of thought, and _this_
is the result!  Oh, it is cruel!  Then such an anguish of horror at the
desolation that he had caused came over him that it was with a start of
something like satisfaction that he caught sight of Arthur's gun where
it had been thrown aside on the grass.  He took it up, but it had been
discharged; and he remembered that Arthur had not reloaded it after his
last shot.  "There is always the canal," thought Hugh.  "My life was
blank enough and hard enough before; but now--" It was at this point in
his meditations that George had encountered him, and that the boy's
inquiry for Arthur had so maddened him that he had rushed off, unheeding
where he went; maddened not only--not so much at the thought that Mysie
had died a frightful death and that Arthur's life was ruined, as that he
himself had been the cause of it all.  Filled with a wild, exaggerated
sense of blood-guiltiness, he counted up every aggravating circumstance,
his old jealousy of his cousins' happiness--his impatience of their
laughter and their love, the fact that he was Mysie's guardian, and so
responsible for her lot, and that he had been hardly willing to trust
her happiness to Arthur's care.  He made out the case against himself as
no one else would have made it out against him; and then, with a not
uncommon inconsistency, ascribed to a cruel chance the wretched result,
and felt that he was the sport of circumstances.  The deeps of
faithless, bitter rebellion rose up to overwhelm him, and he did not cry
out of them for help.  But the image of Violante came before him, fair
and sweet, yet full of reproach for his harsh judgment and hasty
desertion.  He pushed the thought away from him--was not he one who
could never indulge in such thoughts again?  Yet he stopped in his wild
wrath, and threw himself down on the heath, and, in the midst of a
remorse and despair that threatened to drive him mad, he wept for his
lost love.  They were terrible hours, so terrible as to blot out to Hugh
the thought of all the other sufferers; so absorbing that he never
paused to wonder what was passing at Redhurst; and they were succeeded
by a sort of passive exhaustion, in which the acute pain was dulled, and
from which he roused himself with a start and sat upright.  It was quite
dark, clouds had come up over the sunny sky, and neither moon nor stars
lighted up the wild waste of moorland.  The night was still and
absolutely silent.  Hugh did not know where he was as his outer life
came back upon him with a strange incongruous sense of the necessity of
Mr Spencer Crichton's presence on the scene of action; and, chilled and
over-excited as he was, a consciousness of physical discomfort that made
him get to his feet and look about him.  No, he could not kill himself,
nor even lie there to die; all Oxley would be wondering what had become
of him--an odd consideration at such a moment; but it brought the
further thought of all the painful business to be got through; and who
but himself to do it?  Somehow, the habit of being forced to consider
such necessities did more to bring Hugh to his senses than anything
else, and he made up his mind to go home.  What right had he to shirk
the sight of Arthur's misery?  It was part of his punishment.  He was,
however, so much exhausted as to be hardly able to support himself, and,
moreover, where was he?  He looked about, and saw far off a red light,
which he knew must shine from Fordham Station.  He must make for that.
With fatigue and weariness such as he had never known before he stumbled
over the heather, and came at last into Fordham village as the church
clock struck half-past eleven.  He knew that he could not get home
without rest, and went into the inn, making some slight excuse of having
lost his way--an excuse which he knew would be scattered to the winds
to-morrow.  However, the hostess knew him, and gave him supper--which he
scarcely touched--and a fire; and he lay down for a little, meaning to
start as soon as it was light.  All sorts of other schemes passed
through his mind; of disappearance, of never going home any more or
inflicting the sight of himself on his friends; but, somehow, custom and
common-sense turned his steps the next morning in the direction of
Redhurst, dragging more and more as he drew near, dreading to come up to
the house or to show himself; till James rushed out, to his utter
surprise, with a cry of relief.

"Thank Heaven, you're here at last!  Where have you been?  We were so
anxious!"

"I came back because I supposed there would be things to attend to,"
said Hugh, in an odd unnatural voice.

"Yes, of course.  We must try to get poor Arthur through it."

"Don't let him see me."

"Hugh, I can't understand this.  He _must_ see you--he doesn't take it
so," said James, much frightened at his brother's wild, haggard look.

Hugh stood looking down at the gravel.  Presently he said: "I'll go and
change my things.  Let me have some breakfast.  Where is it, and when?"

"At the Red Lion, at eleven."

"I will attend to it."

They were such commonplace words, and in one way Hugh seemed so entirely
himself, that James was all the more confused and puzzled.  Hugh went
upstairs, made his toilet, and, after eating a few mouthfuls, went off
to the village, without asking for his mother, who--fortunately, had not
been aware of his absence--and, indeed, without speaking to anyone.
Arthur came out at James's summons.  The dreamy look was gone, and he
was evidently concentrating all his strength on the effort to bear up
through the coming trial.  He did not try to speak till they reached the
inn, where, as they sat down in the quietest corner, he whispered:
"Don't be afraid.  I shall manage."

Hugh was being talked to, before the proceedings began, by the coroner
and one or two others; but made, it seemed to James, hardly any answer
to them.

The scene was first described by Mr Dickenson and by Wood, who could
only take up the story after Mysie's fall, of which Alice had been the
only witness on the spot.

The poor little girl, sobbing and trembling, had answered that she had
seen Miss Crofton fall, and then--

"Can you give any reason for it?"

"It was the gun, sir."

"What gun?"

"If you please, sir, I don't know."

Then Hugh stood up.

"I do.  It was mine.  Will you have the goodness to take my evidence
next, and I think you will see that there is no occasion to trouble
anyone else."

The coroner assented, and Hugh, having been sworn, went on in a hard,
cold voice:

"My cousin and I were shooting in the copse.  I was put out of temper
because I missed aim twice.  My cousin saw her--Miss Crofton--standing
by the lock; so did I.  He said the gates were dangerous, and I
contradicted him, and was irritated by what I thought foolish anxiety.
A rabbit got up and I raised my gun.  My cousin said: `Don't fire,
you'll startle her--'" Hugh could not get out the name.  "I said,
`Nonsense, it is too far off;' and I fired, and she _was_ startled, and
she fell off and was drowned.  Those are the facts; it is my doing
entirely."

There was a pause of shocked attention, which was broken by Arthur, who
came forward and stood by Hugh.

"I wish to say something."

"Certainly, Mr Spencer.  It is my duty to ask you if Mr Spencer
Crichton has stated the facts correctly."

"Yes," said Arthur.  "Those are the facts; but my cousin has given you a
wrong impression.  He did not, I am sure, see where she was when he
fired, and--and--we _were_ at some distance.  He could not know, as I
do, how easily she is startled."

"I did know it, Arthur," said Hugh passionately.  "I did know where she
was!"

"It might have happened to me," said Arthur, earnestly.  "Indeed, there
is no blame."

"You thought so then," cried Hugh, losing all sense of the listeners.
"You pushed me back; you would not let me touch her!  What wonder if you
cursed the day I was born!"

"Hugh, hush!" interposed Arthur.  "That can do no good."

"Yes, Mr Crichton," said the coroner, "it would be better to control
yourself.  Mr Spencer's language is generous in the extreme.  Of
course, no one could doubt for a moment that this unhappy event was
entirely accidental; but it is never safe to disregard a warning as to
fire-arms, however apparently superfluous.  Of course, we can feel and
express nothing but the profoundest sympathy for yourself and for all
those for whom the neighbourhood entertains such high respect."

There was no hesitation as to the verdict; and when it was over, and
those engaged began to disperse, Arthur went up to Hugh and laid his
hand on his arm and said:

"Come, Hugh, let us get home--that will be best for us."

Hugh shook off the hand and shrank from him with a sort of horror.

"Don't touch me--don't speak to me!" he cried.

Arthur looked surprised and disappointed; and James, who had been
hitherto utterly silenced by the horror of Hugh's avowal, hastily drew
him away, seeing that he could hardly bear up any longer.  Hugh followed
them up the garden and into the study, and then broke out into a torrent
of self-reproach, so violent and so uncontrollable that Arthur vainly
tried to silence it.

"I have broken your heart," he cried.  "There is no atonement I can
make--none.  My life can't make it up to you.  The sight of your grief
will kill me!  I have destroyed her, the beautiful, innocent creature.
I was jealous of your happiness and of hers, and I have ruined it for
ever!"

"Don't, Hugh, don't," said Arthur, faintly; "don't, I can't bear it!"

"Bear it!  Vent it all on me--tell me how you hate me."

"Be quiet, Hugh," interposed James, sternly, as he saw that Arthur grew
whiter and whiter.  "The least you can do is not to distress him now.
This is too much;" as poor Arthur, after vainly attempting to speak,
burst into tears.  "Oh, mother," as Mrs Crichton came hurriedly into
the room, "Arthur must be quiet now."

But Arthur turned as she went towards him, hardly seeing her son--of
whose special interest in the matter she was quite unconscious--and
threw his arms round her, and laid his head on her shoulder, letting his
grief have free course at last, while she tenderly soothed him and drew
him down by her on the sofa.

"Never mind, Jem," she said; "leave him to me; this is the best thing
that can happen.  My poor boy!"

Hugh looked at them for a moment, then turned and went away by himself.

PART THREE, CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

DARK DAYS.

  "Then he sat down, sad and speechless,
  At the feet of Minnehaha--
  At the feet of Laughing Water--
  At those willing feet that never
  More would lightly run to meet him,
  Never more would lightly follow.
  Then they buried Minnehaha."

There was very little to be done at Redhurst during the few sad days
that followed.  Mysie's fortune was inherited by a second cousin on her
father's side--a middle-aged clergyman, who had never seen her, and who
was the father of a large young family, and the letter to announce her
death to him was almost the only one of any imperative consequence as a
matter of business, while it was a very simple statement of a flairs
which Hugh must hand over to him when he came to the funeral, which was
fixed for the Saturday morning.  A heavier cloud could hardly have
descended on any household; but Mrs Spencer Crichton was a person of
strong nerves; and, deep and sincere as was her sorrow, it was not quite
the desolation that it must have been had Mysie been her own child.  She
was able to stay with Arthur till his first agony had a little subsided,
and he murmured something about "Hugh."

"Do you want him, my dear?"

"No; but he will want you."

"Oh yes, presently.  Don't you trouble yourself, Arty.  You can tell us
by-and-by if there is anything you wish.  But I will go if you like to
be alone.  Shall I tell Hugh anything?"

Arthur felt quite incapable of any explanation; it was an effort even to
think of Hugh; his grief was utterly crushing and overwhelming.

"Give him my love," he said.

His aunt thought it rather an odd message; but she did not wish to tease
Arthur with talking, and she knew that it was quite useless to attempt
to comfort him, and so left him alone.  She encountered James hanging
about the hall, looking forlorn and frightened.

"Oh, mamma," he said, "I don't know what is to be done."

"He is better now," said Mrs Crichton, "and I think it is best to leave
him quiet."

"I'm not thinking about him.  It's Hugh."

"Hugh?"

"Don't you know, mother, how it was?"  And James, as well as he could,
repeated the substance of what had passed at the inquest.

"My dear," said Mrs Crichton, with energy, "I should never allow such a
thing to be repeated.  Don't say a word about it, and it will die out of
their minds.  I shouldn't think of regarding it from that point of view.
Why, it's enough to drive them both mad."

"But it's true, mother," said Jem, gloomily.  "True?  Not at all; those
things rest on the turn of a hair, and Hugh must not be allowed to dwell
on it.  Where is he?"

Even in the midst of his misery James could hardly help smiling at his
mother's view.

"He shut himself into his room," he said.

"Of course, he might work himself up into thinking anything his fault.
It was _not_ his fault.  It is a matter which entirely depends on the
way in which you regard it; I could not think why he was on Arthur's
mind--he sent him his love."

"Did he?  Oh, he is very--generous," said James, much affected.  "Oh,
mother, mother, to think of his life yesterday and _now_!  No wonder
Hugh is half mad."

Mrs Crichton cried irrepressibly for a few minutes.  "Jem, she was the
sunshine of the place.  My dear little girl!  But I can't allow Hugh to
take it in the way you speak of, and I beg you never to put it in such a
point of view."

Mrs Crichton rose as she spoke, and went upstairs to her son's room.
Jem followed, totally unable to understand her conduct.  He forgot that
his confused half-hinted story was not the same thing as the actual
scene, or as Hugh's brief, bitter narration of it, and could not make
the same impression.  Mrs Crichton knocked, but hardly waited for an
answer.  Hugh stood facing them.

"Am I wanted?" he said.

"Why yes, my dear, of course.  Who else can settle things but you.  Poor
Arthur can think of nothing."

"He must not be troubled," said Hugh, "I will come at once."

"That is right.  I was perfectly certain that you would not give way to
any such foolish morbid notions as Jem suggests; they can only cause far
more distress to Arthur and to us all.  He sent you his love--"

"He need not have done _that_," said Hugh, in a hard, cold voice, though
he trembled so much that he was obliged to sit down.  "Mother, you are
mistaken; I, and only I, am to blame.  All this wretchedness has been
caused by my temper and presumption.  Just a moment's ill-temper," he
added, with intense bitterness.

"That is exactly what I say, my dear.  You make matters worse by
exaggerating.  No one would think of such a thing but yourself.  Turn
your back at once on the thought.  There is quite enough to break all
our hearts without that."

It is not always wise to ignore passionate feeling, even when it is
supposed to be unreasonable.  Hugh felt keenly that his mother gave him
no sympathy in the trial which he believed to be more bitter than that
of Arthur, whom he had seen her soothe and caress.  He had neither the
tact to conceive nor the unselfishness to carry out the idea that, as
the miserable truth _did_ greatly add to the pain of all concerned, it
would be better to bury it and his remorse in his own breast.  Rather
would he do penance for it in every way that he could.

"There is enough to break hearts," he said, "and it is through my means
they are broken.  But don't fear that I shall shrink from anything that
has to be done.  There is no need that Arthur should see me."

"Arthur must rest, and you too, Hugh," interposed James.  "There is
nothing very pressing.  Go to bed, you were up all night--do, now,
there's a good fellow."

"Thank you, I want no rest," said Hugh.  "If mother likes I will come
and write letters and settle matters now."

"Yes, my dear, that will be best," said Mrs Crichton, "and will help
you to recover your balance better."

Hugh thought his mother unfeeling; Arthur clung to her as his kindest
comforter.  She thoroughly understood and acknowledged the one grief,
and it was such that no one could turn their backs on it; but Mrs
Crichton was a person whom nature had gifted with an almost over-amount
of that rare quality, a tendency to make the best of things.  It was her
nature to ignore grief where it was possible, to smoothe it over and
hide it, to seize on its most tolerable side; and she could not
understand Hugh's impulse to drink the cup to the dregs.  Her mind went
on, even in these first sad days, to plans for a little lightening the
cloud that covered them; and she was not a person who could sympathise
with an unhappiness of which she did not thoroughly admit the necessity,
or the duration of which she thought extreme.  Moreover, there was some
sense in the view that least said was soonest mended, as far as Hugh was
concerned, and that the unhappy words which had accompanied the fatal
shot were best forgotten.  Here James agreed with her.  He had more
power of realising the feelings of those around him; but the black
oppression was very trying to his kindly nature, and, in the intervals
of being as kind and helpful as he knew how, would creep out into the
shrubbery with a book or his pipe, or get a little taste of the outside
world by answering enquiries or undertaking commissions.  Hugh did
everything that was necessary, and did not renew the discussion; but he
avoided Arthur entirely, and looked so worn out with misery as to excite
the pity of everyone who saw him.  He pictured to himself the dread that
Arthur must have of meeting him, till his own dread grew so intense that
nothing but his sense that he deserved any and every punishment could
have induced him to face the hour when they must stand side by side at
Mysie's grave.

The truth was that Arthur had hardly thought about him at all, had
scarcely noticed that when he occasionally came downstairs or sat on the
terrace Hugh was not there.  His own future life had not yet come before
him; the causes that had so changed it were all swallowed up in the
great fact of the change.  It was of Mysie that he thought hour after
hour, of her face and her voice and her sweet eyes, and of every word
and look they had exchanged during their brief and sweet betrothal.  He
was very gentle and grateful for the kindness shown him, and his
habitual unselfishness made him considerate of all the rest; but, though
there was a sort of surface readiness to be comforted about him, nothing
really touched him much.  They were all very kind, but he loved none of
them with the intense and personal love which only could have gone to
his heart then.  He made no effort to hide or deny his sorrow, admitting
it simply; but he did not talk much about Mysie, and not at all about
himself.  He did not seem conscious of any want of occupation, though he
did little or nothing, and suffered less physically than might have been
expected after such a shock.  But that awful scene which seemed to have
burnt itself in on Hugh's eyeballs as yet scarcely haunted Arthur--
partly because he had acted in it, not seen it; but more entirely
because he was so much absorbed in his sorrow that he had not begun to
think of how it had come about.  They said he bore it beautifully,
because he uttered no outcries against fate and could smile when people
were kind to him; but, in truth, his spirit was too much crushed for
rebellion; even his own loneliness and changed life had hardly yet come
before him.  At night, or when he had been long alone, his first sense
of unreality would again recur to him and the truth come upon him in its
first freshness as he met the sad faces of the others, or as he looked
on the face, not sad, but still and fair, of his lost love.  On that
face Hugh never looked; but it was as Arthur knelt beside her that he
saw Mr Harcourt again.  The old rector laid his hands on his head, and
once more repeated the blessing he had given him so short a time before.

"She will have fifty happy years, my boy," he said.

"But I--but I--" and poor Arthur hurried away, utterly overpowered,
though afterwards he tried to say something to James about "Mr
Harcourt's kindness, and there was one thing he wished."

"Anything you wish, Arthur.  What is it?"

"That Sunday," said Arthur--as if, poor fellow, it had been some day
last year--"they sang a hymn, and she spoke of it.  If, to-morrow--"

"I remember," said Jem.  "Yes, we'll have it.  Mr Crofton has come," he
added.

"Has he?  I think I ought to come down and see him."

"Hugh is there," said James.

"Oh, yes, but I shouldn't leave it all to him," said Arthur, as he
prepared to come down, evidently caring little either way for Hugh's
presence, and less for his own heavy eyes and white face.  He did not
heed who saw the tokens of a grief that could surprise no one.  He
wanted to show respect to Mysie's cousin.  Mr Crofton was a kind,
sensible-looking clergyman, and when James said nervously: "This is my
cousin Arthur, Mr Crofton," he could hardly utter a commonplace
greeting as he pressed the hand Arthur held out to him.

Hugh set his mouth hard and sat quite still in his corner.  Arthur said
simply: "I am glad to see you, Mr Crofton," and sat down by Hugh on the
sofa, but without giving him any special greeting; and then asked some
little question about Mr Crofton's journey.

Mr Crofton had two or three sons, and as many daughters.  He held a
small living, and he had never seen the little cousin whose fortune he
had inherited; but as he heard Arthur's gentle, courteous voice, and saw
his young face with its heavy shadows, he felt as if the inevitable
sense of relief that had come to him at the first had been a deadly sin.
He hardly knew to whom to address himself, but before Arthur's arrival
he had managed to make them understand that all Mysie's personal
property, all her ornaments, every relic of herself, must still belong
to those who had loved and lost her; and Mrs Crichton now spoke a
little of how much she had been loved, and how many tokens of grief had
been shown both by rich and poor.

"There will be crowds to-morrow," she said.

"That can be put a stop to," said Hugh, suddenly.

"My dear Hugh!  Surely not!"

"I should not have thought you would have wished to gratify idle
curiosity.  Under the circumstances we cannot keep it too much to
ourselves," said Hugh, unable to bear the thought of meeting the eyes of
all the village.

"I should like everyone to come who wishes it," said Arthur.

"It was for your sake I spoke," said Hugh.

"I?  I shall not mind!  There are so many who--who--I am sure Mr
Crofton will excuse me now," he added abruptly, as he got up and went
away.

"You forget," said Hugh, "how public all this has become.  We shall have
newspaper reporters and all the tag-rag of Oxley."

"It cannot be helped," said his mother, "and you should not put it into
Arthur's head to mind it."

"He will not care," said Hugh; "why should he?  He will have plenty of
sympathy from them all."

"He will not care, indeed," said James, indignantly.

James was wrong.  When Arthur saw lane and churchyard and church itself
filled with those who had loved Mysie the sense of sympathy struck no
discordant note, just as the blue unclouded sky and the happy sunlight
did not mock his sorrow, but seemed only a fitting tribute to her happy
life.  Arthur felt a sense of friendly fellow-feeling, as if the love
and the flowers and the sunlight were part of the brightness he could
hardly feel to be gone for ever; but he could not have described
afterwards one tearful face, one flowery wreath--perhaps he hardly
distinguished one word in the solemn service, which yet he felt to be
right and fitting, and which did soothe him with a sense of union with
Mysie, and of the existence of a support of which he might one day take
hold.

But Hugh's intense self-consciousness gave to everything the vivid and
yet weird distinctness of objects seen in an electric light.  Every sob
that he heard, every token of affection, seemed to him a reproach.  He
was conscious of Arthur's every movement, and of every anxious look
which his mother and James cast at him; he realised far more intensely
than his cousin how pitiful it was that the earth should fall on this
bright young creature, and that her story should break off short in the
early chapters.  He realised this till the tears came to his eyes, and,
though he was probably the only person present who cared whether his
grief were noticed or not, everyone went home to say how vain his
efforts at self-control had been.

The long day was over; they had parted with Mr Crofton, Arthur showing
him the little attentions that Hugh wondered he could recollect at such
a moment--the week which seemed to join on to no other weeks was over,
and they must begin life again.  Any change was welcome to Hugh's
restlessness; and to the others--Jem especially--the lightening of the
outward signs of mourning, the resumption of ordinary habits, was a
relief.  But to Arthur it brought the first sense of irretrievable loss,
the first necessity for any effort to put aside the grief which he had
borne, indeed, without resistance, but under which he could not stand
upright.

For the first time he shrank from them all, for the first time the
sunlight seemed cruel, and kind words like blows; the Sunday bells
brought memories that he could not bear, and he shut himself into his
room, only begging to be left there in peace.  Hugh went to church with
the younger ones--what right had he to spare himself any pain?

The day turned chilly and gloomy, and they gathered in the drawing-room
in the afternoon.  George and Frederica went to church again for the
sake of something to do; but they could not go to the Rectory
afterwards, and came home to find their aunt, James, and Miss Venning
gathered round a small, unaccustomed-looking fire, with some tea on the
table, while Hugh sat at the far end of the long room by himself.

"How is Arthur?" asked Frederica.

"He has a bad headache," replied James.

"Do you think he is going to be ill, Jem?"

"Oh, no; I hope not.  I don't think it's likely."

"Mother," said Hugh, coming forward, "Arthur ought to go away somewhere
at once."

"Yes," said Mrs Crichton, "I think he should.  We all must as soon as
we can manage it."

"Yes," said Hugh, with a sudden sense of relief, "and I would go to the
Bank house and stay there."

"I don't see any need for that.  Miss Venning and I have been talking.
I thought we might all go to the sea till the holidays were over.  Miss
Venning kindly promises to come with us, and then she would take Freddie
back as a boarder for the next term--poor child, it is too sad for her
here."

"Oh, auntie, I had much rather be sad," interposed Frederica, with a
burst of tears.

"No, darling--nonsense.  I could not have that.  Jem, I suppose, must go
back to town."

"On Thursday," said Jem.

"But I am sure the rest of us had better keep together."

"I shall be much too busy to leave home," said Hugh, with an emphasis
that made Jem smile.  "I shall do very well by myself."

Mrs Crichton began to discuss the rival merits of Hastings and
Brighton, while Hugh went back to his place, and James and Miss Venning
exchanged a few words as to how far the arrangement would be good for
Arthur, when, rather to their surprise, Arthur himself came in.

He sat down on the sofa by his aunt, and she asked him tenderly if his
head was better.

"Oh, yes, thank you.  How cold it is--the lire looks pleasant."

"You must have some tea--Freddie!"  But Freddie's tears choked her and
upset her aunt too; while Miss Venning hastily interposed and poured out
the tea.  Arthur got up and handed it, and tried to make a little talk,
seconded by Jem, till Mrs Crichton said:

"My dear boy, we have been talking about going away.  It will be good
for you to have a change."

"I don't want to go away," said Arthur, languidly.

"My dear, it would never do for you to stay here.  We all want the
break."

"Why do you urge him to do anything he does not like?" said Hugh, so
abruptly as to make Arthur start.

"Hugh!  I did not see you!" he said.

"I am going out.  Mother, there is no need for Arthur to go away unless
he likes."

"But, Hugh, nothing could be so bad for health or spirits as staying
here."

"I daresay Aunt Lily is right, Hugh," said Arthur, as if he wanted to
stop the discussion.  "But, you see, I don't quite know where I could go
to."

"Why, with us, my dear, to be sure," said Mrs Crichton, as she
explained the plan proposed.  "Should you like it, Arthur?"

"Oh, yes.  I daresay it would do quite well.  Please don't talk about
it," he added, more fretfully than he often spoke, "at least not now."

Hugh saw that well-intentioned consolation or cheering would only worry
the poor boy, who was not able to respond to it, and that he was hardly
fit even for the change proposed; and for a moment the thought flashed
across him of how he would devote himself to soothe Arthur's grief if he
could have him to himself for a little, how he, of his own bitter
experience, would know how to treat the fitful spirits that would only
perplex the rest.  Only for a moment; the next he thought how
intolerable the sight of that grief would be, and how his own unwelcome
presence must increase it.

"You must do just as you like," he repeated as he went out of the room.
As he walked up and down on the terrace outside he saw Arthur wander
away from the others and sit down on the distant sofa that he had left.
Presently Snap followed him, and jumped up on his lap.  Arthur coaxed
and caressed him, and played with him in a sad, aimless sort of fashion,
and at last laid his head back on the cushions, with the dog nestling
against him.  Hugh watched every weary, restless movement with an
intensity of sympathy that seemed to feel how the temples throbbed and
the eyes ached, and how the wretchedness seemed to increase every hour.
And yet he could not say one gentle, tender word.  At last the stillness
proved that Arthur had fallen asleep--worn out, perhaps, with the
excitement of the day before.  But Hugh paced up and down in the chilly,
windy twilight, and longed for the time when they would all have gone
and he would be left to himself.

PART THREE, CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

FLOSSY.

  "And life looks dark
  Where walked we friend with friend."

A great sorrow affects the lives of many other people besides those most
immediately concerned, and this not only in the greater or lesser
degrees of grief that it may cause, or in the change which it may make
in more than one set of circumstances, but in the fact that no great
event can come within our ken without presenting life in a new aspect
and more or less making a change in ourselves.

Redhurst was changed, utterly and for ever, by Mysie Crofton's death;
and with the change in Redhurst there came a great change to many
another homestead, a great piece of brightness and pleasantness went out
of many lives.

The old Rector and his wife would miss her when they gathered their
flowers and ate their fruit; the village girls would miss her at church
and at school; her own schoolfellows in far-away homes would sadden at
the tidings; and Florence Venning might well grieve for the loss of her
best-loved pupil and friend.

She grieved for her, when once her senses were set free from the
stupefying shock of the sudden tidings, with all the energy of her
energetic nature.  She sorrowed, as she worked and as she rejoiced--with
all her might.  It was holiday time, and she had no duties to distract
her.  Miss Venning was at Redhurst.  Clarissa, though somewhat appalled
by the violence of her grief, could think of no better course to pursue
than to let her alone; and Flossy, all the first day, shut herself into
her room, and wept and sobbed, feeling as if the world had come to an
end for her and for everyone she cared about.  It was the first grief
that she had ever realised, for she had been too young to feel acutely
her parents' death; and, perhaps, the fact that it was not exactly her
own grief, greatly as it grieved her, made her, as the days went by,
more prone to moralise about it.  She had seen sorrow, read about it,
thought about it, and tried to comfort it.  She was not particularly
ignorant of the world; their large school connection brought her into
contact with many events and many people; and parish work, seriously
pursued, teaches girls more of the realities of life than is commonly
supposed.  She had sympathised with great sorrows, understood great
difficulties, and yet now for the first time the sense came to her of
what those sorrows had been.  How had she dared to try to comfort those
who were feeling as she now felt, and not only as she felt, but as she
now understood those nearer and dearer must feel.  _This_ was sorrow.
Could even she take comfort in the thoughts she herself had often
suggested; and what comfort could they be to her unhappy friends?

She had often said that the only comfort in sorrow was religion.  Now
she knew what sorrow meant; did she know what religion meant too?  It
was a matter of course in these days that so intelligent and so
earnest-minded a girl should care about the subject; and Flossy was not
only critical of different shades of Church opinion, but held her own
with great ardour and no want of reality, impressing them strongly on
the young girls whom she sought to influence, and possibly arguing about
them more forcibly than meekly.  More than this, she dutifully followed
the practices and principles they enjoined.  And now what did her
religion do for her?  Perhaps she did not altogether realise the Help to
which she looked, but, at least, she felt the necessity of it to the
very bottom of her soul.  She had not herself sounded the depths of
grief, she did not soar to the heights of consolation; but at least she
looked the grief and the great Comfort full in the face.

But Flossy's thoughts were soon turned away from herself to those more
immediately concerned.  She envied Miss Venning her place among them,
and cared for nothing but the accounts she sent of the life at Redhurst
from day to day.

Little as she guessed it, there was something in the wild mournful
pathos of the story, in the picturesqueness of its incidents, in the
admiration which Arthur's reported gentleness and patience inspired,
that did lift it into the regions of romance, and made its exceeding
pitifulness a little more bearable to one so young as Flossy, as long as
she was not brought into actual contact with it; something that
harmonised with the truer and deeper consolation that came with the
thought of Mysie's goodness and innocence, and that made that sunshiny
funeral, with its scent of flowers, its sound of music, and its crowd of
young faces, a time not absolutely miserable; a recollection that might
soften into tenderness, and brighten, perhaps, to the perfect day.  But
it was with a sense of nothing but the absolute piteous reality of loss
and change that she walked up to Redhurst with Clarissa to wish them all
goodbye before the final break-up of the household, becoming conscious
of nothing but the determination not to cry and so add to the pain with
which they might meet her.  She forgot how well they were accustomed to
the atmosphere of sorrow that struck on her with such a chill; and when
Mrs Crichton, seeing her agitation, caressed her and spoke tenderly of
her love for their lost darling, Flossy felt as if everyone but herself
were capable of efforts of unselfish self-control.  While she was
listening to James's explanation of their future plans, and how he had
got his leave extended for a day or two to see them off to Bournemouth,
suddenly, without warning, Arthur came into the room.  She had not
expected to see him, and as he came forward rather hastily and took her
hand, colouring up a little, she wondered that he looked so like
himself.

"I did not know you were here," he said, and then she heard how the life
and ring had gone out of his voice.  She could not speak a word, and
turned quite white, a strange thing in the pink-faced Flossy.

"Did you want me, Arthur?" said James.  "No, I don't want anything,
thank you."  He turned away to speak to Clarissa, and Flossy moved into
the window, and stood looking out and seeing nothing.  Presently she
heard Arthur's voice at her side.

"Flossy, I wish to give you this.  Aunt Lily thinks you would like it."

Flossy looked, and saw by the shape of the case in his hand that it
contained some turquoise ornaments which Mysie had been very fond of
wearing.

"Oh, no, no, Arthur," she burst out, vehement and outspoken as ever,
even then; "not those.  I never, _never_ could put them on.  I have her
old school-books and some music.  I want nothing."

"But keep this," he said, "I know _she_ would have wished it."

Flossy yielded then.  She took hold of Arthur's hand and squeezed it
hard, but she could not speak of her own grief in the presence of his;
and he soon moved away, as if he had done what he wanted to do and was
indifferent to anything else.

"Flossy," whispered Frederica, "come out with me.  Oh," she continued,
as they came into the garden, "I shall be so glad to go to Bournemouth.
It is dreadful here.  Only I can't think what we shall do with Arthur--
Aunt Lily and I.  He likes best to be with Jem, or quite alone."

"Mary told us how beautifully he behaves."

"Oh, yes; but it is so difficult to know what he likes.  Hugh, there's
Hugh!"

Taken utterly by surprise Flossy started, with a half-shrinking
movement, and, though she recovered herself in a moment and held out her
hand, Hugh turned away as if he had not meant to be seen, and was gone
at once.

"There!" cried Frederica, passionately; "_You_ feel it too!  They may
say what they like.  I hate him, and so does George; and I wish he would
go away and never come back!"

"That is not right, Freddie.  I ought not to have started--it must be
worst of all for him."

"I don't believe it!  I know just how it was; Hugh is so conceited, and
so interfering!  He ought to be sorry and to know we all hate the sight
of him."

Frederica's intolerant girlish harshness gave Flossy a shock.

"Hugh," she said; "whatever you think, what Hugh must feel is far beyond
and above anything we can understand, and we must not talk about `ought'
and `ought not.'"

"Aunt Lily says it is nonsense to say he had anything to do with it; but
I know he thinks so himself."

"Then, that is enough, without your discussing it," said Flossy, with a
sense of irreverence in thus roughly handling events so terrible.  She
_did_ shrink at the thought of Hugh, but she would not have said so for
the world.

Frederica was silenced, but she and her younger brother indulged
secretly in much discussion and comment, the excitement of which
relieved their dreary hours a little; and Hugh felt the little pricks
their childish displeasure gave him.  That Arthur showed none of it he
attributed to a determination to avoid paining him.  Had not Florence
Venning shrunk away from him?  Jem had fallen into Mrs Crichton's
policy of refusing to recognise any special reason for his unhappiness,
and was taken up in softening matters as far as possible for Arthur; so
that he was only too thankful to talk occasionally to his brother on
other subjects, and with stifling slight pangs of regret that he had
used up all his leave without that little run down to the cathedral town
where Archdeacon Hayward resided, and without that Sunday when he went
to church with Miss Helen and indulged his distant admiration for her.

On the afternoon after Flossy's visit he remained in the drawing-room
alone, readings the paper, for the others had dispersed.  Jem sometimes
wrote as well as read the papers, and as he perused an art-critique,
from which he differed fundamentally, an answer to adorn the pages of
the rival journal began to seethe in his brain.  He could not help
feeling that tones and tints, lights and shades, on canvas, would be a
great relief from the overpowering feelings of real life.  He murmured
to himself: "If accuracy of drawing and truth of colour are to be
sacrificed to a--to a meretricious prettiness and a false--"

"Oh, Jem, look here, read this!" exclaimed Arthur, coming hastily up to
him with a letter in his hand.  "Don't you remember Fred Seton, who went
to India?"

"What, a light-haired fellow, who came to see you one Christmas?  Yes,
what of him?"

"He has been very ill; he is coming home on sick-leave.  He wants me to
meet him at Marseilles."

James remembered dimly that Arthur had always entertained a strong
friendship for this Fred Seton, and had greatly regretted his going to
India some two or three years before.  He read the letter, which was
written evidently in bad health and spirits and in ignorance of Arthur's
engagement, begging him, if possible, to come out and meet him.

"You know, Jem, his people are all dead.  He is such a lonely fellow--I
must go."

"But, Arthur, it's such a dreary errand for you just now," said James.
"If Seton should be worse when you meet him--or you yourself--"

"I shall not be ill, if that is what you mean.  And, Jem, it would be
_some_ object.  What could I do with myself at Bournemouth?"

"No, that's true," said James.  "I feel that.  But, my dear boy, I don't
like your going away alone to meet no one knows what, when you want
looking after so much yourself."

"No one can help me," said Arthur.  "What _can_ my life be to me?
You're all so good, but the light has gone down for me.  Let me go; it
will be change--something to look forward to.  And I am quite well.  I
can eat and sleep.  I could walk any distance.  I must go."

"Well, I suppose you must, but mother will hate the notion."

"Will you talk her over?  Somehow, I can't bear to be talked to about
myself."  James found his task very difficult.  Mrs Crichton naturally
entertained a thousand fears for Arthur's health and spirits, but he was
reinforced by Hugh.

"Let him go; of course, if he wishes it.  If he _can_ care for any fresh
object it will be the best cure.  Let him do exactly as he likes now and
henceforward.  I daresay the change will distract his mind and do him
good."

They were kind words, but there was something hard and sarcastic in the
tone in which they were uttered.

"I wish you could have a change too," said Jem, looking at him.

"Changes don't make much difference to me," said Hugh; "perhaps they may
to Arthur."

Mrs Crichton had resolved that the division of poor Mysie's little
belongings should be made at once, and she was right in thinking that it
would cost Arthur far less pain now than at any future time.  There was
no use, she thought, in allowing haunting memories to have a local
habitation; and she secretly determined that, during their absence, the
house should so be rearranged as to leave no sacred corners; while there
was nothing startling _now_ in the sight of Mysie's books and jewels,
when all their hearts were full of Mysie herself.

Arthur was grateful for having been allowed to have his own way so
easily, but even while he arranged his journey with Jem, and felt how
intolerable the Bournemouth scheme would have been to him, his heart
almost failed him--the long journey seemed such a trouble--and how
utterly, how immeasurably sad this turning away from his old life made
him!  For, young as he was, the loss was as the loss of a wife--it was
the dividing of that which had been whole, the changing of every detail
of his days.  It was not disappointed passion: what lay before him was
not life with a dark painful memory in one corner of it; it was life
under conditions of which he had never dreamed.  It was not that his old
delights and hopes had become distasteful, but that they had ceased to
exist.  He had decided to go to London with Jem, starting late on the
Friday evening, and go on to Marseilles on the Saturday; and on the
Friday afternoon Hugh, coming back from the bank, found him alone in
the drawing-room, sitting there with a mournful, unoccupied look that
went to his heart.

"He will be gone soon," thought Hugh, with a sense of infinite relief.
However, he came forward, and said:

"I wanted to ask you, Arthur, have you money enough for this journey?"

"Oh, yes, thank you; quite enough for the present."

"You have only to ask for what you want--of my mother if you like it
better."

"I'll ask you," said Arthur, gently.  "I hope you'll write to me
sometimes."

"If you wish it."

"And, Hugh, will you have this?  It was your present to her, I believe."

He held out to him a little prettily-bound book, a collection of poetry
of which Mysie had been very fond.

"You are very good to me," said Hugh, almost inaudibly and with bent
head, not taking the book.

"Hugh," said Arthur, evidently with great effort, "I don't feel as you
suppose.  I cannot speak of--of that--"

"No, no, don't, don't speak of it.  I know what you feel," interposed
Hugh.  "Don't force yourself to anything else for me."

The long strain on his nerves had made poor Arthur much less capable of
self-control than at first; and though he succeeded in saying, as he put
his hand on Hugh's: "I don't force myself; you could not help it"--the
shudder of horror at the bare allusion to the fact might well be
mistaken by Hugh for a struggle to perform an act of forgiveness.  It
was agony to Hugh to see him suffer; but, if he could have forgotten
that and tried to soothe the suffering, the misapprehension would have
passed away and the real sympathy between them have comforted both.  As
it was, he felt a pang of humiliation, and was relieved when James's
entrance spared him the need of a reply; though he knew that his brother
would blame him for Arthur's obvious agitation.  As James began to talk,
half-coaxingly, about the arrangements for their start, and finally
carried Arthur off to have something to eat, the thought that came into
Hugh's mind, spite of himself, was: "He need not wish to change with me,
after all."

PART FOUR, CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

CHANCE AND CHANGE.

  "Fresh woods and pastures new!"

PART FOUR, CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

PRIVATE THEATRICALS.

  "But a trouble weighed upon her
  And perplexed her night and morn,
  With the burden of an honour
  Unto which she was not born."

Between the date of Hugh Crichton's return from Italy and the day when
he was left alone to set up for himself in the old Bank House barely two
months elapsed.  Those days that had been for Arthur and Mysie so sweet,
so rich and full, had been long days indeed, the long days of summer,
but they had been very few in number, so few that the first tints of
autumn had not touched the trees when they were over, though the roses
had been fully in bloom when they began.  It was still summer, they were
still long hot days, when Mysie was buried, and Arthur set forth on his
solitary journey, and Florence Venning turned back to her usual pursuits
and wished the holidays over, that some sort of life and interest might
come back to the Manor again.  It was an endless summer, Hugh thought,
as he was left alone to reflect on all that it had brought to him, and
wondered--in the intervals of wondering how Arthur managed to shift for
himself, and how far change of scene would affect his trouble--in
between whiles he wondered if the opera season at Civita Bella were over
and the manager and his _prima donna_ had had time for their wedding.

It was a long summer, too, in Civita Bella, for Violante had to live
through the days though Hugh Crichton was gone; there were still seven
in each week, and they brought many incidents with them.

She had offended Signor Vasari--not mortally, perhaps; not without hope
of restoration to his favour; but so that he determined to punish her
and her family by the temporary withdrawal of his suit.  With all her
shortcomings she was too valuable to him, and perhaps he was too much in
love with her, for an entire break, but he intended to make her feel his
displeasure.  Her failures were no longer treated with indulgence, and
her stage-life was made indeed hard to her.  Perhaps in so acting he
gave her a shield against his pertinacity, in the passionate resentment
which such conduct excited; and, had this been the only battle which
Violante had to fight, there might have been fire enough in her nature
to help her through with it.  She could not be scornful, but she could
be utterly, passively indifferent, absolutely unconscious of the little
flags of truce he now and then held out, careless whether he praised or
blamed.  So she appeared at first; but, though she was not much afraid
of Signor Vasari, she was very much afraid of her own father, and, in
these languid weary days, she often justly incurred his displeasure.

When Hugh turned away in anger, she felt as if nothing could ever matter
to her again; but the habit of seeing professional engagements fulfilled
at all costs all her life, and knowing that no amount of disinclination
made it possible to break them, prevented her, there being no perversity
in her nature, from giving way to her longing for quiet and rest.

But, though she did everything that she was told to do, a sort of dead
weight of incapacity seemed to have fallen upon her.  She forgot the
music that she had learnt already, and a fresh part she was utterly
unable to master.  She gave her time to it, but with no result.  Rosa
did not wonder that Signor Mattei exclaimed, in a transport of
indignation, that he had never had so perverse a pupil as his own
daughter.  Every performance seemed to cost Violante more and to be less
successful than the last, and the private rehearsals on which Signor
Mattei insisted were worst of all, since she could scarcely speak, much
less act, in his presence.

There they were one morning: Signor Mattei with an opera score in his
hand, singing, acting, dancing about, scolding, gesticulating, running
his hands through his hair; and Violante, white, trembling, and
motionless, with her little hands dropped before her and her eyes
utterly blank; Rosa, who had had a hard time of it of late, at work in a
corner.  She had not been in the habit of seeing Violante practise her
acting, as her father had only recently insisted on these private
performances, and they were a revelation to her of the extent of her
sister's incapacity.

"What possesses the child," she thought, herself almost angry.  "If I
had half her voice, let alone her beauty, I would have sung every
soprano part on the stage by this time!  Ah, if I only had!  She _is_
stupid.  It must be sheer fright.  Oh dear! there she is singing that
coquettish bit like a dirge.  What will father say to her?  I wonder if
I could make her see how to do it--it seems such incredible incapacity.
And she is not in good voice either--how should she be, poor child?"

And Rosa's lips moved, and her face assumed half-unconsciously the
expression appropriate to the part.

"Violante!  It is incredible, most incredible.  Here am I a lamb of
meekness and mildness.  I am not going to beat you, child.  Santa
Madonna!  I really believe I could; you are as obstinate as a mule.
Laugh, child, laugh--smile; you can do that.  Eleven o'clock!  I must go
to my pupils, and I am tired to death already.  Don't tell me you have
tried--No, Rosa--no excuses.  See that she knows it better when I come
back;" and, flinging the score across the room in his irritation, Signor
Mattei departed.

"Oh, Violante!" exclaimed Rosa, "what can possess you?  I have seen you
do it a thousand times better than that."

Violante stood where her father had left her, with scared stupid eyes
and listless figure.  She turned slowly, and, sitting down on the floor
by Rosa's side, laid her head against her knee, as if stillness and
silence were all she cared for.  Rosa was afraid to probe to the bottom
of her distress; what could she say about Hugh that could do any good?
That must be left to time, and she must address herself to the matter in
hand.

"Come now," she said, cheerfully, "how is it that you sang so badly this
morning?"

"I don't know," said Violante, "it is always so."

"Is it because father frightens you?"

"That makes it worse--but I cannot understand what he wants."

"Well, Violante, I don't think you can.  And yet it seems so easy.  Oh,
dear, if I had your voice--"

"I wish you had it!"

"Hugh--I won't have you say that; but it seems so strange.  Why, don't
you _want_ to say the words rightly?"

"Oh, yes!" said Violante, misunderstanding.

"I mean," cried Rosa, eagerly, "don't you feel as if you _were_ Zerlina,
as if it had all happened to yourself--doesn't it seem real to you?"

"No!"

"Why, it carries me away even to see you do it.  Why!  I could express
_so_ all sorts of feelings.  Don't you know, Violante, there is so much
within us that cannot come out, and art--music--acting is a means of
expressing it.  I should feel myself that _I_--I myself--had offended my
lover, and wanted to coax him to be friends.  Don't you see?"

"I never would!" said Violante, half to herself.  "I never could!"

"I don't believe you have a scrap of imagination," cried Rosa, growing
excited.

"Of course, it is not the same thing.  Can't you translate your feelings
into the other girl's nature.  You _have_ feelings.  Now I would show
through my acting all that must be buried else.  When I came to happy
scenes acting them would be something like happiness, sad ones would be
a relief, and if--only if--Violante, I had ever cared for anyone, I
should know how to say those words, and even the shadow of the past
would be sweet--"

"Oh, Rosa," faltered Violante, hot and shame-faced, "as if _he_ could
remind me--"

Rosa came suddenly down from her tirade, perceiving how utterly it fell
flat.

"My darling, I meant nothing to distress you.  If you don't understand
me, never mind."

"But," she added, half to herself, "if you had the soul of an actress in
you, you would."

"Do you think, Rosa," said Violante, after a pause, in low reflective
accents, "that anyone _could_ be coaxed to make friends?"

"Why, yes, I suppose so," said Rosa, lightly.  "You see it succeeded in
the case of Masetto."

"That is only a play," said Violante, in a tone of contempt.

"Ah, well, Violante, real life certainly doesn't work itself out quite
like a play.  But it was of plays we were talking, you know."

"Yes.  Rosa mia, I am not so silly but that I can tell the difference
between my own acting and other people's.  It is not only that I am
frightened--and unhappy--it is that I cannot do it.  Do you think I
could ever learn how?"

There was not a shade of pique or of mortified pride in the anxious,
humble question, and Rosa could not help fancying that even in sweet
Violante nothing but utter indifference and incapacity could have made
failure so endurable.

"Well," she said, "I don't suppose you will ever make a great hand at
it; but I should think you might get to act well enough not to spoil
your singing if you were stronger and less frightened."

"Can you tell me--I am sure you could act?"

"Yes," said Rosa, with a colour in her cheeks, and an odd light in her
eyes, "I believe--I am sure I could.  But I have no voice, there is no
good in it.  I never think of it now.  However, stand up.  Just sing
through Masetto's part, and I will be Zerlina.  I know the music, but I
shall croak like a raven.  Now, then."

In another moment Violante started with surprise, for, without change of
dress, Rosa seemed to have disappeared, and the half-coquettish,
half-penitent peasant-girl, who, bewildered for a moment by Don
Giovanni's flatteries, still is at heart faithful to her own lover, was
there in her stead.  She ran up to the amazed Violante, face and gesture
full of pathetic entreaty.  True, her voice was weak and harsh, but a
hundred bits of byplay, which Violante had never dreamed of, seemed to
come by nature--her face flushed, her eyes beamed.

"Rosa, it is marvellous!  How can you do it?"

"Oh," said Rosa, recalled, "I am only showing you.  Don't you see?--Now,
do you try."

"No, no--go on.  The scene with Don Giovanni, that is what I cannot
manage."

"Oh, where he makes love to her, and she is just a little inconstant to
Masetto.  Very well, you are Don Giovanni," and Rosa's hesitating
coquetry, struggle with herself, and bewitching airs were so surprising
that Violante exclaimed:

"Why, I never saw you look so before."

"No, of course not--I am not Rosa--I am Zerlina.  However, you don't
know what I may have done in my time--when I was young."

"But you do it so beautifully.  Ah, what a pity you have not my voice--
you would be the greatest _prima donna_ in Italy!"

"Do you think so?" said Rosa, gratified.  "But, ah, I have no voice, so
there is no chance for me here.  I do believe I should have gone on the
stage if I had stayed in England; that is, I thought so once."

"I know now," said Violante, "that I shall never be an actress; never."

"Oh, but I think you can do something.  Look at me."

And Rosa, nothing loth, went through the different pieces, Violante
imitating her with sufficient success, now that she was quite at her
ease, to put her in better spirits, as Rosa gave abundant praise to her
efforts.

"Ecco," said Violante, "you shall be Don Giovanni, and I will be
Zerlina; then I shall see if I can remember what you have told me."

Rosa caught up an old hat of their father's, set it sideways on her
brow, twisted a scarf dexterously across her shoulders, delighted at
making Violante laugh.

It was a pretty scene in the hot, shady room: Rosa in her fantastic
dress, her eyes bright, her face full of ardour, acting the part with a
force and fervour that seemed marvellous to Violante; and the slender,
delicate, white-robed girl, with her bird-like voice, and natural grace
that yet lent itself so imperfectly to the gestures and smiles she was
trying to copy, so little inspired by the fictitious character and
feeling that Don.  Giovanni's vehement and characteristic wooing made
her hang her head and blush, forgetful of the coquettish response
intended.

Rosa, who had been utterly absorbed in her part, stopped, laughing, and
sympathising with the great singer who could not act with Mademoiselle
Mattei, while she owned the tribute to her skill.

"Look at me, dear; you are only pretending to be shy, you know.  No, not
that great innocent stare--through your eyelashes, _so_.  Must I teach
my little sister to `make eyes,' as the English say?"

Violante laughed, and the laugh made the next attempt more successful;
and in the midst of Rosa's animated response an unexpected voice cried:

"Brava! bravissima!  Why, Rosa, figlia mia, who would have thought it?"

"Oh, father, look at her, she acts so beautifully," cried Violante,
clasping her hands; while Rosa, in her turn confused, paused, colouring
deeply.

"Ay, ay! go on, girls; let me see."

"Courage, courage," whispered Rosa, and, in the desire to show off her
sister, Violante coquetted with praiseworthy archness.

"She can do it now, father, can't she?"

"Ay, that is better; but you--oh, if the Saints had given you a voice!
Again, Rosina mia, here--stand aside, child--play her part, Rosa.  I am
Don Giovanni."

Signor Mattei was no contemptible actor, and through the chief parts of
half-a-dozen operas he conducted Rosa, praising, encouraging, clapping
his hands, as he found how she responded to his hints; while Rosa seemed
unwearied.  At last he exclaimed:

"It is excellent, most excellent! a real talent, and a face and figure
that would make up well.  She would be more effective than the child,
after all.  Now, Violante, you see what it is to have sense."

"Oh, it is splendid!" said Violante, warmly.  "If her voice was
better--"

"Ah, yes, if such a gift was not wasted on her sister.  But this is
talent, and my heart is warmed--it is on fire with delight!  Brava,
Rosina!" and Signor Mattei extended his arms and clasped Rosa in them,
after a fashion not unsuitable to their recent performances.  Violante,
as he turned away, sprang to her sister's side.

"Oh, Rosa, how pleased he is with you!"

"I wish he was as pleased with you, my darling," said Rosa.  "What a
generous little thing you are to look so happy!"

"But I am so glad," said Violante, while Rosa sat down and took up her
work sedately, but presently let it fall and leant back with dreamy eyes
and smiling lips.  Years ago, when she was a very young girl, to be an
actress had been the dream of her life.  While she learnt and taught in
England she had dreamt of hard work for a great object, of the
excitement to be found in the use of conscious power, of success, of
fame.  Then had arisen in her life other, and yet sweeter hopes, which
too soon were destined to be destroyed, and then came the obvious duty
of returning to take charge of Violante.  Since then her want of a voice
had, in Italy, been an entire bar to her attempting to take to the stage
as a mode of earning her living, and she had never till lately realised
that Violante's distaste was anything but shy childish fear.  _Now_ it
did seem to her that such a career might offer some consolation even for
Hugh Crichton's desertion; _now_ she felt how she would have valued what
to Violante was utter misery.  She looked at the girl who, wearied with
the exertion of the morning, had dropped asleep on the cushioned
window-seat, and a misgiving that had often occurred lately began to
deepen in her mind.

Would not the question soon be decided for them--could so delicate a
creature bear the strain of long uncongenial effort, added to the trial
of wearing disappointment?--in short, would not health and strength go
after spirits and energy?  Violante's daily-increasing languor and
listlessness made this only too probable.

PART FOUR, CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

LOST.

  "Silence, beautiful voice!
  Be still, for you only trouble the mind
  With a joy in which I cannot rejoice,
  A glory I shall not find!"

Rosa's fears were fulfilled.  For a few days, with the help of her
sister's teaching, Violante struggled on a little more bravely; but
Rosa's lessons, however carefully conned at home, were forgotten in the
hot, glaring theatre, where fear and exhaustion seemed to stifle sense
and memory.  She was too much afraid of her father to tell him that she
was too ill to sing, and she sang badly and incurred deserved rebuke.
She was too imperfect a performer to have much ground of her own to
stand upon; and her father did not save her in any way from the
consequences of her shortcomings.  She was far less beautiful now that
her delicate bloom was gone, and her voice, her one possession, was
growing harsh and strained.  What wonder, when she not only cried
herself asleep at night, but cried herself awake again in the morning--a
far colder and drearier thing?

Rosa was at her wit's end, but Signor Vasari's patience was worn to its
last thread, and her father was utterly impracticable.  Violante ceased
to complain, but her soft, tender eyes had a desperate look, and her
sweet confiding ways had grown solitary and strange.  What would be the
end of it?

It hardly caused Rosa surprise when, one night, in the midst of a
performance, Violante fainted.  The representation was brought to an
abrupt conclusion, and Mademoiselle Mattei declared to be too ill to
appear again.  The public of Civita Bella was sorry; somehow the soft,
lovely girl had gained a hold on their affections; but through the days
while she lay ill and unconscious there was much wrangling between her
father and the manager as to the amount of her salary to be forfeited by
her non-fulfilment of her engagement.  All talk of any tenderer relation
had been dropped, and the discussion was settled greatly to Signor
Mattei's dissatisfaction.  He felt that he had been ill-treated.
Violante's further gains were gone for that season; his own hung on a
thread; some of Rosa's best pupils, like Emily Tollemache, had left the
place.  What was to become of them?

As he came in, with his head full of all these various annoyances, he
encountered Rosa standing in the sitting-room, holding in her hand the
soft, dusky lengths of Violante's hair.

"You have not cut off her hair?" he exclaimed, wrathfully.

"It may save her life," said Rosa, whose eyes were red with crying.
"She--she _may_ not die."

Then Signor Mattei, realising for the first time that his child's life
was in danger, burst out with vehement lamentations.

She had been his hope and his pride, spite of all her wilfulness--should
he never hear her angel's voice again?--and he seized on the long, soft
hair, and kissed it and cried over it.

"It is the singing that has killed her," said Rosa, bitterly.  "If you
had listened to her entreaties--" she checked herself, feeling the
reproach to be cruel and undutiful; but, with a certain hard
common-sense, developed by a life in which she had seen many illusions
fade, revolting against the sentiment, coming, as it seemed, too late.

"No!" cried Signor Mattei.  "It is not the singing.  It is that young
Englishman for whom she has pined away.  And you--you permitted her to
know and to see him, and encouraged her in her folly!"

"This is no time for quarrelling, father," said Rosa, as she turned
away, and went back to her sister, feeling as if, with Violante, every
ray of sunshine would fade out of her life.

But Violante did not die.  Either there was more power of resistance in
her nature than they could have supposed, or Rosa's tender nursing
triumphed over fever and weakness; for after some weeks of illness she
began slowly to recover.  She was long in gaining strength.  She seemed
contented in a sort of passive fashion, was grateful and caressing to
Rosa; but she never talked of anything but the matter in hand, never
spoke of the opera or her singing, or of Hugh; never showed any feeling
except that, when she came sufficiently to herself to know that her hair
had been cut off, she had cried and seemed sorry.  Rosa was ready to
follow her lead; but a great anxiety, unacknowledged even, to himself,
was growing up in Signor Mattei's heart.  Her voice--was it coming back?

He had not the heart or the courage to speak to her directly on the
subject, but he hummed opera airs in her presence, and watched wistfully
to see if she noticed them.  Violante started and coloured.

"Rosa mia," she whispered, "I do not want to hear them yet;" and her
father tried to ascribe her reluctance to a share in his alarm.

"So," he said one day, coming in from a rehearsal, "that Giulia Belloni
has a fine voice, her Zerlina is effective--effective to the vulgar."

"Oh, I am glad," said Violante, "for now they will not miss me."

"Violante, will you never cease to be a fool?  Not miss you?  I would
have them miss you every night.  And this woman can act, laugh, scream--
has eyes that show their size ten times as far as yours.  But her voice
is of far commoner sort, at least."

Violante had quivered at her father's rough address.

"Father," she said, "I have no voice now."

"It will return--it will return soon.  You must practise--"

"She must not think of it," interposed Rosa.  "She is not nearly strong
enough yet."

"Ah, soon; but in good time--There comes il signor dottore."

The doctor, whose visits to Violante had not yet ceased, would have
given much to evade the question as to how soon Mdlle.  Mattei would
recover her voice; but it was sharply pressed on him by Signor Mattei.
Violante lay still, her hands pressed together, her large eyes full of
suspense and anxiety.  The doctor thought most pitifully of her, the
young, delicate girl, whose career had received so severe a check; but
yet her feelings to those of her eager father were "but as moonlight
unto sunlight, and as water unto wine."

"She will sing again," said the father.  "Mademoiselle Mattei must not
attempt to sing in public for a long time to come.  She is far too
delicate for the exertion.  Nothing but rest will give her a chance of
recovering her voice."

"But she will recover it?"

"That is impossible to say.  To some degree, should her health return,
it is possible that she may; but she must give it rest; she has
overstrained it when too weak for the effort."

"But the time--how long?" cried Signor Mattei, breathlessly.

"I cannot tell," said the doctor, with a shrug; "but if she attempts to
act now it will kill her."

He spoke forcibly, somewhat irritated by the father's persistence, and
then glanced at his patient, anxious to see the effect of his words.
Violante had turned very pale, her mouth trembled, she drew a long
breath; but there was a light in her eyes as of one that lays a burden
down.  Her father turned pale also and was quite silent, not one
passionate word rising to his lips.  He looked at her; then, as the
doctor left the room, he followed him.  Rosa sat down in the window,
trying to govern her tears sufficiently to speak to her sister.  And
Violante?  She had just been told of the loss of her one gift, of the
one thing that marked her out from other women, without which she was
only a poor, ignorant, helpless girl, with nothing left but a sort of
indefinite beauty; from which her illness had taken much of the charm.
She leant back on her pillows, feeling very small and mean and foolish,
like Cinderella when the clock struck twelve.  She felt very
good-for-nothing, and yet--and yet--no more of the weary rehearsals, the
hateful companionship, the terror and fatigue, the glare of the gas, the
jealousy or scorn of her rivals, the anger of her father.  She was free!
It was like being let out of a stifling prison into the chilly air.
She shivered and was cold, but she drew long, deep breaths.  It was
over.  She was not ambitious--perhaps she was not conscientious enough
to grieve that her task in life was taken from her, though she belonged
to too hard-working a family not to think at once that she had lost the
power of earning her own living.  She felt that she had failed; but it
was failure _versus_ freedom, and freedom won.

"Violante--oh, my poor child!" cried Rosa, as she came up and kissed her
tenderly.

"Rosa mia, do not be sorry for me.  I am sorry, but I am so tired of it
all, and now I can rest," said Violante, pleadingly.

"Rest!" exclaimed Rosa, with hot cheeks.  "If I were you I should be
half heart-broken, to lose that beautiful, glorious gift.  But it is
better that you should not care."

Violante drooped her head in silence.

"When I _did_ break my heart they blamed me," she thought.  "How can I
care _now_?"

"You cried when I cut your hair off," said Rosa, unable to repress her
own disappointment.

Violante crimsoned to her finger tips.  Had not Hugh stroked the long,
soft hair?  "_He_ did not love me only for my voice," she thought,
somewhat unjustly, for Rosa's love was true and tender, and she silenced
her regrets, as she saw how they distressed her sister.  Violante's
momentary flash of indignation passed; but she kept her thoughts to
herself--she was learning to do so.

"There _was_ no good in me but my voice," she said meekly, "but I will
try and help you, Rosa."

"Oh, my darling, do not trouble, we shall do well enough," said Rosa,
repentant, when she thought how weak Violante still was, and how
impossible any exertion would have been to her.  "It is only of father I
am thinking."

"Father; oh, yes!  Go to him!  Rosa, I cannot help it."

"Help it?  No!  But he will be very sorry.  I will go to him.  You must
lie still and rest."

Signor Mattei's dream was over; he had lost his vision, as his daughter
had lost her lover.  Mademoiselle Mattei would never be a household word
in any capital in Europe, never contest the palm with those who already
bore it.  It was a great present, a greater future, loss to him; but it
was not the thought of this that made his heart sink within him.  Rosa's
common-sense words jarred upon him.

"It is a grievous pity, father, but it cannot be helped."

"She might as well have married the English signor--"

"Indeed she might!"

"When she was a little girl, and used to sing about the house, I looked
to her success.  She had the power, but never the will--never the will!
My sun has set, figlia mia.  I may hide my head in obscurity, and she
may be as idle and as happy as she can!"

Extravagant as was the language, there was real distress in his
faltering voice and tearful eyes.

"My beloved art has lost an interpreter," he sighed; "and I have lost a
hope."

"Father!" said an unexpected voice, and Violante, with her slow, feeble
step, stood beside him.  "Father, I am so sorry!" she said, timidly.  "I
shall be very little good; but I will help Rosa all I can.  And when I
am well I will teach."

"Teach?  As if that would repay me!" cried Signor Mattei, starting to
his feet.  "Oh, you unfortunate, foolish girl, you were born to be my
grief and disappointment!  You who might have been a queen of song,
_you_ pined and fretted for your lover till this has come on you.  If
you had obeyed me, and consented to Vasari's offer, and been _happy_,
this would not have been.  But you care nothing, the loss is mine--all
mine!  And I?  See how I love you, you ungrateful child; see the tears
you cause to flow."

Against such reproaches Violante had no defence, and she was so well
used to them that she was more frightened than grieved.

"Father," cried Rosa, "you have been mistaken, you cannot change her
nature, nor make her what you wish.  She is herself, take her for that.
Violante mia! my child, my darling, as if it was not enough to have you
safe.  What matters your voice, or your success, or anything?" she
continued, in high indignation.  "Come away; this will make you ill
again!"

So they vexed each other sorely; but Violante, forlorn and sorrowful as
she was, could nestle in Rosa's arms, and had Rosa's pity, if not
sympathy, in her grief; while her father, unkind and unreasonable as he
might be, suffered alone a pang of disappointment all the keener because
the baffled desire had been so vehement that to indulge it he had
undertaken the one impossible task of life--to inspire an alien nature
with his own ideal of happiness, his own loves, and his own ambitions.

He thought that it was love for Violante that made her misfortune so
terrible to him, but in truth it was love of the ideal that he thought
to see her fulfil.  He grieved over what she _might_ have been, but she
was only a trouble and disappointment to him as she was.  He did not
intend to be unkind to her, but he could not forbear to reproach her;
all the more because he instinctively knew that she did not regret her
loss as he did.  Violante did not resent this, but the worry and the
depressing sense of inefficiency retarded her recovery.  Rosa,
meanwhile, set herself to consider the family fortunes.  What could they
do?  Her father's engagement to Signor Vasari was almost over and was
not likely to be renewed.  He often talked of trying new fields, and
seeking employment in more important places than Civita Bella.  And he
was quite well enough known to be likely to find what he wanted.  A
wandering life would suit him well enough.  But though he might have
connections in half the towns of Italy, Rosa had none, and how could she
afford to lose all her pupils?  True, she and Violante might remain
where they were, with Maddalena for a duenna but Rosa felt that a
thorough change would do Violante more good than anything that could be
proposed.  She might then recover her strength, and, free from all
present trials, would surely soon forget her ill-starred love story.
For Rosa, with cool, clear judgment, reflected that Hugh Crichton, once
set free from his entanglement, was very little likely ever to attempt
to renew anything so undesirable.  He had no means, so far as she knew,
of tracing Violante's future life, for the Tollemaches did not write to
them after leaving Civita Bella; and of himself, beyond the fact of his
profession, and that he lived with his mother at Redhurst, and was a man
of some fortune, Rosa knew nothing.  She had never even realised where
Redhurst might be.  As for Violante, unfamiliar with English names and
images, she had imbibed no notions of her lover's English home beyond a
few descriptions of the garden and the river; of the great town, whose
name even she forgot; and of various people whom she had hardly begun to
think of as having any connection with herself--his own relations having
been exceedingly uninteresting to Hugh at the period of his courtship.
One day of actual betrothal and she would have known enough about them;
as it was, Violante had no colours to paint her pictures of his present
life, and Rosa felt that he had entirely gone out of theirs.

Under these circumstances she thought very favourably of various former
invitations received from her uncle, Mr Grey, both to herself and
Violante.  She believed that she could find occupation of some sort in
England; and perhaps an English home life for a time might prove
beneficial to Violante.  In the meantime old Madame Cellini came to the
rescue, and offered to take the two girls to a little village called
Caletto, some distance from Civita Bella, where she usually spent some
weeks in the autumn.  Here Violante would have both rest and change, and
when she was fully recovered future plans would be more easily settled.

PART FOUR, CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

CALETTO.

  "Grapes which swelled from hour to hour,
  And tossed their golden tendrils to the sun
  For joy at their own richness."

After that stormy summer, with its joy and its suffering, its excitement
and hard work, there ensued for Violante a time of perfect peace.
Golden autumn sunshine, beautiful places, entire freedom and rest, could
not give back a lost career, or a lost lover, but they were very
conducive to the revival of health and spirits; and the absence even of
anything peculiarly delightful was welcome to the exhaustion of worn-out
nerves and spirits.  Never to be scolded, never to be frightened, never
to be forced to do what she dreaded and disliked, made a sort of Elysium
for her, though even Elysium seems to have been sometimes a little
objectless and dreary.  Still, it was peace; and all the little tastes
and occupations which had been crushed down by over-work, or rendered
futile by the one absorbing interest of the past summer, began to spring
up again; and Violante knitted and worked, picked flowers and arranged
them, and made sweetmeats, salads, and coffee, as she had done in the
days when the stage was a distant terror, and when Hugh Crichton had
never been heard of.  For, though she was very easily overwhelmed by
storms, she was a flower that opened readily to a little sunshine, and
Rosa caught herself wondering whether so soft and childish a creature
had really retained the impression that had seemed so powerful.  It was
hard to tell, for Violante never spoke of her past troubles; the truth,
perhaps, being that she took her sensations very much as they came, and
never speculated about herself, nor realised her situation further than
she felt it.  Rosa hoped that the love, having been very brief, scarcely
acknowledged, and utterly crushed at one blow, might really die of want
of encouragement; and this was possible, even if its dying hours were
soothed by the anodyne of a little unconscious secret hope in the vague
future.  Since Hugh had been mistaken as to Vasari, some day he _might_
find it out; and in the meantime the sun shone, the flowers were sweet,
she was the object of much petting, she felt fresh and well, and Vasari,
his theatre and his diamonds, had all passed away like a bad dream.

Caletto, with its vineyards, its little lake, its distant hills, its
peaceful and yet animated life, was new to the town-bred girl, and very
delightful.  It attracted a few visitors, but lay somewhat out of the
beat of tourists, though it possessed many charms for them; one of the
chief being a garden belonging to the great house of the place, but
which, in the dwindling of the fortunes of the great family, and in
their frequent and long absences, was open freely to the scanty public
of Caletto.  Nay, tables and chairs, where grapes could be eaten and
cheap wine drunk, had been placed on the marble terrace that overlooked
the lake by the enterprising innkeeper; and here, within sound of the
plash of fountains, under the shade of tall oleander and pomegranate
trees, Madame Cellini and her two young charges were wont to establish
themselves to see the sun set over the lake and to enjoy the evening
air; and here, in search of the picturesque, or perhaps of that soothing
and refreshment which novelty and natural beauty might be supposed to
give, arrived one evening an English traveller.

Arthur Spencer's journey to meet his friend had not turned out exactly
as he had intended.  He had hurried across France to Marseilles because
there was a sort of relief to his misery in the rapid motion; and,
besides, he was not quite certain when Captain Seton's ship would
arrive.  He was prepared to do anything that his friend might fancy;
returning to England or continuing his journey, as might be best for
Captain Seton's health, as to which he did not grow very anxious till he
was preparing to enquire for him on board the ship; when the possibility
of finding him worse, in danger, or not finding him at all, occurred to
him.  Then it seemed to poor Arthur as if the only comfort in his
trouble would be the telling it to his land, warm-hearted friend who had
left India too soon to receive even the letter announcing his
engagement.  Nevertheless, Arthur resolved that if Seton seemed ill and
depressed he would prepare a cheerful countenance and keep silence on
his own score for the present.

As he came on board and was looking anxiously round, he was greeted with
a shout of delight; and Captain Seton, looking neither ill nor unhappy,
seized him by the hands.

"So there you are, my dear good fellow!  I'm heartily glad to see you.
I knew you would come if you could; but I feel as if I'd brought you out
on false pretences after all."

"So much the better, if this is what being on sick-leave comes to," said
Arthur.  "I was very glad to come."

"Oh, it was no pretence at the beginning; but the voyage has made
another man of me--and--and--let me introduce you to my friends--a--very
kind companions on board ship, you know.  Mrs Raymond, Mr Arthur
Spencer--a--Miss Raymond."

One glance from his friend's confused yet joyous countenance to the
blushing and smiling young lady revealed to Arthur the state of affairs
at once; and, after a few words had been exchanged, Captain Seton drew
him aside, and informed him how Mrs Raymond, being in bad health, was
returning to spend a year in England with her daughter, who had
miraculously spent eighteen months in India without getting married; and
how he, having met the young lady twice before, and knowing how charming
she was--

"Exactly so," interposed Arthur, "you don't feel inclined now for a tour
in Italy."

"No," Captain Seton apologised and laughed and explained; but he wanted
to escort his lady-love to England, to settle his affairs, and to be
introduced to various Raymond relations.  Perhaps afterwards--

Arthur listened, smiled, and congratulated him, and managed to escape
without any questions on his own affairs from his preoccupied friend.
He went back to his room at the hotel, and sat down, feeling as if he
had lost his one remaining object, and as if the future were an entire
blank.  He was almost inclined to go away without seeing Seton again.
"But no," he thought, "that would be an unkind, melodramatic sort of
proceeding, and he would reproach himself for having given me pain--it
would spoil his pleasure."

So Arthur, feeling that he could not speak of what must come out sooner
or later, wrote a note, and told his story in a few brief words.  He had
been engaged to Miss Crofton, whom, no doubt, Seton remembered, and she
was dead.  He had come away for rest and change.

Arthur had no cause to complain of Captain Seton's want of feeling or
sympathy.  He came hastily to find him; was full of compunction for not
having guessed at anything amiss; would come with him anywhere, stay
with him, or join him after he had taken the Raymonds to England.
Anyway, he would not leave him alone.  Arthur, however, though not
ungrateful, decided in favour of solitude for the present; and, with a
half-proposal for meeting again in Italy after a few weeks, they parted;
and Arthur drifted somewhat aimlessly about from one place to another,
trying to make an object of sightseeing, but feeling lost and lonely.
He was fond of travelling, and even then got some amusement out of its
little incidents, finding in it something to do, but very little to
think about; climbing mountains and making long expeditions one day, and
doing nothing whatever the next; trying to write cheerful letters home,
yet shrinking from the answers to them; making acquaintances when they
came in his way, and doing much as other travellers, but quite unable to
rouse himself to any sort of plan for the future, and neither knowing
nor caring where the next week would find him.  There was no one for
whose companionship he exactly wished, or who could now have been quite
the friend he wanted; but, though the solitude and absence of
association were productive of present ease, they offered nothing to
fill the dead blank, nothing to wake "the low beginnings of content."
The days slipped by somehow, but it was hardly possible to imagine a
greater contrast than between them and the days that had been lightened
by the hope of such a bright and definite future.

By way of occupation he did a good deal of travelling on foot; and, in
the course of his wandering, found himself one evening walking into
Caletto and thinking it one of the prettiest places he had ever seen.
The lake was shining in the sunset; the tawny colours of the old palace
were deepened by the glow; the rich southern foliage clothed the sides
of the water, and showed glimpses of picturesque houses in between.
There were statues and urns here and there in the palace garden; while
its marble balustrade, with steps at either end, gave it something the
air of a picture on a fan.  There were one or two tables on this
terrace, and at one of them stood a girl in white, with a big, flat,
straw hat, piling great bunches of white and purple grapes on to a dish
before her.  Another figure, dressed in some pleasant sort of buff
colour, was sitting on the balustrade reading.  It was a pretty scene,
yet it gave Arthur a pang; for, granting beauty for quaintness, romance
for homely simplicity, it was a sort of glorified parody of the little
tea-garden at "The Pot of Lilies," with its wall overhanging the river,
its urn of geraniums, its statue holding a lamp, its vine-tressed
arbour, and its table with the mustard-pot and the ginger-beer.  He
turned quickly away, but found himself face to face with a stout,
dark-eyed lady who was toiling up the ascent towards the terrace.  She
scanned Arthur curiously; and he, mustering his best Italian, asked the
name of the village and if he could get a night's lodging there.

She gave him a hearty, gracious smile that showed all her white teeth,
and replied by such voluble information that Arthur, quite at fault,
begged her pardon and repeated his question.

"I am English," he said; "I speak very little Italian."

"Ah, English, yes," she answered in that language.  "I speak it--but not
well.  But here are two ladies who will comprehend perfectly.  Will you
accompany me, signor?"  Much surprised at the invitation Arthur followed
her up the steps of the terrace.

"Rosa carina," she said, "here is an English gentleman who has lost his
way.  Explain to him the situation."

"I have not lost my way, signorina," said Arthur, catching the words, as
the lady in buff rose and bowed to him.  "I took the liberty of asking
if a lodging could be got in this lovely place."

"Oh, yes, I think so," replied Rosa.  "Do you see the house with a
balcony by the water?  That is an inn, and there is almost sure to be a
room there if you are not very particular."

"Thank you very much.  I am quite used to traveller's fare," returned
Arthur, surprised at the English accent and manner.

"And this place is called?"

"Caletto.  English tourists don't often find it out."

"So we should make them welcome.  Pray, signor, sit down, and take some
wine; you have been walking--you are tired.  Ah, you understand?"

"Yes, many thanks.  But I am so hot and dusty--I am ashamed," said
Arthur, fancying he saw a look of slight disapproval in the younger
lady's face.

"Ah, we can excuse you.  We are artists, signor; all comers are welcome.
I have been in your country and sung on your boards, and so will
Mademoiselle Mattei one of these days, I hope."

This was in English, and then in a half-aside to Rosa in Italian: "Why
not, Rosina?  He is a handsome youth--and society is agreeable."

Handsome young Englishmen were not quite the society Rosa desired at
that moment.  However, she could not be uncivil, and Arthur really
looked both hot and tired so she said politely:

"Pray sit down and rest--it has been a hot day."

"Thank you, since you are so kind," said Arthur, seating himself, and
thinking, as they drew near the table and Violante silently pushed the
bottle of wine towards him: "How Jem would rave at such an encounter!"

"This is a beautiful place," he said.  "I wonder that it is so little
known to English people generally."

"Perhaps we like to keep some places a little to ourselves," said Rosa,
smiling.

"But, excuse me, are you not English?"

"Not exactly.  I was brought up in England.  I did not mean to be
uncivil to English tourists, but you know they do rather spoil a place
for the natives."

"Tourists always do," said Arthur.  "I don't know, though, what else I
can call myself."

"I suppose tourists are people who travel for pleasure, and not because
they are obliged."

"Well, I am not obliged to travel, certainly."

"Then you are a tourist," said Rosa, brightly.  "But then you come
alone, and an English stranger is rare enough in Caletto to be very
welcome.  Is it not so, madame?" repeating her words in Italian.

"Oh, as welcome as shade in summer.  I have lived in your smoke, sir,
and I do not wonder you all escape from it."

"I am not prepared to admit that we never see the sun," said Arthur, who
all this time was wondering much who his entertainers might be.  Rosa,
with the address and appearance of a well-bred English lady, completely
puzzled him, more especially as he supposed her to be the Mademoiselle
Mattei to whom Madame Cellini had referred, and whom he never dreamed of
identifying with the silent, childish-looking girl beside him.  They
were very amusing, out-of-the-way sort, of people, and the scene was
wonderfully lovely and picturesque; but he was tired, and admiration was
an effort; so he soon rose, and with very courteous thanks prepared to
leave them.  Madame Cellini accompanied him to the steps to point out
the way, and said when she returned: "Ah, I have practised my English.
I told him my name.  Doubtless he will have heard it, and his--is--ah--
Spinchere--Pinchere."

"Pincher!" said Rosa, with an involuntary accent of disappointment:
"That is an English name, certainly."

"It is not pretty," said Violante, thinking in her own mind that Spencer
Crichton far exceeded it.

So no identity of name came to rouse a suspicion of any connection
between their new acquaintance and their old one.  There was scarcely
any family likeness between Hugh's pale, regular face, grave and rather
massive, and Arthur's bright, tanned skin, and pleasant though
unremarkable features.  Besides, Rosa and Violante did not know Hugh's
face without a look of interest and purpose, nor his light, deep-set
eyes without the ardour of an eager hope; while, when they saw Arthur,
his dark-lashed eyes were absent and languid, and his mouth, though he
smiled often, set into sad lines when he fell silent.

But one young English gentleman was sufficiently like another in foreign
eyes, and the association of ideas was close enough to make Rosa anxious
as to the effect of this encounter on her sister.

"Madame Cellini is so fond of company she cannot pass anyone by," she
said, rather petulantly, when the two girls were alone.

"She is very fond of talking," replied Violante, "but I like her now
that I am not forced to sing to her.  And it would not have been kind
not to ask Signor--what did you call him?--Pincher, to rest, when he
looked so hot and tired."

"All Englishmen like to tire themselves out," said Rosa.

"You told him we were not English, Rosa; that was not true."

"My dear child, I could not tell him our family history--what did it
matter?  I daresay he thought us very odd; but I am not tired of
solitude, even if Madame Cellini is."

"Oh, no, nor I.  I should like to stay here always."

"Some time we must, I suppose, go back to Civita Bella."

"Yes!" with a long sigh.  "Rosa mia, I will be good and useful if I can.
Perhaps father is dull without us."

"His engagement is almost over.  Violante, how should you like to go to
England?"

"To England?" echoed Violante, with a startled blush.  "I shall never go
there--_now_.  Now I cannot sing," she added.

"I think Uncle and Aunt Grey will perhaps ask us--you and me, I mean, to
stay for a time and see what we could do."

"But what would become of father?"

"I think he would like to travel about for a little.  Perhaps he would
come to England too."

"And should you teach our cousins as you used to do?" said Violante.

"No, the girls are all grown up, and so are the boys.  But I might find
other children to teach--or--or--In short, Violante, I cannot tell
exactly; but you know Uncle Grey has always wished to see you, and now
that you are free to leave home I should not wonder if he asked us."

Violante sat musing.

"I will go, then," she said, after a pause.  Rosa could hardly help
laughing at the unconscious decision of the tone, which, though Violante
had merely meant acquiescence, showed that the idea was not distasteful
to her.

PART FOUR, CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

SIGNOR ARTHUR.

  "The sound of a voice that was still."

Madame Cellini was not likely to be shy of making a new acquaintance,
nor were her young companions accustomed to the profound seclusion in
which Italian girls are usually trained.  Rosa would have accepted an
intimacy with a compatriot readily enough, and even Violante was used to
a certain amount of intercourse with her father's friends.  Here at
Caletto Madame Cellini had a few intimates, and when Arthur Spencer
lingered on there she discovered that French formed a possible medium of
communication, and took a great fancy to the pleasant-mannered young
Englishman.

"Folly, Rosina!" she said, as Rosa ventured a remonstrance.  "I read
your fears.  You think the Signor Inglese at the late looked too often
above his music at our Violantina.  Never fear!  So will many another.
And as for Signor Pinchere, talk to him yourself, Rosina!"

And the old lady gave an indescribably mischievous smile, and then
laughed broadly.  Rosa was angry, but she did not choose to enlighten
Madame Cellini any further as to the real state of the case; and, unable
to prevent the intercourse by Italian restrictions, nor to justify it by
the more English manner of ignoring the possibility of a chance
acquaintance signifying to anyone, she was obliged to leave it in the
neutral ground of "being Madame Cellini's way."

She need not have alarmed herself.  Arthur knew that it was all very
amusing, and accepted it as an incident in his travels; but would not
have cared if anything had turned his steps in another direction.
Nothing, however, did turn them; so he tried to distract his thoughts by
Madame Cellini's wonderful stories, and to interest himself in her
confidences about the young _cantatrice_ whose career had been so
suddenly checked.  He had given the nearest town as an address where
letters might find him, and having written to Hugh before his arrival he
expected an answer.  Somehow, Arthur's thoughts turned to Hugh with a
sort of fellow-feeling.  He, too, was suffering; and perhaps would not
only pity him, but would understand how no change of scene did him any
good.  If Hugh had but known! but he only thought that Arthur was well
spared the sight of him.

Arthur, however, congratulated himself on having obtained some materials
for a letter to Jem, a little less like a guide-book than his ordinary
correspondence, describing old Madame Cellini, and telling the wrong end
of Violante's history.  "She was to have made a great sensation, and
married the manager, and the poor child lost her lover and her voice at
once.  So she looks sad and pathetic; and isn't it a miserable little
story for the sunny south?  You write too anxiously about me.  I am very
well, and make a fair fight for it.  If that poor little girl can hold
up her head after such a storm, one ought to have better courage."

Violante was as unconscious of the garbled form in which her story had
reached the English stranger's ears, and of the reflections which he
drew therefrom for his own benefit, as she was of the connection of
Signor Arthur--or Arturo, as he had taught Madame Cellini to call him,
finding her conceptions of his surname beyond correction--with the chief
actor in it.  But she felt drawn towards him, and ceased to be shy of
one so kindly in manner, while a sort of instinct of fellow-feeling made
her say, after a few days, to Rosa: "She was sure Signor Arthur was
unhappy, and she wondered why."

"I think he seems very cheerful," said Rosa, rather dryly.

"Still, I am sure," persisted Violante; but news came to them at this
time which put Signor Arthur entirely into the background.  Rosa
received a letter from her uncle, Mr Grey, which suggested a complete
change in all the conditions of their existence.  It bore date from his
house in Kensington, and ran as follows:

  "My dear Rosa,--

  "Your aunt and I have been very sorry to hear of Violante's illness
  and of the change it has made in her future prospects.  Under the
  circumstances we have always felt that it was best that she should
  pursue the career that your father marked out for her, and have never
  entertained any prejudice against it.  But as she has lost the
  exceptional power that made it expedient, and is still, I believe,
  under eighteen, it seems desirable that she should turn her mind in
  another direction.  I do not know what openings your father could find
  for her in Italy; but as you write that things are somewhat at a
  stand-still with all of you, I wish very much that you and she should
  come and pay us a long visit, after which you might form such plans as
  seem desirable.  If you were likely to remain in London I think I know
  where you could find pupils, and as for Violante, as she is so young,
  it is possible that she might make up her mind to finish her education
  at an excellent school, where her music and her Italian would be
  helpful, and where your aunt's recommendation would be quite
  sufficient.  However, this is for the future; and in the meantime your
  cousins will be delighted to see you both, as will also your aunt and
  myself.  With love to Violante,--

  "I am, your affectionate uncle,--

  "Richard Grey."

Rosa was sitting under the verandah of the cottage where they lodged as
she read this letter.  Great flowering creepers and large-leaved vines
shaded her from the sun; before her stretched the fair Italian
landscape, and at a little distance Violante was feeding and playing
with a little white kid, the pet of the household; while two little
brown-skinned girls, the children of their landlady, were chattering
away to her at the top of their Italian voices.  Violante had scarcely
ever known a child in her limited life at Civita Bella, but she had
taken to these little ones from the first of her coming to Caletto, and
delighted in their society.  With her short, curly hair and slender
shape, she looked scarcely more than a child herself, and resembled
nothing less than a disappointed _prima donna_.

Yet, after all her history, there seemed something ridiculous in the
idea of sending her to school, something utterly incongruous in the
thought of that Kensington house in a London atmosphere, with the blue
southern skies and the marble palaces of her native town.  It was
strange; but Rosa--who had practically been very happy in an ordinary
English life and was by far the best fitted of the party to resume it--
could not help regarding the loss of Violante's future, and of their
somewhat rambling artistic career, with a half-sentimental regret.  She
felt, like her father, that it was a come-down, that something had been
lost that could never be regained.  She called to Violante and put the
letter into her hand.

Violante sat down on the step, and read it carefully through in silence.

"Well, Violante, what do you think?" said Rosa.

"I have been thinking--_much_," said Violante softly.

"Indeed?  What about?"

"Myself," replied the girl.  "Rosa, father would be happier without me
now I cannot sing.  When he sees me he thinks: `Ah, what she might have
been!'  It breaks his heart, I know it."

"I think father might do very well with out us for a time, and then he
might himself come to England," said Rosa.

"And," said Violante, "I know nothing--nothing but my music, but I think
now--now that is over, I could learn."

"But you would not like to go to school, Violante?"

"It does not seem possible to have what we like," said Violante; "but it
would not be like acting."

"No, indeed!"

"And I must work somehow.  And, oh, Rosa mia! how my heart would ache if
father every day looked at me and grieved, and we had no money."

"Yes, my darling, that would be hard for you.  But, oh, Violante! to
think that all we hoped for you should end like this!"

"I am very sorry," said Violante, meekly; "but I think our uncle will be
kind, and--we cannot help it; let us go."

So it was Violante who spoke the common-sense consenting words and
recognised the new necessity.  But, indeed, since all her faculties had
not been absorbed in the effort to perform an impossibility, a new
self-reliance seemed to have come upon her and her unreasoning terror
had disappeared.  Soft and clinging she must always be, as she laid her
head on Rosa's knee and whispered: "We shall _both_ go, Rosa mia! we
shall be together."  But the strange land seemed to have no terror for
her.  Either she feared her father and Civita Bella more, or some
strange unrecognised attraction hung over her lover's country.  Did
Hope, with her wings cut, still flutter feebly at the bottom of her
heart; or was it merely that a glamour still hung over English life and
English people that made the novelty attractive instead of dreadful?
Did she think an English school-girl less removed from Hugh Crichton
than an Italian _cantatrice_?  She _thought_ nothing of all this, but
she recognised, without an effort, that it was right to accept her
uncle's invitation.  Those secret unknown currents, below our wishes,
below our sense of duty, below our resolutions, can float the ship
against the wind, or hold it back, spite of a fair breeze and all sails
unfurled.

"If an English winter should be too cold for you?" said Rosa.

"Oh, I am so much better.  I don't think it will hurt me.  You know I
never feel strong in the heat."

"Well," said Rosa, "I shall like to see the girls again very much."

"You used to talk of Beatrice and Lucy."

"Yes, Lucy is married, you know.  Then there are Mary and Kitty, my
pupils, a little older than you; and Charlie divides the two pairs of
girls.  Ned is the youngest.  Yes--I shall like to see them all.  How
strange to be in England again!"

Rosa sat silent and thoughtful.  After all, it was not four years since
that English life of hers had ended abruptly with her mother's death;
and four years is not a very long time in which to lose vivid
impressions.  She had grown up almost ignorant of her parents and little
sister; and when she was a bright, handsome girl of twenty, full of
ardour and enthusiasm, she made, in the course of a set of private
theatricals, the discovery that she had a taste and talent for acting of
no ordinary kind.  She did not love teaching, and reversed Violante's
subsequent history by trying with all her might and main to gain her
uncle's consent to earn her living on the stage.  She was in the full
tide of an enthusiasm which was only increased by opposition, and which
no one expected in the good sedate girl who was her aunt's right hand,
when--a new acquaintance, a few weeks' intercourse, a few opposing
hints, and Rosa's persistency drooped and faded, and her hot Italian
nature took another turn.

_He_ could not marry an actress.  Poor Rosa! either circumstances were
irresistible or she was deceived altogether; but she sacrificed ambition
to love, for it was a sacrifice, and the love failed her too.  She never
knew what separated them; but it was well for her that the summons home
took her right away from both disappointments, and gave her an object in
life in Violante.

She was a brave, strong girl, and she had won the battle.  How she had
mistrusted and hated Hugh Crichton none could say!  How she had dreaded
her own fate for Violante!  Now, when she thought of returning to
England, that first ambition returned in a more moderate form to her
mind.  She felt fairly certain of her own powers, and the attraction of
the life was undiminished; but she felt that it would be almost
impossible to fix herself permanently in England, and that, now that
Violante was useless, she would probably be obliged to take a larger
share in earning the family living.  She had expected that Violante
would regard the idea of a visit to England with horror, and was
relieved, though surprised, to find how easily she resigned herself to
it.

Violante had a very clear picture in her mind of what it would be to go
back to Civita Bella, idle and useless; freed, indeed, from the burden
of her profession, but exposed to her father's regrets and reproaches.
Life had been very hard before, it would be very dreary and objectless
now.  The ghosts of happy and unhappy hours would alike haunt the
familiar places; and England, over the thought of which a soft sweet
halo rested, seemed like a refuge.

Mr Grey's letter had been received on a Saturday, and on the Sunday
morning Violante was sitting by herself on the terrace, doing what she
called, with a reminiscence of her mother's early training, "reading her
chapter," this being one of the few religious observances which
had survived their unsettled life.  Violante had a sort of
half-superstitious reverence for the English Bible, her English mother's
gift.  She always said her prayers in English, and dutifully read a
chapter on Sunday.  She was not very particular which; but since she had
known Hugh Crichton she had indulged in some self-congratulation that
her religion as well as her blood was English.  Rosa had bestowed a
small amount of technical instruction on her, but it fitted on to
nothing; and as the elder sister had never thought it her duty to make
Violante unhappy about the Sunday operas, which she could not have
possibly avoided, and as Signor Mattei was nearly equally indifferent to
his own religion and to theirs, Violante's faith was chiefly negative.
On this Sunday morning she sat, with her Bible in her hand, looking at
the groups of peasants who were making their way to the little church,
and listening to the bell tinkling softly through the murmur of the
trees, and the sharper sound of the gay Italian voices.  By-and-by they
would dance under the trees.  Violante began to wonder what Sunday would
be like in England.  She was surprised at herself for not having asked
Rosa more questions about it; but her mind had been absorbed in its
difficult present, and she had been first too passive for curiosity, and
then too deeply-interested to express it.

As she mused Arthur Spencer came up the steps towards her, with that air
of neatness and respectability that generally distinguishes an English
traveller on Sunday.  Violante perceived for the first time that he was
in mourning, and was sufficiently interested to wonder why.

"Good morning, signorina," he said.

"Good morning," she answered.  "Isn't it a beautiful day?"

"Yes, very lovely, it will be getting cold at home, though."

"I am going to England soon," said Violante, with a sort of shy
confidence, as she bethought her that here was a chance of satisfying
her curiosity.

"Are you?" he said, rather surprised.  "How is that?"

"We have an English uncle in London, and he has asked us to go and see
him.  Mamma was English," said Violante, with a little unconscious
pleasure.

"Ah, yes; so Madame Cellini told me.  Do you think you shall like it?"

"Yes," said Violante, "but I don't know much about England.  I wish you
would tell me.  I should like to seem like an English girl to my
cousins."

Arthur smiled.

"I don't know where to begin," he said, kindly.  "Does your uncle live
in London?"

"Yes; he is a solicitor," she said, repeating the well-known word with a
little pride in its correctness.  "But perhaps I am to go to school."

"To school?  You!" exclaimed Arthur, thinking of the opera and the
manager-lover.  "Should you like that?"

"I know nothing but music," said Violante, blushing; "I never had any
time.  But I should like to learn.  What is school like?"

Violante did not know why her companion turned away his head and made no
answer for a moment.

"I can't tell you much about girls' schools," he said presently.  "I
know one that must be rather a jolly place.  I suppose the girls learn
lessons, and go to walk, and have masters.  I should think you would
find it dull."

"I should think it was peaceful," said Violante, using a stronger word
than she meant.

"Do you think so much of peace?" he said, rather sadly.

"It is because I have been so tired," she answered simply, and he
thought: "Poor little girl! she is fretting after the manager.  But to
send a _prima donna_ to school; how ridiculous!  Well, I won't
discourage her."

"I know some school-mistresses who are very kind and lively.  My sister
goes there.  She is very happy," he added aloud, but thinking to himself
that even the liberal Miss Vennings would hardly admit a disappointed
opera-singer to their school.

"And on Sunday, what do they do in England on Sunday?  Oh, yes,"
noticing that he glanced at her Bible.  "Yes, we are Protestants, like
mamma; but I did not often go to the service at the Consulate, because,
of course, Sunday was an opera night.  What do English girls do on
Sunday?"

Arthur's involuntary laugh at her _naive_ statement died away as her
question recalled the very sweetest, brightest picture of his English
Mysie, in her white Sunday dress, walking down the churchyard path.

For long weeks he had never spoken of her, never seen anyone who had
ever heard her name.  He felt a strange impulse to speak of her now, to
_hear_ of her, though it could only be from his own lips.  It was easier
to do so in the simple language necessary to make Violante understand so
unfamiliar a picture, and to an auditor who would, he thought, only
receive the impression that he chose to give.

"I knew an English girl," he said; and, leaning on the wall, with his
face turned away, he tried to describe Mysie's Sunday--how she "taught
the little peasants," "went to church," "sang hymns," "walked about
among the flowers," it had all been very commonplace once, but as Arthur
told it now it sounded to him like the Lives of the Saints.

"And she is dead?" said Violante, softly.

"How can you tell?" he exclaimed, astonished.

"Ah, signor, it was in the sound of your voice," she answered, with an
interest that would have been how greatly intensified had she known to
whom she was speaking.

"Yes, you are right," said Arthur, and something in his voice, repressed
and almost stern, made Violante start and flush and quiver, for he spoke
with the very tone of "Signor Hugo."

Neither for a moment noticed the other, and then Arthur, perceiving that
she was agitated, and not wishing to say more about himself, said
kindly:

"I hope you will be a very happy `English girl,' signorina."

"Oh," exclaimed Violante, "there is too _much_ in the world for
happiness."

"Or--too little!  But see, there's your sister; she is looking for you."

Violante started up, and, perhaps a little conscious of how much she had
implied, ran down the steps towards Rosa.

"What a brute that manager must be!" thought Arthur.  "But that creature
in a school would be like a hare in a rabbit-hutch.  Even Flossy
couldn't tackle such an incongruity.  What a queer incident it is!" and
a sort of half-impatient feeling crossed Arthur's mind because he could
not be excited and amused by it.  He was so young and bright-natured
that he got tired of grief, and yet his grief held him fast.

"I wish there was an Italian war up, and I could get myself shot!" he
thought, and then his mind glanced wearily over the consolations often
thought out so hardly, and that sometimes, and slowly, were having their
effect.  He tried to be resigned, and he longed, poor boy! not only for
his lost Mysie, but for his lost light-heartedness.  He strolled back to
the inn at last, with a deep sigh; and found himself wondering what new
queer sort of Italian dishes his black-eyed talkative hostess would
produce for dinner.

PART FOUR, CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

NO GOOD AT ALL.

  "There is a tide in the affairs of men
  Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

That same Sunday afternoon Signor Mattei walked slowly into Caletto, and
seeking the lodging where he knew that his daughters were staying sat
down under the verandah, with the feelings of a man who has come to a
period in his life from which he sees no particular means of progress.
Rosa and Violante were out, and he rested after the hot walk he had
taken from the point where the nearest public conveyance stopped, and
thought over the events of the last few weeks.

Things had gone wrong--his highest hopes were destroyed, and his more
moderate comforts and expectations had shared in their fall.  He was
angry with Violante, and as he sat waiting for her blamed her in his
heart for their misfortunes, in a way that would have been intensely
cruel and selfish had he cared what became of himself.  But he did not
cherish an unforgiving resentment against her because she could no
longer make their fortune and her own, but because she had lost the
career that he so honoured.  He would not have forgiven her could she
have brought him riches gained in another way; but, though she had
disappointed the man's high ideal and not his self-interest, the
disappointment recoiled just as hardly on her.

Signor Vasari had insulted and dismissed him, "esteeming his own private
grudge better than his orchestra, where he cannot supply my place,"
thought Signor Mattei, with a contempt that almost neutralised his
mortification.  "Who can play the violin solos as I can?" he thought
proudly.  "But old Naldi at Florence understands real genius--could I go
and leave the girls alone?  Rosa has unparalleled discretion and
Violante will have no lovers now.  Eccola!  She is coming."

Violante came round the corner of the house and started with a surprise
not altogether delightful.  However, reminding herself that she could be
in no disgrace now, she ran up to him and kissed him.

"Ah, padre mio!  How hot and tired you look.  You have come to see us?
Rosa will be here directly; she is with Madame Cellini.  I will get you
some melon; that will be cool and nice."

Her livelier manner, her more blooming looks, were evident at a glance,
as she ran into the house and brought out a slice of melon and then a
glass of light wine.

"Is it good?" she said, with smiling earnestness.  "I will take your bat
and stick."

"You look well--have you tried your voice?" he said abruptly.

"No, father;" answered Violante, with a sudden droop into her old timid
self and falling into silence.

"It must surely be returning--in a few weeks."

"Father, there is Rosa," interrupted Violante hastily, as her sister and
Madame Cellini came up the path.

Signor Mattei assumed a less anxious air; he was sufficiently in awe of
Rosa not to wish her to find him reverting to the forbidden subject; and
he came in and drank chocolate, which was now provided, and allowed
himself to be made comfortable after his journey.  Violante fell into
the background, leaving Rosa to make the communication of their uncle's
letter.  Madame Cellini, willing to give them an opportunity for their
discussion, strolled away to look at the sunset, and Rosa handed the
letter to her father, leaving it to tell its own story.  The little
tawny children peeped at Violante from a distance, and showed her the
kid with vine-leaves round its horns; but she shook her head at them,
and sat down demurely in the window, with a sort of good-child air
herself, to listen to her father's decision.

Signor Mattei had never shown any jealousy of his daughter's English
relations.  He loved his wife's memory; and, though his brother-in-law's
mode of life would have been totally uncongenial to him and it was well
that they never met, he rather liked to talk of "the uncle--of the
highest respectability--who could command the London musical world," a
power which would much have astonished Mr Grey himself; and the fact
that Rosa, coming from this uncle, had been prepared to like her home
life had greatly tended to obviate any uncomfortable feelings.  Besides,
to put it plainly, he wanted just now to get rid of his daughters, and
their uncle's proposal was exceedingly convenient to him.

"It has come," he said, rather sentimentally, "to help our fallen
fortunes.  Now, with you in the lap of luxury, I can bend to the storm
and suffer hardships willingly."

Violante looked distressed, but Rosa answered:

"We do not wish to be idle wherever we are, and should always come to
you when you wanted us.  But as my pupils seem to be dispersed, and they
have behaved so ill to you at the opera, some change seems desirable."

"Assuredly, Rosina,--assuredly.  Make yourself easy; anything will do
for me."

"But, father, what _shall_ you do?" said Rosa--not very uneasily, for
she knew from her father's manner that he had schemes in view.

"I?--I shall take my staff in my hand and make my way to Florence.  Old
Naldi, my friend there, is a true musician."

"And you will get an engagement at the opera there?" said Rosa.

"Yes, yes, it may be so; and next spring, perhaps, an opening in London:
I am not unknown there."

"That would suit exactly," said Rosa.

"If by that time I had found employment in London, and Violante--
Violante! ah, she is no good at all," said Signor Mattei,
mournfully--"_she_ can do nothing."

"I will go to school and learn," said Violante, her voice choking.

"Ah, foolish child! there is but one moment in life when success is
possible: pass that--pass all!  You threw your chance away--it is over."

The words fell on Violante's ears with a double sense: she hid her face
in her hands, and ran out of the room, down through the olive trees,
towards the lake.  "Over for ever!"--and she but seventeen.  Was she
never to have another chance,--another love?

"Ah, never! never!" she cried, half aloud, as the sleeping passion,
lulled by the passiveness of her recovery and by her easy life, woke
suddenly in all its force.  "I had better die, for it is all over for
me!  Ah, Hugo,--Hugo mio! ah!"

The last cry dropped into startled commonplace as the branch of a tree
caught her long muslin dress, and tore it right across, while she almost
lost her footing with the shock.

"All, signorina, take care; you'll hurt yourself," said an unexpected
voice; and "Signor Arthur" caught her by the hand and began to
disentangle the unlucky dress.

"Dear me, I'm afraid it's a good deal damaged," he said, good-naturedly;
"you should not run so fast."

"I was--unhappy: so I did not see," said Violante, simply.

The unhappiness was obvious, for Violante's eyes were wet and her voice
trembling.  Yet Arthur could hardly help smiling at the utterly
un-English confession.  He thought she could only so have acknowledged
some very childish sorrow.

"What makes you so unhappy?" he said, with equal directness.

"Because," she answered, telling half a truth, "because my father is
here, and I have lost my voice, signor; and he says I shall never have
another chance in my life.  All is gone in that one."

Mistaken as Arthur was as to the facts of her story, he had heard enough
to supplement her words; and the kindly impulse of consolation prompted
him to say:

"Oh, no, you must not think that.  There must be a great deal left in
your life yet, and in England you can begin fresh.  Perhaps your voice
will get strong again there."

"Ah, _that_ may be," said Violante, without any answering smile.

"Anyway, one must do the best one can and not vex other people," he
said, with a glance at a letter he held in his hand.  Violante's eyes
followed his, but she only saw the bit of folded paper, little knowing
that the mere sight of the writer's name would have burst into her
depression like a storm into mountain mist, and would have brought the
past and the present together again; while Arthur went on, ignorant of
how much vivid, unreasonable happiness he could with a few words have
given to the creature he was trying so kindly to console.  For even to
hear of all Hugh's recent troubles would have been better than not to
hear of him at all; and the few reserved, incommunicative lines which
had just disappointed Arthur would have seemed like a message from.
Paradise.

"All sorts of pleasant things may come to you in England; so keep up a
good heart, signorina."

"Keep up a good heart," repeated Violante, as if the expression was not
quite familiar to her.

"Yes; don't be frightened, you know, and never say die."

Violante smiled now.  The bright voice and look did put some heart into
her; and Arthur, who had merely talked in the most cheering way he could
think of, without considering, as Hugh would have done in like case,
whether he had himself proved the truth of his words, felt all the
brighter for his success.

"These are very unpeaceful olive-branches to have torn your dress so
badly," he said, after a pause, to turn her attention.

"Ah, yes; but I think I should like to keep a bit of them to remind me
of keeping a good heart, and of never saying die," said Violante, and
the words sounded inexpressibly droll in her soft, lingering foreign
accent.  Arthur broke off a little piece and gave it to her.

"I might do the same," he said.  "I'm sure I need the motto."

And so unconscious and so uncoquettish was Violante's way that Arthur
actually dropped the olive-leaves into his pocket-book without thinking
of smiling at her proposal.  "There," he said, "we will remember."

"I will try," said Violante; "and there is Rosa.  She will say it is
late.  Good night, Signor Arthur!"

"Good night!"

Violante repeated the advice, and showed her olive-leaves to her sister;
but, though Rosa held her tongue by a great effort of discretion, Signor
Arthur, on thinking over the transaction, was not very much surprised to
find that he obtained no more private interviews with Violante.  Perhaps
Rosa was somewhat astonished that he did not seek any.

She had, however, much to occupy her in the arrangements for their
journey.  Signor Mattei, who was very far from selfish in practical
matters, was quite ready to assign a sufficient portion of the money
recently earned by Violante and himself to take his daughters
respectably to England; and the whole party soon returned to Civita
Bella to make preparations.  Their small stock of furniture was to be
sold, the ready-money being much more valuable to them.  Violante tried
to induce Rosa to pack up the china bowl among their private
possessions, but Rosa refused steadily and a little harshly.  She did
not mean the old life to cling round her sister still.

"Give it to Maddalena," she said.  "We will not sell it, since you care
so much."

So Violante went to the old woman, whose grief at parting was, perhaps,
really the most pathetic part of this break-up of home, and bid her keep
the bowl "for her sake."

"Ecco, carissima," said Maddalena, "I have had a dream, and the
dream-book tells me that it means a meeting and a joy, and thou shalt
meet thy true-love, or another better, and then shall I give thee back
the china bowl."

Violante was not without some lingering belief herself in the dreams and
visions which Maddalena had impressed on her all her life.  So it helped
her a little way on her new start in life when, the last night she slept
on Italian soil, she dreamt that she gave Hugh an olive-branch and that
he put it into the china bowl.

She needed every little help when she sobbed and wept at parting with
her father, and begged him to forgive her all she had not done.

"Ah, child, you were no good," he said.  "But do not cry; be happy,
since you will not be great."

Signor Mattei turned away, when he was left to his solitude, with a
certain sense of freedom.  He laid his plans for going to Florence, and
thought of the dream of his youth--an opera that he had never written,
but which now, perhaps, might find its way from his brain to his
fingers.  But he could not lay his hand on the particular piece of music
that he wanted, all the store of violin-strings were mislaid, his salad
was made with bad oil, and he was so much at a loss for some one to find
fault with that he rushed off to find old Maddalena in her new situation
and accuse her of packing up his fiddle-strings in his daughters' box.
And Maddalena, having a sore heart of her own, reproached him so
unreasonably with having driven her dear young ladies out of the country
that she quite restored his self-complacency; and, having refreshed her
spirits by this outbreak, she went back and found the violin-strings,
and hinted that when il signor was settled at Florence he had better
send for her to come and keep house for him.

PART FOUR, CHAPTER THIRTY.

NEW KENSINGTON.

  "The days have vanished, tone and tint,
  And yet, perhaps, the hoarding sense
  Gives out at times (he knows not whence)
  A little flash, a mystic hint."

Mr Grey lived in a good-sized house in one of the newest squares in
South Kensington.  He had prospered in the world since his sister's
marriage, and having himself married a lady with money, was, spite of
his large family, comfortably off, and belonged to that large class of
Londoners who, by clever contrivances and well-managed economies, mix
very happily in a society which is created and upheld by people much
richer than themselves.  The girls went to balls in cabs, but they
appeared at them very well dressed and very agreeable.  They did a great
many things for themselves which many of their friends depended for on
their maids; but though they did not give many parties in the season
their entertainments were always pleasant ones.  They were acquainted
with a sprinkling of artists, authors, and actors, and were themselves
alive to a good many different interests.  They were also very kind, and
were ready heartily to welcome their Italian cousins, not wishing in the
least to sink Signor Mattei's occupation; but rather, in a warm-hearted
and perfectly genuine way, willing to make capital of what they knew of
Violante's sad little story, and to think that a young _cantatrice_
whose prospects had been so suddenly overclouded was a very interesting
kind of cousin.  Moreover, Rosa was an old friend, and had always made
herself loved and respected.

In some households the father, and in some the mother, is the leading
spirit; but at the Greys' the most prominent people were certainly the
girls.  Not that they usurped any place or power that did not naturally
belong to them; but somehow there were so many of them, they were so
available for any kind of entertainment, so good-natured, and so
popular, that they were apt to be the first object in making the
acquaintance of the family.  There had been for a short time four Miss
Greys in the world at once--the eldest being about the age of Rosa
Mattei, the youngest some seven years younger.  They were very much
alike, with pretty features, fair skins, and abundant hair.  All were
good-looking; not one was a beauty.  All could sing nicely, dance well,
read books intelligently, act pleasantly at private theatricals; but not
one of them had any prominent or conspicuous talent.  Never were girls
so clever with their fingers, so skilful in little matters of dress and
contrivance, so obliging and cheerful, so free from jealousies, and so
united among themselves.  One never grudged another her partners, or her
lovers, nor detracted in any way from another's charms.  They exchanged
confidences freely on the state of their affections and their prospects,
which they felt bound to further whenever they could.  Rosa, not being
quite prepared for this free and easy confidence, had carefully hidden
her experiences from her cousins' eyes, and had by so doing possibly
lost a chance of a happy ending to them.

Since her time Lucy, the second, had married, and Beatrice, the eldest,
had been engaged, and again disengaged--a circumstance which she had
borne with an amount of common-sense and courage more easy to despise
than to imitate, having returned to the interests of young ladyhood with
apparently undiminished fervour and invincible good-nature.  Mary, the
third, was slightly the cleverer of the four, and had aspirations in
less obvious directions; consequently, she fulfilled the claims of her
actual state in life a little less perfectly; while Kitty, the youngest,
was the softest, prettiest, and most attractive of them all, and had the
greatest claim to stand alone as a beauty.  The eldest son, Charlie, was
at Oxford, and the youngest, Ned, in the Navy.  Such were the relations
who were now preparing to welcome Rosa and Violante among them.

It was early in November; many a tint of gold and russet was still
brightening the woods round Oxley, but in the squares of Kensington
scarcely a leaf was lingering; fogs began to prevail, and the streets
looked more cheerful after the gas was lit than during the hours of dim
and struggling daylight.  Nothing outside could make the Greys'
drawing-room otherwise than bright and cheerful.  With its pink
curtains, its bright fire, its variety of little tables and chairs, all
in the most convenient situations, and its pleasant, cheerful, young
ladyhood, it was a very popular place, and the Greys rarely drank their
afternoon tea in solitude.

On the present occasion, however, their only visitor was their sister
Lucy.  Mrs Compton and they were anxiously discussing the expected
cousins.

"You see, Lucy," said Beatrice, "we are not going to make any mysteries.
We have told everyone how Violante was making quite a success in Italy
when she lost her voice, and she'll be quite a little lion for us."

"Oh, yes, quite a catch," said Mrs Compton.  "And she would get endless
pupils."

"Yes; but you see Rosa writes that she is so very shy and childish she
does not think it would be possible for her to go about teaching."

"And so," said Mrs Grey, "I have been writing about her to Miss
Venning.  I thought it well to be prepared before they came."

"Dear me, mamma!  You don't think of sending her to school.  Why, she
would set the whole place by the ears."

"I think she would break her heart," said Mary.

"Rosa speaks of her as such a child."

"Oh, don't you believe it, mother.  A girl can't have been on the
Italian stage, and brought up for it, and remain a child."

"Well, Miss Venning says: `Your proposal is somewhat startling, but I
have great confidence in your judgment; and if you feel that your niece
would be suitable in herself, I will accept her antecedents, as Florence
is wild to have her, and, of course, her music and Italian will be very
useful.'"

"Well, I wish them joy of her, and she of them, though nothing could be
nicer than dear old Rosa."

"Yes," said Miss Grey; "but do you remember her passion for going on the
stage?  She used to walk up and down my room and spout poetry till her
eyes would flash!  I can quite imagine that the little one might make an
actress.  But I daresay reality has destroyed that vision."

"I hope so," said Mrs Grey, "for I have heard of a very nice engagement
for her after Christmas.  Mrs Bosanquet's little girls, you know, Lucy.
Nothing would be better."

"Well," said Mrs Compton, "I always had an idea about Rosa.  Do you
remember that civil engineer--years ago--Dick Hamilton?  He danced very
well--was a partner of yours, Trixie.  I always thought Rosa liked him."

"I daresay she did," said Miss Grey, calmly.  "What became of him?  He
was very ugly, but had a sort of way--I remember."

"Oh, I believe he went to India.  I haven't heard of him for ages.  We
met him, I recollect, at one of those delightful parties at the
Stanforths.  How are those dear people, by the way?"

"Very well.  Mr Stanforth is doing some wonderful pictures.  One always
meets nice people there.  Mary and Kitty made a new acquaintance the
last time they went, and he has ripened very fast.  He's in a public
office and adores art and music.  Kitty sings him German songs."

"He's going to get up theatricals with the Stanforths--one of us is to
help," said Kitty.

"Oh, and you wish that `one' may be you, I suppose," said the married
sister.

"What's your friend's name, and where does he belong?"

"Crichton--Spencer Crichton.  I don't know where he comes from.  I don't
think his friends live in London."

"Violante Mattei will cut you out, Kit," said Mrs Compton, lazily.

"I daresay," said Kitty.  "It's all right if she does.  But we thought
the Stanforths would be a good place to begin taking her to.  They're so
kind and jolly, and they like oddities."

"And you expect them any time now?"

"Yes; almost at any moment.  I do hope we shall all get on together."

"Oh, no fear," said Kitty.  "We can just let each other alone if we
don't."

These good-natured girls fully intended their cousins to have a fair
share of all their little amusements and excitements, including the
admiration of their acquaintances and the possibility--it seemed a very
distant one for these foreign, penniless girls--of admiration growing to
something more, where the ground was not preoccupied.  But, at any rate,
Rosa and Violante should have their share of attention and pleasure, and
should do their share in making the house and drawing-room the most
agreeable in Kensington.

Being so agreeable, it was not strange that James Crichton, the most
sociable of civil servants, should put it on his list of pleasant houses
for dropping in at; since his own lodgings were about the last place
where Jem ever thought of spending an evening; but it was, perhaps, a
curious turn of fate that brought him to the Greys on this particular
occasion, with some tickets for a popular play, right into the midst of
the discussion on the Italian cousins.  James had so many acquaintances
in all sorts of worlds, that he had always orders and tickets, magazines
and new books, with which to repay the civilities of his friends; and he
was proceeding to criticise the actress whom they were going to see when
Mary Grey said:

"We must take Violante."

Jem's attention was so evidently arrested by the name that Mrs Grey
said:

"We are expecting some Italian cousins, Mr Crichton.  My husband's
sister married an Italian gentleman devoted to music.  His daughters,
Rosa and Violante Mattei, are coming to stay with us.  We expect them
to-night."

Words would fail to express James's utter amazement.  He said:

"Indeed--exactly so.  Are they?" in tones of conventional interest.  He
would have been scarcely more surprised if the blue china cat on the
cabinet before him had jumped off and purred in his face.

The solemn and sorrowful events that had occurred since his tour in
Italy had greatly obliterated from his mind the recollection of his
brother's holiday romance.  It seemed to have no connection with
anything that had come before or after it; and James was of opinion that
they were all well out of a great difficulty in which Hugh's
inconvenient intensity of feeling had nearly plunged them.  His
remembrance had been revived by Arthur's letter about Violante, which he
had answered with great caution, merely stating that he had seen
Violante act, and that Hugh had attended her father's singing classes--
the last place where Arthur would have expected to hear of him.  For Jem
regarded Hugh with some awe, and Hugh's feelings as a sort of tinder
that might flame up on the smallest provocation.  But evidently she had
_not_ married the manager, whom James had frequently blessed in his
heart as a perfect safeguard.  What would Hugh say when he knew this--
would Arthur tell him?  James was not in the habit of corresponding with
Hugh; if he wrote him a letter on purpose it would look as if he thought
the encounter of consequence.  However, as the letter was consolatory as
regarded Arthur's health and spirits, he satisfied his conscience by
sending it on to Hugh, merely writing across it, "Odd, isn't it?  How
people do turn up!" and Hugh had made no response to the communication
at all!

But this turn of affairs was certainly odder still.

"I have seen those young ladies," he said, after a moment's
consideration.  "I joined my brother last May in Civita Bella, and I saw
Mademoiselle Mattei make her first appearance."

"Indeed, did you really?  Ah, poor child!  Her health failed and she
lost her voice.  Such a destruction to her prospects!  Everything seemed
turning out well for her.  However, we hope she may ultimately return to
Italy and to her profession."

"Does that mean the manager?" thought Jem, while one of the girls said:

"Do tell us what she is like."

"I only saw her once off the stage," said Jem, in a dry way, unlike his
usual effusive manner.  "Her voice was very beautiful."

"Oh, but you will be quite an old friend among strangers.  And your
brother--but he doesn't live in London, I think?"

"No; in the country," said Jem, for once incommunicative.  "My people
don't often come to London, and lately we have been in trouble at home.
But I shall be in your way if there is any chance of their arriving
to-night.  Mrs Grey, let me wish you good evening."

"Well, you must look in some day and talk about Italy to my nieces."

"Oh, thanks--very happy--I'm sure," said Jem, getting away as fast as he
could, in a much-disturbed frame of mind.

If the story had concerned anyone but his brother he would have liked
nothing better than an encounter with a beautiful girl with this
semi-sentimental tie between them--with half-allusions to the past,
sympathy, confidence, mutual recollections--the shadowy lover would have
made the flirtation both safe and interesting.  "But," as he said to
himself, "there was never any knowing how old Hugh would take things!"
he had not seen him for some time, as Hugh had declined various
invitations to London, and had remained entirely by himself at the Bank
House.  It was Mrs Spencer Crichton's intention to spend Christmas at
Bournemouth, where George and Frederica were to join her for the
holidays, Hugh preferring to remain at Oxley; but directly afterwards
she had determined to return to Redhurst and begin home life again.

"After his taking no notice of the letter," thought Jem, as he came into
the club, "must I go and insist on forcing them on him?  What can have
brought them to England?  Any idea of finding him, I wonder?  I think
I'll run down and mention it casually.  Wish I'd never got acquainted
with those people.  Hallo! why, Hugh--Hugh!  What brings you here?"

"I was obliged to come up on business, and I thought I should find you
here--sooner or later," said Hugh, thinking his brother's excitement
unnecessary.

"Of course.  Delighted to see you!  Do you go back to-night?  You'll
have some dinner?  Here, waiter!"

While James gave his orders and uttered various inconsecutive remarks he
furtively watched his brother, whom he had not seen since they had
parted in the general break-up nearly three months before.  He thought
that Hugh looked aged, and, though he did not appear to be exactly ill
or miserable, there was an absence of brightness or _comfortableness_
about him, which Jem hardly thought accounted for by the fact that he
was probably cold and hungry.

But Hugh, by word and letter, was imperturbably silent as to the history
of those three solitary months, their morbid imaginings, their tortures
of self-reproach, their loneliness and dulness, without the cheerful
family life to which he was unconsciously accustomed.  Hugh began by
thinking that he was too miserable to care for anything external, and
ended, though he was for from admitting it, by missing the children's
croquet and his mother's wool-work and all the framework of home life.
But he still felt a sort of fierce satisfaction in punishing himself,
and would have been ashamed to grasp at the slightest relaxation, even
if it had been without the knowledge of those whom he felt himself to
have injured.

However, he allowed Jem to exercise his hospitality, which was an
improvement on his old housekeeper's mutton chops; and, in fact, was
sufficiently well-occupied not to notice his brother's unusual silence.
At last James said:

"So, mother's coming home after Christmas?"

"Yes, so she says."

"I wonder what Arthur will do."

"I don't know," returned Hugh, gravely.

"He writes in tolerable spirits.  Odd, wasn't it, his coming across
those girls?"

"Very odd."

"Things _are_--awfully odd.  I've made a sort of acquaintance lately--
some people called Grey--live at Kensington.  They're very musical and
know all sorts of people."

"Indeed!" said Hugh.

"Yes, I was there to-night.  Such a nice house they have!  One of the
pleasantest places to drop in at--no stiffness or formality.  They've
got some cousins--Italians."  Here James began to stir the salt
violently.  "They're expecting them to stay.  Just imagine my surprise
when I heard they were the two Matteis!"

Hugh set down his wine-glass, and looked entirely confounded.  He did
not speak a word, but fixed his eyes on his brother in silence.

"She lost her voice, it seems," said James; "and they asked her to come
for a change with her sister."

"Is she still engaged to be married?" said Hugh, hurriedly.

"Why, that's what I can't make out," said Jem.  "Arthur thought not, you
see; but, from what her aunt told me, I think there may be some idea of
it.  I don't think it's impossible--"

"You need not alarm yourself," suddenly interrupted Hugh.  "The danger's
over.  Whatever right I once thought I had to please myself in that way
I have none now, and my life must have other objects."

James was so horrified with this view of Hugh's situation that he began
vehemently to controvert it, and was ready to recommend a renewal of the
acquaintance rather than the rejection of it on such a motive.

"What would they not be justified in saying _now_?" said Hugh--"and if
not--I'm not the same man that--that--"

Hugh paused and drooped his head low, a sudden rush of recollection
revealing how much of the same man remained.

"I've got to catch the Oxley train," he said, getting up.

"Why, you're never going back to-night!  And I say, Hugh, you've been
there by yourself quite long enough.  Shall I run down, or why don't you
go to Bournemouth?"

"I don't want any change, thank you," said Hugh.  "Good night," and he
was gone before Jem had time to mutter to himself, "I don't know how it
would be if he saw her, though!"

But Hugh, as he went out into the cold night, felt his brain in a whirl.
He had had a change, whether he wished for one or not--a change of
thought, and feeling, and association; a wave of feeling that seemed to
make him conscious of _what he used to be like_ at that time that seemed
now like his whole past.  But it was past, so completely that he did not
even argue with himself against its return.  His words were so far true
that he could not have pushed his recent life aside, and sought out
Violante again.

Only, now and then, as the days went by, she seemed to steal like a
vision into his solitary rooms.  He saw her finger the quaint old
ornaments of his grandmother's drawing-room at the Bank House, or sit on
its narrow window-seats at work.  But Redhurst and all his outer life
was haunted by another vision--haunted as truly as if a spirit with wet
white dress and covered face had really wandered over the frosty autumn
meadows, or seemed to float on the dull waters, which no summer sun
awoke to sparkling light.

PART FOUR, CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

RELATIONS NEW AND OLD.

  "The world is full of other folks."

  The Gayworthys.

It was a wintry morning, with pale sunshine struggling through the
retiring fog.  In the centre of the Greys' pretty drawing-room, among
all the ottomans, tables, and nick-knacks, stood Violante.  She wore a
dark-blue serge dress, with a linen collar and a little red necktie--
attire intended by Rosa to be scrupulously that of a young English lady.
Nor was the short hair, tied back with a ribbon, so unusual as to be
peculiar.  Yet she looked, as she stood glancing around, half shy, half
observant, something like a hare in a flower-garden, just ready to dash
away.  In consideration of the fatigue of her journey, which had ended
late the night before, she had had her breakfast upstairs, and was now
really making and receiving her first impressions.

Rosa and Beatrice Grey were talking fast to each other in a rapid
exchange of question and answer; while the aunt and younger cousins were
studying this soft-eyed, fawnlike creature, so utterly unlike their
self-possessed selves.

"So, my dear," said her aunt kindly, "we have got you here at last.  And
you must tell the girls all you like best to do, that they may be able
to amuse you."

"I do not know what anyone does here exactly," said Violante, afraid of
her own voice, as she wondered if her English was _very_ foreign.

"Hasn't Rosa told you how we all get on?" said Kitty.

"Yes," said Violante.  "I thought I knew--but, after all, I did not
imagine it."

Kitty laughed kindly.

"You dear little thing!" she said, "you will soon find it all out.  And
you haven't got the least bit of voice to sing to us with?"

"No--I cannot sing!" said Violante, shyly.

"All, we shall make you tell us all your history," said Mary, wishing to
set her at her ease; "all about your stage-life and its wonders."

"_That_ was not very wonderful," said Violante, while Rosa interposed:

"She had very little time to judge of it before she was ill, and now I
think she would be glad to forget it."

"Ah, well, we must make her into an English girl," said Mrs Grey.  "We
will talk of schools and pupils by and by; first we will show her a
little of the world.  Is she as fond of parties as you were, Rosa?  How
wild a dance made you, good, sober girl as you were."

"She has never been to a party," said Rosa, laughing; "and I am not sure
if she can dance--off the stage."

"Oh, yes, I can, Rosina--Maddalena taught me."

"Do you remember going to parties at the Stanforths', Rosa?" said Miss
Grey curiously.

"Yes--very well.  Do you know them still?" said Rosa.

"Oh, yes--" and here followed details of old acquaintances and new
pictures, to which Violante listened in silent wonder.  The Greys were
fond of little schemes and surprises, so they told their cousins nothing
of the old acquaintance whom they expected them soon to meet; and
nothing occurred to make all these perplexing novelties more perplexing
still.

"Shall you be happy here, my darling?" said Rosa, anxiously, as, in the
first interval of solitude, Violante sprang to her side and eagerly
caressed her.

"Oh, yes!--yes!" said Violante; "quite happy when I see you.  But how
strange it would be to have so many sisters!  How lousy they are, and
how many things they can do!  Rosa mia!  I see now what everyone meant
by saying that you were so English.  But I like it."

Violante's life during the next week or two was not such as to make a
figure in history.  She was the prettiest plaything her cousins had ever
seen.  Her ignorance of ordinary life, her shy softness, and absence of
self-assertion, made her seem to them as a specially-lovely kitten, and
they never guessed that anything lay beneath.  They interpreted all her
actions in accordance with the impression that she had made on them.
They were fond of reading aloud to each other, and when a passionate and
mournful love-scene moved Violante, unused to the echoes of her own
heart, to tears and blushes, they laughed at her _naivete_ and
simplicity.  When she shrank from questions about her theatrical life
they concluded that she had nothing to tell of it, and they treated the
idea of her teaching Italian at school as an absurd joke.

"But I must earn my living," said Violante, gravely.

"_You_ earn your living--you kitten!" said Beatrice.

"Yes--one must do something, and I cannot sing--or marry," said
Violante, and her cousins' laughter at what seemed to the foreign girl a
perfectly natural suggestion blinded them to the fact that there was
more knowledge of the struggle of life in her words than had ever come
to them over their drawing-room carpets.  But they taught her to talk,
and diminished her shyness so that she could not have been in a better
atmosphere.

To Rosa the life came with no strangeness; rather her four years of
Italy were like a dream.  Surely--surely it was but yesterday that she
had trimmed her dresses for other parties at the Stanforths' and
Comptons', where Lucy was then so anxious to go.  Was there _now_
nothing to give the old zest to her preparations?  Only the desire to
set off Violante, and to see her enjoying herself.  But Rosa's world
was, indeed, full of "other folks;" and she did not decide on her
actions with regard to herself.  And great questions were agitating
themselves in her mind during these early and apparently peaceful days.
Her aunt told her of the fortunate opening which she had found for her
at Mrs Bosanquet's.

"And you see, my dear, the money is as much as you would get anywhere.
You could continue it if your father does come to England in the spring,
as he proposes.  It leaves you time for a few occasional pupils, and you
would have your evenings at home--an inestimable advantage if Violante
is with you."

"I know my father thinks that, if her voice returns and we stay in
England, she might sing at concerts and oratorios.  But I don't think
she will ever be able to do anything in public."

"Oh, dear me, Rosa, she is a child; she will be a different person in a
year or two.  But I agree with you, she is not suited for it, and must
be well taken care of."

"Indeed, I must take care of her!"  Rosa said no more, and her aunt
never supposed that she had any hesitation as to availing herself of the
excellent opportunity before her; and, indeed, as Rosa listened, she
felt that her alternative grew more remote.  But it lost nothing in
fascination.

After they had been about a week at Kensington some tickets were sent to
Mrs Grey for `The School for Scandal'--then being performed.  Violante
did not go: she shrank from the very thought of a theatre; and, as Rosa
was by no means anxious to expose her to unnecessary cold and fatigue,
she remained at home, while Mr Grey took his eldest daughter and Rosa.

It was a long time since Rosa had seen any acting, and she sat like one
bewitched, with hot cheeks and bright eyes, her hands clasped before
her--now delighted, now impatient--her lips moving in sympathy or
correction--absorbed as she had not been for years.  Mr Grey thought
what a very handsome young woman his niece was, with her fine eyes and
intense expression; but her cousin Beatrice, who had been in the old
days more than anyone else her friend, watched her curiously, and when
they came home said:

"Come into my room, and brush your hair, and then you will not disturb
Violante!  So you are as fond of acting as ever, Rosa?"

"Fond of it!" ejaculated Rosa.  "Oh, Trixy, I must, I must!  I can't
give it up again.  Surely there must be some way!"

"Rosa! you don't mean to say you are thinking of it seriously?"

"It would be just life to me," said Rosa, passionately, and almost
crying, as she brushed her hair over her face.

Miss Grey laid aside a modest portion of accessory plaits as she said,
gravely--

"You see, Rosa, `life,' as you call it, is just what most people don't
get.  And I'm sure you would not like it; you are not the sort of girl."

"Yes, I am!" said Rosa, with petulance.  "Nobody understands.  They
think because I _can_ work and teach, and take care of myself and other
people, and look serious, that that's all of me, and that I'm good and
quiet.  But I'm _not_, if being good means being contented in--in a pond
with a fence all round it.  I should _like_ to knock about, have to take
care of myself, and live in a lodging!  I _like_ the gas and the fun,
and the ups and downs of it, and not being sure of succeeding; and if
Violante was married I'd do it to-morrow!"

"But, Rosa--"

"But, Trixy, I mean what I say.  I _can_ act as I can do nothing else;
but whether it is possible for me to be an actress is another thing, I
know very well.  It couldn't make much difference to all of you--could
it?"

"Well, no," said Beatrice, "I don't think, we should consider that it
did.  But, Rosa, you would either have to begin in the smallest possible
way, or else study for years; and how could you pay for getting yourself
taught?  You might ask Mr A--," mentioning an eminent actor of
well-known kindness and respectability; "he sometimes comes here.  But
when there's the other thing all ready for you!"

"Oh, Trixy, I know," said Rosa.  "But of course," she added, "I can't be
expected to feel that it would be unsuitable.  If I had a voice--oh! if
I had--what it would have saved Violante and me!"

"You gave up the idea once before," said Beatrice.

"Yes," said Rosa, rather faintly.

"There was something then you would have liked better still, eh!  Rose?"

"Yes," said Rosa, with a sudden heart-throb.

"I'm afraid he wasn't good for much, Rosy," said her cousin, patting her
hair.

"You never hear of him now?" said Rosa.

"Never.  Everyone doesn't get Lucy's luck, you know, and when things go
wrong one must put up with second-best."

"I am to have neither first or second," said Rosa.

"Well, there's a good deal of third in the world, and one gets on with
it."

"The long and the short of it is," said Rosa, as she stood up to go,
"that that's my wish, but I can't turn the world upside down to get it,
and I can live without it, as I've done before.  Why, I almost forgot it
till things went wrong with Violante.  Anyhow, I must take care of her."

Beatrice Grey, spite of her easy life, had not found the world
accommodate itself so exactly to her wishes as to be surprised at the
necessity for submission, but she was struck by Rosa's last words, and
said: "You're the best girl I know, Rosa."

"I mustn't go to many plays if you are to hold that opinion long,"
replied Rosa, as she went away.

"Did you enjoy yourself, Rosina mia?" said Violante, sleepily.

"Yes, my darling," said Rosa, "so much so that next time you must come
and look after me."

Violante gave a little sleepy laugh at this absurd notion, as her
sister, wakeful with excitement, lay down by her side.

Rosa was not exactly conscious of making a sacrifice: she rather felt
herself yielding to a powerful necessity.  Of course, the family
well-being and Violante's happiness must come first, whatever happened.
She must act prudently.  Life had taught her prudence; only her hot
nature rebelled sometimes.  Her age and experience taught her that she
could live without being an actress.  She lay thinking of her life and
her sister's--not cynically, but without any youthful illusions.  Her
first ambition seemed impracticable--her first love was a thing of the
past.

PART FOUR, CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

OLD ACQUAINTANCE.

  "Strange, yet familiar things."

The scene of Violante's first party was a great rambling house in
Kensington--half old, half new--with odd passages and corners, and steps
up and down; incongruous, and yet comfortable; and full of all the
daring innovations and the unexpected revivals of an artist's taste.
Mr Stanforth gave his visitors pleasant things to look at, and pleasant
people to talk to; and, while a fair share both of things and people
were enough out of the common to amuse--by exciting criticism, here and
there was a work of art, and here and there a famous person standing on
a higher level, and rousing enthusiasm and admiration.  Besides, the
large and lively family party were always ready for schemes of
amusement; and there were no such private theatricals, no such
drawing-room concerts and impromptu dances anywhere else--at least, so
thought the Miss Greys.  To the young Violante the scene had all the
wonder of absolute novelty; to her sister the tender interest of an
unforgotten past.  Rosa remembered the play which she had acted there,
when applause had lighted the first spark of ambition; but she seemed to
live over again the day, three months later, when that fire had paled
before an intenser flame.  The scene was the same, but the play had been
altered to make room for new actors; and Violante, in her white dress,
with Christmas roses crowning her soft cloudy hair, stood in the front.

"That girl is like starlight," someone said, and Rosa speedily became
aware that her sister was one of the things to be looked at to-night.
Rosa herself received a warm greeting; and their kind and pleasant host
took the two sisters into his studio, that the younger one, at least,
might both see and be seen.

"I am afraid the artistic eyes of Italy will see much to criticise," he
said, with a smile.

"You are used to pictures?"

"I thought they were all painted long ago," said Violante, "except the
copies;" for Civita Bella had not offered many facilities or attractions
to painters, and having been behind the scenes of one art did not lessen
her wonder at the other.  She stared in amazement at recognising the
original of a peasant-girl on the wall in the fashionably-dressed young
lady who was showing off the pictures, and when the same face which she
had admired under a helmet in a picture was pointed out to her above a
white tie among the guests; and smiled as its owner handed her a seat,
she felt as if the world was very wonderful, unconscious of her own
similar and very superior claims to be an object of interest.

"Come and see papa's new picture!" said one of the girls of the house,
smiling, to a new arrival, and James Crichton followed her to the door
of the studio.

"Isn't it a lovely one?" she said.

There stood Violante, as he had seen her once before, the centre of a
group, not now pale and frightened, but flushed and smiling; silent,
indeed, and shy, but with eyes that were full of life; her childish
pathetic charm brightened into unmistakable beauty; the great artist
enlightening her ignorance, and half the young men in the company seized
with artistic fervour.

"Don't break the spell," said Jem, drawing back.  He had had some vague
notion of the possibility of seeing her at this party, but never like
this.

There was generally a little dancing at the Stanforths in the course of
the evening, and now James beheld the artist's handsome model petition
Violante for a quadrille with considerable _empressement_.  She looked a
little shy and doubtful, but finally let him lead her away; while as he
passed Miss Stanforth he smiled and whispered triumphantly, "I've got
the beauty!"

And James was suddenly seized with a sensation of fierce unreasonable
jealousy on his brother's account.  "Was this the state of things he had
wasted his pity upon?  She had not fretted much!  After all poor old
Hugh had gone through, while he was in trouble and working hard, unable
to bear the sound of her name, _she_ could laugh and flirt and enjoy
herself.  It was always the way!"  In short, if James had ardently
desired that his brother should win Violante he could not have been more
put out at seeing her the object of other men's attention, or at
watching her gradually take courage as her partner evidently took pains
to teach her the unfamiliar figures.  How graceful she was and how sweet
her smile!

Jem's anger was never very long-lived, and before the end of the
quadrille he was smiling to himself and speculating on what she would
say when he made himself known to her.  He turned a little as this
thought occurred to him, and came face to face with Rosa Mattei.  She
started violently, evidently quite unprepared to see him, and then made
a stiff little bow.

"Ah, you have met!" exclaimed Miss Grey, joining them.  "I did not tell
my cousin she was to meet a friend."

"I had no notion of it," said Rosa, abruptly.

"_I_ was not altogether unprepared," said James.  "Signor Mattei is not
with you?"

"No.  My father is in Florence."

"And your sister?--I hope she is well."

"She is very well, thank you."

Both Jem and Rosa felt antagonistic.  "Why," thought she, "had he come
like a ghost to disturb Violante's peace?"

"What had brought these girls to England?" thought he.  "Did they want
to seek Hugh out?"

There was an awkward little pause, which, was broken by a lady, a friend
of James's mother, who came up to him and asked after his brother.

"Very well, thank you.  He is at home--not here," returned James,
conscious that Rosa looked relieved at the intelligence.

"And your cousin Arthur?"

"Well, we have pretty good accounts from him, I think.  Miss Mattei," he
added, "I believe you met my cousin at Caletto."

"_Your_ cousin!  Mr Pinsher--Spencer.  Ah, I see! our Italian friend
mistook the name; but we certainly did meet an English gentleman at
Caletto."

James never could endure to be on bad terms with anyone.  The first
attempt at a snub, far from repelling him, only set him to work to find
a vulnerable point.  Rosa's stiffness was irresistible, and, besides, he
was anxious to hear of Arthur.

"How very singular!" he said.  "He mentioned you in one of his letters.
Do tell me, Miss Mattei, if he struck you as looking out of health or
spirits?"

"No; I think he was quite well," said Rosa; then, remembering Violante's
impression: "He may have seemed rather sad at times, but I did not see
much of him."

"He went abroad to try to recover from a great shock.  The lady he was
engaged to died."

"How very sad!" exclaimed Rosa, feeling that this was much at variance
with her distrustful impressions.

"Yes.  We have had a good deal of trouble since we met last, Miss
Mattei.  Holidays are soon over in this work-a-day world."

James looked rather sentimental, though his expressions were quite
genuine.

"We have had some trouble too," said Rosa, "but it is now, I hope, over.
I have occupation in London, and my sister is going to school."

"To school!  Well, this is a world of changes; but there was something
in all that sunshine and blue sky after all.  And the Tollemaches; oh,
weren't the Tollemaches really nice people--so kind!"

Before Rosa could answer, Violante's partner brought her back.  James
drew out of sight for a moment.  Away from the overpowering force of
Hugh's reality, he was possessed by a lively interest in the strange
turns events were taking.  He studied the situation as if it had been a
work of art and he a collector, not cynically or critically, but with
the affectionate interest of an amateur in picturesque episodes.

Violante looked bright-eyed and rosy.

"Did you see, Rosina?  I have been dancing.  That was such a nice
partner!  I was not afraid of him long.  And there is his picture.  Did
you see?"

"Oh, yes, dear; I saw it all," said Rosa; while James thought: "Not
inconsolable!"  Suddenly Violante looked up and saw him.  She turned
pale, then suddenly out of her eyes flashed a look of unspeakable joy,
that outshone her childish gaiety and put it out of sight.  She glanced
all round the room with an eagerness more touching and convincing than
any degree of alarm or agitation; and, perhaps, her stage-training in
self-command stood her in good stead, for she made no scene, but took
James's offered hand, and looked in his face with a look of happy
expectation that touched him more than he could say.

"So you have come to England, mademoiselle," he said.  "Do you like it?
I have been talking to your sister, and she tells me you met my cousin--
in Italy."

"Signor Arthur!" exclaimed Violante, with instant comprehension.

"Yes--Arthur Spencer--do you recollect him?"

"Oh, yes! he told me about England," said Violante, eagerly; but even
while she spoke the brightness began to fade out of her face.  She
_knew_ that Hugh was not there, and that James was not going to speak to
her about him.  He, on his side, felt the attitude he was forced to
assume so embarrassing that he gladly availed himself of the first
excuse to turn away.  She, poor child, could only feel that suddenly her
part in this delightful party became like a part in a play.  She must
act her own character, crush back her surprise and pain, and look as
usual.  Perhaps, nothing but long habit could have enabled her to do so;
she found herself smiling her old stage smile, her fingers felt cold as
they used to do at the opera, her eyes took their old stupid look, and
the music surged in her ears like the music of the opera orchestra.  She
was not going to cry or faint now any more than then, but all her sweet
spontaneous pleasure was destroyed.

"I felt as if I was acting," was all she said to Rosa, afterwards, when
the confusing scene was over, and she and her sister were alone.

"My darling," said Rosa, "it was too hard that your pleasure should be
spoilt like this."  Rosa was sitting by their bed-room lire, and
Violante, half-undressed, sat on the rug leaning against her knees.  She
did not answer for a moment, and then said, rather imperiously:

"Tell me everything he said to you."

"I don't think he was pleased to see us," said Rosa.  "I heard him say
his brother was in the country, and that he was quite well."

"Ah!" murmured Violante.

"And he told me that Signor Arthur, as you call him, had lost the girl
he was engaged to--that she is dead."

"I knew she was dead: he told me so."

"Did he? but, in short, Violante, I hope you won't let this meeting
dwell in your mind.  What is past, is past; and--you won't be unhappy,
my child, will you?"

"No," said Violante, slowly, and with some reserve.

She was disturbed and agitated; but she was very far from hopeless.  Now
that the seas did not divide them, anything seemed possible: she might
meet him in the street--he might seek her again.  But slow days passed,
and she did not see him, while James, the Greys heard, went out of town
for Christmas.  The poor child had many weary yearning hours; but
pleasure and novelty and affectionate kindness were not powerless; nor
was she miserable.  During these days Rosa's choice of an occupation was
determined--at any rate, for the present.  Her uncle offered her a home
in his house until her father came to England, if she accepted the
situation of daily governess to Mrs Bosanquet.  She found that the
stage could not be for the present remunerative: and, even with
Violante's schooling provided for, the two sisters had to clothe
themselves; and she could not bear to be a burden on such kind
relations.  So when the moment of decision came she told her aunt that
she would do her best for the little Bosanquets, and thanked her
heartily for her recommendation.

"I can do it, as I've done before," she said, "and I _will_.  But now,
Aunt Beatrice, will you tell me something about this school for
Violante?  Do they know who she is?"

"Oh, yes.  Miss Venning is an old friend of mine.  We haven't met for
some years now; but she is a most excellent and kind-hearted person; and
her two sisters, who are quite young, are, I believe, admirable.  I am
sure Violante will meet with nothing but kindness, and it will do her
good to fend for herself a little."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Rosa doubtfully, "and she must learn
self-reliance, poor child!"

She thought secretly that it would be well to shield Violante from
encounters with James Crichton, and that at least she would be safe at
school.  But Rosa was very miserable at this time.  She had not given up
her prospects without scorching tears of disappointment.  Four years
back seemed nearly as recent to her regretful memory as four months to
Violante's; and now she must part with her child and lose the caresses
that were the sweetest things in life to her.  Violante grew frightened
as the time drew near, and clung to her more closely than ever; but she
never uttered a word of resistance, and regarded the going to school, as
she had done the coming to England, with the same curious under-current
of inclination.

In the middle of January Mrs Grey received a letter from Miss Venning,
saying:

"My sister Florence has been in London, and will return on the 18th.  If
you would like it she will bring your niece back with her--it is the day
we re-open school."

This arrangement was gladly acceded to; and on a clear cold morning
Violante, well wrapped up, walked up and down the long platform from
which she was to start, furtively holding Rosa's fingers in her muff,
and looking about for a school-mistress very unlike the tall, fair,
rosy-faced girl who came rapidly up to the appointed meeting-place.

"Miss Florence Venning?" said Mrs Grey.  "How do you do?  Here are my
nieces, and this is Violante."

Florence shook hands with them, and answered enquiries for her eldest
sister, and then, as Mrs Grey said something aside about her niece's
shyness and grief at leaving her sister, she answered, in a kind, yet
matter-of-course manner:

"Oh, yes.  I daresay she minds it very much; but she'll soon be quite
happy again, I'm sure.  I hope we shall be very good friends."

"You are a governess, too, aren't you?" she added, to Rosa, with a view
to making acquaintance.

"Yes," said Rosa, rather faintly.

"I think one is quite glad to get to work again after the holidays.  I
always feel ready to begin.  We ought to get in, I think.  Will you come
now, signorina?  That is what we must call you, I suppose?"

Flossy's breezy abruptness was better, perhaps, than a more open
sympathy.  But when she saw the two sisters cling together, and heard
Rosa's murmured "My darling, my darling!" her blue eyes filled with
quick, kindly tears.

"I'll take ever so much care of her!" she said, impulsively.  "Don't be
afraid."

Poor Rosa looked quite fierce with misery; but the inexorable bell rang,
the door was shut between the sisters, and while the many struggles of
Rosa's last few weeks found vent in a fit of uncontrollable sobbing,
Violante was whirled away, through the frosty fields and wintry
hedgerows, to Oxley and Redhurst--to the very neighbourhood of Hugh
Crichton.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

HAUNTED.

  "And ghosts unseen
  Crept in between
  And marred our harmony."

PART FIVE, CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

SCHOOL.

  "Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky."

The bells of Saint Michael's Church were ringing a joyous peal as
Violante set foot in Oxley.  There had been a wedding in the morning,
and the bells were honouring the bride with a final peal, as the sun
sank low in the clear, cold sky and the wintry moon rose white against
the rosy sunset.  Below, people stamped through the street, and the
horses' hoofs sounded sharply on the hard road.  The lamps flashed out
one by one, the outlines of the buildings were still visible.

"That is the Bank," said Flossy, as they drove past.

Violante looked, and saw the handsome white building, already closed for
the night, and the dark red house beside it where one light showed in an
upstair window.  She was too much bewildered to care to speculate about
it.  They passed out of the town along the road, with its pretty villas
with cheerful lights shining from the windows, past the nursery-gardens
and scattered cottages, beyond which, the last house in the borough of
Oxley, stood Oxley Manor.

"Here we are," said Flossy, brightly.  "We shall be just in time for
some tea.  Ah, how d'ye do, Anne," to the servant that opened the door.
"Yes; half-a-crown, that's right.  This is Miss Mattei's luggage.  Come
in, signorina!  Well, Mary, here she is."

And Violante found herself warmly and kindly greeted and led into a
pleasantly-lighted drawing-room, while Miss Venning enquired for her
aunt and cousins.

"They are quite well, signora," said Violante, in her soft, liquid
voice.  She felt shy, but then she was not expected to do anything but
speak when she was spoken to, and, being confiding as well as timid, she
warmed at once to a kind word.

"Give them some tea, Clarissa," said Miss Venning.  "They have had a
very cold journey, and then Miss Mattei can take off her things before
the school tea."

"We arrived to the sound of wedding bells.  For Ada Morrison, I
suppose?" said Flossy.

"Yes; it has made quite an auspicious beginning for you, my dear," to
Violante.

"That is pleasant," said Violante, shyly.

"Yes; a good beginning is half-way to a good ending.  So remember that,
my dear, in all your work," said Miss Venning, sonorously.

"Now come with me," said Florence, "and I will introduce you to Edith
Robertson.  She teaches the little ones English and drawing and learns
the higher branches."

Whether Violante had much idea of what fruit might grow in this lofty
situation may be doubted, but she followed Flossy to a large room,
brightly lit with gas, where, what Violante afterwards described to Rosa
as "as many girls as there are singers in a chorus," were enjoying the
leisure of recent arrival after the holidays.  There was a cry of "Miss
Florence, Miss Florence!" and such a confusion of greetings and embraces
ensued as made Violante quite dizzy; but presently Florence extricated
from the crowd a short, plain, clever-faced girl of nineteen or twenty,
introduced her as Miss Robertson, and told her to show Violante her room
and to tell her a few of the ways of the house, while she returned to
her sisters.

"Well," she cried, as she came back into the drawing-room and sat down
on the rug for a comfortable chat.  "Isn't she a little dear?  She
cried, and so did her sister, who looks a famous person; but she soon
cheered up."

"And, pray, do you expect her to be of any use?" asked Clarissa.  "She
looks about as much like a governess as--"

"A public singer," said Flossy.

"Yes," said Miss Venning.  "Mrs Grey was quite right in saying there
was nothing unsuitable in her appearance."

"Oh, nor in herself," said Flossy.  "She is a mere child, evidently;
but, of course, she can speak her own language, and that is all we want.
And it will be very interesting to study a mind that has had so
different an experience from one's own."

"Always presupposing," said Clarissa, "that she has a mind to study."

"Now, Clarissa, you know I hate that idea that people must have a
certain amount of stereotyped cleverness before they can be supposed to
have any characters.  _No one_ is commonplace, or like anybody else, if
one really understands them.  They say even sheep are all different, and
I'm sure girls are.  The most unexpected developments--"

"Well, Flossy, never mind all that," said Miss Venning.  "You shall do
as you like with Miss Mattei, and I daresay you will make something of
her."

"Oh, I feel sure of it.  But, now, how is everyone?  Is there any news?"

"Yes; Mrs Crichton comes home next week; so I think Freddie will not
come back as a boarder."

"It will be very dull for her at home, poor child," said Flossy,
gravely.

"Well, Mrs Crichton writes, in her usual energetic way, that she thinks
it a duty to keep the house as cheerful as possible; and she means to
ask a friend Freddie has made at Bournemouth to stay with her.  She
hopes, too, that Hugh will live at home as usual."

"He will not be an element of cheerfulness," said Clarissa.  "I met him
riding yesterday, and I never saw so gloomy a face."

"And Arthur?" said Flossy.

"I don't think his plans are settled yet; but Mrs Crichton says he
writes cheerfully."

"I don't think much of those cheerful letters," said Flossy, sadly.
"What can he say?  How will one ever go to Redhurst?  Ah, there's a
ring!  That's the Pembertons, no doubt.  I must get ready for tea."

At six o'clock Violante found herself sitting at tea in a large,
cheerful room, and gradually took courage to make her observations on
the new scene before her.  She was placed among the elder girls, who
were exceedingly polite to her, for Flossy's genial influence told in
the tone of the school; but she felt more attracted towards a row of
long-haired lesser ones, for whom Miss Robertson was making tea.  "I
should like to do that," she thought; "I hope they will love me."  There
was a grand French governess, who looked formidable; and who, to tell
the truth, was the only person of whom Miss Florence stood in awe, and
who regarded her merely as a big girl and not as a theorist in
education.  There was also a younger and quieter-looking German, and
about thirty pupils.  There was a good deal of conversation, and plenty
to eat.  Violante occupied at night the same room with Miss Robertson, a
pleasant one enough.  Her companion pretended not to notice the tears
which the longing for Rosa's good nights could not fail to bring.  She
had seen a good many school-girls cry, since she had been sent to an
orphanage for clergymen's daughters at eight years old; and she thought
everyone ought to appreciate their good luck in being at Oxley Manor--
certainly a little ignorant foreigner, who was, besides, too old and too
tall to be legitimately homesick.  She must learn not to be a helpless
child.  But Violante's beauty and fascinating sweetness were a magic
armour with which to face this new world.  Everyone, even her stern
young judge, was kindly disposed towards her and ready to make allowance
for her ignorance and helplessness.

Miss Venning, however much licence she might allow to Florence, was very
really the mistress of her school.  The girls, Flossy included, read the
Bible to her every morning--a ceremony almost as alarming to Violante as
standing up to sing.  When this was over Miss Venning called her, and
said:

"Now, my dear, tell me what you can do?"

"I cannot do anything, signora.  I am very stupid," faltered Violante.
"I will try."

"What have you learnt?"

"English.  I know English, and just a little French and music."

"Have you read much of your own literature--Dante or Tasso?"

"No, signora."

"Read me a piece of this," said Miss Venning, putting a volume of
Italian poetry into her hands that she might judge of her accent.
Frightened as Violante was, and little as she had responded to her long
technical training, she declaimed the verses in a very much more
vigorous style than Miss Venning expected.

"That is very well," she said.  "You must read Italian with Miss
Florence, and help her to teach her class."

"Signora," said Violante, emboldened by the praise, "I can knit and sew
and embroider.  I could teach these to the young ladies."

"And you shall," said Flossy, who was standing close by.  "Sister, we'll
make needlework popular."

"They are very pleasant occupations," said Miss Venning.  "Now, let me
hear you play; for it will be part of your duty to overlook the little
girls at their music."

Violante played very prettily, though her fingers had comparatively been
little cultivated; but she refused even to attempt to sing, flushing and
trembling in a way quite inexplicable, if the Miss Vennings had known
nothing of her former history.

"Well, my dear," said Miss Venning, "you have a great deal to learn, and
a little to teach.  We will do our best to make you happy among us, and
you on your part will, no doubt, be industrious and obedient."

"Yes, signora," said Violante, a good deal impressed by the profundity
of Miss Venning's manners.

"And one thing I wish you to notice.  As you make friends with your
companions, do not make the details of your former life a matter of
conversation.  You have no need to be ashamed of it; but it would excite
great curiosity, and you might be questioned in a way you would not
like."

"It is only _silly_ girls who wish to talk," said Violante, quoting a
sentiment of Rosa's, and looking slightly hurt.

"Then do you be wise," said Miss Venning, rather amused.  "Now go to
your lessons."

Violante dropped into the routine of her new life with surprising
quickness.  She did not dislike it; but, as she wrote to Rosa: "There is
so much that I do not understand."  She found herself, of course, very
ignorant; but either her teachers found teaching her a pleasant task, or
she had exaggerated her own dulness, for no one gave her up as hopeless.
She even managed to exercise a sort of control on the few occasions
when she was forced to assume authority.  The little girls delighted in
her, and her greatest pleasure was to do their hair for them, make them
pretty things, teach them fancy-work, and be generally a slave to them.
She was willing to assume any amount of the playtime responsibility
generally considered so irksome, and, as Clarissa observed, would have
been "all nursery, and no governess," instead of sharing the prevailing
tendency in the opposite direction.  The elder ones were very fond of
her, but, though she responded quickly to kindness, she did not bestow
any depth of affection on anyone but Miss Florence, whom she regarded as
a superior being.  Flossy was a perpetual wonder to her.  Rosa had been
a fairly efficient and conscientious teacher; but, assuredly, she had
not found it her greatest delight, nor rattled away even to such an
uncomprehending listener as Violante of classes and examinations and the
principles of education.  She had not taken so vivid an interest in each
one of her pupils, nor been so anxious to extend her sphere of labour,
that she could scarcely, as Flossy's sisters said, see a girl passing in
the street without wanting to teach her, and had always a plea for
extending some of the advantages of Oxley Manor "just this once" to some
poor little outsider who stood just "next" in the social scale to those
who already enjoyed them.  And she could do so many things herself.  The
girls said Miss Florence was writing a book, and she certainly drew
nearly as well as the master.  She could make her dresses, too, _not_
quite so well as the dressmaker, and was much prouder of them than of
the drawing or the book either.  Enthusiasm is infectious.  Violante
caught the prevailing tone and worshipped Miss Florence with innocent
ardour.  It was a somewhat dangerous atmosphere for Flossy, but she was
more wrapped up in her occupations than in herself; she heartily loved
her admiring pupils, and had her own enthusiasms in other directions.

There were two schoolrooms at Oxley Manor; and in the larger one, in the
dusky firelight of a Saturday afternoon, the two young "pupil teachers,"
for which simple name Flossy was wont to contend, sat learning some
French poetry.  Violante did not like learning her lessons, it reminded
her too much of learning her parts; but, then, as she reflected, it did
not matter nearly so much if she could not say them.  She sat on a stool
in a corner by the mantelpiece, her face framed in its softly-curling
locks, in shadow, and the firelight dancing on her book and on her
childish, delicate hands--hands that looked fit only to cling and
caress, belying their fair share of deftness and skill.  Miss Robertson
sat on a chair, and held her book before her eyes, for she was
short-sighted.  She had chilblains, and occasionally rubbed her fingers.
Her companion's idleness was quite an interruption to her; she felt
obliged to keep her in order.

"You don't seem to get on with your poetry, signorina," she said, giving
the title which attached to Violante as a sort of Christian name.

"No, it is hard."

"One must give one's mind to it.  I don't think you take a sufficiently
serious view of life, signorina."

"A serious view?" repeated Violante.

"Well, of work, you know.  Look at Miss Florence.  What do you suppose
makes her so energetic and useful?"

"I suppose," said Violante, "that she is like my father, and has
enthusiasm.  And, perhaps, she has not much else to think of.  She is
very happy."

"Do you mean that no one should work at what they don't like?"

"Oh, yes; but it is much harder, especially when there is so much
besides," said Violante.  She did not mean to turn the tables on her
companion, but merely to state simple fact.

"I don't see," said Miss Robertson, "what can be more important than
getting ready to earn one's living."

"Yes--we must do that--if we can," said Violante.

"I assure you," said Miss Robertson, "things would be very different
here if it weren't for Florence Venning.  I've been at other schools and
I know.  You and I would not have such good times without her."

"Oh, she is good and beautiful!" cried Violante.  "I would learn lessons
all day to please her.  Where is she now?"

"She is gone to Redhurst?" said Edith, gravely.

"Redhurst?"

"Yes.  Have none of the girls told you about poor Mysie Crofton?"

"No, who is she?"

"She used to come here to school, and--it happened last summer before I
came; but they often talk of it--she was drowned."

"Oh, how sad!  Did she fall into the water?"

"She was going to be married, and her lover and his cousin were
shooting, and they saw her standing on the lock, and Mr Crichton--"

"Who?"

"Mr Hugh Crichton.  He lives at Redhurst, don't you know?  She was
going to marry his cousin, Mr Spencer.  Well, they were shooting, and--
it was very awful--but Mr Crichton's gun frightened her, and she fell
into the water and was drowned."

Violante sat in the shadow.  Her dead silence might have come from her
interest in the story.

"That's not the worst.  They say Arthur Spencer told him not to fire--
and he did--"

"Was he jealous?" suddenly cried Violante.

"Good gracious, signorina!  What a horrid--what a ridiculous idea!  How
foreign!  Of course not.  He didn't mean to hurt her.  He was half mad
with grief.  I'm sure _now_ he looks as if he couldn't smile--and Mr
Spencer has been abroad ever since it happened--last August."

Violante sat in her corner, her heart beating, shivering, her face
burning.  "He is near--" Then that wild foolish thought of the poor
foreign opera-taught girl gave place to a pang of shame, and then, "He
is unhappy."  She had forgotten herself--forgotten where she was; when
Miss Florence came slowly into the room in her hat and jacket.  She came
and knelt down by the fire, looking much graver than usual.

"Frederica comes to school on Monday," she said, in rather a strained
voice.

"How were they, Miss Florence?" asked Edith.

"Oh, I don't know.  Mrs Crichton is very well.  They are hardly
settled."

"I was telling signorina," said Miss Robertson.

Flossy looked at Violante.

"Why, you have frightened her!" she said, "with our sad story."

Violante could not speak; but something in Flossy's trembling lips spoke
to her heart.  She pressed up close to her and hid her face on her
shoulder.

"Why, my dear child, how you tremble!" cried Flossy, touched by the
action and by the sympathy, as she thought it.  "Hush, _we_ have almost
left off crying for her!"

"I never thought it would make you hysterical," said Miss Robertson,
rather severely.

"Let her alone," said Florence, for all her tenderest strings were still
quivering with the renewal of old associations, and somehow this girl,
who cried for her dear Mysie, spoke to her heart as no one had done
since Mysie's star had set.  Violante clung closer and closer, conscious
of nothing but a sense of help and fellowship in the stormy sea that,
had suddenly burst in on her.  She had lost all sense of concealment,
she forgot that Flossy did not know her secret; she was only silent
because no words adequate to her bewildered horror suggested themselves.
At last she half sobbed out:

"And he killed her--killed her?"

"Oh, no; you must not say that," said Flossy.  "It was a very sad
accident, but poor Hugh could not help it, and Arthur never blamed him.
She was so good, so sweet.  But you must not cry, dear; why are you so
startled?" she added, becoming aware that Violante's agitation was
excessive, though, on the score of her Italian actress-ship, she was not
prepared to consider it unnatural.

Violante was slowly coming to herself.  She sat up and pushed back her
hair; while things began to arrange themselves in her mind.  Hugh
Crichton lived close at hand; she might see him, and he had been in a
great storm of trouble--was that why she had heard nothing of him?  Then
Signor Arthur--she remembered how James Crichton had told Rosa that his
cousin's love was dead.  Here was something she could say.

"Signora, I met Signor Arthur Spencer in Italy at Caletto.  That was
partly--" She stumbled over the truth so like a lie; but Flossy broke
in--

"Saw Arthur?  Did you?  Oh, tell me--how was he--what did he look like?"

"He was very sad--I knew that, though he used to come and talk and laugh
with us.  He was travelling.  And when I knew we were coming to England
I asked him what English girls were like?  And, oh, Miss Florence, I
knew he spoke of one he loved who was dead.  But he told me to be brave.
He is so!"

It did not strike Flossy at the moment to be surprised at Violante's
interest in Arthur and his story; the subject was too interesting to
herself, but the fact dropped into her mind and was recalled in the
future.  Now she asked a few more questions about him, and in return
told Violante a little of the circumstances of his trouble, till they
were obliged to separate to dress for tea.  Violante crept away to her
room, and as she stood by herself in the dark she felt that she had in a
manner deceived Miss Florence.  "But," thought she--"he shall say first
he knows me--if he will.  When shall I see him?  How shall I see him?
Oh, never--shut up here!  Hugo--ah, Hugo mio!"

Yet she felt full of expectation, full of something like hope.  "I will
tell Rosa if I see Signor Arthur," she thought; "but if I tell her who
is near she will be angry and foolish and take me away.  It will not
hurt me."

So, to excuse herself to her own conscience for thus concealing so
important a fact from her sister, she found heart to go through her work
as usual, teaching and learning, with one question ever before her, one
expectation filling her life.  She could tell Rosa when she could talk
to her, she thought; but a letter would give a false impression, and
make her sister anxious to no purpose.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

DISCORDS.

  "Those blind motions of the spring
  That show the year has turned."

Redhurst was entirely unused to absenteeism.  Mrs Crichton had scarcely
ever spent five months together away from it in her life, and now she
seemed to have taken with her all the movement and interest of the
place.  From the time when the little heiress had ridden out with her
father on her long-tailed pony, all through the days of her bright,
joyous young ladyhood, and happy, active wifehood, she had lived among
her own people; and, as she was both an affectionate and conscientious
woman, she had fulfilled her duties towards them well, and found and
given much pleasure in the fulfilment.  Moreover, besides the Rector,
the Crichtons had been the only resident gentry in the parish, though
there was a large neighbourhood beyond its bounds.  Substantial benefits
were not intermitted, and Hugh was far too conscientious to neglect his
local duties; but kind words and gossip were missing.  Mr and Mrs
Harcourt seemed to have grown years older; the girls, who had been wont
to admire Mysie's hats and profit by her teaching missed both; and the
old women had no one to recount their aches and pains to.  Some
excitement was, however, derived from the fact that Ashenfold, a large
farm-house in the place, had been taken by a Colonel Dysart, in search
of a country residence, who brought there a large family of girls and
boys--active, helpful, and good-humoured.  So the pathway through the
fields was trodden by other girlish feet on their way to school; other
hands hung up the Christmas wreaths in Redhurst Church; and Mysie's
duties were not altogether left undone.  The new folks were grumbled at
and sighed over; but they had stirred the dull waters, and on their
side, of course, were ready to welcome eagerly the return of the family
to the great house--none the less eagerly on account of their mournful
story.  There would be an acquaintance, for Mr Spencer Crichton had met
Colonel Dysart in Oxley, and had left a card upon him.  All business
matters remaining in Hugh's hands he had been obliged sometimes to go to
Redhurst, and he hardly felt one place to be more dreary than another.
Indeed, he was so tired of his self-imposed solitude that he felt glad
to think that his mother was coming back again.  Perhaps, things would
be better, somehow.  Still, he could not make up his mind to be there to
receive them, but made some excuse of business for the first night, and
then rode home the next day, after the banking hours were over, through
the cold, frosty evening, as he had done all his life till the last few
months, in secure expectation of finding warmth and light, girlish
voices, and little bits of news, small matters to be decided, life and
comfort; in one word--home.  Ah, could that busy, troublesome, foolish
home come back how sweet it would have been!  What would he find now?
His heart beat fast as he rode up to the door, which was quickly opened,
and Hugh felt an odd sort of relief at sight of the bright hall fire
burning; and in another moment he was in the drawing-room, and held his
mother in his arms, in, perhaps, the fondest embrace he had ever given
to her since he was a little school-boy.

"Oh, mother, I'm glad you're come home!" he said.  Frederica came up
promptly to kiss him, and he felt that it was all very comfortable and
pleasant, and much more cheerful than he had expected.  He had retained
the impression of the sorrowful faces and heavy mourning of their last
parting.  Now there was white about his mother's dress, and Freddie's
hair was tied with violet ribbons.  He could have dispensed with the
presence of the two Miss Brabazons, whose acquaintance had been made at
Bournemouth; but, perhaps, as Mrs Crichton had thought, they helped to
fill up blank spaces.  Hugh was not a very observant person, but as he
glanced round the room he saw that it had a different aspect; the
coverings were of another colour, the tables and sofas had been moved,
the lamp stood in a new part of the room; there seemed to be no
well-known corner or combination left.

"The place looks different," said Hugh, who was not easily affected by
externals.

"Ah, yes," said his mother, "it was best to make a few changes."

Hugh shivered, and seemed to see the old scene through the new.

"You don't look very well, my dear," said Mrs Crichton.  "Have you been
working too hard?"

"Oh, no, mother, thank you; I'm well enough.  I'll go now and dress for
dinner."  The changes in the drawing-room had caused Hugh to look out
for old associations; but his mother followed him upstairs.

"You see, Hugh," she said, "for all the young ones' sakes it was
necessary to get over old impressions.  You know this old door was shut
up"--suddenly opening it--"and, by closing the other, and changing the
furniture, there is nothing to recall our darling's room."

Hugh shrank back.  He saw vaguely that it all looked very different; but
he could not cross the threshold.

"Yes, mother, I daresay you're right," he said, hurriedly; "it may make
a difference."

"And, Hugh, we must not let the house be mournful.  When Arthur comes
back it will be much better for him to find us cheerful."

Hugh made no reply.  He could not contemplate the thought of Arthur's
return.  How had any of them come back, he thought, as he dressed
hastily and went downstairs.  At dinner his mother asked him if he had
seen anything of the new comers to Ashenfold.

"Yes, I have seen Colonel Dysart.  He is a gentleman.  There are a great
many of them."

"I must go and call.  Didn't you tell me, Freddie, that some of them
were going to Miss Venning's?"

"So Flossy said in her letter," returned Freddie.

"They have been kind and helpful, I hear.  It is a great thing to have
that house occupied."

"We did very well with the old Horehams," said Hugh, "though Colonel
Dysart is likely to be a good neighbour.  Have you been to the Rectory?"

"Oh, yes, we went over at once.  I think the dear old folks want us back
again.  You should have looked in on them now and then on a Sunday,
Hugh."

"It is you they want, not me," he said.  "I went to Oxley parish church
generally.  You have not seen the town yet, I suppose, Miss Brabazon?"
he added, to change the conversation.

Before the evening was over, Hugh was doubtful whether the cheerfulness
around him was not dearly bought by the effort to join in it.  There was
no want of affectionate feeling in Mrs Crichton; she missed Mysie every
hour, and acknowledged their loss to the full; but she was determined
that it should be regarded as nothing more than a loss, and that, as she
phrased it, "no morbid feelings should be allowed to exist;" and she
would not acknowledge that Hugh had any special occasion for
sensitiveness.  Being, with all her good-nature and easiness of
discipline, a person of strong will she was determined to create
external cheerfulness.  Frederica, who had now, of course, become a more
important element in the household, was reserved by nature, and, like
many young girls, afraid of the force of her own emotions.  She could
not bear to speak or hear of Mysie, so she turned vehemently to other
things; while, the more her high spirits regained their sway, the less
she liked any infringement on them.

Hugh was away at the Bank on the day that Flossy came to see them: but
she, too, nervous, and inwardly agitated, was glad to talk of external
things--about the new people, and their girls coming to school, and the
dear little signorina of whom she was growing so fond, and whose
wonderful sweet face was like a poem or a picture.

"You must bring her to see us, Flossy, when Freddie asks some of her
schoolfellows," said Mrs Crichton.

So, little pleasant plans were made, and Redhurst came back into
Flossy's life.  Yet, as she walked home through the cold afternoon, the
tears rolled down her cheeks.  It seemed cruel for the home to be
regaining its cheerfulness while Arthur was away, solitary and unhappy.
Yet she, herself, how full her life was; how fast the world went on!

"And we forget because we _must_ And not because we will," thought
Flossy, and in this mood Violante's tears had surely met with warm
sympathy.

Colonel and Mrs Dysart were called upon, and the family proved to be
what is called in country neighbourhoods an "acquisition."  They had
done up their house.  Colonel Dysart hunted and was anxious to get some
shooting.  There were four sons and five daughters, all between nine and
twenty-eight, ready to be sociable.  Two of the girls went to school
with Freddie; one of the elder ones was useful in the village; some
among them rode, sang, and drew--it was worth while being attentive to
them; and a promising acquaintance began to spring up.  Even old Mrs
Harcourt found visits from the children enlivening to her, and liked to
give them winter apples and Christmas roses.  It was a good thing, too,
to have someone to take an interest in the choir, and the curate, whom
Mr Harcourt's age had recently rendered necessary, found work for the
young ladies; while they spoke together with a certain tender curiosity
of her whose sweet life and sad fate was already becoming a tradition,
to give to the scenery of the tragedy a certain mournful interest, and
to make the touching of Mysie's doings and the taking-up of her duties
something of a rare privilege.  So, new lives and new possibilities were
springing up, slowly and naturally, as the snowdrops began to peep on
Mysie's grave.

Hugh did not see much of the new comers; he was away all day, and did
not always come out from Oxley in the evening; and he paid so little
attention to the talk going on around him that he neither discovered the
names and ages of the Dysarts, nor heard anything of the charms of
Freddie's new Italian teacher, whose youth and gentleness excited her
surprise and delight.  But one sunny morning, as he rode into Oxley, a
little incident occurred to him.  He was passing Oxley Manor, riding
slowly under its ivied wall and thinking of nothing less than of its
inhabitants, when, from one of the upper windows that looked out close
on the road, something fell on his horse's neck, and then down into the
dust at his feet.  Hugh looked down--it was a little bunch of violets;
then glanced carelessly up at the windows with a laugh.  "Those girls
must be very hard up!  What would Flossy say?" he thought.  But no one
peeped out to see what had become of her violets, and he rode on, amused
as he recalled various boyish pranks of Jem's and Arthur's, and left the
violets lying in the dust.

When he came back that afternoon his mother called him into the
drawing-room.  "Hugh," she said, eagerly, "here is a letter from Arthur,
which greatly concerns you."

With the curious sense of reluctance with which he always received
anything connected with his cousin, Hugh took the letter, and read--

  "Rome, January 28, 18--

  "My dear Aunt Lily,--I am glad to hear you are at home again; I did
  not like to think of the place being empty.  This is a wonderful city,
  and it is impossible even to mention all the objects of interest it
  contains.  I wish Jem was near to enjoy them.  If I tried to describe
  them it would be like copying a guide-book, and I would rather tell
  you something of what I have seen when me meet; and I hope that will
  be soon, for, my dear aunt, I think I have led this wandering life
  long enough.  I have been thinking over things of late, and I wish, if
  you and Hugh consent, to come home again, and take my place in the
  Bank, as was originally proposed, and try and do as well as I can.  I
  am very tired of travelling; and, as for choosing any other
  profession, I don't feel that I can turn my mind to anything fresh,
  and something I must settle upon.  Give my love to Hugh, and tell him
  I hope I shall be able to make myself useful to him.  I shall be very
  glad to see you all again; and, though life is for ever changed to me,
  all that is left to me is at Redhurst with you and my sister and my
  brother--my brothers, I should say, for so Hugh and Jem have been and
  must be.  I hope and pray not to be idle or useless for _her_ sake.

  "Ever your loving nephew,--

  "Arthur Spencer."

Hugh read the letter through, and it touched him to the heart--the
exceeding sadness that the writer could hardly disguise, the unwonted
profession of affection for himself, and yet the coupling of his name
with Jem's, as if to hide that there was any reason for such profession.
He saw how conscientiously Arthur was endeavouring to act, and yet the
proposal was terrible to him.

"Well, Hugh," said his mother, after a long pause, "it is the best thing
for the poor boy, isn't it?"

"Of course, mother," said Hugh, slowly.  "Arthur must do exactly as he
pleases, have everything as he wishes it; but--but--I think he is
mistaken."

"Mistaken, how?"

"I think he is trying to do what he will not be equal to.  How can he
_bear_ this place?" said Hugh, in a passionate undertone.  "Every day
would be an agony to him.  It is--it would be to me!"

"Of course," said Mrs Crichton, "there will be much that is painful at
first; but he will get over it, and he cannot be banished for ever.
Depend upon it, Hugh, the truest kindness will be to let everything be
as much a matter of course as possible.  The world could not go on if
everyone shrank from the scenes of their misfortunes.  Arthur is
perfectly right, and I am sure he will be much happier in having
something to do; and you'll find his natural cheerfulness will help him
through.  We must make it as pleasant and easy as possible."

Hugh rose and gave the letter back to his mother.  "Tell him it shall be
as he wishes," he said; "but tell him also that if ever he changes his
mind I will not hold him to his word;" and, without waiting for an
answer, he went hurriedly away to his own room.  How should he bear
Arthur's presence, how endure the sight of his sorrow?  Could he ride
into Oxley with him every day, when every weary look and dispirited tone
would be like the thrust of a dagger.  The more generous and unselfish
Arthur was, the bitterer seemed the reproach.  The idea of constant
association was so terrible to him that, just in judgment as Hugh was,
it almost seemed to him as if a choice so unlike his own must be
dictated by feelings less intense and a memory less keen.  "How can he
bear the sight of me?" he thought.  "_I_ would have gone to the ends of
the earth sooner than come back.  If he has any feeling he will not be
able to endure it!  However, it doesn't matter what it is to me!"

Hugh honoured the sacrifice, and yet half despised his cousin for the
power of making it.  He would have considered it his duty to yield up
his most cherished feelings for Arthur, and yet he regarded him with a
shrinking that, in so passionate a nature, was almost hate.  Truly, his
mother was right in thinking that such morbid feelings, did not deserve
encouragement.  And then there was the constant haunting belief that he
was enduring in silence a loss and a want similar to that for which
everyone was pitying his cousin.  And when Hugh's thoughts took that
turn he sometimes felt as if he were making a sort of secret atonement.
But all this was in the depths of Hugh's soul; his sensible outer
judgment knew the probable risk of reaction for so young a man as
Arthur, and felt that home and work were his best safeguards.  And Hugh
remembered that he had still his rooms at the Bank House, where a press
of business might always detain him if Redhurst became quite
unendurable.  When Frederica went to school the next morning she told
Flossy, as she came into her Italian class and was waiting for some of
her companions, that Arthur was coming home.

"Signor Arthur?" said Violante, who was standing by.

"Yes," answered Frederica, who, of course, had been informed of the
meeting at Caletto; "he will be surprised to see you, signorina.  He is
coming back and going to begin at the Bank, and go on as usual."

"I hope--it will do," said Flossy, rather tremulously.  Violante glanced
at her and began to read herself, as the girls came in and took their
places; and Miss Florence let her take the lead, and neither asked nor
answered a question for full five minutes.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

End of the Second Volume.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

BEGINNING AFRESH.

  "When all the world is old, lad,
  And all the trees are brown,
  And all the sport is stale, lad.
  And all the wheels run down."

It was on a soft mild afternoon early in February that Arthur came
home--an afternoon with a pearly sky and gleams of pale spring sunshine
to light the starry celandines and budding palms.  Spring was coming--
there were lambs in the meadows, and birds in the hedges, the
gaily-painted barges floated down the slow water, children and young
ladies tripped along the path--nothing was changed.  Redhurst, always a
cheerful place, was at its brightest, fresh and spring-like, yet
familiar as the golden crocuses in the garden-beds.

Mrs Crichton was glad of the sunshine.  Though rarely nervous she
longed for the arrival to be over, and sent her young ladies to meet
Frederica as she came from school, so that there was no one to receive
her nephew but herself, arrayed in mourning, purposely lightened before
his return.  She heard him ring the bell, perhaps for the first time in
his life, and came out to meet him.

"Well, my dear boy, I hardly expected you so soon; come in--I'm glad to
see you."

Arthur kissed her warmly, and followed her into the drawing-room.

"I think the train was punctual," he said.

"Are you tired--did you stop in London?"

"Oh, yes, and I saw Jem.  He says he will run down soon.  I crossed
yesterday, so I have had nothing of a journey to-day."

"And--are you quite well, my dear?"

Mrs Crichton did not mean to make much of the meeting; but she put her
hand on his arm and looked at him tenderly, hardly able to speak.
Arthur smiled a little.

"Very well," he said, "and glad to see you."

Arthur was quite quiet and calm; but he was very grave, and made no
attempt to feign an ordinary tone of feeling that could not have been
real; he was always entirely genuine, and rarely thought of the effect
of his own demeanour.  Mrs Crichton looked at him anxiously, he was a
good deal tanned and rather thinner than of old; but she thought that he
did look well and wonderfully like himself.

"Isn't Freddie here?" he said.

"Yes--there she is--she has been at school."

Ah! he went forward rather eagerly to meet her; but Frederica, nervous
and excited, and by no means sharing his absence of self-consciousness,
kissed him rather boisterously than tenderly, and began to talk fast
because she was afraid of crying.

"I suppose Hugh is at the Bank," said Arthur; but as he spoke there was
a rush and a scamper through the hall, and Snap, his terrier, rushed
upon him with a welcome in which there was no cloud of embarrassment,
and no room for regrets.  After that Arthur was glad to get away to look
after his luggage, and when he came back afternoon tea was in progress,
and he sat down and talked about his journey and the wonders of Rome,
and the new coloured curtains Jem had hung up in his highly-decorated
rooms.  Arthur was a pleasant talker, and they thought how nice it was
to have him at home again.  But he looked vaguely about the room between
whiles, as if its changes perplexed him.  He walked over to the window
and looked out, where the light was dying away on the garden-paths.  He
had expected to feel the first sight of home severely--he hardly felt
anything except that he had been there for a long time--an interminable
number of hours.

Hugh was, perhaps purposely, late, and at length Mrs Crichton proposed
going to dress, audibly wondering why he did not come.

"There he is!" said Freddie, as a horse's hoofs sounded.  "Hugh," she
added, throwing open the door, "here's Arthur!"

Arthur started up and went forward.

"Hugh!" he said with a sort of eagerness:

"Well, Arthur, how d'ye do?" but as Hugh uttered this commonplace
greeting his hand was as cold as ice.  They exchanged half-a-dozen words
as to Arthur's journey and the weather, and separated in two minutes to
dress; and the much-dreaded meeting was over.

Everyone was eager to talk at dinner, and a little bit afraid of home
topics, and soon Frederica started what she conceived to be a
delightfully safe and interesting subject.

"Oh, Arthur, we have heard of you lately from someone you met in Italy."

"Really; who is that?"

"Why, a young lady who teaches us Italian--she was at a place called
Caletto."

"Miss Rosa Mattei?" said Arthur.  "Has she come here?"

"No--it is her sister.  Oh, she is the dearest little thing--her name is
Violante--do you remember?"

"Violante!  You don't say so!  I remember her perfectly.  Is she at Miss
Venning's?  Well, that is the most extraordinary chance!" exclaimed
Arthur, much interested.  "I never thought she would really go to
school!"

"Oh, yes; Miss Venning knows her aunt, I believe."

"Poor little thing!" said Arthur.  "I was so sorry for her.  She--she
lost her voice, you know."

"Oh, yes, I know all about it.  Flossy told me.  She likes being at
school much better than on the stage."

"They were very kind to me.  It was like a bit of a romance.  She used
to ask me questions about England.  Why, they don't make her teach, do
they?  What a shame!"

"Arthur, what nonsense!" cried his sister.  "But Violante just bewitches
people."

"Well! she doesn't look fit to light her way.  By the by, Hugh, Jem told
me that you and he saw her act.  It was rather a failure, wasn't it?"

As no one had expected Hugh to take any particular interest in this
conversation his dead silence surprised no one.  A great fern hid him
from his mother, and no one else looked at or thought of him.  He
answered Arthur, mechanically:

"I believe it was considered so."

"But was her voice so lovely?" said Freddie.

"They said so, I think."

"Oh, Hugh!" said his mother, laughing, "what opportunities you throw
away.  We must ask Jem, Arthur?"

"Ay, I should think Jem would have been enraptured.  I thought of him
when I saw her in the golden sunshine piling up the grapes, and they
gave me coffee because I was tired and thirsty.  I can't believe she
could do anything so prosaic as teach."

The subject in its various branches lasted for some time, and when the
ladies went away Arthur continued it:

"I don't suppose Freddie _does_ know all about her.  You know she was
engaged to the manager of the opera-house there, and he threw her over
when she lost her voice.  So the poor little thing was fretting her
heart out."

"How do you know?" said Hugh, with a sense of being suffocated.

"Oh, there was an old _cantatrice_ who had charge of the sisters, and
she used to talk to me.  And one could see the poor child was unhappy--
indeed, she owned as much."

"She would be quite pleased to see you again."

"Well, I daresay she would," said Arthur, carelessly; "but I don't
suppose Miss Venning would allow--" He stopped, as the words suggested a
different recollection, and after a moment went on, gravely:

"Hugh, I don't want to lose any more time.  You will let me begin work
to-morrow?"

"If you wish it," said Hugh, without looking at him.  "You can do as you
wish always."

"Thanks; you're very good, Hugh.  I'll do my best.  You'll be patient?"

Poor boy, he was naturally outspoken, and wanted, perhaps, a word of
sympathy and support in this painful home-coming; but Hugh only
answered, as they left the room: "I could not be otherwise," and the
coldness of the tone neutralised the kindness of the words.  He lingered
behind as Arthur turned towards the drawing-room, and went into his
study.  He would not have believed beforehand how little he would have
thought about his cousin on that first day of meeting, which he had
dreaded so much beforehand.  His cold, short answers had come, not from
embarrassment, but because he was wholly absorbed in something else.
Had he avoided Violante to find her close at his side?  Had he really
passed her every morning and evening?  Ah--and the violets--he had
thrown them away!  Perhaps this fact gave to the sensible Mr Spencer
Crichton the keenest sense of lost opportunity that he had ever
experienced.  She had not, then, forgotten him.  Had she come there
knowing of his neighbourhood?  Or had she really never cared for him at
all?  Arthur confirmed her engagement to the manager, and seemed
well-informed, much _too_ well-informed as to her sentiments with regard
to the breach of it.  Hugh was not naturally trustful, and through all
his passion he had never trusted Violante, never forgotten that she was
a foreigner and of altogether different training from his own.  Besides,
she _had_ been false to him.  He had seen her with the diamonds on her
neck--he had been deceived by her confiding softness--hadn't she been
just as ready to tell her troubles to Arthur as to himself?  At home
Hugh was much more convinced of the unsuitableness of his choice than he
had been in Italy; and now, after all that had passed, what right had he
to create such a family convulsion as would be caused by any renewal of
it?  His love remained, but the charm of it seemed to have faded.  The
bitter hours he had lately passed had half awakened him from his
dazzling holiday dream, taking from it the force it might else have had
to bend his pride to own what had been passing in his mind all the
summer, and to shake the conviction that had a sort of uncomfortable
attraction to him--that he had lost the right to choose his own
happiness against the pleasure of his family.  How could he say to his
mother now, "Consent to this--I cannot live without her,"--when, through
him, Arthur must live without his love?  To do so he must have been
careless and selfish--and Hugh was neither, in intention, or he must
have been able to sound the depths and rise to the height of a humility
of which he could not even conceive.  Besides, this unlucky love paid
the penalty of all feelings that are unlikely and, as it were, against
the nature and the circumstances of those who experience them.  It was
sweet and enticing, but it was insecure and beset by doubts and
misgivings.

But yet, when he and Arthur rode away together the next morning, Hugh's
sense of being alone with his cousin was lost in the knowledge that he
must pass Oxley Manor.  He looked up at it, and his heart thrilled; but
no face was at the window, no violets, cool and fragrant, touched his
hand.  Where was she?  What was she doing?  He was absorbed in the
present, full of an excitement which enraged him, but which made life
worth having after all.  Arthur, by his side, had his own vision, but it
was back in the past.  Those walls held no imprisoned princess for him.
That little green gate could never open again and show her standing
under the ivy, with her happy eyes and brisk light tread.  During his
long absence Arthur had felt continuously that he had lost Mysie; he
began now to realise that the world was going on without her.  He found
the home life hard.  He had never expected to be other than sad; but he
had not foreseen that one thing would be worse than another, that there
would be some paths that he dared not tread, some faces that he could
not bear to see.  When, as he strolled through the garden after
breakfast, he suddenly felt that he _could_ not turn down the path
towards the river, when he counted with nervous dread each familiar
object yet to be met, he was surprised and vexed with himself.  He had
thought that everything that recalled his darling must be sweet: what
was the meaning of this horror which he tried to forget in taking part
in the family talk and life around him; when his natural cheerfulness
asserted itself, and Hugh looked at him with wonder?  And then, when he
fancied that he should rather like some occupation or amusement, why did
he suddenly break down in the attempt to share in it, and only long to
get away by himself?  Even his work at the Bank--which was less trying,
since it was entirely new--was sometimes a great burden to him after his
long desultoriness; but in this case there was something definite to
struggle with, and he could succeed in conquering himself; but at home
he could not tell what was the matter with him, and no one helped him to
find out--his aunt continuously ignoring his fluctuating spirits, and
congratulating herself when he was lively and talkative; while Hugh,
seeing that the cheerfulness was spontaneous when it came, marvelled at
it, and, while he could not bear to see him dispirited, wondered what
his world would think if he showed his moods so plainly.  Nevertheless,
he was not always even-tempered, and, as Arthur had lost his careless
good-humour, Hugh would be shocked to find himself arguing hotly or
speaking sharply to one with whom he was bound to have entire patience;
and Arthur would wonder why, with such a weight at his heart, things
should seem all out of joint--not because Mysie was dead--but because
Hugh frowned, or Freddie laughed, or some trifle put him out of his way.
He had returned home on a Tuesday, and by the end of the week had grown
fairly perplexed with himself.  On the Saturday afternoon, however, he
walked out early from Oxley by himself, and, taking a roundabout way
through some of the woods belonging to Ashenfold, felt soothed and
cheered by the pleasant light and air of the early spring.  When he was
thus alone, and could let quiet thoughts of Mysie have their way
unchecked and undisturbed, he lost the sense of discord and trouble;
and, as was, perhaps, too much his wont, the sensations of the hour
obliterated all others, and he stood leaning over a gate, watching the
faint, pinky tints on the woods, and listening to a robin singing close
at hand.  Suddenly, in the copse beside him, there was a sharp noise--
the report of a gun.  Arthur started, as if he had been shot himself,
his heart beat violently; he caught at the gate, and held it hard; the
sound struck his ears like a repetition of that one fatal shot.  It was
some minutes before he recovered himself sufficiently to be conscious of
anything but his own sensations, and when he looked up at last and drew
breath he was fairly exhausted.  He had thought so little of himself,
and so much of his sorrow, that he had had no conception how severe the
shock to his nerves had been.  He was annoyed with himself and very
thankful that no one had been there to see, so that he carefully
concealed the incident from everybody; but it set him on the look-out,
as it were, for his own feelings; and, while it certainly roused him to
attempt to conceal them, he so dreaded a recurrence of the shock, and
was so ignorant as to what might cause it, that he shrank from many old
associations which he had previously never thought of avoiding.  The
sound rang in his ears, and he tried vehemently to distract his mind
from it by talking and laughing with his aunt's guests; and when Hugh
saw him playing bezique he wondered whether he was to envy him for
heroic self-control or for boyish carelessness and reaction.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

FAINT-HEARTED.

  "The grave of all things hath its violet."

The Redhurst drawing-room was looking uncommonly cheerful on the
Saturday week after Arthur's return; and Jem, recently arrived, was
enjoying an unwonted _tete-a-tete_ with his mother.  It would be,
perhaps, untrue to say that a person with affections so even as Mrs
Crichton's had a favourite son; but there was much in Jem's ways that
suited her, and he had the charm of novelty.  He was strolling about the
room, criticising the alterations somewhat unfavourably.

"I say, mamma, what did you buy this thing for?" touching the chintz.
"I could have chosen you a much better one.  Why didn't you write to
me?"

"Really, my dear, I didn't think of asking you to choose my drawing-room
furniture.  Why don't you like it?"

"Why don't I like it?  Why, it's altogether incorrect.  Those autumn
leaves are false art."

"Dear me, don't you like my leaves?  They're so natural you might sweep
them up."

"Exactly.  You might as well be out in the garden.  Now, there's a thing
up in one of the spare bed-rooms.  It's yellow, with a faint brown
pattern."

"_That_, Jem!  Why, it belonged to your grandmother Spencer, and was
moved here when she came and spent her last year with us.  It's hideous.
I was going to have it taken down."

"It's about the best thing in the house," said Jem, critically.  "You
should have it made up for this room."

"Ah, my dear fellow, I hope your wife will have some taste of her own."

"I hope she'll leave it to me.  I shall stipulate she does when I marry
and settle."

"I am afraid, my dear, life in London doesn't lead young men to marry
and settle."

"Well, mamma, I'm sure I don't know about that," said Jem, sitting down
on the obnoxious chintz and stroking his beard.  "Girls look out for so
much now-a-days."

"I hope, my dear, you haven't been falling in with any girl," said Mrs
Crichton, composedly--for she was not excitable--but a little struck by
Jem's manner.  "You make so many acquaintances.  When you were abroad I
was quite anxious."

"I assure you, mamma, _I_ was a miracle of discretion when I was
abroad--couldn't have been better with you at my elbow," said Jem,
unable to resist a little emphasis.

"Well, I am sure, I wonder you did not make a heroine of that little
Italian girl, Arthur's acquaintance.  Hugh said you met her."

"Hugh said I met her!" ejaculated Jem, "Well, if that isn't cool!"

"Why, something was said of seeing her act, and, of course, my dear boy,
I didn't suppose _Hugh_ had been the one to discover her merits."

"I assure you, mother, I was quite as discreet as Arthur or Hugh either.
But what made Mademoiselle Mattei a subject of conversation?"

"Why, she is at Miss Venning's at school."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Jem, utterly off his guard; then, catching
himself up: "_At school_!  Extraordinary!"

"Yes, but I believe there's nothing extraordinary about her.  So pray,
my dear, don't go and do anything foolish."

"Why am I always to be the black sheep?" said Jem, in an injured tone,
but with inward laughter.  "Hugh and Arthur saw _quite_ as much of her
as I did."

"Well, we may put poor Arthur out of the question, and as for Hugh, do
you think I've any reason to be anxious in that way about him?"

"So you wouldn't like an Italian daughter-in-law?"

"My dear, don't be absurd," said Mrs Crichton, contemplating her
wool-work.  "How can you talk of such a thing?  I should like to see
both you and Hugh married, but I dread your doing something foolish when
I think of the number of times you have been on the verge of it--and as
for Hugh--"

"Well, as for Hugh?"

"I really despair of his ever turning his thoughts in that direction."

"How are you all getting along together?" said Jem, rather glad to
change the conversation.

"Oh, pretty well," said Mrs Crichton, sighing.  "Of course, Arthur,
poor dear boy, has ups and downs; but he is very cheerful, in and out,
and I make a point of going on as usual."

"And he and Hugh get on comfortably?"

"Yes.  I tell Hugh it is absurd to expect that he should not flag
sometimes.  Now, Sunday was a trial.  He went to church in the morning,
but he was more knocked up afterwards than I have seen him at all; but
the next day he was quite ready to be interested in these pleasant
Dysarts who have come to Ashenfold.  Hugh was quite angry with me for
making him come in to see them; but we can't shut ourselves up, and I
must ask them to dinner in a quiet way.  It is much better for Arthur.
Then, there was another thing.  I wanted him to come to the Rectory with
me--to get it over, you know--but Hugh interfered, and said no-one
should urge him to make such an effort, in such a peremptory way I had
to give it up."

"I should avoid discussions," said James.

"It's hard work for them both.  By the way, mamma," he added, having
conducted the conversation well away from its former matrimonial
channel, "do you know that there is going to be a great choir festival
at H--, in the cathedral in Easter week--shall you go?"

"Is there?  Oh, no, I hadn't thought of it."

"I expect it will be rather fine.  I shall run down, and if you did care
about taking Freddie I daresay the Haywards would get you good places."

"The Haywards?"

"The Archdeacon, you know.  He is a Canon of H--.  Young Hayward's in
the War Office.  I know him.  There are some daughters."

"Oh, I know Mrs Hayward very well.  She was at the only ball to which I
ever took dear Mysie at H--, with her daughters; tall, fine girls,
rather insipid."

"They're very superior," said Jem, in an odd, meek voice; but, as he was
not much in the habit of admiring superior young ladies, his mother only
said:

"Are they?  Their mother is a very ladylike woman.  Well, I should not
mind going over if Freddie wished it.  I daresay Flossy Venning might
like to go with us."

"Oh, thank you," began Jem.  "I mean the organist is a friend of mine.
Oh, there's Hugh.  How d'ye do?"

"I didn't know you were here, Jem," said Hugh, as he came into the room.

"I came by the early train.  Where's Arthur?"

"He preferred walking.  How long shall you be here, Jem?"

"Till Tuesday."

"Oh, then," said Mrs Crichton, "Hugh, I think I shall ask the Dysarts
to excuse a short notice and come here quite quietly on Monday night.
As it is Lent, that is a reason for having no party."

"There can be no reason wanted for that," interrupted Hugh.  "Mother,
how can you think of such a thing?  It is not suitable, and must be
intolerable to Arthur."

"Really, Hugh," said his mother, for once offended, "I am the best judge
of what is suitable.  You talk as if I wished to give a ball; and Arthur
does not dislike a little society."

"If he does not," said Hugh, and then broke off, "Perhaps he does not."

"Why don't you ask him?" suggested James.

"Because he has never shown any of this foolish reluctance," said Mrs
Crichton; "and, indeed, my dear, I can't give into you about it."

She rose and went away as she spoke, and James said:

"How's this, Hugh?  Things going all crooked?"

"Of course they are," said Hugh, bitterly.  "How could they go right?
As for Arthur, I don't profess to understand him.  I daresay he does
like amusement, but he can't bear this place.  How they can say he is
less altered than they expected!  I can feel the chance allusions stab
him!"

"Then do you think he is putting a great force on himself?"

"No, no," said Hugh, in an odd, restless tone.  "It's just as it comes,
I believe.  But they say he bears it beautifully, because his spirits
come back in and out.  He is boyish enough still.  I daresay in a year's
time it will all be pretty well over."

"It strikes me, Hugh, you are more out of sorts than Arthur."

"I?" said Hugh.  "If Arthur feels one half--No, he could not choose to
be always with me."

Hugh knitted his brows and walked over to the window.  His was the
perplexity of an erring, earnest nature watching another live over a
difficult piece of life, by means of a more gracious temperament,
succeeding, as he felt, without the struggles that went towards his own
failures.  Arthur behaved much better to him than he did to Arthur, but
he did not take half so much pains about it.  This is always an
unsatisfactory consciousness, and in Hugh's case it was intensified by
the morbid interest that he was forced to take in his cousin.

"Mother's been telling me all the news," said James, to change the
subject.

Hugh understood his marked tone at once.

"Remember, Jem, that is closed for ever," he said.  "If you breathe one
word of the past, in joke or earnest, to my mother or Arthur, it will be
past forgiveness."

"I'm sure I don't want to stir it up," said Jem; "but it is a strange
turn of fate."

"It will make no difference," said Hugh, in a tone that meant "it
_shall_ not."

James was silent.  Hugh's resolve was exactly what he had always
counselled him to make, yet he could not help thinking of Violante's
look of joy at seeing him, and wondering whether that light was quenched
in her soft eyes for ever.

In the meantime, Arthur had not taken his solitary walk without a
purpose.  However far Hugh might be right in supposing that he allowed
his feelings to drift as they would, he was becoming conscious that
there was some cowardice in shrinking from anything that could excite
them.  He must stand by Mysie's grave--and he must stand there alone;
for on Sunday he had not dared to lift his eyes as he walked down the
path.  She was buried in a corner of the churchyard where it was
especially green and still close by the wall of the Rectory garden, over
which a bright pink almond-tree was visible.  Snowdrops and violets were
thrusting their heads through the short turf between the graves, and
were blooming in sweet abundance round the white cross that marked where
she lay, while several half-faded wreaths were placed above them.  There
was nothing here to make Arthur nervous,--he wondered why he had stayed
away so long.  He was full of grief, yet something of the peaceful
spirit of the past came shining back into his heart as he knelt there in
the spring sunshine, and kissed the letters of Mysie's name.  It was
better, he thought, than being far away.  He had risen to his feet, and
was still dreamily gazing, when he heard a startled step at his side,
and, turning, saw Florence Venning, bright, tall, and blooming, with a
basket of flowers in her hand.

"Flossy!"

"Oh, I did not see you--I--I'll go!" said Flossy, crimson with the sense
of intrusion.

"No, don't go.  I am very glad to see you," he said, as he took her hand
and held it, while they looked down at the grave together.

"Did you put these?" he said, touching the wreaths.

"Only this cross.  The school-girls bring them on Sunday," faltered
Flossy, as she bent down and showed how the frame of the cross was made
to hold water, which she now replenished from a little jug she had
brought with her.  Arthur, with a look of entreaty, and with trembling
inapt fingers took the flowers and began to place them in the cross.
Poor fellow, he did it very badly; but she refrained from helping him,
and let him put the last snowdrop in himself.

"Flossy," he said, suddenly, "if I were lying there, and she were left,
do you think she could have--have endured to live?"

"Yes, Arthur," Flossy said, in her full tones, which vibrated with
intense feeling, "I think she could.  I think she would have found a
good life somehow; like--like a robin in the snow," as one fluttered
down beside them.  "She was so clear and real--I think she would."

Arthur had sat down on a broad, flat stone near, still gazing at the
flowers.

"She was not so weak," he murmured.

"Oh, Arthur, you have not been weak.  Everyone says--"

"No one knows," he answered.  "All that should help me has no reality
apart from _her_."

"But it is not apart from her, Arthur," said Flossy, earnestly.  "I--"

"Yes?" said Arthur, looking up.

"_Even_ I," said Flossy, humbly, "I think of her at church, and doing my
work, or on beautiful days like this."

"Yes, dear Flossy, I'm sure you do," said Arthur, gratified; but not as
if he took the words home.

"And I hope," said Flossy, "that it will make me a better girl, and more
like her."

"You are right, Flossy," said Arthur, after a pause, with more spirit.
"I don't want to give up, and everyone is so kind to me; they all think
of what I like.  But," he added, in a passionate undertone, "she was my
angel; and all prayers, Sundays, all the things that comfort a good girl
like you, are filled with longing for her!"

"But they won't be less dear for that?" whispered Flossy.

"No," he said, "No, I'll hold on!"

And he felt then that through such holy associations his lost love might
still be a star in his path, and lead him, not back to his old self, but
on to something better, and even brighter.  But, then, how could he tune
his life to such a solemn melody as this?  He longed for the joy-bells,
and even the jingling tunes of his old, easy boyhood.  He was so weary
of his heavy heart.  He knew, as Flossy could not know, why men plunged
into folly, and even sin, to drown grief.  He would, not do that; but he
thought how incredible it would have been to Flossy that there were
times when he wanted to forget Mysie--times that came oftener as the
months went by.  He would have walked so contentedly on the easy,
unheroic meadows of every-day life, and fate, or the hand of God, had
forced him on to the rocky paths of sorrow.  Just at that moment he
caught a glimpse of the golden gate above them.

"How many birds there are here!" he said, after a silence.

"Do you know why?" said Flossy.  "Mrs Harcourt comes and feeds them
here every morning and evening, because _she_ was so fond of birds."

"And I have never been to see her.  I'll go now," said Arthur, rising
with sudden energy.

"I came from there," said Flossy.  "This is Mrs Harcourt's jug."

"Well, then, let us come," he said, without giving himself time to
hesitate, and Florence took up her basket and followed him into the
garden.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

PIN-PRICKS.

  "The mind has a thousand eyes,
  And the heart but one.
  But the light of a whole life dies
  When love is done."

The Rectory drawing-room window was open to the sunshine, and Mrs
Harcourt was standing by it, waiting for Flossy.  But Arthur turned
aside from it, and went round to the door in front.

"Who is that, my dear?" said the old lady, as Flossy ran up to her.

"It is Arthur," she said.  "I met him _there_.  He said he ought to come
and see you."

"Ah, poor boy, I'm glad," said Mrs Harcourt, as she went to let him in,
while Flossy exclaimed nervously:

"Oh, Violante, I forgot you.  Never mind, it will be just as well."

"Is it Signor Arthur?" asked Violante, who sometimes accompanied Miss
Florence on half-holiday walks, and had needed no teaching to consider
Redhurst sacred ground.

"Yes," said Flossy, as Arthur and Mrs Harcourt came in.  He looked very
pale, while Mrs Harcourt, half-tearful, half-hospitable, was eagerly
welcoming him.

"Ah, my dear Arthur, we have been longing to see you; but I can't get
out much now; and I know--I know you could hardly come.  It is very good
of you."

"I am almost all day in Oxley," he said, "but I hope you are well, and
the Rector?"

"Pretty well, my dear, for our time of life.  We have had a lonely
winter; but we push along together, you see."

Arthur managed to smile, but his face went to Flossy's heart, though
neither she nor Mrs Harcourt knew exactly how the fifty years which the
old husband and wife had "had wi' ane anither" had once seemed to
stretch before the young lovers, who never saw of them a single day.

"You have been getting some tea for us, Mrs Harcourt?" she said.

"Oh, yes, my dear.  Now, do you pour it out, and Arthur will have some.
But will your young Italian friend drink tea?"

"Oh, yes, signora, I like tea," and, with a start of relief, Arthur
turned at the sound of her voice.

"Mademoiselle Mattei!" he said; "I did not know you;" and, in truth,
Violante was much altered at first sight by her dark winter dress and
jacket, and little black hat with a red plume.

Arthur shook hands with her, and asked her how she liked England.

"I like it very much."

"Why, we were very near an explanation.  If you had told me where you
were going to school I could have enlightened you much better as to what
your life would be like there."

"But I did not know myself," said Violante, colouring as she thought of
what a difference a few explanations might have made.  "I did not know
anything," and her sweet voice faltered with its weight of meaning.

"But I was right, wasn't I, when I gave you good advice?  You have
found--"

"Miss Florence," said Violante, with a grateful look.

She felt as if Signor Arthur was quite an old friend.  He had seen Rosa
and her father, and she began to tell him about them, while Flossy made
a few words of explanation to Mrs Harcourt as to their previous
meeting.

"I expect to find my cousin James at home," he said.  "You remember
him?"

"Yes, Arthur," said Flossy.  "It's the strangest thing that she should
have met you without knowing that Mr Crichton and James were your
cousins, and that then she should come here!"

"Mr Hugh never comes to see me," said Mrs Harcourt.

"Doesn't he?" said Arthur.  "I will tell him that he should.  There's
the Rector."

Mr Harcourt, with more tact than his wife, only gave Arthur a warm
handshake.  Violante rose and curtsied to him in a pretty reverential
fashion that pleased and touched him, and while he complimented her, in
a little old-fashioned Italian, Flossy said aside:

"It makes Violante very shy to hear of anyone who saw her act; and, as
Mary isn't very fond of the subject, we say very little about it."

"Ah, yes, poor child!  It's a mortifying recollection if she made a
failure of it.  She's a lovely creature.  What on earth does she do with
herself?"

"Oh, many things.  Surely, Arthur, you don't think she need be useless
because she's pretty?" and, in the little laugh that followed Flossy's
return to her natural inclination for argument, Arthur took his leave.

It was a great relief to have got this afternoon's work over, and
comfortable to find Jem at home when he got there, cheerful and chatty,
and taking no apparent notice of his words or looks, yet with a little
undercurrent of sympathy that he felt all the time.  James amused
everybody, and put them into good-humour, taking the burden of
cheerfulness off their shoulders; and yet he avoided every word that
could have touched painfully on his cousin or brother--or would have
done so, had not some mention of a new opera recalled Violante to Arthur
after dinner, when both he and Freddie demanded a description of her
performances, as he stood on the hearthrug, looking round at his
audience.  Hugh was sitting on one side of the fire, holding up a
"Quarterly Review;" the ladies looked expectant over their work; and
Arthur, leaning back in a low chair in front of him, was looking right
up in his face.

"Well," said Jem, apparently measuring his beard, hair by hair; "I only
saw her once.  She acted badly and sang well, but it was a failure--"

"How so?  She was enough applauded," abruptly said Hugh; and then could
have bitten his tongue out for speaking.

"She is pretty, you know," said Jem.

"Lovely," said Arthur.  "There's a sort of pathetic grace about her; but
I suppose it didn't tell at a distance."

It would be difficult to say whether their admiration, or the careless,
critical tone in which it was uttered, enraged Hugh the most.

"Since her public career has ceased," he said, "it seems a pity to
discuss it."

"Yes.  It's hardly fair," said Arthur; "but she interested me, poor
child, and I was very glad to see her with Flossy.  She is sure to be
well taken care of, and, perhaps, she'll forget her troubles."

"What troubles?" said Hugh, sternly.

"Why, I told you the other day," said Arthur, regardful of Frederica's
presence.  "She looks twice as bright as she did in Italy."

"Now it seems to me," said Mrs Crichton, "that you are all making a
very unnecessary talk about her.  Miss Venning has decidedly stretched a
point in having her here.  I don't altogether approve of it.  Young
ladies shouldn't have histories, and they should keep her and hers in
the background."

"Aunt Lily, I think that would be mean," said Frederica.

"Aunt Lily's never seen her," said Arthur.

"No, my dear, I don't feel any curiosity about her," said Mrs Crichton,
didactically.

Jem--no other word will express it--giggled; Hugh sprang to his feet,
and, happily for the preservation of his secret, knocked over the lamp
beside him, and in the confusion that followed Violante was forgotten,
and he contrived to apologise and make his escape.

Such discussions rendered him furious, far more so than any amount of
opposition could have done while he had had the one purpose of marrying
Violante clear and straight before him.  Then he would have borne
patiently with his mother's natural opposition, and would have smiled at
anyone else's.  But now that they should all dare to praise her, and
judge her, and "take an interest" in her!  It made him very angry, and
yet he was ashamed of his own connection with it.  He would not have had
it discovered for the world; and then, when he knew this feeling to be
despicable, it was justified by the knowledge of the pain and
disturbance any discovery would cause, and increased by his jealousy of
Violante's reported confidences and conversations.  Arthur had been
eager about nothing else.  Hugh had an unbounded belief in Violante's
irresistible charms, and none in the depth and permanency of Arthur's
sorrow, even while that sorrow made his own.  He was never in the same
mind for five minutes at a time, angry, miserable, jealous, and
self-reproachful.  He was sacrificing himself, of course, in giving up
all his chances of winning her, and yet he could not quite rid himself
of the suspicion that he was false and cruel, and that he had been his
best self when he defied the world for her sake.  If accident had thrown
her in his way the whole current of events might have been changed; but
he could not and would not seek her, though he thought about her enough
to make chance allusions far more his dread than they ever were
Arthur's, who never thought of them till they came; and he bemoaned
himself over the Dysart dinner-party, the announcement of which his
cousin hardly heeded.

"Hugh has become exceedingly cross," Freddie said to Jem, with the
freedom of speech of the Redhurst household.

"Then, don't make him more so," was Jem's advice, given with equal
openness.

The party was merely to consist of Colonel and Mrs Dysart, their two
elder daughters, and one of their sons, who was discovered to be at home
and invited at the last minute.  It was difficult to see why a few extra
people should make any difference, but Jem dressed himself with a sense
of preparing to walk on egg-shells, and Arthur felt suddenly reluctant,
and as if the sense of even this small festivity was depressing.

"My dear Jem," his mother had said, "I look to you to make it go off
well."  But the second Miss Dysart was very pretty, and just in the
style Jem admired, and he was speedily absorbed in discussing a new
novel with her, and forgot to guide the rest of the party, who talked of
the neighbourhood and the society in the manner of people entertaining
new comers.  The ladies of the Dysart party were very conscious of the
recent history of their entertainers; and, perhaps, Miss Dysart was a
little disappointed that Arthur's manner and conversation were so much
like other people's.  The gentlemen were less well-informed, or more
forgetful; and about half-way through dinner--after the shops of Oxley,
and the excellence of Miss Venning's school for girls, and the doubtful
advantages of the grammar-school for boys, had been well discussed--the
inevitable subject of a country dinner-party made its appearance, and
young Dysart, across the table, began to ask Arthur about the shooting.
Hugh paused suddenly in what he was saying, as Arthur answered: "I am
afraid you haven't much at Ashenfold; but ours is pretty good."

"You shoot, I suppose?" said young Dysart.

"Oh, yes," said Arthur, but with a catch in his breath.

"We shall take a day together, now and then, I hope, Mr Crichton?" said
Colonel Dysart to Hugh.

"No.  I have given it up," said Hugh, with sudden abrupt emphasis.  "I
shall let my shooting."  He spoke as if he were confessing his faith on
the scaffold; and, in the midst of the dead silence that ensued, James
was heard wildly asking his little country-bred neighbour if she had
ever been to a pigeon-match at Hurlingham; while Arthur, at the sound of
his voice, said, with an effort that he could not conceal:

"The Ribstones are the great sportsmen in these parts.  Sir William
always has plenty of pheasants;" and Mrs Dysart caught up the
Hurlingham shuttlecock and conducted the conversation safely on to the
Princess of Wales.  Arthur joined in, but his eyes looked absent, and
once or twice he missed the answers to what he had said; while Jem's
pretty neighbour looked at him with the tears in her eyes.  No one could
forget what, had passed; and, indeed, in such a household as Redhurst,
this matter of the shooting was a practical difficulty, and a subject
that could not be tabooed.

The guests had hardly departed when Hugh said suddenly:

"To set this matter at rest for ever--as long as I live I shall never
touch a gun again.  Rest assured of it."

No one answered, till Arthur said, moving away:

"Good night, Aunt Lily, I'll go to bed.  I'm tired."

Then James broke out:

"Really, Hugh, I am surprised at you!"

"Would you have me let anyone--would you have me let Arthur think that I
could ever shoot again?"

"Who cares whether you do or not?" said Jem, angrily.  "Neither you nor
Arthur can live without hearing the subject mentioned, and the only way
is to pass it off quietly.  He would have got over it in a minute if you
had been silent, and next time it would have been a matter of course to
him.  Now you have raised up a scarecrow for ever."

"Yes," said Mrs Crichton.  "It would be all very well to let the
shooting for a time--"

"Of course, mother, I meant with your permission," said Hugh, who was
very punctilious as to invading his mother's rights.

"Nonsense, my dear.  As if I should interfere with you about it!  But
now you have made our friends uncomfortable, and Arthur will feel the
impossibility of it, instead of slipping back to it naturally by
degrees.  And you have made a most painful scene."  Here Mrs Crichton
herself ended in tears--half-nervous and half-sorrowful.

"It only shows," said Hugh, passionately, "that life here is impossible
for Arthur and me.  It is a problem that cannot be worked out.  What is
there left that has not that awful mark on it: the fields, the river--
and would you have it supposed that I do not feel it?"

"I thought," said James, drily, "that it was Arthur's feelings, not
yours, that were in question."

Hugh paused, manifestly checked by this observation, and James went on:
"We all feel enough sorrow, but this is not a question, of feelings but
of nerves, as it seems to me.  Arthur's are naturally strong, and these
things may not affect him as they do you."

"As to that," said Hugh, "one thing is as bad as another.  I have
shirked no associations.  They don't affect me."

"Then, if not," said his mother, "why did you speak as you did
to-night?"

"Because I was thinking of him," said Hugh.  "Must I not feel them
through him?  What would he think of me if I seemed not to care?  Am I
not bound to spare him?"

"You set to work about it in a very odd manner," said James.

"My dear," said Mrs Crichton, "it is what I always told you.  You will
insist on looking on this matter from a morbid point of view.  Just drop
that, and time will heal all things--even such grief as ours and poor
Arthur's.  And I don't think he will feel these things after the first.
He never had any nerves, as a boy, you know."

"You cannot drop facts," said Hugh, wearily, "but I have been wrong, as
it seems, somehow.  There's no use in arguing about it."

"Yes, my dear, you were quite wrong," said Mrs Crichton, cheerfully, as
he left the room; "so there's an end of it."

Arthur, meanwhile, was reflecting on the practical aspect of the case.
Although Redhurst was not a household where sport was made the business
of life, it was one into the ordinary habits of which it entered
considerably; and, perhaps, from his connection with the town, Hugh was
a little tenacious of this privilege of the county.  He liked sporting
matters to be well managed, and Arthur was a very good shot and
genuinely fond of the pursuit.  He really could not conceive how the
civilities of life could go on, or the ordinary intercourse with their
neighbours be maintained, as the year went round, without it.
Certainly, they must see and hear of it, if they declined to join in it
themselves.  Arthur had formed no resolutions about it; and, but for his
experience in the Ashenfold woods, would have been ready to take it up
by degrees, with a heavy heart enough and with little interest, but as
part of the life he had got to struggle back to.  And, surely, that
would never happen to him again.  Arthur was much more ready to resist
these involuntary sensations than the listlessness and dejection that
seemed to have become natural to him.  Hugh's speech had, of course,
been intensely painful; but without it he would have gone gallantly
through the discussion and felt the better for his victory.  But he knew
that Hugh had spoken for his sake.  He would try not to be such a worry
to them all.  He had a bad night, however, and was, perhaps, not in the
best tune the next morning for trying experiments on himself, but he
would not falter; so, coming down early, he went into the little
back-room, where they smoked, and kept and cleaned their guns, and began
to look for his own.  He found it in its usual cupboard and took it out;
but the sight, the touch, the very thought of the sound of it, were more
than he could bear.  He just managed to put it back, and rushed out into
the garden.  No, he could never touch it again!  But there was no use in
telling anyone that he had such strange sensations; and James and his
aunt, only seeing the outside, agreed that he was as well and cheerful
as could be expected.

"My parting advice," said James, "is that everyone should let everybody
else alone."

The shooting was let for a year to Colonel Dysart without more
discussion, and only Hugh discovered that Arthur shrank from every trace
of it.  But, though some of Jem's words rankled, he was far too much
afraid of seeming to forget his own share in the matter to offer the
support and sympathy which might have been better than the let-alone
system.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

DIVIDED!

  "Again I called, and he could not come."

During the weeks that were so comfortless and disturbed at Redhurst,
Violante's school-life went on, on the whole, peacefully; but, still,
with various ups and downs of feeling--fits of longing for Rosa, of
loneliness and discouragement; times when she could not learn her
lessons nor interest herself in the little trifles that interested her
companions.  Yet she never thought of giving in and going away from
Oxley Manor.  When she was unhappy she dreaded lest Rosa should discover
it.  All the interest of life lay close at hand--here anything might
happen, elsewhere the scene was closed.  Not that Violante gave herself
this reason for her perseverance.  No; she could not bear to foil a
second time; and Miss Florence was so kind to her, she was learning to
bear the little rubs of life.  So she mused one soft, line morning, as
she stood leaning out of the window of the little upstairs class-room,
where she superintended the girls' practising.  As she waited for her
pupils she thought to herself that she was growing brave and sensible--
more like Rosa--who let nothing interfere with her work.

And then, looking half-expectantly down the road, she saw a man come by
on horseback, riding slowly, and looking straight before him, upright
and grave.  _She_ knew--_she_ saw--_he_ did neither; and, with a sudden
impulse, she leant far out of the window and pulled the little bunch of
violets from her dress and threw them to him, then darted back behind
the curtain.  And, as he started, the violets fell down in the dust; and
she saw him laugh and ride on and pass her flowers by.  Violante could
almost have thrown herself out of the window too, in her agony of shame
and disappointment.  She could not tell whether Hugh knew that she was
at Oxley Manor or not--surely he had not intended to repulse her!  If he
would but smile at her, speak to her!

"If you please, signorina, it's a quarter to ten."

Violante turned round to encounter a small fat-fingered child in a
pinafore, and sat counting, "One, two, three, four," and mechanically
checking wrong notes, as she wondered if he would look up next time that
he rode by.  When Miss Venning observed shortly afterwards that she
thought it would be more convenient if the history classes preceded the
practising, which need not then begin till eleven, she little knew what
springs she touched.  By one accident and another Violante did not see
Hugh again for a long time; but she did once or twice encounter Arthur
when in company with Florence, and, therefore, her walks were haunted by
a sense of possibility.  She also occasionally heard Mr Crichton spoken
of at meal-times as an authority in local matters under discussion, and
gathered that his opinion was considered important, and that his
judgment was generally supposed to be severe.  It so happened that at
this time the population of Oxley was convulsed with excitement as to
various public improvements then under discussion.  There was a talk of
a new branch line of rail between Fordham and Oxley, and the direction
that this was to take involved local interests of the most incompatible
description.  Some new gas-works were about to be set up by an
enterprising company, and one of the sites proposed was a field a great
deal nearer Oxley Manor than Miss Venning thought to be pleasant or
profitable for her school.  As this field belonged to a certain charity,
long ago bequeathed, it was thought that the interests of the poor of
Oxley would induce the trustees to dispose of it for a high price to the
gas-works.

Miss Venning observed that she was not a person to be put upon without a
reason, and that she should represent the matter in the proper quarters.

"If you mean Hugh Crichton," said Clarissa, "you may represent it, and
he will do exactly what he has already decided upon."

"Well, my dear, I shall take care that he has the proper information on
which to decide; so I shall ask him to call, and show him the field from
the windows, so that he can judge for himself."

So the tones that were associated for Violante with music and flowers,
tenderness and love, first fell on her ears to the following effect:

"But you are aware, Miss Venning, that the gas-works must be somewhere?
That field is very convenient for them, and I really think it is too far
off to cause you any annoyance."

"Now, Hugh, I'll thank you just to step into the little school-room and
look out of window.  No, you'll not disturb the girls.  Never mind
them."

Violante rose up with her companions as Miss Venning entered.  She stood
a little behind the others, and could suppose that Hugh did not see her,
as he walked up to the window and looked, or pretended to look out.

"It's a very healthy situation," he said, vaguely.

"Healthy!  And, pray, what consequence can it be to gas-works if they
are healthy or not?  They would spoil my view; and, really, between them
and the railroad, the place won't be worth living in much longer."

"It doesn't rest with me, you know, Miss Venning.  Can you suggest a
better situation?"

"I should place them the other side of the town," said Miss Venning,
with decision, "out towards Blackwood."

"Yes," said Hugh, still staring out of the window and hearing nothing.

It may seem a somewhat contemptible state of mind to record; but Hugh
was overpowered by a sense of embarrassment, of utter uncertainty as to
what to do, as to how to greet her.  Why should he evade the previous
acquaintance acknowledged by James and Arthur?  And yet he felt there
was but one way in which he _could_ speak to her.  As he half turned,
and hesitated as he talked confusedly to Miss Venning, the class of
girls filed out of the room.  Violante passed him.  All the short-lived
fire of her nature was roused by his hesitation.  She gave him no glance
of appealing timidity or hopeless love.  She flung up her head and
looked at him with an indignation such as he had never dreamt of seeing
in her soft eyes, and, in answer to his confused bow, she made the
slightest of curtseys and walked out of the room.

"You have met Mr Crichton?" said Clarissa, who had been with the class.

"Yes, Miss Clarissa, at my father's classes, but I have no acquaintance
with him.  It was Mr Spencer who met us at Caletto.  Come, Katie--come,
Agnes.  Your exercises have too many faults.  I shall scold."  And she
sat down and took up her pen, and felt for the moment as if she could
defy every turn of fortune.  Clarissa looked at her, and went back to
where Hugh, confused and wretched, was talking at random, having heard
Violante's parting shot.  She had turned the tables on him; she was no
vision, no holiday dream, as he had sometimes called her; but a living
woman, first misjudged and then neglected.  _He_ might be right and
self-denying, might be giving up his greatest good for the sake of
others; but she was wronged, and she had made him feel it.

"I have given it all up!--all--to make some slight atonement for the
wrong I have done," he thought; "and I must seem a sneak and a scoundrel
to myself.  How little they know!  What a lie life is!  If I were a boy
I'd run away to sea and have done with it.  And I must go this eternal
round of committees and business--and--_gas_-works--" with passionate
impatience at the momentary matter in hand, as he hurried away, having
wildly pledged himself to vote for the locating of the gas-works in the
midst of Lord Lidford's park at Blackwood.

He was stung to the very quick by Violante's anger, yet he had made up
his mind that all should be at an end between them, and he had too much
self-respect to try "to make the worse appear the better reason," and to
offer her any explanation, since he withheld the one that was her due.
Perhaps, the very renewal of regret that the sight of her face--more
womanly and more beautiful than when he had left her--caused him was a
sort of support, as it strengthened the sense of self-sacrifice.  But he
was sufficiently upset and perturbed by what had passed to forget one or
two important pieces of business, and was forced to accept Arthur's help
in hastily repairing his neglect, though he had begun the day by
resolving that he would not let much work fall on his cousin when the
soft spring weather made him look so pale and languid.

With Violante anger was a short-lived passion, and an hour had not
passed before she longed to recall her scornful words and look, before
she was making a hundred excuses for her lover.  The sight of Hugh in
his own place affected her as it, doubtless, had, however unconsciously,
affected him.  She felt miles farther away from him here in his own town
than among the flowers of Italy.  The pleasant novelty around her was
beginning to lose its effect; she began to grow scared and stupid, to be
again the little helpless Violante of Civita Bella.

One afternoon--it was a half-holiday--Miss Florence came sweeping into
the school-room, penetrating it like a fresh sunny wind, darting into
its corners, touching the sports, employments, humours of all its
inhabitants, criticising a drawing, suggesting a book, adjusting a
little quarrel; fresh currents of air seemed to follow her bright flaxen
head as she whisked about till she beheld Violante standing by herself
in the window and looking very disconsolate.

"Why, signorina, what's the matter?"

"I am so sorry, Miss Florence."

"Sorry, what for?"

"La signora is displeased with me."

"My sister?  Is she?  Why, what have you been doing?"

Violante blushed, and with much confusion answered that they had been
reading English poetry, and something in it made her cry.  "Only a
little, Miss Florence," but the girls laughed and she had burst into
tears, and Miss Venning had told her she ought to command her feelings
better.

"Well, don't let them get the better of you now," said Flossy.  "What
was this dreadfully touching poem?"

"It was a play called Hamlet, Miss Florence, and he was angry with the
girl who loved him."

"The sentiment was not sufficiently disguised, as our old English
teacher used to say," said Flossy, laughing heartily.  "Did you feel as
if you might act Ophelia?"

"Signorina, it seemed too true for acting.  It is not like an opera.  It
might be oneself.  But I should not have cried at it."

"No.  School-girls don't like sentiment.  But, come, it doesn't signify.
My sisters are out.  Come into the drawing-room and have some tea with
me; and I want to sing something to you and ask your advice."  Violante
followed gladly into the cheerful drawing-room, with its sunny flowery
windows, and its look of feminine pleasantness.  She sat down in a low
easy chair and rested passively.  She was tired of her own emotions; she
wanted Rosa.  Miss Florence was kind, and bright, and strong, but she
did not dare to creep into her arms and lay her head on her shoulder--
she did not dare even to cry over her troubles.  Excellent discipline,
doubtless, but, perhaps, the hardest that could have been devised for so
dependent a creature.

"Miss Florence," she said, after a minute; "did Hamlet ever forgive
Ophelia?"

"Why, don't you know?  She went mad and drowned herself," said Flossy,
cheerfully.

"I wonder how miserable anyone must be before they go mad!"

"Why," said Florence, as she sat down and began to knit some bright
wools together, quite ready for a lively discussion on the characters of
the play.  "I suppose no one would who had a well-balanced mind to begin
with."

"I am sure Rosa would not," said Violante, thoughtfully.

"No, your sister looks like the last person to do anything so silly,"
said Flossy, laughing.

"But when there are long years, and friends are cruel, and one has a
hard fate, and there is nothing in the world that could happen to set it
right--"

The deep, passionate trouble in her voice made Florence look up
surprised: she was constantly puzzled by the mixture of ignorance and
experience in this girl whose life had been so unlike her own.

"You know, Violante," she said, "we are Christians, and so we must not
despair."  Violante looked perplexed and thoughtful; yet the words had a
meaning for her, for these weeks had been in one respect a period of
development.  She had from the first taken very kindly to the religious
practices which were observed at Oxley Manor, and set to work to cure
her deficiency in religious knowledge.  Whether because she thought it
was English, or because she wished to imitate Flossy, or from some
blessed instinct leading her to what was for her good, she showed a love
for going to church and for all sorts of Church teaching which the Miss
Vennings were half-inclined to ascribe to novelty only.  Many of the
girls were under preparation for Confirmation, and she acquiesced
eagerly in the suggestion that she should join their number.  They were
carefully taught by the Oxley clergy; and Flossy, who was an
enthusiastic Sunday-school teacher, had delighted in explaining
difficulties and doctrines to the little Italian.  How much Violante
comprehended intellectually may be doubtful, but she began to see better
reasons for trying to do what was distasteful than the fear of being
scolded, began to have some notion of abstract duties.  This she was
carefully taught; but it was surely no human words, but the blessing of
God on her innocent humble spirit, that opened her loving heart to a new
and Divine love.  There dawned upon her the thought of a Friend who was
with her when Rosa was away, who loved her when Hugh was cold.  It was
but a dim conception, but it had capabilities of growth.  Hymns and
texts were something more than words, and her endeavours to fulfil these
new requirements had something of the fervour of enthusiasm.  She used
to forget the new comfort, let it be swept away in the tumult of
exciting feeling; but when the thought came back it was like Rosa's kiss
when she was in trouble and disgrace.  Flossy's hint recalled it now,
and she said, with childish directness:

"Because our Saviour loves us.  Ah!  I love Him very much!"

There was something in the soft, earnest _naivete_ that made the words
touching and sweet even to the English Florence, with whom reverence and
reality meant reserve, and who, however she had felt, would have thought
such an avowal presumptuous.

"Then, you must try to be good, Violante," she said, rather
repressively.

"Yes," said Violante, "and then He will be pleased with me."

Florence had taught this truth hundreds of times; but she had never
heard it thus echoed and claimed; and it came with a new force, as the
Bible words are said to do when read in a strange language.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER FORTY.

MR BLANDFORD OF FORDHAM.

  "Like some long childish dream
  Thy life has run."

Easter was now drawing near, but, owing to the approaching Confirmation
and one or two other reasons connected with the girls' studies, though
some of the pupils went home, there was no general break-up of the
school; and a week's holiday was to be given in the beginning of May,
when Violante was to go to London and meet her father, who was then
expected in England.  Moreover, the Miss Vennings, interested in the
affection between the two lonely sisters, invited Rosa to spend a few
days at Easter, and see for herself what sort of home Violante had
found, and to this meeting Violante herself looked forward with a
mixture of delight and alarm, as she reflected on the facts hitherto
concealed from her sister.

In the meantime Redhurst had filled up all the leisure in Flossy's busy
life; and, perhaps, more than all the leisure in her busy soul.  She was
always welcome there, with her inveterate freshness and brightness,
which even the associations of the place could not destroy; she was
almost the only visitor whom Arthur really liked to see; and,
consequently, the only one to whose coming Hugh did not object.  But she
was not encouraged to bring Violante there with her, Mrs Crichton
secretly thinking that the young men had talked quite enough about their
old acquaintance with her, and Miss Venning being by no means desirous
of bringing about a renewal of it.  So Hugh only suffered from hearing
her progress and her charms described by the unconscious Flossy to
Arthur, while he expressed a hope that "she had forgotten the manager."

Flossy was too busy a person to be entirely absorbed in one subject; but
beneath all her daily occupations Redhurst was for ever present in her
mind, and--though she was herself scarcely aware of it--Redhurst as it
affected Arthur Spencer.  She never heard of any incident taking place
there without wondering whether it was pleasant or not to him; and,
though she did not rival Hugh in the keenness of his self-conscious
insight into the passing phases of Arthur's humour, her sympathy enabled
her to draw much kinder, and, on the whole, truer conclusions from them.
For Arthur was in an unsatisfactory state, languid and inconsistent,
sometimes indolent and careless, and sometimes over-vehement as to his
work, in a way really trying to Hugh's patience; sometimes silent and
listless, and sometimes apparently excited by any change, and even ready
to seek it in the companionship of the young Dysarts and Ribstones.  He
was so uncertain as to be sometimes very provoking; but he did not look
well; and Hugh, though secretly despising what he thought want of
self-control, was outwardly marvellously patient, when his own secret
fretting vexations were considered.  Flossy did Arthur a great deal of
good.  She believed in his faith, patience, and courage, and helped to
create the qualities that she believed in.  She liked to coax him into
an argument, to induce him to tease her in the old fashion, and she was
the only person to whom he ever mentioned Mysie's name, or to whom he
ever talked about himself.  All this was very good for Arthur, who
sorely needed a friend; but, even for the simple unsentimental Flossy,
it was very dangerous work.  How long the peculiar circumstances of the
case might have blinded her eyes to her danger may be doubtful, as an
incident happened, extremely startling to her in itself, and which
caused her to make a still more startling discovery.  At twenty-one she
had never even been accredited with an admirer, and had thought far less
of young men than of young maidens; but, of late, possibilities had
begun to dawn on the minds of her sisters.  A short time before Colonel
Dysart had taken Ashenfold the living of Fordham had been given to a
connection of his, a Mr Blandford, who had made some stir in the
clerical world of Oxley by his fine sermons and by the superior manner
in which he organised his new parish.  He was about five-and-thirty and
unmarried; and, through a whole dinner-party, was observed to discuss
Church matters, practical and theoretical, with Miss Florence Venning,
who dearly loved good conversation.

"So exactly the sort of man to suit Flossy!" said Miss Venning,
confidentially, to Clarissa.  "So superior and with such kindred
tastes!"

"It's much too good to be true," said Clarissa, with one of her quaint
little grimaces.  "I shouldn't wonder if he is in favour of the celibacy
of the clergy."

"Oh, my dear, with that nice vicarage!  But I'm sure I don't wish to
lose Flossy.  She is young enough yet."

Flossy was much flattered at finding that Mr Blandford adopted some of
her suggestions in his Sunday-school, and even went so far as to pity
his parish for having no lady to look after it, and to wish that he
could prepare the girls for their Confirmation; but, though she met Mr
Blandford tolerably often, she did not regard him in the light of a
probable lover, till one morning, as she read her letters at breakfast,
Miss Florence's pink cheeks grew redder and redder, and at the first
opportunity she pursued her sisters into the drawing-room, and, with a
sort of half-dignified fright, communicated the alarming fact that Mr
Blandford had actually made her an offer.

"My dear Flossy!  Well, it is no surprise to me," said Miss Venning.

"I'm sure it's a surprise to me," said Flossy, rather ruefully.

"Why, you don't mean to say you never thought of it?" said Clarissa.

"I did," said Flossy, "of course, when everyone was wondering if he
would marry; but, as he never paid me any attentions, I decided that--
that he would not."

"Never paid you attention?"

"Why, you don't call talking about Sunday-schools and districts
attention, do you?" said Flossy.

"That depends.  Did you expect him to talk about hearts and darts and
forget-me-nots?" laughed Clarissa.

"I thought anyone would do _something_," cried Flossy, crimson and
nervous, as she twisted the letter in her hand.

"My dear, don't be so childish," said Miss Venning.  "You are startled;
but, depend upon it, Mr Blandford's feelings are just as sincere as if
he had talked more about them.  And I'm sure a more excellent person--"

Miss Venning paused, rather overcome by her feelings; and Flossy said,
gravely:

"I am afraid I _have_ been childish.  It is because I think so much of
the things that interest me.  But, indeed, I didn't mean to--to flirt
and lead him on."

"Whatever you meant, my dear," said Miss Venning, "you see the result."

"What in the world shall I do, Mary?  What shall I say?"

"Why, my darling, if you can care about him--"

"Oh, dear, no!" interrupted Flossy.  "Of course, I can't say yes.  I
never dreamt of such a thing!"

"Flossy, don't be such a goose!" suddenly cried Clarissa.  "Do bring
your mind down to the realities of life, and think of something besides
school-girls."

"If one mayn't talk to an old clergyman about his parish," cried Flossy,
who was chiefly concerned in exculpating herself from the dreadfully
unfamiliar notion of having trifled with the lover's feelings.

"Old!  Flossy, you are _too_ silly," said Clarissa, angrily.  But Miss
Venning interposed:

"Now give yourself time to recover.  Mr Blandford should have tried to
prepare your mind for it.  Go up to your room and think it over, and try
to understand yourself."  Miss Venning spoke somewhat as if Flossy had
been a naughty child; but the girl was glad of the respite, and hurried
away to her own room.  There she soon began to recover herself.  A lover
in the flesh is a startling novelty to many maidens of this latter
nineteenth century, and Flossy's heart had not prepared her so to regard
Mr Blandford.  Her sisters were unmarried, and she had thought it very
likely that she should not marry herself.  But she had no doubt as to
her own feelings, and too much sense to reproach herself after the first
flutter was over.  It was a simple, honest, womanly answer that she was
beginning to write, when a knock interrupted her, and Clarissa came in.

"Flossy," she said, in an agitated voice, "Don't--don't be a silly
child!  You don't know what you are throwing away."

"Indeed, Clary!" said Flossy, "I am quite sure that I do not love Mr
Blandford.  I am _very_ sorry.  I misunderstood him, but I am quite
clear in my own mind; and if I talked nonsense at first it was just the
fluster of the thing."

"Oh, Flossy, you don't know," said Clarissa, with tears in her eyes.
"Don't be in a hurry!  You think your life will always be like it is
now; but you'll get tired of it--you will, indeed.  You'll want
something more.  You'll grow into a woman--and--and you will have missed
your chance, and you'll be sorry."

"Do you wish me to accept him for the sake of being married?" said
Flossy, in superb disdain.

"Oh, I cannot tell," said Clarissa.  "But, Flossy, I want you to think
what you are making up your mind to.  Girls now-a-days don't have many
chances, and, though you're handsome, you are not so very taking.  Don't
you see that it means, perhaps, never to be married--never to have--
Flossy, think, _think_!"

"Why, Clarissa, anyone would think you had said no yourself and
repented."

"I?  I never said no--nor yes either."

"You can't suppose I am going to marry a man I don't love?"

"No; but there are different ways of putting things, and if there is no
one else--"

"Is it likely?" interrupted Flossy.  "Clarissa, how can I go and marry a
man when I don't care as much for him as for hundreds of things--as I
care for you and Mary, and the girls--"

"Or Arthur Spencer?" whispered Clarissa, with a sudden mischievous
twinkle.

Flossy stood still; a great throb passed through her, and she quivered
to her fingertips.

"Oh, Flossy, Flossy, forgive me," cried Clarissa, clinging to her.
"Indeed, I didn't know--I didn't mean to--"

"No!" said Flossy, putting her little, slight sister back, and standing
up, tall and straight; her blue eyes lightening as they had never
lightened before.  "No!  I don't care half so much for him as I do for
Arthur Spencer--as I did for my dear Mysie.  I care exceedingly for
Arthur, and Mr Blandford is only an acquaintance.  You said no harm,
Clarissa."  She stood grandly to her colours; but the sharp-eyed
Clarissa saw it all.  She ceased her arguments--they had their answer.

"You've got your life-story, anyhow," she said, "and you will do as you
please.  I haven't got any experience to give you the benefit of."

It is sometimes thought impossible that a woman should give her heart
away, wholly without solicitation, utterly without hope of return; and,
perhaps, the fire of passion cannot be quite spontaneous.  But, whatever
Flossy's young, fresh nature understood by love, the absorbing interest,
the unselfish devotion, the romantic idealism had gone out to Arthur
Spencer, as she thought, for ever.  To use an expression prevalent among
the gentle, self-restrained heroines of an earlier day, "she had allowed
her affections to become engaged," and she faced the fact with all her
natural sense and honesty.  He was the one man in the world for her, and
she would have--

Poor Flossy burst into tears of shame and fright as she thought that
there was nothing she would not have done for his sake.  But as she was
not "disappointed," as she had never for a moment connected any personal
hopes or fears with him, she could bear to think that this feeling must
be carried about with her, hopeless of result; without being utterly
wretched, or fancying that she could never care for life again.  And as
she was proud and brave, and was his true friend before all things, she
could resolve to make no perceptible change in her behaviour, but to be
as kind to him as ever, while no single soul should guess _how_ kindly
she felt.  The idea had its attraction.  Flossy's young eyes were
half-blinded by the sunrise still; her loves and her sorrows had still
some of the fascination of romance, were still fresh from the stately
dreamland of hero-worship and self-sacrifice.  And so, fearless, she
turned her back on cloudland, and came out "into the light of common
day," which would soon show the stones in her path plainly enough.  But
as she was sensible and practical too, and not inexperienced--if
experience can ever be other than personal--she was aware also that it
was an unlucky thing that had come to her, and one to solemnise, if not
sadden, her life; and she was seized with a fit of self-distrust.  "I
feel as if my case was just the one exception to all rules; but I never
heard any girl talk nonsense who didn't think _that_," she said,
bitterly, to herself.  "Well, any way, someone has liked me," and with
that she burst into a great flood of tears; and, though she was far too
single-minded to waver in her determination, the result of her discovery
that she had given her heart to another was that poor Mr Blandford
received a much softer and more tenderly-expressed refusal than he would
have got before, and that she thought of him with a much greater amount
of gratitude.  However, between tears and excitement, she had worried
herself into a bad headache, and was quite unable to go down to her
teaching--a circumstance nearly as unusual as the event which had caused
it, and which cost her another half-hour's argument before she could
convince Miss Venning that she did not regret her decision, and could
induce her anxious sister to leave her in peace.  She had been lying on
her bed, half-asleep, for some time, when there was a little tap, and
Violante came in with a cup of coffee in her hand.

"Miss Clarissa said I might bring you this.  Are you better, signorina
mia?"

"Oh, yes," said Flossy, sitting up.  "My headache is gone, I think.
Thank you, Violante; this is very good.  Oh, dear!  Whatever became of
the Italian?"

"I did it, Miss Florence, all myself; and Miss Clarissa sat in the
room," said Violante, in accents of pride.

"Why, Violante, how clever you are getting!"

"All, Miss Florence, I would do anything to help you a little bit!" said
Violante, kissing her hand.  "The house is sad when you are ill."

Flossy was in a soft mood, and thought that she might yield to the
girl's caressing sweetness, without the possibility of a suspicion that
she was fretting for Mr Fordham or for anyone else.  She little thought
that Violante--who, it is to be feared, considered being in love as the
normal condition of young maidens, and who had heard Florence talk a
great deal about Arthur--was only deterred from guessing the true state
of the case by her conviction that such a being as Miss Florence could
only find her equal in "Signor Hugo."  To be sure, when, in a fit of
holiday-gossip, some glib-tongued girl had made this suggestion, Edith
Robertson had silenced her with a sharp "Oh, dear, no; not likely at
all!  Mr Crichton will marry into a county family," which remark had
seemed to show innumerable vistas between _herself_ and Hugh; still,
_could_ Flossy know him and be insensible?  Flossy little guessed these
thoughts, as Violante caressed her and helped her to twist up her long
bright hair--the flossy flaxen--which the little Italian girl thought
the most beautiful colour in the world; and Florence was comforted, she
hardly knew how, and went once more about her business, perhaps a little
graver, a little less ready for unnecessary interests; but giving Miss
Venning no reason to suppose that she regretted Mr Blandford.  When she
looked back on her interview with Clarissa it struck her that sister's
manner had been singular; and one day she said to Miss Venning: "Mary,
did Clarissa ever have any lovers?"

"Never, my dear, that I know of.  I wish she had.  She doesn't like
girls, and would be happier married."

"Nor ever cared for anyone?"

"Not that I know of," answered Miss Venning, placidly, as she folded the
letter that she had been writing to an anxious mother to relate her
daughter's progress and well-being.  Flossy reflected; but her own
memory did not come to her aid; for, indeed, there was nothing to
remember, and Clarissa subsided into her usual lazy, satirical, yet not
uncheerful, demeanour; sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued; always the provider
of the family jokes and the arranger of the little family comforts, the
easy-chairs and cups of tea and unexpected fires, of which she always
showed such a strong appreciation.  Yet it occurred to Flossy for the
first time to wonder what was Clarissa's main-spring.  Certainly not her
work, which she hated: nor any art or occupation, for she had none of
any great consequence; and not her sisters, for she did not often excite
herself about their concerns.  It seemed an objectless life; could
Clarissa have mended it?  Flossy, young and enthusiastic, was much
inclined to answer that she could; and yet it was very difficult to
imagine Clarissa taking up any of the lines that seemed so alien to her.
She could no more acquire Flossy's strong impulses and inborn tastes
than she could alter the outlines of her lot; no more give herself a
love than a lover.

PART FIVE, CHAPTER FORTY ONE.

AMONG THE PRIMROSES.

  "Who on faint primrose-beds were wont to lie."

"Rosa--Rosa, carissima mia!  To see you--to have you again!  I have
wanted you every day!"

"My darling child, I don't know when I have not wanted _you_!  Tell me
all--everything.  Are you well--are you happy?  I think you look so."

"We have tried to make her so," said Flossy, as Rosa withdrew from
Violante's clinging embrace to look into her face and read its story.
"Now, Violante, make your sister comfortable, and all the rest of us are
going to walk."

Left thus alone, Violante put Rosa into a chair and knelt at her feet,
looking up in her face.  Rosa was looking remarkably well and handsome;
she was nicely dressed, and had an air of prosperity.

"And so they are very kind to you?" she said.

"They are as kind as angels," said Violante, "and there is no one like
Miss Florence except you."

Rosa laughed, and Violante went on, rather hurriedly:

"And our cousins,--how are they?  And your pupils--are they stupid?  How
far have they got in Italian?"

"Not very far," said Rosa; "and that's the first question you ever asked
me about a pupil in your life."

"But I teach a great deal of the Italian.  Miss Florence showed me how.
And father--will he come soon?"

"Yes.  I'm afraid, Violante, he has not found much to do in Florence.  I
shall be glad when he comes to London, because I think he is likely to
get engagements."

"Does he know anyone in London?" asked Violante.

"Well--there is a gentleman who comes a good deal to Uncle Grey's," said
Rosa, colouring a little.  "He is not exactly a professional musician;
but he loves music better than anything, and he has composed some
things--they're very good, I think.  He said he would ensure some
engagements for father.  So we shall get some nice little lodgings near
the Greys.  I know some that would do for us, and when you come,
darling--it will be home again."

"And father is coming?"

"The first week in May."

"Yes, and our holidays are to be on the 7th.  You know we should have
gone home now, but for the Confirmation; and, besides, Miss Venning's
brother, who is a clergyman, is coming to examine the school on the 5th
of May in arithmetic and those hard lessons; so the classes preparing
for him have not broken up."

"How funny it sounds to hear you talk about lessons and arithmetic!  Can
_you_ do your sums, my child?"

"Not very well," replied Violante, modestly; "they are very often wrong,
Rosina.  But I have learnt many things."

She turned and slipped down by Rosa's side, playing with her fingers;
but keeping her own face averted.

"Things are very strange, Rosa mia.  I never expected to see Signor
Arthur here."

"Signor Arthur.  Mr Spencer?  _Here_.  Where?" exclaimed Rosa, greatly
surprised.

"Yes," said Violante, trying to control her trembling, "he--that is,
_they_, live here at Redhurst.  They are Miss Venning's friends."

"_They_--you don't mean Mr Crichton!  Oh, Violante, if I had known
this--" then, as there was a pause, "Have you seen him?"

"Oh, yes.  But he never spoke, nor I to him.  Do not fear, Rosa.  He is
a great gentleman, and he knows well _here_ that I am only a poor little
girl; and no one knows anything."

"Oh, my darling, you should not have stayed here an hour!"

"Then you would be more foolish than I," cried Violante; "more foolish a
great deal, Rosa.  You see I am well and happy.  And is not a girls'
school like a convent?  I never see any of them but Signor Arthur, and
he is always kind.  His _promessa sposa_ was here at school, you know,
Rosa.  She was Miss Florence's dear friend."

"I could not have believed that you would have concealed such a thing
from me!" said Rosa, reproachfully.

"It was because I knew you would expect me to be unhappy.  I wanted you
to see me and to know that I can bear it," said Violante, with
excitement.  "Rosa, I would not deceive you--it is all over--all over!
But I knew you would hear their names."

"Mr Spencer Crichton, then, is an acquaintance of Miss Venning's?" said
Rosa, still in a tone of perturbation.

"Yes; and, besides, he has to do with everything--the railways and the
gas--"

"The what?"

"Why, they were going to build some ugly gas-works in the field, and he
was the only person who could prevent it.  That was why he came here.
But it is Signor Arthur who is their friend."

"Ah, has he got over his trouble?"

"No," said Violante, with an air of interest and knowledge rather
surprising to Rosa.

"Oh, no, he looks much more sad and ill than he did in Italy.  I think
he will never forget Mysie.  But they will be coming in, and I was to
show you your room.  There," as Rosa followed her, "that is the
school-room, and I must go there presently and see that the little girls
get ready for tea."

Rosa felt utterly bewildered.  It is always startling to find one's
nearest and dearest possessed with a flood of new ideas and interests,
acquired apart from ourselves, and this is specially the case with a
girl's first experience of independent life.  Violante's very accent and
idiom had attained a more English turn, and there was an air of life and
capability about her entirely new.  She had opinions and ideas, and
evidently was proud of her various occupations and anxious to show them
off.  How much of this was owing to her more vigorous health--the
English air evidently being very favourable to her--how much to the
mental awakening which some congenial experience often gives to girls
sooner or later, and how much to the undercurrent of excitement that
Hugh Crichton's neighbourhood caused, Rosa could not tell.  Certainly
she was glad to see her little sister so bright and well; but she could
not get over the idea of Violante's secrecy, and forgot, perhaps, how
hardly while pitying her sister she had judged Hugh in her hearing.
Moreover, Rosa's attention was not so entirely devoted to Violante's
affairs as had been the case last year.  Possibilities were arising in
her own life; but they were still too vague for her to wish to make a
confidante of her young sister.  There seemed to be what the Miss Greys
called "a chance for Rosa;" and Rosa, it was thought, was not altogether
averse to avail herself of it.  She was very agreeable, and her foreign
experiences and shrewd cleverness gave her an originality refreshing in
a London young lady.  She liked society; and, besides, she liked
attention, in a sensible moderate sort of way; at any rate, she liked
the attentions of the musical Mr Fairfax.  He was not a very young man,
and not at all handsome; but he had enough enthusiasm of character to
appeal to Rosa's sympathies, and enough of unconventionality to think
her history and connections attractive rather than the reverse.  He held
a situation in the British Museum, and had some private means; so that
he had been able to indulge his musical taste without being dependent on
it for support.  Nothing very definite had passed, but he was gradually
giving Rosa to understand that he meant something serious; and she had
welcomed this short absence as an opportunity for making up her own mind
and testing her own feelings.

She made a very good impression on Miss Venning, and became friendly
with Flossy, though secretly she thought her rather high-flying, and
considered her objects of interest inadequate to the enthusiasm expended
on them.  She found that Violante, allowance being made for her
imperfect education, was considered to have fair capabilities; and, with
the help of her music and Italian, to be likely to be able to earn her
living, under favourable circumstances.  ("If I had a home for her to
fall back upon," was Rosa's mental comment;) while she was much liked by
teachers and companions.  Rosa was constantly amused and surprised at
seeing her busy and important; but, perhaps, she liked the moments best
when Violante nestled down by her side, happy once more in her caressing
presence.  Rosa had arrived on Easter Monday, and was to stay till
Saturday.  The Confirmation would take place on the Friday, and on the
Wednesday afternoon the whole party went into the woods to gather
primroses, to renew the Easter decoration of Oxley parish church.  The
best primroses grew near Fordham; but, as nothing would have tempted
Miss Florence's steps in that direction, she ordained that they should
walk towards Oxley--"it was a prettier view to show Miss Mattei."

All along the opposite banks of the canal, between Fordham, Redhurst,
and Oxley--and, indeed, out beyond Blackwood, on the other side of the
town--were, at intervals, great oak copses, skirting the heath behind.
Ashenfold was in the midst of them; they touched at one end the famous
Fordham beeches, and at the other were lost in Lord Lidford's park at
Blackwood.  The London road crossed the canal by a bridge at Oxley,
where the woods were interspersed with villas, and a path, rough and
dirty in winter, but charming in summer, led right through them to
Redhurst and Fordham.  A sort of hand-bridge led back to the Redhurst
Road, opposite Ashenfold; further on there were only Redhurst and
Fordham locks.

A considerable tract of copse had been felled the year before; and this
spring the place of the underwood was supplied by the young sprouting
oak-shoots and by myriads of primroses and anemones, ivy, lichen and
moss, and all the beauties of woodlands in the spring.  It was a lovely
day, warm and sunny, with a sky the colour of the speedwells that were
still hiding in the hedges.  Birds sang and twittered; butterflies, like
flying primroses, hovered about in pairs.

"There is nothing like a wood in spring," said Florence; "and out there,
Miss Mattei, the furze is getting golden, and even that ploughed field
has a deep, rich colour under this wonderful sky."

"Yes, abroad we don't believe in English spring, but a day like this--"

"Vindicates the spring of the poets--and makes up for rain and east
winds, doesn't it?"  The girls scattered over the wood in search of
their primroses, Violante among them; while Rosa sat down on a log and
talked to Miss Venning.  The chatter and laughter of the girls sounded
through the wood; and Flossy, in her great straw hat, with her hands
full of primroses, came back towards them over the rough broken ground,
tall, lithe, and blooming, like an incarnation of this fresh woody
spring.  Suddenly she paused, and exclaimed, as Hugh and Arthur, in
rather unwonted companionship, came up the narrow path towards her.

"What?  A great primrose-picking?" said Arthur.

"Yes, did you come to enjoy the woods?" she said.

"I wanted to go to Ashenfold," said Hugh, "so we came back this way.  We
are rather idle this week."

As he spoke, Hugh became aware of Rosa's presence, by hearing Arthur
greet her; and, after a momentary hesitation on both sides, they bowed,
and he asked after Signor Mattei.

"My father is very well, thank you," said Rosa, without an unnecessary
word.  Hugh stood like a shy boy in his first quadrille, trying to think
of something that would do to say.  Arthur had strolled away towards the
primrose-pickers, and he decided that it would look too marked to walk
on without him.  At last he said: "Oh!  Miss Venning, about that gas.  I
believe I shall get it arranged as you wish."

"I always knew, Hugh, that no sensible person could see it in any other
light," said Miss Venning.

"I don't think gas is injurious to human life," said Hugh, looking round
the wood.  Rosa almost pitied him, he seemed so ill at ease.  "The
component parts--"

"Now, I am said to be fond of discussions," said Flossy; "but, really,
to talk chemically in this lovely wood is a shame."

"Let us come, then, and look at the view and find Arthur," said Hugh,
relieved; "I ought to be going."

Rosa would fain have followed, but Miss Venning, with a "You see, my
dear," entered on the subject of the gas-works, and the other two walked
farther into the wood.

There were days when Hugh was sure that he ought not to marry Violante,
there were many days when he thought that he did not wish to marry her;
but now and then came a day when he dreamed of a future that might come
when time should have softened the present troubles, and this day was
one of them.  He would _not_ throw away this chance--at least, he would
see her and hear her speak again.  Suddenly the sound of her sweet
unmistakable voice fell on his ear.  They were coming over a piece of
rising ground, and down below them sat Arthur and Violante on a fallen
tree.  She was tying the primroses into little bunches.  The occupation
and her light spring dress brought another sunny afternoon and other
brighter-tinted flowers to Hugh's mind.  He could only see the top of
Arthur's hat; but her face was visible, raised in profile, tender and
smiling, in the radiant sun.  She was evidently answering a remark.

"Ah, then, do _you_ `say die,' so often?"

"Very often, I am afraid."

"But I keep the olive-leaves, signor, and I look at them sometimes."

"Ah, yes, I remember, I believe I have mine here still," and Arthur took
out his pocket-book, and after a moment's search showed the little spray
of leaves.

Neither Hugh nor Florence were so conventionally-minded as exactly to
misinterpret the facts of what they had seen; and, besides, Arthur's
voice and manner were essentially unloverlike; but it seemed to Hugh as
if those sweet looks and smiles were for all alike, awakened by his
cousin as well as by himself.  _Something_ there was between them, and
what might there not come of it by and by? while to Flossy the first
sharp pang of uncontrollable jealousy was not unnaturally aggravated by
Violante's look of utter confusion and perplexity, as a turn of her head
revealed their presence and they stepped down the bank beside her.  She
had not known that Hugh was with Arthur.

"You are still fond of flowers, Mademoiselle Mattei?" said Hugh, dryly.

She looked at him.

"These flowers are different," she said.  Perhaps she hardly knew what
she meant.

"Fresher and newer," said Hugh.  Hugh was the worst of hypocrites, and
Arthur had never seen him look quite as he looked now.  Impossible,
incredible!

"Flossy," he began, "let us come--" when a sudden outbreak of voices and
laughter near them made them all turn.  Two of the Dysart girls had been
of the party and had previously coaxed their mother to surprise Miss
Venning with a supply of cake and new milk to be eaten in the wood, as
an impromptu picnic, and Mrs Dysart had now made her appearance,
followed by two of her little boys carrying the provisions.

Miss Venning did not emulate the schoolmistress who desired her charges
to turn their faces to the hedge when a man passed by; still, she was
conscious that Mrs Dysart might think the situation unusual; while, as
for Hugh, he looked so indignant, so ashamed, and so uncomfortable that
Rosa could hardly help laughing, and Arthur's face of amusement was a
study.  But Mrs Dysart was a lady who took things easily, even the
presence of two of her elder sons, who declared that they had followed
as the milk was too heavy for their little brothers.

"What quantities of primroses you have got!" she said.

"You see, Hugh picked so many!" said Arthur.  He could not resist the
little joke, any more than he could help the bright courtesy that made
him enter into the spirit of the thing, and pour out the milk and hand
the cake.

"Drink, signorina!" he said, gaily, as he gave a cup to Violante.

And yet, when the thought came over him of what such a merry-making
would have been to him last year, perhaps Hugh, angry and full of
miserable misunderstanding as he was, need hardly have envied his
cousin's smile.  For Violante stood, living and beautiful, before him;
and though he shut his eyes to the sun-rays of possibility, he felt
their warmth.

It was all over in ten minutes.  Miss Venning summoned her flock; Hugh
asked if Colonel Dysart was at home, and, with Arthur, followed the
milk-jugs back to Ashenfold.  Flossy, feeling miserable, cross, ready to
cry, and utterly unheroic, thought she should hate the sight of
primroses for ever; and Violante--flushed, excited, knowing that,
whatever Hugh's tone indicated, it was _not_ indifference--thought the
fair, tender blossoms had just a little of the sweetness that had clung
to the white bouquet, one precious trophy of her stage-life.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY TWO.

AT THE YEAR'S END.

  "This, only this; through sorrow cometh learning.
  Through suffering, greater growth.
  In patience, therefore, wait the golden morning
  That draweth near us both."

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY THREE.

ANOTHER CHANCE.

  "Only the sound of a voice,
  Tender and sweet and low--
  That made my heart rejoice
  A year ago!"

James Crichton was spending a few days at home, with a view to the
proposed oratorio at H--, which was to take place the week after Easter.
He was, however, obliged to go up to town on most days, and was rather
fond of calling in at the Bank on his way from the station and walking
or driving back with his brother and Arthur.  Perhaps, this practice had
partly induced Hugh's visit to Ashenfold on the day of the primrose
picnic.  For Hugh was not fond of walking down Oxley High-street with
Jem.  It was all very well, he thought, to know every man, woman, and
child in Redhurst, and even to be on civil terms with the inhabitants of
Oxley; but Jem carried things too far.

When they passed the greengrocer's--"Well, Mr Coleman, how d'ye do?
How's your little girl?  Gone to boarding-school?--hope she'll get on
with her French.  Why, Hugh, there's Kitty Morris--how dark her hair's
grown!  She's not as pretty as she used to be."

"I never saw her before, to my knowledge," Hugh would probably reply.

"Never saw Kitty--oh, she belongs to that little print-shop.  She's
always standing at the door.  I declare, there's old Tomkins!  I must
just cross over and speak to him."

A delay of two or three minutes listening to old Tomkins; and then,
still worse, an elaborate bow to two Miss Harrisons--and, though Hugh
knew that neither the popularity nor the familiarity of the "Oh, Mr
Crichton, _'ow_ pleased ma _will_ be to see you!" could be intended for
him, he would grow desperate, and march on, while Jem would finish up by
saying:

"Ah, when you want to represent the borough send me to canvass--that's
all!"  Jem had not been at home long before he proposed that Arthur
should come back to London with him for the sake of a little change and
variety.  It was evident, he said, that a change was wanted, and the
proposal was eagerly taken up by his mother, who pressed it upon Arthur
in a way that hardly left him a choice.

"You see, my dear boy, you don't look well, and are sadly out of
spirits," she said, in her outspoken way; "and this will be the very
thing to do you good."

"Jem is very kind; but it would not do me any good," said Arthur.

"Oh, yes, my dear, it will.  Change is always good for people, and you
haven't been much in London.  You know we must all make efforts."

"There is nothing the matter with me," said Arthur, escaping from the
room; while his aunt went on: "Poor boy, it's time he should be a little
cheerful, and he is not half so bright as he was at first."

"No; that's just what I say," returned Jem; "everything here reminds him
of her, and London will be all fresh."

Even Flossy Venning was moved to give the same counsel, which she did
with rather suspicious eagerness, half-afraid to seem unwilling to part
with him.  Arthur had no counter-arguments to urge but his own
unwillingness, and this seemed only to prove the necessity of the
measure; but he did not yield readily, though he half-believed they were
right, and had not the energy to put an end to the discussion by a more
emphatic refusal.  Hugh would not interfere, save by the brief remark:

"Yes, things are wrong; but it will take more than that to set them
right;" but at last he said:

"You do not wish to go, Arthur?"

"Oh, no," said Arthur, in a sort of matter-of-course tone.

"Is there anything you would like better to do?" said Hugh, with the
elaborate gentleness with which he often addressed his cousin.

"Oh, no," said Arthur again.  "I am sorry to make such a bad business of
it.  Perhaps, I ought to get away somewhere, and not make you all
miserable."

"It is not that," said Hugh; "but Jem is always cheerful; you and he
have tastes in common, and sometimes you do seem brighter for a little
amusement."

"That's only because I'm such a fool, Hugh, you are so wonderfully good
to me.  Don't you think I know how I put you out?  I take up with
things--sometimes I forget how I've changed--then I get deadly sick of
it all and tired out.  Or else a word--a look!  Oh, I know well enough
what I ought to do; but it's making bricks without straw--I've no pluck
left."

Perhaps because he _had_, with whatever shortcomings, tried very hard to
be "good" to Arthur, perhaps because the confidence was made to himself,
Hugh was able to conceal the personal pain which these passionate words
caused him; and it was with real tenderness that he answered:

"I think you have shown no want of pluck; but when you first talked of
coming back I was afraid you would not be able to bear it; this place is
full of sword-pricks for you.  Aren't you straining your nerves too far
by staying here?"

Arthur did not answer, and Hugh, watching him as he stood leaning
against the shutter and staring fixedly out into the sunshine, said,
with more hesitation:

"Or is it that the want of an aim, of an object is worse than anything
else, and that you feel less at sea when you are obliged to do
something?"

"Yes," said Arthur, quickly.  "Yes.  Ah, _you_ understand!  I _want_
something to hold by."

"But then," said Hugh, "you mustn't be too hard on yourself.  You look
ill, and sometimes you feel so; you don't sleep, and then you are not
fit for these efforts."

"You seem to know all about me," said Arthur; but not as if the
comprehension hurt him.

"Yes, I believe I do," said Hugh, looking away from him; but with a
curious sense of a fresh spring in his heart.  Was all that bitter
involuntary watching, that keen, morbid analysis of Arthur's feelings,
which had cost him so much pain, to bear fruit at last?  Had the
sympathetic suffering which he had looked on as expiation been no
fruitless penance, but a training that might enable him to make some
poor amends?  Was it possible that he, who had caused and shared the
sorrow, could be the one to comfort and help?

"I think I do understand," he said.  "It will be best for you to stay
here quietly, and join when you can in what goes on, or pass it by
without any comment being made.  Only, you must promise to tell me if
you feel that it is getting too much for you--that is, if you will," he
added, with a little return to his self-distrust.

"Oh, yes, I'll tell you, if you don't find out," said Arthur, with some
of his natural liveliness; then added, earnestly and affectionately:
"You have done me a great deal of good."

Hugh had never felt so nearly happy since he had come back to England as
at those words.  If Arthur could feel so he should never want for
comfort again.  The first effort at really helping him for his own sake
had broken through his self-conscious shrinking; and Hugh felt that,
with so ready a response, he could comfort Arthur and find his own
consolation in doing it.

There was no doubt of the response.  Arthur never theorised about what
he could or could not do and feel, and he turned instantly to Hugh's
offered comprehension and sympathy.  Indeed, he was so easily cheered
for the moment, and almost always so bright in manner, that it was
difficult to believe how completely he had been thrown off his balance,
and how much the strain was telling upon him.  It was by his
irresolution and changeableness and excitable vehemence, ending in utter
indifference, rather than by absolute low spirits that his grief told.
Sometimes he could not decide on the merest trifle, such as a walk
_versus_ a ride; and, again, he would involve himself in some
undertaking, just because he was asked to do so, and then a voice, a
look, the name of a place or a person--anything that jarred his nerves
with a sudden recollection--would make the act impossible to him.  In
the same way, though he rarely had even a headache to complain of, he
was often utterly unequal to an exertion which another day would be easy
to him.

It was just the state for which change of scene seemed most desirable;
but to which by itself it would do little good; and it was well, indeed,
for Arthur that fate, or his own judgment, had placed him where all this
irresolution and want of ballast was likely to result in nothing worse
than idleness and uselessness.  Had he been thrown in the way of
temptation at this critical period neither his own principles nor the
memory of Mysie might have supplied an adequate resisting force, while
he would probably have broken down under solitude altogether.

That conversation was like the lifting of a veil.  Hugh had always known
where Arthur's shoe pinched him; he only needed to act on his knowledge
to be the very help that was wanted, and he had not won Arthur's glance
of thanks and relief twice before he began to look for it as his own
greatest pleasure.  Like many severe people when once softened, he was
almost over-tender, and could not bear to see his cousin struggle with
himself.  He would not, therefore, allow the expedition to H--to be
urged upon him; so Jem, Mrs Crichton, Frederica, and Flossy set off on
the day appointed.

Hugh found time, in spite of this new interest, to display what the
Vicar of Oxley called "a very proper feeling on the part of one of the
chief laymen of the parish," by attending the Confirmation.  He had
meditated much on the scene of the olive-leaves; but, in the new light
thrown on Arthur's mind, it had lost much of its sting.  Not so with
Flossy.  She had never dreamt that her unselfish love could be marred by
such foolish, miserable jealousy.  Did silent devotion mean that she was
to be wretched whenever he spoke to another woman?  Her thoughts
wandered, her mind was disturbed, she wondered as to Violante's past
history, it was an effort to think of the scene before her.

Hugh watched Violante from a distance, and perceived that she was not
aware of his presence.  The impressionable Italian nature was lifted
into enthusiasm by the first religious ceremony in which she had ever
taken part.  Her eyes were bright and tearful, her cheeks flushed.  This
epoch in her life did not present itself to her as a moral crisis, as a
new resolve to fulfil difficult duties, a strain after a recollectedness
and gravity respected but hardly attained to.  It came to her as a new
happiness, a new love and a new sense of protection.  She was not
conscious that she felt differently from her companions; and Flossy
watched this beautiful fervour with a sort of awe, even while she
half-distrusted it as a lasting motive of action.

Before they left the church a hymn was sung and as Violante's heart
swelled with the words and the music, unconsciously she raised her voice
too, and its long silent notes smote on her ear, clear and full, as when
she had sung last in the opera-house of Civita Bella.  She dropped down
on her knees and hid her face.  Had it come back to her--this invaluable
gift, this terrible, beautiful possession?  Was her new ease of living
to slip away from her, and must she return to the "pains austere" of the
talent which belonged to her and to no other?  She had heard a great
deal lately about her duty, and for her "her duty" had always meant
singing in public.  And her father was coming; and he had not been
successful.  But no one had heard her--no one would know!  Hitherto she
had but helplessly yielded to the will of others--_this_ was the first
moral struggle she had ever known.  She saw and heard no more of what
was passing till they reached home, when she escaped from the others and
ran away by herself down to the farther end of the garden.  She stood
still in the shrubbery under its budding green, and listened.  All was
silent, but the twitter of the birds; and softly, timidly, she began
again to sing the hymn that she had just heard:

"Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire!" and as she went on the notes rose
fuller and clearer, and she could not but rejoice in their sweetness.
Then she paused, and, with a sense of desperation, began to sing the
melody so fraught with memories of every sort, the never-to-be-forgotten
"Batti, batti."  And, as she sang, Rosa came down the garden path, and
beheld her standing under the trees, in her white confirmation dress,
and singing the passionate operatic love-song with a curious look of
resolution on her face.  She broke off suddenly, and threw herself into
her sister's arms: "Rosa, Rosa!  I will be good.  I meant to tell you.
My voice, my voice!  Oh, father, father!"

The voice was choked in an agony of sobs and tears, and Rosa, hardly
less agitated, held her in her arms and tried to soothe her.

As soon as she could speak she sobbed out: "It has come back, and--and I
will sing for father--but, oh!  I thought I should stay hero always and
teach the little ones."

"Indeed, my darling, you shall not come away from here yet."

"No, and I could not act."

"No, that you never shall; but, darling, to hear your voice again!"

There was a little pause; then Violante said:

"I may stay here and learn things a little longer--and afterwards I will
sing at concerts--if--if--"

She faced her probable future; but there was still an "_if_" in her
life.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY FOUR.

JEM'S IDEAL.

  "Faultily faultless--icily regular--splendidly null."

The weather favoured the choir festival at H--and the production of
spring dresses for the occasion.  James cast critical eyes on his
mother's bonnet and on Frederica's hat; and anxiously consulted Arthur
as to whether he liked a flower in the button-hole of a morning.

"Oh, yes, when you want to look festive," said Arthur, without paying
much attention till he was roused from the perusal of the "Times" by a
crash in the conservatory; and on hastening to the rescue perceived Jem,
contemplating the ruins of his mother's best azalea, which he had
knocked over in trying to reach a bit of fern beyond it.  Three dainty
little bouquets were already lying in a row.

"Well, Jem, you have done it now!"

"Oh, confound the thing, yes--and it's time to be off.  Isn't the
carriage there?"

"Not yet.  Are you going to wear three bouquets?"

"No," said Jem, looking foolish, "I was only choosing the best.  I think
I'll go without."

"You couldn't improve on that rosebud, and it might come in handy," said
Arthur, gravely.

"Well," snatching it up.  "Just pick up that pot.  I hear the carriage."

"Pick up the pot!" ejaculated Arthur, as Jem rushed away, "when it's in
fifty pieces!  I shall retire before I'm supposed to have thrown it
down.  I say, Hugh," as he came back to the house, "who's the attraction
at H--?  Jem is evidently on tenter-hooks."

It was this easy laughter and readiness to joke on what would have
seemed to him a tender subject that had always puzzled Hugh in Arthur;
but now he was glad to see him amused on any terms, as he answered,
gravely:

"I daresay there are several; but I haven't heard him mention anyone in
particular."

"Perhaps he wanted a bouquet apiece and I've spoiled sport!  What a
pity!"

James recovered his equanimity as they drove away, and was very smiling
and chatty by the time they picked up Flossy, fresh and spring-like, and
prepared to enjoy herself, though she had hoped that the party might
have been differently constituted.  They had about twenty miles to go by
train, and James made himself very agreeable to her, mentally thinking
her less overpowering than usual.  He asked after Violante and listened
with much interest to Flossy's account of the return of her voice, and
her subsequent resolution.

"But her sister says she must stay with us till next year, that she may
grow quite strong and finish her education.  She is going to London in
May."

"Indeed!  Perhaps I shall see her there."

"Is Arthur going with you?" asked Flossy, who had been meditating on
this simple question ever since she joined them.

"No.  Poor boy, he couldn't make up his mind to it.  I should have had
to leave him alone a good deal, and he doesn't seem up to gaieties."

"Oh, no!"

"No--he laughed in an odd sort of way--and said: that I'd better not
help him to cast off from his moorings; but I'm sure being at home
doesn't answer.  He has a bright way with him; but I see more and more
how he is altered.  His eyes have a sort of wretched look, instead of
their old jolly one--don't you know what I mean?"

"Yes; as if he wanted something."

"Exactly.  I think he'll have to make a change.  I wish he could go
abroad and begin a new life altogether--in India, or somewhere."

"Would that be best?" said Florence, slowly.

"I think so.  But there's one thing--Hugh seems to understand him now,
and he has got excellent judgment when he likes to use it."

Poor Flossy!  That conversation did not raise her spirits, or prepare
her to enjoy her day.  There was a dreadful probability in James's
suggestion, and she mused over it while he was talking to his mother and
urging her to drive at once to the Archdeacon's.

"My dear, we have our tickets--we shall see them afterwards."

"But, they have ways and means of getting in, you know; and you would
avoid the crowd."

Mrs Crichton yielded after a little demur, and they drove to Archdeacon
Hayward's, where they were politely received and offered an entrance
with the Cathedral ladies, Mrs Hayward being glad to be civil to Mrs
Spencer Crichton.  The girls were introduced to three or four fair, tall
young ladies, much alike in dress and demeanour, with aquiline features
and graceful figures, and a very proper amount of conversation.  Jem sat
profoundly silent, with his hat in his hand and his rosebud in his coat,
till one of the Miss Haywards, _not_ Helen, said:

"You are fond of music, I believe, Mr Crichton?"

"Oh, devotedly!" said Jem, smiling.

"And there is nothing like Handel?"

"Very fine!" said James.

"Why, Jem, I thought you despised him?" said Freddie, abruptly.  "I
thought he wasn't a new light."

"Is that one of your heresies, Mr Crichton?" said another Miss Hayward,
from behind; and Jem turned round, with startling rapidity, and asked
who had been setting him down as a heretic?

As the oratorio took place in the Cathedral the conversation was
limited, but Mrs Crichton was gratified by observing that Jem sat
peacefully with his own party, discovered no odd acquaintances, and
afterwards returned with them to the Archdeacon's, where there was a
large party to luncheon.

Miss Helen Hayward was polite to Mrs Crichton, who remarked to
Frederica how nice it was to see girls attentive to their guests, and
not forgetful, or taken up with their own affairs.

"Yes, auntie; but she always talks in the same tone of voice," said
Freddie, suspecting a didactic motive.

Flossy had a dull neighbour at lunch, and leisure to look about her, and
she felt inclined to pity Jem, who sat opposite by the third Miss
Hayward, whose mild restrained smiles and obvious, if intelligent,
remarks did not strike her as very interesting.  Presently, however, she
perceived that James had more and more to say on his side; that he made
Miss Helen laugh and blush, and look at her plate, and then across the
table to see if her sisters were noticing her.  This amused Flossy, but
she was surprised to observe that Jem looked across at her, and when he
met her eyes actually blushed too.

Helen retreated when they moved, and began to entertain some of the
young ladies; and very soon the Redhurst party were obliged to start to
catch their train for Oxley.  The parting was cordial on all sides, and
Flossy observed to James:

"I did not know you knew the Miss Haywards so well."

"Oh," said James, "I met one of them when she was staying in London, and
I came here once to sing at a concert for some schools.  They're very
nice girls, Flossy--quite in your line--go to Sunday-school, and
everything."

"I daresay," said Flossy, who did not think this implied a great stretch
of virtue.

"And not at all stiff, when you know them."

"Yes," said Mrs Crichton, "I think I should like to ask two of them
over to stay for a few days.  I am sure Hugh could not say they were
chatterboxes, as he does of the Clintons."

An indescribably comical expression crossed Jem's face.

"I think it would be a very good plan, mamma," he said.  "You always get
on with, _nice_ young ladies."

"Yes, my dear; I get dull by myself," said Mrs Crichton, with a sigh.
"Not that we have much amusement to offer them."

"I don't know that they mind about amusements," said James.

He was dying for a confidant; for Jem could never keep his affairs to
himself, but he did not quite dare to enlighten his mother as to his
wishes, for fear she should betray them by over-zeal to the Miss
Haywards.  It had not quite come to the point of announcing his
intentions to Hugh, who would not easily have been convinced of their
seriousness.  Arthur, who knew the names and charms of most of Jem's
many sweethearts, would have been his natural outlet; but how could he
tell his love-story to him?  Nevertheless, as they sat smoking together
that very evening, out it all came--provoked, certainly, by a little
joke about the three bouquets; and Arthur was so much amused at the
notion of Jem's choice that the latter was soon absorbed in convincing
him that he had finally made it; which, by his unusual modesty, he at
last succeeded in doing.

"Why, you know, you're irresistible."

"But _she_ never would be attracted by the same sort of humbug that goes
down with most girls."

"Oh, come now, Jem, you don't mean to say so.  I don't think I should
like her the better for that."

"She'd look to what one really was."

"I'd try a little humbug, though, now and then."

Jem laughed.

"I shan't be here when they come, you see.  It's supposed they will suit
Hugh; and he is just the sort of fellow--"

"She'd admire?  But, you know, Jem, Hugh is tolerably safe; and if you
came down on the Saturday we might refer to your excellences
beforehand."

"I wouldn't say too much," said Jem, seriously; then suddenly, "Arthur,
you are a good fellow.  It's too bad of me to tell you all this--"

"Don't!--don't!" interposed Arthur.

"Why should I mind, Jem?  It doesn't make any difference."

The invitation was sent and accepted by the right pair of sisters, and
before they arrived Jem's family had a very good notion of what was
expected of them, and were all ready to make the visit pleasant to the
young ladies.  Arthur divined that Helen, at any rate, was well inclined
to be pleased.  She was apparently a very good girl, cultivated and
intelligent, able to talk on all the subjects expected from a young
lady, polite to himself and Hugh, but not particularly interested in
them.  She indulged in a mild but evident enthusiasm for Mrs Crichton,
and made friends with Flossy over school-teaching, books, and favourite
heroes; and she was very pretty and very well dressed.  There was, too,
a sort of good-tempered, sunny satisfaction about her, which was not
without its charm, especially as the other sister was rather critical of
their acquaintances, and Arthur overheard between them the following
fragment:

"He goes about smoking on a Sunday afternoon."

"But he always goes to church again in the evening, Constance."

"And I don't think, do you, it's _quite_ good style to wear that sort of
coat?"

"Don't you?"

"A gentleman should have _no_ peculiarities."

"I'm sure, Con, there couldn't be more of a gentleman--"

Here Arthur thought himself bound to retreat, having discovered that the
fair Helen, could lose her composure sometimes.  Jem arrived on the
Saturday evening, very much on his best behaviour, and listening to the
Miss Haywards playing the pieces and singing the songs which he had most
been wont to criticise.  However, he gave Helen the names of some new
ones, and sang himself, as he well knew how to do, contenting himself
with finding fault with Freddie's touch.  Hugh did not show off the
skill acquired under Signor Mattei, which, truth to tell, was not very
considerable.

"I never sing," he said, emphatically; but he sat by and watched, and
when some particular old English ballads were asked for, and Jem began
to wonder where they were, he checked him quietly, knowing by Arthur's
flush and quiver that they were among the books which he could not bear
to see touched.  Arthur looked grateful, but Jem found the book on the
piano the next morning.

A slight flaw in the harmony was produced on Sunday afternoon by the
discussion of a new colour, which Miss Constance Hayward declared to be
vulgar, and never worn by any lady "who was very nice."

Jem defended it as found in the old masters.  It was very artistic.

"I'd rather look like a lady than like a picture," said Miss Hayward, a
little dryly.

"I quite agree with you, Miss Hayward," said Hugh.

"Hugh's taste _is_ conventional usually," said Jem, in a wicked
undertone.

"I _like_ that funny green," said Helen, in her soft, changeless voice,
as she rose to get ready for church.

"What makes you laugh so, Arthur?" said Hugh, savagely, as they remained
for the purpose of taking a walk together, Arthur having a great
shrinking from Sunday afternoon at Redhurst.

"I was laughing at Jem.  He's fairly caught at last!"

"Do you mean that this is more than Jem's way?"

"Oh, yes, and it's coming rapidly to a crisis.  Don't you see?  I wonder
which will rule the roast?  Will Jem dress her in `funny green,' or will
he have to cut his coat according to his lady?"

"It seems to me very unsuitable," said Hugh, after a slightly-puzzled
pause.

"That's the beauty of it, I suppose.  One wouldn't have been half so
much surprised if Jem had fallen in love with Mademoiselle Mattei!"

"Mademoiselle Mattei had a great many admirers," said Hugh, as he looked
out of window.  "I suppose, now she has recovered her voice, she will
fulfil her engagement to that, scoundrel--I mean that manager--Vasari."

"She was very forlorn at the loss of him, poor child," said Arthur,
making most unconscious mischief.

"She told you so?"

"Yes--pretty much.  I told her to keep up her heart, and she picked some
olive-leaves as a reminder.  The other day she told me how she had kept
my advice.  She is a confiding little creature, and very
simple-hearted."

A silence.  Then.

"James is perfectly right to stick to the conventional type--that is, to
a known and proved one.  Where shall we go this afternoon?"

"Oh, anywhere--I don't care--I think I won't go out," said Arthur,
irresolutely.

"Well, you will have a quiet afternoon," answered Hugh, glad of the
solitude; but even then he paused and retraced his steps.

"Arthur, if this affair of Jem's worries you--"

"Oh, no, no.  It gives me something fresh to think about," said Arthur,
with evident truth.  "I'm only--tired."

"Well, rest then," said Hugh, with the kind smile that Arthur liked.

Nothing should ever make him thoughtless of Arthur's comfort; but,
unsatisfactory as the conversation had been, there was growing up in
Hugh's mind the conviction that somehow, somewhere, some when, he would
have to ask Violante to tell him the truth.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY FIVE.

PAST AND PRESENT.

  "'Tis time my past should set my future free
  For life's renewed endeavour."

Rosa Mattei was sitting by herself in her aunt's drawing-room.  That
afternoon Violante was expected to arrive from Oxley, and the next day
they would meet Signor Mattei at the lodging close by, which was to be
their home for the present.  It would not be nearly so pleasant for Rosa
as the ease and companionship of her present quarters; but she had
learnt to accommodate herself to circumstances, and did not fret over
the prospect of dull evenings.  Besides, it would not be for very long.
Rosa's fine, considerate face rounded into a look of satisfaction.  She
had a great deal to tell Violante and her father.  How would they take
her news?

"Well, Rosa, sitting and repenting?" said her cousin Beatrice, coming
into the room.

"No, Trixy, I'm not going to repent," said Rosa.  "I'm very well
satisfied with my arrangements."

"I think you are a wise girl, and a lucky girl," said Miss Grey; "but I
should like to know how you tamed your wild flights down to this
result."

"Well, Beatrice, I never in all my life saw the use of fretting over
what can't be helped.  It seems to me that the present is just as good a
time as the past, and deserves at least as much from one.  Things aren't
any the better _really_ because they happened ever so long ago."

"Yes.  How long have you been so philosophical?"

Rosa blushed, but held her ground.

"When a thing is _impossible_ it may be the best thing in itself, but
something else may be far better than the shadow of it."

"`A live dog is better than a dead lion?'"

"Well, yes; now, you see, it was not possible for me to go on the stage,
so it was better to put away that, and--and my school-girl fancies with
it.  I'm not imaginative enough to live on memories, particularly
memories of--nothing!  And this came--"

"I'm only afraid you might find it a little humdrum--"

"Humdrum, Beatrice?  How could it be when Mr Fairfax is so clever, and
so interesting?"

"Ha, ha, Rosy.  Come, confess now.  This talk is all very well; but you
have just gone and fallen in love with Mr Fairfax, and you'll begin
life fresh."

"If I have I'm afraid it's since I accepted him!  I thought--that is, I
did not think.  But you see, Beatrice, it is not often that a girl is so
fortunate as to meet with anyone--"

"Like him?  I'm quite content, Rosy.  You'll do.  And now tell me about
the prudent part of it."

"The prudent part is," said Rosa, "that he wishes me to have Violante
with me whenever I like--always, if need be.  If she gets on better with
father, and if this concert scheme comes to good, of course that won't
be necessary; but still I shall be able to take care of her, though she
has almost grown into a woman."

"I suppose she will go back to school?"

"Oh, yes, I trust so.  It is so good for her.  But it is time, I think,
that I should go and meet her."

Rosa was very happy, and just a little ashamed of herself for being so.
As she had said, she could not live, and never had lived, on the
memories of her first love; though circumstances had at times brought
them vividly before her, the very renewal of them had shown her how
entirely they were vain.  Rosa had a very passionate but by no means a
sentimental nature, and both her common-sense and her craving for a
vivid, happy life forbade her to find satisfaction, in shadowy
recollections.

"I am neither silly enough, nor unworldly enough," she thought, as she
held Mr Fairfax's letter in her hand, and felt that its offer would be
a good exchange for that bitter old sorrow to which she had offered up
sacrifices enough already.

And, as for that other dream of ambition, it was tempting, but it was
nearly impossible; and Rosa was a woman and had tried what earning her
living meant, and could guess pretty well at the taste of the apples of
fame, as well as of the Dead-sea fruits of failure.  And, as Rosa made
up her mind to say yes, she became aware that she was excusing herself
for her readiness to do so, not arguing against any lurking
unwillingness.  It is needless to say that her uncle and aunt were
pleased at her good fortune.  Everyone would be pleased.  And it was
wonderful how well Mr Fairfax understood her ideas.  Fancy having
Violante to stay with her in a pretty little house; or, still better,
going with the master of that pretty house to hear Violante sing and
feel proud of her talents!  It was from such happy visions that Rosa was
roused by the sound of Violante's voice.

She looked a little paler and graver than when they had last met, not
quite so happy or so much at her ease; and almost her first words were:

"I have been singing a great deal, Rosina, and I think my voice is
good."

"So you have made up your mind to try to sing again?" said Rosa.

"Yes, Rosina, after the summer I will come home and sing."

"You shall not do it if it frightens you and makes you unhappy, my
darling."

"But--father will wish it.  And I think everyone is unhappy."

"My dear child, what makes you take such a gloomy view of life?"

"Why, look, Rosa.  Signor Arthur's heart is breaking for his Mysie;
while Miss Florence loves him, ah, I know how much!"

"Miss Florence!  Does she?  I thought her head was full of classes and
school-girls."

"Yes, she will not sit and cry; but I know how she listens when Freddie
talks of him, and she will not begin herself to speak of him, but when I
ask her questions then she will tell me.  She thinks I am only a little
girl and know nothing."

"And you, yourself, dear?"

"I," said Violante; "Rosa, I think he is ashamed of having loved me, and
that he will never speak to me again."

"Violante, it is wrong to let you stay there!  I shall not consent to
it."

"Ah, no, Rosina, no!  _There_ I can see that he does not care for me;
away, I should think--and hope--and fancy--and--and--oh, let me stay!"

"I am afraid that is not true," said Rosa, and Violante blushed; for she
knew in her heart that Rosa was right.

"_You_ look well, Rosina mia," she said.

"Yes, Violante, I shall surprise you very much.  How should you like--
you never thought that I should be engaged to anyone?"

"Rosina _mia_!" exclaimed Violante, with eyes opening wide, and accents
of blank astonishment, and then a shower of kisses and questions.

She listened to the story with all the delight that Rosa had
anticipated, and after every detail had been discussed between them
there was a silence, as Violante sat in her favourite place, leaning
against her sister's knee.

"Now," she said at last, "now Rosa, you can tell how hard--"

She paused, and Rosa could hardly help laughing.

"My dear child, I knew that long ago.  Listen, Violante, I think it is
good for you to know, I was older than you when _my_ trouble came, and I
think it was as bad as yours.  Yet, you see, I am happy."

"Did you know Mr Fairfax then?" eagerly said Violante.

"No, no," said Rosa, "quite another person.  It doesn't signify who he
was.  It's all gone now."

"Oh, Rosina, was it when I was a tiresome little girl, and troubled
you?"

"You were my one comfort, my darling, never any trouble.  But, you see,
I told you to show you that one day happiness may come to you, though
quite in a different way from what you now fancy."

Violante started up, clasping her hands.  "No, no, Rosina!  I will not
be happy so!  I would rather have my sorrow.  There would be nothing
left in my heart without it.  If he is cruel, he cannot take that away!"

She spoke so because she was a passionate untaught creature, with
instinctive impulses, which she had never learnt to resist.  Yet, did
not her lover feel every day the force of her words; had he not lost
with her the best of himself?  Was not Florence, with all her sense, and
all her intellect, resigning herself to the same fate?  What would
Arthur be without the memory that was breaking his heart?  Her words
awakened an echo strong enough in Rosa's heart to silence her for the
moment.

"If I changed, I should be nothing!" repeated Violante.

"You would be what your life had made you, Violante," said Rosa, "ready
for what might come.  And you would want something real.  But, dear, how
should you know anything about it?  I should have said the same."

Violante said no more; but she _thought_ that, after all, Rosa's
circumstances were different, for _her_ unknown lover could never have
been like "Signor Hugo."

Probably both the girls prepared to meet their father the next day with
some trepidation, and as they awaited his arrival they owned to each
other that it was very strange to be thinking of supper, and making
coffee again.

"It makes me want Maddalena," said Violante.

"Poor Maddalena!  She would not like London fogs.  But if I did not make
the coffee I am sure there is no one else who could make it fit to
drink."

In due time Signor Mattei arrived, very affectionate, very voluble, and
strangely familiar to his daughters.

"Ah, my children; how I have pined for you!  While I have been toiling,
you have prospered, and I find you richly clothed;" here he indicated a
piece of new pink ribbon that was tied round Violante's neck.

"Yes, father," said Rosa, "we have some good news for you, each of us.
Will you have mine first?" and, Signor Mattei assenting, she made her
communication, while Violante sat by wondering how _this_ love-story
would be received.

But Signor Mattei was romantic only on one point.

"He is, no doubt," he said, "a fascinating youth, and respectable, since
he is your uncle's friend; but, figlia mia, his income?  Ah, you cannot
live on air!"

"Mr Fairfax is not a youth, father," said Rosa, slightly hurt; "he is
five-and-thirty, and he has a very good income, which he will explain to
you, himself, to-night, if you will allow him.  I shouldn't think of
living on air."

Violante had not a strong sense of the ludicrous; but even she could
hardly help smiling a little at Rosa's aggrieved air, and could not help
wondering how her father would have managed to coerce her resolute,
independent sister, even if he had been dissatisfied with "the
fascinating youth's" prospects, as he replied:

"Then, Rosina, if that point is clear, I will consent."

"Thank you, father."

"And will Violante bake a crust of bread for her poor old father when
you have left us?"

"Yes, father.  I--My voice is come back.  I can sing now."

Signor Mattei's whole face changed from its sentimental air to a look of
fiery enthusiasm.  He started to his feet, and caught her hands.

"Your voice, child?  All your voice--every note?  Let me hear, let me
hear."

He pulled her towards the piano, which had been esteemed by Rosa a
necessary part of the furniture of their lodgings, and, controlling her
heart-beating, with a great effort she sang up and down the scale.
Signor Mattei fairly wept for joy.  He kissed her over and over again,
he made her repeat the notes, he crossed himself, and thanked the Saints
in devouter language than his daughters had often heard from him; but
finally exclaimed, with an air of chagrin:

"And Vasari has married a woman with a voice like a screech-owl!"

"That is surely of no consequence," said Rosa.  "Violante can never try
opera-singing again.  She will never be an actress, and her health would
fail again directly if she attempted it.  But she is willing, after her
year at school is over, to try what she can do in the way of
concert-singing.  And you know that, here in England, no career could be
better or more profitable."

"If you wish it, padre mio," said Violante, "I will try now to do what
you wish."

"My sacrifices are repaid!" said Signor Mattei, though he could hardly
have defined what the sacrifices were.

The interview with Mr Fairfax, who shortly arrived, was beyond Rosa's
hopes.  Violante, though secretly wondering at her sister's taste, could
not but be pleased at his kindness, and was forced to acknowledge to
herself that, under the most favourable circumstances, she could not
have imagined Signor Hugo either condescending to so many explanations,
managing to praise exactly the music Signor Mattei liked, or giving
quite such a comprehending and encouraging smile and nod as the one
received by Rosa, when her father was a little argumentative.

Signor Mattei obtained one or two evening engagements, and a good many
pupils, so that Violante did not feel bound to begin her new life in a
hurry; and Rosa began with a good heart her modest preparations for the
wedding, which was to take place in the middle of August.  The Greys
gave a musical party, at which Signor Mattei played, and once Mr
Fairfax took them all to the opera.  Rather to Rosa's surprise, Violante
showed no reluctance to make one of the party.  How did she feel when
she sat and looked on at "Il Don Giovanni," and saw another, and how
superior, performer playing her old part of Zerlina?  _Her_ voice, at
its sweetest and clearest, had never been quite such as this, and she
seemed for the first time to know what was meant by acting, as she
looked on at the world-famous _prima donna_.

This power, this popularity, this applause was what the father had
looked for; the loss of this was what he had mourned.  Could she ever
have had it, or anything like it?  Did she regret now that she could
not?  Did the woman see the value of what the girl had turned from with
tears and distaste?  For in this past year, what with trouble, change,
and experience, Violante had grown into a woman.

She sat quite still, with her delicate face, pale and passive, and her
eyes fixed on the stage.  She had pushed all this away from her, all
this light and sparkle, this splendour and excitement that had seemed so
hard and glaring, so utterly untempting to her shy, tender spirit.  What
had she gained from that other vision that had worn such a lovely hue?
It seemed just then to Violante as if both love and fame had played her
false.  Since she had lost the first, would it not be better to try and
regain the second?  It was but a passing thought, but it touched her to
the quick.  She put put her hand, and held Rosa's tight, as Zerlina
curtseyed, and picked up her bouquets.

"Oh," she thought, "I would be Zerlina.  I would do it all, _all_, if he
would throw one.  It was better to have all the trouble when he loved
me--when he gave me my flowers--my flowers--"

Rosa was not surprised that the old association cost Violante that night
such tears as she had not shed for many a month, and Violante wept in
silence, uttering no word of her secret yearning and regret.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY SIX.

PERPLEXITIES.

  "Does the road wind up-hill all the way?"

While Violante was in London James Crichton, at some happy juncture,
brought his wooing to a crisis, and became the accepted lover of Helen
Hayward.  His choice was equally surprising and delightful to his
mother, who threw herself with the greatest interest into all his
preparations for his marriage in the autumn, invited Helen whenever her
mother would spare her, and regained all her elastic spirits in this new
interest; while James smiled more than ever, and talked about Helen to
everyone who would listen.  Both his cousin and his brother were
naturally strongly affected by this new love-story working itself out
beside them.  Lengthening days, summer weather, summer flowers, and
summer habits, could not but remind both of them of what these young
days of last year had been to them.  There awoke in Hugh all the old
questioning with himself; all the old arguments that he had thought laid
at rest for ever; all the old passion, which jealousy and self-reproach
had for the time overclouded.  He hardly knew how; but his belief in the
causes which he had for jealousy had gradually faded, and he no longer
believed that Violante was either engaged to the manager or that she was
pining for his loss.  A little reflection convinced him that all that
Arthur had told him of her sadness _might_ have been caused by the
memory of himself, and something in the look of her eyes at their two
brief meetings confirmed this thought.  As Hugh's mind gradually freed
itself from the hard, bitter judgment of himself and of others that had
followed the stern self-reproach and self-pity which had for so long
occupied it, as his new kindliness towards Arthur warmed and softened
him, he came to view things in a more natural light, and ceased to tell
himself that his love, like everything else, was turned to bitterness.
No, it was sweet and soft and strong as in the May-days of last year;
but Hugh had become far more conscious of the difficulties attending it,
and Hugh had lost in this year of sorrow and self-distrust the bounding
energy by which he had intended to overcome them.  Besides, he was no
longer quite the authority that he had been at home, and, though
Violante was doubtless really more fitted to marry him by her
school-life, she had lost a great advantage in having become known first
to his mother as a girl whom there was not the slightest likelihood of
his fancying.  A wonderful Italian unknown beauty was one thing; a
little foreign, penniless girl, half-singer, half-school-teacher, was
quite another.  And though Hugh was, of course, his own master, his
relations to his family formed so large a part of his life that he
hardly knew how to disturb them, and the Crichtons belonged to exactly
the class most easily disturbed by an incongruous marriage.  He had
given up the notion that he ought to punish himself for the destruction
of Arthur's happiness by destroying his own; but his feelings strongly
revolted against any deliberate effort to secure it just at the time
then coming, and there was nothing morbid in the belief that he was
bound to make Arthur his first consideration; for Arthur's sake, not for
that of his own conscience.  And what was to become of Arthur was a
problem that grew in difficulty.

The recurrence of these once happy summer days, perhaps spite of
himself, Jem's bright hopes, and the return to the amusement and
occupations of which Mysie had been the centre, were more than he could
bear, and cost him such heart-sickness as he had never yet known.

It seemed as if his light-hearted youth had been beaten at last in the
struggle, and efforts to brave it out only made matters worse; and,
though he had, perhaps, never fought so hard with himself, he got none
of the credit that had attached to his first home-coming.  They did not
cease to pity him for his sorrow, but it did become wearisome to
sympathise with the indications of it, and it was impossible to order
matters only with reference to him.  He was out of place among them, and
he felt it keenly, yet he could not resolve to go away by himself, he
had grown very reserved, and certainly tried as much as possible to
avoid notice; and even Hugh, who saw the most of him, found it very
difficult to know how to deal with him, and turned over many plans in
his mind, none of which appeared to him quite satisfactory.

They were walking home together one afternoon by the field-path from
Oxley.  The summer heat was beginning to be felt in the air, the summer
look was coming over the woods and fields.  The summer silence would
soon succeed to the perpetual song and twitter of the birds.  They were
walking on silently, when, tripping down the path came a smartly-dressed
girl, with fair hair flying.  It was Alice Wood, who had been absent all
the year.  As she recognised them, she started violently and stopped, a
sudden look of agitation in her face as she made a half-curtsey.

Arthur hesitated, then went up rather eagerly, and shook hands with her.

"How d'ye do--you have been away?" he said.

"Yes, sir, at my aunt's, learning dressmaking.  I--I hope you are pretty
well, Mr Arthur," she added, faltering.

Arthur seemed unable to say more; he turned away from her, and she
hurried on, crying as she went.

The two young men stood still, each of them overpowered by the sight of
her.  Then Hugh saw that Arthur shivered, and was very pale.  He turned
towards a tree-trunk near, and sat there with hidden face, trying to
recover himself, while all Hugh's agony of remorse once more came over
him.

"God knows, Arthur, I wish the stroke had fallen on me!" he said.  "It
is from _me_ you should shrink.  How can you bear the sight of _me_!"

Arthur did not answer, but he looked up after a few minutes, and said
simply:

"I am very sorry.  I wish I could get over these things."

"This was not a thing to be got over."

"No.  But, Hugh, the canal--the meadows--it's like a nightmare--I can't
forget them.  I have trial to go there--to conquer it, but I never
could.  Yet I have dreamt over and over again of it."

"You never spoke of this?" said Hugh.

"Oh, no.  Hugh, have you ever been there?"

"Yes," said Hugh, "often at first.  It was better than thinking of it."

"Will you come with me, and get it done?  I think I could--with you."

"Oh, my dear boy, I don't think I ought to let you do that."

"It would be over.  But I don't know--In the morning, when it looks
different."

"Yes, not now," said Hugh, firmly.  "See here, Arthur.  I have guessed
at these feelings of yours.  I know too well how natural and inevitable
they are.  But Redhurst is no fit place for you just now, and I have a
plan.  Should you like to come back to the Bank House and stay there
with me?  I think it's comfortable, and you could rest, and there would
be no discussions about society, and no worries.  If you _could_ like to
be alone with me?"

"I should like it very much," said Arthur, decidedly.  "I know I'm no
good at home, but I cannot bear the thought of wandering about."

"Well, then, shall we come back now?  You are tired and shaken, and I
will go and explain things at home."

"Yes.  Hugh, we shan't rake up all these matters again; but I want to
tell you, once for all, that you mistook my feeling about yourself.  I
need not say I never blamed you--how could I?  But all this nervous
folly can only belong to--to indifferent objects.  You suffered too,
only at first I could not think of that.  But you _do_ help me--you
always know the right thing for me."

"I would lay down my life for you," said Hugh, passionately.

"No.  But you will help me to recover myself.  I'm glad I have told you.
And as for what must remain, when--when I have `got over it,' as they
say--life without her--though you wouldn't think it after this, I
believe I am learning to look forward to it a little better, and I shall
have you to help me."

"I have been very miserable about it," said Hugh, moved to equal
simplicity by Arthur's straightforwardness.  "It was my first comfort
when you said I helped you.  Nothing shall ever come between us: you
shall be my first thought, for ever."

Hugh's voice swelled and quivered; he did nothing but hold Arthur's hand
for a moment, but no sign or gesture of passionate emotion would have
seemed exaggerated to his feeling then.  "I _can_ make atonement," he
thought.

Arthur, who, after all, cared far less about the relations between them,
though his affectionate expressions had been perfectly genuine, said
more lightly:

"Then are we to turn back to Oxley?"

"Yes; then you will not have to talk it all over at home; I'll settle
it."

So they retraced their steps; and Hugh took Arthur into the Bank House
and upstairs, where he had never been for years.  It was rather a large
house, in the time of their grandfather the largest in Oxley, and was
well-furnished and handsome.  The drawing-room had never been used by
Hugh; but he had established himself in the library, a stiff,
old-fashioned room, with two long, narrow windows, with high
window-seats in them.  His writing-table, with its untidy masculine
papers, had intruded on the orderly arrangements in which his
grandmother, who had long survived her husband, had delighted.  Arthur
sat down in one of the window-seats while Hugh gave the orders rendered
necessary by this unexpected decision.

"Do you remember how we used to come here to see grandmamma?" he said.

"Yes, but I should have thought you were too small to recollect it."

"I remember it, perfectly.  You used to be desired to keep Jem and me
from walking on the grass; and you obeyed implicitly!"

"You may walk on the grass now, if you like," said Hugh.

"It was a nice old garden.  And, I declare, Hugh, there are the cats!"

"Cats?  I haven't got a cat."

"The velvet cats on the mantelpiece--the first works of art I ever
appreciated."

And he pointed out two cats cut out in black velvet, and painted into
tortoiseshell, with fierce eyes and long whiskers, objects of delight to
the infant mind of any generation.

"I declare I never noticed them.  You had better find out some more old
friends, while I go over to Redhurst."

The experiment proved very successful on both sides.  It gave Arthur the
rest he needed; the absence of association without the strain of
novelty.  His cheerfulness revived; and, perhaps, Hugh had rarely found
life more pleasant: for, though he was tenderly desirous of making his
cousin comfortable, of saving him fatigue, and amusing without
oppressing him, it was really Arthur who twisted the things about till
the room looked homelike and cheerful; found out how cool and shady the
garden was, and how pretty a few changes might make it, and started
agreeable subjects of conversation.  Though not so amusing and
argumentative as Jem, he was a wonderfully pleasant person to live with,
even when languid and only half himself; and Hugh, delighted to find
that the companionship suited Arthur, grew quite lively himself under
its influence.  They saw James whenever he came to Oxley, and frequently
Mrs Crichton; and Hugh dutifully went over, at short intervals, to
Redhurst, and, though he avoided without regret many summer gaieties,
was obliged to share in a few, and, among others, went to a large
musical party given by Mrs Dysart.

There had been some croquet and archery in the afternoon; but Hugh did
not make his appearance till just as the music was going to begin.

"How late you are, Hugh!" said his mother, as he came up and joined her.
"And no Arthur?"

"No; he was tired with the heat.  I never meant to let him come.  I am
sure I'm early enough.  They're just going to begin."

And Hugh sat down by his mother, and listened decorously to an
instrumental piece.  It was still early, some of the company were still
wandering in the gardens, and the windows were open, letting in the soft
evening air.  But some wax candles were lighted at one end of the
drawing-room, where the performers were gathered, and as Hugh, after
listening to one or two songs and to a violin solo, was politely
suppressing a yawn, a young lady stepped into the light.  It was
Violante--Violante, the same as when she had stood in the hot Italian
sunlight, and sung to her father's pupils.  The same, and yet different.
It seemed to Hugh's confused eyes that she had turned into a
fashionable lady, in her trailing white muslin, with its puffs and
flounces, with her soft, curling hair, done up in an attempt at the
prevailing fashion.  She looked taller, older somehow--more unmistakably
a beauty; but not, he thought, at first--his own Violante.  She held her
head up too, and if she was frightened managed to conceal it.  Hugh made
a snatch at his mother's programme.

"Who--what--how?"

"Don't you know?" said Clarissa Venning, who was near them.  "Miss
Mattei's voice has come back.  I suppose she will sing again in public;
but _this_ you know is quite in a private capacity.  She was asked to
come with Florence."

Hugh looked at the programme:--"Song.--Miss Violante Mattei."

He was just about to commit himself to a vehement exclamation of
astonishment that no one had thought of telling him she was going to
sing--how could they overlook such a fact?--when the old, sweet notes
fell again on his ear, as lovely as ever he thought, and he listened,
breathless, till they ceased amid loud applause and exclamations of
admiration.

Violante smiled and curtseyed her thanks, with elaborate grace, and as
no young lady amateur would have thought of doing.

"She has such pretty foreign manners," cried a lady; and one of the
young men of the house, laughing, tossed her a little bunch of flowers,
and she picked it up and curtseyed again, just as she had been taught to
do by old Madame Cellini, long ago in Civita Bella.

She was to sing once again, and Hugh waited in breathless expectation;
but though the applause was as ardent as ever, she only acknowledged it
this time by a dignified little bow, and retreated.

"Oh," said one of the Dysarts, "someone has been telling her her pretty
curtsey was not _selon les regles_.  What a shame!"

"She is a very beautiful girl," said Mrs Crichton, who, now that there
was no need to fear Jem's foolishness, was ready to be interested in
Violante.

"Yes," said Clarissa.  "She is too fine a bird for us, which is a pity,
as she is a nice little thing; and never so happy as when she is playing
with the little ones.  Ah, here she comes!"

Violante came up to Clarissa, without immediately perceiving her
companions.

"Miss Clarissa, Miss Florence says they are going to dance.  May we stay
a little longer?"

"No one could think of carrying you away, Miss Mattei," said Mr Dysart.
"Pray, let me thank you for your songs.  And, of course, Miss Venning,
you are not thinking of stirring yet?  Let me find you a partner."

"Thank you, I am acting chaperone.  You may stay if Florence likes,
Violante.  I think you have not seen Mrs Crichton?"

"Let me thank you for your sweet music, my dear," said Mrs Crichton, in
her kind way.  "I think it was my other son you knew in Italy?"

"Mother, you mistake.  It was I.  I knew Mademoiselle Mattei _once_."
And Hugh started forward and held out his hand, imploringly.  Violante
put hers into it; but she stood passive and still.

"You were not so gracious, Miss Mattei, when we applauded you the second
time," said young Mr Dysart.

"I saw that the young ladies did not curtsey, signor," said Violante,
simply; "but I thank you for listening to me."

As she spoke the lights flashed up and revealed her standing, facing
Hugh, with a sort of desperate self-possession, as the first notes of
the dance-music sounded.

"Mr Crichton, I think you don't dance.  Miss Mattei, will you give me
this waltz?" said another Dysart, approaching.

Violante was no coquette, but she was a woman, and her pride had been
hurt by Hugh's neglect.  So she smiled graciously, and moved away as
Florence joined them, before Hugh could get out a somewhat undignified
and hurried declaration that he did dance--sometimes.

"We must only stay for three dances, Flossy," said Clarissa.

But Violante had promised the three dances before she had left their
side five minutes; and Hugh returned home, with the discovery that he
was not the only man of taste in the world, and the firm conviction that
Violante was wholly indifferent to him.  It is also remarkable that at
the same time he forgot entirely all the excellent arguments by which he
had endeavoured to render himself indifferent to her.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY SEVEN.

THUNDER-SHOWERS.

  "But whither would my fancy go?
  How out of place she makes
  The violet of a legend blow
  Among the chops and steaks!"

After Mrs Dysart's party there ensued a fortnight of intensely hot
weather; so close and sultry that it wore a shade or two of pink even
off Flossy's rosy cheeks and accounted partly for Violante's demeanour
being unusually languid and _distraite_.

Mrs Crichton had gone to London to superintend some of James'
preparations and Frederica had been left at Oxley Manor, so nothing, of
course, was heard there of the young men at the Bank House.  It seemed
to poor Flossy as if, with the discovery of her new feelings for Arthur
their old intercourse had vanished away, for on his removal to Redhurst,
she ceased to see him, and she could not feel that she counted for
anything in his life.  Thus separated from him, she felt with and for
him every pang of memory and association more keenly than he always felt
them for himself.

Poor Flossy!  To have given her affection not only without thought of
return, but to one lying under such a heavy cloud of trouble, was enough
to tame her exuberant brightness; and her lessons lost their liveliness,
her own occupations their interest.  Miss Venning might have seen that
something was amiss; but she was greatly occupied in receiving the two
little sons of the brother just older than Clarissa, who had been
settled in India for some time; and, if she thought Flossy looking pale,
merely suggested a holiday visit to the eldest brother, who was a
Lancashire clergyman, or observed that the care of the little boys would
make a nice change for her.  Flossy was too young to have had much home
intercourse with any of her brothers, and not just then in the humour to
take up with anything new.

But Clarissa had never been so fond of anyone as of the brother Walter,
whose youthful scrapes and youthful interests had all been confided to
her ear, and whose departure for India had been the great grief of her
girlhood.

"What a blessing they're not girls!" was her comment on the letter
announcing their arrival.

"Indeed!" said Miss Venning.  "It would be easier to do for them here if
they were."

"Oh, I daresay they'll fit in," said Clarissa.  "We want a little
change."

And she went herself to Southampton to fetch them, and took them
silently under her special protection, making exquisite and ever-varying
grimaces for their amusement and jealous of the character of their
favourite aunt.  Miss Venning was glad that the children were so well
provided for, and Flossy perceived that Clarissa had at last found an
interest in life.

One sultry afternoon early in July Flossy, with Violante and two or
three elder girls, had been to a lecture which had been held in Oxley by
some celebrated personage.  Miss Venning had taken the opportunity of
paying a visit and had desired them to meet her at a certain shop in the
town.  As they crossed the marketplace ominous sounds were heard and
heavy drops began to fall.

"We're going to have a thunderstorm," said Flossy, looking up at the
bank of heavy clouds that was rolling up.

"Oh, Miss Florence, what shall we do?" said Violante, rather timidly.

"My new hat!" exclaimed one girl.

"It's going to pour," said another.

"We must run across to the station," said Flossy, "or down to Cooper's,
as my sister said."

As they stood for a moment hesitating which way to turn, they were
suddenly accosted.

"Flossy!  There's going to be a great storm.  Come in with me.  You will
all be wet through," and Arthur hurried up to them.

"The station--Mary," murmured Flossy.

"The station?  Nonsense! you'll all be drenched.  I'll send after Miss
Venning.  Come, Flossy, don't drown your flock from a sense of
propriety.  I'm sure Mademoiselle Mattei doesn't like thunder."

The gay voice, the familiar address, chased away half Flossy's fears and
sentiments.  She laughed and yielded, and they hurried through the
plashing rain-drops across the road and into the Bank House--unknown
ground to them all.

"Come upstairs," said Arthur, and he led the way into his grandmother's
drawing-room, into which for the sake of coolness he had lately
penetrated.

The delighted school-girls gathered into a knot, smiling and whispering.
Violante glanced round, as in sacred precincts, and Arthur, pointing to
the lashing rain, laughed boyishly.

"Here you are, fairly caught in the ogre's castle.  What shall I do--
shall I have up Mrs Stedman?"

"Don't be so absurd," said Flossy, aside.  "What will the girls think of
you?"

"No?  Then I'll try to be polite.  Isn't this a quaint room, Miss
Mattei?"

It was a long room with three high windows, looking over the garden,
against which the rain was beating violently.  Everything was slender,
prim, and pale-coloured.  Old-fashioned prints hung on the walls, on the
paper of which long-tailed birds drank out of wonderful vases.  Old
china was varied by wax flowers and queer little bits of fancy work.
Elaborate wool-work chairs were preserved with tight-fitting muslin
covers.  Arthur made Violante sit down in a tall straight-backed one; he
opened a cabinet of curiosities for the amusement of the girls, and was
just beginning: "I don't know when I've seen you, Flossy," when the door
opened and Hugh walked in, to find the stiff grandmotherly chamber full
of laughing, summer-clothed girls, and in the centre, soft and smiling,
Violante herself.

"Hugh looks like a man who has ridden into a fairy ring," said Arthur,
as his cousin paused in utter surprise.

Hugh made a few polite speeches, Flossy some rather hurried
explanations, and then their host fell silent, till, after a minute or
two, he said, gravely:

"Arthur, don't you think we could give these young ladies some tea?"

"To be sure.  I'll go and see what can be produced."

"Arthur has made the house quite habitable," said Hugh to Flossy.

"He looks much better than when I saw him last."

"Yes, I think he is better; but he has felt the hot weather, and he
always turns the brightest side up, you know."

Hugh's affectionate tone turned up quite a new side of himself to
Flossy; but Violante recognised the familiar accents which she had
missed so sorely at first.  He did not speak a word to her; but her
heart was beating, she felt intensely happy.

Arthur presently reappeared, followed by Mrs Stedman, with preparations
for tea and such a plentiful supply of cakes of all descriptions as
Flossy suspected had cost the office-boy a wetting to obtain from the
neighbouring pastry-cook's.  The girls were in a state of blissful
delight.  Was there ever such a fortunate thunder-shower? and, perhaps,
their young teachers were not far from the same opinion.

"I'm afraid it's going to clear up," whispered one of the younger ones.

"There's not a chance of it," said Arthur, gravely.  "It's going to pour
for an hour yet."  But struggling sunbeams began to force their way
through the clouds and to dance on the rain-drops.  Arthur flung up the
window and a great rainbow was arching over the sky, while trees, grass,
and flowers were brilliant with reflected light.

It _had_ cleared up, and Miss Venning made her appearance in her
friend's waterproof cloak, with--

"Well, young ladies, I need not have been anxious about your getting
wet!"

"You're just in time to have some tea, Miss Venning," said Arthur.
"They were just getting wet through when I met them."

Miss Venning drank her tea, and carried off her flock; but, though no
one had exchanged a word in private, somehow that tea-drinking had left
three people much happier than it found them.

It seemed to have restored to Flossy a natural intercourse with Arthur,
and to have brought his real self before her again; while to Violante it
had restored the gentle, smiling Signor Hugo of last year.  The effect
on Hugh was less definite, but it was long since he had laughed so much
as at Arthur's account of his finding the girls hesitating and wondering
in the fast-coming rain.

He was engaged the next morning for some time by a meeting at which the
plans for the gas-works, which had been invested with so incongruous an
interest, and the plans for the new railway were brought forward and
discussed, and it was with a very grave face that he came back to Arthur
with some papers in his hand.

"Look, Arthur," he said.  "I must show you what has been proposed about
this railroad.  You know they want to connect Fordham and Oxley, and the
line proposed would cut right through the Ashenfold woods and along the
bed of the canal (which would not be worth keeping up if there was a
railroad), and keep by the bank of the river up to the `Pot of Lilies'
and then strike across the heath to Fordham.  Redhurst would have a
station somewhere down by the lock.  This is much the most direct line;
but it is possible that they might take one round at the back of the
woods, and as the property nearly all belongs to my mother we might,
perhaps, get it adopted.  I want to know how it strikes you."

Hugh made this long, business-like explanation without pausing, and now
he drew the plan forward and pointed out the proposed route.

"It _shall_ not be done if you mind it very much," he said, vehemently,
as there was no answer.

"Does Aunt Lily know?" said Arthur.

"Yes.  She is not unwilling.  I would not have it talked of till it was
necessary to tell you about it."

"I remember it was talked of once before.  We thought it dreadful
destruction; but you said then that a good many local interests were
involved in it, that it would be a good thing for the place, and that it
would be a very unpopular act to oppose it."

"I don't care a straw about the unpopularity," said Hugh.

"What, when you know you're the Member of the future?  No, Hugh; what
reason could you give for opposing it?  Don't vex yourself about me.
Why should one cling to the mere empty shell of things?  To oppose a
real public advantage for--for our feelings.  It would just be
ridiculous, and can't be done.  You would be the first to say so."

This was perfectly true; yet Hugh could as little bear to hear the
effort in Arthur's voice as if he had not been a sensible, clearheaded
man of business, who scorned the notion of acting on sentimental
motives.  For his own part the removal of all these haunted places was a
positive relief; but he knew that to Arthur it was like rifling a grave.

"When is this likely to be carried out?" said Arthur, presently.

"Why, very soon--if they get it through Parliament before the end of the
session.  To-day is the fifteenth of July--"

Arthur started up and walked away to the window.  Was the fate of the
poor old "Pot of Lilies" to be sealed on the very day of the year when,
with such mirth and merry-making, they had agreed to revisit it and
renew their innocent little celebration; to live over once more the
hours that had been so cloudless and so gay?  Ah, never, never again!

There came over Arthur one of those agonies of regret that were worse to
bear than any nervous horror, even than the daily loneliness to which he
was trying to grow accustomed.  He seemed to feel again Mysie's little
hand in his; to see her sweet round eyes looking into his own.  The air
was sweet again with summer fragrance; the sun shone hot and clear in as
blue a sky; but that hand--those eyes--He hurried away, and Hugh dared
not follow him, and, having no mental picture of the daily events of the
past summer till it had broken up into storm and misery, could not tell
what had affected him so strongly.

He could only try to be doubly tender and considerate, and, as soon as
he thought Arthur could bear any discussion about himself, suggested
that they should go together for a little trip to North Wales.  He had
not been away himself for more than a year, and could easily contrive to
take the holiday.  His mother, he knew, meant to go to the sea almost
immediately; so Redhurst would be shut up, and Oxley was too hot and
dusty in August to be endurable.  Arthur acquiesced, rather languidly,
but as if he knew it was right.

"Jem asked me if I would like to take a last bachelor trip with him; but
I should have known all the time that his heart was elsewhere," he said.

"You will not think I want to be anywhere else," said Hugh, and,
perhaps, just at that time he hardly did.

The trip prospered.  Arthur was fond of travelling and clever in
contriving plans for it.  He was grave and quiet as Hugh had never known
him, with fewer ups and downs of spirits, and seemed to be losing the
boyishness that had clung to him so obstinately; and so the dreaded days
drew near, with nothing whatever to mark their coming, and the first
Sunday in August dawned damp and grey over heathery hills and mossy
valleys.  They were at a place where there was no English service.
Arthur went to hear the Welsh one, and Hugh wandered about, anxious and
wretched, and yet with his mind perversely filled with hopeful visions
of Violante.  He would have liked to make this a day of penance, but
whenever he let his mind loose, as it were, it sprang back like an
elastic band to the image that daily filled it more and more.

"It has not been at all a bad day, Hugh," said Arthur, gently, as they
parted for the night.  "I am glad we came here.  To-morrow, if you will,
we'll go for a long walk somewhere."

And so they spent that Monday, so full of memories--though, of course,
the Tuesday was the real anniversary of Mysie's death--beneath cool,
dull skies, over hill-sides half shrouded in mountain mists, heather and
furze for roses and carnations, cloud for sunshine, wild lonely
solitudes for homely quiet.  They did not talk very much; but the day
had none of the terror that Hugh had anticipated from it.  Rather it had
a kind of sorrowful peace.

In the afternoon the mist thickened into heavy rain; and, as they
approached a small wayside public-house, Hugh suggested that they should
take shelter; find out exactly where they were, and if there was any
chance of a conveyance to Beddgelert, where they had ordered their
luggage to meet them.  They had been walking all day, and if their
object had been to look at the scenery, instead of to find some
monotonous occupation, would have been much disappointed.

Accordingly they turned into the little inn, and while Hugh went to
enquire of an English-speaking host as to the possibility of reaching
Beddgelert, Arthur, who had picked up a few words of Welsh, and
generally contrived to make himself understood, was engaged in a lively
pantomime with the tall, dark-eyed girl who waited on them, making her
laugh and talk volubly and incomprehensibly, as he tried to indicate
that he wanted something; hot to drink, and something substantial to
eat.  There was no guest-room but the low, spacious kitchen into which
they had first entered, and he was standing before the smouldering peat
fire and pointing with animated gestures first to the bottle and then to
his flask when the house door was burst open, and a whole party of
tourists, struggling with wind, water-proofs and umbrellas, ran hastily
in.  There were three ladies and two gentlemen, and they were too much
occupied in shaking themselves free from their wraps to perceive Arthur,
till Hugh came back, saying: "There's nothing to be got here, Arthur,"
when a young lady, letting her waterproof drop on the floor, sprang
forward.  "Why, it's Mr Spencer Crichton!  How d'ye do?--oh, how funny!
Charlie, Charlie, here's Mr Crichton!"

"Miss Tollemache!" exclaimed Hugh, in equal surprise, as Emily
Tollemache, bright-haired, frank-faced, and smiling, stood confused,
while her brother came forward with--

"Why, Crichton, who in the world would have thought of meeting you
here?"

One or two letters had passed between Hugh and Mr Tollemache since
their parting; but with no reference to the past, the restraint of which
had caused each to be less inclined to seek out the other, and Arthur,
as Hugh made a sort of introduction of his friends, could not fail to be
struck by his look of embarrassment.  Emily, however, was equal to the
occasion.

"So, you see, Mr Crichton, we _have_ come to England, and I do like it
so much, quite as much as I expected.  Mamma is in London, and we are
travelling with my cousins, only it has rained every day since we came
here."

"Our climate certainly is variable," said Hugh.

"I am afraid you must regret Italian sunshine, Miss Tollemache," put in
Arthur, as he tried to kick the peats into a blaze.

"Oh, no! not yet.  But it seems quite natural to see Mr Crichton.  And
you know we went away and I have never seen Rosa or my dear Violante.  I
wonder what has become of them!"

"I can tell you that," said Hugh, and Arthur saw Mr Tollemache turn and
look at him with an involuntary start; while Hugh grew crimson, as he
continued: "They came to England, and she went, by chance, to school at
Oxley."

"How strange!  Do you ever see her?  Oh, what a lovely, dear creature
she was when we all went to the classes together!  Did _you_ ever see
her?" to Arthur--"Couldn't I find her out?"

Arthur answered with a few words of explanation as to Violante's present
circumstances, but he felt as if he were finding the explanation of all
sorts of trifles which he had thought strange, but had been too much
preoccupied to reason about.

"Mamma wants me to go to school," said Emily, "and, though I consider
myself much too old, I should like to go to school with Violante."

Here Mr Tollemache changed the conversation decidedly, and Hugh said
aside to Arthur:

"This is very unlucky!  That we should have encountered all these
people!  Cannot we get away?"

Arthur glanced expressively at the window, against which the
mountain-rain was beating almost in sheets of water.

"It cannot be helped," he said, "and I do not mind it."

He had only meant to reassure Hugh's anxiety for him; but he was
surprised at the colour and hurry with which Hugh disclaimed minding it
on his own account.  So they were obliged to stay and eat fried ham and
eggs together; and Arthur, by cultivating Miss Tollemache's acquaintance
discovered a good deal that was new about Hugh's visit to Civita Bella,
and by the time their meal was over the clouds had lifted, and the
Tollemaches' carriage, which they had left some two or three miles
behind them for the sake of the mountain walk, came in search of them.
Hugh and Arthur found that they were only five or six miles from
Beddgelert; and after Hugh had extorted from himself an invitation to
the Tollemaches to come to Redhurst, which he was sure that his mother
would follow up, and had parted cordially with his friends, they set
forth on their walk once more alone together.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY EIGHT.

THE MEETING OF THE WATERS.

  "And the brooklet has found the billow,
  Though they flowed so far apart,
  And has filled with its passionate sweetness
  That turbulent, bitter heart."

The heavy walls of mist slowly lifted themselves, and the purple
mountain-sides showed dark and close at hand.  The passionate rush of
the mountain torrents sounded full and free after the violent rain, and
their foam showed white against the grass and heather, ready to dance in
the first rays of returning sunshine.  Arthur and Hugh walked on for
some distance in silence--a silence that confirmed Arthur's suspicions.
It was so strange a revelation, so much in contrast with his life-long
surface knowledge of Hugh's character, that he hesitated to believe it.
Yet all Violante's looks and sayings, which he had understood as
referring to Vasari, were now, he perceived, capable of another
interpretation.  He now recollected his impression that there had been
something amiss with Hugh on his first return from Italy, the passing
thought that had flashed across him when he had seen them together at
the primrose-picking; Violante's wish to go to England, and her content
when she found herself there; and, more than all, Hugh's flushed,
agitated look as he walked on now beside him.

"Hugh," said Arthur, with sudden courage, "I think I have found the clue
to a great deal that has puzzled me.  I thought it was the manager-lover
for whom Violante was fretting at Caletto.  I think now--"

"What do you mean?  Fretting?  You told me it was Vasari--you confirmed
all my suspicions.  Tell me the real truth, what was it?" cried Hugh,
stopping suddenly, and facing round upon him.

"I made mischief, I am afraid," said Arthur, "but I had a preconceived
idea.  I see now that her hints and her little sorrowful ways were on
your account only.  How _could_ I guess _you_ had anything to do with
her?"

"Don't laugh at me!" cried Hugh, fiercely.

"I don't want to laugh.  I want you to tell me the whole story."

"Tell _you_--now?" said Hugh, recollecting himself.  "No, no,
impossible."

"You can't leave me in such a state of conjecture.  Here, it's quite
fine and sunny now.  Let us stop by this stile, and tell me all about
it."

As he spoke Arthur perched himself on the stone step of the stile, while
Hugh leaned against the wall beside him.  The white masses of cloud torn
in every direction rolled rapidly away, showing great wells of blue
between them.  Every stone and puddle shone and sparkled in the
sunshine; sharp peaks, and large, round masses of rock came one by one
into view.

In this unfamiliar scene, to the last person and at the last moment that
he could possibly have anticipated, Hugh began to tell his story.
Arthur listened with a few well-timed questions, till Hugh spoke of
"trying to convince Jem," when he could not repress a laugh.

"Jem in the seat of judgment!"

Hugh laughed too, and went on, more comfortably:

"He said nothing I did not know before.  I meant to carry it through.  I
could have done so."

"Then you did not come to an explanation with her?"

"Yes, I did.  I thought _then_ I had found out the secret of life," said
Hugh, with an intensity of feeling, which Arthur could well sympathise
with.

"But what on earth upset it all?"

"Didn't I see her with the diamonds, taking them from him?--ah!"  Hugh
broke off, and drove his heel into the ground, unable to recall the
scene without passion that was almost uncontrollable, and turning white
with the effort to restrain language and gesture to the dry composure
which he had adopted.

"Her father said she was already engaged to him," he said, after a
pause; then hurried on with his story, and demanded:

"Now, what do you say to that?"

"That I would not have believed you could be such a fool," would have
been Arthur's natural answer, but he modified it into, "Well, I think
you were very hasty, and rather hard on the poor child--"

"Hard?  Do you think I was hard--don't you think I was justified in what
I did?"

"I don't think you allowed enough for her father's authority and her own
timidity--certainly."

"Sometimes I think I acted like a brute," said Hugh.

"Well, but you see the worse you acted the less you were deceived in
_her_," said Arthur, plainly.  "Well, then you came home and thought it
was all over?"

"Yes.  Perhaps you can understand now what caused the temper and the
conduct which led to--to--.  Could I have had _any_ conscience, _any_
feeling, and have renewed _my_ happiness after last year?"

"But how was it?" said Arthur, hardly comprehending a view so unlike his
own instincts.

"Well, you know recent circumstances as well as I do.  I have become
aware that, however it may have been once--I think now she is not
indifferent to me, but I saw all the difficulties more plainly--that was
not it, she is more than all the world to me--but _how_ could I do it?"

"But, Hugh," said Arthur, gently, "what good could it possibly do me for
you to make yourself miserable?"

"No good," said Hugh.  "I know that now.  But I could bear better to see
you.  I should have hated my own happiness."  Arthur did not answer for
a moment, he was thinking how little they had any of them known of Hugh.

"But you make me out rather a dog in the manger," he said, with a
half-smile.

"No, no!  You are all that is unselfish.  But I was not thinking of you.
I know I was mistaken, but lately I have seen things differently."

"It has been a great comfort to me to have you to look after me lately,"
said Arthur, with tact to say the most soothing thing; "and, no doubt,
last year you did not know what you felt.  But I should not have thought
you heartless.  There is one person whose feelings I think you have
forgotten--Violante herself."

"When I believed she loved me it seemed too good a thing for me to put
out my hand to take," said Hugh, in a low voice.

"Oh, Hugh," said Arthur, sadly and earnestly, "don't throw away a great
love.  Neither she nor you will ever most likely feel the like again.
It is much too good to lose.  It's the best thing in the world, you
know."

"And I must have it.  _I_, while _you_..." said Hugh, with much
agitation.

"You _have_ it.  She loves you, and you only can make her happy."

"You don't imagine," said Hugh, passionately, "that I don't know how
precious, how utterly good it is!  You don't think I don't love her?"

"No, no, I don't think that."

There was a moment's silence, and then Hugh said, more lightly:

"And how about my mother, and all that part of the business?"

"As to that, Jem was right, of course, at an early stage of the
proceedings; but it is not such an extreme case but what I think it may
all be managed.  Violante is differently placed now, and is herself all
anyone could wish.  And you wouldn't be worth much without her, Hugh."

"Just nothing," said Hugh.

"Well, then," said Arthur, boldly, "why don't you go home to-morrow
morning and see her?"

Hugh leant over the wall in silence, enduring a conflict of feeling that
only such natures ever know.  He desired this thing with passionate
intensity; he knew, from bitter experience, that he could not bear its
loss.  He was not one whose feet went creditably along the paths of
self-denial, or from whom voluntary self-sacrifice came with any grace.
And yet he felt how little he deserved this blessing, how utterly beyond
his merits it would be, with such humiliation that he could hardly bear
to put out his hand to take it.  To feel himself crowned with such
undeserved joy, to take it almost from Arthur's hand--to find that there
was left for him no expiation, no penance even for the wrong he had
done--to know "that no man may deliver his brother, nor make agreement
unto God for him," was a pang unknown to humbler, simpler souls, but
bitter as death to him.

It was almost inconceivable to Arthur, with his unconquerable instinct
for making the best of things, and his readiness to accept consolation
from any quarter.  He had no particular insight into character, nor any
inclination to sit in judgment on his neighbours; but he did perceive
that Hugh was distressed by the contrast between their fortunes, and
that he was suffering under an access of self-reproach, so he said:

"You can't tell how much good you have done me lately.  It has been the
greatest rest to be with you; but this will only be pleasure to me.  I
know you would put it all off to save me any pain, but I shall be
happier for it--I shall indeed--don't have a single scruple."

Hugh hung down his head; he knew that to seek his own happiness was the
only right thing left.

"Utterly undeserved," he murmured.

"As to that," said Arthur, with much feeling, "who could deserve love
like--like theirs?  I felt that, thoughtless fellow as I was, always.  I
had done nothing.  I _was_ nothing much, you know.  I said so once to
Mysie, and she thought it over, and that last Sunday afternoon I
remember she said as we walked back together, that she had been
considering what I said--I'm afraid I had never thought of it again--and
that she did not think anyone need trouble about not deserving the love
that was given them; for did not undeserved love lie at the very
foundation of the Christian religion, yet the love of God made people
happy, and we made each other happy by our love?  Wasn't it a wonderful,
wise thing for a girl to say?  And it's true; when I think of her love,
I can better bear the want of herself."

How well Hugh recognised the sweet, well-expressed wisdom of Mysie's
little sayings!  It struck home with an application far deeper than
Arthur guessed.  Had not his whole history during the past year been one
long attempt to expiate his own sin, to atone himself for his errors, to
absolve his own conscience from its remorse?

He looked up, with his eyes swimming in tears, at Arthur.

"I shall go, then," was all he said.

"That's right; let's get on, then, and you can have a look at Bradshaw."

Hugh laughed at this practical suggestion, and presently remembered
that, as Miss Venning's holidays had begun, Violante would not be in
Oxley.

"Well, you could find out her uncle's address--Jem knows it."

"Oh, I know where he lives," said Hugh, declining to encounter Jem.
"Come what may, I shall come back to you at once," he said.

"Well--send me a telegram, and I could come and meet you.  You know we
should have gone home in a week or so, anyhow."  Violante was alone at
Signor Mattei's lodgings.  Rosa's wedding was to take place in about a
fortnight, and the little drawing-room was full of preparations for it.
Rosa's modest trousseau, her uncle's gift, looked magnificent lying on
the chairs and sofa, where her cousins had been inspecting it before
taking her out to make further purchases.  It was a hot, sunny
afternoon, and Violante, as she stood in the window, thought how dusty
the trees looked in the little garden, how brown the grass, and how
shabby altogether was the aspect of London in August.  For almost the
first time she thought, with a faint sense of regret, of Civita Bella,
with its harmonious colours, its fretted spires, the deep blue of the
skies, the flowers.  She glanced at Rosa's white bridal wreath, just
sent home, and took it up in her hand--orange flowers, myrtle, and
stephanotis, but these were dry and false; those other blossoms--
Violante heard a little noise, she turned her head, and there stood Hugh
Crichton, tall and stately, just as he had come towards her over the old
palace floor more than a year ago.  She was so utterly surprised, and
yet his presence fitted in so justly with her thoughts that she stood
waiting, with her eyes on his face, without one conventional word of
greeting.  Hugh had rehearsed a thousand greetings; what he uttered was
a new one--

"Violante--Violante! will you forgive me?--can you love me still?"

He held out both hands imploringly.  Violante looked up in his face; she
dropped the wreath, and in a moment, neither knew how, he held her in
his arms, and the long year of parting was a year that was past.  He had
come back; what had she to do with mistrust or pride?

"My darling--oh, my darling!  I have not been so faithless as I seemed,"
he said.

"I was misled, and then--"

"I never broke my promise," sobbed Violante; "before you were gone I
threw the diamonds away.  I was never engaged to him--never."

"It was all my own wrong-headed folly and suspicion.  And then, you know
our terrible story?"

"I know many things now," said Violante, withdrawing a little.  "Mr
Crichton, I have seen your home, and I know the difference between us.
I have not wondered lately that you did not come back."

"Never think of that," cried Hugh, "for my life is worth nothing without
you.  I have been so miserable that I could lead no life at all.  Oh, my
darling, give yourself back to me, and I will--I will be good to you!  I
will make you happy.  I have loved you every moment of this bitter year.
Oh, make the rest of my life better!"

So Hugh pleaded, with all that past bitterness giving force to his
words.  And she, who needed no urging, whose love had been his without
an hour's wavering, felt all her troubles floating away, till the dusty
suburban drawing-room was filled with a sunlight as glorious as the
Italian palace, and there needed no scent of southern flowers to bring
back the charm of their one half-hour of happiness.  It had come back to
them, and by the long want of it they knew far better what it was worth.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FORTY NINE.

THE LESSON OF LOVE.

  "Wed a maiden of your people,"
  Warning said the old Nokomis;
  "Go not eastward, go not westward,
  For a stranger whom we know not!
  Like a fire upon the hearth-stone
  To a neighbour's homely daughter;
  Like the starlight or the moonlight
  Is the handsomest of strangers!"
  Thus dissuading spake Nokomis,
  And my Hiawatha answered
  Only this: "Dear old Nokomis,
  Very pleasant is the firelight,
  But I like the starlight better,
  Better do I like the moonlight."

When Rosa came in from her shopping the first sight her eyes beheld was
her white wreath on the floor, but before she could speak Violante
sprang into her arms.

"Rosina, oh, Rosina! who do you think is here?"

As Hugh's tall figure appeared in the background Rosa had not much
difficulty in answering this question; but the look in her bright,
straightforward eyes was not wholly a welcome, though she held out her
hand as he took Violante's and said:

"You will give her to me now?"

"Mr Crichton," said Rosa, "my little sister has no mother, and my
father is not accustomed to English ways.  You will forgive me if I ask
you a few questions.  She has already suffered a great deal from
suspense."

"You can ask no questions that I am not ready to answer fully," said
Hugh.

Rosa kissed Violante, and sent her upstairs, with a decision that
admitted of no question.  Then she picked up her wreath, and asked Hugh
to sit down, while he forestalled her by saying:

"Miss Mattei, you are aware of the misunderstanding under which I left
Civita Bella, and of the repulse I received from your father?  I hope he
will give me a different answer now."

"Indeed, Mr Crichton, there have been a great many misunderstandings.
Is it only now that you have discovered your mistake?"

"No, Miss Mattei," said Hugh, colouring, "it is some weeks since I have
felt certain that I was mistaken.  But if you know in how much trouble
we have been during we past year--and--and my share in it, you will,
perhaps, understand that it was my cousin Arthur's discovery of my
secret and his encouragement which has made me venture here now."

Rosa was softened.

"Ah, yes, Violante told me," she said.

"I could not have raised any discussion about myself at such a time.  I
don't think you like protestations, Miss Mattei, but I think a year is
long enough to test our constancy, and surely--surely, Signor Mattei's
objections can no longer exist."

"No, she must choose for herself now.  Mr Crichton, I'm afraid I am
very ungracious," said Rosa warmly; "but I have been so anxious for
Violante.  I know this will be best for her, if--if nothing _now_ comes
in the way."

"Nothing can--nothing _shall_.  And Signor Mattei?"

"I think, Mr Crichton, that it would be a good thing if you spoke first
to my uncle, Mr Grey.  He has shown Violante and myself so much
kindness that we feel he ought to be consulted.  You would find him at
home, he is not much engaged at this time of year--and--and--life has
taken a very different turn for my little sister from anything that we
anticipated for her.  You will not forget that you are going to take her
into a strange world?"

Rosa's eyes filled with tears as she looked earnestly at Hugh.

"I will try," said Hugh simply, but something in his tone impressed
Rosa, who saw him depart in search of Mr Grey with more satisfaction
than she could have imagined possible.  Hugh found himself obliged to
make a very clear statement of his circumstances, his independence of
his mother, and the home at the Bank House, to which he would bring
Violante, in all which matters he acquitted himself to Mr Grey's
satisfaction; his own manner and appearance probably being strong
arguments in his favour.  Nor, of course, could Mr Grey be insensible
to the advantage of such a provision for the girl who had failed once in
her attempt to earn her living and might easily fail again.  He
concluded with--

"Well, Mr Crichton, you must not suppose that I am not aware of how
good a prospect you offer to my niece; but I hope you have considered
well your own feelings.  Violante is as sweet a girl as any man could
wish to see.  Her father is a gentleman born, and I don't do you the
injustice to suppose that you will make yourself unhappy about the
accident of her former profession any more than you have about her want
of fortune.  But she is to all intents and purposes a foreigner, she has
none of the training, and probably few of the ideas of an ordinary
English girl; do not be disappointed when you find this out."

"Do you suppose I wish her to be like an ordinary English girl?"
exclaimed Hugh.

"No," said Mr Grey, shrewdly; "but, having chosen your humming-bird,
don't expect her to turn out a robin redbreast."

"I am not so unreasonable," began Hugh; then changing his tone, "You
judge me rightly if you think I am apt to be harsh and stern, but if I
can be gentle to anyone it is to her.  I could not wish her other than
she is for a moment."

In the meantime Rosa had prepared Signor Mattei's mind for what was
coming.  He listened to her with tolerable patience, looked ruefully
round the room at her wedding presents, and said:

"Was not one enough?"

"We couldn't well help its happening at the same time, you see, father.
And I always felt that there was a great risk that Violante would not be
strong enough even for the concerts.  I hope you will not oppose her
happiness."

"No, figlia mia, no; my time of opposition is over.  My children do not
love my art, and are grown beyond me.  You are English, rich,
respectable; the life of the artist is not for you."

"Oh, father!" cried Violante, bursting into a flood of tears.  "Indeed,
it is not so; I am not rich, I am not respectable, only I love him so,
father, just as you love music, how can I help it?  That is all."

"Ah, well, you are your mother's daughters.  Perhaps I may hand down to
my grandchildren my own ambitions!"

With which distant, and, perhaps, doubtfully-desirable probability,
Signor Mattei was forced to content himself; but there was enough truth
in his disappointment to make a piece of good fortune that now befell
him very delightful to his daughters.

He had been so much separated from his own family that their existence
was hardly realised by his children; but about this time he received a
letter from Milan, saying that an uncle, his father's last surviving
brother, who had been a physician, had died at an advanced age, and had
left him a small competence.  He was thus set free from the necessity of
seeking engagements which would grow more precarious as he grew older,
and could set to work to compose his long-dreamed-of opera in any place
which he preferred.

"My children," he said, when the first surprise was over, "you can live
without me, and, doubtless, the gentlemen you are about to marry can do
so too.  Your England," (this form of expression always distressed
Violante) "is a great country to visit, but I am Italian.  I shall go
and visit the tomb of my honoured uncle at Milan, and then, perhaps, at
Civita Bella old Maddalena and I can lead a quiet life together.  She
knows my ways."

"And when we come to see you, father," whispered Violante, "will you not
give me the old china bowl?"

Before, however, things had arrived at this satisfactory condition many
other arrangements had been made.  Mrs Crichton had been at the sea and
was on the point of coming to London, on her way back to Redhurst, for a
final inspection of Jem's arrangements; and, Hugh's scruples at
shortening Arthur's stay in Wales giving way to the desire for so
powerful an ally, he asked him to come to London and join him there.
Arthur did so, and found that Hugh had already sought out James, who was
tied to his work, in view of the lengthened holiday he meant to take in
September, and had informed him of the state of the case.  James was
quite ready at last to accept the necessity, but revenged himself by
giving Arthur the ludicrous side of the old courting timer and enjoying
a hearty laugh over Hugh's secret.

So, to Mrs Crichton's great surprise, she was met at her hotel, not by
James with his hands full of patterns, but by her eldest son, looking so
grave that her first words were:

"My dear Hugh, what brings you here?  Is anything the matter?"

"No, mother, nothing; but Arthur and I are in town, and I wanted to say
a few words to you."

Frederica was staying with a school-friend, so Mrs Crichton was alone;
and Hugh hurried her over her cup of tea, and was unusually attentive
and unusually impatient till she had finished with her maid and her
orders to the hotel people, and could give her mind to his story, into
the midst of which he plunged, hurrying through it with tolerable
candour, and at last breaking off abruptly and waiting for his mother's
reply.

She was taken exceedingly by surprise, and though she was a woman of
many words at first she hardly said anything.  She was honestly desirous
that her son should marry, and did not stand in that sort of relation to
him which his marriage would disturb, and she was clear-sighted enough
at once to recognise that this was no fancy which could be talked away.

"Mother, why don't you speak to me?" said Hugh.

"I hardly know what to say to you, my dear.  You have surprised me
exceedingly; but I do not expect that anything that I say could induce
you to alter your choice."

"But, mother, you've seen her?" said Hugh, entreatingly.

"Yes; she is very pretty, and everyone speaks well of her; and, I have
no doubt what you say about her relations is correct.  But, Hugh, she is
an Italian."

"Surely, that is an unworthy prejudice!"

"Not at all.  She may be as good as any English girl, but she will be
different.  She will not like the life of an English lady.  Differences
will start up in an unexpected manner.  I have seen a great deal of
life; and I don't see how people are to be happy together with such
thoroughly different antecedents.  You will puzzle her, and she will
disappoint you."

"I would rather _she_ disappointed me than that anyone else should
fulfil my most perfect ideal," said Hugh, ardently.

"But, indeed, Hugh, had you none of these doubts when you delayed so
long in carrying out your intentions?"

"I delayed," said Hugh colouring, "because I did not wish to raise this
discussion at a time of such trouble--because I could not grieve Arthur.
He approves of this."

"And you have really set your heart on her all this year?"

"Set my heart!" exclaimed Hugh, starting up.  "Mother, she was never out
of my heart all the time when my mind was full of Arthur, when I thought
renouncing her was the only atonement I could make to him!"

"How could it affect Arthur?"

"I thought no devotion, no sacrifice would be enough to make up to him
ever so little.  And what right have I to any happiness of my own?  Oh,
I have been very miserable; the only softness, the only sweetness, was
the thought of her!" said Hugh, vehemently.

"My dear boy," said Mrs Crichton, "that view was wrong.  You could not
give Arthur back what he lost.  I think you blame yourself unduly; but,
be that as it may, though we cannot undo the consequences of our
actions, you seem to have forgotten that pardon was granted to the
greatest of sinners not for any atonement that they could make, but for
their repentance and love.  We do not stand on our own merits--surely I
need not say this to you."

Mrs Crichton was a woman who very rarely spoke on serious subjects, and
her sons could almost count the few occasions in their lives when she
had so addressed them.  She rarely criticised their behaviour; but they
knew that her judgment of them was almost invariably true.

"Yes mother," said Hugh, "I have had need to work out that truth.  But
if I have in any way done so it has been through Arthur's love and
forgiveness, so undeserved--so unmerited.  But mother, I could not even
have turned to that but for the one thing that kept my heart alive--my
love for Violante.  I would have taken all my happiness from her--I
loved her!  Though I injured her I let her forgive me!"

Hugh's speech was somewhat confused; and, perhaps, his mother only
partially understood him.  He was only beginning to understand himself.
For his history, with its attempt at atonement, hopeless till humble
love made the offering acceptable and the pardon possible, was surely
like a parable of the Greatest of all Histories, of human sin and Divine
love, which this deep personal experience might help him profitably to
realise.  But Mrs Crichton did see that, through all this storm and
conflict, the natural spontaneous love for Violante had been as a star
in his heart--often obscured, indeed, by clouds of doubt and suspicion;
but shining in and out till day returned.  Whatever sorrow it had
brought, however unwise it might be, it had kept Hugh from despair, and
she could not scorn it.

"My dear," she said, "it is too late for me to oppose what has survived
so much.  Nor have I the right; at your age you must please yourself.
Of course, I wish you had chosen otherwise."

"I think you will not wish so for long," said Hugh, as he kissed her
warmly.

Mrs Crichton was not ready to accede to this remark; she was troubled
and anxious; and when Arthur presently came to see her and Hugh left him
with her she expressed her doubts strongly.

"You wouldn't wish Hugh to lose his better half, Aunt Lily," he said,
half playfully, and then he told of Violante's simplicity and sweetness
till Mrs Crichton was half convinced, though she still held to--

"Yes, my dear, it was very delightful for you all to rave about her; but
can you imagine her Hugh's wife, and an English lady of position?"

"Well, Aunt Lily, I can imagine Hugh very well as her husband, which is
the point to interest you, I suppose."

Mrs Crichton behaved beautifully.  She forestalled Hugh's proposals for
an introduction, by going with him the next day to call on Violante, who
was now staying with the Greys, from whose house Rosa was to be married.

Violante was alone in the drawing-room, and she started up flushing and
trembling, then, without heeding Hugh, she went right up to Mrs
Crichton and put her little hand in hers.

"I will try so hard to please you, Signora," she said, with faltering
lips.

"My dear, I am not difficult to please," said Mrs Crichton, and somehow
her fears of incongruity and incompleteness went into the background
before the charm of the soft eyes and the sweet humility of the heroine
of her son's romance, which, for good or for evil, was to be the one
great reality of his life.

PART SIX, CHAPTER FIFTY.

THE LESSON OF LIFE.

  "His days with others will the sweeter be
  For those brief days he spent in loving me."

Towards the end of August Florence Venning returned from a visit to her
brother, eager, of course, to hear the details of the wonderful event
that had taken place during her absence.  Her sisters, however, had not
much to tell her, as Mrs Crichton had only just returned to Redhurst.
Hugh had been perforce busy since he came back, and Arthur had remained
for some little time with Jem.  They were all at home now, however, and
Flossy set off on the afternoon after her return to call on Mrs
Crichton and hear the news, with which Oxley was ringing from
head-quarters.  As she walked along the road she was overtaken by
Arthur, who greeted her cordially.

"I am so glad I have met you," he said; "I have a great deal to tell
you, and it is a very long time since we had the chance of a
conversation."

"Yes," said Flossy.  "I never was so astonished, _never_!  Latterly, I
had half fancied that Violante had some one on her mind; but that it
should be Hugh!"

"No one ever suspected him of such a romance, did they?  However, it is
all turning out very well, and Aunt Lily likes her very much."

"I suppose she won't come back to school?"

"Well, no, I think under the circumstances that would hardly answer.
But she, with Mr and Mrs Fairfax--you know her sister was married last
week--are to come and pay us a visit; so you will soon see Violante,
and, no doubt, she will tell you all her little secrets."

"I shall be so glad to see her.  We shall miss her very much--she is as
good and sweet as she is pretty.  When?"

"When are they going to be married, do you mean?--I think in October."

"That is very soon," said Flossy.

"Yes, but there are reasons.  Her father is going to live in Italy, at
Civita Bella, and Hugh thinks he will take her there once more.  And
besides--I have something to tell you, Flossy, about myself."

Flossy looked up at him, struck by the grave tone.  He looked quite
well, and had lost his air of languor and preoccupation; but his manner
was serious, though now he looked in her face and smiled.

"Well, it is a long story, and I think you will be surprised.  I can't
tell you how thoughtful Hugh has been for me through all this, and he
_knows_ I have come to a right decision, though he does not like it."

Flossy still looked at him, unable to frame a question, and he went on:

"Perhaps you don't know that our Bank has a sort of branch in Calcutta,
not absolutely in connection with this one, but belonging to a cousin of
my father's.  Our grandfather, I believe, owned them both.  Hugh had a
letter last week from this cousin, saying that his son, who has been
educated in England--I don't know if you remember him--Walter Spencer--
he spent Christmas with us once--had found, on coming out, that India
did not suit his health, and had to throw up the good opening out there.
He is a very clever fellow, I believe; and, though his father did not
exactly say so, I think he hoped that Hugh would make some proposal to
him.  He offers his vacant place to me, or to George, if I was otherwise
provided for--you see he knows nothing of the circumstances."

Arthur had made many pauses during this long speech; but Flossy did not
answer him a word.  She turned deadly pale, and there was an expression
in her large blue eyes as she resolutely returned his enquiring looks so
miserable that he could not forget it.  He could not but see that his
words affected her very strongly.

"You are going, then?" she said, at length.

"Yes," said Arthur, "I have made up my mind to go.  I should like to
tell you all my reasons, because, Flossy, you have always listened to my
troubles, and I know how you grieved with me as well as for me."

"Oh, yes--yes!" faltered Flossy, thankful for the tears that seemed to
bring her senses back, and for this excuse for them.

"The idea made Hugh wretched," said Arthur, "but yet he knew there was a
great deal of sense in it.  He knows that _here_ everything brings back
what's lost.  I cannot bear it.  I _cannot_ forget what I hoped my life
would be.  The best would be a sort of make-shift.  But my life is
before me, and I _must_ not look on it as only fit to throw away.  I
_must_ make something of it yet, if I can.  And as for the parting with
them all, that's the lot of hundreds.  I have fewer ties than most."

"It is such an ending, Arthur!" said Flossy, sadly.

"No.  I hope it will be a beginning--with God's help.  You told me once
that _she_ would have made a life for herself without _me_.  I don't
think she would wish mine to have no future."

"And has Hugh consented?"

"Yes.  You know he said at first that I made a mistake in coming home;
but that is not so.  Last winter I could not have decided on such a step
as this.  And now he has made me promise that I will give it up if I am
ill, or if I dislike it very much.  But the first is not likely to
happen, and the second--shall not."

"But what does Mrs Crichton say?" asked Flossy.

"Oh, they are all very sorry, Flossy, and so am I," said Arthur, with an
odd sort of smile, "but--they'll get on very well without me, and I must
make my way for myself as others do.  I cannot be the worse," he added,
in a lower tone, "for--for _her_ memory."

Flossy walked on in silence--it was almost more than she could bear.
She hardly knew which was the saddest--that no one seemed to depend on
Arthur for happiness, or that he seemed to regret their independence so
little.

"What shall _I_ do?" was in her heart, and she was speechless, lest it
should find its way to her tongue.

"You know, Flossy," he said, after a pause, "a sorrow like mine swallows
up everything.  I can't care very much for lesser partings.  Don't think
me heartless.  I shall never forget any of you; but things are so
changed that, now that I have partly got over the shock, I feel as if an
outward change were only the natural consequence of the inner one."

It was natural enough.  Arthur had had many affections, but only one
love.  There had always been a sort of self-reliance about him; while he
had taken gratefully all the sympathy and all the tenderness that was
offered him he had never been able to depend on any of it.  There was a
great risk of hardening; but he had the safeguards of an unselfish
disposition, the pure and perfect love that could not die with its
object, and a most earnest desire not to fall short of what Mysie's
betrothed had hoped to be.  He would try hard to hold himself upright,
and it might be trusted that, with the blessing of the prayers of those
who loved him, he might realise a yet higher love than Mysie's, and keep
his heart soft and open for the days when even another earthly love
might come to fill it.  There was no thought of such a time in the heart
of the poor girl by his side, who endured, not, indeed, the most
passionate, or the most keen, but, perhaps, the most depressing grief a
woman can know.  But Flossy was young and bright and strong; and,
moreover, the passion that only an idealistic nature could have
entertained needed very little nourishment, and could find some
satisfaction in imagination, admiration, and just the spark of
possibility that would not define itself into hope.

In other words, so long as Flossy knew that Arthur's life was all she
could wish it to be, she would lead her own, _having no closer ties to
remember_, without intolerable disturbance or dissatisfaction.  It would
not spoil all other interests, because the world held for her an
interest surpassing them all.

But the last days were very hard to endure; and, though the impulsive
outspoken girl guarded every word and look, though Arthur parted from
her as from a sister, there came a day when the new depths in her clear,
honest eyes, the new tones in her fresh, firm voice, came back on his
recollection and suggested a new ending to her story.

To Hugh, in the midst of his own happiness, and such happiness as he had
never imagined for himself, it was a great pang to find that Arthur must
seek content without his help, and find it away from his side.  His
judgment acquiesced, and, perhaps, nothing showed how well he had learnt
his late hard lessons as the way in which he made everything easy, and
secured for his cousin the lot that he had chosen as best for himself.

So Arthur went forth from among them whither these pages cannot follow
him, as his young energies recovered their force, and a new life
gradually roused his old interest in new hopes and new ambitions.

At home the old canal gave place to the new railroad, and the wedding
parties no longer drank tea at the "Pot of Lilies;" but rushed over it
and beyond it to more distant and exciting places of entertainment,
before the old rector and his wife entered into the promise of their
golden wedding, after the fifty years that "were such a little bit of
eternity."

A new generation of girls, among whom Emily Tollemache was for a short
time numbered, found Miss Florence still bright and enthusiastic, Miss
Clarissa full of her little nephews, while, away in London, Rosa Fairfax
congratulated herself that teaching was over for her for ever.  Signor
Mattei, in sunny Italy, dreamed over and composed the opera that was to
be more famous than his daughter's voice; while the precious china bowl
held the place of honour in the Bank House drawing-room, and was
discovered by Jem to be quite in the highest style of art, and worth
_anything_ to a collector.

"People find things out in time," said Hugh, with a smile, as his
romantic choice was justified by the real happiness that resulted from
it.  For Violante was all that Hugh needed, and what more could she need
herself?  His love and his happiness made her own.

But there never came a day that Hugh forgot to look for Arthur's
letters, or to feel responsible for his fortunes; never a day when the
incompleteness of Arthur's life did not mar the perfection of his own.
Nor ever will, till, amid the scenes of the sorrow that closed his
youth, Arthur finds the happiness of his manhood.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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