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Title: A bird of passage
Author: Croker, B. M. (Bithia Mary)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A bird of passage" ***

 Transcriber's Note:
 Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and
 bold text by =equal signs=.



  A BIRD OF PASSAGE.


  BY

  B. M. CROKER,

  AUTHOR OF "PROPER PRIDE," "PRETTY MISS NEVILLE,"
  "SOME ONE ELSE."


  "Such wind as scatters young men thro' the world
  To seek their fortunes further than at home,
  Where small experience grows."

  THE TEMPEST.


  WARD AND DOWNEY,
  12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN, LONDON, W.C.
  1887.



  PRINTED BY
  KELLY AND CO., GATE STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS, W.C.;
  AND MIDDLE MILL, KINGSTON-ON-THAMES.



CONTENTS.


     CHAP.                                   PAGE

        I.—PORT BLAIR                           1

       II.—EXPECTATION                          9

      III.—FIRST IMPRESSIONS                   24

       IV.—MISS DENIS HAS VISITORS             31

        V.—WHAT IS SHE LIKE?                   37

       VI.—QUEEN OF THE CANNIBAL ISLANDS       48

      VII.—MR. QUENTIN'S PIANO                 53

     VIII.—"I WAS HIS DEAREST LIZZIE!"         61

       IX.—A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS                69

        X.—MR. LISLE FORGETS HIS DINNER        76

       XI.—THE FINGER OF FATE                  86

      XII.—THE WRECK                           95

     XIII.—"BLUE BEARD'S CHAMBER"             103

      XIV.—"MR. LISLE HAS GIVEN ME A RING"    110

       XV.—"WHY NOT?"                         116

      XVI.—"STOLEN FROM THE SEA!"             123

     XVII.—THE BALL                           132

    XVIII.—"BUT WHAT WILL PAPA SAY?"          141

      XIX.—PROOF POSITIVE                     154

       XX.—"A GREAT BATTLE"                   160

      XXI.—THE NICOBARS                       168

     XXII.—THE FIRST GRAVE                    175

    XXIII.—"WAS IT POSSIBLE!"                 180

     XXIV.—"FAREWELL, PORT BLAIR"             191

      XXV.—THE STEERAGE PASSENGER             198

     XXVI.—A POOR RELATION                    206

    XXVII.—EVERYTHING IS SETTLED              215

   XXVIII.—MALVERN HOUSE                      227

     XXIX.—"YOU REMEMBER MISS DENIS?"         239

      XXX.—FINNIGAN'S MARE                    256

     XXXI.—"CROWMORE CASTLE"                  267

    XXXII.—BARRY'S GUESS                      274

   XXXIII.—"THE FANCY"                        284

    XXXIV.—"THE SLAVE OF BEAUTY"              293

     XXXV.—"THE APPARITION"                   303

    XXXVI.—"THE APPARATUS"                    312

   XXXVII.—"IN CONFIDENCE"                    317

  XXXVIII.—"SALLY'S SUBSTITUTE"               325

    XXXIX.—"THE MARKET GIRL"                  337

       XL.—"BARRY'S CHALLENGE"                342

      XLI.—"THE POACHER'S GHOST"              351



A BIRD OF PASSAGE.



CHAPTER I.

PORT BLAIR.

  "Droops the heavy-blossom'd bower; hangs the heavy-fruited tree:
  Summer isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea."

 _Locksley Hall._


FEW travellers penetrate to the Andamans, unless it be an enthusiastic
astronomer to witness a rare comet, or an enterprising professor, who
happens to be fired with a desire to study the language and the skulls
of the aborigines.

These islands are as yet sacred from the foot of the globe-trotter,
Cook's tourists ignore them, and they lie in serene semi-savage
seclusion, in the midst of the Indian Ocean, dimly known to the great
outer world as the chief Indian convict settlement, and the scene
of Lord Mayo's murder in 1872. The inland portions of the great and
lesser Andamans have been but cursorily explored, (those who have made
the attempt, having learnt by tragic experience that the inhabitants
were addicted to cannibalism); but outlying islets, and fringes of the
coast, have been opened up by the Indian Government, and appropriated
for the benefit of thousands of convicts (chiefly lifers), who are
annually poured into Port Blair—from Galle to the Kyber, from Aden to
the borders of China, the cry is still they come!

Port Blair, the Government headquarters, is situated on Ross, a high
conical islet that lies about a mile south of the Middle Andaman,
and although of limited circumference, it boasts a stone church,
barracks, a Commandant's residence, several gaols, a pier, a bazaar,
a circulating library, and a brass band! Every foot of ground is laid
out to marvellous advantage, and the neat gravelled pathways, thick
tropical hedges, flowering shrubs and foliage plants, give the numerous
brown bungalows which cover the hillsides, the effect of being situated
in a large and well-kept garden.

The summit of the island commands a wide view: to the north lies the
mainland with its sharply indented shores, and a wide sickle-shaped
estuary, sweeping far away into the interior, where its wooded curves
are lost among the hills; the southern side of Ross looks sheer
out upon the boundless ocean, and receives the full force of many
a terrible tropical hurricane, that has travelled unspent from the
Equator.

There was not a ripple on that vast blue surface, one certain August
evening, a few years ago—save where it fretted gently in and out,
between the jagged black rocks that surrounded the island; the sea was
like a mirror, and threw back an accurate reflection of boats, and
hills, and wooded shores; distant, seldom-seen islands, now loomed in
the horizon with vague, misty outlines; a delicate, soft, south wind
barely touched the leaves of the big trees, among whose branches the
busy green parrots had been chattering, and the gorgeous peacocks,
screeching and swinging, all through the long, hot, sleepy afternoon.

Surely the setting sun was making a more lingering and, as it were,
regretful adieu to these beautiful remote islands than to other parts
of the world! No pen could describe, no brush convey, any idea of the
vivid crimson, western clouds, and the flood of blinding golden light,
that bathed the hills, the far-away islets, the tangled mangroves, and
the glassy sea.

To the cool dispassionate northern eye, which may have first opened on
a leaden sky, snow-capped hills, pine woods, and ploughed lands, there
was a general impression of wildly gaudy, south sea scenery, of savage
silence, and lawless solitude.

Soon that scarlet ball will have plunged below the horizon, a
short-lived grey twilight have spread her veil over land and sea, the
parrots' noisy pink bills will be tucked under their wings, and the
turbulent peacocks have gone to roost.

Close to the flagstaff (which was planted on a kind of large, flat
mound, at the highest point of the island), one human figure stood
out in bold relief against the brilliant sunset; an elderly gentleman
with grizzled hair and beard, a careworn expression, and mild, brown
eyes,—eyes that were anxiously riveted on the at present sailless sea.
He carried a small red telescope in his hand, and divided his time
between pacing the short grass plateau, and spasmodically sweeping the
horizon. For what was he looking so impatiently? He was looking for the
smoke of the Calcutta steamer, that brought mails and passengers to
Port Blair once in every six weeks. Think of but one mail in six weeks,
ye sybarites of Pall Mall, revelling in a dozen daily posts, scores
of papers, and all the latest telegrams from China to Peru! Imagine
reading up forty days' arrears of your _Times_ or _Post_; imagine six
_Punches_ simultaneously! Gladly as Colonel Denis usually hailed his
letters, and especially the _Weekly Gazette_, yet it was neither news
nor promotion that he was so restlessly awaiting now—his thoughts
were altogether centred on a passenger, his only daughter, whom he
had not seen for thirteen years, not since she was a little mite in
socks and sashes, and now she was a grown-up, a finished young lady,
coming out from England by this mail to be the mistress of his house!
He was glad that this long anticipated day had dawned at last, and yet
he scarcely dared to analyze his own feelings—he was ashamed to own,
even in his inmost heart, that mingled with all his felicity, there is
a secret dread—a kind of stifled misgiving. This girl who is to share
his home within the next few hours, is in reality, as far as personal
acquaintance goes, as much a stranger to him as if he had never seen
her before, although she is his own little Nell, with whom he used to
romp by the hour in the verandah at Karkipore, thirteen years ago.
Those thirteen years stand between him and that familiar merry face,
dancing gait, and floating yellow hair; they have taken that away, and
what are they going to give him instead? Of course he and his daughter
had corresponded by every mail, but what are nice affectionate letters,
what are presents, yea photographs, when the individuality of the
giver has long been blurred and indistinct; when the memory of a face,
and the sound of a voice, have faded and faded, till nothing tangible
remains but a name! Children of five years old have but short memories,
and in Helen Denis's case, there was no one near her to revive her
dying recollections.

"I wonder if she will know me among the crowd," her father muttered as
he paced the platform, with the telescope behind his back.

"I'm sorry now, I never had my photo taken, to prepare her! How strange
I shall feel with a girl in the house, after all these years. I've
quite forgotten woman's ways!" From an expression that came into his
eyes, one might gather that a backward glance at "woman's ways" was
not altogether one of the most agreeable memories of the past. "If
she should be like—" and he paused, shuddered, and looked out over
the sea for some minutes, with a face that had grown suddenly stern.
His thoughts were abruptly recalled to the present, by the sound of
footsteps coming up the gravel pathway behind him.

"Hullo, colonel!" cried a loud, cheery voice, "why are you doing sentry
here? Oh! of course, I forget; you expect Miss Denis this mail!"

"Yes. I'm looking out for the steamer," he replied, as he turned
round and accosted a very handsome young man, with aquiline features,
brilliant teeth, and eyes as blue as the surrounding sea. A tall young
man, carefully dressed in a creaseless light suit, who wore a pale silk
tie run through a ring, gloves, and carried a large white umbrella.
He had an adequate appreciation of his own appearance, and with good
reason, for men frequently referred to him as "the best-looking
fellow of their acquaintance," and women—well—women spoiled him,
they had petted him and made much of him, since he was a pretty
little curly-headed cherub, with a discriminating taste in sweets,
and a rooted objection to kissing old and ugly people, down to the
present time, when he (although you would not think it) had passed his
thirty-second birthday! He had been sent to Port Blair in connection
with some new works on the mainland, and was "acting" for another
man, who had gone on furlough. His name was James—variously known
as "Beauty," "Apollo," or "Look and Die"—Quentin, and he was really
less conceited than might have been expected under the circumstances!
Mr. Quentin was not alone; his companion was a shorter, slighter, and
altogether more insignificant person, dark as an Arab, through exposure
to the sun; he wore a broad-leafed, weather-beaten Terai, pulled so far
over his brows that one could only guess at a pair of piercing eyes, a
thin visage, and a black moustache; his clothes were by no means new,
his hands burnt to a rich mahogany, and innocent of gloves, ring, or
umbrella.

Somehow, with his slouched hat, slender figure, and swarthy skin,
he had rather a foreign air, and was a complete contrast to his
broad-shouldered patron, "Look and Die" Quentin, whom he followed
slowly up the hill, and muttering an indistinct greeting to Colonel
Denis, he walked on a few paces, and stood with his arms folded,
looking down upon the sea, somewhat in the attitude of the well-known
picture of Napoleon at St. Helena! This sunburnt, silent individual was
known by the name of "the Photographer;" he was a mysterious stranger,
who three months previously had dropped into the settlement—but _not_
into society—as if from the clouds, and during these three months, the
united ingenuity of the community had failed to discover anything more
about him, than what they had learned the very first day he had landed
on Ross; to wit, that his name was Lisle, and that he had come from
Calcutta to take photographs among the islands. Immediately after his
arrival, he had established himself in the Dâk Bungalow, on Aberdeen,
had hired a boat, and in a very short time had made himself completely
at home; his belongings consisted of a small quantity of luggage, a
large camera, some fishing-tackle, and a native servant, who refused to
elucidate any one on the subject of his master, and the public were
very inquisitive about that gentleman,—and who shall say that their
curiosity was not legitimate!

People never came to Ross, unless they were convicts, settlement
officers, formed part of the garrison, or were functionaries like Mr.
Quentin, who was "acting" for some one else. Mr. Lisle did not come
under any of these heads; he was not an officer, Hindoo or otherwise,
he did not belong to the settlement, nor was he one of the class for
whose special behoof the islands had been colonized. The problem still
remained unsolved, who was Mr. Lisle, what was he doing at Port Blair,
where did he come from, when, and where, was he going, was he rich or
poor, married or single? All these queries still remained unsolved, and
opened up a fine field of speculation. Society, so isolated from the
outer world, so meagrely supplied with legitimate news, were naturally
thrown a good deal upon their own resources for topics of conversation
and discussion. A week after mail-day, most of the papers had been
read and digested, and people had to fall back upon little items of
local intelligence—and such items were wont to be scarce: think, then,
what a godsend for conjecture and discussion Mr. Lisle would, and did
prove! this waif blown to them from beyond the sea, without address or
reference! If he had been a common-looking, uneducated person, it would
have been totally different; but the aggravating thing was, that shabby
as were his clothes, he had the unmistakable bearing and address of a
gentleman,—yet he spent all his days photographing natives, trees,
islands, as if his daily bread solely depended on his industry! He
lived not far from where Mr. Quentin dwelt, in a splendid bungalow, in
solitary state; and the former, constantly meeting the photographer,
had scraped up an acquaintance with him, had dropped in and smoked
friendly cigarettes in the Rest House verandah, had thrown out feelers
in vain—in vain!—had come to the conclusion that Lisle was a very
gentlemanly fellow in his way,—that he was no fool, that he was a most
entertaining companion, and wound up by insisting that he should come
and share his roof!

To this Lisle objected, in fact he refused the invitation point-blank,
but when he learned that the Rest Bungalow was requisitioned for some
missionaries, and when his would-be host became the more pressing, the
more he was reluctant, he gave in, after considerable hesitation.

"You see, it's not a purely unselfish idea," said Mr. Quentin; "I'm
awfully lonely at this side—not a soul to speak to, unless I go to
Ross, and I'm often too lazy to stir, and now I shall have you to
argue with, and to keep me company of an evening. Then, as to your
photographs, there's lots of room for them. You can have a whole side
of the house to yourself, and do as you please."

"I'll come on one condition," replied the other, looking straight
at him; "I'll come, if you will allow me to pay my share of the
butler's account, and all that sort of thing. We are speaking quite
frankly—you require some one to talk to, I want a roof, since you say
the missionaries are coming to the Rest House,—and I doubt if we would
assimilate!"

Mr. Quentin, who had been lounging in a low cane chair, took his cigar
out of his mouth, blew a cloud of smoke, and hesitated; it was all very
well to have this chap up to keep him company of an evening, but to
chum with him—by Jove!

The other seemed to read what was passing through his mind, for he
said, with a twinkle in his eye,—

"I'm not a fellow travelling for a firm of photographers, as no
doubt every one imagines. I'm"—pushing an envelope over to his
companion—"that's my name."

Mr. Quentin took up the paper carelessly, cast his eye over it, became
rather red, and laughed nervously. From this time forward, Mr. Lisle
and Mr. Quentin chummed together on equal terms,—somewhat to the
scandal of their neighbours, who were amazed that such a fastidious
man as "Look and Die" Quentin should open his house, and his arms, to
this unknown shabby stranger! His manners were studiously courteous
and polite, but he understood how to entrench himself in a fortress
of reserve, that held even Mrs. Creery, the chief lady of Port Blair,
at bay, and this was saying much—driven very hard, two damaging
statements had been, as it were, wrested from him! he liked the
Andamans, because there was no daily post, and no telegrams, and he
had no occupation _now_. Did not admission number one savour of a
dread of suggestive-looking blue envelopes, and clamouring, hungry
creditors—to whom he had effectually given the slip; and admission
number two was worse still! no occupation now, was doubtless the
result of social and financial bankruptcy. Mrs. Creery was disposed to
deal hardly with him—in her opinion, he was an "outlaw." (She rather
prided herself upon having fitted him neatly with a name.) If he had
thrown her one sop of conciliation, or given her the least little hint
about himself and his affairs, she _might_ have tolerated him, but
he remained perversely dumb. Mr. Quentin was dumb too—though it was
shrewdly suspected that he knew more about his inmate than any one—and
indeed he had gone so far as to deny that he was a professional
photographer; when rigidly cross-examined by a certain lady, he only
laughed, and shook his head, and said that "Lisle was a harmless
lunatic—rather mad on the subject of photography and sea-fishing,
but otherwise a pleasant companion;" but beyond this, he declined to
enlighten his questioner. No assistance being forthcoming, society was
obliged to classify the stranger for themselves, and they ticketed him
as a genteel loafer, a penniless ne'er-do-well, who had come down to
Port Blair in hopes (vain) of obtaining some kind of employment, and
had now comfortably established himself as Mr. Quentin's hanger-on and
unpaid companion!

It must be admitted that the stranger gave considerable colour to this
view; he did not visit and mix with society on Ross, he wore shabby
clothes and shocking hats, and spent most of his time tramping the bush
with a gun on his shoulder or a camera on his back, "looking for all
the world like an Italian organ-grinder or a brigand," according to
that high authority, Mrs. Creery. For three months he had been without
a competitor in the interest of the community, but now his day was
over, his star on the wane: he was about to give place to a very rare
and important new arrival, namely, an unmarried lady, who was currently
reported to be "but eighteen years of age and very pretty!"



CHAPTER II.

EXPECTATION.

  "For now sits expectation in the air,
                  And hides a sword."

  — _Henry V._


ALL this time Colonel Denis had been engaged in animated conversation
with Mr. Quentin. Nature had been doubly generous to the latter
gentleman, for she had not merely endowed him with unusual personal
attractions, but had increased these attractions by the gift of a
charming manner that fascinated every one who came in contact with
him—from the General himself down to the sullen convict boatmen; it
was quite natural to him, even when discussing a trivial subject, with
an individual who rather bored him than otherwise, to throw such an
appearance of interest into his words and looks that one would imagine
all his thoughts were centred in the person before him and the topic
under discussion.

To men this attitude was flattering, to women irresistible, and what
though his words were writ on sand, his manner had its effect, and was
an even more powerful factor in his great popularity than his stalwart
figure and handsome face. At the present moment he stood leaning on
his furled umbrella, listening with rapt attention to what Colonel
Denis had to say on the subject of whale-boats _versus_ gigs (every
one at Ross kept a boat of their own, like the O'Tooles at the time of
the Flood). The Colonel was enlarging on the capabilities of his new
purchase—bought expressly in honour of his daughter, as he would have
bought a carriage elsewhere—when he was interrupted by Mr. Lisle (who
meanwhile had been keeping watch on the horizon and whistling snatches
of the overture to "Mirella" under his breath), abruptly announcing,
"Here she is!"

Colonel Denis was so startled that he actually dropped the telescope,
which rolled to his informant's feet, who, picking it up, noticed as he
returned it that Colonel Denis was looking strangely nervous, and that
the hand stretched towards him was shaking visibly. He gazed at him
with considerable surprise, and was about to make some remark, when Mr.
Quentin exclaimed in a tone of genuine alarm,—

"By George! here is Mrs. Creery. I see the top of her topee coming up
the hill, and I'm going."

But he reckoned without that good lady, who had already cut off his
retreat. In another moment her round florid face appeared below the
topee, followed by her ample person, clad in a sulphur-colour sateen
costume, garnished with green ribbons; last, but not least, came her
fat yellow-and-white dog, "Nip," an animal that she called "a darling,"
"a treasure," "a duck," and "a fox-terrier," but no other person in the
settlement recognized him by any of these titles. Before she was within
twenty yards, she called out in a thin, authoritative treble,—

"Well, what are you all doing here? what is it, eh? Any news? You
need not be looking for the _Scotia_; she can't possibly be in till
to-morrow, you know—I told you so, Colonel Denis. Oh," in answer to a
silent gesture from Mr. Lisle, "so She _is_ coming in, is she?" in a
tone that gave her listeners to understand that she had no business to
be there, contradicting Mrs. Creery.

"And so you have been up playing tennis at the General's," to Mr.
Quentin. "I saw your peon going by with your bat and shoes; but what
has brought _you_ over to Ross, Mr. Lisle—I thought you rarely left
the mainland?" fastening on him now for that especial reason.

"I don't often come over," he replied, parrying the question.

"You've been shopping in the bazaar," she continued; "you have been
buying collars."

"Mrs. Creery is unanswerable—she is gifted with 'second sight.'" (All
the same it was not collars, but cartridges, that he had purchased.)

"Not she!" returned the lady with a laugh, "but she has eyes in her
head, and that's a collar-box in your hand! I can tell most things by
the shape of the parcel. Still as charmed as ever with Aberdeen?"

Mr. Lisle bowed.

"I heard that you were going away?"

"So I am—" he paused, and then added, "some day."

"What do you do with all your photographs—sell them? Oh, but to be
sure you can't do that here. You must find the chemicals terribly
costly."

"They are rather expensive."

"I'll tell you what, I will give you a little commission! How would
you like to come over some morning and take me and Nip, and then the
bungalow, and then a group of our servants?"

If Mr. Lisle's face was any index of his mind, it said plainly that he
would not relish the prospect at all.

"I want to send home some photos to my sister, Lady Grubb. Of course I
shall pay you—that's understood."

During this conversation, Colonel Denis looked miserably uncomfortable,
and Mr. Quentin as if it was with painful difficulty that he restrained
his laughter; the travelling photographer alone was unmoved; he
surveyed his patroness gravely, as if he were taking a mental plate of
her topee with its purple puggaree, her little eager light eyes, her
important nose and ruddy cheeks, and then replied in a most deferential
manner,—

"Thank you very much for your kind offer, but I am not a professional
photographer."

Was Mrs. Creery crushed? Not at all, she merely raised her light
eyebrows and said,—

"Oh, not a professional photographer! Then what _are_ you?"

"Mrs. Creery's very humble slave," bowing profoundly.

"Photographs are rather a sore subject with him just now," broke in Mr.
Quentin in his loud, hearty voice. "You have not heard what happened to
him yesterday when he was out shooting?"

"No; how should I?" she retorted peevishly.

"Well, I must say he bore it like a stoic. I myself, mild as I am, and
sweet as you know my temper to be, would have killed the fellow."

"What fellow?"

"My new chokra. Time hung heavily on his hands, and I suppose he
thought he would be doing something really useful for once in his
life, so he went into the room where Lisle keeps all his precious
plates—photographic plates, not even printed off—plates he has
collected and treasured like so many diamonds—"

"Well, well, well?" tapping her foot.

"My dear lady, I'm coming to it if you won't hurry me. My confounded
chokra took them all for so much DIRTY GLASS, and washed every man Jack
of them, and was exceedingly proud of his industry!"

"And what did you do to him?" demanded Mrs. Creery, turning round and
staring at the victim of ignorance.

"Nothing—what could I do? he knew no better; but I told my fellow not
to let him come near me for a few days."

"Colonel Denis," said the lady, now addressing him, "is it true that
you have not seen your daughter for thirteen years?"

"Yes, quite true, I am sorry to say."

"Why did you not go home on furlough?"

"I never could manage it. When I could get home I had no money, and
when money was plentiful, there was no leave."

"Ah, and you told me she was a pretty girl, I believe; I hope you are
not building on _that_, for pretty children are a delusion; I never yet
saw one of them that did not grow up plain."

"Excepting _me_, Mrs. Creery," expostulated Mr. Quentin; "if history is
to be believed, I was a most beautiful infant—so beautiful that people
came to see me for miles and miles around, and (insinuatingly) I'm sure
you would not call me plain now?"

Mrs. Creery (who had a secret partiality for this gentleman) laughed
incredulously, and then replied, "Well, perhaps you are the exception
that proves the rule. Of course," once more addressing Colonel Denis,
"your daughter will bring out all the new fashions, and have no end of
pretty things—that is if you have given her a liberal outfit."

She here paused for a reply, but no answer being forthcoming went
on, "If you feel at all nervous about meeting her, I'll go on board
with you with pleasure; I should _like_ it, and you are well enough
acquainted with me to know that you have only to say the word!"

At this suggestion, the eyes of the two bystanders met, and exchanged a
significant glance, and whilst Colonel Denis was stammering forth his
thanks and excuses, they hastily took leave of Mrs. Creery and made
their escape.

"The steamer is coming in very fast, and I think I'll go home and see
that everything is ready," said the Colonel after a pause.

"Well, perhaps it would be as well," acceded the lady; "but are you
really certain you would not like me to meet her, or, at any rate, to
be at your bungalow to receive her?"

Once more her companion politely but firmly declined her good offices,
assuring her earnestly that they were quite unnecessary, and the lady,
visibly disappointed, said as she shouldered her parasol and turned
away, "Perhaps you will have your journey for nothing! I should not be
the least surprised if she did not come by this steamer after all! and
mark my words, that ayah—that Fatima—that you would engage in spite
of my advice, will give you trouble _yet_!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Denis, nothing daunted, hurried down to his own bungalow, a
large one facing the mainland, entirely surrounded by a deep verandah,
and approached by a pathway hedged with yellow heliotrope. A good many
preparations had been made for the expected young mistress; there were
flowers everywhere in profusion, curious tropical ones, berries, and
orchids, and ferns.

The lamps were lit in the sitting-rooms, and everything was extremely
neat, and yet there was a want; there was a bare gaunt look about the
drawing-room, although it had been lately furnished and Ram Sawmy, the
butler of twenty years' standing, had disposed the chairs and tables
in the most approved fashion—in his eyes—and put up coloured purdahs
and white curtains, all for "Missy Baba." Nevertheless, the general
effect was grim and comfortless. There were no nick-nacks, books, or
chair-backs: there certainly were a few coarse white antimacassars,
but these were gracefully arranged, according to Sawmy's taste, as
coverings for the smaller tables! Colonel Denis looked about him
discontentedly, moved a chair here, a vase there, then happening to
catch a glimpse of himself in a mirror, he went up to it and anxiously
confronted his own reflection. How wrinkled and grey he looked! he
might be fifteen years older than his real age. After a few seconds
he took up and opened a small album, and critically scanned a faded
photograph of a gentleman in a long frock-coat, with corresponding
whiskers, leaning over a balustrade, his hat and gloves carelessly
disposed at his elbow—a portrait of himself taken many years
previously.

"There is no use in my thinking that it's the least like me _now_; she
could not know me again—no more than I would know her—" then closing
the book with a snap, and suddenly raising his voice, he called out:
"Here, Sawmy, see that dinner is ready in half an hour and have the
ayah waiting. I'm going for missy."

Doubtless dinner and the ayah had a long time to wait, for it was
fully an hour before the _Scotia_ dropped anchor off Ross; she was
immediately surrounded by a swarm of boats, including that of Colonel
Denis, who boarded her, and descended among the crowd to the cabin,
with his heart beating unusually fast.

The cabin lamps were lit, and somewhat dazzled the eyes of those who
entered from the moonlight. There were but few passengers, and the
most noticeable of these was Helen Denis, who sat alone at the end of
a narrow table, with a bag on her lap, the inevitable waterproof over
her arm, and her gaze fixed anxiously on the door leading from the
companion ladder. Colonel Denis would not be disappointed; his daughter
_had_ fulfilled the promise of her youth, and was a very pretty girl.
She was slight and fair, with regular features and quantities of light
brown hair—hair that twenty years ago was called fair, before golden
and canary-coloured locks came to put it out of fashion. Her eyes
were grey—or blue—colour rather uncertain; but one thing was beyond
all dispute, they were beautiful eyes! As for her complexion, it was
extremely pale at present, and her very lips were white; but this was
due to her agitation, to her awe and wonder and fear, to her anxiety
to know _which_ of the many strange faces that came crowding into the
cabin was the one that would welcome her, and be familiar to her, and
dear to her as long as she lived? She sat quite still, with throbbing
heart, surveying each new-comer with anxious expectation. As Colonel
Denis entered she half rose, and looked at him appealingly.

"You are Helen?" he said in answer to her glance.

"Oh, father," she exclaimed tremulously, now putting down the bag and
stretching out her hands, "how glad I am that you are _you_!—it sounds
nonsense, I know, but I was half afraid that I had forgotten your face.
You know," apologetically, "I was such a very little thing, and that
man over there, with the hooked nose, stared at me so hard, that I
thought for a moment—I was half afraid—" and she paused and laughed a
little hysterically, and looked at her father with eyes full of tears,
and he rather shyly stooped down and touched her lips with his grizzly
moustache—and the ice was broken.

Helen seemed to immediately recover her spirits, her colour, and
her tongue—but no, she had never lost the use of that! She was a
different-looking girl to what she had been ten minutes previously—her
lips broke into smiles, her eyes danced; she was scarcely the same
individual as the white-faced, frightened young lady whom we had first
seen sitting aloof at the end of the saloon table.

"I remember you now quite well," said Miss Denis. "I knew your voice;
and oh, I am so glad to come home again!"

This was delightful. Colonel Denis, a man of but few words at any
time, was silent from sheer necessity now. He felt that he could not
command his utterance as was befitting to his sex. If this meeting was
rapturous to Helen, what was it not to him? Here was his own little
girl grown into a big girl—this was all the difference.

In a short time Miss Denis and her luggage (Mrs. Creery would be
pleased to know that there was a good deal of the latter) were being
rowed to Ross by eight stout-armed boatmen, over a sea that reflected
the bright full moon. It was almost as light as day, as Helen and her
father walked along the pier and up the hill homewards. As they passed
a bungalow on their left-hand, the figure of a girl (who had long been
lying in wait in the shadow of the verandah) leant out as they went by
and watched them stealthily; then, pushing open a door and hurrying
into a lamp-lit room, she said to her mother, an enormously stout,
helpless-looking woman,—

"She has come! She has a figure like a may-pole. I could not see her
face plainly, but I don't believe she is anything to look at."

However, those who had already obtained a glimpse of Miss Denis in the
saloon of the _Scotia_ were of a very different opinion, and, according
to them, the newly-arrived "spin" was an uncommonly pretty girl, likely
to raise the average of ladies' looks in the settlement by about fifty
per cent.!

Almost at the moment that Colonel Denis and his daughter were landing
at Ross, another boat was putting her passengers ashore at Aberdeen,
_i.e._ Mr. Quentin's very smart gig. A steep hill lay between him and
his bungalow, but declining the elephant in waiting, he and Mr. Lisle,
and another friend, to whom he had given a seat over, commenced to
breast the rugged path together. This latter gentleman was a Dr. Parks,
the principal medical officer in the settlement; a little man with a
sharp face, grey whiskers and moustache, and keen eyes to match; he
was comfortable of figure, and fluent of speech, and prided himself on
having the army list of the Indian staff corps at his fingers' ends;
he could tell other men's services to a week, knew to a day when Brown
would drop in for his off-reckonings, and how much sick-leave Jones had
had. More than this, he had an enormous circle of acquaintances in the
three Presidencies, and if he did not know most old Indian residents
personally, at any rate he could tell you all about them—who they
married, when, and why; who were their friends, enemies, or relations;
what were their prospects of promotion, their peculiarities, their
favourite hill-stations; he was a sort of animated directory (with
copious notes), and prided himself on knowing India as well as another
man knew London. He was unmarried, well off, and lived in the East
from choice, not necessity; he was exceedingly popular in society, was
reputed to have saved two lacs of rupees, and to be looking out for a
wife!

After climbing the hill for some time in silence, Dr. Parks
paused—ostensibly to survey the scene, in reality to take breath.

"Hold hard, you fellows," he cried, as the other two were walking on.
"Hold hard, there's no hurry. Looks like a scene in a theatre, doesn't
it?" waving a hand towards the prospect below them.

"With the moon for lime light?" rejoined Mr. Quentin as he paused and
glanced back upon the steamer, surrounding boats, and the sea, all
bathed in bright, tropical moon-shine; at the many lights twinkling up
and down the island, like fire-flies in a wood.

Dr. Parks remained stationary for some seconds, contemplating Ross,
with his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat. At length he said,—

"I daresay old Denis hardly knows himself to-night, with a girl sitting
opposite him. I hope she will turn out well."

"You mean that you hope she will turn out good-looking," amended Mr.
Quentin, turning and surveying his companion expressively. "Ah, Parks,
you were always a great ladies' man!"

"Nonsense, sir, nonsense. I'm not thinking of her looks at all; but the
fact of the matter is, that Denis has had an uncommonly rough time of
it, and I trust he is in shallow water at last, and that this girl will
turn out to be what they call 'a comfort to him.'"

"I hope she will be a comfort to us all. I'm sure we want some
consolation in this vile hole; but why is Old Denis a special charity?"
inquired Mr. Quentin.

"_Old_ Denis—well, he is not so old, if it comes to that; in fact, he
is five years my junior, and I suppose _I'm_ not an old man, am I?"
demanded Dr. Parks, with a spark of choler in his eye.

"Oh, you! you know that you are younger than any of us," rejoined Mr.
Quentin quickly; "time never touches you; but about Denis?"

"Oh! he has had a lot of bother and worry, and you know that that plays
the deuce with a fellow. The fact of the matter is, that Tom Denis
came to awful grief in money matters," said Dr. Parks, now walking on
abreast of Mr. Quentin, and discoursing in a fluent, confidential tone.

"His father's affairs went smash, and Tom became security to save the
family name, mortgaged all his own little property that came to him
through his mother, exchanged from a crack regiment at home, and came
out here into the staff corps. It was a foolish, quixotic business
altogether; no one was a bit obliged to him: his sisters thought he
might have done more, his father was a callous old beggar, and took
everything he got quite as a matter of course, and Tom was the support
of his relations, and their scapegoat."

"The very last animal I'd like to be," remarked Mr. Quentin; "but don't
let me interrupt you; go on."

"Well, as if Tom had not enough on his hands, he saddled himself with
a wife—a wife he did not want either, a beautiful Greek! It seems
that she burst into tears when he told her he was going to India, and
I'm not sure that she did not faint on his breast into the bargain.
However, the long and the short of it was, that Tom had a soft heart,
and he offered to take her out with him as Mrs. D——.

"Mrs. Denis had a lovely face, an empty head, no heart, and no money;
in fact, no interest, or connections, or anything! and she was the
very worst wife for a poor man like Tom. She came out to Bombay, and
carried all before her; one would have thought she had thousands at her
back—her carriages, dresses and dinners! 'pon my word, they ran the
Governor's wife pretty hard. There was no holding her; at least, it
would have taken a stronger man than Tom Denis to do that. She flatly
refused to live on the plains, or to go within five hundred miles of
his native regiment; and his _rôle_ was to broil in some dusty, baking
station, and to supply my lady up in the hills, or spending the season
at Poonah or Bombay, with almost the whole of his pay.—I believe she
scarcely left him enough rupees to keep body and soul together!"

"The man must have been a fool!" said Mr. Lisle emphatically, now
speaking for the first time.

"Aye, a fool about a pretty face, like many another," growled the
doctor. "There was no denying her beauty! The pure Greek type; her
figure a model, every movement the poetry of motion. She was Cockney
born, though; her father a Greek refugee, conspirator, whatever you
like, and of course, a Prince at Athens, and the descendant of Princes,
according to his own tale—meanwhile a fourth-rate painter in London,
whose Princess kept lodgers! Well, Mrs. Denis was very clever with
her pen, and made capital imitations of her husband's signature! She
borrowed freely from the Soucars, she ran bills in all directions,
she had a vice in common with her kinsfolk of Crete, and she was the
prettiest woman in India! Luckily for Denis (I say it with all respect
to her ashes), she died after a short but brilliant social career,
leaving him this girl and some enormous debts. The fact of the matter
was, Tom was a ruined man. And all these years, between his father's
affairs and his wife's liabilities, his life has been a long battle,
and poor as he was, and no doubt _is_, he never could say no to a needy
friend; and I need scarcely tell you, that people soon discovered this
agreeable trait in his character!"

"It's a pity he has not a little more moral courage, and that he never
studied the art of saying 'no,'" remarked Mr. Lisle dryly; "it's merely
a matter of nerve and practice."

"It's not that, exactly," rejoined Dr. Parks, "but that he is too much
afraid of hurting people's feelings, too simple and unselfish. I hope
this girl who has come out will stand between him and this greedy
world!"

"_I_ should have thought it ought to be the other way."

"So it ought, but you see what Denis is yourself," turning and
appealing to Jim Quentin. "Go over to him to-morrow morning, and tell
him that you are at your wits' ends for five hundred rupees, and he
will hand it out to you like a lamb."

"I only wish lambs _were_ in the habit of handing out five hundred
rupee notes, I'd take to a pastoral life to-morrow!" returned Mr.
Quentin fervently, casting a woeful thought to the many long bills he
owed in Calcutta, London, and elsewhere.

"Let us hope Miss Denis will have some force of character," said
Dr. Parks; "that's the only chance for him! A strong will, like her
mother's, minus her capabilities for making the money fly, and a few
other weaknesses; and here," halting and holding out his hand, "our
roads part."

"No, no. Not a bit of it," replied Mr. Quentin, taking him forcibly by
the arm. "You just come home and dine with us, doctor, and tell a few
more family histories."

Dr. Parks was a little reluctant at first, declaring that he was due
elsewhere, that it was quite impossible, &c. &c.

"It's only the Irwins, I know, and they will think you have stopped at
Ross—it will be all right. Come along."

Thus Dr. Parks was led away from the path of duty, and down the road
approaching Mr. Quentin's bungalow;—he was rather curious to see the
_ménage_; that was the reason why he had been such an unresisting
victim to Mr. Jim's invitation,—Mr. Jim rarely entertained, and much
preferred sitting at other people's boards to dispensing hospitality at
his own.

Dinner was excellent—well cooked, well served. Dr. Parks, who was not
insensible to culinary arts, was both surprised and pleased; he had
known his host for many years, had come across him on the hills and
on the plains, on board ship, and in the jungle; they had a host of
acquaintances in common, and after a few glasses of first-rate claret,
and a brisk volley of mutual reminiscences and stories, Dr. Parks began
to tell himself that "he was really very fond of Apollo Quentin, after
all, and that he was one of the nicest young fellows that he knew!"
And what about the man who sat at the foot of the table? Hitherto he
had not been able to classify this Mr. Lisle, nor had he been so much
interested in the matter as other, and idler, people. He had seen him
often coming and going at Aberdeen, and had nodded him a friendly
"Good-morrow," and now and then exchanged a few words with him; his
clothes were shabby, his manner reserved; Dr. Parks understood that
he was a broken-down gentleman, to whom Quentin had given house-room,
and, believing this, he could not help feeling that he was performing
a gracious and kindly action in noticing him, and "doing the civil,"
as he would have called it himself, to this beggarly stranger! But
now, when he came to look at the fellow, his appearance was changed.
What wonders can be worked by a decent coat! Seen without his slouch
hat and rusty Karki jacket, he was quite another person; and query,
was that reserved manner of his _humility_? Dr. Parks noticed that
there was nothing subservient in his way of speaking to Quentin; quite
the reverse; that far from holding a subordinate position in the
establishment, servants were more prompt to attend on him than on any
one else, and sprang to his very glance; that he, more than Quentin,
looked after his (Dr. Parks') wants, and saw that his plate and glass
were always replenished to his liking, in which duties Apollo (who
was a good deal occupied with his own dinner and speculations on Miss
Denis's appearance,) was rather slack. When the meal was over, and the
silent, bare-footed servants had left the room, cigars and cigarettes
were brought out, and conversation became general, Mr. Lisle had plenty
to say for himself—when he chose—had travelled much, and had the
polished manners and diction of a man who had mixed with good society.
Dr. Parks scrutinized him narrowly, and summed up his age to be a year
or two over thirty—he looked a good deal younger without his hat;
his hair was black as the traditional raven's wing, slightly touched
with grey on the temples, his eyes were deep-set, piercing, and very
dark, there was a humorous twinkle in them at times, that qualified
their general expression—which was somewhat stern. On the whole, this
Lisle was a handsome man; in quite a different style to his _vis-à-vis_
Apollo (who lounged with his arm over the back of his chair, and seemed
buried in thought), he was undoubtedly a gentleman, and he looked
as if he had been in the service. All the same, this was but idle
speculation, and Dr. Parks had not got any "forrader" than any one else.

The pause incident to "lighting up" lasted for nearly five minutes,
then Mr. Quentin roused himself, filled out a bumper of claret, pushed
the decanter along the table, and said,—

"Gentlemen, fill your glasses. I am about to give you a toast. Miss
Denis—her very good health."

"What!" to Dr. Parks. "Are you not going to drink it? Come, come, fill
up, fill up."

"Oh, yes. I'll honour your toast, I'll drink it," he replied, suiting
the action to the word. "And now I'll follow it up by what you little
expect, and that's a speech."

"All right, make a start, you are in the chair; but be brief, for
goodness' sake. What is the text?"

"The text is, Do not flirt with Miss Denis."

"Oh, and pray why not, if she is pretty, and agreeable, and
appreciative?"

"You know what I told you this very evening. She is a mere school-girl,
an inexperienced child, she is Denis's one ewe lamb, she is to be his
companion, the prop of his old age; if you have any sense of chivalry,
spare her."

"Spare her!" ejaculated Mr. Quentin with a theatrical gesture of his
hand. "One would think I was a butcher, or the public executioner!"

"I know," proceeded Dr. Parks, "your proclivities for tender
whisperings, bouquet-giving, and note-writing, in short the whole gamut
of your attentions, and that they never _mean_ anything, but too many
forlorn maidens have learnt to their cost, you most agreeable, but
evasive young man," nodding towards his host with an air of pathetic
expostulation.

"I say, come now, you know this is ridiculous," exclaimed Mr. Quentin,
pushing his chair back as he spoke. But Dr. Parks was in the vein for
expounding on his friend's foibles, and not to be silenced.

"You know as well as I do your imbecile weakness for a pretty face, and
that you cannot resist making love to every good-looking girl you see,
until a still better-looking drives her out of your fickle heart."

"Go on, go on," cried his victim; "you were a loss to the Church."

"Of course," continued the elder gentleman, clearing his throat, "I can
readily imagine that for you—a society man before anything—these
regions are a vast desert, you are thrown away here, and are
figuratively a castaway, out of humanity's reach. And now fate seems
induced to smile upon you once more, in sending you a possibly pretty
creature to be the sharer of your many empty hours. If I thought you
would be serious, I would not say anything; or if this girl was a
hardened veteran of a dozen seasons, and knew the difference between
jest and earnest, again I would hold my peace; but as it is, I sum up
the whole subject in one word, and with regard to Helen Denis, I say,
_don't_."

"Hear hear," cried his friend, hammering loudly on the table. "Doctor,
your eloquence is positively touching; but you always _were_ the
ladies' champion. All the same you are exaggerating the situation; I am
a most innocent, inoffensive——"

"Come now, James Quentin; how about that girl at Poonah that you
made the talk of the station? How about the girls you proposed to
up at Matheran and Murree; what about the irate father who followed
you to Lahore, and from whom you concealed yourself behind the
refreshment-room counter? Eh!"

"Now, now, doctor, I'll cry peccavi. Spare me before Lisle."

Who lay back in his chair smoking a cigar—and looking both bored and
indifferent.

"_You_ don't go in for ladies' society on Ross?" said Dr. Parks,
addressing him abruptly.

"I—no—" struggling to an erect posture, and knocking the ash off his
cigar. "I only know one lady over there, and she is a host in herself."

"You mean Mrs. Creery?"

"Yes, I allude to Mrs. Creery."

And at the very mention of the name, they all three laughed aloud.

"And how about Miss Denis, Quentin? you've not given your promise,"
said Dr. Parks once more returning to the charge.

"I'll promise you one thing, doctor," drawled the host, who was
beginning to get tired of his persistence. "I'll not marry her, now
that you have let me behind the scenes about her bewitching mother, and
I'll promise you, that I'll go over and call to-morrow, and see if I
can discover any traces of a Grecian ancestry in Miss Denis's face and
figure."

"You are incorrigible. I might as well talk to the wall; there's only
one hope for the girl, and that's a poor one."

"Poor as it is, let us have it."

"A chance that she may not be taken like twenty-three out of every two
dozen, with fickle Jim Quentin's handsome face!"

"Where has Lisle gone to?" he added, looking round.

"Into the verandah, or to bed, or out to _sea_! The latter is just as
likely as anything; he did not approve of the conversation, he thinks
that ladies should never be discussed," and he shrugged his shoulders
expressively.

"Quite one of the old school, eh?" said the elder gentleman, raising
his eyebrows and pursing out his under-lip.

"Quite," laconically.

"By-the-bye, Quentin, I daresay you will think I'm as bad as Mrs.
Creery, but _who_ is this fellow Lisle, and what in the name of all
that's slow is he doing down here?—eh, who is he?" leaning over
confidentially.

"Oh, he fishes, and shoots, and likes the Andamans awfully.—As to who
he is—he is simply, as you see, a gentleman at large, and his name is
Gilbert Lisle."

Thus Dr. Parks, in spite of his superior opportunities, was foiled; and
returned to his own abode no wiser than any of his neighbours.



CHAPTER III.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

  "And I am something curious, being strange."

  _Cymbeline._


THE morning after her arrival Helen Denis found herself alone, as her
father was occupied with drills and orderly-room till twelve o'clock,
when they breakfasted.

She went out into the verandah, and looked about her, in order to
become better acquainted with the situation of her new home. The
bungalow stood a little way back from the gravel road, that encircled
the whole island, and was shaded by a luxuriant crimson creeper; a
hedge of yellow flowers bordered the path leading up to the door, and
between the house and the sea was a clump of thick cocoa-nut palms,
that stood out in bold relief against the deep cobalt background of
the sky. Jays, parrots, and unfamiliar tropical birds were flitting
about, and from the sea a faint breeze was wafted, bearing strange
fragrant odours from the distant mainland; a light haze lay over the
water, betokening a warm meridian. A few white clouds slumbered in the
hot heavens overhead; and save for the hum of insects and birds, and a
distant sound of oars swinging to and fro in the rowlocks, the place
was as silent as a Sunday morning in the country, when every one has
gone to church.—At first Helen stood, and then she sat down on the
steps to contemplate this scene, which formed the prelude to a new
epoch in her life—she gazed and gazed, and seemed afraid to move her
eyes, lest the vision should escape her. She sat thus without moving
for fully half an hour.

"Well, what do you think of it all, young woman?" from a voice behind
her, caused her to spring up, and she found her father standing there
in his white uniform, with his sword under his arm.

"Oh, papa! I never, never saw anything like it; I never dreamt or
fancied there could be such a beautiful spot—it's like fairyland! like
an enchanted country, like"—her similes running short—"like Robinson
Crusoe's island."

"Rather different to Brompton, eh? I suppose you had not much of a view
there?"

"View!" she exclaimed; "if there had been one, we could not see it!
for in the first place we were shut in by high, dirty brick walls, and
in the second, all the lower windows were muffled glass; there was one
window at the end of the school-room that overlooked the road, and
though it was pretty high up, it was all painted, but some one had
scratched a little space in it, right in the middle, and often and
often, when I've been saying my lessons, or reading translations in
class, every idea has been sent right out of my head, when I've looked
up at that pane and seen an _eye_ watching us—it always seemed to be
watching _me_! but of course that was imagination; it used to make me
feel quite hysterical at times, and many a bad mark it cost me!"

"Well, you are not likely to get any bad marks here," said her father,
laying his hand on her shoulder as he spoke; "and you think you will
like Port Blair?"

"Like—why it seems to me to be a kind of paradise! I wonder half the
world does not come and live here," she replied emphatically.

To this remark ensued a rather long silence, a silence that was at
length broken by a noise as strange to Helen's ears, as the lovely
scene before her was to her still admiring eyes; this noise was a loud,
fierce, hoarse shout, something like an angry cheer. She glanced at her
father with a somewhat heightened colour, and in answer to her startled
face he said,—

"Those are the convicts! they leave off work at twelve o'clock, they
are busy on the barracks just now. Stay where you are, and you will see
them pass presently."

The approach of the convicts was heralded by a faint jingling of chains
that gradually became louder and louder; and in a few moments the
gang came in sight, escorted by four burly, armed warders. Helen drew
back, pale and awe-struck, as she watched this long, silent procession
file past, two and two, all clad in the same blue cotton garment, all
heavily manacled, otherwise there was but little resemblance among
them. There passed the squat Chinaman, chained to the tall, fiery
Pathan (who flung as he went by a glance of bitter hatred and defiance
at the two European spectators); they were in turn followed by a brace
of tattooed Burmans, who seemed rather cheerful than otherwise; then a
few mild Hindoos, then more Arabs, more Burmans, more fierce Rohillas,
more mild Hindoos!

Helen stood almost breathless, as they glided by, nor did she speak
till the very last sound of clanking chains had died away in the
distance.

"Poor creatures! I had forgotten _them_!" she said; "this place is no
paradise to 'a prisoner.'"

"Poor creatures!" echoed her father, "the very scum and sweepings
of her Majesty's Indian Empire—poor murderers, poor robbers, poor
dacoits!"

"And why are they in chains? such heavy cruel-looking chains?"

"Because they are either recent arrivals or desperate characters, the
former probably; the worst of the 'poor creatures' are not kept in
Ross, but colonized in other gaols on the mainland, or at Viper."

"And are there many here on Ross?"

"About four thousand, including women, but some of these have
tickets-of-leave, and only go back to 'section'—_section_ is a
delicate way of putting it—at night; many of them are our servants."

"_Our_ servants, papa!"

"No, I am speaking of the settlement, but our boatmen, our
water-carrier, and—I may as well break it to you at once—our cook,
are, each and all, people who have a past that does not bear close
inquiry! And now, my dear, shall we go in to breakfast?"

It was a delightful change from his usual solitary meal to have that
bright, pretty face sitting opposite to him; he watched her intently
for some minutes—she was pouring out tea with all the delight of a
child.

"I've never done it before, papa!" she exclaimed as she despatched his
tea-cup; "be sure you don't let Sawmy know, or he will despise me.—Of
course, being at school I never got a chance. Miss Twigg herself
presided over the hot water, and then in the holidays I had much better
tea, but I never made it."

"Ah, your holidays, Helen; that is what puzzled me so much about your
Aunt Julia. I understood that you were always to spend your vacation
with the Platts."

"I did once, when I was small, and I do not think they liked me; so
after a lapse of five years they tried me again—I suppose to see if I
was improved; but these holidays were even _worse_ than the others. I
have a quick temper, and I got into fearful trouble."

"How?"

"Oh, it's a very old story, and I hope and trust that I have more
command of my feelings now. I remember I was in the room at afternoon
tea, rather by accident, for I usually took that refreshment
in"—lowering her voice to a stage whisper—"the kitchen! My cousins
are a good deal older than I am—they were grown up then, I perfectly
recollect, though they declare they were _not_——"

"Well, but it is not a question of your cousins' age, but of some
domestic fracas that you were about to tell me."

"Yes, I'm always wandering from the point. I recollect it was a Sunday
afternoon, some gentlemen were calling, and they noticed me, and talked
to me, and I was flattered, and doubtless pert; they asked Cousin Clara
who I was, and where I and my classic profile came from, and Aunt Julia
told them that I was her poor brother's child, and added something
about—about—no matter."

Helen had never heard a word with regard to her other parent, save that
she was a beautiful Greek, who had died young. Her picture she had
seen, and this in itself was sufficient for her to idealize her and
adore her memory—for Azalie Denis had the face of an angel! "She—no,
I won't tell you what she said! but I have never forgotten it; in a
passion of rage, and scarcely knowing what I was doing, I snatched up
a cup of scalding tea, and flung it in Aunt Julia's face. Yes! cup
and all! You may imagine the commotion; you can believe that I was
in disgrace. I was led solemnly from the room, and locked away in a
lumber-closet upstairs, where I remained for the rest of my vacation.
Each day I was asked to apologize, and each day I said 'I _won't_,' so
there I stayed till I went back to school. Ere leaving I was taken down
to my aunt's apartment and told that I was a wicked, bad, abominable
child, and that I would come to an untimely end; and then Cousin Clara
took up a pair of big scissors, and seizing my beautiful thick plait of
hair, sawed and hacked it off close to the nape of my neck!"

"What! cut off your hair!" exclaimed Colonel Denis, roused to sudden
animation.

"Yes; though I screamed and struggled, it was of no use. I well
remember the appearance of my poor pigtail in Clara's hand! Well, after
_this_ you will not be surprised to hear that I was never asked to
Upper Cream Street again,—and I was not sorry. I never could get on
with Aunt Julia; I'm so glad that _you_ are not a bit like her, papa!
She used to make me shake in my shoes."

"And how do you know that I won't do the same?" he asked with a smile.

"I'm sure you won't. Have another cup of tea, do, please."

"It's strange that we have so few relations," he said, obediently
passing his cup as he spoke. "Besides your Aunt Julia there's only my
sister Christina; she has been an invalid for years, and never writes."

"Is not she married to a queer Irishman who lives at a place with a
ridiculous name—Crow-more? And Aunt Julia won't have anything to do
with her?"

"Yes, your Aunt Julia did not approve of the match. This Sheridan was a
kind of professor that Christina met abroad, a most dreamy, unpractical
genius, with a magnificent head, and a brogue that you could cut with a
hatchet. After living for some years in a small German town, they went
over to Ireland, and there they reside on a property that was left to
him. I write now and then" (and he might have added, enclose a cheque),
"but Christina never sends me a line—I'm afraid they are very badly
off," shaking his head as he stirred his tea.

"Now tell me something about this delightful place, papa! I've been
reading a good deal about it, I mean the Andamans. They were first
taken possession of in 1789 by the British Government, or rather, the
East India Company, were abandoned in 1796, and resumed in 1858, the
year after the Mutiny; don't I know it all nicely?"

"You know a great deal more about it than _I_ do."

"This is Ross, is it not?"

"Yes, the other settlements are scattered about. People come over here
to church, to shop, to play tennis, and to hear the news."

"And are there many other people—I don't mean convicts and soldiers?"

"There are about fifty men, and fifteen or sixteen ladies. No doubt you
will have a good many visitors to-day."

"Oh, papa! you don't mean it—not to call on _me_?"

"Yes, of course; who else would they come to see?"

"It makes me feel quite nervous, the palms of my hands are cold
already; only six weeks ago I was doing French composition and German
translation, and not daring to speak above my breath without leave. And
now all at once I am grown up! I am to receive visitors, I may wear
what I like, and," with an interrogative smile across the table, "do as
I _please_?"

"As long as you don't throw cups of tea at people, my dear."

"Now, papa, I'm very sorry I mentioned that if you are going to use it
against me. But do tell me something about the fifteen ladies,—and who
are likely to come and call."

"Well, there is Mrs. Creery; she is the wife of the head of the
Foolscap Department, and lives close to this. She—well," hesitating,
"she is a very energetic woman, but her"—hesitating again—"manner
is a little against her! rather arbitrary, you know; but we all have
our faults. Then there is Mrs. Caggett; her husband has some trade
with Burmah, and his wife lives here in preference to Moulmein. Miss
Caggett is our only young lady, and"—rather dubiously—"you will see
what you think of _her_. Mrs. Home is the wife of the colonel of this
regiment—I'm only second fiddle, you know; you are certain to have a
kind friend in her. Then there is Mrs. Durand, wife of Captain Durand
of the European detachment here; she is away just now, and a great loss
to the place. There are several ladies at out-stations, whom you are
sure to like."

"I wish I was sure that they would like _me_," rejoined his daughter
in rather a melancholy voice. "You must bear in mind that I am not
accustomed to the society of grown-up people, and I know that I have
_no_ conversation!"

"_No_ conversation! and pray what have we been having for the last
three-quarters of an hour?"

"Oh, that is quite different. I can talk away to you by the week, but
with strangers what can I discuss?—not even the weather, for I don't
know what happens here; it's always fine, I suppose?"

"You will find plenty to say, I'll engage," returned her father, with
emphasis; "and I have no doubt"—whatever he was going to add was cut
short by the imperious rapping of an umbrella on the wooden steps of
the verandah, and a shrill female voice calling "Boy!"



CHAPTER IV.

MISS DENIS HAS VISITORS.

  "What's his name and birth? I cannot delve him to the root."

  _Shakespeare._


"THERE is Mrs. Creery!" exclaimed Colonel Denis, starting up rather
nervously. "She has come to call _first_. Don't keep her waiting." To
Helen, who was hastily smoothing her hair and pulling out her ruffles,
"You will do first-rate; go into the drawing-room, my dear."

"Yes, but not alone, papa!" taking him by the arm. "You will have to
introduce us—you must come with me."

You see she had begun to say _must_ already!—Colonel Denis was by no
means reluctant to present his pearl of daughters to the visitor who
had prognosticated that she would be plain, and he was sufficiently
human to enjoy that lady's stare of stolid astonishment, as she took
Helen's hand, and kept it in hers for quite a minute, whilst she
leisurely studied her face.

"How do you do, Miss Denis? had you a good passage?"

"Very good, thank you," replied the young lady demurely.

"I see," sitting down as she spoke, and specially addressing Colonel
Denis, "that you have had new curtains and purdahs put up, and have
actually bought that white marble table that Kursandoss had so long on
hand! How much did you give for it?"

"One hundred rupees," replied the purchaser in a guilty voice.

"Heavens and earth!" casting up hands and eyes, "did any one ever
hear of such folly! It is not worth _thirty_. Miss Denis, it's a good
thing that you have come out to look after your father—he is a most
extravagant man!"

Helen thought that this was a pleasantry, and laughed immoderately.
Mrs. Creery was really most amusing,—but how oddly she was dressed!
She was quite old, in Helen's eyes (in truth she was not far from
fifty), and yet she was attired in a white muslin polonaise trimmed
with rose-coloured bows, and wore a black sailor's hat, with the
letters _Bacchante_ stamped in gold upon the ribbon! Meanwhile the
elder lady had been taking a great deal of interest in Miss Denis's
pretty morning-dress; she had come to the conclusion that the pattern
was too complicated to be what is called "carried away in her eye," and
was resolved to ask for it boldly,—and that before she was many days
older!

"You may go up to the mess," she said, playfully dismissing her host
with a wave of her plump, mittened hand. "I want to have a chat with
your daughter alone. I came to see her—_you_ are no novelty!"

"Now, my dear, we shall be quite comfortable," she said, as Colonel
Denis meekly took his departure. "Did you find him much changed?" she
continued, lowering her voice mysteriously.

"A little, but not"—smiling—"_nearly_ as much changed as I seem to
him!"

"How much is he going to allow you for the housekeeping?"

Helen assured her questioner that the subject had not even been
considered.

Mrs. Creery, on hearing this, was visibly disappointed, and said rather
tartly,—

"Well, don't listen to anything under five rupees a day—you could not
do it less. The Durands spend that! The Homes _say_ they manage on
four, but that's nonsense, and the children could not be half fed.
Maybe your father will still leave it to Ram Sawmy, but"—with sudden
energy—"you must not hear of that,—the man is a robber!"

"He has been twenty years with papa," ventured Helen.

"So much the worse for your father's _pocket_," returned Mrs. Creery
emphatically. "I suppose you have brought out a number of new gowns?
What have you got?"

"I have a white silk, and a black silk," replied Helen, with some
exultation in her own mind, for they were her first silk dresses.

"Both perfectly useless here!" snapped the matron.

"A riding-habit."

"Stark, staring madness! There's not a horse between this and
Calcutta—unless a clothes-horse! What else?"

"A cashmere and plush costume."

"You may just send it back to England, or throw it away."

Helen paused aghast.

"Well, well—go on, go on—that's not _all_, surely?"

"I have some pretty cottons and muslins, and a tennis-dress."

"Come, that's better; and when are your boxes to be opened?"

"This afternoon, if possible."

"Oh, well, I'll come down and see your things to-morrow; I may get
some new ideas, and we are a little behind-hand with the fashions
here," waving once more her mittened hand. "And now to turn to another
subject! It's a great responsibility for a young girl like you to be
placed at the head of even a _small_ establishment like this! I am
older than you are" (it was quite superfluous to mention this fact), "I
know the world, and I wish to give you a word of caution."

Helen became crimson.

"I hope you are a steady, sensible girl."

"I hope so, Mrs. Creery," raising her chin in a manner well known to
Miss Twigg,—a manner betokening insurrection.

"There now, don't be huffy! I mean to be your friend. I would have
come down and stayed here for the first week or two, to set you going,
if your father had asked me, as you have no lady in the house; however,
I've spoken to him most seriously. All the men in the place will of
course be flocking to call, and turning your head with their silly
compliments. As a rule they are not a bad set of young fellows; but Mr.
Quentin and Captain Rodney are the only two who _I_ should say were in
a position to marry,—the others are just paupers—butterflies! Oh, and
yes"—here her voice became hollow and mysterious—"I must put you on
your guard against a Mr. Lisle."

"A Mr. Lisle!" echoed Helen, opening her eyes very wide.

"Yes, Lisle—don't forget the name. He seldom comes over; he lives at
Aberdeen with Mr. Quentin—lives _on_ him, I should say," correcting
herself sharply. "He came here a few months ago—goodness knows from
where. It is generally believed that he is in _hiding_—that he is
under a cloud; he is poor as a rat, has no visible means of livelihood,
and is as close as wax about his past. However, Mr. Quentin shields
him, keeps his secret, and there is nothing more to be said except
this—don't _you_ have anything to say to him; he may have the
impudence to call, but indeed, to give him his due, he does not push.
It is a most unpleasant feeling to have this black sheep living in
the neighbourhood at all; I wish he was well out of the settlement!"
shaking her head expressively.

Helen, amazed at Mrs. Creery's volubility, sat staring at her in
speechless surprise. Why should she take such pains to warn her against
a man who she admitted did not push, and whom she was not likely to
see? Another knocking in the verandah, and a rather timid voice calling
"Boy!" announced the arrival of a second visitor, and Mrs. Creery rose,
saying,—

"You will be coming up to the General's tennis this evening, and
we shall meet again, so I won't say good-bye;" then, casting one
last searching glance around the apartment, she, as if seized by
some afterthought, hurried across, coolly pulled back the purdah
(door-curtain), and looked into the dining-room. "Nothing new _there_,
I see," dropping the drapery after a long, exhaustive stare; "nothing
but a filter! Well, _au revoir_," and nodding approvingly at Helen, she
finally took her departure.

The new arrival was a complete contrast to the parting guest; a pale,
faded, but still pretty little woman, with imploring dark eyes (like
a newly-caught fawn), attired in a neat white dress, a solar topee,
and respectable gloves. She was Mrs. Home, the wife of Colonel Denis's
commanding officer, and the mother, as she plaintively informed Helen,
of no less than nine children!

"They make me so dreadfully anxious, dear Miss Denis, especially the
seven at home. I live on tenter-hooks from mail-day to mail-day.
Imagine my feelings when they were _all_ in measles last spring!"

But this was a feat beyond Helen.

"You have two here?" she asked politely, after a pause.

"Yes, Tom and Billy. Your father is so fond of them, and they wanted
so much to come and see you. But I told them you would think them a
trouble—and the first call too!"

Helen eagerly assured her visitor that they would have been most
welcome, and rushing impulsively out of the room, returned with a box
of chocolate-creams she had purchased for her own delectation; which
she sent to the young gentlemen with her best love, requesting that
they would come and call as soon as possible. This gift, and message,
completely won their mother's heart. At first she had been a little
doubtful, a little in awe, of this pretty, fashionable-looking girl,
but now she became much warmer in manner, and said,—

"You know, my dear, I'm not a society lady, I have no time for gaiety,
even if I were fitted for it; between sewing for my boys and girls
at home, and my letters, and my housekeeping, not to mention Tom and
Billy, I never seem to have a spare moment. I came down here early on
purpose, hoping to be the _first_ to welcome you, but I was late after
all!" and she smiled deprecatingly. "Your father is such a very dear
friend of ours, that I feel as if I had a kind of claim on you, and
hope you won't stand on ceremony with us, but come to see us as often
as you can. Will you?"

"I shall be very glad indeed, thank you."

"You see, you and I being the only ladies in the 'Puggarees' too,—it
is a kind of bond, is it not? If I can help you in any way about
your housekeeping, be sure you let me know, won't you? I am an old
campaigner of fifteen years' standing, and everything, of course, is
quite new to you. You and your father, I hope, will come up and dine
with us quietly to-morrow night, and then you and I can have a very
nice long chat."

Helen thanked Mrs. Home for her invitation, and said that if her father
was not engaged, she was sure they would be most happy to accept it.

"And now, my dear," said the little lady, rising, "I must really go!
the Dhoby has been waiting for me at home this half-hour, I know, and
I have all the clean clothes to sort, so I will wish you good-bye.
May I kiss you?" holding Helen's hand, and looking at her with timid,
appealing eyes. Helen became rather red, but smiled assent, thereupon
the salute was exchanged, and Mrs. Home presently took her departure.

After this visit, there was a long interval. Colonel and Miss Denis
were equipped and ready to start for the General's tennis party, when
Sawmy brought in another card; a small one this time, bearing the name
of "Mr. James Quentin." The card was almost instantly followed by that
gentleman, looking as if he had just stepped out of a band-box. Having
cordially wrung his host's hand, and been presented to his daughter,
he seated himself near the young lady, placed his hat on the floor,
and commenced to discuss the climate, her passage, &c., surveying the
new arrival critically at the same time. "She was much prettier than
he expected," he said to himself as he summed her up; "her profile
was not classical, but it would pass; her eyes were fine in shape and
colour, though their expression was rather too merry for _his_ taste;
he imagined that she had plenty of spirits, and but a meagre supply of
sentiment. Her complexion was perfect, but of course _that_ would not
last three months!" On the whole, he was most agreeably surprised, and
her dainty dress, and ladylike deportment, were as refreshing to his
eyes, as a spring of water to a traveller in the desert! The shape
of her hat, the fit of her long gloves, her brilliant colour, and
pure English accent, all mentally carried him back to the Park once
more—his Mecca! Yes, the fall of Miss Denis's draperies, the very lace
in her ruffles, were each a source of gratification to her visitor, who
had a keen eye for such things, and was a connoisseur in toilettes.
He told himself emphatically that this young lady was "no end of a
find!" but, aloud, he politely inquired if Colonel and Miss Denis were
going up to the tennis. They were. Well, he was going too—a sudden
resolution—and might he be permitted to accompany them?

Mr. James Quentin felt an additional sense of importance, as he
strolled up the narrow path towards the General's grounds, personally
conducting Miss Denis (coolly leaving her father to bring up the rear
alone, as the pathway was too narrow to permit of three abreast), and
he honestly believed, that the young lady beside him could not be
launched into settlement society under happier, or more distinguished,
auspices.



CHAPTER V.

WHAT IS SHE LIKE?

  "So sweet a face, such angel grace,
  In all that land had never been."


HELEN found her reception a most trying ordeal. She was very cordially
welcomed by the General, who instantly came forward to meet her, and
escorted her towards Mrs. Creery; she ran the gauntlet of two groups
of men who were standing on the tennis-ground, ostensibly discussing
the recent mail, but naturally watching the new arrival, who was the
cynosure of every eye, as she passed by; and approached a row of seats
on which the ladies—a still more formidable phalanx—were seated in
state. Mrs. Creery (who occupied the social throne in the shape of a
stuffed arm-chair) now rose majestically, and, like Cedric the Saxon,
advanced two steps, saying in her most dulcet company voice, "Very
glad you have come, Miss Denis; I am _charmed_ to welcome you to Port
Blair!"

Helen blushed vividly. Was this august, this almost regal, individual,
the same who had questioned, exhorted, and warned her, a few hours
previously? She could scarcely believe it! But this was merely her
ignorance. That visit had been made in a private capacity, here Mrs.
Creery was in a public and responsible position—that of chief lady of
the station.

She now took Helen's hand in hers, and proceeded to present her to her
immediate circle.

"Mrs. Caggett, let me introduce Miss Denis."

Mrs. Caggett rose, made a kind of plunge, intended for a curtsey, and
subsided again, muttering incoherently.

"Miss Denis, Mrs. Graham. Mrs. Graham is our musician. She sings and
plays most beautifully!"

Mrs. Graham, who was a pretty brunette, with lovely teeth, shook hands
with Helen, and smiled significantly, as much as to say, "You must not
mind Mrs. Creery."

"Miss Denis, Mrs. King.—Mrs. King has a nice little girl, and lives at
Viper."

"Miss Denis, Mrs. Logan, our authoress." Poor Mrs. Logan blushed till
the tears came into her eyes, and said,—

"Oh, Mrs. Creery, _please_ don't."

"Nonsense, nonsense! Miss Denis, she has written the _sweetest_
poetry—one really exquisite ode, called, let me see, 'The Lifer's
Lament,' and numbers of charming sonnets! You must get her to read them
to you, some day."

Alas for Mrs. Logan! who in a moment of foolish expansiveness had
mentioned her small poems (under the seal of secrecy) to another lady,
and had, to her horror, "awoke and found herself famous!"

"Mrs. Manners, Miss Denis," and she paused, as if deliberating on what
she could possibly say for Mrs. Manners.

"Please don't mind about _me_, Mrs. Creery," exclaimed that lady. "You
know that I neither play, nor sing, nor write poetry."

Mrs. Manners was a sprightly person, regarded by Mrs. Creery with
suspicion and dislike, and she now glowered on her menacingly.

"I am very glad to see Miss Denis, and I hope she will overlook my
numerous deficiencies!" quoth Mrs. Manners unabashed.

All the ladies had now been, as it were, "told off," excepting Miss
Caggett, who approached and squeezed Helen's fingers, and looked up in
her face, and said,—

"So _thankful_, dear, that you have come! It's so wretched for me,
being the only girl in the settlement. You can't think how I have been
looking forward to _this_," another squeeze.

Miss Lizzie Caggett was small in person (and mind) and had a very
pretty little figure, black hair, bright, reddish-brown eyes, an ugly
nose, and an almost lipless mouth, garnished with beautiful teeth.
She had been born in India, had had three years at school in England,
and been "out" for a considerable number of seasons. She danced like
a sylph, talked Hindostani like a native (and it was whispered that
she gossipped with her ayah in that language), dressed extravagantly,
was as lively as a French-woman, and sufficiently nice-looking to be
considered a beauty—where she was the only unmarried lady among fifty
men.

She had a shrewd eye to the main chance, and never allowed her feelings
to betray her, save, alas! in the case of James Quentin!

He, from sheer lack of something to do, had been wont to spend his
idle hours in Miss Caggett's society. She was amusing and lively, and
said such deliciously spiteful things of other women, and told capital
stories, accompanied by vehement gesticulation with her tiny hands. She
had also a nice little voice,—and it came to pass that they sang duets
together, and walked on the pier by moonlight alone!

Mr. Quentin meant nothing, of course, and at first Lizzie quite
understood this, but by degrees her strong foothold of common sense
slipped away from under her feet, and she fell desperately in love with
the blue-eyed gay deceiver, and naturally tried to convince herself
that it was mutual! She steeled herself to see him pay a little
attention to the rising sun—Miss Helen Denis—they would _all_ do
that, but when the novelty had worn off, things would right themselves,
and fall back into their old places—meaning that Mr. Quentin would
fall back into his, _i.e._, at her side. Mrs. Creery had previously
broken the news to her that "Helen Denis was nice-looking, and
beautifully dressed," but she was by no means prepared for the face and
figure she beheld coming up the walk; and James Quentin in attendance
_already_,—actually before she was twenty-four hours on the island!
However, she made a brave struggle, and bit her lips, and clenched her
small hands, and broke into a smile. She had made up her mind to be
the bosom friend (outwardly), and, if possible, the confidante of this
tall, shy-looking Denis girl!

After all, who could expect her to be pleased, to see a young and
pretty rival monopolizing every one's attention, and thrusting her into
the background?

When all the introductions had been effected, a game of tennis was got
up, and a number of little Andamanese boys, in white tunics and scarlet
caps, came forward from some lurking-place, to field the balls, and the
settlement band, which was stationed at the end of the plateau, struck
up their latest waltz, and presently the entertainment was in full
swing. Every one played tennis, even Mrs. Creery, who was old or young
as it suited her at the moment—old enough to ask questions, to give
advice, and to lay down the law, and to be treated with unquestioning
deference and deep respect; sufficiently young to waltz, to wear sailor
hats, and to disport herself at tennis. Helen had been the championess
player at Miss Twigg's, and played well. Lizzie Caggett's sharp eyes
noted this, and after a little while she challenged her to a single set
there and then.

Vainly did Helen decline to pick up the gauntlet, vainly did she beg
to be excused; Mrs. Creery threw the weight of her authority into the
scale, and the match was to come off immediately.

"A capital idea, a match between the two girls," she remarked to the
General; "there will just be time for it before tea."

Before Helen could realize her position, a ball was thrust into her
hand, a crowd had gathered around, and she alone stood _vis-à-vis_ to
Lizzie Caggett on the tennis-ground. It was one thing to play in Miss
Twigg's back-garden, with no spectators but Miss Twigg's girls, but
quite another affair when one of the principals in a contest, before
forty complete strangers, and pitted against a determined-looking
antagonist, who knew every inch of the courts, and was firmly resolved
to try conclusions with this brilliant visitor!

And so the match began, the assembled bystanders watching each game
intently, and hanging expectant on the issue of each stroke. The
excitement grew intense, for the ladies were well-matched, the play
was brilliant, and the games hard fought. Helen served well, and had
a longer reach of arm than her challenger, but the other played with
an energy, a vivacity, and if one might say so, a spitefulness,—as if
the issue of the contest was a matter of life and death. She scored
the first game, Helen the second and third, and during a rally in the
latter, the new arrival was loudly clapped. This incited Miss Caggett
to extraordinary exertions. She played with redoubled fire, her teeth
were set, her eyes gleamed across the net, she served as though in
hopes that she would strike her opponent in the face; she flitted up
and down her court, springing and bounding, like a panther in a cage!
Her style was by no means graceful, but it was effectual. During
the last two games she wearied out Helen, with her quick, untiring
onslaught, playing the final, and conquering game, with an exuberance
of force that was almost fierce! When it was over, she threw down her
bat and clapped her hands, and cried,—

"Oh, I knew I could beat you." This was not, strictly speaking, polite,
but her triumph was so great, she really could not refrain from this
little song of victory. In her own heart, she had made a kind of test
of the match, and told herself that, if she conquered the new-comer in
_this_, she would be invincible in other things as well!

After this exciting struggle, tea and refreshments were served in a
rustic summer-house. Mrs. Creery's dog Nip—who had occupied his
mistress's chair as deputy, and eyed the cake and bread and butter with
demure rascality,—was now called upon to vacate his place, whilst his
owner dispensed tea and coffee, and servants carried round cakes and
ices. As Helen was partaking of one of the latter, her late antagonist
accosted her and said,—

"Come and take a turn with me, dear. All the men are having 'pegs,' and
I do so want to have a chat with you.

"Well, now," taking her arm affectionately, "tell me what you think of
the place?"

"I think it is beautiful," returned Helen with enthusiasm. "I've never
seen anything like it. Of course I've seen very little of the world,
and am not a good judge, but I scarcely think that any scenery could
surpass it," glancing over towards Mount Harriet as she spoke, and
dreamily watching the peacocks sailing homewards.

This speech was a disappointment to Miss Caggett, who was in hopes that
she would have called it an "unearthly, outlandish, savage hole, a
gaol!" And then she would have imparted this opinion to the settlement
at large,—and such an opinion would have scored a point against Miss
Helen.

"Oh," she replied, "you won't think it delightful always. It's
frightful in the monsoons, that is in the rains, you know. And how do
you like the people?"

"I scarcely know them yet."

"Well, at least you know Mr. Quentin," eyeing her sharply.

"Yes, I have known him an _hour_," she replied with a laugh.

"He is nice enough," speaking with assumed nonchalance, "but as you can
see, awfully conceited, isn't he?"

Helen did not fall into the trap; if she had, Miss Caggett would have
lost no time in giving Apollo the benefit of Miss Denis's impressions
with regard to him!

She only said, "Is he?" and, leaning her elbows on the wooden railing
that fenced in the edge of the cliff, looked down upon the sea.

"A great many men are here from Aberdeen and the out-stations,"
proceeded Miss Caggett with a backward jerk of her head, "but they did
not come over altogether to see _you_."

"I should hope not indeed," returned Helen, reddening.

"No, the mail is in, so they kill two birds with one stone," continued
the other, coolly. "They are not a bad set, though they may seem rough
and unpolished to you, don't they?"

"Really, I am no judge; I have scarcely ever spoken to a gentleman in
my life."

"Gracious!" ejaculated Miss Caggett. "You weren't in a convent?"

"No; but what amounted to the same thing, I spent all my holidays at
school."

"Oh, _how_ slow for you! Well, you will find this rather a change.
There is Dr. Malone, an Irishman, and very amusing; he has any amount
of impudence, and has thought of a lovely name for Mrs. Creery—Mrs.
Query—isn't it splendid? We all call her that, for she never stops
asking questions, and we all have to answer them whether we like it or
not—all but one; there is one person she never gets anything out of,
he is too close even for her, and clever—I grant him that,—much as I
detest him!"

"And who is this clever man that baffles Mrs. Creery?"

"A Mr. Lisle, a genteel loafer, a hanger-on of Mr. Quentin's; he
actually has not got the money to pay his passage back to Calcutta, and
so he is obliged to stay. His manners are odious, polite to rudeness,
if you know what that means? and he has eyes that seem to look down
into your inmost thoughts, and laugh at what they see there! I hate
him, though he is extremely anxious to be civil to me, and, in fact, I
don't mind telling you in confidence that he is a great _admirer_ of
mine,—but it's by no means mutual. Whatever you do, have nothing to
say to him. I need not tell you, that _I_ never speak to him!"

"We cannot permit you two young ladies to monopolize each other in this
fashion," said the General, approaching with a telescope in his hand.
"Would you like to look at some of the islands through this glass,
Miss Denis? I can introduce you to several this fine clear evening.
Havelock looks quite close!"

"It seems to be very large," she said, after a long struggle with the
focus.

"Well, yes, it is; we will take you there some day in the _Enterprise_
if you like. The _Enterprise_ is the station steamer."

"Thank you, I should like it very much indeed, if it is _safe_—I mean,
if the people are safe," she replied rather anxiously.

"Oh! you will see very little of the natives. They are a curious set;
it is almost impossible to get at them, or to tame them."

"Have you ever tried?"

"Yes; we once had a young fellow from Havelock, as it happened; we
showed him every kindness, gave him the best of food, loaded him with
beads and every old tall hat on the island, but it was all of _no_ use;
he just fretted like a bird in a cage, and regularly pined away of home
sickness.—He used to sit all day long, gazing, gazing over the sea in
the direction of his home, and one morning when they went to see him,
they found him sitting in his usual attitude, his face turned towards
Havelock—quite dead!"

"Poor, poor fellow!" said Helen, with tears in her eyes; "how _could_
you be so cruel, how could you have had the heart to keep him?"

"My dear young lady, it was not a matter of heart, but of duty."

Mr. Quentin's quick ear caught the significant word _heart_. Surely the
General was never going to enter the lists against him, although he was
unmarried and eligible beyond dispute? Leaning his elbows on the rail
at the other side of Miss Denis, he resolved to make a third—welcome
or otherwise—and said,—

"You are talking of the natives, sir? They are certainly most
mysterious aborigines, for they do not resemble the Hindoos on
one side, nor the Malays on the other. They are more like stunted
niggers—you never see a man above five feet, some not more than four."

"Niggers, yes," replied the General; "there is some idea that they
are descendants of the cargo of a slaver that was wrecked among these
islands; other people think that they hail from New Guinea."

"They have very odd customs, have they not?" asked Helen.

"Yes," replied the General; "their mode of sepulture, for instance, is
peculiar. When a man dies, they simply put his body up a tree."

("Whence the slang term 'up a tree,' I suppose," muttered Mr. Quentin,
_sotto voce_.)

"And when the fowls of the air have picked his bones, they remove the
remains, and present his skull to the widow, who wears it round her
neck, slung to a string."

"But will freely part with it at any time," added Dr. Malone, who had
now joined the group, "aye, even in the early days of her affliction,
in consideration of a bottle of rum."

"And pray what about the _men_?" inquired Helen, jealous for her sex.

"Oh, their tastes are comparatively simple," responded the doctor;
"they are all a prey to a devouring passion for—you will never guess
what—_tall hats_! I believe some firm in Calcutta drives a brisk trade
with this place and the Nicobars, bartering old tiles for cocoa-nuts.
When a chief dies, he can have no nobler monument in the eyes of his
survivors than a pile of tall hats impaled above his grave. They are
almost the only article they care about, and I suppose they have an
idea that it endows them with dignity and height; besides the hat, a
few rags, and a necklace of human finger-bones, and their costume is
complete."

"They have another weakness," put in the General—"dogs. We get rid of
all the barrack curs in that way."

"What! to _eat_?" almost screamed Miss Denis.

"No, no; they are very much prized—merely to look at. I wish to
goodness we could export that brute of Mrs. Creery's!"

"She would far sooner be exported herself!" said Dr. Malone. "What was
his last feat, sir?"

"I wish I could believe that it _was_ his last," returned the General
angrily. "The other day, when Mrs. Creery was dining up at my place,
she unfortunately shut him up in the drawing-room, and for sheer spite
at missing the meal, he tore up a valuable fur rug, gutted the seats of
two chairs, and ate the best part of the last army list! Yes, you may
laugh, Miss Denis, and it certainly sounds very funny—but you don't
know Nip."

"No, but _I_ do," cried Dr. Malone. "He lies down and feigns death
if he sees a larger dog coming in the distance, and will murder any
unfortunate pup of half his size; some dogs have a sense of chivalry,
generosity, gratitude, but he is a _brute_!"

"Yes," chimed in Mr. Quentin, "if things are not going to his liking,
he adjourns to Creery's dressing-room, and devours a couple of pairs
of boots; that is to say, tears and gnaws them to pieces, just to mark
his sense of injury. If they only disagreed with him!—but they don't,
and Creery can't even have the poor satisfaction of licking him; for
whenever Nip sees him arming himself with a stick, he at once fastens
on his leg, believing the first blow to be half the battle!"

"A portrait from life!" exclaimed Dr. Malone. "I wish I might be
allowed a shot at him at 100 yards!"

"I wish you might; and if you do get the chance, I'll wink at it,"
returned the General; "he is an insufferable nuisance—a savage, mean,
mischievous, lazy, cowardly——"

"Now, now, General," cried Nip's mistress, coming across the grass in
a swinging walk, her arms dangling loosely at her sides, "what is all
this wonderful laughing about? and who are you abusing—man, woman,
or child? It's seldom that you say a word against any one! Come, who
is it? Shall I guess who is mischievous, lazy, and _mean_? Now really
you might let _me_ into the secret, when it's known to Miss Denis.
Can it be any one in Ross? Dear me!"—with sudden animation,—"I have
it!—it's——"

Of course she was just about to exclaim "Mr. Lisle," when the General
hastily interrupted her, saying, "We were not talking scandal; it was
merely a little joke of ours"—looking appealingly at Dr. Malone and
Helen, who were choking with suppressed laughter—indeed the very
railings behind the former were shaking dangerously,—"it was only
a miserable jest, Mrs. Creery," reiterated the General, nervously
(seeing that her mind was bent on dragging the secret from his bosom),
"that was all, really, you know. And, by-the-way," lowering his
voice, and speaking confidentially, "I wanted to consult you about
something—about getting up a little dinner for Miss Denis."

To be consulted, and by the General, was much to Mrs. Creery's mind,
so she immediately walked aside with him, prepared to give her whole
attention to the discussion. It now was nearly eight o'clock, and
people were leaving. Helen was escorted to her own door by Dr. Malone
and Mr. Quentin, Colonel Denis once more bringing up the rear, but
this time he had a companion—Miss Caggett. Mr. Quentin lingered below
the steps of the verandah, and squeezed Helen's fingers as he took a
very reluctant leave of her. He half hoped that he would have been
earnestly requested to honour them with his company at dinner, but this
hope was doomed to disappointment, he was dismissed by Colonel Denis
with a careless nod! Later on, as Helen sat alone in the verandah, and
looked out over the sea, recalling the scenes of this most wonderful,
eventful day, and dwelling on all the new faces she had seen and the
strange things she had heard, it is an extraordinary, but veracious
fact, that—with the perversity common to her sex—she cast more than
one thought to a man she had been twice warned against in the same
afternoon, in short, Mr. Quentin's pauper-friend, Gilbert Lisle.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Mr. Quentin had been rowed over to Aberdeen, had climbed the
hill in capital spirits, and with a healthy appetite; and had found
his companion already at home, reposing in an arm-chair in front of
the bungalow, smoking. He fully expected to be severely cross-examined
about his visit, and on the subject of Miss Denis, and was prepared to
enter into the fullest details, and to paint the lady in the richest
tints, but, alas! a disappointment awaited him. Lisle never once
referred to Ross—much less to the young lady. He had had a big take of
fish, and had caught three bottle-nosed sharks off the Red Buoy—bait,
hooks, and nets engrossed his mind entirely.

Mr. Quentin was seriously affronted. Was ever such callousness known?
could such indifference be matched? Indifference that would not even
take the trouble to ask such a simple question as "What is she like?"



CHAPTER VI.

QUEEN OF THE CANNIBAL ISLANDS.

  "An eye like mine,
  A lidless watcher of the public weal."

  _Tennyson._


PERHAPS it would be as well, before going further with this story, to
dedicate a page or two to a description of that very important lady,
Mrs. Creery. The gentleman who occupied a position in the background
as "Mrs. Creery's husband," was a hard-working, hard-headed Scotchman,
who thoroughly understood domestic politics, and the art of holding his
peace. He had come to Port Blair soon after the settlement was opened
up, and had subsequently gone home, and returned with a bride, a lady
not, strictly speaking, in her first youth—this was twenty years ago.
But let no one suppose that Mrs. Creery had spent the whole of that
interval on Ross. She had made several trips to England, and had passed
like a meteor through the circles in which her sister, Lady Grubb, was
as the sun. Oh, how utterly weary were Mrs. Creery's intimates of those
brilliant reminiscences—heard for the thousandth time. Did they not,
one and all, detest the very name of "Grubb"?

How was it, people asked each other, that Mrs. Creery had reigned so
long and so tyrannically at Ross? How came she to occupy a position,
from which nothing could dislodge her—there had been mutinies, there
had been social risings, but they all had been quelled. Even a lady
who had positively refused to go in to dinner, unless she was taken in
before Mrs. Creery, had been quenched! Circumstances had placed the
latter on the social throne, and not election by ballot, much less
the potent power of personal popularity. The General was a widower,
the chaplain a bachelor, the next senior officer unmarried also, the
wife of another was an invalid, and spent nearly all her time in the
south of France (according to Mrs. Creery, for south of France, read
lunatic asylum). She herself was a woman of robust constitution, and
always ready to say "present," consequently, the position of leading
lady in the settlement fell to her happy lot! She "received" at the
General's parties and dances, she occupied a chief place at feasts,
a front pew in church, and had a whole programme to herself on band
nights. After all, there was not much in this, one would imagine; but
Mrs. Creery thought otherwise. The General, an urbane and popular
elderly gentleman, was governor over the Andamans, in the Queen's name;
he was her Majesty's representative, and held the lives of fifteen
thousand convicts in the hollow of his hand; his dominions stretched
from the Cocos to Havelock, and included even the distant Nicobars. As
his social coadjutor, Mrs. Andrew Creery considered that she shared
all his other dignities, and had gradually come to look upon herself
as a species of crowned head, ruling not merely the settlement, the
Europeans, and the convicts, but even the far-away savages of the
interior! These royal ideas had developed but gradually—a little germ
(sown by the first strains of "God save the Queen," played as she
accompanied the General to a presentation of prizes) had thrown out
roots and suckers, and planted a sense of her own dignity in her bosom,
that nothing but death could eradicate!

Mrs. Creery had no children and ample leisure, and with such a
magnificent idea of her social status, no one will be surprised to hear
that she condescended to manage the domestic concerns of all within her
realms. She had come to look upon this as a sacred duty, and viewed all
comings and goings with microscopic scrutiny. The position of her house
favoured this self-imposed supervision; it was close to the pier, had
a good back view of the bazaar, and the principal road ran by her door,
and consequently it is no exaggeration to say that _nothing_ escaped
her. From long practice she could tell at a glance where people were
going as they ran the gauntlet of her verandah; if the General wore
a "regulation" helmet, he was probably _en route_ to an execution at
Viper (an island five miles away); if his Terai, he was bound for the
new buildings on Aberdeen, or to make semi-official calls; if his old
topee, he was merely going out shelling. Ross was a small island, very
thickly populated. Mrs. Creery could easily make the circuit of it in
twenty minutes, and did so at least thrice in the twenty-four hours.

She had no home ties, no domestic tastes; she did not care for flowers
nor work; never opened a book, and looked upon shelling as childish
nonsense. Her one taste was for poultry; her one passion, her dog
"Nip," and when she had fed her hens, collected their eggs, given out
daily stores, scolded her domestics, she had nothing to occupy her for
the remainder of the day. After early breakfast she generally donned
her well-known topee, and sallied forth on a tour of inspection; to
quote Captain Rodney, who could not endure her, she "turned out" each
family at least once daily, and never omitted "visiting rounds." She
had by this time pretty well exhausted Ross—and the patience of its
inhabitants; she knew every one's affairs, and what they paid their
servants (and what their servants said of them in the bazaar), and what
stores they got in, just as well as they did themselves.

Mr. Lisle had undoubtedly baffled her (though she had not done with him
yet); however, Helen Denis was a novelty, and opened up an entirely new
sphere of interest; therefore, ere nine o'clock on the day after the
tennis party, Mrs. Creery's umbrella was once again heard imperiously
rapping on the steps of Colonel Denis's verandah.

"You don't breakfast till twelve, I know," she called out; "for I met
your cook and asked him, and it's only just nine"—this to Helen, who
had come to the drawing-room door. "It's only just nine, and we shall
have a nice long morning to ourselves, and be able to look at your
things comfortably. Are you unpacking now?"

Helen very reluctantly acknowledged that she was—had just got all her
boxes open.

"Then I shall come and help you," said her visitor, laying down her
umbrella, and speaking as if she were conferring a great favour. "You
go first, and I'll follow."

She was quite as good as her word. There she sat, with her hands on
her knees, her topee pushed well back (so as not to interfere with her
vision), in closest proximity to Helen's largest trunk, and saw every
article separately taken out and unfolded. Nothing escaped her; all she
saw, she priced; and all she fancied she tried on (or tried to try on),
and meanwhile she kept up a running fire of comments somewhat in this
style:—

"So _that's_ your black silk; and trimmed with lace, I declare! most
unsuitable for a girl like you—quite ridiculous! I shall speak to your
father, and if he likes, I don't mind taking it off his hands. I dare
say there is _some_ letting out, and I'm rather in want of a dress for
my receptions."

"Yes," gasped Helen, who was kneeling on the floor, "but I do not wish
to part with my black silk."

"What use is it? _You_ can't wear it," irritably. "Every one would
laugh at you if you came up to one of the 'at homes' in a gown like
that, and saw _me_ in a simple muslin. It's not suitable to your
position—do you understand that?"

"I did not mean to wear it at tennis," stammered Helen—who was a
little cowed by Mrs. Creery's eye; "but Miss Twigg said that it would
be useful."

"Not a bit of it! What does she know about what would be useful?"
retorted the lady rudely.

Miss Denis made no reply, but was firmly resolved that nothing short
of physical force should part her and her very best dress. Mrs.
Creery said no more either, but determined to have a word with the
Colonel by-and-by, and also to give him _her_ opinion of the absurd
extravagance of his daughter's outfit!

As she sat drawn up beside Helen's trunks whilst she unpacked, her
perpetual queries, "What is this? What did you give for that?" were,
to say the least of it, trying. However, her victim was but recently
emancipated from school, had a wholesome awe of her elders, and a
remarkably sweet temper, so the whole inspection passed off quite
smoothly, and entirely to Mrs. Creery's satisfaction.

"I saw you talking to Lizzie Caggett last evening," she remarked, as
she arranged her topee at the mirror, and dodged her profile in a
hand-glass. "What was she saying to you?"

"She was asking me what I thought of the place?"

"Well, don't tell her much—that's _my_ advice to you! She is certain
to come here borrowing your patterns, but don't lend her _one_! I shall
be really angry with you if you do." (This came well from a lady who
was carrying off the promise of half-a-dozen.) And little did Helen
know the large reading a Dirzee gives to the term "taking a pattern."
It means that he rips up seams, punches holes in the material with his
gigantic scissors, and turns a new garment inside out and upside down,
with as little ceremony as if it were an old thing that was going to
the rag-bag. At present, ignorance was bliss. Mrs. Creery's convict
Dirzee was coming down that very afternoon to carry away Helen's two
prettiest and freshest costumes!

"Now," continued the elder lady, "mind with I say about Lizzie Caggett;
she has dozens of dresses, and is head over ears in debt in Calcutta,
not to speak of the bazaar here—I know myself that she owes Abdul
Hamed two hundred rupees,—and do not encourage her in her wicked
extravagance."

Then walking to the window, she cried out rapturously, "What a view!
Why, I had no idea of this; you can see every _bit_ of the road—and
there's the General going up home, and Mr. Latimer with him! I suppose
he has asked him to breakfast—that's the second time this week! And
here comes Dr. Malone, _running_; he has something to tell him! Oh, I
must go! Where's my umbrella? Don't forget the dresses," and without
further adieux, Mrs. Creery was flying down the steps, brandishing her
arms, and calling out in a shrill falsetto,—

"Stop, stop, Dr. Malone. I'm coming. Wait for _me_!"



CHAPTER VII.

MR. QUENTIN'S PIANO.

  "I have assailed her with music, but she vouchsafes no notice."

  _Cymbeline._


MAIL-DAY had come round once more, and Helen could hardly believe that
she had been already six weeks on Ross, it seemed more like six days.
She had made the acquaintance of almost everybody, had visited the
mainland, and Chatham and Viper; had ridden on a settlement elephant,
had been to two picnics, and dozens of tennis parties, and was
beginning to realize that she really was the mistress of that pretty
bungalow under the palm-trees on the hill-side.

She was now great friends with Mrs. Home, and solemnly engaged to
Billy; she saw Miss Caggett daily, and Mrs. Creery almost hourly, and
other people called with complimentary frequency; notably Mr. Quentin,
who found many excuses for tarrying in Miss Denis's drawing-room,
and, remarkable to relate, Miss Caggett invariably contrived to drop
in on the same occasions. She was usually in the highest spirits, and
laughed, and smiled, and chatted as agreeably as if she had not come
on purpose to mount guard over a recreant admirer, and by her presence
endeavour to modify his attentions to her rival! Mr. Quentin found
her company a bore; how could he settle down to read poetry, or to
talk vague sentimental follies, whilst Miss Lizzie's sharp, shadeless
eyes were following every look and movement? Moreover, she seasoned
her conversation with disagreeable remarks, uncomfortable questions,
and unpleasant insinuations.—Miss Denis was musical, but at present
she had no piano; her father had promised her a new one from Calcutta
after Christmas, but in the meantime she must wait. Mr. Quentin was
surprised to find that he did not make as rapid strides in Helen's good
graces as he usually did under similar circumstances, but he accounted
for this amazing fact quite readily in his own mind, and was not one
whit daunted. In the first place, she had but little sentiment in her
composition; she was a sort of a girl who, if you invited her "to come
out and look at the moon" in your company, would be certain to burst
out laughing in your face—and yet it seemed to him that her own face
would make an admirable subject for a very charming romance—she was so
absurdly matter-of-fact, so ready in turning off tender speeches, and
so provokingly inclined to ridicule his most warranted compliments. Of
_course_ she liked him—the reverse never once dawned upon his arrogant
brain—but why was she so hard to get on with? Doubtless, Lizzie
Caggett's haunting presence handicapped him heavily; but Rome was not
built in a day, and he had a grand idea—nothing less than sending
Miss Denis over his piano as a loan—with a view to vocal duets. His
attentions to the young lady had been very "marked" in Mrs. Creery's
opinion; he was her shadow at all the "at homes," no other man had a
chance of speaking to her; but _this_"attention," which Mrs. Creery
beheld coming up the pier, and borne by twenty staggering coolies,
threw all his previous advances entirely into the shade.

The good lady hurried on ahead, and burst into Helen's drawing-room,
breathless (the umbrella-rapping stage was a ceremony of the past),
saying,—

"What do you think? There is a piano coming up the pier in charge of
Mr. Quentin's butler—twenty coolies carrying it, at eight annas each!
Mr. Quentin is sending it over to you—and, of course, it's _all_
settled? and," aggrievedly, "I really think you might have told _me_,"
and here she was obliged to pause for breath.

Helen stared at Mrs. Creery; never had she seen her so excited, was she
going out of her mind, and about a piano?

"A piano, Mrs. Creery?—what piano?"

"A large square."

"And you say that Mr. Quentin is sending it; but it is certainly not
coming _here_."

"But it _is_. I saw a note addressed to you in the butler's hand."

"Well, it shall go back at once; it is some mistake. I don't know what
papa would say!"

"Your father!" scornfully, "as if _he_ would meddle, and as if your
wishes are not his law; besides, he knows it would be an excellent
match!"

"Mrs. Creery," interrupted Helen, becoming scarlet, "please don't say
such things; it's no question of—of—what you hint, but of this piano.
What does it mean?"

"It's the thin end of the wedge, _that's_ what it means."

"It shall go back!"

"Well, here it comes now at any rate," said the elder lady
triumphantly, as the chanting, thin-legged bearers came staggering
along under the heavy piece of furniture, with its wadded red cover;
and a big, bearded butler presented a note with a profound salaam.

"Wait!" cried Helen, making an imperative gesture, tearing the envelope
open. "Don't bring it up yet."

"What's all this?" inquired her father, appearing upon the scene at
this juncture.

"A piano for your daughter from Mr. Quentin," volunteered Mrs. Creery
with infinite gusto.

"Here, papa," handing him the note, "what am I to say?"

"You will have to keep it for the present, I suppose," he answered
rather reluctantly, as he glanced over the missive; "you will have one
of your own soon."

Mr. Quentin's note ran as follows:—

 "DEAR MISS DENIS,—Please do not be alarmed at the size of the
 accompanying package, nor angry with me for my temerity in sending
 it; the piano is going to pieces over here, with no one to play on
 or look after it, and the hot winds on Aberdeen are ruination to an
 instrument. You will be conferring a great favour on me, if you will
 give it room, and honour me by making use of it, until the arrival of
 your own. I will crave permission to bring over _a few_ songs, and we
 might have a little practice occasionally. If possible, I shall come
 across this afternoon.

  "Yours very sincerely,

  "JAMES QUENTIN."

Of course, when the matter was put in the light of a favour to be
conferred, there was nothing for it but to allow the instrument to be
brought in, and lodged in the drawing-room.

Helen received the open note somewhat mechanically from her father,
and will it be believed, that Mrs. Creery actually held out her hand
for the missive—just as if it were quite a matter of course, that she
should peruse it also?

Peruse it she did, and so slowly, that one would imagine that she was
committing it to memory; then she folded it up and returned it to
Helen, saying rather tartly, "So you _are_ going to keep it, after all?"

"Yes! I suppose so."

"It's only an excuse, of course. You will have him here singing, day
and night, mark my words! However, I must allow that he has a sweet
tenor, and I shall often drop in for an hour," with which dire threat,
Mrs. Creery took her departure, and hastened away to spread the last
piece of news, viz., "that it was all _quite_ settled between Helen
Denis and Mr. Quentin; he had sent her over his piano, and written such
a sweet note!"

To Miss Caggett this intelligence was a painful shock; she never
believed half of what Mrs. Creery said, but the arrival of the piano
had been witnessed. What wrath and anguish filled her mind, as she
thought of swains she had snubbed, and chances she had thrown away, for
that agreeable shadow, that fickle, faithless, heartless, handsome Jim
Quentin! But Lizzie was not easily suppressed; in some respects she was
as dauntless as the Bruce!

She put on her best hat, and went up and listened to some solos and
duets that very same afternoon; and Mr. Quentin, whose patience was
almost threadbare, remarked to her very significantly,—

"I like duets, Miss Caggett, as well as any one, but I don't much care
for trios; they are never so harmonious. I'm sure you agree with me."

Lizzie turned pale. She understood, though Helen did not—indeed, _she_
was exceedingly glad of Miss Caggett's society on these occasions; it
took the too personal edge off her visitor's remarks, and acted as a
wet blanket to his compliments. She (Helen) was not quite sure whether
he was in jest or earnest at times, but she sincerely _hoped_ that it
was the former. Strange as it may appear, she was utterly indifferent
to the almost invincible Jim Quentin. Why, she could not have told. She
knew that he was handsome, agreeable, and showed a flattering penchant
for her society. More than this, he had informed her, hundreds of times
(indirectly), that he admired her beyond words. And yet, and yet——

Miss Caggett was firmly resolved to punish her recreant lover, and to
humble him in the eyes of his new Dulcinea; so she smiled, and showed
all her teeth, and put her head on one side, and tried to look playful,
and said,—

"Mr. Quentin, you are a _naughty_ man! What will Mr. Baines say when he
hears you have sent his new Collard and Collard travelling about the
settlement?"

Mr. Baines was the gentleman for whom Mr. Quentin was acting.

"_He_ say?" colouring. "What is it to him?"

"Only his property," laughing rather boisterously.

Helen felt extremely uncomfortable. There was an undercurrent of
hostility in Miss Caggett's laugh, that now struck her for the first
time.

Mr. Quentin was not easily cowed, and never had any hesitation about
telling what Mark Twain calls a "stretcher," and answered quite
promptly,—

"I bought it from Baines; he was hard up. So you are not as wise as you
imagined, Miss Caggett."

Miss Caggett did not believe a word of this. Men who come to "act"
for six months, and have the use of a furnished house as a matter of
course, are not likely to purchase the piano—especially when they
can't _play_. But what was the use of speaking out her mind? For once
she was prudent, and held her peace; however, she cast a glance at Mr.
Quentin that said volumes, and presently she got up and went away; and,
when she had departed, Mr. Quentin exclaimed,—

"How I wish that odious young woman—or middle-aged woman—would
not favour us with so much of her society; her presence has a most
irritating effect on my nerves."

"I thought you and she were great friends," said Helen calmly. "I am
sure she told me that, at one time, you were with them every day, and
dined, and boated, and sang duets with her."

"I suppose I was three times in their house—I don't know what she
will say next! However," anxious to turn to another subject, "do not
let us waste our time, or rather _my_ precious time over here, on such
an insignificant subject. Will you try over the accompaniment of the
Wanderer?"

Mr. Quentin found himself so much out of practice that he went across
to Ross for an hour's vocal exercise about four times a week. Latterly
Mr. Lisle had listened with a gleam of mockery in his eye, as his
companion made excuses for these frequent visits, and one day Mr.
Quentin up and spake boldly,—

"You are right to laugh at my talk about books and music and new songs,
when I say that they are the errands that take me over so often—of
course, it's the girl herself."

"Oh, of course," sarcastically.

"I tell you what it is, Lisle—I'm really serious this time; and the
queer part of it is, that it's her cool airs and sharp little speeches
that have carried the citadel."

"What citadel?" raising his eyes, and searching the other's face.

"My heart, to be sure!"

"Pooh! your heart! Why that has been taken as often as there are days
in the year."

"Merely a temporary occupation, my dear sir, but this time it's a
complete surrender. 'Pon my word, if she had any money, I'd marry her
to-morrow!"

In answer to this remark, Mr. Lisle blew a cloud of smoke into the air,
and calmly ejaculated the word,—

"Bosh!"

"I never knew such a fellow as you are," cried Apollo indignantly. "You
have no appreciation of sentiment; you are as tough and matter-of-fact
as an old boot! All you care for are rough field sports, such as a long
day's shooting, hunting, or fishing, and then to come home to your
dinner, and sleep like a dog."

"I only wish I _could_ sleep like a dog," rejoined the other with a
laugh. "What with the gun and bugles, and those confounded peacocks,
there is no such thing as getting a wink of sleep after four o'clock."

"Now," continued Mr. Quentin querulously, "I hate your style of life.
You don't care what clothes you wear, you tramp the bush and over hill
and dale with a gun on your shoulder, on the off chance of a wild pig,
or a paltry brace of snipe! Or you grill by the hour in a boat, fishing
for sharks and sword-fish. Now give me instead——"

"Yes, I know exactly what I'm to give you instead; the refining charms
of ladies' society, vocal duets and afternoon tea. Far, far pleasanter,
is it not, to sit in a cool, shady verandah, whispering soft nothings
to a pretty girl—I believe you said she _was_ pretty—than to be
out in a boat blistering in the sun, or tramping the woods, gun on
shoulder, with a good average chance of being winged oneself by an
Andamanese arrow? But let me tell you, James Quentin, that your
amusement is in reality the most dangerous of the two, and, if Dr.
Parks is to be believed, you have already burnt your fingers badly."

"Hang Dr. Parks! I don't want to hear about him, or any one else,
except Helen Denis."

"Helen Denis! And does she not wish to hear about any one but James
Quentin?"

Mr. Quentin smiled a seraphic smile that inferred much; his companion
was not surprised. Quentin was exactly the sort of fellow to please
a young lady's fancy; naturally he would seem to her the very beau
ideal of a hero, with his low voice, heavenly blue eyes, and handsome
face; but then she was not aware that he did not stand the test of
close intimacy. _She_ had never heard him cursing his chokra or his
creditors—she never saw him in ragged moral deshabille!

"Of course she does not know that this is by no means your first tender
effort at gallantry?—However, that is of no moment, Miss Caggett will
undeceive her," tranquilly remarked his companion.

"What a beastly ironical fellow you are, Lisle! First you rake up old
Parks, and then Lizzie Caggett. I wish she were in a sack at the bottom
of Ross harbour!" blustered Mr. Quentin.

"Because she represents a kind of conscience in her own person? Take
care that Miss Denis does not do the same some day."

"No fear," stoutly. "She is now a mere child in many ways, full of
delight with everything about her, and with no more idea of flirting
than——" pausing.

"I have," suggested his listener, innocently.

"I would be sorry to name her in the same breath with you; and that
reminds me, that more than once she has asked me questions about Mr.
Lisle."

"Oh, of course, they all do _that_!"

"She has heard of you."

"From my good, kind friend, Mrs. Creery, I'll bet a fiver, and I'll bet
another that she has painted me as black as an Andamanese,—and the
devil himself would not be blacker."

"Well, come over with me to-morrow, and let Miss D. see that you are
not as bad as you are painted."

"What would be the use? If she is all you _say_, I might fall in love
with her also! and that would be a very uncomfortable state of affairs."

Mr. Quentin looked at him for a second with a cool stare, and then
burst out laughing.

"Well, upon my word! you are the queerest fellow I ever met, and that's
saying a good deal; you can never be in earnest for five minutes. Now
look here, I want to talk to you seriously about my money affairs.—You
see my governor is an old man, and when he is laid in the family vault,
I'll have a decent little competence, but until _then_ I cannot keep
myself, much less a wife. I'm certain he won't give me a halfpenny more
allowance than I have already. I've an uncontrollable knack of spending
coin, and running into debt; but with the family acres, I think I might
manage to rub along pretty well."

"So you might," agreed his listener.

"But then the governor may live till he is a hundred."

"So he may," again admitted the other gentleman.

"For goodness' sake, Lisle, don't sit there with your eyes half shut,
driving me mad with your 'so you might' and 'so he may.' Make a
suggestion."

"My dear sir, I cannot think of any to offer. If you were an Earth
Indian, you would be all right; you know they tie up their aged as bait
for wild beasts. Being a mere Englishman——"

Mr. Lisle never finished what he was about to say; for his companion
sprang to his feet, towered above him, glared at him for a second,
opened his mouth and endeavoured to speak,—but failed; and then flung
out of the apartment in a terrible passion.



CHAPTER VIII.

"I WAS HIS DEAREST LIZZIE!"

  "Alas! for pleasure on the sea,
  And sorrow on the shore."

  _Hood._


MRS. HOME'S entertainments to her friends generally took the form of a
picnic or gipsy tea, partly, we suspect, because these outings were in
great favour with Tom and Billy, and partly because she had a knack of
making these "camp affairs," as Mrs. Creery contemptuously dubbed them,
go off to every one's satisfaction. She had now issued invitations
for a tea at North Bay, where her guests were to ramble about, and
stroll on the beach, or botanize in the jungle; and two large boats
left the pier carrying the company, which comprised the host, hostess,
and family, Col. and Miss Denis, Miss Caggett, Mr. Latimer, Dr. Parks,
Dr. Malone, the Grahams from Chatham, and the Greens from Viper. Mr.
Quentin did not patronize these rustic _réunions_, and he was rather
annoyed to find that the Denises were bent on going, and leant over
the pier as they were rowed away, looking unutterable reproaches at
Helen—looks not lost on Miss Caggett, who was sitting beside her. It
was an oppressive afternoon; even at four o'clock the sky was molten
and the sea like oil, and Mr. Quentin shouted after the pleasure
party,—

"I would not be a bit surprised if you people were in for a storm
coming back—better not stay late."

"Storm! what nonsense! Why, the water is like glass!" exclaimed Mrs.
Home. "He merely says that because he is not coming himself—though I
asked him, and told him he might bring Mr. Lisle, for I really do not
see why he should be debarred from everything."

"If he is debarred, it's his own fault," rejoined Lizzie Caggett,
accepting the challenge in the absence of Mrs. Creery in the other
boat. "If he would only be open about himself, no one would mind his
poverty."

Mrs. Home looked sweetly incredulous, and Miss Caggett continued,—

"At any rate the chances are that he would not come if he was asked. I
don't suppose he has any decent clothes, and he is more in his element
in the bush, or out in that white boat of Mr. Quentin's, sailing among
the islands; he half lives on the water, but," with a peculiar laugh,
"there is no fear of his being drowned!"

Miss Lizzie was merciless to this mysterious pauper, chiefly because
she had an idea that he had talked his host out of certain matrimonial
designs that were very near to her heart. Jim Quentin's visits had
been less frequent, ever since he had given lodging to this odious
adventurer!

Now Mrs. Home considered Mr. Lisle inoffensive and gentlemanly-looking,
and quite entitled to keep his affairs to himself if he chose, and
she took up the cudgels at once, and the argument was waxing hot,
when, luckily, some one commenced to sing, and politeness enforced
silence. It was a long row to North Bay, fully eight miles, and it was
past five o'clock when the party landed, and began to walk about and
stretch their rather cramped legs, and to stroll along the beach with
a careless eye to shells.—But this was not a _bonâ fide_ shelling
trip.—Presently, in answer to a whistle, with various degrees of
alacrity they flocked round Mrs. Home's well-spread table-cloth, which
was laid out on the moss under a big Pedouk tree, and in a position,
that commanded a fine view of the open sea. Here every one ate and
drank, and were merry; and afterwards they sang songs and gave riddles
and exchanged stories, well-known or otherwise, and then by degrees
they scattered once more, and went up into the woods close by, in
couples or in small parties, and commenced (the ladies especially) to
tear down orchids that would be priceless in grey-skyed England; to
fill their hands and their baskets with enormous bunches of Eucharis
lilies that carpeted the jungle. Helen was somewhat surprised to find
herself alone with Lizzie Caggett, but this was a mere passing thought,
her whole attention was given to the flowers; she felt quite bewildered
among such an _embarras de richesse_, and she paused every now and then
to exclaim, and to gather handfuls. She was also in ecstasies at the
love-birds, honey-suckers, blue-jays and golden orioles that flew "with
a shocking tameness" across their path.

Miss Caggett was accustomed to these sights; her enthusiasm—if she
had any—she kept bottled up for the benefit of a male companion, and
did not trouble herself to respond to Helen's raptures; she had dogged
her, and purposely kept off Dr. Malone, and singled her out as her own
special associate, in order that she, as she said to herself, "might
have it out with her here in the jungle," where she could be as shrill
as she pleased,—yea, as one of the island peacocks! where she could
give reins to her wrath, and no one but her unsuspicious rival would be
any the wiser!—Now on Ross the very walls had ears.

The two girls wandered along, one empty-handed, and the other laden
with spoils, till they came to an opening in the forest, where there
was a very beautiful shallow pool, apparently a spring. It was an
unusual sight, and Lizzie halted, and looked down into it, and beheld
the reflection of her own figure, and of her, at present, very cross,
discontented little face as seen in a mirror set in a lovely frame of
ferns, and mossy stones, and graceful grasses.

As she pondered over her own appearance, and felt an agonizing thrill,
at the patent fact that she was now beginning to look _old_! a bright
young face came into view over her shoulder—a bright young face that
she hated from the bottom of her heart! No wonder she was a prey to
envy, as she gazed at Helen's reflection; never had she looked better,
than in that soft white gown, with a wreath of Eucharis lilies
twined round her sailor hat. Lizzie stared, and noted every item of
that pretty vision, and felt a conviction of her own powerlessness
to crush the horrible truth, that one of those two faces was lovely,
and smiling, and young, and that the other was pinched, ill-tempered,
and _passée_—and that other her own! Her day was on the wane, the
summer of her life—oh, that it would come again! she would sell her
soul to recall it!—was gone. And in Helen Denis's case, she had all
her golden youth before her. These bitter thoughts were too much for
her self-control, her face worked convulsively, the corners of her
mouth went down, and all of a sudden she burst into tears! Helen was
dismayed; she led her gently to a fallen log of ebony, and implored of
her to tell her if she was ill, or what was the matter?

The tears were but a summer shower, and quickly spent, and Miss Caggett
came to herself, dried her eyes, and said that it was merely a slight
nervous seizure, the result of a racking headache, and meant nothing.
"But," she added, "I'm tired, and we may as well rest here awhile,
there is no hurry."

"Very well," agreed Helen, "I want to settle these flowers, they are in
a most dreadful state," proceeding to arrange her much-crowded basket.

"Then, whilst you arrange your flowers, dear, I will tell you a story,"
said Lizzie, now completely composed.

"Oh, do! how nice of you! I like stories, and this"—looking round—"is
the very place for one. A ghost story?"

"But mine is going to be a love-tale," said Miss Caggett briefly.

"I don't care for them so much," rejoined Helen, sorting out orchids as
she spoke. "However, anything _you_ like."

"Once upon a time there was a girl, and she lived in the East Indies
with her mother; her name was Lizzie Caggett," she commenced. Helen,
who was kneeling at the log, using it as a table for her flowers,
looked up as if she did not believe her ears. "Her name, as I tell you,
was Lizzie Caggett. She was not a great beauty like _some_ people,
but she was not bad-looking. A young man came to Port Blair, paid her
marked attention, fell in love with her, and she with him; he gave her
songs and presents, he wrote her heaps of letters, he told her that he
could not _live_ without her. His name was James Quentin!" She paused,
and Helen got up slowly from her knees and stood in front of her—her
heart was beating rather fast, and her colour was considerably brighter
than usual. "A girl arrived at Port Blair named Helen Denis, and he,
man-like, paid her attention at first because she was _new_,—he half
lives at her house, he is always at her side, and" (viciously) "he has
made her the talk of the whole place. He," also rising and suddenly
dropping the narrative form for plainer speaking, "is a hypocrite, he
told you a _lie_ about that piano!—it belongs to Mr. Baines—he has
pretended to you that he scarcely knew _me_. Scarcely ever was out
of our house, is nearer the truth! One thing he can't deny, and that
is his own hand-writing. Look here," dragging out a thick packet of
letters tied with blue ribbon, "you can read them if you like. You
won't!" in answer to a scornful gesture. "Then there," tossing them
violently on the ground, where they fell with a heavy thud, and the
ribbon coming undone, lay scattered about like a pack of cards.

Miss Caggett after this outbreak paused, and folded her arms akimbo,
but her eyes were gleaming, and her lips working convulsively.

Helen was thunderstruck, never had it dawned upon her till now, that
she had come and seen, and conquered, this furious lady's lover; the
sudden announcement gave her a shock and for some seconds she was
speechless.

"There," proceeded Miss Caggett, pointing to a letter at her feet,
"three months ago I was his dearest Lizzie, and now you are his dearest
Helen," and she laughed like a hyena.

"You are altogether mistaken, and quite wrong," cried her companion,
speaking at last; "I am nothing to him but an ordinary acquaintance,
and I don't think you should repeat these terrible things about him to
me! You can't care very _much_ for him, or you would not say that he
is a hypocrite and does not speak the truth. As to his making me the
talk of the place, I am quite distressed to hear that Port Blair is so
hard up for a topic." Helen was very angry, and her face was an open
book, in which every emotion that swayed her was eloquently expressed.
Mr. Quentin was utterly indifferent to her, and this fact gave her
a considerable advantage over Miss Caggett. Besides being angry she
was disgusted, and looked down upon her opponent with a glance of
unmistakable scorn.

"Of course you will _tell_ him all I have said," exclaimed Lizzie, with
a hysterical smile.

"Oh, of course," ironically.

Miss Caggett was filled with a horrible fear that she had overshot her
mark (which had been merely to blacken Mr. Quentin to Helen, to arouse
her ire, and take advantage of the ensuing quarrel and coolness, and
once more ingratiate herself with her late adorer). But who would have
expected Miss Denis to be supremely ironical and scornful, and to have
taken the news in this very strange way, for Lizzie believed that no
girl living could be indifferent to James Quentin? Instead of tearing
her hair and weeping and denouncing him, she was quite unmoved. She had
even spurned his letters! hateful, cold-blooded thing!

"Shall you tell him all I have said about him?" she reiterated
defiantly.

"Your suggestion is of course prompted by what you would do _yourself_
under similar circumstances," returned her companion in a cutting tone.

"Do you pretend that you don't _like_ him?" demanded Miss Caggett;
"that you never told me you thought him handsome? Do you pretend that
you are not in love with him and have lured him away from _me_?"

"_I_ pretend nothing; I do not even pretend to be his friend before
his face, and then abuse him unmercifully behind his back! And now,"
pointing with the tip of her shoe, "there are your letters. I advise
you not to leave them here for the amusement of some picnic party. And
I _request_ that you will never speak to me in such a way again, nor
mention the name of your friend Mr. Quentin."

So saying, Helen picked up her basket, turned her back on Lizzie, and
walked off into the jungle in a rather stately fashion, never once
looking back at the little figure on the log. If she had done so, she
would have seen that little figure shaking a tiny menacing fist in her
direction; but ignorance was bliss, and she rambled on mechanically,
her mind not a little disturbed by the recent "scene." Lizzie Caggett
was _not_ a nice girl—not a lady—and as to Mr. Quentin, she had
never quite trusted his dreamy blue eyes. Now she came to ponder
over the subject, his stories were often a bad fit—one tale did not
exactly match another—he forgot what he had said previously, and
although he had angrily disowned Miss Caggett, yet she had noticed one
mezzo soprano song among his music, on which was scribbled in pencil,
"Lizzie, with J.'s love." Deeply occupied in unravelling various new
ideas, the young lady strayed further and further into the wood,
occasionally stopping to cull some too tempting flower or fern—and
pondering as she plucked. She was extremely reluctant to go back to the
company and to face Miss Caggett after their late conversation, but
a sudden cessation of birds' notes, a duskiness, and a little chill
wind, warned her that it was really time to retrace her steps. She
had come further than she imagined, and it was fully half an hour ere
she had extricated herself from among the trees and once more gained
the open space looking down upon the shore. But what was this? To
her astonishment the beach was deserted. There was no sign of living
creature to be seen (save the dying embers of the gipsy fire), and, did
her eyes deceive her, or did she really behold two heavily laden boats
steadily rowing back to Ross? Indeed, one was already a mere speck on
the water, and she had been left behind! At first she could not realize
her position; she, the chief guest—in whose honour the party had been
given—she forgotten and abandoned to pass the night on that terrible,
desolate mainland alone! She ran to a rock jutting out far into the
water and waved her parasol, and screamed, and called, but the boats
were far beyond earshot, and the awnings were up.

She stood looking after them like a modern Dido, with strange, fixed,
despairing eyes, then turned and gazed behind her at the thick, black,
and now forbidding-looking forest, that loomed all round her, and
encompassed the shore. She sat down on the rock, locked her arms round
her knees, and watched the two heartless boats till they were quite
out of sight. This operation lasted for some time, and when there was
nothing further to be seen in the direction of Ross, she turned her
face towards the open sea, and beheld, to her horror, a large canoe
coming rapidly in her direction! It was still at some distance, but she
knew that the build of the boat was not European, nor did Europeans go
out boating in _tall hats_. She did not wait for a closer inspection;
she fled—fled for dear life—right up into the much-dreaded forest,
and dashed among the underwood like a mad creature; in a certain
thick covert she threw herself down, and there she lay panting like a
hunted hare. From her hiding-place, she could see the savages; they
paddled close into the shore, attracted by the smoke of the fire that
had boiled Mrs. Home's mild domestic kettle! They came in a big red
war canoe, and were about fifty in number; one or two remained in the
canoe, the rest sprang over the side, and waded to land—followed by a
whole legion of dogs. They swarmed round the fire, and found but little
to repay their visit, beyond a box of matches, which was evidently a
great prize. There were several monster fish caught by Mrs. Creery's
boatmen,—and left behind as worthless—these they tore to pieces, and
devoured raw. A tin of Swiss milk and half a loaf of bread were also
discovered and shared. Whilst they sat round the embers in a circle,
and greedily discussed these rarities and the fish, Helen, with every
nerve in her body throbbing, and her heart nearly bounding out of
her bosom, was presented by her own vivid memory with that scene in
Robinson Crusoe, where he sees the savages sitting round a fire, and
feasting on their human victims! Supposing they were to discover her,
and kill her, and eat her? At this moment she nearly shrieked aloud,
for a large red dog, a kind of pariah (who, unknown to her, had been
sniffing among the underwood), now suddenly thrust up his head close
to hers, and gazed at her in amazement for some seconds; luckily for
Helen, instead of breaking at once into a loud "bay," and triumphantly
announcing his "find," he was evidently one of the barrack curs whom
the General had colonized; he had seen a European before,—and probably
understood English! At first, when she whispered in a faltering voice,
"Oh, Toby, Toby, like a dear, good dog, go away, and don't betray me,"
he took no notice, but merely stood staring with his round yellow eyes.
However, when emboldened by desperation, she said, "Hoosh! be off!" and
made a movement as though to pick up a stone—he fled!

But what if a less educated animal were to discover her? If he did,
she was lost. She lay in her hiding-place scarcely daring to breathe,
the very sound of her own heart seemed appalling; indeed, it stood
quite still for some seconds, when—the fish being despatched—the
aborigines stood up and sauntered back to their canoe, and several
of them pointing at the jungle, seemingly suggested a ramble in that
direction! But these enterprising spirits had no weight, and Helen,
although fainting with terror, noticed that a fat old man, in a huge
cocked hat (evidently a person of much authority), waved his hands with
decision towards the horizon; and making gestures at the big bank of
clouds that were gathering there, peremptorily collected all his party,
who immediately swarmed out into the canoe, followed by their pack of
dogs, and paddled away as swiftly and as suddenly as they had come—and
Helen breathed a deep sigh of relief, when she was once more left upon
the mainland, entirely alone!



CHAPTER IX.

A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS.

  "The storm is up, and all is on the hazard."

  _Julius Caesar._


MR. LISLE had been out boating far beyond North Bay; but a sombre
sultry afternoon, and the ominous silence that precedes a tropical
storm, had warned him to steer homewards. He had heard of the awful
tornadoes that occasionally churned these seas into white mountains,
that dashed wrecks around the islands; that the storm god in torrid
regions was a terrible sight when aroused, and that a sunny, sleepy
afternoon had been known to develop into a howling hurricane in less
than an hour. Moreover, that tragic tales of boats blown out to sea, or
capsized with all hands, were but too well known at Port Blair.

The sky was now so inky black that it could scarcely look blacker, low
muttering thunder was heard from behind the clouds, and an occasional
red flash shot along the horizon. The breeze was rising steadily, and
a quick cool ripple was on the water. On the whole, Mr. Lisle said
to himself that there was every prospect of a very dirty night, and
the sooner that he was under the lee of Ross the better. Passing a
kind of cove in North Bay, he happened to notice a long white object
in the now gathering dusk: it seemed to be near the shore, and was
probably a blighted tree. Luckily, he looked again, and observed that
it moved. Could it be a human figure, at that hour?—quite impossible!
But although moments were precious, he resolved to give the thing,
whatever it was, a chance; and to take a nearer view and to accomplish
this, he was obliged to steer in closer to the land, which he did—to
his boatmen's unconcealed uneasiness. Vainly did they scowl, and point
expressively to the storm that was coming up so rapidly; he assured
them that this delay would be but momentary; a few vigorous strokes,
and they were sufficiently near to make out that the seemingly blighted
tree was the figure of a European woman, in a white dress! In two or
three seconds they had touched the beach, and Mr. Lisle sprang out of
the boat, waded through the water, and another instant brought him
to the side of a trembling, distracted girl, whom he had never seen
before, but who nevertheless accorded him a half-frenzied, though
silent welcome.

Helen, after she had seen the last of the war canoe, had once more
ventured down to the shore. The dark thick tropical jungle seemed to
stifle her, and, for all she knew, might be swarming with wild beasts!
The solitude was something appalling, and the silence!—save for queer
outlandish sounds in the forest every now and then, which caused her
to tremble violently. Her position may not seem so very terrible to
some people,—who will say, "She knew she was sure to be fetched in the
morning;" but a night alone upon that savage coast, was enough to make
even a stout-hearted man feel nervous, much less a girl like Helen, and
by this time she was completely unhinged. As she sat staring into the
gloom, she suddenly made out a boat, positively a European boat, with
three people in it,—and for the first time her hopes rose. She waved
her arms frantically, and she ran up and down the beach like a demented
creature. She was seen, and they were coming. Oh, the relief of that
moment! For the first time during these dreadful hours, tears rolled
down her cheeks.

The boat came in as close as it could, and a man jumped out of it, and
approached her rapidly. Stranger as she was, she rushed to him, seized
his arm, and tried vainly to speak, but her whole frame was shaken with
convulsive sobs.

"What is it? What does it mean?" he asked, as she clung to him, like a
drowning person.

"It's a—pleasure party," she stammered out. "I was gathering flowers,
and was left behind. Oh, take me with you! Take me home!"

"Come on, then,"—an Englishman's usual formula; "I'll take you back to
Ross. But we must look sharp," speaking rather brusquely. What if this
tearful, frightened young lady were to go into hysterics, or to faint
in his arms? that would be a nice business!

Without a single word, but with obedient alacrity, she followed him to
the edge of the sea,—and something told her that she was walking in
the wake of the notorious _Mr. Lisle_.

"I'd better carry you through the surf," he said, turning at the
water's edge; and coolly putting his arm round her, he was just about
to lift her on the spot, but, with flaming cheeks, she thrust him
aside, saying, "Thanks, no; I'll manage it myself."

"Oh, all right," he returned indifferently, "but I think you are
foolish! What's the good of two people getting wet, when _one_ will
do?" now wading out to the boat through surf, which took the young
lady up to her knees. He got in first, helped her in afterwards, and,
making a sign to the impatient boatmen to raise the sail, he said to
his dripping companion, "There is going to be a bit of a blow" (a mild
way of putting it), "but we shall have it with us, we shall be home in
no time," he added, in a tone of assumed cheerfulness.

In a few seconds they were gliding along over the water, before a nice
stiff breeze, and Helen found time to collect her senses, and to relate
her adventures—at first in rather a broken, husky voice, but latterly
with more composure.

And lest the reader should all this time be angrily blaming Colonel
Denis and Mrs. Home, I here beg to state that each believed Helen to
be in the other's boat—a thought for which they were indebted to Miss
Caggett.

The rising wind and threatening sky made prudent Mrs. Home collect
her party, and start; being under the impression that Helen would
return with her father. When the people belonging to number two boat
were mustered, and inquiries were made for Miss Denis, Miss Caggett
assured them that she had long since departed with Mrs. Home, and had
been quite animated in declaring that "there was no mistake about the
matter, as she and Miss Denis had been walking in the woods together."
She also displayed quite a feverish eagerness to be off!—for reasons
which we can easily understand. (Miss Lizzie had picked up her
letters and pocketed them, and sauntered down to the beach, and there
had joined the company, and come to the conclusion that a night's
solitary reflection among the tall Gurgeon and Pedouk trees would do
her rival a world of good! "How easy," she said to herself, "to say
afterwards, that I must have made a mistake—every one is liable to
make mistakes!") Thus reassured, the picnic party took their places in
the second boat, and no search or calling acquainted Helen of their
departure; and consequently, she was left behind, thanks to Miss Lizzie
Caggett.

The small white gig which had picked off the young lady, now flew
before the wind, and Helen's new acquaintance sat with the tiller-ropes
in his hands, and his gaze bent apprehensively on the south.

"I suppose I may as well introduce myself," he said presently. "My name
is Lisle. Perhaps you have heard of me?" he added expressively—at
least to his listener, his words seemed to have an ironical,
significant tone!

Helen muttered a faint affirmative.

"And you, I think, must be Miss Denis?"

"Yes."

"And were you really afraid of the savages?"

"I never was so much frightened in all my life, I thought I should have
_died_."

"I see a good deal of them knocking about the islands. They are not
such bad fellows, and I doubt their cannibalism."

"I should be sorry to trust them," returned Helen, shuddering.

"You are cold, I see, and wet, of course, but that was your own fault.
Here," suddenly removing it, "you must take my coat," throwing it over
her knees, where it remained all the time, in spite of her anxious
disclaiming. After this there was a long gap in the conversation.

Mr. Lisle undoubtedly possessed what the French call, "a talent for
silence." "How grave he looked!" thought Helen. How fast they were
going! How frightfully down on one side! The wind was getting louder
and louder, till it reached a kind of hoarse scream: the dusk had
suddenly given place to Egyptian gloom, and Helen felt sure (as she
sat with her hands tightly locked in her lap, and her heart beating
very quickly) that they were having more than a mere "blow" as they
tore through the water! All at once, the first splash of a cold, salt
wave dashed over the boat, and drenched her so unexpectedly that she
could not refrain from a stifled exclamation; but this was the only
time that she lost her self-control. She sat motionless as an image,
and neither moved nor spake, not even when a shrieking gust carried
her hat away, and whirled it into the outer darkness; and the storm
loosened her long hair, and flung it to the wind to play with. How
they flew up the water mountains, and were hurled down like a stone
into the corresponding valleys! If they were to be drowned, she hoped
that it might be soon; this present suspense was torture. All was so
black—an awful opaque blackness—the roar of the tempest the only
sound; it came in furious gusts, then died away, whilst wave after wave
swept over the boat; and now the low rumble of thunder burst suddenly
into one frightful peal, that seemed to shake the very sea itself: a
blinding flash lit up the gloom, for a moment it was as daylight. Helen
involuntarily turned her eyes towards her companion, and met his point
blank. In that second, their two souls seemed to recognize one another;
in his glance she read intrepidity, coolness and encouragement. She at
least was with a brave man, and might die in worse company! He, on his
side, noted the rigid figure of his passenger, her locked hands and
firmly-set lips; she was no longer the timid, shrinking creature he
had dragged on board the gig less than an hour previously; she was a
heroine, capable of looking death in the face, and Death's grim visage
was never closer to her than _now_. Another would have been shrieking
and clinging to him; but this girl was nerved to meet her fate alone,
and he honestly respected her fortitude. It was certainly just touch
and go, if they ever weathered Ross Point, but the boat was a stout
one, and the sails were new. The twinkling lights on the island now
came in view; how scornfully they seemed to mock these four people, who
were struggling for life and death in the surrounding howling darkness!

Another awful plunge into the hollows, and a hissing of boiling waves,
and a feeling as of water closing all round them. It seemed to Helen as
if _this_ was the end—they had shipped a heavy sea, the boat reeled,
staggered, and made another effort—she was not going to founder just
yet.

The stricken boatmen shouted hoarsely to one another, and baled in the
dark; Helen crept unconsciously closer to the steersman, and during a
lull in the blast, she said,—

"You can swim, Mr. Lisle, of course, and if _you_ escape, will you
take a message from me to,"—with a sob—"poor papa?"

"No, I won't," he answered roughly.

"But I shall be drowned, I know," and she caught her breath at the
chilling thought.

"If you are, I shall be drowned _too_, you may be sure of that. If I
am saved, you may rely upon it that you will be saved also. We will
sink or swim together. If she _does_ capsize, don't lose your head, and
don't cling to me, whatever you do; trust me, and I'll take care of
you; but I hope it's not going to come to that," he added; then, after
a long silence and another blinding sea, he exclaimed, "Thank God, we
are over the worst, and under the lea of Ross!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was still quite bad enough, but they were no longer exposed to the
full fury of the hurricane; in another ten minutes they were being
violently washed up and down against the soaking pier, in the presence
of a crowd of anxious faces, who were peering over, amidst the glare
of torches and general excitement. The first person to greet them was
Colonel Denis, looking like a man of seventy, and scarcely able to
articulate.

"Oh, Helen," he cried, as he seized his tottering, dripping daughter,
"this has nearly killed me! Only an hour ago we missed you, and you
were sighted from the lookout just before dark, and I never believed
that any boat could live in that," pointing his hand at the black,
hissing sea.

As Helen and her father stood thus together on the steps, she trying to
realize that she was safe, and he most thankfully doing the same—the
white boat showed signs of shoving off.

"You are not going over to Aberdeen now!" shouted Colonel Denis,
descending, and making a futile grab at the gunwale. "Are you a madman?"

"It's not so bad inside, between the islands," roared the other in
reply. "Good-night."

"Papa, stop him! Mr. Lisle," shrieked Helen, "come back—come back, Mr.
Lisle."

The idea of any one putting out again among those tumbling waves,
seemed to her nothing less than suicidal; but the white boat was
already gone,—lost almost instantaneously in the surrounding darkness.

"It's not so risky between this and Aberdeen, Miss Denis," said Dr.
Malone; "and Lisle is a capital sailor. But what a grand fright you
have given us all, and what a terrible trip you must have had!"

Miss Denis made no reply; she staggered up to the top of the steps and
stood upon the pier in the light of half-a-dozen torches—a strange
figure, in a dripping dress, with her long hair covering her as a kind
of mantle, and hanging far below her waist in thick dark masses.

"Take her home, and put her to bed at once," said Dr. Malone, "and
give her a warm drink, and don't let any one worry her with questions"
(doubtless he was thinking of Mrs. Creery); "to-morrow morning I will
call, and she will be all right, and will tell us how it happened that
she let us go off without her."

But how that came to pass was never clearly explained up to the present
day; people had their suspicions, but suspicions go for very little.

Miss Denis carried out Dr. Malone's instructions to the letter. She
went home and went to bed and fell sound asleep. One thing she did
which he had not prescribed,—

She dreamt of Mr. Lisle!



CHAPTER X.

MR. LISLE FORGETS HIS DINNER.

  "A little fire is quickly trodden out,
  Which, being suffered, rivers cannot quench."

  _Henry VI._


MISS DENIS was none the worse for her adventure the next morning, and
was called upon to give a full, true, and particular account of herself
to Mrs. Creery and Mrs. Home, also Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Green (who
had prudently stayed all night on Ross). No one could imagine how the
mistake had occurred, and all these ladies talked volubly together on
the subject, and it afforded the island a nine days' wonder, though
that was not saying much! Mrs. Creery was certainly most thankful that
Helen (she now called her by her Christian name) had been brought back
in safety, but she was by no means as well pleased at the means to
which they owed her restoration.

"Of course, my dear Helen, you need not notice him," she said,
_apropos_ of Mr. Lisle; "just let your father thank him, or send a
message by Mr. Quentin; that will be ample!"

Mr. Lisle having made Aberdeen with some difficulty, had toiled up
hill, closely followed by the shivering boatmen, in quest of glasses
of rum. He was cold, and stiff, and exhausted; both mind and body had
been strung to their utmost tension for the last three hours, and he
sank into a Bombay chair in the verandah, and threw off his soaking
hat with a sense of thankfulness and relief. There he remained for a
long time in his wet clothes, staring out on the black, ragged-looking
clouds, through which a very watery moon was vainly trying to assert
herself. Mr. Quentin was dining elsewhere, and Mr. Lisle kept dinner
waiting till it was his good pleasure to partake of that meal.
(Eastern cooks are accustomed to a meal being put back or forward an
hour or so according to their masters' whims. These sudden orders
never ruffle their composure, whilst in England such proceedings
would cause domestic revolutions.) For more than an hour Mr. Lisle
lay back in the comfortable chair which he had first occupied as a
mere momentary resting-place; evidently he had something out of the
common to occupy his thoughts. How long was it since he had spoken to
a lady? (Apparently Mrs. Creery went for nought.) His mind reviewed
but cursorily his morning's sport, dwelt a short time on the various
incidents of that terrible sail, and rested finally for a considerable
period on the contemplation of his lady passenger; he could see her
before his mental vision quite distinctly _now_, as she stood on the
pier steps, with her soaking, clinging dress, her streaming hair and
colourless face, on which the torches threw a blinding light; see her
stretching out her hands, and calling after him in a tone of agonized
appeal,—

"Mr. Lisle, come back! Come back, Mr. Lisle!"

It was a curious fact, he said to himself with a rather cynical grin,
that this was positively the very first invitation he had ever received
to Ross; and the circumstance seemed to amuse him not a little.

After a while he began to think that he was rather a fool, sitting
there mooning in his wet clothes, and he rose and stretched himself and
went into the house, and having changed his garments, sat down to his
solitary meal. He and Jim Quentin met at breakfast as usual; the latter
was generally too much engrossed with his own proceedings to take any
vivid interest in his companion's pursuits—to do as little work as
possible, to get as much novel-reading, cigarette-smoking, and physical
and mental ease, was the bent of his mind, and his thoughts were solely
centred in himself and his own arrangements.

He never troubled his head about Lisle's "manias;" fishing, and
boating, and shooting were all bores to him, involving far too much
bodily exertion and discomfort. He took all his partner's adventures
for granted, and never expected that these were of a more thrilling
description than the capture of a big shark or the slaughter of a wild
hog.

"What a gale that was last night!" he said, as he languidly helped
himself to devilled kidneys. "By George! the picnic party must have
found it pretty lively coming back. It blew a hurricane! But I suppose
they were in before that?"

"They were," assented Mr. Lisle—and whatever else he was going to
add was interrupted by the appearance of one of the boatmen in his
blue cotton suit, salaaming profoundly at the foot of the verandah
steps. He had something in his hand. What? It was the miserable wreck
of a lady's smart, cream-coloured parasol! A jaunty article, that had
tempted Helen's fancy in a London shop window, and was now a mere limp
rag, cockled and shrunken with sea-water—having been thrown into the
bottom of the boat and there forgotten.

"Halloa!" exclaimed Mr. Quentin. "What is that?"

"Miss Denis's parasol, which was left in the gig. I brought her back
from North Bay last night," replied his companion, with as much
composure as if it were a part of his daily programme.

The other made no immediate reply, but turning half round in his chair,
surveyed him steadily for some seconds.

"_You_ brought her back?" he repeated incredulously. "And why, in the
name of all that's extraordinary?"

"For the very excellent reason that she wished to be my passenger,"
returned Mr. Lisle, coolly.

"I hate riddles"—irritably. "What the deuce do you mean?"

"I mean that Miss Denis was left behind by her party owing to some very
queer mistake, that I happened to be sailing by, like Canute the king,
and that she hailed the boat, and we took her off."

"Quite romantic, upon my word"—with a rather forced laugh. "Well,"
after a pause, "now that you have seen her, what do you think of her?"

"How can I tell you? It was as dark as pitch; I only had a glimpse of
her now and then by lightning."

"Yes; and that glimpse?"

"Showed me that she had heaps of hair. She did not scream or make a
fuss, but kept quiet, for which I was really grateful."

"And did you have any talk?"

"Talk! My good sir, are you aware that we were out in that hurricane
between seven and eight o'clock last night, and that it was by God's
mercy we escaped with our lives?"

"I dare say you would like to improve the acquaintance now you have
seen her—eh? Come, tell the truth."

Mr. Lisle made no reply; this question had hit the goal—he certainly
_did_ feel a curious and unusual interest in this girl. All the same,
he made up his mind that this novel sensation would wear off within the
next twenty-four hours, and whether or no, he did not mean to yield to
it.

Mr. Quentin crossed to Ross alone, somewhat to his own surprise; and
Helen, as she listened to his condolences, felt rather an odd little
twinge of disappointment, for she had half expected that for once he
would have been accompanied by his mysterious companion. To-day her
smiles were not as responsive, nor her laughter as ready as usual.
Her keen-witted visitor did not fail to notice this,—also a curious
abstraction in her manner. She was partly thinking of Mr. Lisle (with
an interest that surprised herself), and partly recalling to her mental
eye that little pink figure seated on the log, with a face convulsed
with passion, and dozens of love-letters scattered round her on the
moss!

About a week later Colonel Denis met Mr. Lisle in the Bazaar and
insisted on his accompanying him home, and being there and then
presented to his daughter.

"She wants to thank you herself; only for you she believes that she
would have lost her wits; only for you she would have had to pass a
whole night on that coast alone."

Vainly did his captive mutter "that it was nothing; that he was only
too glad to have had the opportunity," &c., Colonel Denis was not
to be denied, and he led him off, _nolens volens_, to make formal
acquaintance with the island beauty at last.

Miss Denis was sitting on the steps of the bungalow feeding a tame
peacock, but as she saw her father approaching with a visitor in
tow, she stood up, rather shyly, to receive them. She looked quite
different to-day (naturally). Her dress was soft, cream-white muslin,
a heavy Indian silver belt encircled her slender waist, her hair was
bound round her head in thick plaits, her countenance was serene—and
marvellously pretty. It struck Mr. Lisle's artist eye that she and her
pet peacock would make a very effective picture, with that glimpse of
blue sea and palms as their background.

Of course she had a conviction that this spare, sunburnt man following
her father was the redoubtable _bête-noire_, who, although she had been
two months in the settlement, she had never yet met with face to face,
save in the gloom on that eventful evening.

After a little talk about the storm and the picnic, they adjourned
indoors and sat in the shady drawing-room, whilst Sawmy brought in
afternoon tea.

"How do you like this part of the world, Miss Denis?" asked her
visitor. "No doubt you are tired of the question by this time?"

"I like it extremely; so much that I believe I could live here all my
life."

Mr. Lisle smiled incredulously and slightly raised his brows.

"Yes," in reply to his expression. "Where could you find a more lovely
spot—a kind of earthly Paradise?"

"And a land where it is always afternoon," quoted her companion; "but
you will probably get tired of it in six months, and be glad enough to
stretch your wings."

"No, indeed"—indignantly—"why should I? I have everything I want
here, and every wish fulfilled." She paused, became exceedingly red, as
if she were afraid she had been too gushing to this stranger.

"I am filled with amazement and respect, Miss Denis; you are the only
person I have ever come across who admitted that they were now, in the
actual present, absolutely contented, and had no unsatisfied cravings.
But perhaps yours is a contented mind?"

"No, I have not been contented elsewhere; but here it is different;
here I have my home, and papa——"

She hesitated, and her listener mentally added—"And Jim Quentin!"

"And I think perpetually fine weather, and beautiful surroundings, and
liberty, go a long way towards making one feel as I do. Every morning
when I wake, I have an impression that something delightful is going to
happen during the day."

"Jim's visit of course," thought her companion. A sure sign that she is
in love, but he merely said aloud,—

"It's well you mentioned liberty, for I fancy that scenery and sunshine
go a short way with those beggars," pointing to a group of brown
convicts, who were now wending silently down the road. "Do you not find
everything very different out here to what it is at home?"

"Yes; but I had no home, I was always at school. Papa and I have so few
belongings—but I am quite forgetting all this time that I have not
offered you a cup of tea."

Mr. Lisle watched her as she busied herself among the spoons and
saucers, and thought what a nice child she was, and what a shame it
would be to let Jim Quentin break her heart!

"You see a good deal of Quentin," he remarked rather suddenly; but
her colour did not rise as she handed him his tea, nor did the cup
rattle in the saucer at the mention of that potent name. She met Mr.
Lisle's keen interrogative glance with the utmost composure. How
different he seemed without his hat, and how strange it was that it had
never occurred to any one to mention that Mr. Lisle was handsome! The
circumstance came home to her quite unexpected, as she now noticed his
well-shaped head and profile; true his skin was tanned brown by the
sun, his hair was touched with grey upon the temples, but in her heart
she there and then discovered that he had a far more striking face than
irresistible "Apollo" Quentin.

"I am taking this to papa," she said, rising; "he sits in the verandah,
you see."

"Yes, I see"—receiving the cup from her hand and carrying it out to
his host who was absorbed in a blue document. (Mr. Quentin had trained
him to efface himself in this fashion, for to be quite frank, he could
not stand that gentleman's society, much less his songs and sentimental
speeches.)

"I suppose," said Mr. Lisle, as he passed the piano—Helen's own
property,—"that that is Quentin's last new ditty," indicating a
piece on the music stand. "I know it's just in his line, 'Told in the
Twilight.'"

"Yes."

"I'm sure it gives him great pleasure coming over here, and listening
to your music?"

"I believe he derives some enjoyment from his own singing also," she
replied, demurely,—remembering the hours that she had toiled over his
accompaniments. "Are you musical?"

"In theory only, not in practice. I am very fond of listening to a
string band, or to good instrumental performers, but as far as I'm
concerned myself, I cannot play on a comb, much less a Jew's-harp! I
see"—glancing at some books—"that you read, Miss Denis. May I ask
where you get your literature?"

"Some from the library at Calcutta,—some from Mr. Quentin." This
latter announcement was a shock.

"Ah!—I daresay his contributions are more entertaining than
instructive! So you read French novels?"

"Oh, no!"—becoming scarlet—"I have never read any except a few French
stories, Miss Twigg picked out. Mr. Quentin merely lends me books of
poetry and magazines, more solid reading I get elsewhere."

"Why do you read solid books?"

"Chiefly to discover my own deplorable ignorance, I live and unlearn,"
and she laughed.

"Really"—also smiling—"and how?"

"Well, for instance, until last week I was under the impression that
America had been discovered by Christopher Columbus, in the year 1492."

"I fancy that most people are still labouring under the same delusion."

"But it is quite wrong"—shrugging her shoulders—"it was found by
Buddhist priests in the fourth century, at least so says a book that I
have just finished, and there does not seem to be the smallest doubt
upon the question in the author's mind."

"Miss Denis," said her listener, gravely, "your reading is too deep
for me, and I shall be quite afraid of you. The next time I see you,
you will be telling me that it is all a mistake about the battle of
Waterloo, that there was no such person as Queen Elizabeth, and that
Ireland was first discovered by the Japanese."

Helen laughed immoderately, and then said,—

"Why Ireland of all places?"

"I don't know, unless because it is generally the unexpected that
happens with regard to that country."

"Have you ever been there?"

"Yes, frequently; I've an uncle in the Emerald Isle, who has carried
on an ink feud for years with my father,—but is gracious enough to me."

"And I've an aunt there, who is the very reverse, for she never answers
papa's letters!"

"Then supposing we make an exchange of relatives?" suggested Mr. Lisle.

Colonel Denis was quite astonished to hear so much animated
conversation and laughter in his neighbourhood, and could not see why
he should not have a share in whatever was going on; but shortly after
he made his appearance Mr. Lisle took his leave; and Helen was really
amazed, when she saw by the little clock that his visit had lasted
almost an hour!

"A very gentlemanly, agreeable man, no matter _who_ he is," said her
father, after he had sped the parting guest; "eh, Nell?"

"Yes, papa."

"And _I_ don't believe with Mrs. Creery, that he is one of our
fellow-countrymen who are obliged to roam the world over,—owing to
their invincible ignorance of the number of kings which go to a pack of
cards," added Colonel Denis as he picked up a newspaper, and subsided
into an arm-chair.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Lisle imparted the history of his visit to his host that same
evening after dinner.

"And what do you think of her now you have seen her in daylight?" asked
Mr. Jim, who seemed anxious to have his friend's verdict.

"Oh, that she is a pretty girl, of course, unspoiled as yet, and
charmed with her surroundings, and immensely delighted at finding
herself grown up, and mistress of that bungalow,—which is her doll's
house so far."

"And do you think she likes _me_?"

"Yes; of course I did not put the delicate question point-blank as your
deputy, but I daresay she does; for her own sake I hope she won't get
any further than liking!"

"You are frankness itself, my dear fellow, and _why_?"

"Because she is much too good for you, and you know it! You have been
in love about fifty times already, and for pure lack of something to
do, are thinking of offering the shell of your heart to this pretty
penniless child. She would accept it—if she cared for you—_au grand
sérieux_, and give hers in return, for always; but you, once your
little _entr'acte_ was played out here—say in three months—would sail
away, leave her, and forget her! You have done it to dozens according
to your own confession;—why not again?"

The expression of tolerant amusement on his hearer's face rapidly gave
way to indignation, and he said with much asperity,—

"This is vastly fine! You are uncommonly eloquent on behalf of Miss
Helen's maiden affections; you beat old Parks in a common walk! One
would imagine that I was some giant Blunderbore who was going to eat
her! Or that——" and he paused, and blew a cloud of smoke into the air.

"Or what?" asked the other quietly.

"That you meant to enter the lists yourself, since you _will_ have it."

Mr. Lisle picked a crumb off the cloth, and made no reply, and his
companion proceeded,—

"But of course you know as well as I do myself, that such an idea for
_you_ would be all the same as if you went and hanged yourself out on
the big tree in Chatham!"

To this Mr. Lisle said nothing, but smoked on for a long time in dead
silence. At last he got up, threw his napkin over the back of his
chair, and said, gravely,—

"If you are really in earnest for once, and hope to win the girl, and
marry her,—well and good. I believe you will have all the luck on your
side; if on the other hand, you merely intend to seize such a rich
opportunity for amusing yourself, and playing your old game——"

"What then?" demanded Jim with a lazy challenge in his eye.

"You will see what then!" rejoined the other, standing up and looking
at him fixedly, with his hands grasping the back of his chair. He
remained in this attitude for fully a minute, and neither of them
spoke; then he turned abruptly, walked out into the back verandah, and
down the steps, and away in the direction of the sea-shore.

Mr. Quentin took his cigar out of his mouth, leant his head on one
side, and listened intently to his fast receding footsteps. When their
final echo had died away, he resumed his cheroot with a careless shrug
of his shoulders.

"Did Lisle mean to threaten him?"

It certainly looked uncommonly like it.



CHAPTER XI.

THE FINGER OF FATE!

  "Gigantic shapes and shadows gleam,
  Portentous through the night."

  _Longfellow._


FROM this time forward, Mr. Lisle occasionally accompanied his
companion to Ross, and listened to the band, and was even to be met
with at tennis parties, in brave defiance of Mrs. Creery's frowns
and Miss Caggett's snubs. Helen noticed that he was tabooed, and
lost no opportunity of speaking to him or smiling on him—but such
opportunities were rare. Mr. Quentin had a way, acquired by long
practice,—of elbowing away all intruders from the vicinity of those
whom he delighted to honour; and effectually introduced his own
large person between Helen and any other swains that might seek her
society;—in short, he monopolized her completely. Mr. Lisle had
entirely abandoned photography, shooting, and sailing, for the very
poor exchange of the _rôle_ of a dispassionate spectator. Why did he
come to Ross to see what he did not like? his friend's handsome face
bent over the beautiful Miss Denis, eliciting her smiles and merry
laughter. Naturally, like most lookers-on, he saw a good deal—the
envious outer circle of young men, and Miss Caggett, who had long ago
made a truce with Helen, but who loved her as little as of yore, and
was about as fond of her as any lady could be who beheld her rival
appropriating her own special property! Still, she figuratively folded
her enemy to her bosom, and smothered her feelings wonderfully,—but
Mr. Lisle fathomed them. Perhaps he had a fellow-feeling for her, who
knows? It appeared to him, that the citadel of Miss Denis's heart
was carried at last; and who could wonder, that an inexperienced
school-girl would long hold out against the artillery of Mr. Quentin's
attractions; attractions that had proved irresistible to so many
of her sex! No, he noticed that she coloured, and looked conscious
whenever he appeared, and was not that a sure symptom that the outer
fosse was taken? Little did he imagine, that the unfortunate young
lady felt exactly as if she were helplessly entangled in the web of a
huge spider, that she would have given worlds to rid herself from this
ever-hovering, ever-overshadowing presence,—that so effectually kept
any one she wished to speak to aloof and out of reach. Her natural good
nature, and politeness, prevented her from actually dismissing him, and
she had not the wit, or the experience to get rid of him otherwise.
She had indeed ventured on one or two timid hints, but with regard to
anything touching another person's wishes, Mr. Jim had no very keen
perceptions; and with respect to his own company being anything but
ever welcome, he would not have believed Miss Denis, even if she had
told him so in the plainest terms! Why should _she_ be different to the
rest of her sex? they all liked him! So Mr. Quentin kept his station by
her side, by his own wish, and by public concurrence. He immediately
joined her whenever she appeared, carried her bat, her shawl, or her
band programme, held her tea-cup, walked home with her, and visited
her three or four times a week. It was too tiresome, that he should
be her invariable companion, and vainly had she endeavoured to break
her chains, but he was older, and more experienced, than she was,—and
thoroughly understood the art of making _her_ conspicuous, and himself
immovable! Little did Mr. Lisle guess that Miss Denis would have much
preferred him as a companion. Alas! the world is full of contrariness.

Mr. Quentin appreciated Helen because she was difficult to fascinate,
Helen appreciated Mr. Lisle because he held himself aloof, and never
gave any one the chance of acquiring that familiarity, which notably
breeds contempt! and Mr. Lisle was greatly surprised to find, that he
was exceedingly envious of his friend, that he admired Helen Denis more
than any girl he had ever seen! But he admired, and stood afar off; no
thought of disloyalty to James Quentin. No _arrière pensée_ of that
motto, "All's fair in love and war," ever entered his mind, he was only
sorry, as he said to himself, that he was too late!

       *       *       *       *       *

The Settlement band played twice a week in the little public gardens
on Ross, and their strains were an irresistible summons to all the
(free) inhabitants. One special afternoon, we notice Mrs. Home holding
animated converse with Mr. Latimer, in his cool, black alpaca coat;
we see Mrs. Creery enthroned on a sofa (which she always provided)
alone, clad in a gorgeous combination of colours, that could only have
been achieved by a daring soul! We observe Helen and Miss Caggett in
company—the latter had apologized for her outbreak. "It would not
_do_," she said to herself, "to be on bad terms with the Denis girl,
she was too popular, all the men would be on her side, Captain Rodney,
Mr. Green, and that ugly Irishman, Dr. Malone; wretches who were always
praising her rival in her hearing!" A day or two after the storm, she
had gone to Helen, and begged and implored her to forget a certain
scene between them in the forest above North Bay; declared that she
would be miserable for life if Helen was not her friend, that she would
rather have her little finger than Mr. Quentin's whole person, that she
would sooner marry the typical crossing-sweeper than him, and that she
had been very cross and bad-tempered, and hoped that Helen would forget
an occasion that it would make her blush to recall! This was very fine,
but _who_ had ever seen Miss Caggett blush? However, Helen was quite
ready to accept the olive-branch, and, like the school-boys, to say
"Pax."

There was a considerable gathering at the band, including "Mr. Quentin
and Co.," as Mrs. Creery humorously called them. On band nights, the
former usually reclined on the sward, literally and figuratively at
Helen's feet, but to-night this butterfly was occupied (in quite a
temporary manner) with a nice-looking widow, who had come over from
Rangoon to pay a visit to her sister, Mrs. King, at Viper. People were
walking about in couples, standing in groups, and sitting down in rows.
Mrs. Creery (who did not appreciate the solitude of greatness) nodded
to Helen to approach, and take a place beside her, saying, rather
patronizingly, as she accepted the invitation, "So I hear that your
little bachelor's dinner went off quite nicely, and that everything was
eatable except the ice pudding!"

Helen felt annoyed, "quite nicely" was indeed but faint praise, after
all the trouble she had taken, and the success that she flattered
herself she had achieved.

She made no reply, but became rather red.

"And you had Mr. Quentin, of course, and the General, and Mr. Latimer,
and Dr. Parks. What champagne did you give them; from the mess, or the
bazaar?"

"Bazaar champagne! Oh, Mrs. Creery"—indignantly—"there is no such
thing, is there?"

"Yes, and why not? I believe no one can tell the difference between
it and that expensive stuff at the mess. I declare—" her attention
suddenly distracted to another quarter—"look at Mr. Lisle, in a
respectable suit of clothes"—glancing over to where that gentleman was
talking to three men.

"Billy!" she screamed to one of Mrs. Home's little boys, "go over
to Mr. Lisle, and tell him that I want him at once. Fancy"—turning
to Helen and speaking in a tone of pious horror—"those men are
European convicts, tickets-of-leave, and allowed to use the garden and
library—a very unwise indulgence. I quite set _my_ face against it,
and so I've told the General. Of course no decent person would speak to
the wretches; no one but a man like Lisle!"

"What have they been sent here for?" asked her companion.

"One for forgery, one for stabbing a man in a sailor's row in
Calcutta, and one was, _he_ says, sent here by mistake; but most of
them say _that_! Well," raising her voice, "Mr. Lisle, permit me to
congratulate you on your choice of companions."

"Poor creatures! They never have the chance of exchanging a word with
any one but each other, it pleases them, and does _me_ no harm. Lots of
worse fellows are at large,—and prospering!"

"Oh, pray don't excuse yourself, Mr. Lisle. Birds of a feather—you
know the adage."

"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Creery," making an inclination of such
exaggerated deference, that Helen now understood what Miss Caggett
meant, when she said that he was polite to rudeness. "You sent for me,
Mrs. Creery?"—interrogatively.

"Yes, because I did not choose to see you talking to those jail birds!
You can talk to _me_ instead."

Here was alluring invitation!

"Of course you know Miss Denis—but only recently. You were late in
welcoming her to Port Blair!"

"I have the pleasure of knowing Miss Denis, but as to welcoming her to
Port Blair, such a proceeding would be altogether presumptuous on my
part, and no doubt she received a welcome, from the proper quarter."
And he once more bowed himself before Mrs. Creery.

Helen could scarcely keep her countenance when she met his eyes, and
hastily turned off her smiles by saying,—

"I am sorry you could not dine with us last night."

"Mr. Lisle _never_ dines out," replied the elder lady, speaking
precisely as if she was Mr. Lisle's interpreter.

"Quentin is talking of getting up a dinner," he said, "in fact he is
rather full of it."

"Dinner! Well, don't let him give it till full moon. I hate crossing
in the dark, and be sure it is on a mutton-day!" said the elder lady
authoritatively. (N.B. Mutton was only procurable once a week.)

"I will remember your suggestions, but a good deal depends on the
butler, and _his_ inclination. He is rather an imperious person, we
have but little voice in the domestic arrangements."

"_You!_"—scornfully—"of course not; but I should hope that Mr.
Quentin is master of his own house."

"He leaves all to Abraham, and generally everything has turned out
well—except perhaps the writing of the _menu_! Last time, people were
a little startled on glancing over it, to see that they were going to
partake of 'Roast lion and jam pupps.'"

Helen laughed delightedly, but the elder lady gravely said, "Oh, roast
loin and jam puffs. Well, that's the worst of not having a lady in the
house. Such mistakes never happen in _my_ establishment!"

"Would you like to take a turn now, Miss Denis?" said Mr. Lisle,
glancing at her as he spoke.

"I daresay she would, and so would I," returned Mrs. Creery briskly,
rising and walking at the other side of him, an honour for which he was
by no means prepared.

"What is that unearthly noise?" inquired Helen; "_what_ are those
sounds that nearly drown the band?"

"Yes; reminds me of a pig being killed," rejoined Mr. Lisle; "but it
is merely the Andamanese school-children on the beach. This is the day
that their _wild_ parents come to see them; they arrived this morning
in a big canoe, and doubtless brought all kinds of nice, wholesome,
dainty edibles for their young people. They are sitting in a circle,
whooping and yelling, real _bonâ fide_ savages! Would you like to come
out and see them?"

"Certainly not," exclaimed Mrs. Creery, indignantly.

At this moment they were joined by the General and Captain Rodney, who
had just entered the gardens.

"Have you heard anything more about that fellow, sir?" inquired Mr.
Lisle.

"No; nothing as yet, but Adams and King are doing their best. I fancy
he has taken to the bush."

"Oh! then in that case, the Andamanese will soon bring him in,"
observed Mr. Latimer. "That, or starvation; roots and berries won't
keep soul and body together, though many have tried the experiment."

"What! _what_ is all this about? What do you mean?" inquired Mrs.
Creery, excitedly.

"Oh! rather a bad business at Hadow last night. One of the convicts
killed a warder, and has got away," replied the General.

"How did it happen?"

"It seems that this fellow, Aboo Sait, a Mahomedan, has always been an
unusually bad lot. A few months ago, he nearly beat out the brains of
another convict with his hoe, merely excusing himself on the plea that
he was tired of life, and wanted to be hanged. However, as his victim
recovered, we were unable to oblige him, and he was heard to say that
he would do for a white man next time! Last night, just before they
went to section, he was missed, and one of the warders was sent to
look for him; but as he did not return, a general search was made, and
the warder was found on his face among the reeds, stabbed through the
heart, and Aboo was still missing."

"I'm glad he is on the mainland!" ejaculated Mrs. Creery, with a
shudder. "I would not change places with Mrs. Manners for a trifle!"

"Then he is not so desirous of being executed as you imagined," said
Mr. Lisle. "He did not give himself up."

"Not he!" rejoined the General. "Life is sweet; his threats meant
nothing."

"Perhaps he has gone off to sea," suggested Colonel Denis. "I know they
have all a foolish notion that those far-away islands are India, and
that the steamboat that brings them here, merely goes round and round
for a few days to deceive them—they being below under hatches."

"No fear of his taking to the water, Colonel," replied the General. "I
have put a stop to that little game with the boats, and no convict crew
can now take out a boat, unless the owner, or some European, is with
them. The rascals went off with no end of boats, and got picked up at
sea as shipwrecked lascars, &c. Two even got so far north as London, in
the affecting character of 'castaways.'"

"And how did they fare there?" inquired Helen.

"In princely style, by their own account, they would like to repeat the
visit; they were fed and clothed and fêted and supplied with money;
they actually went to the theatre, and had their photographs taken—the
last a fatal snare—but they were vain! The moment they landed in
Bombay, thanks to their photos, the police wanted them, sent them back
to us—and here they are!"

"Yes, the boats were a great temptation; but now they go off on logs,"
said Mr. Latimer, "and even take to the sea in chains; the Malays,
especially, can swim like fish. However, their fellow-convicts are
getting too sharp for them; the reward of five rupees puts them on
their mettle."

"Too much on their mettle, sometimes!" protested Mrs. Graham, who had
joined the group. "Last monsoon, my boatmen nearly capsized the boat
one evening I was returning from church. What between the runaway's
struggles to escape, and their determination to land him, once or twice
we were all within a point of going over. My screams and expostulations
were quite useless!"

"The natives are very sharp after convicts, too," said the General;
"and I'll double the reward this time; it's not pleasant to leave such
a scoundrel as Aboo Sait loafing round the settlements,—especially as
he is _armed_!

"Miss Denis," turning to Helen, "there is a very singular object in the
sky to-night, which I'm sure you have never seen; we call it Moses'
Horn. Lisle, you should take her up the hill, and let her see it before
it fades. I've a lot of work to do, and I'm going home," (to Helen) "or
I would not depute any one to exhibit this rather rare sight."

In compliance with the General's suggestion, Helen and Mr. Lisle left
the little gardens together (despite Mrs. Creery's angry signals to the
former), and walked up to the flagstaff, and surveyed the sea and sky,
and beheld a long purple streak extending from the south, and pointing
as it were directly to the island. It was very sharply defined, and
gigantic in size, and had to Helen rather an awful, and supernatural
appearance.

"It is shaped like a finger," she said at last. "I never saw anything
so strange!"

"Yes, the finger of fate," agreed her companion, "and if I were
superstitious, I would say that it was pointing straight at us. Perhaps
there may be some remote connection between our planets; perhaps they
are identical."

As they stood gazing, the phenomenon gradually melted away before their
eyes, and was replaced by the moon, which now rose out of the sea like
a huge fire balloon!

"The moon is irrepressible out here," remarked Mr. Lisle, "she seems
always to the fore."

"So much the better," replied Helen, "these Eastern nights are
splendid. I wonder, by-the-way, why the moon has always been spoken of
by the feminine gender."

"As the Lady Moon? Oh! that question is easily answered:—Because she
is never the same two days running."

"Now, Mr. Lisle, I call that rude—a base reflection on my sex. I don't
believe we are half as changeable as yours.

  "'One foot on sea and one on shore,
  To one thing constant never.'

Pray, to whom does that refer?" and she looked at him interrogatively.

"I could give you a dozen quotations on the other side, but I
will spare you; it is my opinion that women are as changeable as
weathercocks."

"An opinion founded on your own experience?"

"Well, no, I am wise; _I_ profit by the experience of my friends."

"Oh!" rather scornfully, "second-hand things are never valuable!"

Mr. Lisle laughed and said, "Well, don't let us quarrel. What did we
start with? Oh! the moon;" and gazing over at that orb, he added, "I,
too, can repeat poetry, Miss Denis, and this seems just a fitting place
to quote:

  "'Larger constellations burning—mellow moons and happy skies;
  Breadths of tropic shade, and palms in clusters—knots of paradise.'"

This was an apt quotation, and exactly illustrated the scene before
them. The loud striking of a clock aroused these two people from a
rather reflective silence; it recalled them sharply from day dreams,
to the dinner-hour! And, after a little desultory conversation, they
retraced their steps, and rejoined the crowd in the gardens just as the
band was playing "God Save the Queen."



CHAPTER XII.

THE WRECK.

  "The direful spectacle of the wreck."

  _Tempest_


IT may be among the facts not generally known, that the Andaman seas
and shores are wealthy in shells; and people who grumble at being
despatched to do duty at the settlement are usually consoled by their
friends (who are not accompanying them), saying, "Oh, it's a charming
place! if you have a taste for conchology, you will have any quantity
of shelling."

In most cases, the shelling is angrily repudiated, and yet the chances
are, that once arrived upon the scene of action, and stimulated by
general example and keen emulation, the new-comers will develop into
the most unwearying, rabid, and greedy of shellers!

When I say a greedy sheller, I refer to an individual who, when tide,
wind and moon favour, will secretly take boat, and steal away to the
most likely parts of Corvyn's Cove, or some favourite reef at Navy Bay,
and there reaping a rich and solitary harvest, return with bare-faced
triumph, and swagger, dripping up the pier, between two lines of
outraged acquaintances, with a shameless air of,—

"Ah, ha! see what _I_ have got!"

From the General, down to Billy Home, every one went shelling at Port
Blair, and some of these "shell maniacs" (as Mrs. Creery dubbed them)
had superb and valuable collections. There was as much excitement and
competition over a day's quest as would be expended on covert shooting
or salmon fishing at home. It was not merely a frivolous picking up
of pretty objects; it was a very serious business. The finder of the
rarest shells was the hero of the hour: the owner of "ring" cowries was
a person of repute!

Behold, then, one afternoon, a few days after the band, two large
rowing-boats waiting at the pier for shellers! and kindly notice the
party coming down to embark. An inexperienced eye would naturally
assume that they were all going to bathe, for each individual carries a
bag and a couple of bath towels—to put round the back of their heads
as they stoop in the sun. Their garments are whole, indeed, and quite
good enough for the occasion, but how faded, and shrunken, and cockled
with sea-water! Their boots—but no, we will draw a veil over these. To
be brief the appearance of the company is the reverse of distinguished.
In a few short happy hours they will return: they will be all soaking
in water from the waist downwards. (Luckily, wading about in the
nice, warm sea is rather pleasant after the first plunge, and people
in the excitement of shelling are insidiously drawn in deeper and
deeper still.) Yes, by six o'clock, if all goes well, we shall see
the company of shellers, returning like a party of half-drowned rats;
but there will be no shyness, no reluctance, in their progress up the
pier; without the least diffidence, they will run the gauntlet of
all the idlers, with an air of lofty pride, born of the noble spoils
they usually carry. Have they not in their bags such treasures as
"woodcocks," "staircases," "tigers," and "poached eggs"! We spare the
reader the Latin names of these rarities.

       *       *       *       *       *

To-day, the General (a keen sheller,) is going, also Mr. Latimer,
Captain Rodney, Dr. Parks, Miss Caggett, Dr. Malone, Colonel Home,
Colonel and Miss Denis, and last, but by no means least, Mrs. Creery
(and Nip). She does not condescend to shell, but she goes on principle,
as she rarely suffers an expedition to leave Ross without her patronage.

Colonel Denis and his daughter came hurrying down, just as the party
were about to descend the steps.

"Good gracious, Helen!" cried Mrs. Creery, "you are never going to
shell in _that_ dress!" speaking exactly as if it were her own property.

"No, no," shaking her head, and exhibiting a small block and paint-box.
"Have you forgotten that you are to leave me on the wreck to sketch?"

"Oh, true, so we are. Well, get in, _do_! My dear, you are keeping us
all waiting."

In another two minutes the boats were full, and rowing away across
the water with long, steady strokes; then up the estuary, between
the wooded hills of Mount Harriet on one hand, and Hadow—where the
lepers were kept—at the other, past the little isle of Chatham, where,
according to a legend (for which I will not vouch), eighty convicts
were hanged on yon old tree, one May morning, and round the bend, till
they were in sight of the wreck, a large three-masted ship, stranded
on the muddy shallows, cast away there by some terrible cyclone as it
tore its way up the Bay of Bengal. Her history was unknown, for she was
already there when the Andamans were opened up, where she came from,
and what had been the fate of her crew and passengers—would never now
be learned. From her rigging, it was guessed that she was of American
build,—but that was all.

Even in the brilliant afternoon light, she appeared grey and weird,
with her skeleton gear aloft, and her dark, wide-open ports, looking
like so many hollow eyes, as she lay among the tall bulrushes, sheathed
in sea-weed. Her cabins and deck were intact, and she had been used as
a hulk in former years, till, being the scene of a ghastly tragedy, and
other prisons having been built, she was once more abandoned to the
barnacles and the rats. She seemed much larger, and more awe-inspiring
at close quarters; and as they rowed under her stern, Helen, in
her secret heart, was rather sorry that she had been so determined
to spend two hours upon the wreck alone; that all the way down she
had jeered and laughed at Dr. Malone's warnings of cockroaches and
ghosts. However, there was no possibility of changing her mind _now_,
especially with Lizzie Caggett's inquiring eyes bent upon her—Lizzie,
who was mentally revelling in the prospect of the undivided attentions
of all Miss Denis' admirers, for the next two hours!

"Now that it has come to the pinch, I believe you are afraid," she
remarked, with a malicious smile.

The only reply that Helen vouchsafed to this taunt was by immediately
standing up. Greatly to her surprise, Mrs. Creery also rose, saying,—

"I think I'll go with you! Nip is fond of sniffing among old timber,
and he hates shelling, like his mistress."

No one clamoured against _their_ departure, and Helen was for once
in her life glad of Mrs. Creery's society, and grateful to Nip. The
two ladies were presently helped over the side (Nip being cautiously
carried up by the scruff of his neck), and the party were left by
themselves. To the last, Dr. Malone pressed Helen to "think better of
it, a quarter of an hour will be more than ample, you will see."

At this prophecy, she merely shook her head, and showed her sketch-book.

"I should not wonder if we find you both in the rigging when we come
back!" he shouted, as the boat rowed off, and making a speaking-trumpet
of his hands, he added, "she's full of rats!"

       *       *       *       *       *

As the sound of the oars grew fainter and fainter, Helen went to the
bows, from whence she hoped to make her sketch, and stood silently
looking at the view—at the wooded hills casting deep shadows into the
glassy water, at the arm of the sea they had just come up, and out in
the open ocean like a green gem in a silver setting—the distant island
of Ross. It was undoubtedly, as Mr. Latimer had suggested, a capital
place for a sketch, and she must lose no time, and make the most of the
light whilst it lasted. So she got out her paint-box and immediately
set to work; but,—and here I appeal specially to artists,—_is_ it
easy to draw, with a large solar topee thrust over your right shoulder,
and a voice perpetually in your ear, saying,—

"Oh, you are not making Ross nearly high enough! Surely that point is
never meant for Hopetown? those trees are too far apart; and Chatham is
crooked!"

Helen was almost beside herself, every stroke was rudely criticized,
and Mrs. Creery emphasized her remarks with her chin, which was nearly
as sharp as that of the Duchess in _Wonderland_. At length she turned
her attention elsewhere, much to her victim's relief, and began to
investigate, and poke about among old spars and rubbish.

After a delightful respite, Helen heard her calling out,—

"I see a little boat coming this way, with two men in it—no, one man
is a dog; it's from Navy Bay, and is sure to be Mr. Manners. I'll wave
and beckon him here, for it's very dull for me!"

Accordingly Mrs. Creery's handkerchief (which was the size of an
ordinary towel) was seen being violently agitated over the side, and
met with an immediate response, for the little boat rowed by one man,
with one dog passenger, was soon within easy hail.

"I do declare," cried Mrs. Creery peevishly, "if it is not that odious
Mr. Lisle! I never wanted _him_." However, wanted or not, he was
already alongside, looking up at the bulwarks expectantly.

"Oh! it's you, Mrs. Creery! can I be of any service to you?"

"I thought it was Mr. Manners," she called down in an aggrieved tone.
"I never dreamt of its being _you_! However, you may come up," speaking
precisely as if she were in her own verandah.

Mr. Lisle did not look as if he was going to seize this niggardly
invitation; on the contrary, he took a firmer hold of the sculls,
glanced over his shoulder, and was evidently about to depart, when Mrs.
Creery casually remarked, as if it were a mere afterthought,—

"Oh! by-the-way, Miss Denis is here too, sketching."

Apparently this intelligence altered the case, for the gentleman
paused, rested on his oars, and said rather nonchalantly,—

"Very well, I shall come aboard—since you wish it so particularly!"
and, rowing round, made fast his boat, and was soon on deck, closely
followed by a big brown retriever.

"Oh, dear me!" cried Mrs. Creery, lifting up her hands. "So you have
brought that nasty dog! he is sure to fight with Nip."

"Not he, I will be security for his good conduct. And how are you
getting on, Miss Denis?" to Helen, who was shyly hiding her drawing
with her arm.

"Not at all well; I am not accustomed to sketching, and my attempt here
is such a libel on the view, that I am quite ashamed to let you see
it, but it" (apologetically) "seems a pity not to try and take away
some recollections of these lovely islands."

"Yes, you are quite right; and I shall be very glad to give you some
photographs, that is if you would care for them—they don't give the
colours, of course."

(At this offer Mrs. Creery became rigid and gave a little warning
cough.)

"But," taking up Helen's sketch, "this is not at all bad! Your
perspective is a bit out here, and you have not got the right shade in
the sea!"

"I know it is all frightful; sea, and land, and sky," returned Helen,
colouring; "I am sure you can draw, Mr. Lisle: please have the charity
to do something to it for me, and make it look less like a thing on a
tea-tray," holding her box and brushes towards him as she spoke.

Mr. Lisle, without another word, laid the block upon the bulwarks,
gazed for a moment at the scene, and then dashed in two or three
effective strokes, with what even Mrs. Creery (who had, of course,
followed up the sketch) could see was a master's hand.

Helen's pale, meek, school-girl attempt received in three minutes
another complexion; with a few rapid touches, a glow of the setting-sun
lit up the sky, and threw out in bold relief the dark promontory of
Mount Harriet; a touch to the sea, and it became sea (no longer mere
green paper); palms and gurgeon trees appeared as if by magic; Helen
had never seen anything like the transformation. She almost held her
breath as she gazed—not quite so closely as the elder lady, whose
topee was in its old place;—why, the drawing-master at Miss Twigg's
could not paint a quarter as well as Mr. Lisle; who now looked at the
view, with his head on one side, and then glanced at Helen, amused at
the awe and admiration depicted on her countenance.

"Yes, _that's_ more like it," cried Mrs. Creery, encouragingly. "I told
you, you know," to Helen, "that your sea was too green and flat, and
your perspective all wrong! I know a good deal about drawing myself."
(May she be forgiven for this fable!) "My sister, Lady Grubb is a
beautiful artist, and has done some lovely Decalcomanie vases; but
_you_ paint very nicely, too, Mr. Lisle, really quite as well as most
drawing-masters!" Then, looking suddenly round, "But all this time
where is Nip? I do believe that he has followed that horrible brute of
yours down into the cabins!"

"Not at all likely, Mrs. Creery, you know that they are not affinities;
Nip has followed his own inquisitive impulses, for Hero," moving aside,
"is here."

"Well, where can he be? Nip, Nip, Nip!" walking away in search of her
treasure.

"He is not _lost_, at any rate," muttered Mr. Lisle, "no such luck."
Then, in a louder tone, "Is not this a strange, out-of-the-world
place?" to Helen, who was watching his busy brush with childlike
interest. "If I had been suddenly asked about the Andamans, a couple of
years ago, I should have been puzzled to say whether they were a place,
a family of that name, or something to _eat_—wouldn't you?"

"Not quite so bad as that," smiling.

"Oh, of course, pardon me—I forgot that you are a young lady of most
unusual information."

"No, no, no, I knew nothing about them, I candidly confess, till papa
came here."

"They certainly well repay a visit," continued her companion, painting
away steadily as he spoke, "there is a sort of Arcadian simplicity, a
kind of savage solitude, an absence of worry, and not the slightest
hurry about anything, that has wonderful charms for me."

"Then I suppose you are naturally lazy, and would like to bask in the
sun all day, and have one person to brush away the flies, and another
to do your thinking."

"Miss Denis," suddenly looking up at her, with mock indignation, "you
speak as if you were alluding to one of the animals of the lower
creation;—what have I done to deserve this? I deny the impeachment
of laziness. 'Coming, sir,' my servant, will testify that I am out
every morning at half-past five; neither am I idle, but I like to
spend my time in my own way, not to be driven hither and thither by
dinner gongs, and railway bells, and telegrams. I like to pull my neck
out from under the social yoke,—to carry out your uncomplimentary
simile,—and figuratively, to graze a bit!"

Helen made no reply, but leant her chin on her hand, and looked down
abstractedly at the water for some time; twice her companion glanced
up, and saw that she was still buried in reflection. At last he said,
"I would not presume to purchase your thoughts, Miss Denis, but perhaps
you will be so generous as to share them with me?"

"You might not like them! Some of them were about myself," and she
laughed rather confusedly.

"And may I not ascertain whether I approve of them or not?"

"You may, if you will promise not to be offended."

"I promise in the most solemn manner; I swear by bell, book, and
candle; and I am very much honoured that you should think of me _at
all_!"

"You are laughing at me, Mr. Lisle," she said, colouring vividly,
divining a lurking sarcasm in this speech. "I am dumb, and indeed I
have no business to criticize you even in my thoughts, much less to
your face——"

"Speak out plainly, Miss Denis," he interrupted eagerly; "let me have
your views, good and bad, or bad alone."

"It is very presumptuous in me I know—I am only a girl, and you are
a great deal older than I am—but it seems to me that every one has
some place of their own in the world allotted to them—some special
duty to fulfil—" here her listener glanced at her sharply, but her
eyes were bent unconsciously on the water, and she did not note his
gaze—"surely it is scarcely right to shirk one's share of all the toil
and the struggling in the outer world, and the chances of helping one's
fellow-creatures, in ways however small,—just for the selfish pleasure
of being securely moored from all annoyances among these sleepy
islands!"

She stopped, and looked up at him rather timidly, with considerably
heightened colour, and added, in answer to his unusually grave face,
and stare of steadfast surprise,—

"I can see that you think me a very impertinent girl, and will never
speak to me again; but you _would_ have my thoughts, and there they
are, just as they entered my head!"

"I think you are a brave and noble young lady, Miss Denis, and you
have taught me a lesson that I shall certainly take to heart. I came
here for six weeks, and have stayed nearly six months, enjoying this
lotus-eating existence, oblivious of my place in the world, and my
duty—and I _have_ duties elsewhere; thank you for reminding me of
them, and indeed, my relations are beginning to think that I am lost,
or have fallen a prey to cannibals!"

Here was Mr. Lisle speaking of his belongings and his plans for
once,—oh, why was not Mrs. Creery on the spot?

However, she was not far off, and her shrill cry of "Nip, Nip, Nip!
where are you, Nip?" was coming nearer and nearer.



CHAPTER XIII.

"BLUE BEARD'S CHAMBER."

  "I doubt some danger does approach you nearly."

  _Macbeth._


"HE must be in the saloon!" cried Mrs. Creery. "I've hunted the whole
ship, and I'm sure he has gone down. You," to Mr. Lisle, "will have to
go after him; I dare not, it looks so dark."

To explore the rat-haunted cabins of this old hulk in search of "Nip,"
was by no means an errand to Mr. Lisle's taste; he would infinitely
have preferred to remain sketching on the bulwarks, and conversing with
Helen Denis. However, of course he had no alternative. Go he must!
Somewhat to his surprise, the young lady said,—

"I shall go too; the ports are open, there will be plenty of light, and
I want to investigate the cabins downstairs."

"You had much better not, mind! you will only dirty your dress," urged
Mrs. Creery dissuasively, but Helen's slim white figure had already
vanished down the companion-ladder, in the wake of Mr. Lisle.

At first it was as dark as Erebus—after coming out of the glare
above—but as their eyes became accustomed to the gloom, there was
sufficient light from the open stern windows to show that they were
standing in a long narrow saloon, with numerous cabins at either side.

"It looks quite like the steamer I came out in!" exclaimed the young
lady. (Anything but a compliment to a first-class P. and O.) "That is
to say, the length and shape. There are tables, too!" (These had not
been worth removing, and were fastened to the floor.)

"It was used as a prison long ago, I believe," said Mr. Lisle.

"Yes, and——"

Helen was about to add that murder had been done there, but something
froze the sentence on her lips; it seemed scarcely the time and place
to speak of _that_.

"Nip, Nip, Nip!" cried his infatuated mistress, who had cautiously
descended to the foot of the stairs, holding her petticoats tightly
swathed round her. "Where are you, you naughty dog? Ah!" shrieking, and
skipping surprisingly high, "I'm _sure_ that was a rat!"

"Not at all unlikely," rejoined Mr. Lisle, rattling noisily along the
wainscot with a bit of stick, whilst Mrs. Creery hurriedly withdrew up
half-a-dozen steps, where she remained plaintively calling "Nip, Nip,
Nip!"

Miss Denis had meanwhile been looking out of the stern windows on the
now moonlit water, the tall bulrushes, and the wooded shores; and
here in a few moments she was joined by her fellow-explorer, who was
examining something in his hand.

"See what I have found!" he said. "When I was hammering the old
boarding just now, a plank fell away, and this thing rolled out. I
believe," wiping it in his handkerchief as he spoke, and tendering it
for her inspection, "that it is a woman's ring."

"A ring! so it is," returned Helen; "and it looks like gold."

"Oh, yes! it's gold right enough, I fancy, and must have belonged to
one of the passengers of this ship."

"I wonder who wore it last," turning it over. "I wish it could speak
and tell us its history, and how many years it is since it was lost."

"It was a woman's ring; you see it would only just fit my little
finger," observed Mr. Lisle, putting it on as he spoke; "now try it on
yours." Helen slipped it on—it fitted perfectly.

"It is an old posy or betrothal ring,—at any rate it resembles one
that my mother used to wear!"

"Helen and Mr. Lisle! what are you doing?" screamed Mrs. Creery.
"You are chattering away there, and not helping me one bit." She was
standing on the ladder exactly as they had left her. "You have never
searched in the cabins! He may be shut up in one of them; try those
opposite, Helen! Do you hear me?"

Thus recalled to their duty, Mr. Lisle now undertook to inspect one
side of the saloon, and his companion the other. All the compartments
that Helen had examined were empty so far,—but she came at last to
one—with a closed door!

"Take care! it may be Blue Beard's closet," suggested Mr. Lisle
facetiously, as he looked in and out of cabins in his own neighbourhood.

Helen laughed, turned the handle and entered; the moon shone clear
through the paneless port, and showed her a cabin exactly similar to
the others—just two wooden worm-eaten bunks, and that was all. Behind
the door—ah! a little song she was humming died away upon her lips,
and she uttered a stifled exclamation, as her startled eyes fell upon
a tall, powerful man in convict's dress, in short, no less a person
than Aboo Sait! In a twinkling his grasp was on her throat, crushing
her savagely against the wall. Vain indeed were her struggles, he was
strangling her with iron hands; his fierce turbaned face was within an
inch of hers, she felt his hot breath upon her cheek! She could not
scream or move, her hands fell nerveless at her sides, her sight was
failing, hearing seemed to be the only sense that had not deserted her!
she could distinctly catch the faint, irregular lapping of the water
against the old ship's sides, and Mrs. Creery's querulous voice calling
"Nip, Nip, Nip!" whilst _she_ was dying!

"Well, have you found Blue Beard or Nip?" demanded Mr. Lisle, pushing
back the door as he spoke. "Good God!"

In another instant she was released—she breathed again. That awful
grip was off her throat, for with one well-delivered blow Aboo's prey
was wrenched from his grasp, and he himself sent staggering across the
cabin; but his repulse was merely momentary; the convict was armed with
a knife,—_the_ knife; in a second it shone in his hand, and with a
tigerish bound he flung himself on the new-comer.

And now within the narrow space of that cabin commenced such a struggle
for life and death as has seldom been witnessed. Mr. Lisle was a
middle-sized, well-made, athletic Englishman, endowed with iron muscles
and indomitable pluck—but he was over-matched by the convict in bone
and weight. Aboo was six foot two, as wiry as a panther, as lithe as a
serpent, and all his efforts were edged by the fatal fact that _he_ had
everything to gain and everything to lose!

The issue of this conflict meant to him, liberty and his very existence
on one hand, and Viper Island and the gibbet, on the other.—Win he
must, since the stake was his LIFE!

They wrestle silently to and fro, finally out of the cabin, locked
in a deadly embrace. The Englishman, though stabbed in the arm, had
succeeded in clutching the convict's right wrist, so that for the
moment that sharp gleaming weapon is powerless! Aboo, on his side,
holds his antagonist in a wolfish grip by the throat—they sway, they
struggle, they slide and stagger on the oozy floor of the saloon. At
the moment, the advantage is with Aboo Sait—if he gets the chance
he will strangle this Feringhee devil, and cut the throat of that
white-faced girl, who is still leaning against the cabin wall, faint
and breathless.

But he has not reckoned on another female—a female who has ceased
to call "Nip, Nip, Nip, Nip," and has now rushed up on deck with
outstretched arms, shrieking, "Murder! murder! murder!"

"Fly, save yourself!" gasped Mr. Lisle to Helen, at the expense of an
ugly wound in the neck. She cannot fly; a kind of hideous spell holds
her to the spot, gazing on the scene before her with eyes glazed with
horror. Her very hair seems rising from her head, for she is perfectly
certain that murder will be done; the convict will kill Mr. Lisle,
and _she_ will be an involuntary witness of the awful deed! And yet
she cannot move, nor shake off this frightful nightmare; she is, as it
were, chained to her place. But hark! her ears catch distant singing,
and the rise and fall of oars. This familiar noise is the signal of her
release—the spell is broken.

"They are coming! they are coming!" she screamed, and rushed upstairs,
calling "Help! help! help!" She sees the boats approaching steadily in
the moonlight, but, alas! their occupants are so entirely engrossed
in chaunting "Three Blind Mice," that her agonized signals, and Mrs.
Creery's piercing cries, are apparently unnoticed. And whilst they
are singing, _what_ is being done in that dark cabin down below? She
thought with sickening horror of those two struggling figures, of that
gleaming, merciless knife, and hurried once more to the head of the
stairs. As she did so, she heard the sound of a heavy fall, and in
another moment, fear thrown to the wind, she was in the saloon.

Mr. Lisle had slipped upon the slimy boards, made a valiant effort to
recover himself, but, overborne by the convict's superior weight, he
fell, still locked in that iron embrace. In the fall, the weapon had
flown out of Aboo's hand,—but only a short way, it was within easy
reach; and now, Gilbert Lisle, your hour has come! He sees it in the
criminal's face, he knows that his life is to be reckoned by seconds,
and yet his eye, as it meets that malignant gaze, never quails, though
it seems a hard fate to perish thus, in this old hulk, and at the hands
of such a ruffian! With his knee pressed down upon his victim's chest,
a murderous smile upon his face, Aboo stretched out a long, hairy,
cruel arm, to seize the knife, just as Helen reached the foot of the
ladder. Like lightning she sprang forward, pounced on it, snatched at
it, secured it—and running down the cabin, flung it far into the sea,
which it clave with one silvered flash, and then sank.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Denis was not nearly so much frightened now,—nay, she felt
comparatively brave since _that_ was gone. She heard the near sound
of voices, and a noise of many steps hurrying downstairs. There was a
desperate struggle. In three minutes Aboo, once more a prisoner, with
his arms bound in his turban, was led up on deck, cursing and howling
and spitting like a wild cat. Here we behold Mrs. Creery, the centre
of an anxious circle, volubly narrating a story in which the personal
pronoun "I" is frequently repeated; and Helen, quite broken-down,
and trembling from head to foot, clinging to her father, looking the
picture of cowardice, as at the same moment Mrs. Creery might have sat
for the portrait of "Bellona" herself.

Miss Caggett (who had had a most satisfactory afternoon) approached the
former and examined her curiously.—She was scarcely able to speak, and
was shaking like a leaf, and at this instant the General and Dr. Malone
came up from the saloon, followed by Mr. Lisle, minus his hat, his coat
in rags, and his arm in a sling. Every one looked at him for a moment
in silence, and then a torrent of words broke forth—words conveying
wonder, sympathy, and praise.

But he, scarcely noticing the crowd, went straight up to Colonel Denis
and said, "Sir, I suppose you know that your daughter has just saved my
life?"

"I—I—did not," he replied, astounded at this rather abrupt address;
"I thought it was the other way—that you saved hers!"

"That fellow nearly strangled her; I'm afraid she got a fearful shock."

"Miss Denis," addressing her in a lower voice, "words seem but feeble
things after such a deed as yours; but believe me, that I shall never
forget what your courage and presence of mind have done for me to-day."

"No, no," she answered in a choked voice, shaking her head, "it was
you—_you_." More she could not utter, as the recollection of her
recent ordeal flashed before her, when Aboo had his deadly clutch upon
her throat. She turned away, and hiding her face against her father's
arm, burst into tears.

"What a queer, hysterical creature!" remarked Miss Caggett _sotto
voce_ to Dr. Malone. "All this fuss, just because Mr. Lisle caught a
convict, and the convict tore his coat!"

"I think there was more in it than that," objected her listener. "The
man nearly strangled her, and he was armed; somehow she got hold of the
knife and threw it away. The story is all rather confused as yet—but
she is an uncommonly plucky girl!"

"She _looks_ it," returned Lizzie, with a malicious giggle.

"And," continued Dr. Malone, not noticing her interruption, "as for
Lisle, I always knew that he was a splendid chap."

This speech was not palatable to Miss Caggett; she tossed her head and
replied,—

"_I_ see nothing splendid about him; and for that matter, Mrs. Creery
says that she saved everybody——"

"Oh, of course," ironically. "I can tell you this much, that it's
well for Mrs. Creery that it was not an elegant, indolent fop that
happened to be aboard, like her friend, Mr. James Quentin; if _he_ had
fallen foul of Aboo, Aboo would have made short work of him with his
flaccid muscles and portly figure; it was ten to one on the convict,
an exceptionally powerful man—he was desperate, like a wolf in a
cage, and he was armed. However, Lisle is as hard as nails, and a very
determined fellow, and whatever Mrs. Creery may choose to say, we owe
her valuable life to _him_."

"He managed to save his own too," snapped Lizzie, as if she rather
regretted the circumstance.

"Yes, but he has got a couple of very ugly deep cuts—one of them
dangerously near the jugular!"

"It strikes me as a very curious fact, that within the last two months
Mr. Lisle and Miss Denis have been concerned in two most thrilling
adventures: they were nearly drowned coming from North Bay—at least,
so _she_ says—and now they have been all but murdered; a remarkable
coincidence, and really very funny."

"Funny! Miss Caggett. I think it would scarcely strike any one else in
a humorous light. It was a mere chance, and a lucky one for Miss Denis,
that she had Lisle to stand by her on both occasions."

"She is welcome to him, as far as I'm concerned," retorted the young
lady waspishly.

Dr. Malone grinned and thought of "sour grapes," and wondered if Miss
Denis was equally welcome to Apollo Quentin.

All the shelling party were now assembled about the deck awaiting
a boat, which had been signalled for from Viper, to take charge of
the criminal. Mrs. Creery was still volubly expounding to one or two
listeners; Helen was sitting down with her face well averted from the
direction of Aboo, who, guarded by brother-prisoners (boatmen), stood
near the bulwarks, looking the very incarnation of impotent fury and
sullen despair. His late opponent remained somewhat aloof from the
crowd, talking to Mr. Latimer; he bore evident traces of the recent
deadly struggle, and leant against the weather-beaten wheel-house, as
if he was glad of its support. It was many a year since the deck of the
old wreck had carried such a crowd of passengers. After a considerable
delay the expected boat and warders arrived, and the writhing,
gibbering criminal was despatched in chains to Viper, having previously
made several frantic efforts to throw himself into the sea. Mr. Lisle
departed in his own little skiff, accompanied by Dr. Malone and the
brown dog, and the remainder of the company re-embarked and rowed back
to Ross in unwonted silence; there was no more singing, and even Mrs.
Creery was unusually piano. Nip, the immediate cause of the search
and the strife, and who had appeared in quite a casual manner at the
last moment, now sat in his mistress's lap, the picture of dignified
satisfaction—undoubtedly _he_ considered himself the hero of the hour.



CHAPTER XIV.

"MR. LISLE HAS GIVEN ME A RING."

  "Vouchsafe to wear this ring."

  _Richard III._


FOR several days after this startling occurrence, Miss Denis did not
appear in public. She would gladly have denied herself to all visitors
save Mrs. Home; but who could shut out Mrs. Creery? She penetrated
to Helen's room, and from thence issued daily bulletins to the whole
station in this style,—

"The girl was knocked up; her nerves were unstrung. She was in a very
weak state. She required rousing!"

Miss Caggett also forced her way in, and imparted to her friends and
acquaintances "that, from what she saw of the invalid, it would never
surprise _her_ to hear that there was insanity in the Denis family, and
SHE would not be astonished if she was going off her head!"

This affair had given Mrs. Creery something fresh to talk about, and
she related the whole story at least thrice separately to every one
in Ross, and as often as she had the opportunity to the people from
the out-stations. On each occasion she added a little touch here, and
detail there, till by the end of a week it was as thrilling a narrative
as any one would wish to hear. Mrs. Creery flattered herself that she
told a story uncommonly well; so also said public opinion—but then
their reading of the word _story_ was not exactly the same as hers. She
had brought herself to believe that she had been the only person on
the wreck who had evinced any presence of mind, and it would take very
little to persuade her that she herself had been in personal conflict
with Aboo—Aboo who had been duly hanged at Viper on the succeeding
Monday morning! She now commenced all conversations with,—

"Of course you have heard of my terrible adventure on the wreck? and
the marvellous escape we all had?" and then, before she could be
interrupted, the rehearsal was in full swing. This intrepid, loquacious
lady entirely ignored Mr. Lisle, of whom Dr. Malone reported that
he was nearly convalescent, the cuts from Aboo's knife were healing
rapidly, and that he was going about as usual at Aberdeen.

Mr. Lisle was among Helen's first visitors; and he came alone. He wore
his arm in a sling—this gave him quite an interesting aspect,—and
carried a small parcel in his hand. He was struck, as he entered the
drawing-room, with Miss Denis's altered appearance; her face was thin
and white, and her eyes had a startled, sunken look. They shook hands
in silence, and for quite a moment neither of them spoke. At last he
said,—

"I hope you are all right again?"

"Yes, thank you. And your arm?"

"Is well; this sling is only Malone's humbug. I have heard of you daily
from him—our mutual medical attendant, you know—and would have been
over before, only he said you saw no one. I have brought you this."

"What is it? Oh, my sketch!"

"Yes, I fetched it from the wreck. I thought you might not like to lose
it."

"Oh, I don't care! I had forgotten it. But how _could_ you go back to
that horrible place?" and she shuddered visibly.

"Why not?"

She did not answer this question, but said in a rather husky voice,—

"Mr. Lisle, you remember what you said to papa. That was absurd. Only
for you I would not be sitting here now. No," raising her hand with a
deprecatory gesture as she saw that he was about to speak, "if you had
not come that time, I know in another moment I would have been dead."

"Was it so bad as all that? Well, but Miss Denis, that I should drag
that fellow off was a matter of course—that's understood. Do you think
any man would stand by and see that brute throttle a girl before his
face? But that you should interfere in my behalf was quite a different
affair—you know that. My life hung on a thread—I believe I was within
ten seconds of eternity. If you had not made that dash when you did, I
should have been a dead man. I owe my life to your courage."

"Courage! Oh, if you only knew how little I deserve the word! You would
not believe what a miserable coward I am. I actually tremble in the
dark; I dread to open a door—much less to look round a corner; in
every shadow I seem to see _Aboo's face_. I never, never could have
believed that in so short a time I should have sunk to such an abject
condition."

"You will get over it all right. It is the reaction. You will soon
forget it all," he answered reassuringly.

"I wish I could—all but your share in it. I shall never forget that!"

"Miss Denis," he answered gravely, "I am not good at making speeches,
like—" he was going to add Quentin, but substituted—"other people;
but whatever I say, I mean. I shall always remember that you stood by
me at a great crisis, just as a man might have done. If you were a man,
I would ask you to be my friend for life—and I am not a fellow of many
friends—but as it is—" and he hesitated.

"But as it is," she was the only girl he had ever cared two straws
about, and she was in love with James Quentin.

As it was, she repeated, surprised at this sudden pause, "I shall be
very glad to be your friend all the same." Then, with a sudden pang of
apprehension lest she had been over-bold, she blushed crimson, and came
to a full stop.

"Agreed, Miss Denis. If you ever want a friend—I speak in the fullest
sense of the word—remember our bargain, and that you have one in me."

The conversation had become so extremely personal that Helen was glad
to change it rather abruptly by saying,—

"I have something here belonging to you," opening her work-basket as
she spoke, and carefully unfolding from some tissue-paper the ring from
the wreck.

He received it from her in silence, turned it over several times in the
palm of his hand, and seemed to waver about something. At last he said
with an evident effort,—

"Would you think me very presumptuous if I asked you to keep it?"

The young lady looked at him with startled eyes and vivid colour.

What did he mean?

Observing her bewilderment, he added quickly,—

"Only as a memento of last Thursday—not to recall the whole hateful
business, but just to remind you," and he stammered—"of—a friend."

"I should like to have it, thank you; and I shall always keep it," she
replied, "and value it very much. Papa!" to her father, who had just
entered the room, "look here—Mr. Lisle has given me a ring!"

Colonel Denis started visibly, and was not unnaturally a good deal
amazed at this somewhat suggestive announcement. He liked Lisle far
better than Quentin. Despite of the latter's fascinating manners to
most, he scarcely noticed Colonel Denis during his constant visits; he
considered him a slow old buffer, left him to walk behind, elbowed him
out of the conversations, and altogether folded him up, and put him by.
Helen's parent was an easy-going gentleman, but he had his feelings,
and he did not care for Apollo, and he liked his pauper-friend Lisle;
nevertheless he was not prepared to give him Helen—indeed, he had
never dreamt of him as being one of her cloud of admirers, and he
looked very blank indeed to hear his daughter say, "Mr. Lisle has given
me a ring!" and saying it with such supreme _sang-froid_, as if it were
a matter of course!

Mr. Lisle read his host's face like a book, and saw that, for once in
his life, he was quite capable of uttering the word "No."

"It is only a queer old ring that I found on the wreck," he hastened
to explain. "It fell out from behind the wainscoting in the cabin,
and your daughter was looking at it, and in the subsequent confusion
carried it away. She wished to restore it to me now, but I have been
asking her to do me the honour of keeping it, as——"

"Certainly, certainly," interrupted the elder gentleman, greatly
relieved; "and so she shall, so she shall."

"It just fits me, papa," she said, slipping it on her third finger, and
holding it up for approval.

The two men gazed at it in silence, and made no verbal remark, but the
same thought occurred to both—assuredly that strange old ring had
never graced a prettier hand!

When Mr. Lisle had taken his departure, Colonel Denis said to his
daughter, as he picked up the _Pioneer_,—

"I like that fellow—uncommonly; there is no nonsense about _him_."

"So you should, papa, if you put any value on me."

"That is a thing apart, my dear. But I had always a fancy for Lisle,
for he reminds me of a very old friend of mine, who was killed in the
Mutiny. His name was not Lisle, but Redmond; but, all the same, the
likeness is something extraordinary, especially about the eyes—and
Lisle has his very laugh!"

"Which you do not often hear," remarked his daughter. "I'm sure Mr.
Lisle is a gentleman by birth,—no matter what Mrs. Creery says."

"What does she say?"

"That she is sure his mother was a Portuguese half-caste from
Chittagong."

"She be blessed!" angrily. "Lisle may have empty pockets, but he has
good blood in his veins."

"Mrs. Creery also says she notices——"

"She notices everything! If any one has a button off their glove, she
proclaims it on the house-top," rattling his paper irritably.

"I declare, papa!" pausing in the act of rubbing up the ring with her
handkerchief, "What do you think is in this ring?"

"A finger, of course," without lifting his head.

"No, you dear, silly old gentleman, but a motto, and I believe I can
make it out. Listen to this."

Colonel Denis looked over his paper, now all attention.

"It is rather faint, but," holding it close to her eye, "the first is a
big L. Love—me—Love me—and leave—"

"Love me and leave!" cried her father. "A pretty motto, truly! I could
do better than that myself!"

"Wait, here's another word. Now I have it; here it is, 'Love me and
leave me not.'"

"Show it!" holding out his hand. "It's one of those old posy rings.
Yes, there is a motto, but it was not intended for you, my young
lady——"

"Of course not, papa," colouring. "Mr. Lisle did not even see it." (We
would not be so sure of that.)

"I could not make out what you meant, Nell, when you told me so
suddenly that he had given you a ring—I declare, I fancied for a
second that—that—but of course it was utter nonsense,—and, of all
people, LISLE!"



CHAPTER XV.

"WHY NOT?"

 "Friendship is constant in all things, save in the office and affairs
 of love."

  _Shakespeare._


THINGS went on much as usual after this at Port Blair; there were no
more tragedies, nothing startling to record, and people had quietly
settled themselves down to wonder if Lizzie Caggett would catch Dr.
Malone, and when the Quentin and Denis engagement would be given out?

There had been the ordinary settlement amusements, including a grand
picnic to Mount Harriet (the last place Lord Mayo visited before he
was stabbed on the pier below). Mount Harriet was a very high hill,
covered with trees and dense jungle, and on the top of it was situated
the general's country bungalow. He did not often live there himself,
but it was in constant demand by people who "wanted a change," also
for honeymoons and picnics. From the summit of the hill, there was a
magnificent view of inland winding water, islands, mountains, and sea;
but this view was only to be obtained by a steady two-mile climb from
the pier, and an elephant, Jampanees (men carrying chairs), and two
ponies, awaited the picnic party.

The elephant at Mount Harriet was a character; he was fifty years of
age, and his name was "Chootie;" once upon a time he had got tired of
drawing timber, and slaving for the Indian Government, and had coolly
taken a holiday and gone off into the bush, where he had remained
for three whole years. However, here he was, caught and once more in
harness, waiting very discontentedly at the foot of the hill, with a
structure on his back resembling an Irish jarvey, minus wheels, which
was destined to carry six passengers.

Helen and Lizzie Caggett, with happy Dr. Malone between them, went on
one side; Mrs. Creery, Mr. Quentin and Mrs. Home on the other, and
presently they started off at quite a brisk pace; but the day was hot,
the hill-road was rugged, and "Chootie" paused, like a human being,
and seemed to express a wish to contemplate the landscape. His mahout
expostulated in the strongest language (Hindustani). "What did he
want?—water? Then he was not going to get water—pig that he was!"
Nevertheless he exhausted his vocabulary in vain. Vainly did he revile
Chootie's ancestors in libellous terms; Chootie remained inflexible,
until two policemen armed with very stout sticks arrived, and whacked
him with might and main, and once more he started off again, and
kept up a promising walk for nearly half a mile; and now the praises
lavished on him by his doating driver were even sweeter than new honey,
but alas! he was praised too soon. Without the slightest warning, he
suddenly plunged off the road down a place as steep as the side of, not
a house—but a church; deaf to Mrs. Creery's screams and the mahout's
imprecations! He had happened to notice a banana tree—he was extremely
partial to bananas!—and he made his way up to it, tore off all the
branches within his reach, and devoured them with as much deliberation
and satisfaction, as if there were not seven furious, frightened,
howling, screaming human beings seated on his back. He flatly refused
to stir until he chose! The policemen were not within sight, and he
seemed to be tossing a halfpenny in his own mind, as to whether he
would go for a ramble through the jungle or return to the path of duty
which led to Mount Harriet and his afternoon rice. The afternoon rice
had it, and he accordingly strolled back, nearly tearing his load off
the howdah as he passed under big branches—but that he evidently
considered was entirely their affair—and then climbed in a leisurely
manner up the steep bank he had recently descended, and resumed the
public road,—merely stopping now and then, to snatch some tempting
morsel, or to turn round and round in a very disagreeable fashion. The
fact was he was not accustomed to society, nor to carrying a load of
pleasure-seekers, and he did not like it. Dragging timber and conveying
stores was far more to his taste, and, besides this, Mrs. Creery's
squeals, and her lively green umbrella, annoyed him excessively; he had
taken a special dislike to her;—Chootie was not an amiable elephant,
and would have thoroughly enjoyed tossing the lady with his trunk—and
stamping on her subsequently. At last the party found themselves in
front of the Mount Harriet bungalow, to their great relief and delight,
and scrambled down a ladder, for of course, their late conveyance would
not condescend to kneel. Mrs. Creery, once safe on _terra firma_,
was both bold and furious; and, standing on the steps, harangued the
mahout in Hindustani on the enormity of the elephant's behaviour.
She called him all the epithets she could immediately bring to mind,
said she would complain to the General, and have him shipped to the
Nicobars—that he was an ugly, unruly, untamed brute!

Naturally the elephant understood every word of this! (Hindustani is
to them, as it were, their native language.) He calmly waited till
the irate lady had said her say and furled (oh, foolish dame!) her
umbrella; and then he slowly turned his trunk in her direction like a
hose; there was a "whish," and instantly she and her elegant costume
were drenched from head to foot in dirty water. What a spectacle
she was! What a scene ensued! Vainly she fled; the wetting was an
accomplished fact; it had been very sudden, and disastrously complete.
Dr. Malone actually lay down and rolled in the grass, like the rude
uncivilized Irish savage that he was; Miss Caggett was absolutely
hysterical, and screamed like a peacock. Helen and Mrs. Home, with
difficulty restraining themselves, endeavoured to ameliorate the
condition of the unhappy lady. They escorted her inside the bungalow,
helped her to remove her gown, gloves, and hat; she was for once in
her life actually too angry to _speak_—she wept. Her dress had to
be dispatched to the cook-house to be washed and dried, and she, of
course, was in consequence prevented from taking the head of the
table, and had to have her meal sent out to her in the retirement of
the bedroom, where she discussed it _alone_. And the worst of it was,
that she met with but little real sympathy. When she reappeared once
more in public, she was met with wreathed smiles and broad grins.
Such is friendship! The company wandered about the hill after dinner,
and Helen, thinking to checkmate James Quentin for once, offered her
society to Dr. Parkes, who was only too pleased to accompany her—as
long as she did not go too far, and there was no climbing. To punish
Miss Denis for her want of taste, Apollo once more devoted himself to
Lizzie,—being under the foolish impression that, in so doing, he was
searing Helen's very soul. It was soon tea-time; there was no moon,
for a wonder; people had to depend on the stars and the fire-flies,
and Mrs. Creery,—who had had a most disagreeable day,—gave the
signal for an early departure. They all descended by a long, steep,
winding pathway through the jungle, instead of by the more public
road, as their boats were awaiting them at Hopetown pier; Mrs. Creery
led the van, in a jampan carried by four coolies—and, indeed, all
the ladies preferred this hum-drum mode of transport to trusting
themselves again to "Chootie," who was the bearer of some half-dozen
adventurous spirits, whom he took right through the jungle, thereby
reducing their garments to rags, and covering their faces with quite
a pretty pattern of scratches! Mr. Quentin travelled per jampan, but
Mr. Lisle walked, and considered that he had much the best of it; so
he had—for he walked at Helen Denis' right hand, and they both found
this by far the most delightful part of the day!—whether this was
due to the surrounding influences, or to each other's society, I will
leave an open question. About a dozen ticket-of-leave men accompanied
the procession with flaring lights, as it wound down and down the
rugged pathway through the forest, and gave the whole scene a fantastic
and picturesque appearance. It was a lovely night, though moonless;
millions of silent stars spangled the heavens, millions of fire-flies
twinkled in the jungle. Helen never forgot that balmy tropical evening,
with the glow of torches illuminating the dark, luxuriant underwood,
the scent of the flowers, and the faint sound of the sea.

Mr. Lisle realized as he descended that steep hill-path, that he was
deeply in for it at last, and in love with this Helen Denis, helplessly
in love—hopelessly in love—for he might not speak, nor ever "tell his
love;" he could only play the part of confidant to James Quentin, and,
perchance, the thankless _rôle_ of best man!

Little did he guess that the young lady at his side was not wholly
indifferent to him; that her blushes, when he appeared with Jim, were
to be put down to his own, not to his companion's credit; that his mere
presence had the curious effect of abstracting the interest from every
one else, as far as she was concerned—though, to be candid, she never
admitted this tell-tale fact to herself. A gleam of the truth, a ray
of rapture, came to Gilbert Lisle by the flash of one of those flaming
torches,—was it imaginary? or was it not? She smiled on him, as, he
believed, a girl only smiles on a man she cares for—and yet Jim was
absent—Jim was yards behind, a leaden burden to his lagging bearers.

A wild, ecstatic idea flashed through his mind, that she might—might
not care for Quentin, after all! But this notion was speedily
extinguished by his friend, who had noticed Lisle in attendance on
Miss Denis on the way down the hill,—noticed that they stood a little
apart on the pier before embarking, and neither "liked nor loved the
thing he saw!" Lisle the invulnerable was proof no longer. Lisle was a
good-looking fellow, despite his shabby clothes and sunburnt skin. Yes,
he had somewhat overlooked that fact. But Lisle was not a ladies' man,
and he was a man of honour, and Mr. Quentin fully determined to give
him to understand that he must not trespass on _his_ preserves. Miss
Denis belonged exclusively to him. And now let us privately examine Mr.
Quentin's mind. Briefly stated, he did not "mean anything," in other
words, he did not wish to marry her now—_that_ fevered dream was past.
He was not an atom in love with her either; she was too irresponsive,
and, in fact, too—as he expressed it to himself—"stupid." Between
ourselves, if any wandering damsel had appeared upon the scene, he was
ready to whistle Miss Denis down the wind at once! But damsels were
rare at Ross—and he still admired her greatly; he did not mean to
"drop" her, till he went away, and he intended to take precious good
care that no one should have it in their power to say that _she_ had
dropped him—much less, abandoned him for another. His character as a
lady-killer was at stake; he could not, and would not, lose what was as
precious to him as the very breath of his nostrils.

He accordingly took an early opportunity of giving Lisle what he called
"a bit of a hint."

"I saw you making yourself very agreeable to the fair Helen yesterday,"
he remarked with affected _bonhomie_. "You mustn't make yourself too
agreeable, you know!"

"Why not?" demanded his companion with exasperating composure.

"Why, not? My dear fellow, the idea of your asking _me_ such a
question! You know very well why not."

"Am I to understand that she is engaged to you?"

Mr. Quentin hated these direct questions, and why should Lisle look at
him as if he were a witness that he was examining on his oath?

"What is it to you?" he returned evasively. "Come now, Lisle," leaning
on his elbow, and smiling into the other's face with one of his most
insinuating expressions.

"Answer my question first," roughly.

"Well, I will."

Word fencing was easy to him, and he never thought it any harm to
dissemble with a woman, and juggle his sentences so that one almost
neutralized another; _they_ were fair game, but a man was different.
With men he could be frank enough—firstly, because he had more respect
for his own sex; and secondly, because their eyes were not likely to be
blinded by love, admiration, or vanity. Meanwhile, here was Lisle, an
obstinate, downright fellow, sternly waiting for his reply. An answer
he must have, so he made a bold plunge, and said, with lowered eyelids
and in a confidential voice,—

"What I tell you is strictly masonic, mind—but I know you are to be
depended on. There is no actual engagement as yet between Helen and
me—but there is an understanding!"

"I confess, the distinction is too subtle for me. Pray explain it!"

"How can I go to her father whilst my money affairs are in such a
confounded muddle? Until I can do that, we cannot be what you call
engaged. Do you see?"

"I see. But there is one thing I fail to see—that Miss Denis treats
you differently to any one else, or as if she were attached to you—in
fact, latterly, it has struck me that she rather avoids you than
otherwise!"

This was a facer, but his companion was equal to the occasion. "That is
easily explained," he replied. "She is the very shyest girl that you
ever saw—in public."

Mr. Quentin thoroughly understood the art of innuendo, and the
management of the various inflections of the human voice. He was a
matchless amateur "star," and could "act" off, as well as on the stage.

After receiving this confidence, Mr. Lisle was silent; he leant back in
his chair, and nearly bit his cigar in two. That last speech of Jim's
had made him feel what the Americans call "_real_ bad." A very long gap
in the conversation ensued, and then he, as it were, roused himself
once more,—

"Then she _is_ engaged to you!"

"No, not quite, not altogether—but our position is such, that no man
of honour, knowing it, would take advantage of the situation,—would
he?"

"No—of course not."

And with this admission the subject dropped.

Mr. Quentin had succeeded brilliantly. He had assured Lisle that he
was not engaged; and yet he had impressed him with the fact that an
engagement existed—indeed, he had almost persuaded _himself_, that
there was an understanding between him and Helen! "Understanding" was
a good, useful, elastic word; it might mean an understanding to play
tennis, to sit next each other at an afternoon tea, or to share the
same umbrella!

"No, no, Mr. Gilbert Lisle," he said to himself exultantly, as he
watched the other's gloomy face, "I'm not just going to let you cut me
out—not if I _know_ it. 'Paws off, Pompey.'"



CHAPTER XVI.

"STOLEN FROM THE SEA!"

  "Love, whose month is ever May,
  Spied a blossom passing fair."

  _Much Ado About Nothing._


"ANOTHER fine, sunshiny day," is naturally of common recurrence in
the East, and it was yet another magnificent afternoon at Ross—very
bright, very warm, and very still. Underneath the long wooden pier
vast shoals of little silver sardines were hurrying through the water,
pursued by a greedy dolphin, and leaping now and then in a glittering
shower into the air to escape his voracious jaws. Coal-black, stunted
Andamanese were here and there squatting on the rocks, patiently
angling with the most primitive of tackle, and two or three policemen,
in roomy blue tunics and portentous turbans, were gossiping together
about rupees and rice. Some half-dozen soldiers, with open coats and
pipe in mouth, sat, with their legs dangling over the pier, fishing.
Further on, with folded arms, and wistful eyes, a tall gaunt Bengalee
stood, aloof and alone. He was a zemindar from Oude, and had been in
the settlement since 1858 (an ominous date); now he was the holder
of a ticket, was free to open a shop in the bazaar, and make a rapid
fortune; free to accept a plot of the most fertile ground on the
face of the globe, free to marry a convict woman, free within the
settlement, but there his liberty ended. His body is imprisoned, but
who can chain the mind? His is far away beyond those dim, blue islands,
and the shining "Kala Panee!" In imagination he now stands, not upon
Ross pier, but on wide-stretching plains far north; his horizon is
bounded by magnificent forest trees, and topes of fragrant mangoes:
once more he sees his native village, and the familiar well, his plot
of land, his home; just as he saw it twenty years ago. But too well
does he remember every inmate of those small, white-washed hovels;
their faces are before him now—for, alas! what has been left to _him_
but memory? Bitterly has he expiated those few frenzied weeks, when
for a brief space, he and his neighbours felt that they had broken the
accursed yoke, and trampled it beneath their feet—bitterer, ten times,
is it to know that he was sold and betrayed by his own familiar friend!

At this maddening recollection, a kind of convulsive spasm contracts
his features, and he mutters fiercely in his beard. He would
gladly—nay, gratefully—give all that remains to him of life, just to
have "Ram Sing" at his mercy for one short moment—ay, but one! These
are some of the thoughts that flit through his mind, as he stands apart
with folded arms, and his dark, hawk-like countenance immovably bent
on the sea, deaf to the hoarse, loud laughter of Tommy Atkins, who
has had a good "take"—to the screeching home-bound peacocks, and the
discordant yells of the Andamanese at play.

They have no tragic memories, this group of young men coming down the
pier in tennis garb; or, if they have, their faces much belie them—Mr.
Quentin, Captain Rodney, Mr. Reid, and Dr. Malone (whose smooth, fair
skin, and sandy hair disavow his thirty summers).

"I told you so!" he exclaimed, as he hitched himself up on the edge of
the pier. "They are all gone out, every man Jack of them—the Creerys,
the Homes, Dr. Parkes, and Mr. Latimer, not to speak of our two young
ladies. They have gone down to Chatham to take tea with Mrs. Graham,
and the island is a desert!"

"Fancy going three miles by water for a cup of hot water," said Mr.
Quentin derisively; "but women will go _anywhere_ for tea. Where are
Jones and Lea?" he inquired.

"Where you ought to be, my boy: up decorating the mess for the dance
this evening."

"Oh!" rather grandly, "I sent my butler over, and lots of flowers."

"If we were all to do that, I wonder 'what like it would be,' as they
say in your native land, Reid?" remarked Dr. Malone. "And where is
Green?"

"Out fishing with Lisle," replied Captain Rodney. "And, ahem! talk of
angels, here they come," as at this moment a sailing-boat suddenly shot
round a point and made for the pier.

"I've not seen Lisle for weeks!" remarked Dr. Malone; "not since the
picnic on Mount Harriet. What has he been up to?"—to Mr. Quentin.

"Oh! he only enjoys society by fits and starts, and a little of it goes
a long way with him."

"Hullo, you fellows!" hailed the doctor, leaning half his long body
over the railings, "any luck?"

"Luck? I should just think so!" returned Lisle, standing up. "Two
bottle-nosed sharks, a conger-eel, a sword-fish, and any quantity of
sea-monsters, name and tribe unknown."

"Is that all?"

"No, not all. Green caught about a dozen crabs going out."

"Oh! now I say," expostulated Mr. Green, a fair young subaltern about
six months from Sandhurst, "it was those beastly oars."

"There was an animal like a sea-cow that nearly towed us over to
Burmah," said Mr. Lisle, as he came up the steps, "and finally went off
with all the tackle."

"The sea serpent, of course!" ejaculated Dr. Malone. "And, by-the-way,
how is it that we have not seen you for a month of Sundays, eh? Coming
to the ball to-night?"

"Ball! what ball? How can there be one without ladies?"

"Nonsense, man alive! what are you talking about? Haven't we
seventeen?" putting his hat under his arm and commencing to count on
his fingers. "There is Mrs. King, Mrs. Graham, Mrs. Manners—the widow
from Viper—Mrs. Creery——"

"Mrs. Creery! You may as well say Mrs. Caggett while you are about it."

"I may _not_. Mrs. Creery is a grand woman to dance, and you will see
her and your humble servant taking the floor in style before you are
many hours older! If all the ladies put in an appearance, and do their
duty, we shall have an A1 dance. Of course you are coming?"

"No," put in Mr. Quentin, rather quickly. "How could you ask him?
Does he look like a dancing man? Here are the fish coming up. What
whoppers!" turning towards the steps.

"And here comes something else!" exclaimed the doctor, pointing to
a white sail approaching the island. "It's easy to see what _you_
have come down for, my boy!" to Apollo, who smiled significantly, and
accepted the soft impeachment without demur.

"Quentin is a lucky fellow, isn't he?" said Mr. Green, addressing
himself to Mr. Lisle with all the enthusiasm of ignorance. "He has had
it all his own way from the first; none of us were in it! And although
our circle of ladies _is_ small, I'll venture to say we could show a
beauty against Madras or Rangoon; yes, and I'll throw in Calcutta, too!
I'll back 'La Belle Hélène' against anything they like to enter, for
pace, shape and looks!"

Here Mr. Lisle turned upon his heel and walked away.

"What's up? What's the matter, eh?" demanded the youth of Mr. Quentin,
who was now gazing abstractedly at the approaching boat, with a
cigarette between his teeth.

"Oh, he did not approve of your conversation; he does not think ladies
should be talked about, and all that sort of rubbish."

"Pooh; why not?—and was I not praising her up to the skies? What more
could I have said? And I'm sure if you don't mind, _he_ need not!"

"No, but he did," remarked Dr. Malone. "He looked capable just now of
tossing you out as a sort of light supper to the sharks, my little C.
Green!"

"And a very light meal it would be," said Mr. Green with a broad grin.
"Nothing but clothes and bones. Here comes Miss Caggett and a whole lot
of people, and won't she just walk into _us_ for not decorating the
mess!"

At this instant Miss Caggett and some half-dozen satellites appeared
in view, and behind her, walking with Dr. Parkes, came a lady we have
never seen before, Mrs. Durand, who had only that morning returned to
the settlement.

"Well," cried the sprightly Lizzie, surveying the guilty group with
great dignity, "I call this _pretty_ behaviour! What a lazy, selfish,
good-for-nothing set!" beginning piano, and ending crescendo.

Dr. Malone nodded his head like a mandarin at each of these adjectives,
and declared,—

"So they _are_, Miss Caggett, so they are. I quite agree with you."

The young lady merely darted a scornful glance in his direction, and
proceeded,—

"Mr. Quentin, well, I've given you up long ago. Mr. Green, I cannot
say much to _you_, when grown-up people set you such an example" (a
back-handed slap at Mr. C. Green's tender years). "Mr. Lisle, you here?
and pray what have you got to say for yourself? What is your excuse?"

"My excuse," coming forward and doffing his hat, "is, that I have no
more idea of decorating a room than one of the settlement elephants—in
fact, my genius is of a destructive, rather than of a constructive
order. But I am always prepared to appreciate other people's handiwork."

"Well, you _are_ cool," staring at him for a second in scornful silence.

"Now, Dr. Malone," pointing at him with her parasol, "let us hear what
you have got to say for yourself."

Dr. Malone rested his chin on the top of his tennis-bat, and calmly
contemplated his fair questioner in a somewhat dreamy fashion, and then
was understood to say,—

"That as long as Miss Caggett was in a ball-room, any other decoration
was quite superfluous!"

To which Miss Caggett responded by rapping him on the knuckles with the
handle of her sunshade, and saying,—

"Blarney!"

Meanwhile Mrs. Durand had joined the group, and now received a very
warm welcome. It was easy to see that she was a popular person at Port
Blair. She was upwards of thirty, with a full but very erect figure,
smiling dark eyes, good features, and white teeth, the upper row of
which she showed very much as she talked. She wore a hat with a dark
blue veil, a pretty cambric dress, and carried a red parasol over her
arm (a grand landmark, that same parasol, for Mrs. Creery).

"Great events never happen alone!" quoth Dr. Malone, bowing over his
bat. "Here, in one day, we have the mail in, the full moon, the ball,
and Mrs. Durand! It is quite needless to inquire after Mrs. Durand's
health?"

Mr. Quentin moved forward to accost the lady, his large person having
hitherto entirely concealed his friend, and as he moved, Mrs. Durand's
eyes fell upon Gilbert Lisle. She opened them very wide, shut them, and
opened them once more, and said in a slow, staccato voice,—

"I believe I am not dreaming, and that I see Mr. Lisle. Mr. Lisle,"
holding out a plump and eager hand, "what on _earth_ brings _you_ here?"

Precisely what every one wanted to know.

Mrs. Durand had a habit of laying great stress on some of her words,
and she uttered the word earth with extraordinary emphasis.

Her acquaintance, upon whom all eyes were now riveted, smiled, shook
hands, muttered incoherently, and contrived, by some skilful manœuvre,
to draw the lady from the centre of the crowd.

"I never was so amazed in my life!" she reiterated. "What put it into
your head to come here, of all places?"

"Oh, I wanted to see something out of the common, and to enlarge my
ideas."

"Indeed, I did not know that they required extension! One could
understand our being here—we are sent, like the convicts; but
outsiders—and, of all people, you!"

"There is first-class fishing to be had, and boating, and all that sort
of thing; and the scenery is perfect," he answered.

"Granted—and pray how long have you been at Port Blair?"

"I came in July," he replied, rather apologetically.

"July!" she echoed, "and this is November!—_five_ months! And may I
ask what is the attraction, besides sailing and sharks?"

"The unconventional life, the temporary escape from politics and post
cards, express trains, telegrams, and the bores of one's acquaintance."

"Well, every one to their taste, of course! You like Port Blair, give
_me_ park Lane. As to politics, we have our politics here. Have you not
discovered that we are an absolute monarchy?"

"Yes," smiling; "but, alas! I am not in favour at court."

"No? neither am I. I'm in the Opposition. I'm one of the reds,"
laughing, and displaying all her teeth. "Here are all these people
coming back, and I must go; I have a great deal to do at home.
Remember, that I shall expect to see you very often—_sans cérémonie_.
Oh, I suppose that tall girl is Miss Denis? Charlie says she is
uncommonly pretty, and not spoiled _yet_. By the way," pausing, and
looking at him significantly, "I wonder if you have been losing your
heart, as well as enlarging your ideas?"

"Do I ever lose my heart?" he asked. "Am I an inflammable person?"

"No, indeed—quite the reverse; warranted not to ignite, I should say,"
shaking her head. "And now I really must be going, or Mrs. Creery will
catch me, and cross-examine me. Of course, we shall meet this evening?"
Mr. Lisle walked with her to the end of the pier, bending towards her,
and apparently speaking with unusual earnestness, as Miss Caggett
remarked. At the gate, he and the lady parted, he taking off his hat,
she waving her hand towards him twice, as if to enforce some special
injunction.

The gig was now alongside the steps, and its late passengers had
ascended to the pier. Miss Denis was the last to leave the boat, and
was at once surrounded by Mr. Quentin, Dr. Malone, Captain Rodney, and
Mr. Green, a faithless quartette, who all quitted Miss Caggett in a
body.

"Well, Miss Denis," said Mr. Green, "I am glad to see that you have
not forgotten the button-hole I asked you to bring me," pointing to a
flower in the front of her dress.

"Oh, this!" taking it out and twirling it carelessly in her fingers.
"I certainly did not gather it for your adornment, but still, if you
like," half tendering it; but becoming conscious of Mr. Quentin's
greedy, outstretched hand, she paused.

"You surely would not?" he began pathetically.

"No, I would _not_, certainly not. I will give it to the sea," and
suiting the action to the word, she tossed it over the railings into
the water.

"Oh, Miss Denis," exclaimed Mr. Green with a groan, "how could you
trifle with my feelings in such a manner? How could you raise me to a
pinnacle of happiness, and cast me down to the depths of despair? Have
you no conscience?"

"It would have been a precedent," she answered gaily. "I know you only
too well—you would have demanded a bouquet every time I returned to
the island."

Here, for the first time, her eyes fell upon Mr. Lisle, who had now
joined the outer circle—Mr. Lisle, whom she had not seen for six
weeks. She coloured with astonishment, and accorded him rather a stiff
little bow. He did not come forward, but contented himself with merely
raising his hat, and remaining in the background.

Helen had once rather timidly asked after him, from Mr. Quentin (it
seemed so strange, that he had never been over to Ross, since the day
of the picnic, when they had made that never-to-be-forgotten expedition
down the mountain, escorted by torches and fire-flies).

To Miss Denis's somewhat faltering question, Mr. Quentin had brusquely
replied "that Lisle had on one of his sulky fits, and the chances were,
he would not come over to Ross again—he was an odd, unsociable, surly
sort of beggar!"

Apparently he had now recovered from the sulks; for there he stood,
looking as sunburnt, as shabby, and as self-possessed as ever!

"We had a pleasant sail," remarked Mrs. Creery, "but I could not go in
at Chatham on account of Nip! Mrs. Graham makes such a fuss about that
hideous puppy of hers—and, after all, it's only Nip's play! Of course,
I could not leave the poor darling in the boat by himself, so we had
our tea sent out to us, and were very happy all the same," hugging him
as she spoke with sudden rapture.

But Nip (whose _play_ was death to other dogs) stiffened his spine,
and threw back his head; he evidently considered public endearments
inconsistent with personal dignity. He weighed fully twenty-four
pounds, and why Mrs. Creery carried an animal who had the excellent use
of his four legs, was best known to herself.

As she proceeded up the pier, with his head hanging over her shoulder,
he surveyed Dr. Malone and Lisle, who walked behind him, with
unconcealed contempt.

"What a fool she makes of herself about that beast!" muttered the
former. "He despises _us_ for not being carried too. I see it in his
eye! Brute! I'd like to vivisect him."

"Only imagine!" exclaimed Miss Caggett suddenly, "Miss Denis has never
been to a dance in her life!—and," giggling affectedly, "never danced
with any but _girls_."

"And remember," said Jim Quentin, impressively turning and speaking to
Helen in a tender undertone (for the benefit of his friend), "that you
have given _me_ the promise of the first waltz."

The party had now reached a little square, from whence their various
paths diverged.

"You wait for me on the pier like a good fellow," he said to his
companion. "I am just going to walk home with Miss Denis."

Every one now departed in different directions, excepting Mrs. Creery,
who remained behind at the cross-roads, for a moment, and waving her
green umbrella, called after them authoritatively,—

"Now mind that none of you are _late_ this evening!—especially you
men!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Lisle went slowly back to the pier; it was almost deserted now.
Tommy Atkins had adjourned to his well-earned supper, the jailer to his
rice, the Andamanese to unknown horrors. The zemindar is alone—alone
he stands, and sees what is to him another wasted sun sink into the sea
like a ball of crimson fire! Apparently he is unconscious of a figure,
who comes and leans over the railings, with his eyes fixed abstractedly
on the sea, till with a sudden flash they become riveted on something,
scarcely deserving such eager inspection—merely a floating flower!
As Gilbert Lisle gazed, he was the prey of sore temptation. Surely, he
argued with himself, there would be no harm in picking up a castaway
lily, even Quentin would hardly grudge him that, and _he_ might as
well have it as the sea! Then he turned half away, as if thrusting the
impulse from him (the convict now noticed him for the first time); but
the flower was potent, and drew him back; he leant his arms on the
railings, and stared at it steadily. The zemindar watched him narrowly
out of his long, black eyes. The Sahib was debating some important
question in his own mind! he looked at his watch, he glanced nervously
up and down the pier, apparently his companion was as nought. Then
he hurried to the foot of the steps and unmoored a punt, and rowed
out several lengths, in quest of _what_? A white flower that the tall
English girl had thrown away.

The native followed his quest with scornful interest. He has it
now;—no, it has evaded him, and still floats on. Ah, he has reached
it this time, he has lifted it out of the water, as reverently as if
it were one of the sacred hairs of Buddha! He has dried it; he has
concealed it in his coat!

Bah! the Feringhee is a fool!



CHAPTER XVII.

THE BALL.

  "There was a sound of revelry by night."


NIGHT had fallen, and the full moon to which Dr. Malone had alluded
was sailing overhead, and flooding Ross with a light that was almost
fierce in its intensity; the island seemed to be set in a silver sea,
over which various heavily laden boats were rowing from the mainland,
conveying company to the ball! Jampans bearing ladies were to be seen
going up towards the mess-house in single file, the guests kept
pouring in, and, despite the paucity of the fair sex, made a goodly
show! We notice Mrs. Creery (as who would not?) in a crimson satin,
with low body, short sleeves, and a black velvet coronet on her head.
Helen Denis in white muslin, with natural flowers; she had been
forbidden by the former lady to even so much as _think_ of her white
silk, but had, nevertheless, cast many yearnings in that direction.
All the same, she looks as well as her best friends could wish, and
a certain nervousness and anticipation gives unwonted brilliancy to
her colour (indeed Miss Caggett has already whispered "paint!"), and
unusual brightness to her eyes.

The world seems a very good place to her this evening. She is little
more than eighteen, and it is her first dance; if she has an _arrière
pensée_, it has to do with Mr. Lisle, who after being so—well, shall
we say "interesting?" and behaving so heroically, has calmly subsided
into his normal state, viz. obscurity. What is the reason of it? Why
will he not even speak to her? Little does she guess at the real motive
of his absence. As little as that, during his long daily excursions by
land and sea, a face, _hers_, forms a constant background to all his
thoughts—try and forget it as he will.

The mess-room looked like a fairy bower, with festoons of trailing
creepers and orchids twined along the walls, with big palms and
ferns, in lavish profusion, in every available nook. It was lit up by
dozens of wall-lamps, the floor was as smooth as glass, and all the
most comfortable chairs in Ross were disposed about the ante-room and
verandahs.

The five-and-forty men were struggling into their gloves, and hanging
round the door, as is their usual behaviour, preliminary to a dance;
and the seventeen ladies were scattered about, as though resolved to
make as much show as possible. Mrs. Creery occupied a conspicuous
position; she stood exactly in the middle of the ball-room, holding
converse with the General, who bowed his head acquiescently from time
to time, but was never so mad as to try and get in a word edgeways.
"Nip" was seated on a sofa, alert and wide awake, plainly looking
upon the whole affair as tomfoolery and nonsense; but he had been to
previous entertainments, and knew that there was such a thing as
_supper_!

Near the door, stood Miss Caggett, the centre of a noisy circle,
dangling her programme, and almost drowning the bass and tenor voices
by which she was encompassed, with her shrill treble, and shrieks of
discordant laughter at Dr. Malone's muttered witticisms. Her dress
was pink tarletan, made with very full skirts, and it fitted her neat
little figure to perfection. Altogether, Miss Caggett was looking her
best, and was serenely confident of herself, and severely critical of
others.

Every one had now arrived, save Mr. Quentin, but he thoroughly
understood the importance of a tardy and solitary _entrée_. At last
his tall figure loomed in the doorway, and he lounged in, with an air
of supreme nonchalance, just as the preliminary bars of the opening
Lancers were being played.

He was not alone, to every one's amazement he was supplemented by Mr.
Lisle—Mr. Lisle in evening dress! There had been grave doubts as to
his possessing that garb; and his absence from one or two dinners, had
been leniently attributed to this deficiency in his wardrobe! People
who looked once at James Quentin, looked twice at Gilbert Lisle;
they could hardly credit the evidence of their senses. Mr. Lisle
in unimpeachable clothes, with a matchless tie, a wide expanse of
shirt-front, and skin-fitting gloves, was a totally different person
to the individual they were accustomed to see, in a rusty old coat,
a flannel shirt, and disreputable wide-awake! How much depends on a
man's tailor! Here was the loafer, transformed into a handsome (if
rather bronzed), distinguished-looking gentleman. He received the fire
of many eyes with the utmost equanimity, as he leant lazily against
the wall, like his neighbours. Miss Caggett, having breathed the words
"Borrowed plumes," and giggled at her own wit, presently beckoned him
to approach, and said pertly,—

"This is, indeed, an unexpected pleasure. I thought you said you were
not coming, Mr. Lisle?"

"Did I?" pausing before her. "Very likely; but, unfortunately, I am the
victim of constitutional vacillation."

"In plain English, you often change your mind?"

"_Never_ about Miss Caggett," bowing deeply, and presently retiring to
the doorway.

Lookers-on chuckled, and considered that "Lizzie," as they called her
among themselves, had got the worst of _that_! Mrs. Creery, who had
been gazing at this late arrival with haughty amazement, now no longer
able to restrain herself, advanced upon him, as if marching to slow
music, and said,—

"I've just had a letter about _you_, Mr. Lisle."

Mr. Lisle coloured—that is to say, his tan became of a still deeper
shade of brown, and his dark eyes, as they met hers, had an anxious,
uneasy expression.

"Oh, yes!" triumphantly, "I know _all_ about you, and who you are, and
I shall certainly make it my business to inform every one, and——"

"Do not for goodness' sake, Mrs. Creery!" he interrupted eagerly. "Do
me the greatest of favours, and keep what you know to yourself."

Mrs. Creery reared back her diademed head, like a cobra about to
strike, and was on the point of making some withering reply, when the
General accosted her with his elbow crooked in her direction, and said,
"I believe this is our dance," and thus with a nod to her companion,
implying that she had by no means done with him, she was led away to
open the ball.

Meanwhile Helen had overheard Mrs. Graham whisper across her to Mrs.
Home,—

"What do you think? When Mrs. Creery came back from us, she found her
letters at home, and she has heard something _dreadful_ about Mr.
Lisle!"

Helen was conscious of a thrill of dismay as she listened. She was so
perplexed, and so preoccupied, that she scarcely knew what she was
saying, when Mr. Quentin came and led her away to dance. During the
Lancers she was visibly _distrait_, and her attention was wandering
from the figures and her partner, but she was soon brought to her
senses by Mr. Quentin saying rather abruptly,—

"I've just heard a most awful piece of news!"—her heart bounded. "Only
fancy their sending _me_ to the Nicobars!"

Helen breathed more freely as she stammered out,—

"The Nicobars?"

"Yes, the order came this evening by the _Scotia_—sharp work—and I
sail in her for Camorta to-morrow at cock-crow."

"And must you go really?"

"Yes, of course I must. Isn't it hard lines? Some bother about the new
barracks. The Nicobars are a ghastly hole, a poisonous place. I shall
be away two months—that is, if I ever come _back_," he added in a
lachrymose voice.

"And what about Mr. Lisle?"

"Oh, he is such a beggar for seeing new regions—he is coming too."

"I'm sorry you are going to the Nicobars, they have such a bad name for
fever and malaria."

"I believe you! I hear the malaria there rises like pea-soup!"

"Mr. Lisle is foolish to go; you should not let him."

"Oh! he may as well be there as here! He is as hard as nails, and it
would be deadly for me without a companion. He promised to come, and I
shan't let him off, though I must confess, what he _says_, he sticks
to."

Miss Denis thought Mr. Quentin's arrangement savoured of abominable
selfishness, and between this news, and the sword of Damocles that
was swinging over Mr. Lisle's head, her brain was busy. Dancing went
on merrily, but she did not enjoy herself nearly as much as she
anticipated. After all, this apple of delight, her first ball, had
turned to dust and ashes in her mouth. And why?

Mr. Lisle leant against a doorway, and looked on very gravely:
doubtless he knew the fate that was in store for him. He remained
at his post for the best part of an hour, and had any one taken the
trouble to watch him, they would have noticed that his eyes followed
Helen and Jim Quentin more closely than any other couple. As they
stopped beside him once, she said,—

"I did not know that you were coming to-night, Mr. Lisle."

"Neither did I, till quite late in the afternoon. I suppose there is
not the slightest use in my asking for a dance?"

Now if the young lady had been an experienced campaigner, and had
wished to dance with the gentleman (which she did), she would have
artlessly replied,—

"Oh, yes! I think I can give you number so and so," mentally throwing
over some less popular partner; but Helen looked straight into his face
with grave, truthful eyes, displayed a crowded programme, and shook her
head.

Jim Quentin, who was evidently impatient at this delay, placed his arm
round his partner's waist, and danced her away to the melting strains
of the old "Kate Kearney" waltz.

None gave themselves more thoroughly up to the pleasures of the moment,
or with more _abandon_ than Dr. Malone and Mrs. Creery. They floated
round and round, and to and fro, with cork-like buoyancy, for Mrs.
Creery, though elderly and stout, was light of foot, and a capital
dancer; and her partner whirled her hither and thither like a big red
feather! Every one danced, and the seventeen revolving couples made
quite a respectable appearance in the narrow room. And what a sight
to behold the twenty-eight partnerless men, languishing in doorways,
and clamouring for halves and quarters of dances! Men who, from the
wicked perversity of their nature, were they as one man to ten girls,
would certainly decline to dance at _all_! Mr. Lisle had abandoned his
station at last, and waltzed repeatedly with Mrs. Durand; they seemed
to know each other intimately, and were by far the best waltzers in the
room. There was a finish and ease about their performance that spoke of
balls in the Great Babylon, and though others might pause for breath,
and pant, and puff, these two, like the brook, seemed to "go on for
ever!"

They also put a very liberal interpretation upon the term "sitting
out!" They walked up the hill in the moonlight, and surveyed the
view—undoubtedly other dancers did the same—but not _always_ with
the same companion; to be brief, people were beginning to talk of the
"marked" attention that Mr. Lisle was paying Mrs. Durand—attentions
not lost on Helen, who noticed them, as it were, against her will,
and tried to keep down a storm of angry thoughts in her heart by
asking herself, as she paced the verandah with Dr. Parkes, and dropped
haphazard sentences, "Was it possible that she was jealous, bitterly
jealous, because Mr. Lisle spoke to another woman?—Mr. Lisle, who
avoided her; Mr. Lisle, who had a history; Mr. Lisle, who was going
away?"

She held her head rather higher than usual, pressed her lips very
firmly together, and told herself, "No, she had not _yet_ fallen quite
so low. Mr. Lisle and his friends were nothing to her."

       *       *       *       *       *

Supper was served early. Mrs. Creery was the hostess, and we know that
she had "Nip" in her mind, when she suggested that at twelve o'clock
they should adjourn for refreshment, and sailed in at the head of the
procession on the General's arm. "Nip," who had been the first to enter
the supper-room, sat close to his doating mistress, devouring tit-bits
of cold roast peacock, and _pâté de foie gras_, with evident relish;
_this_ was a part of the entertainment that he could comprehend. His
mistress was also pleased with the refection, and condescended to pass
a handsome encomium upon the mess-cook, and priced several of the
dishes set before her (with an eye to future entertainments of her
own). She was in capital spirits, and imparted to Dr. Malone, who sat
upon her left, that she had never seen a better ball in Ross in all her
experience; also, amongst many other remarks, that Miss Caggett's dress
was like a dancer's.

"But is not that as it ought to be?" he inquired, with assumed
innocence.

"I mean a columbine!" she replied sternly; "and her face is an inch
deep in powder—she is a _show_! As to Helen Denis——"

"Yes, Mrs. Creery. As to Miss Denis?"

"I'm greatly disappointed in her. She is no candle-light beauty, after
all."

"Ah, well, maybe she will come to _that_ by-and-by. So long as she can
stand the daylight, there is hope for her—eh?"

Mrs. Creery told Dr. Malone that "she believed he was in love with the
girl, or he would not talk such nonsense!" and finally wound up the
conversation by darkly insinuating something terrible about Mr. Lisle,
adding that he had craved for her forbearance, and implored her to hold
her tongue!

"But I won't," she concluded, rising as she spoke, and dusting the
crumbs off her ample lap. "It is my _duty_ to expose him! We don't want
any wolves in sheep's clothing prowling about the settlement," and with
a nod weighty with warning, she moved away in the direction of the
ball-room.

Miss Caggett had torn her dress badly—her columbine skirts—and
Helen was not sorry to be called aside to render assistance. She was
unutterably weary of Mr. Quentin and his monotonous compliments. His
manner of protecting, and appropriating her, as if she belonged to him,
and they had some secret bond of union, was simply maddening! As she
tacked up Lizzie's rents, in a corner of the ante-room, Lizzie said
suddenly,—

"I suppose you have heard all the fuss about Mr. Lisle? Mrs. Creery is
bubbling over with the news. Don't pretend _I_ told you, but she has
heard all about him at last; very _much_ at last," giggling.

"Yes?" interrogated her companion.

"He was in the army—I always suspected that; he looked as if he had
been drilled. He was turned out, cashiered for something disgraceful
about racing; and as to his flirtations, we can imagine _them_, from
the way he is behaving himself to-night! He has danced every dance with
Mrs. Durand, though I will say this, she asked him; and, of course, it
was because _she_ came back, that he changed his mind about the ball."

"Now your dress will do, I think," said Helen, rising from her knees
with rather a choking sensation in her throat.

"Oh, thanks awfully, you dear girl!" pirouetting as she spoke. "I'll
do as much for you another time; there's a dance beginning, and I must
go!" and she hurried off.

In the doorway Helen came face to face with Mr. Lisle, who was
apparently searching for some one—for her!

She held up her chin, and, with one cool glance, was about to pass by,
when he said, rather eagerly,—

"Miss Denis, I was looking for you. Malone has been sent for to
barracks, and he said that I might ask you to give me his dance—the
next—the last."

Helen fully intended to decline the pleasure, but something in Mr.
Lisle's face compelled her to say "_Yes_," and without a word more,
she placed her hand upon his arm; they walked into the ball-room, and
immediately commenced to waltz; this waltz was "Soldate Lieder." Her
present partner was very superior to Jim Quentin, and she found that
she could go on much longer with him without stopping, keeping up one
even, delightful pace; but at last she was obliged to lean against the
wall—completely out of breath. Her eyes, as she did so, followed Mrs.
Durand enviously, and she exclaimed,—

"I wish I could dance like her." Now, had she breathed this aspiration
to Mr. Quentin or Dr. Malone, they would have assured her that her
dancing was already perfection, but Mr. Lisle frankly replied,—

"Oh, all you want is practice; you must remember that she has been at
it for years. We used to dance together at children's parties,—I won't
say _how_ long ago."

"I know I dance badly," said Helen, colouring; "but the reason of that
is that, although I danced a great deal at school, it was always as
gentleman, because I was tall."

"Ah! I see," and he laughed. "Now I understand why you were so bent on
steering me about just now. Well, you are not likely to dance gentleman
again, I fancy. There!" regretfully, "it's over; shall we go outside?"

Helen nodded her head, and accordingly they went down the steps arm in
arm. She meant to seize this opportunity of giving him a hint of the
mine on which he was standing,—one word of warning with regard to Mrs.
Creery. She had accepted his friendship, and surely this would be the
act of a friend.

Mr. Quentin—sitting in the dusky shades of a secluded corner,
whispering to Lizzie Caggett—saw the pair descending from the
ball-room, pass down the steps, and out into the moonlight, and looked
after them with an expression of annoyance that was quite a revelation
to his sprightly companion.



CHAPTER XVIII.

"BUT WHAT WILL PAPA SAY?"

  "Joy so seldom weaves a chain
  Like this to-night, that, oh! 'tis pain
            To break its links so soon."

  _Moore._


HELEN and her partner ascended the steep gravel pathway, lined with
palms, gold mohur, and orange-trees, and turning a sharp corner, came
suddenly upon a full view of the sea, with the moon on her bosom. It
was a soft, still, tropical night; not a sound broke the silence, save
a distant murmur of human voices, or the dip of an oar in the water.

That moon overhead seldom looked down upon fairer scene, or a more
well-favoured couple, than the pair who were now leaning over the
rustic railings, and gazing at the prospect beneath them—or rather,
the man was looking at the girl, and the girl was looking at the sea.
Doubtless moon-shine idealizes the human form, just as it casts a
glamour over the landscape; but at the present moment Helen appears
almost as beautiful as her world-renowned namesake. Her lovely eyes
have a fathomless, far-away expression, her pure, clear-cut profile
is thrown into admirable relief by the glossy dark leaves of a
neighbouring orange-tree. In her simple muslin dress, with its soft
lace ruffles, and a row of pearls round her throat, she seemed the
very type of a modest English maiden (no painted columbine this!),
and, perhaps, a little out of place amid her Eastern surroundings. She
continued to gaze straight before her, with her hands crossed on the
top of the railing, and her eyes fixed on the sea. As she gazed, a
boat shot out of the dim shadows, and across the white moonlit track,
then passed into obscurity again.

"Thinking as usual, Miss Denis?" said her companion.

"Yes," she answered rather reluctantly, "thinking of something that I
must say to _you_, and wondering how I am to say it."

"Is it much worse than last time?" he inquired with a smile (but there
was an inflection of eagerness in his voice).

"Oh! quite different."

"Ah, she is going to announce that she is engaged to Quentin," he said
to himself with a sharp twinge.

"Do you find it so very hard to tell me?" he inquired in a studiously
indifferent tone.

"Yes, very hard; but I must. I owe you much, Mr. Lisle—and—I am
your—friend—I wish to warn you." Suddenly sinking her voice to a
whisper, she added,—"Mrs. Creery has had a letter about YOU!"

"Containing any startling revelations, any bad news?"

"Yes," she returned faintly. "Bad news. Oh, Mr. Lisle,—I am so sorry!"

"Is the news too terrible to be repeated?" he asked with marked
deliberation.

Helen fidgeted with her fan, picked a bit of bark off the railing in
front of her, and, after a long silence, and without raising her eyes,
she said,—

"Must I tell you?"

"If you please," rather stiffly.

"She—she—hears that you have been in the army."

"Yes, so I was—I was not aware that it was criminal to hold her
Majesty's commission; but, of course, Mrs. Creery knows best."

"She says you were—were obliged to—to leave disgraced," continued his
companion in a rapid, broken whisper.

"Cashiered, you mean, of course!"

"Yes," glancing at him nervously. To her amazement, he was smiling.

"Do you believe this, Miss Denis?" he asked, raising himself suddenly
from a leaning posture and looking at her steadily.

"No," she faltered. "I think not. No," more audibly, "I do not,"
blushing deeply as she spoke.

"Why?" he asked rather anxiously.

"I cannot give you any reason," she stammered, somewhat abashed by the
steadfastness of his gaze, "except a woman's reason, that it is so——"

"I am sincerely grateful to you, Miss Denis; your confidence is not
misplaced.—I am _not_ the man in question. Mrs. Creery has got hold of
the wrong end of the stick for once. I know of whom she is thinking,"
his face darkened as he spoke, "a namesake and, I am ashamed to say, a
relation of mine. It is extremely good-natured of the old lady, to make
me the subject of her correspondence." Then in quite another tone he
said, "I suppose you have heard of our start to-morrow?"

"Yes," she replied, scarcely above a whisper.

"I'm a regular bird of passage, and ought to have been away weeks ago;
and you yourself will probably be on the wing before long." (He was
thinking of her marriage with Jim Quentin, but how could she know that?)

"Oh, not for a year at any rate! Papa does not expect that we shall be
moved before then," she answered quite composedly. "I am sorry you are
going to the Nicobars—I mean, you and Mr. Quentin," hastily correcting
herself. "It's a horribly unhealthy place—soldiers and convicts die
there by dozens from—fever," her lip quivered a little as she spoke.

"Not quite so bad as you think," returned her companion, moving his
elbow an inch closer to her. "I'm an old traveller, you know,—and I
will look after him for you."

"Look after who?" she asked in amazement.

"Why, Quentin, to be sure. I know all about it. I," lowering his voice,
"am in the _secret_."

"Mr. Lisle, will you kindly tell me at once what you mean?"

"Certainly, Miss Denis. I mean that Quentin is the happiest of men."

"I am extremely pleased to hear it, but why?" she interrogated firmly.

"What is the use of fencing with me in this way?" he exclaimed with a
gesture of impatience. "You may trust me.—I know all about it. Quentin
has told me himself, that he is engaged to you."

"Engaged to _me_!" she echoed with glowing eyes. "Mr. Lisle, you are
joking."

"Do I look as if I was joking?" he demanded rather bitterly.

"It is not the case. It is the first that I have heard of it,"
exclaimed the young lady in a voice trembling with agitation and
indignation. "How dared he say so?"

Mr. Lisle felt bewildered; a rapturous possibility made his brain reel.
Yet who was he to believe? Quentin had been very positive; he had never
known him to utter a deliberate lie. And here, on the other hand, stood
this girl, saying "No;" and if ever the truth was traced upon proud,
indignant lips, it was written on hers.

"Do you believe me, Mr. Lisle?" she asked impatiently.

For fully a moment he did not speak; and was it the moonlight, or some
sudden emotion, that made him look so white?

"I do believe you, of course," he answered in a low voice. "And now,"
he continued in the same low tone, urged to speak by an irresistible
impulse, "perhaps you can guess _why_ i have stayed away? How, from a
sense of mistaken loyalty, my lips have been locked?"

Her eyes, which up to this, had been fixed intently on his, now sank.
Suddenly a suspicion of the truth now dawned upon her mind, and she
turned aside her face.

"Miss Denis," he said, "I see you have guessed my secret—I love you."

These three magic words were almost inaudible; barely louder than the
orange leaves which whispered in the scented air. Nevertheless a busy
little zephyr caught them up, carried them away, and murmured them to
the sleepy flowers and the drowsy waves, that washed the invulnerable
rocks beneath them.

Helen made no reply. This was the first love-tale to which she had ever
listened, and those three syllables stirred every fibre of her heart.

"Do you remember that time on the wreck," he continued, "when you told
me that I was leading a lazy, useless life, and that I ought to go back
to the outer world? You little guessed that it was you, yourself, who
were keeping me a prisoner here!"

Still the young lady said nothing, but kept her face steadily turned
towards the sea.

He waited a moment, as if expecting some reply, but none came. At last
he said, in quite a different tone,—

"I see how it is.—I have been a presumptuous idiot! And, after all, I
had no right to expect that you would care a straw about me. I am years
older than you are; I am—"

"Mr. Lisle," she interrupted, turning towards him at last, and speaking
with apparent effort, "you are quite wrong.—I—I——" she stopped, and
a little half-frightened smile played round her mouth, as she added,
almost under her breath, "But what will papa say?"

"Then _you_ mean to say 'Yes'!" he exclaimed, coming nearer to her, and
grasping the railing firmly in his hand, to conceal how it shook.

Again she made no reply, but this time Mr. Lisle undoubtedly took
silence for consent.

Mrs. Creery and Dr. Parkes were standing on the very summit of the
hill, overlooking everything and everybody, and the former had not
failed to notice a couple at some distance below them, leaning over the
rails, and contemplating the sea, a tall girl in white, Helen Denis,
of course; and who was the man? It looked like Captain Durand. There,
Captain Durand had just bent over her, and kissed her hand! Pretty
doings, certainly, for a married man.

"There!" she exclaimed, suddenly nudging Dr. Parkes, "did you see
_that_?"

"See what, my dear madam?"

"That man down there with Helen Denis. I believe it's Captain Durand;
he has just kissed her hand. Oh! WAIT till I see his wife!"

"Pooh!" returned her companion contemptuously, "the moonlight must have
deceived you, it was his own hand; he was stroking his moustache."

"Oh, well, I'm not so sure of that!—but I suppose I must take your
word for it, doctor."

Meanwhile, to return to Mr. Lisle, who _had_ kissed Helen's hand. (Mrs.
Creery's eyes seldom deceived her.) "Won't you say something to me,
Helen?" he pleaded anxiously.

"Yes," turning round and drawing her fingers away, "I will.—I
say—don't go to the Nicobars."

"But I must; I have promised Quentin and Hall, and I cannot break my
word. I would gladly give half I possess to get out of it; but I little
guessed this afternoon, when Quentin asked me to go and I said 'Yes,'
that I would so soon have such very strong reasons for saying '_No_.'"

"I wish they would let you off; I have a presentiment about the
Nicobars."

"Presentiment of what?"

"I cannot say, but of something bad. Do _you_ believe in
presentiments?" looking at him wistfully.

"No, and yet I should not say so! That night of the storm, when you
ran down the pier steps and called me back, your voice and your face
haunted me afterwards for days. I had a kind of conviction that I had
met my fate, and so I _had_, you see! By the way, I wonder why you like
me, Helen? or what you see in me?"

The young lady smiled, but said nothing.

"All the world can understand my caring for you, but I am, in one way,
an utter stranger; you could not answer a single question about me,
if you were asked! As far as appearances go, I am an idler, a mere
time-killer, without friends, station, or money."

"If you are idle you will have to amend your ways——"

"And work for you as well as myself," he interrupted with a laugh.

"As to friends, I would say you could share mine, but then I have so
few. Still——"

"Still, for better or worse you will be Mrs. Gilbert Lisle?"

"Yes—some day," faltered the young lady.

"I know I am not half as fascinating, nor a quarter as good-looking as
Quentin; honestly, what do you see in me, Helen?"

"Do you expect me to pander to your conceit, and to make you pretty
speeches?" she asked with rather a saucy smile.

"Indeed I do not; all the pretty speeches, of course, should come from
_me_. I only want to hear the truth," he returned, looking at her with
his steady dark eyes.

"Well, then, since you must know, and you seem generally to have your
own way, I will try and tell you. Somehow, from the first—yes, the
very _first_—I was sure that you were a person that I could trust; and
ever since that time on the wreck——" she paused.

"Yes," he repeated, "ever since that time on the wreck?—go on, Helen."

"I have felt that—that—I would not be afraid to go through anything
with you, to—to spend my life with you. _There!_" becoming crimson,
she added, "I know I have said too much, _far_ too much," clasping her
hands together nervously.

A look more eloquent than words illumined Lisle's face.

"And you would give yourself to me in this blind confidence? Helen, I
little dreamt when I came down here rather aimlessly, that in these
unknown islands, I should find such a pearl beyond price. You cannot
understand what it is to me, to feel that I am valued for myself,
simply as Gilbert Lisle, poor, obscure, and—" he paused, his voice
sounded rather husky, and then he went on, "I must see your father
to-night. But how? I left him at billiards. I wonder what he will say
to me?"

"Perhaps, perhaps," began Helen rather nervously, "_I_ had better speak
to him first. I know he likes you but——"

"Yes, there would seem to be a very considerable _but_," smiling
significantly. "Nevertheless, I hope he will listen to me. No, Helen, I
would rather talk to him myself."

"At any rate, you will not ask me to leave him for ages,—not for a
long time?"

"What do you call a long time?"

"Two or three years; he will be so lonely."

"Two or three years!—and pray what is to become of me?"

"Have you no relations?"

"Yes, some. Chiefly a father, who is pining for the day when I shall
introduce him to a daughter-in-law."

"Now you are joking, surely," looking at him with a bewildered face. "I
have heard of mothers being anxious to get their daughters married—but
a father his sons, never!"

"Ah," repressing a smile, "well, you see, you live and learn."

"And what is your father like?"

"He is old, of course; he has white hair and a red face, and is short
in stature and in temper."

"You do not speak of him very respectfully."

"You are always hauling me up, Helen. First I am lazy, now I am
unfilial."

"I beg your pardon. I forget, I am too ready to say the first thing
that comes into my head."

"Never mind begging my pardon. I like to be lectured by _you_," taking
her hand in his.

"Do not—supposing Mrs. Creery were to see you?" trying to withdraw
hers,—and vainly.

"What if she did?" he returned boldly; "it is my own property."

Thus silenced, Helen submitted to have her arm drawn within her
lover's, and her hand clasped tightly in his.

"Where does your father live, and what does he do, and like?" she asked
presently.

"He lives in London. What does he do? Nothing particular. What does he
like? He likes a rubber of whist, he likes politics, he likes his own
way. He is certain to like _you_."

"Oh, I always get on well with old gentlemen," she rejoined with some
complacency.

Her companion looked at her with an odd twinkle in his eye, and said,—

"As, for instance?"

"As, for instance, the General, Colonel Home, Dr. Parkes."

"And you call _them_ old gentlemen! Why, they are men in the prime of
life! Perhaps you consider me an old gentleman also!"

"Nonsense," she returned with a smile. "Now tell me something about
your mother."

"Ah! my mother," he answered with a sudden change in his expression.
"My mother died five years ago."

"I am sorry," began Helen.

"And _I_ am sorry, that she did not live to know you. She was the most
beautiful woman I ever saw—and the best."

"You were better off than I was. I do not remember my mother; she was
lovely, too," returned Helen, jealous for a certain painted miniature
that was the most precious of her treasures.

Mr. Lisle looked at Helen thoughtfully. His mind suddenly travelled
back to the night that she had landed on Ross—and a certain scathing
sketch of the late Mrs. Denis. Of course this child beside him was
totally ignorant of her mother's foibles. "The prettiest woman in
India" had, at any rate, bequeathed her face to her daughter. Yes, he
noted the low brow, straight nose, short upper lip, and rounded chin.
But what if Helen had also inherited the disposition of the false,
fair, unscrupulous Greek?

That was impossible; he was bitterly ashamed of the thought, and
mentally hurled it from him with scorn. His lady-love was rather
surprised at his long silence. Of what was he thinking?

"It is a well-known fact," he said at length, "that the value people
place upon themselves is largely discounted by the world; but when I
came down here, merely to see what the place was like, and to shoot and
fish, I never guessed that I should be taken for counterfeit coin by
the head of the society for the propagation of scandal."

"Meaning Mrs. Creery," said Helen with a smile.

"Yes. Because I declined to unbosom myself to her, and tell her where I
came from, where I was going, what was my age, my religion, etc., etc.,
she made up her mind that I was a kind of social outcast, and was not
to be tolerated in decent company. This, as you may have remarked, sat
very lightly on my mind; I did not come here for society, but it amused
me to see how Mrs. Creery set me down as a loafer and a pauper. It does
not always follow that, because a fellow wears a shabby coat, his
pockets must be empty. I am not a poor man; far from it. Do you think,
if I were, I would have the effrontery to go to your father, and say,
'Here I am. I have no profession, no prospects, no money. Hand me over
your treasure, your only child, and let us see if what is not enough
for one to live on will suffice for two?' Were a man to come to _me_
with such a suggestion, I should hand him over to the police."

Helen looked at him in awe-struck astonishment.

"Then you are rich,—and no one guesses it here!"

"Oh, the General knows all about me; so does Quentin; so shall _you_!
How I wish," he exclaimed with sudden vehemence, "that these miserable
Nicobars had never been discovered! Six weeks will seem a century,
especially in the company of Quentin. I shall be obliged to have it out
with Master James," he added, with a rather stern curve of his lips. "I
had thought that lying was an obsolete vice! Only that Hall is going,
and is entirely depending on me as a kind of buffer between him and
Quentin,—whom he detests,—I would not consider my promise binding. I
never knowingly associate with——" he stopped short, and apparently
finished the sentence to himself. "Anyway, it will seem years till I
come back!"

"And you _will_ come back?" she said, looking at him with a strangely
wistful face.

For a moment he returned her gaze in reproachful amazement. Then,
stretching his hand out towards the east, replied,—

"As sure as the sun will rise there to-morrow, so surely will I return.
What have I said or done that you should doubt me now—you who have
trusted me so generously?"

"I cannot tell. I have a strange feeling that I cannot get out of my
head; and yet I'm sure you would laugh were you to hear it, Mr. Lisle."

"Gilbert," he corrected.

"Yes, Gilbert," she repeated softly.

"I must tell you, Helen, what I have more than once been tempted to
confide to you. I am not what I seem. I——"

"It was _not_ captain Durand, after all," interrupted a harsh female
voice close by, and at this critical moment Mrs. Creery and Dr. Parkes
came swooping down from the hill-top.

"Helen and Mr. Lisle! Well, I declare! Pray do you know that every one
is going home? What can you have been thinking of? The band played 'God
save the Queen' half an hour ago."

Mr. Lisle drew himself up to his full height (which was five feet ten),
and looked as if he wished the good lady—say, at Jericho; and Helen
fumbled with her fan, and murmured some incoherent excuse. They both
hung back, evidently expecting and hoping that the elder couple would
lead the way down the hill; but, alas! for their expectations, Mrs.
Creery suddenly put out a plump hand and drew Helen's reluctant one
under her own arm, saying, as she shouldered herself between her and
her cavalier,—

"Come along with me; it's high time little girls like you were at
home," and without another word Helen was, as it were, marched off
under a strong escort in the direction of the ball-room.

Good-bye to those few transcendental moments, good-bye to the moonlight
on the water, the scent of orange-flowers, and all the appropriate
surroundings to a love-tale! Say good-bye to Gilbert Lisle and love's
young dream, Helen Denis, and go quietly down the hill with Mrs.
Creery's heavy arm firmly locked in yours.

The two gentlemen followed in dead silence. Dr. Parkes was infinitely
diverted with this little scene; he had been young himself, and it did
not need the light of his own past experience to tell him, that this
good-looking, impecunious fellow beside him had been trying his hand
at making love to the island belle; but Mrs. Creery was a deal too
sharp for him, and on the whole, "though he was evidently a gentleman,"
casting a glance at his companion's aristocratic profile and erect,
rather soldierly figure, he considered that it was a deuced piece of
cheek for _him_ to think of making up to Helen Denis! Alas! little did
Dr. Parkes and the careful matron in his van, guess that they were
merely carrying away the key of the stable, the steed (meaning the
young lady's heart) had been stolen long ago.

As to Mr. Lisle's thoughts, the reader can easily imagine
them—disgust, impatience, rage were the least of them. How was he to
get another word with Helen? How was he to have a chance of seeing
Colonel Denis? Oh! rash and fatal promise that he had made that
afternoon. When the ladies all emerged, shawled and cloaked from the
mess-room verandah, he made one bold effort to walk home with his
_fiancée_; but every one was leaving simultaneously, and they all
descended in one compact body, Dr. Malone escorting Miss Denis on one
side, and Captain Rodney on the other; while her accepted lover walked
alone behind, and angrily gnawed his moustache. However, he was the
last to bid her good-bye, he even went a few paces down the little
walk; meanwhile from the high road a crowd looked on—and waited!
This was a trying ordeal, and Dr. Parkes' voice was heard shouting
impatiently,—

"Now then, Lisle! if you are coming in my boat, look sharp, will you,
there's a good fellow?"

He felt a fierce desire to throttle the little doctor! Moments to _him_
were more precious than diamonds, and what was half an hour more or
less to a dried-up old fogey like that?

He stopped for a second under the palm-trees, and whispered,—

"I'll come over to-morrow early; I mean this morning, if I may, and
if I can possibly manage it; if not, good-bye, darling—our first and
last good-bye. I shall be back in six weeks," and then he wrung her
hand and went. (A more tender leave-taking was out of the question, in
the searching glare of the moonlight, and under the batteries of forty
pairs of eyes.)

Poor, ignorant Colonel Denis! who was standing within three yards,
little guessed what Gilbert Lisle was whispering to his daughter;
indeed, he was not aware that he had been whispering at _all_! nor that
here was a robber who wished to carry off his treasure—his all—his
one ewe lamb.

No, this guileless, unsuspicious gentleman, nodded a friendly "good
night" to the thief, and went slowly yawning up the steps, then,
turning round, said sleepily,—

"Well, and how did my little girl enjoy herself?"

His little girl looked very lovely in his fond eyes, as she stood below
him in her simple white gown, with her face still turned towards the
roadway."

"Oh! very, very much, papa!" she replied most truthfully, now entering
the dim verandah, and thereby hiding the treacherous blushes that
mounted to her very temples.

"That's right!" kissing her as he spoke. "There, be off to bed; it's
nearly two o'clock! dreadful hours for an old gentleman like me!"

But Miss Denis did not obey her parent's injunction; on the contrary,
she went into the drawing-room, laid down her candle, removed her
gloves, and rested her hot face in her hands, and tried to collect her
thoughts, and realize her bliss. She was so happy, she could not bear
to go to bed, for fear she might go to sleep. She wanted to make the
most of the delicious present, to think over every moment, every word,
every look, that she had exchanged with Mr. Lisle this most wonderful
evening. And to think that all along he had stayed away because he
had thought that she was engaged to Jim Quentin—he had said so. Jim
Quentin! And she curled her lip scornfully, as she recollected a recent
little scene between that gentleman and herself.

For a whole hour she sat in the dimly-lighted drawing-room, looking
out on the stars, listening to the sea, and tasting a happiness that
comes but once in most people's lifetime. She was rudely aroused from
her mental ecstacy, by a tall figure appearing in the doorway, clothed
in white; no ghost this—merely her ayah, with her cloth wrapped round
her, saying in a drowsy voice,—

"Missy never coming to bed to-night?"



CHAPTER XIX.

PROOF POSITIVE.

  "About a hoop of gold—a paltry ring that she did give me."

  _Merchant of Venice._

  "Is this a prologue—or the poesy of a ring?
  'Tis brief, my lord—as woman's love."

  _Hamlet._


IT will not surprise any one to hear, that there was rather a stormy
meeting between Mr. Lisle and his fellow inmate. Mr. Quentin did not
return home till nearly four o'clock, and when he did, he found his
friend sitting up for him, and this of itself constitutes an injury,
especially when the last-comer has had rather too much champagne!
Apollo arrived tired and sleepy, with tumbled locks and tie, and in a
quarrelsome, captious mood, swearing roundly as he came up the steps,
at his unhappy servants—who had spent the night in packing.

"Hullo!" he cried, seeing the other writing at the table, "not gone to
roost yet, my early bird?"

"No," looking at him gravely, "I wanted to speak to you first," rising
as he spoke and shutting the door.

"I say!" with a forced laugh, "you are not going to shoot me, eh?"

"No, I merely want to ask you why you told me that you were engaged to
Miss Denis?"

"Who says I'm not?" throwing himself into a chair, and extending his
long legs.

"She does," replied his companion laconically.

"And how dare _you_ ask her or meddle in my affairs?" blustered Mr.
Quentin in a loud voice.

"'Dare' is a foolish word to use to me, Quentin. I do not want to
quarrel with you," feeling that his adversary was not quite himself.
"But I wish to know why you deceived me in this way. What was your
motive?"

Mr. Quentin was as much sobered by the stern eyes of his _vis-à-vis_,
as if he had had his head immersed in a bucket of iced water.
He reviewed the circumstances with lightning speed; to tide over
to-morrow, nay, this very day, was all he wanted. In a few hours they
would be off; the _Scotia_ sailed at nine, and the chances were ten to
one that Lisle and Helen Denis would never meet in this world again.
Lisle would probably go home from the Nicobars. He could not afford to
get into his black books (for various reasons, chiefly connected with
cheque books), and he would brazen it out now. As well be hanged for a
sheep as a lamb!

"I _am_ engaged to her," he said at last.

"She says you are not; it's merely your word against hers."

"And which do you believe?"

"Well, this is no time for mincing matters. I believe Miss Denis," said
the other bluntly.

"Believe her against me? A girl you have not spoken to ten times in
your life; and you and I have lived here under the same roof like
_brothers_ for months. Oh, Gilbert Lisle!" and his beautiful blue
eyes looked quite misty, as he apostrophized his companion in a tone
as mournful as the renowned "_Et tu, Brute_."—But, as I have already
stated, Jim Quentin was a consummate actor.

Mr. Lisle was rather staggered for a moment, and the other went on,—

"Don't you know—but how should you? for you don't know woman's ways,"
with a melancholy shake of the head, "that they _all_, even the
youngest and simplest of them, think it no harm to tell fibs about
their sweethearts? I give you my solemn word of honour that I've heard
an engaged girl swear she was not going to be married to a fellow up
to a week before the wedding-day. They think that being known to be
engaged, spoils their fun with other men; the more proposals they can
boast of the better. If you have been such a fool, as to believe Helen
Denis's little joke, all I can say is, that I am sorry for you!"

This was hard swearing, certainly, but it was in for a penny, in for a
pound, and the _Scotia_ sailed at nine o'clock.

Still Mr. Lisle was not convinced, and he saw it and added,—

"You think very little of my bare word, I see. No doubt you would like
to see some tangible proof of what I say. There is no time now ('thank
goodness,' to himself) to bring us face to face, but if I promise to
show you some token before we sail, will that content you?"

Mr. Lisle made no reply.

"And," he continued, "I'm going to turn in now, for it's four o'clock,
and I'm dead beat. Don't let us fall out, old fellow—no woman is worth
it. They are all the same, they can't help their nature," and with this
parting declaration, Mr. Quentin, finished actor and finished flirt,
sorrowfully nodded his head and took his departure.

Once in his own apartment he tore off his coat, called his body-servant
to pull off his boots, threw himself into an arm-chair, and composed
himself with a cheroot, yea, at four o'clock in the morning! He had
shown a bold front, and had impressed Lisle—that he could see plainly.
But how about this little token? He did not possess a glove, a ribbon,
a flower, much less a photograph or a lock of hair. What was he to do?
For fully a quarter of an hour the query found no answer in his brain,
till his sleepy servant, asking some trivial question, gave him a clue;
he saw it all, as it were, in a lightning flash.

Abdul was married to Miss Denis's ayah (a handsome, good-for-nothing
virago, who, it was rumoured, occasionally inflicted corporal
punishment upon her lord and master, and was avaricious to the last
degree).

Abdul was a dark, oily-looking, sly person, who was generally to be
trusted—when his own interests did not clash with his employer's.

"Abdul, look here," said Mr. Quentin suddenly, "I want you to do
something for me at once."

"Yes, saar," said Abdul in a drowsy voice.

"Go off, now, this moment, and get the boat, go across to Ross"—here
Abdul's face became very blank indeed,—"go to Colonel Denis's
bungalow, and speak to Fatima, and tell her." Mr. Quentin was, for once
in his life, a little ashamed of what he was about to do; but do it he
would, all the same—he _must_—he had burnt his boats. "Tell her to
give you that queer gold ring Missy wears—no stones, a pattern like
this," talking the jargon of the East, and showing an ancient seal. "I
want it as 'muster' for another, just to look at; for a present for
Missy, and will give it back to-day. Mind you, Abdul, never letting
Missy know: if you do, or if Fatima says one word, you get nothing; if
you and she manage the job well, you shall have twenty rupees!"

Abdul stared, and then salaamed and stolidly replied,—

"I never telling master's business, master knows."

"Then be off at once, and let me see you back by seven o'clock; and
don't attempt to show your face without _that_, or no rupees—you
understand?"

"Master pleases," ejaculated Abdul, and vanished on his errand, an
errand that was much to his taste. A little mystery or intrigue, and
the prospects of a good many rupees, appeals to the native mind in a
very direct fashion.

At seven o'clock he had returned, having accomplished his mission.
Breathless and radiant he appeared, and roused his sleeping master,
saying,—

"I've come back, saar, and here"—unfolding a bit of his turban, and
holding out his hand—"I've brought the pattern master wanted."

"By Jove!" leaning up on his elbow, and now wide awake, "so you have,"
taking Helen's ring, and surveying it critically. Yes! nothing could be
better; she always wore it on the third finger of her right hand, and
there was surely some history about it, or he was much mistaken. "We
will see what Lisle will say to _this_," he muttered to himself as he
squeezed it on his own somewhat plump little finger. Then to Abdul,—

"Very well. All right; I'll give it back, you know. Meanwhile go to my
box over there, and bring the money-bag, and count yourself out the
dibs I promised you."

Abdul obeyed this order with great alacrity, salaamed, and then waited
for his next instructions.

"You can go now; call me in half an hour," said his master, dismissing
him with a wave of his newly-decorated hand.

"A first-class idea! and, by Jove, Miss Helen, I owed you this. The
idea of a little chit like you, the penniless daughter of an old
Hindoo colonel, giving yourself such airs as you did last night,"
alluding to a scene when Helen, wearied by his compliment, and
indignant at his presumption, had plucked up courage to rebuke him in a
manner that penetrated even the triple armour of his self-conceit. Such
a thing was a novel experience, the recollection of it stung him still,
and to such a man as Jim Quentin, the affront was unpardonable. It
awoke a slumbering flame of resentment in his rather stolid breast, and
a burning desire to pay her out! And he would take right good care that
she did not catch Lisle—Lisle, who was certainly inclined to make an
ass of himself about her. With this determination in his mind, he rose,
dressed, and languidly lounged into their mutual sitting-room, where
his companion had been impatiently awaiting him for an hour, intending
subsequently to sail across to Ross, and take one more parting with his
fair lady-love, and, if possible, obtain a word with her father.

"So you have appeared at last?" he exclaimed; "I've been expecting you
for ages."

"Have you? but we need not leave this till half-past eight," looking at
his watch. "They know we are going,—and Hall is never in time."

"I'm not thinking of the _Scotia_," returned the other, scarcely able
to restrain his impatience; "but of what you promised to show me last
night—that proof you spoke of, you know."

"Oh! yes; by-the-bye, so I did," as if it were a matter of the most
complete indifference. "I daresay I have something that will convince
you. Will this do?" tendering his hand as he spoke, in quite an airy,
nonchalant fashion.

Mr. Lisle glanced at it, and beheld his ring, the wreck ring, adorning
Jim Quentin's little finger! He started as if he had been struck—his
own gift, that she declared she would never part with! And she had
bestowed it already,—given it to Quentin: this was enough, was too
much—he asked no more.

"Well, will that do?" demanded Apollo, removing and tendering the
token. "Are you satisfied _now_?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Lisle, who had regained his self-command. But the
other had noted the sudden pallor of his face, the almost incredulous
expression of his eyes, and felt that this borrowed bit of jewellery
was indeed a trump card, boldly played.

Jim was immensely relieved as this one syllable fell from his
companion's lips. The whole matter was now settled. Lisle was choked
off: his own credit was unimpeached, but it had had a narrow squeak,
and last night he had undoubtedly spent a very unpleasant quarter of an
hour.

Of course Mr. Lisle did not return to Ross, although the white boat lay
waiting for him for an hour, by the landing steps. Helen had more than
half expected him, with trembling, delightful anticipations; how many
times did she run to look in the glass? how many times re-arrange the
flowers in her dress? how many times did she dart to the verandah as a
manly step came up the road? But, alas! after an hour's expectation,
her hopes were dashed to the ground by Miss Lizzie Caggett.

"The _Scotia_ has sailed!" she screamed out from the pathway. "Come up
to the flagstaff, and see the last of her."

It was the custom for the ladies on Ross to take constitutionals
before breakfast, and Helen, on her way to the top of the hill with
Miss Lizzie, was joined by Mrs. Creery, Mrs. Home, and Mrs. Durand,
all discussing the previous evening's dissipation. Helen was (they all
remarked) unusually silent: generally she was full of fun and spirits.
She stood aloof, looking after the receding steamer, and said to
herself, "What if he should never come back!"

But this was a merely passing thought that she silenced immediately.
Mr. Lisle was, as every one knew, a man of his word, and never broke a
promise.

The little group of ladies stood watching the smoke of the steamer
become smaller and smaller till it vanished altogether, and Helen, as
she turned her face away from the sea at last, had a suspicion of tears
in her eyes,—tears which her companions attributed to Mr. Quentin.
As she walked down the hill with Mrs. Home, that warm-hearted little
lady, who was leaning on her, pressed her arm in token of sympathy, and
whispered in a significant tone,—

"He will come back, dear."

"So he will," agreed Helen, also in a whisper, blushing scarlet as she
spoke. But she and Mrs. Home were not thinking of the same person!



CHAPTER XX.

"A GREAT BATTLE."

  "But 'twas a famous victory."

  _Southey._


IT is perhaps needless to mention that Mrs. Creery made it her
business, and considered it her duty, to circulate the intelligence
that she had received about Mr. Lisle without unnecessary delay. She
read portions of the letter referring to him, in "strict confidence,"
to every one she could get hold of, and the missive was nearly worn
out from constant folding and unfolding. If any one ventured to impugn
her testimony, she would lay her hand upon her pocket with a dramatic
gesture, and say,—

"That's nonsense! I've got it all here in black and white. I always
knew that there was a screw loose about that man. Perhaps you will all
be guided by _me_ another time! I'm an excellent judge of character, as
my sister, Lady Grubb, declares. She always says, 'You cannot go far
wrong if you listen to Eliza'—that's me," pointing to her breast bone
with a plump forefinger. Then she would produce the billet and, after
much clearing of throat, commence to read what she already knew by
heart.

"'You ask me if I can tell you anything about a Mr. Lisle, a mysterious
person who has lately come to the Andamans; very dark, age over thirty,
slight in figure, shabby and idle, close about himself, and with a
curious, deliberate way of speaking; supposed to have been in the army,
and to have come from Bengal. Christian name unknown, initial letter
G.'"

(It sounded exactly like a description in a police notice.)

"'My dear Mrs. Creery, I know him well, and he may well be close about
himself and his affairs'"—here it was Mrs. Creery's cue to pause and
smack her lips with unction. "'If he is the person you so accurately
describe, he is a Captain Lisle, a black sheep who was turned out of a
regiment in Bengal on account of some very shady transactions on the
turf.'"—"He told me himself he was fond of riding," Mrs. Creery would
supplement, as if this fact clenched the business. "'He was bankrupt,
and had a fearful notoriety in every way. No woman who respected
herself would be seen speaking to him! The Andamans, no doubt, suit him
very well at present, and offer him a new field for his energies, and
a harbour of refuge at the same time. Do not let any one cash a cheque
for him, and warn all the young ladies in the settlement that he is a
_married_ man!'"

"There," Mrs. Creery would conclude, with a toss of her topee, "what do
you think of that?"

"Mr. Lisle is not here to speak for himself," ventured Helen on one
occasion. "_Les absents ont toujours tort._"

It was new to see Helen adopt an insurrectionary attitude. Mrs. Creery
stared.

"Nonsense—stuff and nonsense," angrily. "And let me tell you, Helen
Denis, that it is not at all maidenly or modest for a young girl like
you to be taking up the cudgels for a notorious reprobate like this
Lisle."

"I'm sure he is not a reprobate, and I'm certain you are mistaken,"
rejoined Helen bravely.

Here the elder lady flamed out, and thumped her umbrella violently on
the ground, and cried in her highest key,—

"Then why did he go away? He knew that I had heard about him, for I
told him so to his face. I never say behind a person's back what I
won't say to their face." (Oh! Mrs. Creery, Mrs. Creery!) "And it is a
very remarkable coincidence, that in less than twelve hours, he was out
of the place! How do you account for that, eh?"

She paused for breath, and once more proceeded triumphantly,—

"He will never show here again, believe me; and, after all, I am
thankful to say he has done no great harm! As far as _I_ know he ran
no bills in the bazaar, and certainly neither you nor Lizzie Caggett
lost your hearts to him!"

Helen became very pale, her lips quivered, and she was unable to reply
for a moment. Then she said,—

"At any rate, I believe in him, Mrs. Creery,—and always will; deeds
are better than words. Have you forgotten the wreck?"

"Forgotten it?" she screamed. "Am I ever likely to get it out of my
head? Only for my calling myself hoarse, you and Mr. Lisle would both
have been murdered in that hole of a cabin! You know I told you not to
go down, and you would, and see what you got by it."

There was not the slightest use in arguing with this lady, who not
only imposed upon others, but also upon herself: she had a distorted
mind, that idealized everything connected with her own actions, and
deprecated, and belittled, the deeds of other people! The only persons
who had _not_ heard the horrible tale about Mr. Lisle were the Durands
and the general; the latter was a singularly astute gentleman, and
never lost a certain habit of cool military promptitude, even when in
retreat. Each time Mrs. Creery had exhibited symptoms of extracting a
letter from her pocket, he had escaped! The Durands were Mr. Lisle's
friends,—a fact that lowered them many fathoms in Mrs. Creery's
estimation, and were consequently the very last to hear of the scandal!

About a fortnight after the departure of the _Scotia_, the general
gave one of his usual large dinner-parties; every one in Ross was
invited, and about twenty-four sat down to the table. When the meal
was over, and the ladies had pulled a few crackers, and sipped their
glass of claret, they all filed off into the drawing-room in answer
to Mrs. Creery's rather dramatic signal, and there they looked over
photographs, noted the alterations in each other's dresses, drank
coffee, and conversed in groups. In due time the conversation turned
upon that ever fertile topic, "Mr. Lisle," and Mrs. Graham, who was
seated beside Mrs. Durand, little knowing what she was doing, fired
the first shot, by regretting very much "that Mr. Lisle had turned
out to be such a dreadful character, so utterly different from what
he seemed." Encouraged by one or two cleverly-put questions from her
neighbour, she unfolded the whole story. Meantime, Mrs. Durand sat and
listened, in rigid silence, her lips pressed firmly together, her hands
tightly locked in her pale-blue satin lap. When the recital had come
to an end, she turned her grave eyes on her companion, and said in her
most impressive manner,—

"_How_ do you know this?"

"Oh, it's well known, it's all over the place. Mrs. Creery had a
letter," glancing over to where that lady reclined in a comfortable
chair, with a serene expression on her face, and a gently-nodding
diadem.

"Mrs. Creery," said Mrs. Durand, raising her voice, which was
singularly clear and penetrating, "pray what is this story that you
have been telling every one about Mr. Lisle?"

This warlike invocation awoke the good lady from her doze, and, like
a battle-steed, she lifted her head, and, as it were, sniffed the
conflict from afar!

"I've been telling nothing but the truth, Mrs. Durand"—rousing herself
at once to an upright position—"and you are most welcome to _hear_ it,
though he _is_ a friend of yours," and she tossed her diadem as much as
to say "Come on!"

"Thank you! Then will you be so very kind as to repeat what you have
heard," returned Mrs. Durand with a freezing politeness that made the
other ladies look at each other significantly. There was going to be a
fight, and they felt a thrill of mingled delight and apprehension at
the prospect.

Bold Mrs. Durand was the only woman in the island who had never veiled
her crest to Mrs. Creery. She was now about to challenge her to single
combat—yes, they all saw it in her face!

"I always knew that there was something very wrong about that man,"
began the elder lady in her usual formula, and figuratively placing her
lance in rest. "People who have nothing to hide, are never ashamed to
speak of their concerns, but no one ever got a word out of Mr. Lisle,
and I am sure he received every encouragement to be open! He was in the
army, he admitted _that_ against his will, and that was all. He never
deceived _me_;—I knew he was without any resources, I—knew he was out
at elbows, I knew——"

"Pray spare us your opinion, and tell us what _facts_ you have to go
upon," interrupted Mrs. Durand, calmly cutting short this flow of
denunciation.

"I have a letter from a friend at Simla," unconsciously seeking her
pocket, "a letter," she retorted proudly, "which you can _read_,
saying that he was cashiered for conduct unbecoming an officer and a
gentleman, that he is a bankrupt, and a swindler, and a married man,"
as if this last enormity crowned all.

"It is not true—not a word of it!" replied Mrs. Durand, as coolly as
if she were merely saying, "How do you do?"

"Not true! nonsense; is he not dark, aged over thirty, name Lisle?
did he not hang about the settlement for six months living on his
wits? Of course it is true," rejoined the elder lady, with an air that
proclaimed that she had not merely crushed, but pulverized, her foe!

"Lisle is not an uncommon name, and I know that my friend is not the
original of your flattering little sketch."

"But I tell you that he _is_! I can prove it; I have it all in black
and white!" cried Mrs. Creery furiously—her temper had now gone by
the board. Who was this Mrs. Durand that she should dare to contradict
her? She saw that they were face to face in the lists, and that the
other ladies were eager spectators of the tourney; it was not merely
a dispute over Mr. Lisle, it was a struggle for the social throne,
whoever conquered now would be mistress of the realm. This woman must
be browbeaten, silenced, and figuratively slain!

"I have it all in writing, and pray what can _you_ bring against that?"
she demanded imperiously.

"Simply my word, which I hope will stand good," returned the other
firmly.

Mrs. Creery laughed derisively, and tossed her head and then replied,—

"Words go for nothing!"

This was rude—it was more than rude, it was insulting!

"Am I to understand that you do not believe mine?" said Mrs. Durand,
making a noble effort to keep her temper.

"Oh," ignoring the question, "I have never doubted that _you_ could
tell us more about Mr. Lisle than most people, and a woman will say
anything for a man—a man who is a friend," returned the other lady
with terrible significance.

This was hard-hitting with a vengeance, still Mrs. Durand never quailed.

"Shall I tell you who Mr. Lisle really is? I did not intend to mention
it, as he begged me to be silent."

(Here Mrs. Creery's smile was really worth going a quarter of a mile to
see.)

"I have known him for many years; he is an old friend of mine, and of
my brothers."

"Oh, of your brothers!" interrupted her antagonist, looking up at the
ceiling with a derisive laugh and an adequate expression of incredulity.

"I am not specially addressing myself to _you_, Mrs. Creery," exclaimed
Mrs. Durand at white heat, but still retaining wonderful command of her
temper. "My brothers were at Eton with him," she continued, looking
towards her other listeners. "He is the second son of Lord Lingard and
the Honourable Gilbert Lisle."

A silence ensued, during which you might have heard a pin drop; Mrs.
Creery's face became of a dull beetroot colour, and her eyes looked as
if they were about to take leave of their sockets.

"And what brought him masquerading here?" she panted forth at last.

"He was not masquerading, he came in his own name," returned Mrs.
Durand with calm decision. "He left the service on coming in for a
large property, and spends most of his time travelling about; he is
fond"—addressing herself specially to the other ladies, and rather
wondering at Helen Denis's scarlet cheeks—"of exploring out-of-the-way
places. I believe he has been to Siberia and Central America. The
Andamans were a novelty; he came for a few weeks and stayed for a few
months because he liked the fishing and boating and the unconventional
life."

"And who is the other Lisle?"

"Some distant connection, I believe; every family has its black sheep."

"Why did he not let us know his position?" gasped Mrs. Creery.

"Because he thinks it of so little importance; he wished, I conclude,
to stand on his own merits, and to be valued for himself alone. He
found his proper level here, did he not, Mrs. Creery? He lived in the
palace of truth for once!" and she laughed significantly—undoubtedly
turn-about is fair play, it was her turn now.

"I must say that I wonder what he saw in the Andamans," exclaimed Mrs.
Graham at last.

"One attraction, no doubt, was, because he could go away whenever he
liked; another, that he was left to himself—no one ran after him!" and
Mrs. Durand laughed again. "In London he is made so much of, as every
one knows he is wealthy and a bachelor, and that his eldest brother has
only one lung! Besides all these advantages, he is extremely popular,
and is beset by invitations to shoot, to dance, to dine, to yacht, from
year's end to year's end. Well, he got a complete holiday from all that
kind of thing _here_!"

Then she recollected that in castigating Mrs. Creery and Miss Caggett
she was including totally innocent people—people who had always been
civil to the Honourable Gilbert Lisle, such as Mrs. Graham, Mrs. Home,
Miss Denis, and others, and she added,—

"All the same, I should tell you that he enjoyed his stay here
immensely, he told me so, and that he would always have a kindly
recollection of Port Blair, and of the friends he had made in the
settlement."

(Mrs. Durand, thought Helen, does not know everything; she evidently
is not aware that he is coming back.) The speaker paused at the word
settlement, for she had made the discovery that most of the gentlemen
had entered and were standing in the background while she had been, as
it were, addressing the house. A general impression had been gathered
about Mr. Lisle also, as Captain Rodney whispered to Dr. Malone, that
"Mrs. Creery had evidently had what she would be all the better for,
viz., a rare good setting down."

Infatuated Mrs. Creery! deposed, and humbled potentate, if there was
one thing that was even nearer to her heart than Nip, it was the owner
of a _title_.

She could hardly grasp any tangible idea just at present, she
was so completely dazed. It was as if Mrs. Durand had let off a
catherine-wheel in her face.

Mr. Lisle an Honourable! Mr. Lisle immensely rich! Mr. Lisle, whom she
had offered to pay for his photographs, whom she had never met without
severely snubbing. And all the time he was the son of a lord, and she
had unconsciously lost a matchless opportunity of cementing a lifelong
friendship with one of the aristocracy. Alas, for poor Mrs. Creery, her
mind was chaos!

After the storm there ensued the proverbial calm; the piano was opened,
and people tried to look at ease, and to pretend, forsooth, that they
were not thinking of the recent grand engagement, but it was all a
hollow sham.

Helen, if it had been in her power, would have endowed that brave
woman, Mrs. Durand, with a Victoria Cross for valour, and, indeed,
every lady present secretly offered her a personal meed of admiration
and gratitude. She had slain their dragon, who would never more dare
to rear her head and tyrannize over the present or vilify the absent.
Surely there should be some kind of domestic decoration accorded to
those who arm themselves with moral courage, and go forth and rescue
the reputation of their friends.

Miss Caggett sat in the background, looking unusually grave and gloomy,
no doubt thinking with remorseful stings of _her_ lost opportunities.
Dr. Malone grinned and nodded, and rubbed his rather large bony hands
ecstatically, and whispered to Captain Rodney that "_he_ had always had
a notion that Lisle the photographer was a prince in disguise!"

As for Mrs. Creery, as before mentioned, that truculent lady was
absolutely shattered; she resembled an ill constructed automaton who
had been knocked down and then set up limply in a chair, or a woman in
a dream—and that a bad one. After a while she spoke in a strangely
subdued voice, and said,—

"General, I don't feel very well; that coffee of yours has given me a
terrible headache. If you will send for my jampan, I'll just go quietly
home."

Thus she withdrew, with a pitiable remnant of her former dignity, her
host escorting her politely to the entrance, and placing her in her
chair with faint regrets. Every one knew perfectly well, that it was
_not_ the General's coffee that had routed Mrs. Creery, it was she
whose beautiful contralto was now filling the drawing-room as her late
antagonist tottered down the steps—it was that valiant lady, Mrs.
Durand!



CHAPTER XXI.

THE NICOBARS.

  "Once I loved a maiden fair,
      But she did deceive me."


WHEN last we saw Mr. Quentin, he had just succeeded in convincing his
companion that he was Miss Denis's favoured suitor. This was well—this
was satisfactory. But it was neither well, nor yet satisfactory, to
behold Lisle calmly appropriate the posy ring, and put it in his
waistcoat pocket.

"Hullo! I say, you know," expostulated Apollo, "give me back my
property."

"No," returned the other very coolly; "it was originally mine, and as
it has once more come into my hands, I will keep it."

Mr. Quentin became crimson with anger and dismay.

"I found it on the wreck, and gave it to Miss Denis, who said she
valued it greatly, but as she has passed it on to you, I see that her
words were a mere _façon de parler_, and if she asks you what you have
done with it, you can tell her that you showed it to me, and that _I_
retained it."

There was a high-handed air about this bare-faced robbery that simply
took Mr. Quentin's breath away, and the whole proceeding put him in, as
he expressed it himself, "such an awful hat;" for he had never meant
to steal the ring—he only wanted the loan of it for half an hour,
and now that it had served his purpose, it was to be restored to its
mistress; but here was Lisle actually compelling him to be a _thief_!
Vainly he stammered, blustered, and figuratively flapped his wings!
he might as well have stammered and blustered to the wall. Lisle was
impassive—moreover, the boat was waiting; and Abdul returned to Ross
and Fatima, plus twenty rupees, but minus the ring. And what a search
there was for that article when Helen Denis missed it; rooms were
turned out, matting was taken up, every hole and corner was searched,
but all to no purpose—considering that the ring was, as we know, on
its way to the Nicobars.

Fatima, the Cleopatra-like, was touched when she saw her Missy actually
weeping for her lost property; but all the same, she positively assured
her that she had never seen it since she had had it on her finger
last—indeed, if it had been in her power to return it she would have
done so, for Helen offered a considerable reward to whoever would
restore her the most precious of her possessions. Days and weeks went
by, but no ring was found.

The _Scotia_ left Calcutta once every six weeks, calling firstly
at Port Blair, then at the Nicobars, then Rangoon, and so back to
Calcutta; and the reason of Mr. Quentin's hurried departure was that
the order to start for the Nicobars came in the steamer that was to
take him there, otherwise there would have been the usual delay of six
weeks. Once on board, he went straight below to his cabin, turned in,
and recouped himself for his sleepless night. He slept soundly all day
long, having immense capacities in that line. Mr. Hall, the settlement
officer, walked the deck with Mr. Lisle, and subsequently they
descended to the saloon and played chess. The group near the flagstaff
had not been unnoticed by the passengers of the _Scotia_ as she steamed
by under the hill; there had been some waving of handkerchiefs, but
Mr. Lisle's had never left his pocket. He had something else in that
selfsame pocket that forbade such demonstration—the fatal ring, and a
ring that bore for motto, as he had now discovered, "Love me and leave
me not"—a motto that implied a bitter mockery of the present occasion.
This wreck ring was assuredly an unlucky token! Only last night, and
Helen had seemed to him the very incarnation of simplicity, truth, and
faith—what a contrast to those many lovely London sirens who smiled
on him—and his _rent roll_! Never again would he be deceived by
nineteen summers, and sweet grey eyes; no, never again. This was the
determination he came to, as he paced the deck that night beneath the
stars.

The next morning the _Scotia_ was off the low, long coast of the
Nicobars; so low was it, that it resembled a forest standing in the
water. In the midst of this seeming forest there was a narrow passage
that a casual eye might easily overlook; a passage just barely wide
enough to admit the steamer, with a natural arch of rock on one side;
the water was clear, emerald green, and very deep, and along the wooded
shores of the entrance to Camorta were many white native huts, built on
wooden piles, scattered up and down the high banks clothed in jungle.
Soon the passage widened into a large inland bay, lined with mangroves
and poison-breathing jungles, save for a clearing on the left-hand
side, where there was a rude pier, a bazaar of native houses, and some
larger wooden buildings on the overhanging hill. This was Camorta, the
capital of the Nicobars, to which Port Blair was as London to some
small provincial town.

The natives were totally different to the Andamanese; they were Malays,
with brown skins, flat heads, and wide mouths, and came swarming round
the three Europeans as they landed, and commenced to climb the hill.
One, who was very sprucely dressed in a blue frock-coat, grey trousers,
white tie, and tall hat, and flourished a gold watch, was bare-footed,
and had it made known to Mr. Lisle, before he was five minutes on
_terra firma_, that he was prepared to give him one thousand cocoa-nuts
in exchange for his boots.

The buildings on the hill included a big, gaunt-looking bungalow, in
which the three new arrivals took up their quarters. It was rather
destitute of furniture, but commanded a matchless view of this great
inland bay and far-away hills; it also overlooked a rather suggestive
object, an old white ship, that lay off Camorta, the crew of which
had been killed and eaten, many years previously, by the inhospitable
Nicobarese! Gilbert Lisle had never in all his wanderings been in any
place he detested as cordially as his present residence. Days seemed
endless, the nights hot and stifling, the sun scorching, the sport
bad. And other things, such probably as his own frame of mind, did not
tend to enhance the charms of Camorta. Mr. Hall had ample occupation;
Jim Quentin an unlimited capacity for sleep. He had also a box full of
literature, a good brand of cigars, and, moreover, was at peace with
himself and all mankind. He could do a number of doubtful actions, and
yet he always managed to retain himself in his own good graces. He had
squared Lisle, who was going away direct from the Nicobars to Rangoon,
thence to Singapore and Japan. This was a most desirable move, and
there would be no more raking up of awkward subjects, and _he_ would
never be found out. His period of expatriation was nearly at an end,
he was financially the better for his exile at Port Blair, and then,
hurrah for a hill-station, fresh fields, and pretty faces, or, better
still, Piccadilly and the Park! Meanwhile, he was at the Nicobars, and
there he had to stay, so he accepted the present philosophically, and
slept as much as possible, and grumbled when awake at the food, the
climate, and the heads of his department, and was not nearly as much
to be pitied as he imagined, not half as much as Lisle, who neither
read novels nor slept many hours at a stretch, or had agreeable
anticipations of future flirtations in hill-stations. He was remarkably
silent, and smoked many of the drowsy hours away. When he _did_ join in
the conversation, his remarks were so cynical, and his words so sharply
edged, that Mr. Quentin was positively in awe of him, and was more
than usually wary in the choice of his topics. Out of doors, he shot
the ugly, greedy caymen, caught turtle, and sketched, or explored the
country recklessly; making his way through the rank, dank jungle, where
matted creepers hung from tree to tree, and snakes and spotted vipers
darted up their hideous heads as he brushed past their moist, dark
hiding-places.

A good deal of Mr. Lisle's time was spent in absolute idleness, and
though the name of Helen Denis never crossed his lips, he had by no
means cast her out of his mind. Hourly he fought with his thoughts:
hourly he weighed all the _pros_ and _cons_. Her acceptance of
Quentin's attentions went to balance against her coolness to him
subsequently; her blushes when he appeared were a set-off against her
solemn denial of any understanding between them; her evident agitation
when he himself had wooed her was neutralized by the bestowal of his
ring upon Quentin—the ring kicked the beam; the ring was the verdict.
After all, Quentin was ten times more likely to engage a girl's fancy
than himself. Apollo was handsome, gay, and fascinating—when he chose;
_he_ was sunburnt, shabby, rather morose, and seemingly a pauper;
that part of it was his own fault, he had no one but himself to blame
for that. Query, would it have been better if he had permitted the
truth to leak out, and allowed the community to know that they had the
Honourable Gilbert Lisle, the owner of ten thousand a year, dwelling
among them? In some ways things would have been pleasanter, but he had
not come down to the Andamans for society, but for sea-fishing, and
sailing, and an unfettered, out-door life. And when he was accidentally
thrown into the company of a pretty girl, who was as pleasant to him as
if he were a millionaire, who smiled on him as brightly as on others,
in far more flourishing circumstances, who could ask him to resist the
temptation that had thrust itself into his way—the triumph of winning
her in the guise of a poor and un-pretending suitor?

The temptation led him on, and dazzled him, and for a moment he seemed
to have the prize in his hands; and what a prize! especially to him,
who was accustomed to being flattered, deferred to, and courted in a
manner that accounted for his rather cynical views of society. But,
alas! his treasure-trove (his simple-minded island maiden), had been
rudely wrested from him ere he had realized its possession; and
yet, after all, it was no loss, the apparently priceless jewel was
imitation, was paste!

Why had she told him a deliberate lie? He might forgive a little
coquetry (perhaps); he might forgive the unpleasant fact of her having
"made a fool of him," as his friend had so delicately suggested, but a
falsehood, uttered without a falter or a blush, _never_!

Week succeeded week, and each day seemed as long as seven—each week
a month. Lisle, the ardent admirer of strange scenes, and strange
countries, was callous and indifferent to the natural beauties of the
place. He had actually come to _hate_ the magnificent foliage, golden
mid-day hazes, and the gorgeous, blinding sunsets, of these sleepy
southern islands. All he craved for, was to get away from such sights,
and never, never, see them more! Latterly, he found ample occupation in
nursing Mr. Hall to the best of his ability—Mr. Hall, who had fallen a
victim to the deadly Nicobar fever, and tossed and moaned and raved all
through the scorching days and suffocating nights, and was under the
delusion that the hand that smoothed his pillow, and held the cup to
his parched lips, and bathed his burning temples, was his mother's! Jim
Quentin (the selfish) merely contented himself with languidly inquiring
after the patient once a day, and shutting himself up in his own side
of the bungalow, as it were in a fastness, partaking of his meals
alone, totally ignoring his companions, since one of them was sick, and
the other was stupid.

The thin veneer of Mr. Jim's charm of manner, could not stand much
knocking about; a good deal of it had worn off, and Mr. Lisle beheld
him as he really was; selfish to the core, vain and arrogant,—yet
not proud, not very sensitive on the subject of borrowing money, and
with rather hazy ideas with regard to the interpretation of the word
"honour."

Lisle, in his heart, secretly despised his fascinating inmate; but,
needless to say, he endeavoured to keep this sentiment entirely in the
background, though, now and then, a winged word like a straw, might
have shown a looker-on which way the wind blew.

At length, the long-desired _Scotia_ came steaming up Camorta Bay,
like a goaler to set free her prisoners; she remained off the pier
for a few hours, and Mr. Lisle was unfeignedly delighted to see her
once more, for she was to carry him away to Rangoon, to civilization,
occupation and oblivion. His traps were ready, but ere he took leave
of his companions and went on board, he sat for a while reading the
newly-arrived letters in the verandah, along with Jim Quentin.

"Hullo!" exclaimed the latter, suddenly looking up. "I say, what do you
think! here is a letter from Parkes, and poor old Denis is dead!"

"Dead?" ejaculated his companion.

"Yes, listen to this,"—reading aloud,—"he was on the ranges one
morning, and in trying to save a native child who ran across the line
of fire, he was shot through the heart. We are all very much cut up,
and as to Miss Denis, the poor girl is so utterly broken-down you would
scarcely know her."

"It must have been a fearful shock," said Mr. Lisle. "I'm very sorry
for Denis, very. Of course you will go back at once—now!"

"How?" thrown completely off his guard, "why?"

"How? by the _Enterprise_, which will be here in three days with
stores, and why? really, I scarcely expected you to ask _me_ such a
question. She——"

"Oh," interrupting quickly, "oh, yes! I quite understand what you mean.
Oh, of course, of course!"

After this ensued a rather long silence, and then Mr. Lisle spoke,—

"I now remember rather a strange thing," he said reflectively. "Denis
and I were looking over the wall of the new cemetery together one
evening, and I recollect his saying, that he wondered how long it would
be till the first grave was dug.—Strange that it should be his own!"

"Strange indeed!" acquiesced his companion tranquilly, "but, of course,
everything must have a beginning. Here's a Lascar coming up from the
pier," he added, rising hastily, and collecting his letters as he
spoke, "and we had better be making a start."

In another hour Mr. James Quentin was walking back to the bungalow
alone. As he stood on the hill above the pier, and watched the smoke of
the departing steamer above the jungle, he felt a curious and unusual
sensation, he actually felt,—his almost fossilized conscience told
him,—that he had not behaved altogether well to Lisle! Lisle, who had
been his friend by deeds, not words; Lisle, who had borne the blow he
had dealt him like a man; had never once allowed a word, or allusion
that might reflect on Helen, to pass his lips, and had accepted the
ring with unquestioning faith. Yes, Lisle, though rather silent and
unusually dull (for generally he was such an amusing fellow), had
taken his disappointment well. Mr. Quentin, however, rated such
disappointments very lightly. Judging others by himself, they were mere
pin-pricks at the time, and as such consigned to the limbo of complete
oblivion within a week.

"After all," he said aloud, as he slowly strolled back with his hands
in his pockets, "I am in reality his _best_ friend! It would never have
done for him, to entangle himself with a girl without connections, a
girl without a penny, a girl he picked up at the Andamans! Haw! haw! by
Jove! how people would laugh! No, no, Gilbert Lisle, you must do better
than that; you will have to look a little higher for the future Lady
Lingard. I don't suppose she has a brass farthing, and she certainly
would not suit my book at all."

Needless to add, that this mirror of chivalry did not return to Port
Blair an hour sooner than was his original intention.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE FIRST GRAVE.

  "They laid him by the pleasant shore,
  And in the hearing of the wave."

  _Tennyson._


THE news about Colonel Denis was only too true! He had started for the
ranges on Aberdeen one morning about nine o'clock, as his regiment
was going through their annual course of musketry, and as he stood in
a marker's butt, close to the targets, a native child from the Sepoy
lines suddenly emerged from some unsuspected hiding-place, where she
had been lying _perdue_, and ran right into the open, across the line
of fire. Colonel Denis rushed out to drag her into shelter, but just
as he seized her, a bullet from a Martini-Henry struck him between the
shoulders, and without a groan, he fell forward on his face dead. Yes,
he was quite dead when they hurried up to him. The shock to every one
was stupefying; they were speechless with horror; but five minutes
previously he had been talking to them so cheerfully, and had to all
appearances as good a life as any one present,—and now here he lay
motionless on his face in the sand, a dark stain widening on his white
coat, and a frightened little native child whimpering beside him.

"Instantaneous," said Dr. Malone, with an unprofessional huskiness in
his voice, when they brought him running to the spot. "What an awful
thing, and no one to blame, unless that little beggar's mother,"
glancing at the imp, who stared back at the Sahib with all the power of
her frightened black eyes. "Poor Denis; but it was just like him,—he
never thought of himself." This was his epitaph, the manner in which he
met his death, "was just like him."

And who was to break the terrible tidings to his daughter? People asked
one another the question with bated breath and anxious eyes, as they
stood around. Who was to go and tell her, that her father, to whom she
had bidden a playful good-bye an hour ago, was dead, that that smiling
wave of his hand had been, Farewell for ever!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was about eleven o'clock, and Helen was sitting at the piano,
playing snatches of different things, unable to settle down to any
special song or piece. She had felt curiously restless all the morning,
and was thinking that she would run over and have a chat with Mrs.
Home,—for she was too idle to do anything else,—when a sudden loud
sob made her start up from the music-stool and turn round somewhat
nervously.

There she beheld her ayah, Fatima, staring at her through the purdah,
but the instant she was discovered, she quickly dropped it, and
vanished. It never occurred to Helen to connect Fatima's tears with
herself, or her affairs; it was more than probable that she had been
having a quarrel with her husband, and that they had been beating
one another, as was their wont,—when words were exhausted. She was
thinking of following her handmaiden, but she believed it would only be
the old story, "Abdul, plenty bad man, very wicked rascal," when her
ear caught the sound of footsteps coming up the front pathway. They
halted, then it was _not_ Mrs. Creery; she never did that, and peeping
over the blind, she beheld to her amazement, Mr. Latimer and Mrs. Home.
And Mrs. Home was crying, what could it be? And they were both coming
to her.

A pang of apprehension seemed to seize her heart with a clutch of ice,
some unknown, some dreadful trouble was on its way to _her_. She sprang
down the steps and met them, saying,—

"What is the matter? Oh! Mr. Latimer, you have come to tell me
something—something," growing very white, "about papa?"

Mr. Latimer himself was deadly pale, and seemed to find considerable
difficulty in speaking. At last he said,—

"Yes; he has been hurt on the ranges."

"Then let me go to him at once—at once."

"Oh, my dear, my dear," cried Mrs. Home, bursting into tears, "you must
prepare yourself for trouble."

"I am prepared; please let me go to him. Oh, I am losing time; where is
he? Why, they are bringing him home," as her quick ear caught the heavy
tramp of measured feet, bearing some burden,—an hospital dhoolie.

Before either of her visitors had guessed at her intention, she had
flown down the pathway, and met the procession. She hastily pulled
aside the curtain, and took her father's hand in hers. But what was
this? this motionless form, with closed eyes? She had never seen it
before in all her life, but who does not recognize Death, even at
their first meeting?

"Oh! he is dead," she shrieked, and fell insensible on the pathway.

For a long time she remained unconscious, and "it was best so" people
whispered. There were so many sad arrangements to be made. The General
himself superintended everything with regard to the funeral, which was
to take place at sundown, as was the invariable custom in the East.
There, there is no gradual parting as in England, where white-covered
dead lies amid the living for days. In India such hospitality is never
shown to death, he is thrust forth the very day he comes. The wrench is
agonizing, and, as in a case like the present, where death was sudden,
the shock overwhelming.

To think that you may be laughing and talking with a relative, friend,
or neighbour, one evening, that they have been in the very best of
health, as little anticipating the one great change as yourself, and
that by the very next night, they may be dead and _buried_! In Eastern
countries, there seems to be almost a cruel promptness about the
funerals, but it is inevitable. By five o'clock everything was ready
in the bungalow on the hill; the bier and bearers, the mourners, the
wreaths of flowers, and the Union Jack for pall. Colonel Denis had that
morning been given a huge bunch of white flowers for Helen; lovely
lilies, ferns and orchids, that did not grow on Ross; he had brought
home and presented the offering with pride, and she, being unusually
lazy, had left the flowers in a big china bowl, intending to arrange
them after breakfast.

How little are we able to see into the future! Happily for ourselves.
Would Colonel Denis have carried home that big bunch of lilies with
such alacrity had he known that they were destined to decorate his own
coffin!

In deference to Helen, who was now alive to every sound, the large
_cortège_ almost stole from the door, and the band was mute. The
cemetery was on Aberdeen, not far from the fatal ranges, and the
funeral went by boat. Once on the sea, that profoundly melancholy
strain, "The Dead March in Saul," was heard, after three preliminary
muffled beats of the drum; and it sounded, if possible, more weird
and sad than usual. As its strains were wafted across the water, and
reached the bungalow on the hill, Helen sat up on the sofa, and looked
wildly at Mrs. Home and Mrs. Durand.

"I—I—hear—the 'Dead March' in the distance! Who—who is it for? It
is not playing for papa.—It is impossible, _impossible_. See, here are
some of the flowers he brought me this morning—there are his gloves,
that he left to have mended! I know," wringing her hands as she spoke,
"that people do die, but never—never like this! This is some fearful
dream; or I am going mad; or I have had a long illness, and I have been
off my head. Oh, that band—" now putting her fingers in her ears, and
burying her face in the cushions, "it is a dream-band—a nightmare!"

After a very long silence, there was another sound from across the
water—the distant rattle of musketry repeated thrice, and now Mrs.
Home, and Mrs. Durand, were aware that the last honours had been paid
to Colonel Denis,—who had been alive and as well as they were that
very morning,—and was now both dead and buried.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing short of the very _plainest_ speaking had been able to keep
Mrs. Creery from forcing herself into Helen's presence. But Mrs. Home,
Mr. Latimer, and Dr. Malone, were as the three hundred heroic Greeks
who kept the pass at Thermopylæ. They formed a body-guard she could not
pass.

Every one, even the last-mentioned matron, desired to have Helen under
their roof. Mrs. King came up from Viper, all the way in the mid-day
sun, to say that, "Of course, every one _must_ see, that the farther
Miss Denis was from old associations, the better, and that her room
was ready." Mrs. Graham arrived from Chatham with the same story;
but in the end, Helen went to Mrs. Home, going across with her after
dark, like a girl walking in a trance. Sleep, kind sleep, did come to
her, thanks to a strong opiate, and thus, for a time, she and her new
acquaintance, grief, were parted. The pretty bungalow on the side of
the hill, so bright and full of life only last night, was dark and
silent now. One inmate slept a sleep to deaden sorrow, the other lay
alone upon the distant mainland, under the silent stars, within sound
of the sea—and the new cemetery contained its first grave.



CHAPTER XXIII.

"WAS IT POSSIBLE!"

    "Joy comes and goes, hope ebbs and flows,
                                Like the wave.
  Change doth unknit the tranquil strength of man;
          Love lends life a little grace,
          A few sad smiles; and then,
          Both are laid in one cold place,
                            In the grave."

  _M. Arnold._


DAYS crawled by, and Helen gradually and painfully began to realize
her lot. Hers was a silent, stony grief (now that the first torrent of
tears had been shed) of that undemonstrative, reserved nature, that it
is so difficult to alleviate, and that shrinks from outward sympathy.
People (ladies) came to her, and sat with her, and held her hand, and
wept, but she did not; this grief that had come upon her unawares,
seemed almost to have turned her to stone. She opened her heart to Mrs.
Home only; and in answer to affectionate attempts at consolation, she
said,—

"I sometimes sit and wonder, wonder if it is _true_! You see, Mrs.
Home, my case is so different to others. Now, if you were to lose one
child—which heaven forbid—you have still eight remaining; if Colonel
Home was taken from you, you have your children; but _I_ have no one
left. Papa was all I had, and I am alone in the world; I can scarcely
believe it!"

"My dear, you must not say so! you have many friends, and friends are
sometimes far better than one's own kin. Then there is your aunt. I
wrote to her myself last mail."

"Aunt Julia! She is worse than nobody. She is an utter stranger, in
reality, a complete woman of the world. She and I never got on; she was
always saying hard things about _him_!"

"Well, you won't be with her long, you know! and you cannot say that
you are alone in the world; you know very well that you will not be
alone for long, you understand," squeezing her fingers significantly as
she spoke.

Helen did understand, and coloured vividly. It seemed to her almost a
sin to think of Gilbert Lisle now, when every thought was dedicated to
her father, when all ideas of love or a lover had been, as it were,
swept out of her mind by the blast of her recent and terrible calamity.

Mrs. Home noticed the blush, but again attributed its cause to the
wrong person.

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Denis' effects were sold off in the usual manner; his
furniture, boat, and guns, were disposed of, his servants dismissed,
and his papers examined. And what discoveries were not made in that
battered old despatch-box! Not of money owing, or startling unpaid
bills, but of large sums due to him; borrowed and forgotten by
impecunious acquaintances—one thousand rupees here, three thousand
rupees there, merely acknowledged by careless, long-forgotten I. O.
U.'s. Then there were receipts for money paid,—drained away yearly by
his father's and wife's creditors—his very pension was mortgaged. How
little he appeared to have spent upon himself. All his life long he had
been toiling hard for other people, who gaily squandered in a week,
what he had accumulated in a year; a thankless task! a leaden burden!

Apparently he had begun to save of late, presumably for Helen; but,
including the auction, all that could be placed to his daughter's
credit in the bank was only four hundred odd pounds!

"Say fifteen pounds a year," said Colonel Home, looking blankly at Mr.
Creery.

"I know he intended to insure his life, he told me so last week."

"Ah! if he only had. What is to become of the poor girl?" continued
Colonel Home; "fifteen pounds a year won't even keep her in clothes,
let alone in food and house-room. I believe he had very few relations
in England, and see how some of his friends out here have fleeced him!"

"They ought to be made pay up," returned Mr. Creery. "I'll see to
_that_," he added with stern, determined face.

"How can they pay up? The fellows who signed those," touching some I.
O. U.'s, "are dead. Here's another, for whom Denis backed a bill; he
went off to Australia years ago. I wonder Tom Denis had not a worse
opinion of his fellow-creatures."

"In many ways, Tom was a fool; his heart was too soft, his eyes were
always blind to his own interests: some people soon found that out."

"Well! what is to become of his daughter? That is what puzzles me,"
said his listener anxiously. "She is a good girl, and uncommonly
pretty!"

"Yes; her face is her fortune, and I hope it will stand to her,"
rejoined Mr. Creery, dubiously. "But, to set herself off, she should go
into fine society and wear fine clothes, and she has no means to start
her in company where she would meet a likely match. As they say in my
country, 'Ye canna whistle without an upper lip.'"

"She might not have _far_ to go for a husband," returned Colonel Home
significantly.

"Ah, well! I believe I _know_ what you mean, but that man will be
needing a fortune. He is too cannie to marry 'a penniless lass without
a lang pedigree!'"

"My wife has her fancies," said Colonel Home, "and thinks a good deal
of him."

"So does mine," returned the other, "and has _her_ fancies too; but all
the same—between you and me, Home—I never liked the fellow; you know
who I mean. He is just a gay popinjay, taking his turn out of everybody
that comes in his way."

(Observe, cannie Scotchman as he was, that all this time, he had never
mentioned any _name_.)

       *       *       *       *       *

Several doors were opened to Helen, offering her a home, but she
steadily resisted all invitations. She felt that she would be occupying
an anomalous position by remaining on at Port Blair, without having any
real claim on any one in the settlement. If there had been some small
children to teach,—save those in the native school,—or if there were
any means by which she could have earned her livelihood, it would have
been different; but, of course, in a place like the Andamans, there was
no such opening. The community were extremely anxious to keep her among
them, and were kinder to her than words could express. Mrs. Graham
besought her most earnestly to remain with her as a sister, and urged
her petition repeatedly.

"The favour will be conferred by _you_, my dear, and you know it," she
said. "Think of the long, lonely days I spend at Chatham, cut off from
all society in bad weather, and in the monsoon, I sometimes don't see
another white woman for weeks. Imagine the boon your company would be
to me. Remember that your father was an old friend of Dick's, and say
that you will try us for at least a year. We will do our very best to
make you happy."

And other suggestions were delicately placed before Helen. Would she
remain, not as Miss Denis, but as _Mrs._ somebody? To one and all, she
made the same reply, she must go home, at least, she must go back to
England; her aunt had written, and desired her to return at the first
opportunity, and her aunt was her nearest relation now, and all her
future plans were in her hands. Mrs. Home was returning in March, they
would sail together.

"If I were not obliged to place Tom and Billy at school, and see after
my big boys, I would not _allow_ you to leave at all, Helen," said her
friend and hostess decidedly, "but would insist on your remaining with
us as one of our family, a kind of eldest daughter."

Nevertheless, Mrs. Home cherished strong but secret hopes that her
young _protégée_ would stay at Port Blair, in spite of her own
departure. Was not Mr. Quentin expected from Camorta by the very next
mail?

Mrs. Creery would have liked Helen to remain with some one (not
herself, for she was not given to hospitality). She considered that
she would be a serious loss to the community, and was quite fond
of her in her own way. Why should she not marry Jim Quentin? was a
question she often asked herself in idle, empty moments. It would be
a grand match for a penniless girl; a wedding would be a pleasant
novelty, no matter how quiet, and she herself was prepared to give the
affair her countenance, and to endow the young couple with a set of
plated nut-crackers that had scarcely ever been used! One day, roaming
rather aimlessly through the bazaar, she came across "Ibrahim," Mr.
Quentin's butler, and was not the woman to lose a rich opportunity of
cross-examining such an important functionary. She beckoned him aside
with an imperious wave of the hand, and commenced the conversation by
asking a very foolish question, "When did you hear from your master?"
seeing that there had been no mail in, since she had seen Ibrahim last,
"when is he expected?"

"Mr. Quentin not my master any more," he returned, with dignity, "I
take leave that time Sahib going Nicobars."

"Having made your fortune?" drawing down the corner of her mouth as she
spoke.

"I plenty poor man, where fortune getting?" he replied, with an air of
surprised and injured innocence.

"Stuff and nonsense! you know you butlers make heaps out of bachelors
like Mr. Quentin, who never look at their accounts, but just pay down
piles of rupees, like the idiots they are; and what about Mr. Lisle?"

Ibrahim grinned and displayed an ample row of ivory teeth.

"Ah," with animation, "that very good gentleman, never making no
bobbery! Plenty money got!"

"Plenty money! How do you know?"

"First time coming paying half—after two weeks paying _all_;" in
answer to the lady's gesture of astonishment. "Truth I telling! wages,
boats, bazaar, and _all_!"

"And what did Mr. Quentin say?"

"Oh," laughing, "telling Lisle, Sahib plenty rupees got, I poor devil!
Mr. Quentin very funny gentleman, making too much bobbery, swearing too
much, throwing boots and bottles, no money giving; I plenty fraiding,
and so I taking leave," concluded Ibrahim majestically.

This little side-light on Mr. Quentin's manners was a revelation to
Mrs. Creery. And so Lisle was _really_ rich! the dinner she had graced
at Aberdeen (on a mutton day), had been given at _his_ expense, and all
the establishment of servants, coolies, and boatmen had been maintained
by him. She pondered much over this discovery—and, marvellous to
relate, kept it to herself.

Colonel Denis had now been dead about two months, and his daughter was
once more to be seen out of doors, and walking about the island; but
how different she looked, what a change a few weeks had made in her
appearance. She was clad in a plain black dress, her eyes were dim and
sunken, her face was thin and haggard, her figure had lost its nice
rounded outlines. She was trying to accustom herself to her new lot in
life; to that empty bungalow on the hill-side, that she never passed
without a shudder, for did it not represent the wreck of her home?

Something else had also been scattered to the winds, blown away into
space like gossamer-web in a gale, I mean that airy fabric known as
"Love's Young Dream."

She had been dwelling on four words, more than she herself imagined; on
the promise, "I shall come back," breathed under the palm-trees that
night, that saw "flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid all
armed!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Helen occasionally spent a day with Mrs. Graham or Mrs. Durand; they
liked to have her with them, and endeavoured by every means in their
power, to distract her mind from dwelling, as it did incessantly, on
her recent loss. One morning, as she sat working in Mrs. Durand's cool,
shady drawing-room, doing her best to seem interested in her hostess'
remarks, they heard some one coming rapidly up the walk, and Captain
Durand sprang up the steps, and entered, holding a bundle of letters in
his hand.

"The mail is in from Rangoon," he said; "Rangoon and the Nicobars."

If he and his wife had not been wholly engrossed in sorting their
correspondence, they would doubtless have noticed, that their young
lady guest had suddenly become very red, and then very white, but they
were examining their letters, with the gusto of people to whom such
things are both precious and rare.

"By the way," exclaimed Captain Durand, looking up at last, "Quentin is
back; I met him on the pier."

Helen almost held her breath, her heart stood still, whilst her hostess
put into words a question she could not have articulated to save her
life.

"And Gilbert Lisle, did you see him?"

"Oh, no! he has gone on to Japan," responded her husband, as he
carelessly tore open a note. "He is a regular bird of passage!"

"Ah, I _thought_ we should not see him again," rejoined Mrs. Durand,
with a tinge of regret in her voice.

Helen listened as if she were listening to something about a stranger,
she bent her eyes steadily on her work, and endeavoured to compose her
trembling lips. Mrs. Durand, happening to glance at her, as, opening
an envelope, she said, "Why, here's a note from him!" was struck
by the strange, dead pallor of her face, and by the look of almost
desperate expectation in her eyes—eyes now raised, and bent greedily
on the letter in her own hand. This change of colour, this eager
look, was a complete revelation to that lady, who paused, drew in her
breath, and asked herself, with a thrill of apprehension, "Could it be
possible that Helen had lost her heart to Gilbert Lisle? Was _she_ the
attraction that had held him so fast at Port Blair?"

As she stared in a dazed, stupid sort of way, her young friend dropped
her eyes, bent her head, and resumed her work with feverish industry;
but, in truth, her shaking fingers were pricking themselves with the
needle, instead of putting in a single stitch!

"A note from Lisle? And pray what has he to say?" inquired Captain
Durand, ignorant of this by-play. "Here," holding out his hand, "give
it to me, and I'll read it."

  "Camorta, March 2nd.

 "DEAR MRS. DURAND,—As I have changed my plans, and am not returning
 to Port Blair, I send you a line to bid you good-bye, and to beg you
 to be good enough to accept my small sailing-boat which lies over at
 Aberdeen. You will find her much more handy for getting about in, than
 the detachment gig. My nets and fishing-gear I bequeath to Durand. I
 am going on to Japan, _viâ_ rangoon and Singapore, and shall make my
 way home by San Francisco. Hoping that we shall meet in England ere
 long, and with kind regards to all friends at Ross,

  "I remain,
  "Yours sincerely,
  "GILBERT LISLE."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Captain Durand, "that smart cutter of his is the
very thing for you, Em, and the fishing-tackle will suit me down to the
ground. I like Lisle uncommonly, but," grinning significantly as he
spoke, "this note of his, consoles me wonderfully for his departure."

Yes, so it might—but who was to console Helen? She felt like some
drowning wretch, from whom their only plank has just been torn, or as
a shipwrecked sailor, who had painfully clambered out of reach of the
waves and been once more cruelly tossed back among them.

It was only now at this moment of piercing anguish that she thoroughly
realized how much she had been clinging to Gilbert Lisle's promise, how
steadfastly she had believed in his words, "I shall come back."

With a feeling of utter desolation in her heart, with her ideal and
her hopes alike shattered, what a task was hers to maintain an outward
appearance of indifference and composure!

After a time Captain Durand went off to the mess, to hear the news,
and to look over the papers, leaving the two ladies _tête-à-tête_; his
wife affected to peruse her letters, reading such little scraps of them
aloud from time to time as she thought might amuse her companion, but
she was not enjoying them as usual. That look she had surprised in the
girl's eyes, haunted her painfully. She longed to go over to her, and
put her arm round her neck and whisper in her ear,—

"What is it? Tell me all about it, confide in _me_."

But somehow she dared not, bold as she was.—Recent grief had aged
Helen, and given her a gravity far beyond her years, and as she looked
across at that marble face, those downcast eyes, and busy fingers, she
found her kind, warm heart fail her. Whatever the hurt was, ay, were it
mortal, that girl meant to bear it alone.

She was more affectionate and sympathetic to her young friend than
usual, smoothed her hot forehead, kissed her, caressed her, and whilst
they sat together in the twilight in the verandah, looking out on the
dusky sky, found courage to murmur,—

"Dearest Helen, remember that I am your friend, not merely in name
only. Should you ever have any—any little trouble such as girls have
sometimes, you will come and share it with me, won't you? I am older,
more experienced by years and years, and I will always keep your
secrets, exactly as if they were my own!"

This was undoubtedly a strong hint; nevertheless, her listener merely
smiled and nodded her head, but made no other sign. "_Little_ trouble!"
She was on the rack all day long. She bore the torture of her hostess's
soft whispers and tender, sympathetic looks, which told her that she
guessed _all_. She bore the brightly-lit dinner-table, and Captain
Durand's cheerful recounting of the most thrilling news. She even
endured his eloquent praises of Gilbert Lisle without flinching. Little
did her gallant host guess the effort that those smiles and answers
cost her. Good, commonplace man! he had got over his brief love affair
fifteen years previously, and had forgotten it as completely as a tale
that is told. Mrs. Durand had a more vivid recollection of her own
experiences,—and a share of that fellow-feeling that makes us all
akin. She was amazed at Helen's fortitude, especially when she glanced
back over the past and remembered (and I hope this will not be put down
to her discredit) that when _she_ had seen the announcement of the
marriage of her first fancy in the paper, she had spent the remainder
of the day in hysterics and the subsequent week in tears. She walked
back with Helen, and left her herself at Colonel Home's door, and bade
her good-night with unusual tenderness. Then she retraced her steps,
arm-in-arm with her husband, whose mind was abruptly recalled from
planning a long day's sea-fishing, by her saying rather suddenly,—

"I know _now_ why Helen refused Dr. Parkes!"

"Oh!" contemptuously, "I could have told you the reason long ago, if
you had asked me. Because he was the same age as her father!"

"No, you dear, stupid man—but this is quite private. I am sure,"
lowering her voice, "that she likes Gilbert Lisle."

A long whistle was the only reply to his information for some seconds,
and then he said,—

"Now what has put _that_ into your head?"

"Her face when you came in and told us that he was not coming back. I
cannot get it out of my mind, it was only a momentary expression, she
rallied again at once; but that moment told me a tale that she has
hitherto guarded as a secret."

"You are as full of fancies and ridiculous, romantic ideas as if you
were seventeen instead of——"

"Don't name it!" she interrupted hastily, "the very leaves here have
ears!"

Her husband laughed explosively, and presently said,—

"I never knew such a woman as you are for jumping at conclusions. She
had a twinge of face-ache, that was all."

"A twinge of heart-ache, you mean. But what is the use of talking to
_you_?—you are as matter-of-fact as a Monday morning. And now, pray
tell me, though I suppose I might just as well ask Billy Home, did
Gilbert Lisle ever show her any attention?"

"Ha—hum—well, do you think that saving her life could be called an
attention?"

"Yes," eagerly; "yes, of course! I'd forgotten about that!"

"And another time he picked her off the mainland and brought her home
in what is now your boat, through a series of white squalls."

"Did he really?" the really, as it were, in large capitals.

"And he was there a few times. But you need not get any ideas into your
head about _him_, it was always Quentin, he was always hanging about
her in that heavy persistent way of his—it was Quentin, I tell you!"

"And _I_ tell you," responded his wife emphatically, "that it was, and
is, Gilbert Lisle. I recollect his saying, the night of the ball, what
a nice girl she was; or _I_ said it, and he agreed, which is the same
thing. And I remember perfectly, now that I think of it, noticing them
leaning over a gate, and looking just like a pair of lovers."

A loud and rudely incredulous haw-haw from Captain Durand was his only
reply.

"You may laugh as much as you like, but Mr. Lisle told me that he would
gladly give a thousand pounds to get out of the Nicobars trip, and the
last thing he said to me, as he bade me good-bye, was, 'I shall see
you again soon.' I remember all these things now, and put two and two
together, but I cannot make it out—I am utterly puzzled. Perhaps Mr.
Quentin will be able to throw some light on the subject!"

"Quentin wants to marry her himself."

"Not he! He only wished to be a dog in the manger, to engross the only
pretty girl in the place, that was all. I know him _well_. And now that
she has been left an orphan, without a fraction, he has as much idea of
making her Mrs. Quentin, as he has of flying over the moon!"

"All right, Em, time will tell.—I bet you a new bonnet that this time
next year, she will be Mrs. Q."

"No more than she will be Queen of England," returned his wife with
emphasis. This was positively the last word, and Mrs. Durand's
property, for they had now reached the steps of their own bungalow, and
consequently the end of their journey.



CHAPTER XXIV.

"FAREWELL, PORT BLAIR."

  "Farewell at once—for once, for all—and ever."

  _Richard II._


MRS. DURAND'S surmises were correct.

A few days after James Quentin's return, without any marked haste he
went over and called on Mrs. Home and Miss Denis. The former was an
arrant little match-maker, and was delighted to see that _débonnaire_
face once more. He was handsome, rich (?), and agreeable, he had been
devoted to her young friend previous to his departure for the Nicobars,
and, _of course_, it would be all settled now. With this idea in her
head, she presently effaced herself so as to give the gentleman ample
opportunity for a _tête-à-tête_. She even kept Tom and Billy out of the
way, and this was no mean feat.

Mr. Quentin murmured some polite stereotyped regrets, then he alluded
in rather strong language to "that vile hole Camorta." As he talked
he stared, stared hard at Helen, and wondered at the change he saw
in her appearance. She was haggard and thin; of her lovely colour
not a vestige remained, and the outlines of her face were sharp, and
had lost their pretty contour. She looked like a flower that had
been beaten down by the storm. Never in all his experience had he
beheld such a complete and sudden alteration in any one; he was glad
he had never thought of her seriously, and as to Lisle, he was well
out of it (thanks to his friend James Quentin); _he_ took everything
so seriously he would have been sure to have got the halter over his
head, and to have blundered into an imprudent match. His yes meant
yes; his no, no. Now he himself had a lightness of method, a nebulous
vagueness surrounded his most tender speeches; at a moment's notice,
he could slip off his chains, and run his head out of the noose, and
always without any outward unpleasantness—that was the best of the
affair. Gilbert Lisle was different, he was not used to playing with
such brittle toys as girls' hearts. Well, this girl had entirely lost
her beauty, so thought her visitor, as he contemplated her critically
and conversed of malaria and Malays. She had not a penny, and no
connections; he supposed, when she went back to England, she would
go out as a governess, or a companion, or music-teacher. He entirely
approved of young women being independent and earning their own bread.
If there was a subscription got up for her passage money, he meant to
do the handsome thing, and give fifty rupees (5_l._).

"I suppose you were surprised to hear about Lisle?" he said at last.

"Yes," looking at her questioner with complete composure.

"He left me at Camorta, you know. He is a queer, eccentric beggar, and
you would never suppose, to see him in his old fishing-kit, and with
his hands as brown and horny as a common boatman's, that he had been in
the Coldstreams, and was a regular London swell."

Helen made no reply, and he continued glibly,—

"He is considered a tremendous catch; they say his elder brother is
dying at Algiers—consumption—but he is not easy to please!"

"Is he not?" she echoed with studied indifference.

"No.—By Jove! Mrs. Creery did not think much of him; she was awfully
rough on him. How all you people did snub him! Many a good laugh I had
in my sleeve!" and he smiled at the recollection.

"I do not think that many people snubbed him," returned Helen with a
flushed cheek and flashing eye.

"Well, perhaps _you_ did not," returned Mr. Quentin, somewhat abashed.
"You know, you never snubbed any one but me," with a mental note that
she should live to be sorry for that same. "Lisle made me promise to
keep his secret. He wished to be accepted for himself for once, without
any _arrière pensée_ of money or title; and by George, he got what he
wanted with a vengeance—eh? I don't think he will try it again in a
hurry. He found his level,—the very bottom of the ladder, something
quite new!" and again he laughed heartily at the recollection.

"I suppose it was," with elaborate indifference.

"He had been having a big shoot in the Terai before he came here. He
was awfully taken with this place, the queer, unconventional life, and
stayed on and on greatly to my surprise. Many a time I wondered what he
saw in the place, though, of course, I was delighted to have him. My
luck was dead in." (So it was, _vide_ Ibrahim's domestic accounts!)

"Yes, of course it was pleasant for _you_," admitted Helen.

"He should have been a poor man; he had so much energy and resource,
and such Spartan tastes. Ten times a day I wished that we could change
places."

"I daresay," returned the young lady rather drily.

There was something—was it a tone of lurking scorn?—in this "I
daresay!" that irritated her listener, who instantly resolved to
administer a rap on the knuckles in return.

"His father is wild with him for roving about the world; he wants him
to marry and settle."

"Yes?"

"I believe he has an heiress in cotton-wool for him at home. I wish my
governor was as thoughtful!"

"No doubt he knows that _you_ are quite equal to finding such a
treasure for yourself," returned Miss Denis, with a very perceptible
touch of sarcasm.

Mr. Quentin laughed rather boisterously. It was new to him to hear
sharp speeches from ladies' lips, and now, looking at his watch and
rising with a sudden start, he said,—

"I declare I must be going. I had no idea it was so late. I've an
appointment (imaginary) at four o'clock, and I've only two minutes.
Well," now taking her hand, "and so you are off on Wednesday? I may
see you before that, if not, good-bye," holding her fingers with a
lingering pressure, and looking down into her eyes as if he felt
unutterable regret, quite beyond the reach of words; but in truth he
was conscious of nothing, beyond a keen desire to make a happy exit,
and to get away respectably (perhaps he had also a lurking craving for
a "peg"!). "Good-bye, I hope we shall meet again some day in England.
Perhaps you would drop me a line?" a query he had often found to have
an excellent and soothing effect at similar partings.

Helen took no notice of the suggestion, but merely bowed her head and
said very quietly,—

"Good-bye, Mr. Quentin, good-bye."

And then the gentleman took himself away in exaggerated haste,
muttering as he hurried down to the pier,—

"How white she looked, and how stiff she was. I'm hanged if I don't
believe she had a weakness for Lisle, after all. If _that's_ the case,
this humble, insignificant individual has put a pretty big spoke in her
wheel."

       *       *       *       *       *

It is almost needless to mention that Helen was now accustomed to daily
interviews with Mrs. Creery, and to being cross-examined as to how she
had been left, whether Mr. Quentin had said "anything," and what she
"was going to do with all her coloured dresses?"

Eliza Creery was a pertinacious woman, and had not lost sight of her
designs upon the black silk gown (neither had Helen).

"My dear," she said, "if you ask my advice," the last thing that was
likely to occur to her listener, "you will sell all your things. They
will be a perfect boon here, and it is not unusual in cases of sudden
mourning, and utter destitution, such as yours." Helen winced and grew
very pale. "I really think that you might have had this made with a
little more style," touching her black dress. "But now," seriously,
"_what_ about your others?"

"Lizzie Caggett was asking about my cottons."

"Yes?" stiffening with apprehension.

"I told her that I would be only too glad to let her have them. There
are one or two that I cannot bear to look at. _He_ liked them," she
added under her breath.

"And for how much? What did you ask for them?"

"Why, nothing, of course!" returned Helen in amazement.

"Then she shan't have them. I shall not stand by and see you fleeced. I
shall certainly speak to her mother. What a horrible, grasping, greedy
girl; taking advantage of your innocence—she would not get round _me_
like that!" (Mrs. Creery never spoke a truer word).

"But they are useless, quite useless to me," exclaimed Helen.

"Rubbish! nonsense! is _money_ useless to any one? Did you give her
anything else?" demanded the matron sharply.

"Only my best hat, and a few new pairs of _gants de Suède_."

"This must be stopped _at once_. She has no conscience, no principle.
You will be giving her your white silk next, you foolish girl. You
must think of yourself, you have hardly a penny to live on, and are as
lavish as a princess, and utterly indifferent to your own interests.
Now, if you had spoken to _me_, I could have disposed of your cottons
and muslins for ready money. As it is, I shall take your black silk,
your white silk, your blue surah," running over these items with
infinite unction, "and give you a good price for them, considering that
they are second-hand. Your white satin low body would be too small, I'm
afraid; and your gloves are not my size (Mrs. Creery took sevens, and
Helen sixes); but I'll have your pinafore and brown hat."

"But indeed, thanking you very much for thinking of me, I do not wish
to sell anything. Some day I may want these things, and have no money
to replace them, don't you see?"

Mrs. Creery failed to see the matter in that light at all, and argued
and stormed; nevertheless, Helen was adamant.

"Aunt Julia would not be pleased, I'm sure," she said firmly. "And I
really could not do it, really I would not, Mrs. Creery."

"And I had such a fancy for your little black lace and jet
shoulder-cape!" whimpered that lady, on the verge of tears.

Helen paused, looked at her hesitatingly, and said,—

"I wonder if you would be very much offended if—if I——" here she
broke down.

But Mrs. Creery knew exactly what she wished to say, and rushed to her
rescue.

"Yes, that's it exactly," she cried eagerly, "a _capital_ idea, we will
exchange! I'll take your cape, which would be brown next year, and
give you something you will like far better, something that won't wear
out, and will serve to remind you of the six months you spent at Port
Blair." (As if Helen needed anything to remind her of that.) "Something
that, I'm sure, you will be delighted to have."

On these conditions the barter was agreed to, and the elder lady folded
up and carried away the cape. Doubtless she feared that Miss Denis
might yet change her mind.

The same afternoon Mrs. Creery's ayah sauntered down with a small
paper parcel in her hand, and when it was opened, Helen discovered an
exceedingly trumpery pair of shell bracelets, tied with grass-green
ribbon—total value of these ornaments, one Government rupee, in other
words, eighteen-pence!

Mrs. Home, who had heard of the fate of the little shoulder-cape,
became quite red with indignation, and was loud (for her) in her
denunciation of Mrs. Creery's meanness. But Helen was no party to her
anger and scorn, nay, for the first time for many weeks, she laughed
as merrily and as heartily as she had been wont to do in the days that
were no more.

       *       *       *       *       *

The eventful Wednesday came that brought the English letters, and took
away Mrs. Home and Helen. The whole community rowed out to the _Scotia_
to see them off, laden with books and flowers, and eau de Cologne and
fruit. When I say the whole community, Mr. Quentin was the exception
that proved the rule. Jim Quentin was conspicuous by his absence,
and neither note nor bouquet arrived as his deputy. Mrs. Home was
keenly alive to his defection and extremely put out, though her anger
smouldered as fire within her, and she never breathed a word to Helen,
and thought that she had never seen a girl bear a disappointment so
beautifully.

There was maiden dignity! There was fortitude! There was self-control!
Mrs. Durand hung about her friend with little gifts and stolen
caresses,—she had not failed to notice that Apollo was not among the
crowd, and had whispered to her husband as they stood together, "_He_
is not here, you see, and the bonnet is _mine_."

To Helen she said,—

"Mind you write to me often; be sure you do not drift away from me, my
dear. When I go home, you have promised to come and see me, and, you
know, you would be going to my people now only they are in Italy at
present. Be sure you don't forget me, Helen."

"Is it likely?" she returned. "Have I so many friends? Do not be afraid
that I shall not write to you often, perhaps too often. I shall look
out for your letters far more anxiously than you will for mine, and is
it likely that I can ever forget you? You know I never could."

Mrs. Creery was present of course, and when time was up, and the bell
rang for visitors to descend to their boats, she actually secured the
last embrace, saying as she kissed Helen on either cheek,—

"So sorry you are going, dear. Of course you will write? I have your
address—15, Upper Cream Street. It has all been very sad for you, but
life is uncertain;" then—as a _bonne bouche_ reserved for the last, a
kind of stimulant for the voyage—she added impressively, "My sister,
Lady Grubb, will call on you in London—and now, really, good-bye." One
more final whisper yet in her ear, positively the last word, "Quentin
has treated you disgracefully."

A pressure of the hand and she was gone.

The steamer's paddles began to churn, to grind the water, the boats
rowed on alongside, their occupants waving handkerchiefs, till the
_Scotia_ gradually forged ahead and left them all behind.

Helen leant over the bulwarks, watching them and waving to the last.
How much she liked them all, how good they had been to her! As they
gradually fell far behind, even the final view of Mrs. Creery's broad
back and mushroom topee caused her a pang of unexpected regret.

The surrounding hills, woods, and water looked lovelier than she had
ever seen them, as if they were saying, "How can you bid us good-bye?
Why do you leave us?"

She gazed with straining vision towards the graveyard on the hill,
now fading so fast from eyes that would never see it more. Presently
Mount Harriet became sensibly diminished, then Ross itself dwindled
to a mere shadowy speck; Helen stood alone at the taffrail, taking an
eternal farewell of these sunny islands, which had once been to her
as an earthly paradise, where the happiest hours of her life had been
spent, and the darkest—where she had first made acquaintance with
love and death and grief! The little-known Andamans were gradually
fading—fading—fading. As she stood with her eyes earnestly fixed upon
the last faint blue outline, they were gone, merged in the horizon, and
lost to sight. She would never more behold them, save in her dreams!

With this thought painfully before her mind she turned slowly away,
and went below to her own cabin, and shutting fast the door, she threw
herself down on her berth and wept bitterly.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE STEERAGE PASSENGER.

  "Pray you sit by us, and tell's a tale."

  _Twelfth Night._


"MRS. HOME and party" were to be seen in the list of names of those
who sailed from Calcutta in the steamer _Palestine_ on the 20th of
March. There were not many other passengers, but those on board were
sociable and friendly; and the old days, when Bengal and Madras did not
speak, paraded different sides of the deck, and only met in the saloon
at the point of the knife (and fork), are gone to return no more. The
weather was at first exceedingly rough, the water "plenty jumping," in
the phraseology of Mrs. Home's ayah. She, like her mistress, became
a captive to Neptune almost as soon as the engines were in motion.
Once out on the open sea she lay for days on the floor, rolled up
in her sarée like a bolster or a mummy, uttering pitiful moans and
invocations to her relations. Helen was a capital sailor and took
entire charge of Tom and Billy, and was invaluable to her sick friend,
upon whom she waited with devoted attention, tempting her with beef-tea
and toast and other warranted sea-refreshments.

Not a few of her fellow-passengers would have been pleased to while
away the empty hours, in dalliance with the tall girl in black, but
she showed no desire for society, and as it was whispered that she had
recently lost some near relation, and was _really_ in deep grief, she
was left to herself, and to the company of Tom and Billy.—It seemed
quite marvellous to the community, that such a pretty girl should be
returning to England _unmarried_. They shrugged their shoulders, lifted
their eyebrows, and wondered to one another whether it was because
_she_ was too hard to please, or whether the community at Port Blair
were stolid semi-savages?

The first little piece of excitement that broke the monotony of the
voyage, was the discovery of a stowaway in one of the boats, who was
not starved out till they had passed Galle. He proved to be a deserter
from a regiment in Calcutta, and was promptly sent below to stoke,
as extra fireman, and doubtless he found that employment (especially
in the Red Sea) even less to his taste than drilling in the cool of
the morning on the Midan near Fort William. The Red Sea was as calm
as the proverbial mill-pond, and the motion of the steamer almost
imperceptible. The ayah recovered from her state of torpor, and Mrs.
Home actually made her appearance at meals, and joined the social
circle on deck. Every evening there was singing, the songs being
chiefly contributed by the ladies and one or two German gentlemen
_en route_ from Burmah to the Fatherland. Passengers who could not,
or would not, perform vocally, were called upon to tell stories, and
those hot April nights, as they throbbed past the dark Arabian coast,
were long remembered by many on board. Chief among the entertainers
was the captain of the _Palestine_. He related more than one yarn of
thrilling adventures by sea. The German merchants told weird legends,
and episodes of the late great war, a grizzled colonel gave his
experiences of the Mutiny, a subaltern his first exploit out after
tigers, but the most popular _raconteur_ of them all was the first
officer, Mr. Waters. When he appeared, and took his seat among the
company after tea, there was an immediate and clamorous call for a
story—a story.

"Now, Mr. Waters, we have been waiting for you!"

Apropos of the stowaway, he recounted the following tale, to which
Billy Home, who was seated on Helen's knee, with his arm encircling her
neck, listened with very mixed sensations:—

"When I was second officer of the _Black Swan_, from Melbourne to
London," he began promptly—yes, he liked telling yarns,—"we had one
uncommonly queer trip, a trip that I shall not forget in a hurry, no,
and I don't fancy that many of those who were on board will forget it
either! It was the year of the Paris Exhibition, and all the world
and his wife were crowding home. We had every berth full, and people
doubled up anywhere, even sleeping on the floor of the saloon. We left
port with three hundred cabin, and seventy-five steerage passengers. At
first the weather was as if it were made to order, and all went well
till about the third night out, when the disturbance began, at least,
it began, as far as _I_ was concerned. I was knocked up about an hour
after I had come off watch, and out of my first sleep, by some one
thundering at my door. I, thinking it was a mistake, swore a bit, and
roared out that they were to go to the third officer, and the devil!
But, instead of this, the door was gently opened, and the purser put in
a very long white face, and said,—

"'Look here, Waters, I want you in my cabin; there is the mischief to
pay, and I can't make it out! I can't get a wink of sleep, for the most
awful groans you ever heard!'

"I sat up and looked at him hard. He was always a sober man, he was
sober now, and he was not walking in his sleep. After a moment's very
natural hesitation, I threw on some clothes, and followed him to his
cabin, which was forward. The light was still burning, and his bunk
turned back just as he had leapt out of it; but there was nothing to be
seen.

"'Wait a bit,' he said eagerly, 'hold on a minute and listen.'

"I did, I waited, and listened with all my ears, and I heard nothing
but the thumping of the engines, and the tramping of the officer on
watch overhead. I was about to turn on my heel with rather an angry
remark, when he arrested me with a livid face, and said,—

"'There it is!' and sure enough there it _was_—a low, deep, hollow
groan, and no mistake about it, a groan as if wrung from some one in
mortal agony, some one suffering lingering and excruciating torture.—I
looked at the purser, big beads of perspiration were standing on his
forehead, and he looked hard at me. 'I heard it all last night,' he
said in a husky whisper, 'but I was afraid to speak. I hunted to-day
high and low, and sounded every hole and corner, but there is nothing
to be found!' Then he ceased speaking, there it was _again_, louder,
more painful than ever; it certainly came from some place below the
floor, and on the starboard side. We both knelt down, and hammered, and
knocked, and called, and laid our ears to the boards, but it was of no
use,—there was silence.

"'Perhaps it was some one snoring,' I suggested, 'or it might be a dog?'

"'No,' returned the purser, who was still on his knees, 'it's a human
voice, and the groans of a dying man, as sure as I'm a live one!'

"I remained in the cabin for half an hour, and though we overhauled the
whole concern, we heard nothing more, so I fetched up for my own bunk,
and turned in and went to sleep.

"The next day the purser said he heard the moans very faintly, as
if they were now getting weaker and weaker, and after this entirely
ceased. For a good spell everything went along without a hitch, we
had A 1 weather, and made first-class runs. But one evening, in the
twilight, I noticed a great commotion in the saloon, I heard high
talking—a woman's voice! One of the lady passengers was the centre of
a crowd, and was making some angry complaint to the captain.

"'It's the young man in the boots again!' she said. 'And it's really
too bad. Why is he allowed in this part of the ship, what are the
stewards about? It is insufferable to be persecuted in this manner!
Every evening, at this hour, he comes to the door of the saloon and
beckons to _me_, or to any one who is near, but he never seems to catch
any one's eyes but _mine_! It's really disgraceful that the steerage
passengers should be allowed among us in this way.'

"The saloon stewards were all called up and rigidly cross-examined by
the captain, but they all most positively declared that no stranger had
been seen by them, nor was there any steerage passenger on board that
at all answered the lady's description.

"'Of course, that's nonsense!' she exclaimed indignantly. 'He comes to
the bar for spirits on the sly—and very sly he is—for I've gone to
the door to see what he wanted, and he has always contrived to slip
away.'

"An extra sharp lookout was accordingly kept by the captain's orders,
but the head steward privately informed me with a grin 'that there was
no such person as a tall young man in a blue jumper, with long boots,
on the ship's books,' and we both came to the conclusion that the lady
was decidedly wanting in her top gear.

"However, after a while other people began to see the steerage
passenger. Not merely ladies only, but hard-headed, practical, elderly
men; and very disagreeable whispers began to get afloat that 'the ship
was haunted!' The apparition in long butcher boots, could never be
caught or traced, but he was visible repeatedly; and did not merely
confine himself to hanging about and beckoning at the saloon door—he
was now to be met in passages, at the dark turns on the stairs behind
the wheel-house, and even on the bridge,—but always after dusk. Things
now began to be extremely unpleasant, discipline was scorned, at the
very _idea_ of taking away the lights at eleven o'clock, there was
uproar, and an open mutiny among the ladies. Passengers were completely
unmanageable, the women going about in gangs, and the very crew in
couples. The captain endeavoured to make a bold stand against the
ghost, but he was silenced by a clamour of voices, and by a cloud of
witnesses who had all _seen_ it, and, to make matters better, we came
in for the most awful weather I ever experienced, our hatches were
stove in, our decks swept, and I never was more thankful in all my life
than when we took up our pilot in the Downs. What between the ghost and
the gales, even our most seasoned salts were shaky, and grumbled among
themselves, that one would almost imagine that we had a dead body on
board! However, we managed to dock without any misadventure, beyond
being five days over our time, having lost three boats, and gained the
agreeable reputation of being a haunted ship! When we were getting
out the cargo, and having the usual overhaul below, I happened to be
on duty one day when I was accosted by the boatswain, who came aft to
where I was standing, with an uncommonly grave face. 'Please, sir,'
said he, 'we've found something we did not bargain for; it was in the
place where the anchor-chain is, and now, the chain being all paid out,
it's empty, you see—' he paused a moment,—'all but for a dead man.'

"Of course I hurried forward at once, and looked down into a dark
hole, when, by the light of a bit of candle held by one of the crew, I
saw, sure enough, crushed up against one side the skeleton of a man—a
skeleton, for the rats had picked his bones clean; his coat still hung
on him, he wore long digger's boots, and a digger's hat covered his
bare skull.

"I started back, and fell foul of the candle, though I'm not a
particularly nervous person, for I now remembered the groans I had
heard in the purser's cabin.

"'You see, sir, how it was," said the boatswain, 'he was a stowaway,
in course. When we were in dock, this place was empty. Cause why? The
anchor-chain is out, and it seemed to this poor ignorant wretch, who
was no seaman anyway, to be just the very spot—as it were, made for
him! I've a kind of recollection of him, too, hanging about when we
were taking in cargo. He was young, and looked like a half-starved,
broken-down gentleman, such as you see every day in the colony, who
come out—bless their innocence!—a-thinking the nuggets is growing
on the trees, and sink down to beggary, or to working their way home
before the mast. Ay, he thought to get a cast back,' said the bo'sun,
'and he just walked straight into the jaws of death. The moment we
began to weigh anchor, and the chain came reeling, and reeling, into
his hiding-place, it had no outlet but the hole at the top, and the
rattle of it and the noise of the donkey-engine drowned his cries: he
was just walled in, poor chap, and buried up alive!'

"Of course, we all knew, that this was the mysterious apparition in
long boots, who had created such an unparalleled disturbance on the
passage home. Presently the remains were decently carried away, and
there was an inquest, but nothing could be discovered about the body.
We subscribed for the funeral among us, and he was buried in the
nearest church-yard. We sailors are a superstitious lot, and though we
got out of it (I mean, bringing home a corpse) better than could be
expected, so we gave him a respectable funeral; but there is no name on
the stone cross above his head, for the only one, we knew him by, was
that of the 'Steerage Passenger!'"

       *       *       *       *       *

The chief officer brought his story to an end in the midst of a dead,
nay, an awe-struck silence. People shuddered and looked nervously
behind them. They were on board ship, too! Why should not the
_Palestine_ have a ghost of her own, as well as the _Black Swan_?

The utter stillness, was suddenly broken by a loud howl from Billy
Home, who had been listening with all the power of his unusually
capacious ears, and seemed to have but just wakened up from a sort of
trance of horror. He shrieked and clung to Helen, who had whispered a
hint with regard to bed-time.

"No, no, no," he would not come. "No, not alone," he added with a yell,
hanging to her with the tenacity of a limpet; "not unless you stay with
me.—I'm afraid of the man downstairs,—I _know_ he is downstairs."

"I declare," said the bearded story-teller, "I quite forgot that little
beggar was there. I never noticed him till now, or I would not have
told you that yarn."

Needless to remark, his apology came rather too late. At every turn
of the companion-ladder, at every open door, Billy lived in whining
anticipation of meeting what he called "the man in the boots," and for
the remainder of the voyage he was figuratively a mill-stone, round
Helen's neck.

They had an uneventful passage down the Mediterranean, halting at
Malta for lace, oranges, and canaries; they passed Cape Bon, then the
coast of Spain, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. The Home boys had
never beheld snow till now, and were easily induced to believe, that
what they beheld was pounded sugar, and languished at the mountains
with greedy eyes, as long as they remained in sight. On a certain
Sunday afternoon in April the _Palestine_ arrived in the Victoria
Docks, London. Numerous expectant friends came swarming on board, all
eagerness and expectation, but there was no one to welcome Helen,—no
face among that friendly crowd was seeking hers. Being a Sunday, there
was, of course, some difficulty about cabs and trains, and the docks
were very remote from the fashionable quarter where her aunt Julia
resided: so she swallowed her disappointment and made excuses to
herself. However, Mrs. Home, who had been met by her brother, insisted
upon personally conducting her to her journey's end. First they went
by rail above ground, then by rail under ground, finally by cab, and
after a long drive, the travellers drew up at Mrs. Platt's rather
pinched-looking mansion in Upper Cream Street. A man-servant answered
the bell, flung wide the door with a jerk, and stood upon the threshold
in dignified amazement on beholding _two_ cabs, heavily laden with
baggage.

Was Mrs. Platt at home?

"No, ma'am. She and the young ladies have gone to afternoon church; but
Miss Denis is _expected_."

Rather a tepid reception, Mrs. Home thought, with a secret thrill of
indignation. Much, much, she wished that she could have taken Helen
with her there and then. She hugged her vigorously, as did also Tom
and Billy; and telling her, that she would come and see her very soon,
she re-entered her cab, and with her brother, children, and luggage,
was presently rattled away. Helen felt as she stood on the steps, and
watched those familiar trunks, turning a corner,—that her last link
with the Andamans, and all her recent life, was now broken.



CHAPTER XXVI.

A POOR RELATION.

  "Oh, she is rich in beauty, only poor!"

  _Romeo and Juliet._


"YOU had better have your big box kept in the back hall—it will
scarcely be worth while to take it upstairs, and it might only rub the
paper off the wall."

This was almost the first greeting that Helen received from her aunt
Julia.

"And, dear me, how thin you have grown! I would have passed you in the
street," was her eldest cousin's welcome.

Mrs. Platt and her two daughters, Clara and Caroline, had returned
from church, and found their expected guest awaiting them alone, in
the drawing-room! "Surely one of them might have stayed at home," she
said to herself with a lump in her throat and a mist before her eyes.
She had latterly been made so much of at Port Blair that her present
reception was indeed a bitter contrast. It undoubtedly _is_ rather
chilling to arrive punctually from a long journey (say, half across
the world), and to find that your visit is a matter of such little
moment to your relations, that they have not even thought it necessary
to remain indoors to await, much less to send to meet you! Helen felt
strangely neglected and depressed, as she sat in the drawing-room in
solitary state, still wearing her hat and jacket, and feeling more like
a dependant, who had come to seek for a situation, than a near relation
to the lady of the house. She had fully an hour in which to contemplate
the situation, ere her aunt and cousins returned. They were three very
tall women, and made an imposing appearance, as they filed in one after
another in their best bonnets, with their prayer-books in their hands.
They kissed her coolly, inquired when, and how, she had arrived, and
then sat down and looked at her attentively.

Mrs. Platt was a thin, fair lady, with handsome profile, who had
married well; and contrived to keep herself aloof from the general
wreckage, when her maiden home was broken up; ambition was her
distinctive characteristic; she had married well, and got up in the
world, and now she hoped to see her daughters do the same.

To effect a lodgment in an upper strata of society, to mix with what
she called the "best people," was her idea of unalloyed happiness.

In her grander, loftier style she was every bit as fond of a title as
our dear friend Mrs. Creery.

Besides all this she was a respectable British matron, who paid her
bills weekly, went twice to church on Sunday, never darkened the door
of an omnibus, or condescended to use a postcard. Still, in her own
genteel fashion, she was a capital manager, and generally made eighteen
pence contrive to do duty for two shillings. She was honest, scheming,
hard to every one, even to herself, making all those with whom she came
into contact useful to her in some way; either they were utilized as
social stepping-stones, or givers of entertainment, concert, and opera
tickets, flowers, or better still, invitations to country houses; all
her friends were expected to put their shoulder to her wheel in some
respect—either that,—or she dropped their acquaintance under these
circumstances.

It will be easily imagined, how very unwelcome to such a lady as Mrs.
Platt was the unlooked-for return of this handsome, penniless niece!

The Misses Platt were tall young women, of from six, to eight and
twenty years of age; they had unusually long necks, and carried their
noses in the air; they were slight, and had light eyes and eyebrows,
which gave them an indefinite, unfinished appearance; their hair was of
a dull ashen shade, and they wore large fluffy fringes, were considered
"plain" by people who did not like them, and "elegant-looking girls" by
those who were their friends.

They were unemotional, critical, and selfish, firmly resolved to get
the best of whatever was going; for the Miss Platts influenced their
mother as they pleased, and had the greatest repugnance to having their
cousin Helen thus billeted upon them.

They called everything, and every person, that did not meet with their
approval "bad style," and worshipped coronets, as devoutly as their
parent herself.

By-and-by the new arrival had some tea, was assured that she would be
"all the better for a night's rest," and was escorted to the very top
of the house, by an exhausted cousin, to what her aunt called "her
old room." This was true,—it was not the guest-chamber, but a very
sparsely-furnished apartment, on the same floor with the maids. And
here her relative deposited her candlestick, nodded a condescending
good-night, and left her to her repose. This was her home-coming!
However, she was very tired, and soon fell asleep, and forgot her
sorrows; but very early the next morning, she was awoke by the roar of
the London streets, for you could call it nothing else. Mrs. Platt,
though occupying a most fashionable and expensive nutshell, was close
to one of the great arteries of traffic. Helen lay and listened. What
a contrast to the last place where she had slept on shore, where the
bugle awoke the echoes at five o'clock in the morning, where wheels and
horses were absolutely unknown, and the stillness was almost solemn,
only broken by the dip of an oar or the scream of a peacock! She turned
her eyes to a picture pinned to the wall, facing the foot of her bed,
the picture of a merry-looking milkmaid, with a pail under her arm; the
milkmaid was smiling at her now, precisely as she had done less than a
year ago,—when she had slept in that very room previous to starting
for Port Blair. _Then_ she had seemed to her imagination, to wish her
good speed. Surely that gay expression seemed to augur the future
smiles of fortune! Ten months ago she had stared at that picture, ere
she had set out for her voyage, full of hope and happy anticipations;
and now, ere the year had gone round, she was back again, her day was
over, her happy home in those sunny islands among tropical seas, had
vanished like a dream! She had visited, as it were, an enchanted land,
where she had found father, home, friends—ay, and lover, and had
returned desolate and empty-handed (save for that "sorrow's crown of
sorrow"), to face the stern realities of life,—and to earn her daily
bread. She gazed at the mocking milkmaid, and closed her eyes. Oh! if
she could but wake and find that the last four months had been but a
horrible dream.

The Platts were late people, they scorned the typical first worm.
Helen, accustomed to early (Eastern) hours, had a very long morning,
entirely alone. She dared not unpack, she had no work to do, and could
find no books to read; for her aunt, who was most economical in regard
to things that did not make a show, did not subscribe to a library,
merely took in a daily paper, and preyed, on her friends, for her other
literature.

Breakfast was at eleven o'clock, and during that meal letters were
read, the daily programme arranged, and people and places discussed,
whose names were totally unknown to Helen. Now and then, her cousins
threw her a word or two, but there was no cordiality or friendship in
their tone; it did not need that, to tell her she was not welcome, and
she sat aloof in silence, feeling as if she were an utter alien, and
as if her very heart was frozen. And yet these were her own flesh and
blood—her father's sister and nieces—her nearest, if not her dearest!
How different to Mrs. Home, Mrs. Graham, and Mrs. Durand!—ay, even
Mrs. Creery had shown her more affection than her own aunt.

Helen soon fell into her proper niche in the family. After breakfast
she went out and did all the little household messages to the
tradespeople, and made herself useful, _i.e._, mended her aunt's
gloves, and hose, wrote her notes, and copied music for her cousins.

She dined early, when her relatives lunched, as they frequently had
people in the evening.

There was a kind of back room or den upon the second landing, where
the Platt family sat in _déshabillé_, partook of refreshments, wrote
letters, ripped old dresses, and held family conclaves. Here Helen
spent most of her time, and being very clever with her needle, did
many "odd jobs" for her relatives. Better this, than sitting with
idle hands, staring out on a back green the size of a table-cloth,
surrounded by grimy walls, with no more interesting spectacle to
enliven the scene, than the duels, or duets, of the neighbouring
cats. So it was, "Helen, I want you to run up this," or "to tack
that together," or "just to unpick the other thing," and she became
a valuable auxiliary to Plunket the lady's-maid, not merely with her
needle alone,—she soon learned to be very handy with a box-iron!

Of course she was never expected to accompany the family, when they
went out in the brougham, her aunt saying to her in her suavest tone,
"You see, dear, your mourning is so recent" (her father was five months
dead), "I am sure you would rather stay at home." Accordingly the three
ladies packed themselves into the carriage most afternoons, and went
for an airing, leaving their poor relation, with strict injunctions to
"keep up the drawing-room fire," and "to see that tea was ready to the
moment of five." Sometimes they gave "at homes," the preparations for
which were left to Helen, who worked like a slavey. These "at homes"
were chiefly remarkable for a profusion of flowers, weak tea, weaker
music, and a crush.

Next to the cook, Helen was decidedly the most useful member of the
household, she was kept fully occupied all day long, and in constant
employment, was her only escape from her own thoughts. She was not
happy; nay, many a night she cried herself to sleep; her aunt was
cool and distant, as though she had displeased her in some way; but
to Helen's knowledge, she had given her no cause of offence since the
terrible incident of the tea-cup, years and years previously.

Her cousins were sharp, critical, and patronizing, and evidently
considered that she occupied a very much lower social status than
themselves.

She was unwelcome, an interloper, and felt it keenly. More than once
she tried to screw up her courage, and ask her aunt what was to be
her future. Undoubtedly, she was not to remain on permanently as an
inmate of No. 15, Cream Street.—Her big box still stood in the back
hall. Somehow, she rarely had a chance of a few words with her aunt
alone, her affairs were never once touched upon in her hearing, and
yet she had reason to believe, that certain animated and rather shrill
conversations, that she frequently interrupted,—and that fell away
into an awkward silence as she entered a room,—were about her, and her
future destination!

       *       *       *       *       *

Visitors came rapping at No. 15, Cream Street every afternoon, and two,
out of the dozens who had called, asked for "Miss Denis." A few days
after her arrival, she had been in the drawing-room with her cousins
Carrie and Clara, when her first caller made her appearance.

The drawing-room was an apartment that seemed to be all mirrors, low
chairs, small tables, and plush photo frames—a pretty room, entirely
got up for show, not use. Several of the chairs, were not to be
trusted, and one or two tables were decidedly dangerous, but the _tout
ensemble_ through coloured blinds, was everything that was smart and
fashionable, and "good style"—the fetish the Miss Platts worshipped.

On this particular afternoon Carrie was yawning over the fire, Clara
was looking out of the window, commenting on a coroneted carriage and
superb pair of steppers, with what is called extravagant action, which
had just stopped opposite. Mentally she was thinking, how much she
would like to see this equipage in waiting at their own door, when a
very curious turn-out came lumbering along, and actually drew up at
No. 15. A shapeless, weather-beaten, yellow brougham, drawn by a fat
plough-horse, and driven by a coachman in keeping with his steed—a man
with a long beard, a rusty hat (that an Andamanese would have scorned),
and a horse-sheet round his knees.

Little did Helen Denis dream that she was gazing at that oft-vaunted
vehicle—Lady Grubb's carriage.

"Good gracious, Carrie, who on earth is this?" cried Clara, turning to
her sister, who was now staring exhaustingly at her own reflection in
the chimney-glass. "And coming to call here! Oh, for mercy's sake, do
come and look!"

The door of the brougham was slowly opened, and a very stout old lady,
attired in a long black satin cloak, and gorgeous bonnet with nodding
plumes, descended, and waddled up the steps.

In the vacant carriage there still remained two fat pugs, a worked
cushion, a pile of books, and what certainly looked like a basket of
vegetables!

"It's no one _we_ know," said Clara contemptuously.

"It may be a friend of Plunket's, or a mistake."

Apparently it was neither, for at this moment the door was flung open,
and,—

"Lady Grubb!" was announced.

Very eagerly she advanced to Clara, with round, smiling face, and
outstretched hands, saying,—

"So glad to find you at home! My sister told me to be sure and call,
and as I was at the stores,"—here she paused and faltered, literally
cowed by the expression of Miss Platt's eyes—Miss Platt, who drew
back, elongated her neck, and looked insolent interrogation.

"I think you have been so good as to come and see me," murmured Helen,
hastily advancing to the rescue. "You are Mrs. Creery's sister?"

"Yes, and of course you are Miss Denis," seizing her outstretched hand
as if it were a life-belt, for poor Lady Grubb was completely thrown
off her balance, by the stern demeanour of the other damsel.

Helen led her to a sofa, and tried to engage her in friendly
conversation, but it was not easy to converse, with her two cousins
sitting rigidly by, as if they were on a board of examination, and not
suffering a word or look to escape them. They sat and gazed at Lady
Grubb in quite a combined and systematic manner; to them she was such a
unique object, and such utterly "awful style."

She, like her sister, was endowed with a copious flow of language,
but the very fountain of her speech was frozen by these two ice
maidens. The first few words she did manage to utter, were hurried and
incoherent, but presently she found courage to inquire after Maria, and
Nip, and Creery (horrible to relate, she called him "Creery"), and also
after many people, she had heard about at Port Blair.

It was very plain to Helen, that Maria had painted her island home,
with an unsparing supply of gorgeous colours, and Lady Grubb looked
upon her absent relative's position, as something between that of
the Queen of Sheba, and the Princess Badoura without doubt. She then
murmured a few words of really kind condolence to Helen, and if she had
taken her departure at this point, all would have been well; but she
was now becoming habituated to the stony stare of the Misses Platt, and
felt more emboldened to converse,—and some malicious elf put it into
her head to say, with a meaning smile,—

"I am quite up in all the Port Blair news and Port Blair secrets, you
know. I've heard a great deal about a certain gentleman."

Helen became what is known as "all colours," and her two cousins "all
ears;" to them she had positively denied that she had left the ghost of
an admirer to lament her departure from the Andaman Islands.

"Oh, you know who I _mean_, I can see," continued the old lady
playfully. "She had any number of offers," addressing herself rather
triumphantly to the Miss Platts, "but Mr. Quentin is to be the happy
man," and here the wretched old woman, actually winked at Clara and
Caroline.

"Indeed, indeed, Lady Grubb, you are quite mistaken!" cried Helen
hastily. "Mr. Quentin is nothing to me but a mere acquaintance, and as
to anything else, Mrs. Creery—was—was joking!"

"Oh, well, well, we won't say a word about it now, but you must come
and spend a long day with me soon and tell me _everything_! I feel as
if I know you quite well, having heard of you so often from Maria. I'll
just leave my card for your aunt, and now I must really be going,"
standing up as she spoke. "I suppose Scully is waiting" (presumably the
uncouth coachman).

The Miss Platts did not ring the bell, neither did they deign to rise
from their chairs, but merely closed their eyes at their visitor, as
she made a kind of "shy," intended for a curtsey, and wishing them
"good afternoon," departed with considerable precipitation.

Helen went downstairs, and conducted Lady Grubb to the hall-door, and
presently saw her bowled away in her yellow chariot, with a brace of
pugs in her lap.

She was not a very distinguished person certainly, but she meant to be
friendly, to be kind, and a little of these commodities went a long way
with her now. She blushed, when she recalled her cousins' deportment.
Surely an Andamanese female, in her own premises (were they hole or
tree), would have shown more civility to a stranger. As she entered the
drawing-room, the Miss Platts exclaimed in one breath,—

"What a creature! Who is she?"

"She looks like an old cook!" supplemented Carrie. "I was _trembling_
lest any of our friends should come in."

"Her name is Grubb, she is sister to Mrs. Creery, the—" (how could she
give any approximate idea of that lady's pomp?) "the principal lady at
the Andamans!" she added rather faintly.

"Principal lady! What rubbish!" cried Clara. "If she resembles her
distinguished sister, I make you my compliments, as the French say, on
the class of society you enjoyed out there."

"Let us see where she lives. Where's her card? What is her
name?—Tubb—Grubb?" said Carrie. "Here it is," taking it up between
two supercilious fingers, and reading,—

      =Lady Grubb=,
              _Smithson Villas, Pimlico_.

"Pimlico! _So_ i should have imagined," for, of course, any one who
lived in that region was in the Miss Platts' opinion socially extinct.

"You certainly cannot do yourself the pleasure of spending a long and
happy day at Smithson Villas," said Carrie with decision. "Goodness
knows whom you might meet; and she would be bragging to her cronies
that you were _our_ cousin."

"I shall go if she asks me," replied Helen quietly. "It is no matter
who _I_ meet, and I will guarantee that your name does not transpire."

Was the girl trying to be sarcastic? Carrie looked at her sharply, but
Helen's face was immovable.

"Well, I do most devoutly trust that she will not see fit to wait upon
you again, or that if she does she will come in the laundry-cart!"

"I wonder what the Courtney-Howards thought of her. I'm sure I saw
Evelyn at the window," remarked Clara. "Oh!" she added with great
animation, "here is the Jenkins' carriage—Flo and her mother. What a
mercy that they did not come five minutes ago!"

Now ensued general arranging of hair, of chairs, and of blinds;
evidently the Jenkins were people worth cultivating, and indisputably
of "good style."

"Fly away, Helen, at once," cried Carrie, "and tell Price to bring up
tea in about ten minutes; and if there is time, you might just run
round the corner and get half-a-dozen of those nice little Scotch
cakes. I know Price hates being sent on messages in the afternoon, and
you don't mind."



CHAPTER XXVII.

IN WHICH EVERYTHING IS SETTLED TO MRS. PLATT'S SATISFACTION.

  "When true hearts lie withered,
    And fond ones are flown,
  Oh! who would inhabit
    This bleak world alone?"

  _Moore._


LADY GRUBB'S visit was succeeded by one from Mrs. Home—a kind,
well-meaning little lady, as we know, but as yet attired in what had
been a very nice Dirzee-made garment at Port Blair, and even passed
muster for best on board ship, but which stamped her at once in the
eyes of the Miss Platts as "bad style."

Her boys, too, so eager was she to see Helen, were not yet equipped in
their new suits, and were anomalous spectacles in Highland kilts and
sailor hats.

Clara and Carrie did not condescend to appear on this occasion, they
saw amply sufficient of Mrs. Home and family over the dining-room blind.

Helen felt a sense of burning humiliation and shame to think that now,
when she was at home among her own people, they would not even take the
trouble to come upstairs and thank Mrs. Home for her great kindness to
her, nor even so much as send her a cup of tea. She hoped in her heart
that her friend would think they were _out_! But they went audibly up
and down stairs and laughed and shut doors, and Mrs. Home was neither
deaf nor stupid.

She stayed an hour, and Helen enjoyed her visit greatly (despite her
disappointment at the non-appearance of her relations or, failing them,
the tea-tray). It was one little oasis in the desert of her now dreary
life; they conversed eagerly together and talked the shibboleth of
people who have the same friends, in the same country; they kissed and
cried a little, and parted with mutual promises of many letters, for
Mrs. Home was going to Jersey, and thence to the Continent.

"Your friends are not our friends, and our friends are not your
friends," said Carrie forcibly, and Helen felt that indeed, as far as
appearance went, her visitors had not been a success, and for her own
part never dreamt of being admitted within the sacred circle of her
cousins' acquaintance.

Now and then she met people accidentally in the hall, or in the street
when walking with her cousins; and once she overheard Carrie saying to
Clara, apropos of visitors,—

"Of course there is no occasion to introduce Helen to any one," and
this amiable injunction was obeyed to the letter. However, the omission
sat very lightly on the once admired of all admirers at Port Blair.

One morning it happened that Helen was in the drawing-room when a bosom
friend of Carrie's came to call—a Miss Fowler Sharpe, a fashionable
acquaintance whom the Misses Platt toadied, for she had the _entrée_ to
circles barred to them, and they hoped to use her as a pass key.

They made a great deal of the lady, flattered her, caressed her, and
ran after her, all of which was agreeable to Miss Sharpe. She was a
very elegantly dressed London girl, who spoke with a drawl, and gave
one the idea that her eyelids were too heavy for her eyes. She had come
over to Cream Street to make some arrangements about an opera-box, and
to have a little genteel gossip.

Helen was busily engaged in sewing Madras muslin and coloured bows
on the backs of some of the chairs, where she was "discovered" by
her cousins and their friend, to whom she was presented in a hasty,
off-hand manner, which plainly said, "You need not notice her!"

Miss Sharpe stared for a second, vouchsafed her a little nod, then sat
down with her back to Helen and speedily forgot her existence.

The three friends were soon deep in conversation, whilst she worked
steadily on, kneeling at the chair she was dressing with her face
turned away from the company.

Their principal topics were dress and weddings, weddings and dress, and
who was flirting with whom, and what was likely to be a match, and what
was not, and who looked lovely in such a gown, and what men were in
town.

At length Helen, who had not been attending, caught one syllable that
made her start and pause, and then listen with a heightened colour and
a beating heart.

"Yes, I hear that Gilbert Lisle is actually coming back; he has been
away among savages this last time, positively fraternizing with
cannibals."

"Gilbert Lisle coming home!" cried Carrie. "Then Kate Calderwood will
be happy at last. I suppose it will be all arranged this season?"

"Yes, his father is most anxious that he should settle; indeed, I
believe he wrote him out a furious letter, and said that if he did not
come home without delay he would marry again _himself_!" At this threat
all three ladies laughed immoderately.

"Imagine any sane woman marrying such an old Turk as Lord Lingard!"
drawled Miss Sharpe. "He is seventy if he is a day, bald and beaky,
and with a temper that has a European notoriety; the very idea of his
supposing that he would get _any one_ to take him!"

"Yes, hideous old creature," chimed in Clara; "he always reminds me of
a white cockatoo with a pink bill."

(Nevertheless, any one of these young ladies would have said "Yes" with
pleasure had Lord Lingard asked them to be his.)

"I cannot imagine how any one ever married him originally," pursued
Miss Sharpe; "and yet they say that Lady Lingard was one of the
handsomest women of her day."

"Oh, but," put in Clara, delighted to impart this class of information,
"you know, they say that she married him out of pique, and she did not
live long. I suppose he worried her into her grave."

"No," rejoined Miss Sharpe; "though he _may_ have helped to kill her,
she died of consumption."

"Did she? and her eldest son is following her. He is in a rapid
decline," added Carrie. "And you say that Gilbert Lisle is really
coming home?" suddenly falling back on the original topic.

"So I'm told. Mother is going to send him a card for our dance. But I
never believe in him till I see him."

"How I wish we knew him," ejaculated Clara, looking at her visitor
wistfully.

"Oh, you know he is not a society man, only goes to a few houses and
some country places where there is good shooting; now and then you see
him at a ball, or in a squash in some staircase; but he has a very
fair idea of his own value, and never makes himself _cheap_," and Miss
Sharpe smiled rather disagreeably.

"That's the way with all these rich bachelors," exclaimed Carrie. "They
are so spoilt, and so abominably conceited."

"I wonder how he got on among the savages?" said Miss Sharpe.

Little did she guess that the girl who was sitting in the background,
with bent head and burning face, could have answered her question then
and there.

"I wonder if it will come off with Katie, after all?" exclaimed Carrie.
"She is the girl he used to ride with in the park last year, is she
not?—very freckled, with high shoulders. She comes to our church. I
wonder what he sees in her?" she added.

"It is his father, my dear, who sees _everything_ in her: her property
'march,' as they call it, with the Lingard estates."

"And so she is to be Mrs. Gilbert Lisle?"

"I believe so." And with this remark the subject dropped.

Helen had listened to this conversation with crimson face and throbbing
heart. Everything was accounted for now; he had been simply amusing
himself with her. This man, who was accustomed to be made much of by
London beauties, who was eagerly sought for by house parties in country
houses—was it likely that he would be really serious in making love
to an obscure girl like herself, a girl whom he had come across in his
wanderings among savage islands? "No," she told herself, "not at all
likely; his actions spoke for him. He had been simply seeing how much
she would believe, repeating a _rôle_ that he had doubtless played
dozens of times previously. And during his wanderings his wealthy
destined bride, Miss Calderwood, was all the time awaiting him in
England. _She_ was to be Mrs. Gilbert Lisle."

"I do declare you have stitched that on the wrong side out! What can
you _have_ been thinking of?" demanded Clara very sharply, when her
fashionable friend had departed. "You will have to rip it, and put it
on properly. Your wits must have been wool-gathering!"

If Clara had known where her cousin's thoughts had been, she would
have been very much surprised for once in her life, and ejaculated her
favourite exclamation, "Fancy, just fancy!" with unusual animation.

The day after this visit Helen was asked to accompany her cousin
Carrie on foot to Bond Street, not an unusual honour. She was useful
for carrying small parcels; true, her mourning was shabby, but none of
the Platts' acquaintances knew who she was, and, if the worst came to
the worst, she might pass as a superior-looking lady's-maid. On their
way back from the shops Carrie took it into her head to take a turn
in the park. It was about twelve o'clock, and the Row was gay with a
fashionable throng of pedestrians. Carrie met several friends, to whom
she gave a bow here and a nod there, and Helen, to her great amazement,
recognized one while yet afar off, and, although garbed in a frock
coat and tall hat—yes, she actually beheld Mr. Quentin coming towards
her, walking with a very well-dressed woman, and followed by two red
dachshunds. She was positive that the recognition was mutual, and was
pleased in her present barren life to hail any acquaintance from Port
Blair—even him! When they came almost face to face she bowed and
smiled, and would have stopped, but he merely glanced at her as if she
were some most casual acquaintance, swept off his hat, and passed on.
Evidently Port Blair and Rotten Row were two very different places.

A flood of scarlet rushed over her face, which her quick-eyed companion
did not fail to notice, and said—

"Who is that gentleman?"

"A Mr. Quentin. I knew him at Port Blair."

"Fancy! I have heard of him. He is quite in society; he is a friend of
the Sharpes. I believe he is rather fascinating—but frightfully in
debt."

Helen made no reply, but walked on in silence, and Miss Platt put two
and two together with much satisfaction to herself. Helen's undoubted
confusion signified of course that she cherished an unrequited
attachment for this good-looking, faithless man who had just now gone
by with a cool ceremonious bow. So much for her cousin's admirers in
the Andamans!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was now the end of May, and Helen had been six weeks in London,
but so far not a word had been mooted to her about her future plans.
She made herself useful, working, shopping, going messages; her aunt
admitted to herself that she was quite as good as another servant in
the house (though she did not actually use the word servant, even in
her thoughts); she was a handy, useful, industrious girl, and did not
put herself forward; so the matter of getting her a situation had been
allowed to remain somewhat in abeyance.

Helen knew that she must eventually "move on," but had a nervous dread
of broaching the subject to her relations. Day after day she failed
to bring her courage to the sticking-point; but the question, ever
trembling on her lips, at last found utterance, and finding herself
alone with Mrs. Platt one morning, she said timidly—

"Have you made any plans about _me_, Aunt Julia?"

"Yes, my dear," was the surprisingly prompt answer, "it is all quite
settled; I had intended speaking to you before, but something put it
out of my head. I have an important letter to write just now, but when
the girls go out this evening you and I will have a talk together."

In due time the Miss Platts departed in the brougham, bound for a
little dinner and the play.

Helen, who had assisted to adorn them, partook of a meat tea with her
aunt, and then they both adjourned to the little den upon the stairs.
There, by the light of a crimson-shaded lamp, Mrs. Platt read the day's
news, and Helen sewed and waited—waited for a very long time, and,
needless to say, she was most impatient to learn her fate.

Her aunt was a lady who never worked, and rarely opened a book, but
devoted her whole time to writing, talking, organizing, eating,
sleeping and dressing. She perused the paper as a daily duty, just to
see what was going on; and after she had now read every word of it,
including advertisements, she folded it up with a crackling noise, and
said rather suddenly,—

"This is a capital opportunity for us to have a nice little chat. I
have been intending to speak to you for some time. Of course you know,
dear, that your father left his affairs in a terrible state. I was not
the least surprised to hear it, and all that can be scraped together
for you is fourteen pounds a year—less than a kitchen-maid's wages,"
shrugging her shoulders. "There is no use in saying anything about the
dead; what is done is done; nor that, to satisfy his ridiculous ideas
of honour, he left his only child——"

"No, no use, Aunt Julia, for I would not listen to you," interrupted
Helen with sudden fire. Mrs. Platt was astounded; this outbreak
recalled old days, she positively recoiled before the expression of her
niece's eyes, the imperious gesture of her hand. She leant back in her
chair with folded arms, and sat for some moments in indignant silence,
when she reached out two fingers and pulled the lamp-shade down, so
that her face was completely in the shadow. She had reason to do so,
for she was going to say things of which she might unquestionably be
ashamed; and once more she commenced, as if repeating something she had
previously rehearsed:

"Ours is the oddest family, we have so few relations on the Denis side,
no nice connections, no influential friends; when your grandfather (why
could she not say my father?) came to such a fearful smash all his old
associates abandoned him, as rats leave a sinking ship. I married, and
made new ties, your father married too; but, as far as I know, your
mother had no respectable belongings. My sister Christina also made a
wretched match; she married a half-crazy Irish professor she picked up
at Bonn, he afterwards came in for some miserable Irish property, on
which he lives, but _he_ could do nothing, he can hardly keep the wolf
and bailiffs from the door as it is. Christina, as I suppose you know,
died last Christmas."

"No, Aunt Julia, I never heard of it."

"Oh, well, of course it does not affect you." (Nor did it apparently
much affect Mrs. Platt.) "She and I had not met for many years. Then
there is my aunt Sophia—your grand-aunt. She is an invalid, and lives
at Bournemouth, scarcely ever leaving her room. She is very wealthy,
and we correspond constantly, but most of her money goes to charities,
in which she takes an interest, and unfortunately she takes no interest
in _you_. She has got it into her head that you are worldly!"

Helen stared round the lamp-shade, to see if her aunt was joking.

"It's quite true," responded Mrs. Platt, meeting her gaze, "and once
she gets an idea into her head,—there it stays. So it is rather
unfortunate; but, at any rate, all her thoughts are at present centred
on a mission to the Laps. Then," with a perceptible pause, "we come
to myself. I am not a rich woman" (though she strained every nerve to
appear so, and had upwards of three thousand a year), "I spend every
penny of my income, and am often pressed for money. Of course, in the
country or at the seaside we would have a margin, but the girls would
not hear of living anywhere but in town—and naturally I have to study
them, and their interests."

"Of course, Aunt Julia," acquiesced her listener.

"This is a ruinous neighbourhood, and this house, though so tiny,
costs four hundred a year; no doubt for half that sum, I would get a
mansion in Bayswater; but, as the girls say, there is no use in being
in town at all if you don't live in the best part of it, and here we
are! Then we require to keep up a certain style to correspond with
the situation—a man-servant is indispensable, and a carriage; the
horses, of course, are jobbed. Again, we have to entertain, to go to
the seaside, to dress—and this last, even with Plunket making half the
things, costs a small fortune! The long and the short of it is that,
out of my very tolerable income, I never have a single sixpence at the
end of the year. This being the case, you will readily understand, my
dear Helen, that, much as I should _wish_ to do so—I cannot offer you
a home here."

"No, of course, Aunt Julia, I never expected you to do so," replied her
niece in a low voice.

"You are a sensible girl, wonderfully so for your age, and I talk
to you, you see, as openly and as frankly as if you were my own
contemporary. I could not afford to dress you as you would require
to be dressed, and take you out; besides, the brougham is a crush
for three as it is, and three girls at a dance would be out of the
question. I must say, I should have _liked_ to have given you a season,
but, as Clara points out, my taking you into society would entail
leaving one of them behind, and charity begins at home; and, candidly,
I am very anxious to see them settled."

"Yes, aunt, of course I understand that your own daughters should come
first."

"And besides all this, my love," waxing more affectionate as she
proceeded, "I really have no room to give you. Plunket requires one to
herself; there is mine, and the girls', and the spare room, and, you
see——"

"I see, Aunt Julia," interrupted her niece, "don't say another word.
And now what are your plans for me?"

"Well, I had hoped to have got you a very happy, comfortable home, with
a very rich old lady in the country, who required a nice cheerful young
girl to talk to her, and read to her, and be with her constantly. She
was rather astray mentally—a little weak, you know; but you would have
got two hundred a year. However——" and she stopped.

"However, aunt——?"

"Well, I heard indirectly that she was liable to rather _violent_
paroxysms occasionally, and came to the conclusion that it would not
do! I have been making inquiries among my friends—of course, it's
rather a delicate business, and I don't mention that you are my own
niece; it would be so very awkward, you know; but I hope to hear of
something suitable ere long. Meanwhile, dear, I'm sure you won't be
offended at my telling you that we shall want your room next week!"

Helen's hands shook, her lips trembled, so that for the moment she was
unable to speak. Was she to be turned out of doors? She had exactly
four pounds in her purse upstairs!

"Clara's rich godmother always comes to us for June," continued Mrs.
Platt, "and we have to study her, and to make the house bright and
pleasant; it is then we always give our little dinner-parties. We do
our best to please her; she is very liberal to the girls, and we could
not possibly put her off. She will have the spare room, as usual,—and
her maid always occupies _yours_."

"Yes, Aunt Julia."

"I have made a very nice, temporary arrangement for you, dearest! A
lady I know, who keeps a large school at Kensington, has most kindly
offered to take you gratis for a month or two,—till we can look about
us. You are to teach the younger classes French and music."

"In short, go to her as governess?"

"Oh, dear me, no," irritably; "it is a mere friendly offer. She obliges
you, you oblige her, as one of her staff has gone home ill, and she is
rather short-handed just now."

"And will she pay me?" inquired Helen as bluntly as Mrs. Creery herself.

"Oh, no, I don't think there was any reference to that! Perhaps your
laundress may be included; but you scarcely seem to understand that
she is going to give you board and lodging for _nothing_. You are not
sufficiently experienced for a governess!"

"But——" began Helen, thinking of her superior musical talents and
fluent French.

"But," interrupted her aunt tartly, "if you can think of any other
expedient for a couple of months, or have a better suggestion to make,
let us have it, by all means!"

Her hearer pondered. There was Miss Twigg, Miss Twigg no longer; she
was married, and had gone out to Canada. Mrs. Home was in Germany, her
former schoolfellows were scattered,—to whom could she turn?

"Of course this is a mere temporary step, as I said before," urged her
aunt. "I shall do much better for you in the autumn; I have great hopes
of getting you a comfortable home through some of my friends, and as a
favour to _me_. So, meanwhile, will you go to Mrs. Kane's or not?"

"Yes, aunt; I will do whatever you please."

"Very well, then, that is settled. I must get your things done up a
little first. Your aunt Sophia sent ten pounds for you, and I was
thinking that as the girls were going out of mourning—three months,
you know, is ample for an uncle—that you might help Plunket to remodel
one or two of their dresses for yourself."

Helen felt a lump in her throat, that nearly choked her. She would wear
a cast-off garment of Mrs. Home's with pleasure, and accept it as it
was meant; but Clara's and Carrie's!—never! And she managed to stammer
out,—

"No, thank you, Aunt Julia; I shall do very well."

"But that black every-day dress is not fit to be seen."

"It will do in the school-room,—and I shall get another."

"Now I consider that wanton extravagance, when you can have Clara's
for nothing. Perhaps your dignity is offended?" and she laughed at the
mere idea of such a possibility, and then added, "By the way, _are_ you
proud?"

Helen made no reply, but bent her eyes on her work.

"Then, my dear child, the sooner you get rid of that folly the
better,—for poverty, and pride, are no match for one another."

"How soon did you say I was to go to Mrs. Kane's, aunt?"

"On Monday next. You can leave your big box here still, and if you like
to come over to lunch every second Sunday, you may do so. But I doubt
if you will care for the long walk across the park,—or if Mrs. Kane
could spare a servant to walk home with you."

"Then, thank you, I won't mind."

"Well, dear," rising as if a load had been removed from her mind,
"I believe we have settled everything satisfactorily. It is so much
pleasanter to talk over these matters face to face. And now, love,
I'll say good-night. I daresay you would like to finish Carrie's
handkerchief before you go upstairs." Then, stooping and kissing her,
she added, "Be sure you put the lamp out carefully," and with this
parting injunction, Aunt Julia opened the door, and departed, leaving
her orphan niece alone with her own thoughts.

Helen stitched away mechanically for nearly ten minutes, then she laid
down her work, and sat with her hands lying idly in her lap, and her
eyes riveted upon the rose-coloured lamp-shade, but her thoughts did
not take any reflection from that brilliant hue. The life that had
begun so brightly now stretched out before her mental vision as grey
and dreary as a winter's day. She was imperiously summoned to work for
herself, to take up her post in the battle of existence, to toil for
her daily bread for the future,—her only aim being to lay by some
provision for her old age; she saw before her years of drudgery, with
but this end in view. She had no friends, no relations, no money. A
cold, dull despair settled down upon her soul, as she sat in the same
attitude for fully an hour. At last she rose, folded up her work,
carefully extinguished the lamp, and then made her way noiselessly up
to her own apartment under the slates.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

MALVERN HOUSE.

  "Come what, come may—
    Time and the hour runs through the roughest day."

  _Macbeth._


A FEW days after her aunt had thus frankly unfolded her plans, Helen
was out shopping,—officiating as companion and carrier to her cousin
Clara—and again encountered Mr. Quentin. He was strolling down
Piccadilly, looking like a drawing from a tailor's fashion plate, and
evidently in a superbly contented frame of mind. On this occasion
(being alone) he condescended to accost Miss Denis, entirely ignoring
their previous meeting in the park.

"Delighted to see you,"—shaking her vigorously by the hand. "And how
long have you been in town?"

"Nearly two months."

"I need not ask you how you are?"—Yes, to himself, she was getting
back her looks—"And where are you staying?"

"With my aunt—in Upper Cream Street."

"Upper Cream Street!" he echoed, with increased respect in his tone,
and a look of faint surprise in his dreamy blue eyes. "Then I shall
certainly make a point of coming to see you.—What is your number?"

"Thank you, very much; but I am leaving on Monday—(this was
Saturday)—and," looking him bravely in the face, she added, "I am
going to a situation. I am going out as a governess."

Mr. Quentin was somewhat disconcerted by this rather blunt
announcement, but he did not lose his presence of mind, and said in his
most airy manner,—

"Oh, really!—well, then, on another occasion I may hope to be more
fortunate—during the holidays, perhaps?" glancing interrogatively at
Clara Platt, who returned his gaze with a stare of dull phlegmatic
hauteur, implying an utter repudiation of her cousin, and all her
concerns.

Turning once more to Helen, he said,—

"Heard any news from Port Blair?"

"No, not lately."

"Awful hole, wasn't it? I wonder we did not all hang ourselves, or go
mad!"

"I liked it very much, I must confess," she replied, rather shyly.

"Oh!" shrugging his shoulders, "every one to their taste, of course.
No doubt it seemed an earthly Paradise to a young lady just out from
school; and you had it all your own way, you know. By-the-by, I wonder
what has become of Lisle? Some one said he was in California,—I
suppose _you_ have not heard?"

There was a half-ironic, half-bantering look in his eyes, and the same
amiable impulse that impelled him to pull the legs off flies when he
was a pretty little boy, was actuating him now.

"I," she stammered, considerably taken aback by this unexpected
question, and meeting his glance with a faint flush,—"Oh, no."

"Well, I see that I am detaining you now,"—with another glance at
Clara—"I hope we shall meet again before long; good-bye," and with
a smile and sweep of his hat, he walked away in a highly effective
manner. He was scarcely out of earshot, ere Miss Platt burst forth, as
if no longer able to restrain herself,—

"Helen, how could you! How _could_ you tell him all our private
affairs. I never was so disgusted in my life. What was the good of
informing him that you were going to be a governess, and, as it were,
thrusting the news down his throat?"

"What was the harm? For the future, of course, he will drop my
acquaintance. Though there is nothing degrading in the post, I am quite
certain that he, as he would call it, 'draws the line at governesses,'
and, indeed,—from what I have heard you say—so do you."

"Don't be impertinent to me, if you please, Helen. I think you totally
forget yourself sometimes, and all you owe to mother and to us."

"You need not be afraid, that I shall _ever_ allow such a heavy
obligation to escape my memory," returned Helen, with complete
equanimity.

Was she likely to forget these months of making, and mending, parcel
carrying, and general slavery to her cousins Clara and Carrie? Her
companion was conscious that there was a hidden sting in this speech,
but contented herself with gobbling some incoherent remark, lost in her
throat, about "ingratitude" and "insolence." After this little skirmish
the two ladies did not exchange another syllable, and they reached
their own hall door in dead silence.

"Odious, detestable girl!" cried Clara to her sister, as she flung off
her hat, and tore off her gloves in their mutual bower. "What do you
think? When we were coming home we met that Mr. Quentin, and he stopped
and talked to her for ever so long, and she never _introduced_ me!"

"Well, I'm sure! However, it was no loss, you know he has not sixpence."

"No; but listen. He asked her where she was staying, and said he was
coming to call, and she actually told him, with the utmost composure,
that he need not mind, as she was going to a situation on Monday as
governess—I was crimson! I'm sure she did it out of pure spite, just
to make me feel uncomfortable."

"Not a doubt of it," acquiesced her sister. "How excessively annoying!
That man knows the Sharpes, and Talbots, and Jenkins', and the whole
thing will come out now; after all the trouble we have taken to keep it
quiet, and telling every one she was going to friends in the suburbs."

"Yes," chimed in Clara, wrathfully. "What possesses people to persecute
us with questions about our cousin—our _pretty_ cousin, forsooth! Such
a sweet-looking, interesting girl. Pah! I'm perfectly sick of her name,
and the prying and pushing of one's acquaintance, is really shameless.
Old Mrs. Parsons has returned to the charge again and again. She has no
more tact or delicacy than a cook. Do we ever worry her, about _her_
poor relations, and 'how they have been _left_,' as she calls it?"

"No, thank goodness," replied Carrie, emphatically; now addressing
herself to her own plain reflection in the looking-glass. "There is
no coarse, vulgar curiosity about _us_, I am happy to say. _We_ are
ladies."

And with this sustaining conviction in their bosoms, these two sweet
sisters descended affectionately arm in arm to luncheon.

On Monday morning, Mrs. Platt herself carried her niece to her future
abode in the family brougham. Their destination was a square, detached,
red brick mansion, remarkable for long rows of windows with brown wire
blinds, an outward air of primness bordering on severity, and a brass
plate on the gate the size of a tea-tray, which bore the following
address: "Malvern House.—Mrs. Kane's establishment for young ladies."

As Helen and her aunt ascended the spotless steps, and rang the
dazzling bell, the sound of many pianos, all discoursing different
tunes, scales, songs, and exercises, was absolutely deafening.

Mrs. Kane received her new governess very graciously, and when Mrs.
Platt had taken her departure, she personally introduced her to the
scene of her future labours without any unnecessary delay, sweeping
down upon the classes with Miss Denis in her train, and launching her
into school-life with a neat little speech, which had done worthy
service on similar occasions.

The school-room was a long apartment, lighted by five windows and lined
with narrow black desks, at which were seated about fifty girls; and
although silence was the rule, a little low buzz, a kind of intangible
humming of the human voice, was distinctly audible to the new arrival,
as she stood in the midst of what, to a timid young woman, would have
seemed a kind of social lion's den.

Mrs. Kane had twenty boarders and thirty day scholars; and between
the two parties an internecine war was quietly but fiercely carried
on from term to term, and from year to year, and handed down from one
generation to another, as faithfully as the feud between the Guelphs
and Ghibellines. It was rumoured in both factions that Bogey's
successor ("Bogey" was their flattering sobriquet for their late
governess) "had come in a carriage and pair; Annie Jones had seen it
out of the music-room window;" and the young ladies were inclined to
treat her with more tolerance, than if she had merely arrived in an
ordinary "growler." Of course, all the hundred eyes were instantly
unwinkingly fixed on the new-comer as she walked up the room in the
wake of her employer. They beheld a young lady in deep mourning, slight
and fair, and—yes—positively pretty! quite as good-looking, and not
much older than Rosalie Gay, the belle of the school. They noticed that
she did not appear the least bit shy or nervous (twelve years in a
similar establishment stood to Helen now); she was not a whit abashed
by the gaze of all these tall, staring girls, who were subsequently
surprised to discover that she was perfectly conversant with school
rules and routine; and more than this, that despite her youth, and fair
sad face, she could be both determined and firm.

A large staff of masters, who taught music, singing, drawing, dancing,
and literature, came and went all day long at Malvern House; but the
only resident teachers besides Helen, were a Mrs. Lane, a widow, who
looked after the housekeeping, poured out tea, and taught needlework,
and Mademoiselle Clémence Torchon, a Parisienne, with whom Helen found
herself thrown into the closest companionship. They occupied the same
room, sat side by side at table, and walked together daily behind the
long line of chattering boarders. Clémence was a young woman of about
eight-and-twenty, who had come to England more with a view of learning
that language, than of imparting her own tongue. She was square,
and stout, and sallow; was better conversant with French poetry,
than verbs, maintaining her personal dignity by a stolid impassive
demeanour; boasted a noble appetite, and was unblushingly selfish, and
surprisingly mean. She honoured her new companion with a large share
of her confidence, and during their daily airings, poured into her
unwilling ears, the praises of a certain adorable "Jules," and even
compelled her, when half asleep at night, to sit up and listen to his
letters! letters written on many sheets of pink paper, and crammed with
vaguely sentimental stilted sentences, signifying nothing tangible,
nothing matrimonial, but nevertheless affording the keenest pleasure
to Mademoiselle Torchon. The young English teacher could not afford to
quarrel with so close an associate, and feigned a respectable amount of
civility and interest; but how often did she wish "_ce cher Jules_,"
not to speak of his effusions,—at the bottom of the deep blue sea!
Once or twice mademoiselle had hinted, that she was good-naturedly
prepared to receive a return of confidences in kind; and had even gone
so far as to say, "Have _you_ ever had a lover?"

Her listener's thoughts turned promptly to a certain moonlight
night, the scent of orange-flowers, the shade of palms, and all the
appropriate accessories of a love-tale, not forgetting Gilbert Lisle's
eloquent dark eyes, and low-whispered, broken vows. Nevertheless, Miss
Denis cleverly parried this embarrassing question, and mademoiselle,
having but little interest to spare from her own affairs, dismissed the
subject with an encouraging assurance "that, perhaps some day or other
she might also have a Jules," as she was, though rather _triste_ and
frightfully thin, "_pas mal pour une Anglaise!_"

Mrs. Kane withdrew into private life the moment that school hours were
over. When the bell rang at four o'clock for the departure of the day
scholars, she disappeared and left the burden of surveillance to Miss
Denis and mademoiselle—the latter, like the unselfish darling that she
was, shuffled off her share of the load upon her companion's shoulders,
and generally ascended to her own room, where she lay upon her bed,
devouring chocolate-creams and French novels for the remainder of the
day.

Helen's duties commenced at seven o'clock in the morning, at which hour
she was obliged to be in the school-room, to keep order, and they were
not at an end till she had turned off the gas in the dormitories at
half-past nine at night; after that, her time was her own,—and she was
then at liberty to listen to Clémence's maunderings, and Jules' last
letter.

Mrs. Kane soon discovered that her new governess was a clever girl,
with stability and force of character beyond her years, moreover, that
she had unusual influence with the pupils, and was popular in the
school-room; so she engaged her permanently at a salary of forty pounds
a year—and washing. This offer was accepted with alacrity, for Mrs.
Platt seemed to have wholly forgotten her niece, and the comfortable
home that she had promised to secure for her, and Helen gladly settled
herself down, as a permanent member of the Malvern House staff. Weeks
rolled into months, months into quarters, and nothing came to break
the dull monotony of her existence, beyond occasional letters from
Mrs. Home and Mrs. Durand, and a visit to Smithson Villa; she actually
hailed the arrival of the yellow brougham, with unalloyed delight, and
had not shrunk from sharing it,—not merely with her hostess, and the
dogs, and the weekly groceries, but with a leg of New Zealand mutton,
that was to furnish forth the family dinner. She liked Lady Grubb,
despite her little eccentricities. She even enjoyed (so low had she
fallen!) the perusal of Mrs. Creery's latest effusions from Port Blair.
In Lady Grubb's back drawing-room, with one of these in her hand, she
seemed to hold in her grasp the last feeble link that bound her to her
former happy life among those distant tropical seas.

She did her utmost to live altogether in the present, to invest all
her thoughts and energies in her daily tasks, and to shut her eyes to
the future—and still more difficult feat—to close them to the past.
Month after month, she toiled on with busy, unabated zeal (Mrs. Kane
warmly congratulating herself on the possession of such a _rara avis_,
and giving her mentally, a considerable increase of salary). She rose
early, and went to rest late, her mind was at its fullest tension all
day long; she was working at too high pressure, the strain was beyond
her physical powers, and the consequence was, she broke down. Gradually
she lost sleep, and appetite, became pale, and thin, and haggard.

"My dear," said Mrs. Kane with some concern, "we must get you away for
a change. The doctor says you ought to go home, and have a good long
rest."

"But I have no home, Mrs. Kane.—I am an orphan," she returned,
gravely. "I'm not nearly as ill as I seem, in fact I'm not ill at all!
There is nothing the matter with me, I'm as strong as a horse. You must
not mind my _looks_!"

"Would you not like to go to your aunt's for a week or two? I see she
has returned from abroad."

"No, thank you, I would ten times rather go to the poor-house," she
answered, unguardedly. "Excuse me, perhaps I'm a little hasty, but I'm
proud, and I, if I must come to beggary, prefer public charity, to the
private benevolence of—relations."

But in spite of Helen's repudiation of the hospitality of her kindred,
Mrs. Kane wrote a polite little note to 15, Upper Cream Street, that
brought Mrs. Platt to Malvern House, the very next day,—in a peevish,
not to say injured, frame of mind.

"Well, Helen," she exclaimed, as her niece entered the drawing-room,
"so I hear you are in the doctor's hands;"—making a peck at her
as she spoke. "Let me see! there's not much the matter with you, I
fancy.—For goodness' sake, don't get the idea into your head that you
are _delicate_!"

"You may be sure that that is the last thing I shall do, Aunt Julia."

"I must talk to Mrs. Kane, and tell her you should take extract of
malt. She will have to fatten you up.—Yes, certainly, you want
fattening;"—speaking exactly as if she were alluding to a young
Christmas turkey. "And so, I hear, you are giving satisfaction, and
that you are a very good musician, and linguist! I am glad your poor
father's extravagant education, has not been entirely thrown away! Mrs.
Kane speaks very highly of you. But, dear me, child, why did you not
take equal advantage of other opportunities; why did you not make hay
in the Andamans?"

"Hay! aunt. There was none to make, beyond a very small crop in the
General's compound."

"You know very well what _I_ mean, you provoking girl! I'm certain you
had offers of marriage. Now had you not?"

Helen made no disclaimer to this, beyond a slight shrug of her
shoulders.

"Come, come! Silence gives consent. How many?"

"What does it signify, aunt? All girls out there——"

"That is no answer," persisted Mrs. Platt, tapping her foot on the
floor.

"Well, I do not think it is fair to tell."

"But you could have married?"

"Yes, I suppose I may admit as much as that."

"And instead of being comfortably settled in your own house, here you
are, slaving away all your best years, and best looks in a school. I'm
sure you are sorry enough _now_, that you did not say 'yes!'"

"On the contrary, I have never regretted saying 'no,'—and never will."

"Perhaps there was some one who did _not_ come forward?" inquired the
elder lady, with a rather sour smile.

"Perhaps there was, aunt!" she rejoined, with a laugh, that entirely
baffled Mrs. Platt, who, after surveying her for some seconds in
searching silence, exclaimed,—

"Well, you are a queer girl! I can't make you out! I certainly could
not imagine _you_ caring a straw for any man! Your face entirely
belies your real disposition; it gives people the idea that you are
capable of deep feelings—perhaps of what is called '_une grande
passion_'—whereas, in reality, you are cold and as unresponsive as the
typical iceberg. However, considering your present circumstances, and
youth, and good looks,—perhaps it is just as well!"

Having delivered herself of this opinion, as though it were an oracle,
Mrs. Platt sank into a tone of easy confidential discourse, and
imparted to her listener, that her recent campaign on the Continent,
had not been entirely barren of results. A certain elderly widower,
had been "greatly attracted" by Clara, and had paid her considerable
attention, and that it was not unlikely, that they would have a wedding
before very long. And after a good deal more in this strain, and yet
more, on the subject of the frightful expenses she had incurred abroad,
and the paralyzing prices of some of the French hotels, Mrs. Platt,
with a final recommendation of extract of malt, went her way, and drove
home alone, in her comfortable, plush-lined brougham.

Helen continued to struggle on from day to day, and conscientiously
fulfilled her allotted duties. She indignantly refused to accept the
_rôle_ of invalid; she told herself that, could she but tide over
the next six weeks, she would contrive a trip to some cheap seaside
resort, and there recruit her shattered health—her health that was her
only capital! What was to become of her if she broke down? she would
have no resource but charity! She shivered at the very thought. Each
day her round of tasks became more of an effort; she felt as if some
dreadful, unknown illness was lying in wait, and dogging her steps hour
after hour. Sometimes the room swam round, and figures and words in
exercise-books seemed to mix and run about before her aching eyes. But
so far, by sheer force of will she fought off the enemy, and fiercely
refused to surrender.

When ten days had elapsed, Mrs. Platt was once more in Mrs. Kane's
drawing-room, the bearer of a letter in her pocket, that she flattered
herself would remove her poor relation entirely out of her own orbit.

"My dear, I declare you look really ill—very ill!" she exclaimed,
as her niece entered. "Don't come near me,"—moving suddenly across
the room, and making a gesture of repudiation with both hands,—"keep
away, there's a good girl! I'm certain you are sickening for
something,—diphtheria or small-pox! Small-pox is raging. You must see
a doctor immediately, and take precautions. If it is anything, you will
have to be sent to a hospital at _once_!"

"You need not be the least alarmed, Aunt Julia; there is nothing the
matter with me. My head aches, and I'm tired sometimes; that is all, I
assure you."

"Oh, well,"—rather relieved—"I'm sure I _hope_ so, otherwise it would
be most awkward! I understand now, that you really require a change,
and it is principally about that, I have come over to see you. I have
had a letter I wish to show you,"—sinking into an easy chair, and
commencing to fumble in her pocket. "Yes, here it is,"—handing it
to her niece, who unfolded it, and ran her eyes over the following
effusion:—

 "DEAREST MOTHER,—Carrie and I cannot possibly go home this week,
 there is so much coming off; and _Mr. Jones is here_! Please send down
 our black lace dresses, our new opera cloaks, and some flowers from
 that man in the Bayswater Road. We shall be rather short of money,
 so you might enclose some—say, a five pound note—in an envelope in
 my dress pocket. So sorry you are having all this worry about Helen.
 What a tiresome creature she is! Of course it is quite out of the
 question, that we should take her in; be _sure_ you impress that very
 firmly on her mind, mother dear. Is there not a convalescent home for
 broken-down governesses? Some charitable institution that she could go
 to?—"

"Charitable institution!" echoed Helen, aloud.

"Oh, dear me! I believe I've given you the wrong letter,"
exclaimed Mrs. Platt, in great confusion. "Here! this must be your
uncle's,"—extending her hand as she spoke. "I'm getting so blind, and
this room is so dark, I really can't see what I'm doing," she added, in
a rather apologetic tone, her eyes sinking before her niece's,—for she
saw in them that she had read what Carrie had written; as for Helen,
her heart beat unusually fast, her nerves were on edge, her wrath was
kindled.

"Quite out of the question that we should take her in!" She had never
dreamt of being lodged again under her aunt's roof, but somehow, seeing
the fact so plainly stated in black and white, stung her to revolt.

What had her aunt and cousins done for her, that she should be sent
hither or thither at their bidding? She had toiled for them, as an
upper servant, a lady help, in return for food and lodging, and she was
now wholly independent, and earning her own living by incessant hard
work. These thoughts flew through her mind as she opened letter No. 2,
which was written in a small cramped hand on a large sheet of paper,
and ran as follows:—

  "Crowmore,
  "Terryscreen, May 8th.

 "DEAR MADAM,—I am this day in receipt of your communication,
 informing me that my late wife's niece, Helen Denis, is in England,
 an orphan, and entirely dependent on her friends."—"Dependent
 on her friends!" re-read Helen, quivering with indignation and
 self-restraint—"I shall be glad to give her a home under my roof, and
 if you will favour me with her address I shall correspond with her
 personally, and make all needful arrangements for her journey to this
 place.

  "I am, Madam,
  "Your obedient servant,
  "MALACHI SHERIDAN."

"A very kind letter," said his niece, gratefully.

"Yes, poor crazy creature," acquiesced Mrs. Platt, "I suppose he _has_
lucid intervals,"—then, after a pause, she added—"Of course you will
go, Helen?"

"I am not sure; I must think it over."

"Think it over! what nonsense. What more do you want? At any rate,
Helen, bear in mind, that _I_ have done all I can."

"Yes, Aunt Julia; pray do not trouble yourself any more about me; I
release you of all responsibility on my behalf. Indeed, in future, you
may as well forget my existence!"

She had risen as she spoke, and leant her elbow on the chimney-piece,
and her head on her hand. She looked unusually tall, and unexpectedly
dignified. For a moment Mrs. Platt felt almost in awe of her penniless
niece, but she soon recovered her ordinary mental attitude, and said
rather sharply,—

"Don't talk nonsense! I see your nerves and temper are completely
unstrung! I hope you will be all the better for your trip to Ireland,
but I'm _afraid_ you will find Mr. Sheridan's girls, a pair of uncouth,
ill-bred savages, and, of course, the place is quite in the wilds,
and——"

"So much the better, aunt; I like the wilds, as you call them, and you
know I'm accustomed to savages."

"Then I'm sure if _you_ are satisfied,—I am," said Mrs. Platt,
huffily. "And now I really must be going, for we have some people
coming to dinner,"—and with a polite message for Mrs. Kane, and
a request that Helen "would write if anything turned up," a vague
sentence, meaning perhaps a good situation, perhaps an offer of
marriage,—Mrs. Platt embraced her niece, and took her departure.

Helen remained shivering over the drawing-room fire, re-reading
her uncle's letter, and pondering on her future plans. After all,
disappointing as had been her experience of cousins, she might yet draw
a prize in the lottery of fate, and she determined to brave these Irish
Sheridans. She had thirty pounds in her desk, quite a small fortune,
and if the worst came to the worst, she could always beat a retreat.
With this prudent reservation in her mind, and a burning impatience to
escape _anywhere_, from her present surroundings, she sat down that
very hour, and wrote a grateful acceptance of her uncle's invitation,
and announced her intention of starting for Crowmore, within a week.



CHAPTER XXIX.

"YOU REMEMBER MISS DENIS?"

  "I say to thee, though free from care,
  A lonely lot, an aimless life,
  The crowning comfort is not there—
        Son, take a wife."

  _Jean Ingelow._


SCENE: a splendidly furnished dining-room in the most fashionable
square in London; season, end of July; hour, nine p.m.; _dramatis
personæ_, a father and son; the former, an old gentleman with a red
face, beaky nose, and bristling white hair, is holding a glass of
venerable port between his goggle eye and the light, and admonishing
his companion, a sunburnt young man, who is leaning back in his chair
and carelessly rolling a cigarette between his fingers. A young man so
dark, and tanned, that his visage would not look out of place beneath a
Spanish sombrero; nevertheless, we have no difficulty in recognizing
our former friend, Gilbert Lisle.

"It's positively indecent for a man of your position to go roaming
the world, like some ne'er-do-well, or family black sheep. FitzCurzon
told me he met you on the stairs of some hotel in San Francisco, in
a flannel shirt, butcher boots, and a coat that would have been dear
at fourpence! He declared, that you looked for all the world like a
digger."

"Curzon—is—a—puppy, who trots round the globe because he says it's
'the thing to do,'" (imitating a drawl), "and never is seen without
kid gloves, and if asked to dine on bear steaks in the Rockies, would
arrive in evening dress and white tie,—or perish in the attempt;
not that he ever ventures off the beaten track of ocean steamers and
express trains; he could not live without his dressing case, and a hard
day's ride would kill him. He was in the finest country in the world
for sport, and he never fired a cartridge!" It was evident from the
speaker's face, that this latter enormity crowned all.

"Well, you shot enough for _six_! I should think you have killed every
animal, from a mosquito to an elephant; this house is a cross between
a menagerie and a museum. You have been away two years this time, Gil.
'Pon my word, you are as bad as the prodigal son." Here he swallowed
the port at a gulp.

"I admit that I have been to a far country, but you can scarcely
accuse me of wasting my substance in riotous living," remonstrated his
offspring.

"I accuse you of wasting your time, sir! which in a man in your
position is worse. Why can you not content yourself at home, as I
do, instead of roaming about like a play actor, or the agent for
some patent medicine! Where's this you were last? a cattle ranche
in Texas,—before that, California,—before that, Japan, dining on
boa-constrictors, and puppy dogs; before that,—the deuce only knows;
you are as fond of walking up and down the earth, and going to and
fro—as—as—the devil in the Psalms, or where was it?"

"My dear father," replied Gilbert, with the utmost goodhumour. "You
have compared me to a black sheep, a digger,—and I suppose, because
it happens to be Sunday evening,—to the prodigal son; and finally,
the devil! None of your illustrations fit me, and the last I repudiate
altogether; _his_ wanderings, if I remember rightly, were in search of
mischief. Mine were merely in quest of amusement."

"Amusement and mischief are generally the same thing," grunted Lord
Lingard. "Why, the deuce,—you are over thirty, and getting as grey as
a badger.—Why can't you marry and settle?"

"Some people marry and never settle, others marry, and are settled with
a vengeance," rejoined his son, now proceeding to light his cigarette.

"Bah! you are talking nonsense, sir, and you know it; a man in your
position must marry—heir to me, heir to your uncle, heir to yourself."

"Heir to myself," muttered Gilbert, "well, I shall let myself off
cheap. I must marry, must I? _Je n'en vois pas la nécessité. Après moi
le déluge._"

"Oh, hang your French lingo!" growled his father. "If I had not wanted
you to marry, I suppose you'd have brought me home a daughter-in-law
years ago—some barmaid, no doubt."

"Barmaids may be very agreeable young women; but somehow, I don't think
they are just in my line, sir."

"Line, sir, line! I'll tell you what _is_ in your line! confounded
obstinacy. You had the same strong will when you were a little chap in
white frocks,—no higher than the poker. Once you took a thing into
your head, nothing would move you."

"In that respect I believe I take after you," returned his son, with
the deepest respect. "A strong determination to have your own way,
helps a man to shove through life—so I have understood you to say."

"Had me there, neatly, Gilbert! Yes, you score one. Well—well—but
seriously,—I want to have a little rational talk with you. There
is that fine place of yours in Berkshire, shut up all the year
round—think——"

"Don't say, of my _position_ again, sir, I implore you," interrupted
his son, with a mock tragic gesture.

"Well, your stake in the country—think of your tenants."

"I have remembered them to the tune of a reduction of thirty per
cent.—What more do they want?"

"They would like you to marry some nice-looking girl, and go down, and
live among them."

"If I did, and kept up a large establishment, took the hounds, and
kept tribes of servants, and had a wife who dressed in hundred-guinea
gowns, and went in for private theatricals, balls, races,—and probably
betting,—I should not be able to make such a pleasant little abatement
in the rent! How would that be?"

"You would never marry a minx like that, I should hope! Listen to me,
Gilbert," now waxing pathetic, "I am getting to be an old man, and you
are all I have belonging to me. I am lost here alone in this great
big mansion. Marry, and make your home with me; my bark is worse than
my bite, as you know, I would like to see a woman about the house
again—they are cheerful, and brighten up a place, especially if they
are young and pretty. Just look at the two of us sitting on here
over our coffee till nearly eleven o'clock, simply because the big
drawing-room above is empty.—I am not nearly as keen about the club as
I used to be, and these attacks of gout play the very devil with me."

And here, to his son's blank amazement, he suddenly dropped into
poetry, and quavered out,—

  "Oh woman! in our hours of ease,
    Uncertain, coy, and hard to please;
  When pain and sickness wring the brow,
    A ministering angel thou."

"You speak in the plural, sir," rejoined Gilbert gravely. "You say,
you like to see women about the house, that they are cheerful, they
brighten up a place. Do you suppose—granting that I am a follower of
Mormon—that six would be sufficient?"

"I'm not in the humour for jokes! I'm serious, Gilbert, whatever you
may be. I want to see a pretty young face in the carriage, and opera
box, and the family diamonds on a pretty neck and arms—they have not
been worn for years—the very sight of them would make any girl jump at
you," he concluded in a cajoling voice.

"Then, for heaven's sake, don't display them."

"Gilbert, you are enough to drive me mad. I begin to think—'pon my
word, I begin to suspect—that you have a reason for all this fencing,"
glancing at him suspiciously beneath his frost-white eyebrows—"you are
married already, sir; some low-born adventuress, some disreputable——"

"I am _not_," interrupted his son with a gesture of impatience.

"Then you are in love with a married woman!"

"You seem to have a very exalted idea of my character, sir, but again
you are mistaken."

"Ha! humph!" tossing off a beaker of port; "then it just comes to this,
you don't think any woman good enough to be the wife of Mr. Lisle! Now
honestly, Gilbert, have you ever seen a girl you would have married?"

Dead silence succeeded this question.

"Come, Gilbert," pursued the old gentleman remorselessly.

"Well, yes—such a person has existed," at length admitted his victim
most reluctantly.

"And where is she? Why did you not marry her? Where did you meet her?"

"I met her in the Andamans."

"The Andamans! Those cannibal islands! This is another of your
confounded jokes!" Now looking alarmingly angry.—"I know as well as
you do, that there are only savages there. Do you take me for a fool,
sir?"

"There was a large European community at Port Blair. As to taking you
for a fool, it would be the last thing to occur to me—on the contrary,
the young lady took _me_ for one."

"Then she never made a greater mistake in her life,—never. And why did
it not come off?"

"She preferred another fellow, that was all."

"_Preferred!_ humph—good matches must have been growing on the trees
out there. Well, well, well," looking fixedly at his son, "there's as
good fish in the sea as ever were caught—why not fall back on Katie?"

"It has not come to that _yet_, sir—and I would sooner, if it was all
the same to you, fall back on a loaded revolver."

"She has the mischief's own temper, I allow—but what a property!
However, you need not look for money—a pretty, lively English girl,
that wears her own hair and complexion, and that can sing a song or
two, and get out of a carriage like a gentlewoman—that's the style!
Eh, Gilbert?"

"I suppose so, sir," rejoined his son gloomily; "but as the Irishman
said, 'You must give me a long day—a long day, your honour.'"

"And the old savage replied—I remember it perfectly—'I'll give you
till to-morrow, the twenty-first of June, the longest day in the year!'
And your shrift shall be a short one, my boy! What are you going to do
with yourself to-morrow?"

"Do you mean that you would marry me off within the next twelve hours?"

"No, you young stupid."

"Oh, well, I want to look in at the Academy and a couple of clubs, and
in the evening I'm going to dine with the Durands senior, and do a
theatre afterwards with the Durands junior."

"Oh!—Mary and her husband. Mary is a sensible woman. I want to talk to
her. Ask her to dine—say Thursday? Mary has her head screwed on the
right way. I shall consult her about you, Master Gilbert. I'll see what
she advises about you. She shall help me to put the noose round your
neck."

"The _noose_, indeed," repeated his son in a tone of melancholy sarcasm.

"Yes, yes, I'll settle it all with Mary." So saying, the old gentleman
went chuckling from the room in a high state of jubilation.

The next afternoon Gilbert Lisle formed one of a crowd who were
collected before a certain popular picture at the Royal Academy; but
so far his view had been entirely obscured by the broad back of a
gentleman in front of him; it vaguely occurred to him that there was
something rather familiar in the shape of those broad, selfish-looking
shoulders, when their owner suddenly turned round, and he found himself
face to face with James Quentin.

"By Jove, old fellow!" exclaimed the latter, shaking his hand
vigorously, "this _is_ a pleasant surprise; and so you have returned
from your travels—where do you hail from last?"

"Only New York; I arrived two days ago, and feel as if I had been away
for ten years, I'm so out of everything and behind the times,—a second
Rip Van Winkle."

"Then I suppose you have not heard _my_ little bit of news?"

"No—o—but I fancy I can guess it, it's not a very difficult
riddle—you are married!"

"Right you are! a second Daniel! Come away and speak to Mrs. Q., she
will be delighted to see you."

Gilbert had not bargained for this—he would much rather never meet
Helen Denis again; however, there was no resisting Apollo's summons,
and in another moment he was standing before a velvet settee, and ere
he was aware of it, his companion was saying, "Jane, my love, let me
present an old friend—Mr. Lisle, Mrs. Quentin."

He glanced down, and saw a magnificently-attired, massive-looking dame,
over whose head fully forty summers had flown; she was smiling up at
him most graciously, and holding out a well-gloved hand—this lady was
indisputably Mrs. Quentin—but where was Helen Denis?

Her new acquaintance made a gallant struggle to master his amazement,
and to utter a few bald, commonplace remarks about the heat and the
pictures; and presently suffered himself to be borne onward by the
crowd. But Jim Quentin was not going to lose sight of him thus. He had
married a wife considerably beneath him in birth, and it behoved him to
keep a fast hold of his well-born friends, and a secure footing on the
social ladder.

Lisle was a popular man; he had discovered this fact on his return to
England, and had made considerable capital out of his name in various
ways. It had proved to be an open sesame to a rather exclusive circle,
who cordially welcomed Apollo when they heard that he and Gilbert Lisle
were "like brothers," and had lived under the same roof for months.
Lisle had been useful at Port Blair, and he would be useful in London.

"Well, were you surprised to find that there was a Mrs. Quentin?" he
asked, as he came up with his quarry in a comparatively empty room,
chiefly devoted to the display of etchings on large stands and easels.

"No, of course not—but," looking him steadily in the face, "she is not
the lady I expected to see."

"What!" then all of a sudden he remembered Helen—Helen, who had been
completely swept out of his mind by a twelvemonth of busy intrigues,
and such exciting pursuits as fortune-hunting, tuft-hunting, and
place-hunting. "Oh! to be sure, you were thinking of Miss Denis, but
that did not come off, you see," he added with careless effrontery.
"She was all very well—_pour passer le temps_—in an ungodly hole like
the Andamans, but, by George! England is quite another affair."

"Is it—and why?" inquired his listener, rather grimly.

"Oh! my dear fellow, she has not a rap—she was literally
penniless—when her father died, she was destitute."

"But you always understood that she had no fortune."

"Yes, but when I came to look at it, I saw that it would never do.
I had next to nothing; she had nothing at all; one cannot live on
love, and I don't think I was ever really serious. I did you a good
turn though; _you_ were rather inclined to make a fool of yourself in
that quarter," administering a playful poke in the ribs, and grinning
significantly.

But the grin on his face faded somewhat suddenly as he encountered a
look in his companion's eyes that made him feel curiously uncomfortable.

"Where is she now?" inquired Lisle, speaking in a low, repressed sort
of tone.

"'Pon my honour, I can't tell you! I believe she has gone out as
governess—best thing she could do, you know; better than marrying a
poor devil like me," he added apologetically. "She was a nice enough
little girl, and she had not half a bad time of it in the Andamans. I
daresay she'll pick up some fellow at home. Look here, old chappie,"
button-holeing him as he spoke, "this is my card and address; now,
what day will you come and dine? Got a tip-top cook,—not that you
ever _were_ particular,—my wife has pots of money, and we give rather
swagger entertainments. Whatever day will suit you will suit me; you
have only to say the word."

"I have only to say the word, have I!" cried Gilbert, suddenly blazing
into passion; "then I say that you are a scoundrel, Mr. Quentin. I say
that you have behaved like one to that girl, that's what _I_ say."

Apollo recoiled precipitately. He did not like the angry light in his
old friend's face, nor the manner in which he grasped his cane.

"You jilted her, on your own showing, in the most deliberate,
cold-blooded manner. Jilted her because you were tired of a passing
fancy, and she was left, as you say, penniless and destitute. She may
thank her stars for a lucky escape! Better she should beg her bread
than be the wife of a cur like you! There's your card," tearing it into
pieces and scattering it on the floor. "In my opinion you should be
kicked out of decent society, and turned out of every respectable club
in London. I beg that, for the future, you will be good enough to give
_me_ a wide berth," and with a nod of unspeakable contempt he turned
and walked away, leaving his foe absolutely speechless with rage and
amazement.

Underneath these mixed feelings lay a smouldering conviction that
Lisle, for all his customary _nonchalance_, could be as bitter and
unsparing an enemy as he had been a generous and useful friend.
Pleasant, stately houses would close—nay, slam their doors on him at a
hint from Lisle, and if the story got about the clubs, and was looked
at from Lisle's point of view,—it would be the very deuce! In his
exaltation he had somewhat forgotten the _rôle_ he formerly played
with his fellow inmate,—and we know that to a liar a good memory is
indispensable,—he had spoken rashly and foolishly with his lips, and
had been thus summarily condemned out of his own mouth! Alas! alas! he
already saw his circle of well-beloved, titled friends narrowing to
vanishing point, as he now recalled a veiled threat uttered by the very
man who had just denounced him! On the whole, Mr. Quentin thought that
his little comedy with Miss Denis would prove an expensive performance,
and he returned to his wealthy partner, feeling very much like a beaten
hound.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening, as Gilbert Lisle drove up to the door of Mrs. Durand's
mansion, he said to himself, "Here I come to the very house of all
others where I am most likely to hear the sequel to that rascal's
story. Mrs. Durand is safe to know all about Helen Denis,—and if she
is the woman I take her to be, she won't be long before I know as much
as she does herself! I shall say nothing—I shall not ask a single
question about the young lady; not, indeed, that it personally concerns
me whether she is on the parish or not. Still, I should like to hear
what has become of her."

(He made these resolutions as he entered, and passed upstairs, and
presented himself in the drawing-room.)

Strange to say, Mrs. Charles Durand had arrived at a precisely similar
determination with regard to him. Hitherto they had only exchanged
a few hasty words, had no opportunity of raking up "old days," but
to-night it would be different; "At dinner he is sure to make some
allusion to Port Blair, and her name will come on the _tapis_,
and I can easily judge by his looks, if there was anything in my
suspicions—and very strong suspicions they were! However, I won't be
the first to break the ice; as far as Helen is concerned—I shall be
dumb."

Thus Mrs. Durand to her own reflection in the mirror, as she attired
herself for the evening.

Here were two people about to meet, each resolved to be silent, and
each determined to hear the other's disclosures on an intensely
interesting subject. As is usual in such cases, the lady yielded first;
her opponent was habitually reserved, and it came as second nature
to him to wait and to hold his peace. He had one false alarm during
dinner, when his former playmate, addressing him across the table,
said, with her brightest air,—

"I saw a particular friend of _yours_ to-day; who do you think it was?"

"I have so many particular friends," he replied, "that's rather a large
order."

"Well, a _lady_ friend."

"A lady friend! They are not much in my way."

"A lady you knew in the Andamans," looking at him keenly.

He cast a quick, questioning glance at her, but remained otherwise
dumb, and she, smiling at her own little _ruse_, said,—

"In short, our well-beloved Mrs. Creery! She was driving in the park,
in a dreadful yellow affair, like an omnibus cut down, along with
another remarkable old person. She was delighted to see me, and hailed
me as if I had been a long-lost child!"

Mrs. Durand smiled to herself again. She was thinking of the battle
royal she had fought with Mrs. Creery over the reputation of the very
gentleman who was now her _vis-à-vis_.

"She asked me particularly for you, and sent you a message—I'm not
sure that it was not her _love_—and told me to be sure and tell you
that Monday is her day."

"I really don't see any connection between Mrs. Creery's Mondays and
myself," coolly rejoined that lady's former _bête-noire_. And, with a
few general remarks about Port Blair, the monsoon, the sharks, and the
shells, the conversation drifted back to less out-of-the-way regions.

The younger members of the party set out after dinner for the Savoy, to
see Gilbert and Sullivan's latest production. They consisted of Captain
and Mrs. Durand, two young lady cousins, a guardsman, and Mr. Lisle.
Mrs. Durand and the latter occupied the back seat in the box, and
discoursed of the piece, mutual friends, and mutual aversions, with a
scrupulous avoidance of the one topic nearest their hearts.

At last, the lady could stand it no longer; and, during the interval
after the first act, she turned to her companion, and said rather
sharply, "You remember Miss Denis?"

"Miss Denis—oh, yes! of course I do!"

"Those are her cousins in the box next the stage—those girls in pink."

"Is she living with them?"

"Oh dear no! She stayed a month or two on her first arrival, and,
by all accounts, they led her the life of a modern Cinderella, and
afterwards turned her off to earn her bread as a governess."

"Indeed!" he ejaculated, with such stoical indifference that Mrs.
Durand felt that she could have shaken him. But, after a moment's
silence, he added, "I always thought she had married Quentin—until
to-day."

"Oh, nonsense! You are not really serious! Of course you are aware that
your friend, Apollo, has espoused a widow with quantities of money in
the oil trade."

"Pray do not call him _my_ friend; I am not at all anxious to claim
that honour," he rejoined stiffly.

"Then you have been quarrelling, I suppose. I wonder if it was about
the usual thing—one of my sex?"

"It was. I may say as much to _you_. In fact it was about Miss
Denis—he treated her shamefully."

"What makes you think so?"—opening her eyes very wide, and shutting up
her fan.

"Because he was engaged to her at Port Blair. He told me so. And when
she was left penniless, he jilted her for this rich widow."

"He told you that he was engaged to Helen? Oh," drawing a long breath,
"never!"

"Yes, and showed me a ring she had given him."

"Again I say, never, never, _never_!"

"My dear Mrs. Durand, there is no good in saying, never, never, never,
like that. The ring he exhibited, was one that I had given Miss Denis
myself!"

"Oh, sets the wind in that quarter!" mentally exclaimed the matron; "I
thought as much." But aloud she replied, "Was it a curious old ring,
without any stones, that was stolen from her the night of the ball?"

"It was the ring you describe. But it was not stolen, for she gave
it to Quentin when he went to the Nicobars as a '_gage d'amour_.' I
expected that he would have married her as soon as possible after her
father's death; indeed, I understood that he was returning from Camorta
with that intention. But you see I have been so completely out of the
world, that I heard nothing further till I met Quentin and his wife
at the Academy to-day; and he calmly informed me that he had never
seriously contemplated marrying Miss Denis, and that the Andamans and
London are quite a different pair of shoes! Pray, do you call that
honourable conduct?"

"You are quite, quite wrong!" cried Mrs. Durand, excitedly. "Now you
have said your say, it is my turn to speak; and speak I will," she
added with a gleam of determination in her eye.

"Oh, certainly!" returned her listener, with rather dry politeness.

"Helen was, and is, a particular friend of mine, and I happen to _know_
that she could not endure Apollo Quentin! She did not even think him
good-looking! and he bored her to death. He stuck to her like burr, and
she could not shake him off. She would ten times rather have talked
to Captain Rodney, or Mr. Green,—or even to _you_! She was no more
engaged to him than I was. She never gave him that ring."—Here her
listener stirred, and made a gesture of impatient protestation.—"That
ring was _stolen_, and sold for twenty rupees," concluded Mrs. Durand,
in her most forcible manner.

"Stolen—sold!" he echoed, turning towards her so suddenly that it made
her start. "Is this true?"

"_True?_" she repeated indignantly.

"I do not mean to doubt you for one second; but you may have been
deceived."

"At any rate, I had the benefit of my _own_ eyes and ears. They do not
often mislead me."

"Then how——"

"If you will only have patience you shall hear all. Helen stayed with
me for the last week at Port Blair; and the night before she sailed,
when I went into her room I discovered Fatima grovelling on the ground
at her feet, and holding the hem of her dress, and whining,—'A—ma!
A—ma!' in true native fashion. 'I very bad woman, Missy,' she was
saying; 'and I very sorry _now_. I stealing jewels—why for I sent
here? And now I done take, Missy's ring and sell for twenty rupees.'"

"Sold it! To whom?" interrupted Mr. Lisle, his dark face flushing to
his temples.

"_That_ she refused to divulge. All we could prevail on her to confess
was, that she had taken it the night of the ball, and that she did
not think it was of any value; but seeing how much trouble Missy was
in,—and Missy going away to England, she was plenty sorry."

"Stolen the night of the ball—sold for twenty rupees, and Quentin
showed it to me the next morning!" exclaimed Lisle.

After this summing up, he and Mrs. Durand looked at each other for
about twenty seconds, in dead silence.

"Where is Miss Denis now?" he inquired in a kind of husky whisper.

"I wish I could tell you! I'm a miserable correspondent; I never
answered her last letter, written from a school at Kensington. I would
rather walk two miles than write two pages. It's very sad, and gets
me into great disgrace. But though I do not write, I don't _forget_
people. As soon as I arrived at home I went off to this school to see
Helen, and to make my peace."

"Yes?"

"The house was all shut up, blinds down in every window, the cook in
sole charge, every one else away for the holidays. The cook only showed
half her face through the door, and was not at all inclined to be
communicative; but I gave her something to help her memory, and then
she recollected, that six weeks before the school broke up, the English
governess had gone away sick, but she understood that she had not left
for good.—School opens again on the 1st of September," added Mrs.
Durand significantly.

"Meanwhile, where is she?"

"That is more than I can say."

"Perhaps her cousins would tell you," glancing over at the Miss Platts.

"Not they—if they did know, I doubt if they would inform you, as they
are even more disagreeable than they look,—and that is saying much.
However, I shall get a friend to sound them about their cousin. I
believe they treated her like a servant, and made her carry parcels,
run messages, mend their clothes, and button their boots!"

"How did you hear this? from Miss Denis?"

"She never named them. I'm afraid to tell you, lest you should think me
a second Mrs. Creery."

"No fear—there could be but _one_ Mrs. Creery—she is matchless."

"Well, my sister's maid, Plunket—now really this is downright
gossip—came to her from the Platts, and one day we were talking about
fine heads of hair, and she described the beautiful hair of a poor
young lady in her last place,—Mrs. Platt's niece, Miss Denis; and so
it all came out, for of course I pricked up my ears when I heard her
name."

During this conversation the curtain had risen on the second act, and
the entire audience was convulsed with delight at one of Grossmith's
songs, and yet these two talked on, and never once cast their eyes
to the stage. Indeed, Mrs. Durand had almost turned her back on the
actors, and was wholly engrossed in an interesting little drama in
private life. The other occupants of the box were in ecstasies with
the performers, and Captain Durand, after gasping and wiping his eyes,
turned to his wife impatiently, and said,—

"Well, really, Mary, you might just as well have stayed at home, and
talked there; you have done nothing but gossip. I thought you were wild
to see this piece. If you are so bored yourself, you might at least
give Lisle a chance of enjoying it!"

"Charley says I must not go on chattering any longer, distracting
your attention from the play. We can finish our conversation another
time."—So saying, she took up her opera glass, and addressed herself
seriously to the performance.

As for Gilbert Lisle, he leant back in his chair, and also fixed his
eyes on the stage, but he saw absolutely nothing. If he had been asked
to describe a character, a scene, or a song, he could not have done so
to save his life. His mind was in a state of extraordinary confusion;
he was dazed, overwhelmed, at the situation in which he found himself.

So he had been the dupe, and tool, of Quentin from first to last! It
seemed incredible, that Quentin, to gain a momentary empty triumph,
had stooped to theft, in order to bolster up a lie, and maintain his
reputation as a lady-killer. Then as for Miss Denis,—if she had not
been engaged to Quentin, and had never parted with the ring, what must
she think of him? He held his breath at this poignant reflection. If
any one had jilted her,—if any one had behaved vilely, if any one
was a dishonoured traitor, it was he—Gilbert Lisle—sitting there
staring stupidly before him, surrounded by ignorant and confiding
friends, who believed him to be a gentleman, and a man of honour! As
he cast his eyes over a mental picture, and saw himself, as he must
appear to Helen, he was consumed by a fever of shame, that seemed to
devour him. To live under the imputation of such conduct, was torture
of the most exquisite description to a man of his temperament;—who
had such a delicate sense of personal honour, and such chivalrous
reverence for other people's veracity, that he had fallen an easy prey
to an unscrupulous brazen-tongued adventurer, like James Quentin.
Fury against Quentin, restored faith in his lost _fiancée_, were
all secondary to one scorching thought, that seemed to burn his
very brain—the thought of the disgrace that lay upon his hitherto
unblemished name. To have sworn to return to a girl,—to have vowed
to make her his wife,—and to have miserably deserted her, without
message, or excuse,—left her to bear the buffets of adversity as best
she could,—to earn her own living, or to eat the bread of charity, was
maddening—maddening. He must get out of the theatre into the open air;
but first he leant over Mrs. Durand's chair, and spoke to her in a few
broken and imperfect sentences.

"What you have told me to-night, has a significance that you cannot
guess" (oh, could she not?) "It alters—it may alter—the whole
course of my life. Mrs. Durand—Mary! you were always my friend, be
my friend now. When you get her address, and you will get it—you
_must_ get it,—to-night, to-morrow—you will give it to me in the same
hour—promise."

"Why should I promise?" she asked playfully, delighted to see the
immovable Gilbert for once a prey to some powerful emotion.

He was pale—his very lips were trembling, big beads of perspiration
stood upon his temples.

"Why should I tell you especially?"—she repeated, but looking in his
face, she saw that he was too terribly in earnest to be in the mood for
light badinage. Looking in his face, she read the answer.

"I _see_,—yes, you may depend on me."

Reassured by this pledge, he grasped her hand in silence, and rose
to leave the box. But ere he departed, she turned her head over her
shoulder, and murmured behind her fan, "I believe it is all going to
come right at last.—And, Gilbert," lowering her voice to a whisper, "I
always suspected that it was _you_."

"What's the matter? What has become of Lisle?" inquired her husband,
looking sharply round as he heard the door close. "Where is he? Why has
he gone away?"

"He was not in the mood for light comedy, my dear. He has just heard
something of far more powerful interest than 'The Silver Churn,'"
nodding her head impressively. "You remember a bet you made about him
and Helen Denis, one evening in the Andamans?"

"I don't remember any bet—but I know you had some impossible idea in
your head."

"Then _I_ recollect the wager—distinctly—a new bonnet. And my idea
may seem impossible, but it is true. It was _not_ that odious puppy,
Apollo Quentin, who was in love with Helen, it was,—as I repeatedly
told you,—Gilbert Lisle. So to-morrow, my good Charles, I shall go
to Louise's and invest—at your expense—in the smartest bonnet in
London."



CHAPTER XXX.

FINNIGAN'S MARE.

  "I do not set my life at a pin's fee."—_Hamlet._


HELEN'S preparations for departure were rapidly accomplished; she
had no voluminous wardrobe to pack, no circle of farewell visits to
pay. Moreover, she was possessed by a feverish desire to escape, as
far as possible, from maddening pianos, piles of uncorrected exercise
books, and the summons of the inexorable school bell. She set out for
Crowmore on the appointed date, with a delightful sense of recovered
freedom, but—as far as her unknown relatives were concerned—strictly
moderate expectations. Precisely a week after she had received her
uncle's invitation, behold her rumbling across dear, dirty Dublin, in
a dilapidated four-wheeler, drawn by a lame horse—her tender heart
would not suffer her to expostulate with the driver on their snail's
pace, and as the result of her benevolence, she missed her train by
five minutes, and had the satisfaction of spending a long morning, in
contemplating the advertisements in the Broadstone terminus! At length,
after four hours' leisurely travelling, she was deposited at a shed
labelled "Bansha," the nearest station to Crowmore. Bag in hand, she
stepped down on the platform and looked about her; she was apparently
the only passenger for that part of the world, and there was no one
to be seen, except a few countrymen lounging round the entrance—the
invariable policeman, and one porter. She gazed about anxiously, as the
train steamed slowly away, and discovered that she was the cynosure of
every eye, save the porter's, and he was engrossed in spelling out the
address on her trunk.

"You'll be for the Castle, miss?" he remarked at last, straightening
his back as he spoke.

"No, for Crowmore, Mr. Sheridan's," she replied, walking out through
the station-house over into the station entrance, in the vague hopes of
finding some conveyance awaiting her, and her baggage—but all that met
her anxious eyes was a little knot of countrymen, who were gossiping
round a rough rider, on a heavy-looking brown colt.

"Shure, Mr. Sheridan's and the Castle is all wan, miss," said the
porter, who accompanied her, carrying her bag. "The young ladies wor
here this morning, in a machine from Terryscreen, they expected you on
the twelve,—and when you were not on that, they made sure you were
coming to-morrow—they'll be here thin."

This was but cold comfort to Helen. "How far is it to Crowmore?" she
asked.

"Well, it's a matter of in or about six mile."

"And how am I to get there?"

"Faix, I don't rightly know! unless Larry Flood gives you a lift on
the mail; ayther that, or you could get an asses' car up the street,"
indicating a double row of thatched cottages in the distance.

"And when do you think Larry Flood will be here?" inquired the young
stranger—ignoring his other humiliating suggestion.

"Troth, an' it would be hard to say!—it entirely depends on the humour
he's in—he calls for the letters," pointing to a bag in the doorway,
"just as he takes the notion, sometimes he is here at five o'clock, and
betimes I've known him call at one in the morning!"

A sudden interruption made him turn his head, and he added, with
a triumphant slap of his corduroy leg, "Begorra, you are in luck,
Miss,—for here he is now!"

As he spoke, a red outside car, drawn by a wild-looking chestnut,
wearing a white canvas collar, and little or no harness, came tearing
into the station, amidst a cloud of dust. The driver was a wiry little
man, with twinkling eyes, that looked as if they were never closed, a
protruding under-lip, and an extravagantly wide mouth. He was dressed
in a good suit of dark tweed, and wore a green tie, and a white caubeen.

"What's this ye have with ye, the day, Larry?" demanded one of the
idlers, as he narrowly examined the animal between the shafts. "May
I never," he added, recoiling a step backwards, and speaking in an
awe-struck tone; "if it isn't Finnigan's mare!"

"The divil a less!" rejoined Larry, complacently. "Finnigan could get
no good of her, and the old brown was nearly bet up. I'll go bail
she'll travel for _me_," he added, getting off the car as he spoke, and
giving the collar a hitch.

But this proud boast was received in ominous silence, and all eyes
were now riveted on Mr. Flood's recent purchase—a white-legged,
malicious-looking, thorough-bred—that was seemingly not unknown to
fame.

"Well," said a man in a blue-tail coat, after a significantly long
pause; "it's not that she won't travel for ye, there's no fear of
_that_, I hope you may get some good of her, for she's a great mare
entirely—but she takes a power of humouring."

"Shure she knocked Finnigan's new spring car to smithereens ere last
week," put in the rider of the coarse-looking brown colt, "not a bit of
it was together, but the wheels, and left Finnigan himself for dead on
the road. Humouring, how are ye?" he concluded, with a kind of scornful
snort.

"You got her chape, I'll engage, Larry, me darlin'," remarked another
of the idlers.

"Faix, and I paid enough for her," returned her owner stoutly. "It
isent every wan that would sit over her! she does be a bit unaisy in
herself betimes" (a delicate allusion to her well-known habits of
kicking and bolting). "Howd-somever, she's a grand goer, and I bought
her designedly on purpose for the post.—'Tis _she_ can knock fire out
of the road."

"Oh! them sprigs of shellelagh can all do that," acquiesced a
bystander, who had hitherto observed a benevolent neutrality; "but they
does be dangerous bastes."

"What's that you have there, Tom?" inquired Larry, looking at the rough
rider.

"Oh! a terrible fine colt of Mr. Murphy's—I'm just handling him a bit,
before the next cub-hunting."

"He is a great plan of a horse," said the man in the blue coat,
speaking with an air of authority, and his hands tucked under his long
swallow-tails.

"Look at the shoulder on him!" exclaimed a third connoisseur.

All this was by no means agreeable to Mr. Flood, considering the tepid
praise bestowed on his own purchase.

"What do you think of her, Larry?" inquired the rider. "Come now, give
us your opinion?" he added in a bantering tone.

"Well, I think," said Larry, gladly seizing this opportunity to pay
off Tom, the horsebreaker, and eyeing the animal with an air of solemn
scrutiny. "Well, now, I'll just tell ye exactly what I think—I thinks
he looks _lonely_."

"Arrah, will ye spake English!" cried his rider indignantly; "shure,
lonely has no meaning at all—nor no sinse."

"I just mane what I say—he has a lonely look," and with a perceptible
pause, and a wink to the audience, he added, "for the want of a plough
behind him!"

At this joke there was a roar of laughter from all, save Tom, the
horse-trainer, who glared at Larry in a ferocious manner that was
really fearful to witness, but Larry, nothing daunted, turned to the
porter with an off-hand air, and said,—

"Anything for me, Pat?"

"Nothing at all—barrin' the mails—and this young lady! I'm after
telling her, you'll lave her at the gate. She's going to the Castle,
only"—approaching nearer, and whispering behind his hand, with a
significant glance at Finnigan's mare.

"Oh, the sorra a fear!" rejoined Larry, loudly, and then addressing
Helen, he said,—

"Up ye git, miss, and I'll rowl ye there as safe as if ye were in a
sate in church."

It was all very well to say "Up ye git," but, in the first place,
there was no step to the car, and in the second, it is by no means an
easy feat, to climb on any vehicle when in motion, and Larry's rampant
investment kept giving sudden bounds and playful little prancings, that
showed her impatience to be once more on the road. However, by dint
of being held forcibly down by the united strength of two men, she
consented to give the lady passenger an opportunity of scrambling up on
the jarvey, and Larry, having produced a horse-sheet (with a strong
bouquet of the stable), wrapped it carefully about her knees—then
mounting on the other side of the vehicle himself, he laid hold of the
reins, and with a screech to his friends to "give her her head,"—they
were off, as if starting for a flat race—accompanied by a shout of
"Mind yourself, miss," from the friendly porter, and "Safe home,
Larry," from the little knot of spectators, who were gathered round the
station door.

At first, all the "So-hoing" and "Easy now, my girl," might just as
well have been addressed to the hard flint road, along which they were
rattling. The "girl" kept up what is known as "a strong canter" for
the best part of a mile, and Helen's whole energies were devoted to
clinging on with both hands, as the light post-car swung from side to
side with alarming velocity.

"You need not be the laste taste unaisy, she's only a bit fresh in
herself," said Larry, soothingly, "and after a while when she settles
down, you'll be delighted with the way she takes hould of the road."

A very stiff hill moderated the pace, and Finnigan's mare, subsided
perforce into a slashing trot, and "took hold of the road" as if she
were in a passion with it, and would like to hammer it to pieces with
her hoofs. And now at last Helen ventured to release one hand, and
look about her; she was struck with the bright, rich verdure of the
surrounding scenery—Ireland was well named "The Emerald Isle," she
said to herself, as her eyes travelled over a wide expanse of grass,
thick hedges powdered with hawthorn, and neighbouring green hills,
seemingly patched with golden gorse. Very few houses were visible, no
sign of towns or smoky chimneys were to be descried—this was the real
unadulterated country, and she drew a long breath of satisfaction,
due to a sense of refreshment, and relief. Now and then they passed
a big empty place, with shuttered windows; now a prosperous-looking
farm, with ricks and slated out-buildings, and now a roadside mud
cabin. Finnigan's mare, dashing madly through poultry, pigs, goats, and
such sleeping creatures as might be imprudently taking forty winks,
in the middle of the little-used highway—which highway, with its
overhanging ash-trees, tangled hedges, and wide grass borders, was the
prettiest and greenest that Larry's passenger had ever beheld—this
much she imparted to him, and he being ripe for conversation,
immediately launched forth with the following extraordinary
announcement:—

"Och, but if ye had seen these roads before they were made! 'tis then
ye _might_ be talkin'! There was no ways of getting about in ould
times—no play for a free-going one like this," nodding exultingly at
the chestnut, who was flying down hill at a pace that made the post-car
literally bound off the ground. "She's going illigant now—these
chestnuts does mostly be a bit 'hot'—but where would ye see a better
traveller on all the walls of the worruld?"

"She is not quite trained, is she?"

"Well, not to say all _out_," he admitted reluctantly; "she's had the
harness on her about a dozen times, and she never did no harm—beyond
the day she ran away at Dan Clancy's funeral, and broke up a couple of
cars; and 'twas Finnigan himself was in fault—he'd had a drop. Shure,
she's going now like a ladies' pony! Maybe you'd like to take the reins
in your hands yourself, miss, and just _feel_ her mouth?"

But Helen, casting her eyes over the long, raking animal in front of
her, and observing her starting eyes, quivering ears, and tightly
tucked-in tail, had no difficulty in resisting Larry's alluring offer.
Little did she know the vast honour she was rejecting. Larry (like
most Irishmen) was not insensible to a pretty face, and rating this
young lady's courage beyond its deserts—owing to her equanimity during
their recent gallop, and the tenacity of her hold upon the jaunting
car—paid her the greatest compliment in his power, when he offered
her the office of Jehu. Helen having politely but firmly, declined
the reins, breathed an inward wish that the animal who had behaved
so mischievously at Dan Clancy's funeral, would continue her present
sober frame of mind until she was deposited at the gates of Crowmore.
And now Larry began to play the cicerone, and commenced to point out
various objects of interest, with the end of his whip, and the zest of
a native.

"That's Nancy's Cover," he said, indicating a patch of gorse.
"There does be a brace of foxes in it every season—that ditch
beyond,—running along in company with the cover, as far as your eye
will carry you,—goes by the name of 'Gilbert's Gripe,' because it
was there—a nephew of Mr. Redmond's I think he was, in the horse
soldiers—pounded every other mother's son in the field! Be jabers, I
never saw such a lep! and the harse—the very same breed of this mare
here—he never laid an iron to it! That's Mr. Redmond's place, in the
trees beyond, and beyant again is the Castle. What relation did ye say
ye wor to Mr. Sheridan?"

Helen was not aware that she had mentioned Mr. Sheridan at all, but she
replied,—

"His niece—his wife's niece."

"You never saw him, I'll go bail?"

"No, never; but why do you think so?"

"Troth, and 'tis easy known, if you _had_, you would not be wanting to
see him twice."

Larry grinned from ear to ear, but Helen's heart sank like lead, at
this depressing piece of intelligence.

"He is greatly failed since he buried the mistress," continued Mr.
Flood. "He is a poor innocent creature now, and harmless; he does be
always inventing weathercocks, and kites, and such-like trash, when he
ought to be looking after the place. Miss Dido does that; oh, she's a
clever wan. Just a raal trate of a young lady!"

"Do you mean that she manages the farm?"

"Troth, and who else? 'tisen't the poor simple ould gentleman—the Lord
spare him what senses he _has_—for he would make a very ugly madman!
Miss Dido minds the books, and the business, and the garden, and the
money—not that there's much of that to trouble her—and Darby Chute, a
man that lives at the 'Cross,' buys and sells a few little bastes for
her, and sees to the turf-cutting and the grazing. The shootin's all
let—a power of the land too. What the ould man does with the rent of
it, bates all."

"I suppose Darby Chute is a faithful old family servant?" said Helen,
her mind recurring to the ancient retainers of fiction.

"Bedad, he is _ould_ enough! but I would not answer for more than that;
he is Chute by name, and 'cute by nature, _I'm_ thinking! Mr. Sheridan
has a warm side to him, and laves him great freedom.—The ould steward
that died a few years back, was a desperate loss. Now _he_ was a really
valuable man; 'tis since then they have Darby, who was only a ploughman
before. I'm sorry for the two young ladies; they go about among the
people, so humble and so nice, as if they had not a shilling in the
world—and more betoken they haven't many.—I wish to the Lord they
were married! but they are out of the way of providence here,—there's
no quality at all, this side. They do say, young Barry Sheridan does be
entirely taken up with Miss Kate; but he's the only wan that's in it,
and no great shakes ayther; and in _my_ opinion——"

"Is there no one living over there?" interrupted his listener, averse
to such disclosures, and pointing to a long line of woods on the
horizon.

"Shure, diden't I tell you that it was all Mr. Redmond's, of
Ballyredmond?—The old people does be there, and an English young lady
betimes, she is mighty plain about the head. I never heard them put
a name on her," then in quite an altered tone, he added, excitedly,
"By the powers of Moll Kelly, but I see the Corelish post-car, there
ahead of us in the straight bit of road. Do you notice him, miss?
the weenchie little speck. I do mostly race him to the Cross of Cara
Chapel, where our roads part, and I'm thinking I've the legs of him
this time! Altho' he has the old piebald, and a big start; we will just
slip down by the short cut through the bog, and nail him neatly at the
corner!"

At first this announcement was Greek to his fare,—but she began to
comprehend what he meant, as he turned sharply into a bye-way, or
boreen, and started his only _too_ willing steed at a brisk canter!

"There's Cara Chapel," he said, indicating a slated building on the
edge of a vast expanse of bog. "You'll see how illegantly we will
disappoint him; he is on the upper road, and that puts a good mile on
him. It will be worth your while to watch his face, as we give him
the go-by, and finds we have bested him after all!!! Do you get the
smell of them hawthorns, miss? they are coming out beautiful," (as
they careered along a narrow, grassy, boreen, between a forest of
may-bushes, white with flower.) "And now here's the bog," he added,
proudly, as the boreen suddenly turned into a cart track, running
like a causeway through a wide extent of peat and heath, that lay far
beneath on either side, without the smallest fence, or protection.
It was an exceedingly awkward, dangerous-looking place, and they
were entirely at the mercy of Finnigan's mare, who rattled joyously
along, pricking her dainty ears to and fro, as if she was on the _qui
vive_ for the smallest excuse to shy, and bolt—and the pretext was
not wanting! An idle jackass, in the bog below, suddenly lifted up
his voice, and brayed a bray so startlingly near, and so piercingly
shrill, that even Helen was appalled; how much more the sensitive
creature between the shafts, who stopped for one second, thrust her
head well down between her fore-legs, wrenched the reins out of Larry's
hands,—and ran away!

"Begorra, we are in for it now," he shouted. "Hould on by your
eyelashes, miss; we will just slip off quietly at the first corner.
Kape yourself calm! Bad scram to you for a red-haired divil" (to the
mare). "Bad luck to them for rotten ould reins," reins now represented
by two strips of leather, trailing in the dust.

"Oh! murder, we are done!" he cried, as he beheld a heavily laden
turf-cart, drawn up right across the track.

"Oh, holy Mary! she'll put us in the bog."

The owner of the turf-cart was toiling up the bank with a final
creel on his back, when he beheld the runaways racing down upon his
devoted horse and kish. His loud execrations were idle as the little
evening breeze that was playing with the tops of the rushes and the
gorse—Finnigan's mare was already into them! With a loud crash and a
sound of splintering shafts a thousand sods of turf were sent flying
in every direction. Helen was shot off the car and landed neatly and
safely in a heap of bog-mould that luckily received her at the side
of the road; Larry also made a swift involuntary descent, but in a
twinkling had sprung to his feet and seized his horse's head, calling
out to his companion as she picked herself up,—

"'Tis yourself that is the fine souple young lady, and not a hair the
worse; nayther is the mare, barrin' a couple of small cuts, and one of
the shafts is broke—faix, it _might_ have been sarious!"

"Arrah, what sort of a driver are ye, at all?" shouted the owner of the
turf-cart, breathless with rage, and haste. "Oh, 'tis Larry Flood—an'
I might have known!"

"And what call have you to be taking up the whole road?" retorted Larry
loudly. "The divil sweep you and your old turf kish, that was nearly
being the death of us!"

"Ah! and sure wasen't she running away as hard as she could lay leg to
groun'?"

"Well, and if she _was_; diden't she see you below in the bog, and take
you for a scarecrow? and small blame. Here, don't be botherin' me, Tim
Mooney, but lend a hand to rig up the machine, and the tackling."

Thanks to the turf-cutter's generous assistance, in a very short time
Mr. Larry Flood was enabled to come forward and announce to his fare,
who had dusted her dress from bog-mould and taken a seat on a piece of
wood, that "he was ready, if _she_ was."

The young lady accordingly rose, and followed him, and gravely
inspected the turn-out. The car was all down on one side still—the
result of a spring broken in the late collision—but the reins had been
knotted together, and the shaft was tied up with a piece of twine.

"It will hould all right," said Larry, following her eyes. "Any way, it
will carry _your_ distance, I'll go bail."

"Thank you; but I'm not going to try the experiment. I'm stiff enough
as it is; and one fall in the day is ample for the present."

"Fall! What fall? Sure ye only jumped off the car. Diden't I see you
with me own two eyes? And 'tis yourself that has them nice and tight
under yow! and in elegant proportion!—Meaning your ankles, Miss,—and
no offence."

"All the same I shall walk, fall or no fall," returned his late
passenger, with a scarlet face.

"You are a good mile off it yet," expostulated Larry. "How will you get
there?"

"On foot."

"And your bag; is that going on foot as well?"

"Perhaps you would leave it as you pass?"

"Indeed, and I will! Of course you are only English, and what could ye
_expect_; but at the first go off you were as stout as any lady that
ever sat on a car."

"Stout?" she echoed in supreme amazement. But perhaps in Ireland things
had different names.

"I mane stout-hearted! and now, after all, you are going to walk. To
_walk_!" he reiterated with indescribable scorn.

"Yes, and you will take the bag—_it_ has no neck to break."

"To be sure, I'll lave it with pleasure; but——" and here he paused
rather significantly.

"Of course I'll pay you," she said, fumbling for her purse. "How much?"

"Oh, well, sure—nothing at all! I would not be charging the likes of
you. 'Twas an honour to drive such a beautiful young lady."

"How much?" she repeated, with a little stamp of her foot.

"Well, thin, miss, since you are so _detarmined_, we won't quarrel over
two half-crowns; and if you would like me to drink your health in the
_best_ that was going," rubbing his mouth expressively with the back of
his hand, "we will say six shillings."

Helen immediately placed six shillings in his greedy palm.

"Thank you kindly, my lady! and may you live seven years longer than
was intended for you. It's not _my_ fault that I did not lave you at
your journey's end, as Tim Moony will allow. There's the mare," waving
his hand towards the wicked-looking chestnut; "there's the machine,"
indicating the battered car and twine-tied shaft; "and they are both
altogether and entirely at your service."

Helen shook her head resolutely, and made no other reply.

"Well, then, miss, as I see I can't _tempt_ ye, I suppose I may as well
be going; and I'll lave the bag inside the lodge. Keep on straight
after the Cross till you come to a pair of big gates—and there you
are."

Having given these directions and ascended to the driving-seat, so as
to have what he called "a better purchase on the baste," Larry muttered
a parting benediction, lifted his caubeen, and drove furiously away.



CHAPTER XXXI.

"CROWMORE CASTLE."

  "We have seen better days."


LARRY and Finnigan's mare were not long in dwindling into a little
speck in the distance; and when they had completely vanished Helen
set out to walk to Cara Cross, the goal of the post-car races. Once
there she had no difficulty in discovering the road to the left;
and a quarter of a mile brought two massive pillars into view,
each surmounted by a battered, wingless griffin. But there were no
gates—unless a stone wall and a gate were synonymous terms in Ireland.
Three feet of solid masonry completely barred the former entrance, and
said "no admittance" in the plainest language. Helen leant her elbows
on the coping-stones and gazed in amazement at the scene before her.
She saw a grassy track that had once been an avenue lined by a dense
thicket of straggling, neglected shrubs. To her right and left stood
the roofless shells of two gate lodges. On the step of one of them she
descried her bag; and only for this undeniable clue she would certainly
have walked on and sought the entrance to Crowmore elsewhere. Being (as
Larry had not failed to remark) an active, "souple" young lady, she
lost no time in getting over the wall and rejoining her property. As
she picked it up, she cast a somewhat timid glance into the interior
of the ruin and beheld a most dismal, melancholy-looking kitchen, with
the remains of ashes on the hearth; the roof and rugged rafters partly
open to the skies; hideous green stains disfiguring the walls, and the
floor carpeted with nettles and dockleaves. A bat came flickering out
of an inner chamber, which warned her that time was advancing and she
was _not_. So she hurriedly turned about and pursued the grass-grown
avenue, which presently became almost lost in the wide, surrounding
pasture. At first it ascended a gentle incline, over which numbers of
sheep were scattered; some, who were reposing in her very track, rose
reluctantly, and stared stolidly as she approached. On the top of the
hill she came upon a full view of the Castle, and was filled with a
sense of injury and disappointment at having been deceived by such a
high-sounding title. Certainly there _was_ a kind of square, old keep,
out of whose ivy-covered walls half-a-dozen large modern windows stared
with unabashed effrontery. But a great, vulgar, yellow house, with long
ears of chimneys, and a mean little porch, had evidently married the
venerable pile, and impudently appropriated its name. "Yes," murmured
Helen to herself, as she descended the hill, "uncle showed his sense
in calling it simply 'Crowmore;' a far more suitable name, judging by
the rookeries in the trees behind it and the flocks of crows—more
crows—who are returning home."

An iron fence presently barred her further progress along the
almost obliterated avenue, and, keeping by the railings, she
arrived at a rusty gate leading into what might once have been a
pleasure-ground,—but was now a wilderness. Traces of walks were still
visible, and outlines of flower-beds could be distinguished—with a
little assistance from one's imagination—flower-beds, in which roses,
and fuchsias, and thistles, and ferns, were all alike strangled in
the cruel bonds of "Robin round the hedge." She passed a tumble-down
summer-house—a fitting pendant to the gate lodges—and some rustic
seats, literally on their last legs. Everywhere she looked, neglect and
decay stared her in the face.

As she pushed her way through a thicket of shrubs, that nearly choked
a narrow foot-path, she observed a tall man, like a gamekeeper,
approaching from the opposite direction. He wore a peaked cap, drawn
far over his eyes, and a very long black beard, so that his face was
almost entirely concealed; he was dressed in a shabby shooting-coat,
and gaiters, and carried a bundle of netting on his back, and a stick
in his hand. As he stood aside, so as to permit her to pass, she had a
conviction—though she could not see his eyes—that he was scrutinizing
her closely; nay, more, that he halted to look after her,—as she
ceased to hear the onward tramp of his heavy, clumsy boots. Another two
minutes brought her to a little wicket, which opened on a well-kept
gravel drive, a complete contrast to the overgrown jungle which she
had just quitted. There was no one to be seen, not even a dog, though
a clean plate and a well-picked bone testified to a dog's recent
dinner. The hall door stood wide open (Irish fashion), but no knocker
was visible,—neither could she discover a bell. She waited on the
steps for some minutes in great perplexity, and gazed into a large,
cool, stone-paved hall, crossed here and there with paths of cocoa-nut
matting, lined with strange ancient sporting prints, and apparently
opening into half-a-dozen rooms. Not a sound was audible save the
bleating of the sheep, the cawing of the rooks, and the loud ticking
of a brazen-faced grandfather's clock, that immediately faced the
stranger. Suddenly a fresh young voice came through an open door, so
near that Helen gave a little nervous start; a fresh young voice with
an undeniable Irish accent, and this was what it said,—

"Dido, Dido! do you want to _boil_ the mignonette, and all the
unfortunate flowers?"

Emboldened by this sound, the new arrival rapped loudly on the door
with her knuckles, and the same melodious brogue called out,—

"If that's you, Judy, no eggs to-day!"

"'Deed then, Miss Katie," expostulated a somewhat aged and cracked
organ, "I'm not so sure of _that_.—We are rather tight in eggs, and
you were talking of a cake, when the young lady comes——"

By this time the young lady had advanced to the threshold and looked
in. She beheld a large, shabby dining-room, with three long windows,
heavy old furniture, and faded hangings; a stout girl with fair curly
hair, sitting with her back to the door, knitting a sock; her slender
sister—presumably that Dido, who was working such destruction among
the flowers—was stooping over a green stand covered with plants, which
she was busily watering, with the contents of a small copper tea-urn;
and a little trim old woman, in a large frilled cap, was in the act
of removing the tea things. Helen's light footfall on the matting was
inaudible, and she had ample time to contemplate the scene, ere the
servant, who was just lifting the tray, laid it down and ejaculated,—

"The Lord presarve us!"

The girl with the tea-urn turned quickly round, and dropping her
impromptu watering-pot, cried,—

"It's Helen, it must be cousin Helen!" running to her, and embracing
her. "You are as welcome as the flowers in May. This is Katie,—I'm
Dido.—We went to meet you in the morning by the twelve o'clock train;
how in the world did you get here?"

All this poured out without stop, or comma, in a rich and rapid brogue.

"I missed the early train and came on by the next. I got a seat on the
post-car, but the horse ran away and upset us, so I preferred to walk
to the end of my journey. I told the man, Larry ——, Larry ——"

"Larry Flood, Miss," prompted the old woman eagerly. "A little ugly
sleveen of a fellow—with a lip on him, would trip a goat!"

"Now, Biddy, how can you be so spiteful," remonstrated Katie, with a
laugh, "and all just because he wants to marry Sally."

"That's the name—Larry Flood," continued Helen. "I told him I would
walk, and he left my bag at the—the gate."

"Oh! so you came by the old avenue! and a nice way Larry treated you!
Just wait till I see him," said Dido. "How long were you at the door,
Helen?"

"About five minutes."

"And why on earth did you not come in?"

"I was looking for the bell or the knocker," she answered rather
diffidently.

"And you might have been looking for a week, my dear! They are
conspicuous by their absence. We don't stand on ceremony here; you
either hammer with a stone—there is one left on the steps for that
express purpose, only, of course, _you_ never guessed its use—or you
dispense with the stone, and walk in—the door stands open all day
long,—precisely as you see it."

"But, of course, you shut it after dark?"

"Yes, in a fashion; we put a chair against it just to keep the sheep
from coming in! The lock is broken—it was taken off weeks ago by Micky
the smith, and he has never brought it back yet. Now, I see you are
horrified, Helen!—but this is not London—there are no thieves or
housebreakers about, and we are as safe as if we had twenty locks and
bolts. Here, Biddy," to the old servant, "Miss Denis is starving; bring
up the cold fowl, and some more of those hot cakes, as fast as ever you
can. Helen, give me your hat and jacket, and sit down in this arm-chair
this minute, and relate every one of your adventures without delay."

It was impossible to be shy with Dido and Katie; in a few moments their
cousin felt perfectly at home, and they were all holding animated
eager conversation, and talking together as if they had known each
other for weeks. Katie was an incessant chatter-box; no matter who was
speaking, her voice was sure to chime in also, and to keep up a running
accompaniment similar to the variations on a popular air! She was fair,
very plump, and rather pretty,—with the beauty of rosy cheeks, bright
eyes, and curly locks. Dido, the eldest, was tall, and graceful, with
a head and throat that would have served for a sculptor's model; she
had quantities of brown hair, and greenish-grey eyes. Without being
exactly handsome, she had a look of remarkable distinction, and as she
stood at the table busily carving a fowl for the delectation of her
hungry guest, that guest said to herself, that her cousin Dido, for all
her threadbare dress and washed-out red cotton pinafore, aye, and her
brogue,—had the air—of—yes—of a princess!

"When shall I see uncle?" inquired his niece, with dutiful politeness.

"Oh, the Padré never appears in the daytime," replied Katie, "and he
only goes out with the owls; but he will come down and welcome you, of
course. He is very much occupied just now,—and grudges every moment,
his time is _so_ precious."

A grunt of scornful dissent from the old woman here attracted Katie's
notice, and once more resuming her knitting, and her chair, she said,—

"Well, what's the matter now, Biddy, eh? Tell me, what do you think of
Miss Denis?" speaking precisely as if Miss Denis were a hundred miles
away.

Biddy thus adjured, immediately laid down a plate, and resting her
hands on her hips, surveyed the new-comer as coolly and deliberately as
if she was a picture.

"Shure, I'm no great judge, Miss Katie! but since you ax me,—I'll just
give ye me mind. I think she's a teetotally beautiful young lady,—and
that it would be no harm if there was twins of her!"

Helen coloured and laughed, and Dido exclaimed, "Well, that's more than
you ever said of _me_, Biddy, and I'm your own nurse-child that you
reared ever since I was six months old—you never wished for twins of
_me_!"

"Troth, and why would I? Many and many's the night that I lost me rest
along of you. Aye, but you wor the peevish little scaltheen! Wan of
_you_ was plenty!"

"And you never called _me_ a teetotally beautiful young lady! I'm
offended."

"Arrah, Miss Dido, sure you would not be askin' me to parjure myself!"
retorted Biddy, with some warmth. "Ye can see with your own two eyes,
that your cousin is a sight better-looking than ayther of yees; but you
are a lady all out! The Queen herself need not be ashamed to be seen
walkin' with ye! Sure, and aren't you cliver! and isn't that enough for
you? They don't go together, I'm thinking—great wit, and great looks!"

"Biddy MacGravy," replied Dido, with great solemnity, "you started off
very nicely,—wishing Miss Helen was a twin—but now you have spoiled
everything! I really think you had better go before you say something
worse,—I really do."

"And sure, and what did I say but what was the pure truth?" folding
her arms over her white apron, and evidently preparing to discuss the
subject exhaustively.

"You have merely told her, that it was doubtful if she was a lady, and
that it was very certain that she was a fool."

"Ah, now, Miss Dido!" in a tone of mournful reproach, "see, now, I
declare to goodness—Whist! here's the masther." And seizing the tray,
the nimble old woman vanished like a flash.

"She is quite one of the family," explained Dido, "and says just what
she pleases. You would never imagine that she had been for years on the
Continent! She acquired nothing there, but the art of making cakes and
coffee——"

"And paying compliments," amended Katie, with a giggle.

At that moment the door opened slowly, and a tall, but bent,
white-headed gentleman entered the room. He had a noble head, a
cream-coloured beard, reaching almost to his waist, and sunken,
dark eyes, that looked out on the world abstractedly, from beneath
a penthouse of shaggy brows. His hands were long and thin, with
singularly claw-like fingers, through which he had a habit of drawing
the end of his beard, as he conversed. He was attired in an easy, grey
dressing-gown, a black skull-cap, and red list slippers.

Helen rose as he approached and extended one of his long hands. His
dreamy eyes flashed into momentary life, as he said, in a curiously
slow, nasal voice,—

"And this is my English niece! Niece, I am glad to see you, for your
own sake,—and for your father's.—He was a worthy brother to my wife.
I hope you will be happy here. By-the-way, how did you come?"

Before Helen could open her lips, Katie, the irrepressible, had begun
to relate her recent experiences, as volubly as if she herself had been
a passenger by the Irish mail; not to mention the Terryscreen post-car!

But long ere her recital had come to an end, her parent's thoughts were
miles away—presumably in the clouds. At length the sudden cessation of
the narrative, recalled him to the present once more, and speaking very
deliberately, he said,—

"You must take us as you find us, niece. We live far beyond any sordid,
worldly circle, enjoying simple, domestic retirement, and a purely
rural life. Our wealth is that of the mind. In mundane substance we
are poor, but at any rate we can offer you _one_ thing, without
stint—accept a welcome." And with a wave of his hand, implying that he
had endowed Helen with some priceless treasure, and a bow signifying
that the interview was at an end, Mr. Sheridan glided noiselessly away,
leaving, as was his invariable wont, the door wide open behind him.



CHAPTER XXXII.

BARRY'S GUESS.

  "O many a shaft at random sent,
  Finds mark the archer little meant."—_Scott._


THE following morning Helen was formally conducted round the premises
by her cousins. They explored the tangled shrubbery, the garden, and
the yard; the latter was empty—save for a clutch of chickens, and a
flock of voracious ducks,—and at least half the offices were minus
roofs and windows.

"The whole place was tumbling down," explained Dido; "and as the Padré
could do nothing, Darby Chute said he might just as well make the best
of a bad job, and he took off the doors and rafters for fire-wood."

"Yes, and Barry was _raging_," supplemented Katie. "Barry is papa's
heir.—He is our cousin, and lives a mile away on the Terryscreen road.
He says there won't be a stick or a stone left together before long. He
often comes over here. He declares the place is going to rack and ruin."

Helen glanced at the range of yawning, roofless stables, and could
not help sharing in Mr. Barry's rueful anticipations; and Katie,
interpreting her glance, added hastily,—

"But papa will restore it all some day. He always says his brain is his
Golconda, and he will be a Crœsus yet. He says——"

"This is the dairy," interrupted Dido, suddenly turning a big key.
"Mind the step."

It struck Helen that she frequently broke in upon the current of her
sister's narratives, especially when she was attempting to give
detailed descriptions of the sayings and doings of their gifted parent.

"This is the dairy," she repeated, ushering them into a white-washed,
red-tiled room, filled with big, brown pans of wrinkled cream, tubs of
milk, and golden pats of butter.

"We have five fine cows," she said, twirling the key round her thumb.
"We sell the milk about the place, and the butter in Terryscreen
market; Sally MacGravy takes it in every Thursday. She is cook,
laundress, and dairy-maid. The 'Master' churns. By-the-way, I wonder
where he is?"

"Where he ought not to be, you may be perfectly certain," responded
Katie. "Yes, I see him, he is over in the turf-house." And sure enough,
just above the half-door of a great shed, the ill-tempered face of an
old brown mule was visible.

"And that's the 'Master,'" exclaimed Helen, rather relieved in her own
mind; for visions of her eccentric uncle wielding the churn-dash had
somewhat disturbed her.

"Yes," said Dido. "We call him the 'Master' because the name suits him
so beautifully. He goes and comes exactly as he pleases, opens doors
and gates, and walks in and out at pleasure. He was here when we came,
eight years ago, and is consequently the oldest inhabitant. Some people
say he is forty years of age; but at any rate he is older than any of
us! Now let us go to the garden."

The garden was of vast extent, surrounded by high grey walls, and
wholly devoted to fruit and vegetables. Grass pathways, lined with
currant and gooseberry bushes, divided it into immense plots of
potatoes, peas, and cabbages. In some places, so dense was the jungle
of unwieldy bushes that these walks were quite impassable.

"What quantities of fruit you will have!" remarked Helen, to whom this
huge garden was a novel sight.

"Yes, there will be a fine crop of strawberries—at least I hope so,
for nothing pays so well," rejoined the distinguished-looking, but
practical Dido. "We make a good deal out of the fruit; and we work hard
ourselves; not in fancy aprons and with little trowels, but in real
sober earnest; we plant, and prune, and weed, and water; and on the
whole the garden is a financial success. And 'All Right' helps us.
That's him there in the next plot—the man without the hat. He minds
the cows, and goes to the post, and makes himself useful. He is called
'All Right' just because he is _not_ quite all there! Here he is now,"
as an individual with a spade over his shoulder, and minus hat and
boots, came shuffling down a neighbouring walk.

Andy was a middle-aged man, who looked quite juvenile; partly on
account of his very light and abundant hair, and almost white eyebrows,
and partly because of a certain childish expression,—relieved by
occasional flashes of very mature cunning.

"Well, Andy," said Dido pleasantly, "you have a fine day for the young
plants; how are you getting on?"

"Oh, finely, Miss, finely."

"Here is our cousin.—Another young lady to help you in the garden, you
see."

Andy, in answer to this introduction, half closed his eyes and scanned
her critically. After a long pause he scornfully replied,—

"Faix I expect she'll only be good for weeding, Miss Dido! And see
here, Miss Dido, not to be losing all our day.—Will ye just tell me
what's to be done with them ash-leaved praties and the skerry-blues?
for sorra a know I know!"

"I'll go this very instant, Andy. Katie, just show Helen round the
garden; but keep clear of the bees whatever you do."

"I'll tell you all about Andy now," said Katie confidentially, taking
her companion's arm as they walked away. "You see what he is like! He
was never very strong in the head at the best of times; but a mistake
that happened a good many years ago, quite settled him.—A mistake
about a murder."

"A murder!" echoed Helen, looking with startled eyes at the slouching
figure that was carrying off her graceful cousin.

"Yes. You must know," continued Katie, now dropping into a tone of glib
narration, "that Crowmore belonged to papa's uncle, an old miser, who
lived in Dublin and let the house, and garden, and a few acres, to a
man of the name of Dillon. The rest of the land was managed by the old
steward, who was a first-rate farmer, and as honest as the sun. But to
return to Dillon. He had a good-for-nothing son, called John, who never
did anything but loaf and poach. In those days Andy was a handy-man,
or boy, about the yard, and he and this John were always quarrelling.
One day John beat him cruelly, and Andy was heard to declare that
he would certainly have his life! Anyway, a short time afterwards,
Dillon was found shot dead up at the black gate, between this and
Ballyredmond, and Andy was taken up and lodged in jail. However, he was
soon discharged, as it was proved at the inquest that Dillon's gun must
have gone off accidentally, though some people say it did _not_ to this
day.—But some people will say anything.—At any rate, the whole affair
gave Andy such a terrible fright, that he has never been the same
since."

"And how is he affected?"

"Chiefly by the sight of a policeman—a 'peeler,' as he calls him. At
the first glimpse, he takes to his heels and runs for his life. He
never ventures beyond the cross-roads, and would not go within a mile
of the black gate, by day or night, for millions; indeed, _no_ one goes
round that way after sundown," she added impressively.

"And pray why not?"

"Because they say John Dillon walks."

"Walks?" echoed Helen, with a look of puzzled curiosity.

"_Haunts_ it, then. Dozens have seen him leaning over the gate, just
about dusk, and it is quite certain that he shoots the coverts as
regularly as ever he did; I've often heard the shots myself."

"Poachers, my dear simple little Katie."

"Poachers, _real_ poachers, would not venture on the Crowmore or
Ballyredmond estates for all the game in Ireland! I'll tell you
something more extraordinary. Dillon had a brace of splendid red
setters. I remember them when we first came, very old, and nearly
blind. They say for a fact, that when these dogs would be lying by the
kitchen fire at night, they would suddenly hear Dillon's whistle, and
jump up and rush to the door, and whine and scratch until they were let
out; and then they would be away for hours, and come home all muddy,
and tired, and draggled, as if they had been working hard. Several
people have told me they have seen this themselves."

"No doubt they have. Some one imitated John's whistle; I could do it
myself, if I heard it once. Some clever poacher was sharp enough to
make use of the late Mr. Dillon's excellent sporting dogs."

"I never thought of that," said Katie reflectively. "But every one here
believes in Dillon's ghost. Darby Chute would not go up the woods after
dark for all you could offer him; _he_ believes in him, so does Barry.
Barry met him once in the dusk; he was carrying game, and he looked so
desperately wicked, and shook his gun in such a threatening way, that
Barry confesses that he turned, as he expresses it, and 'ran like a
hare.'"

"And what is this sporting ghost like?"

"He is very tall, with a long black beard, leather gaiters, and a
peaked cap pulled over his eyes."

"My dear Katie, he was the first person to welcome me yesterday! We met
each other in the shrubbery, face to face."

"Oh, Helen, _no_!" gasped her cousin, suddenly stopping and releasing
her arm. "Were you not frightened to death?"

"Not I! I felt no qualms, no cold thrills; I received no hint that I
was in the presence of the supernatural.—He looked alive, and in the
best of health."

"But he was _not_," rejoined Katie in a quavering voice; "that was just
John, the terror of the whole country. Oh, Helen, dear, I hope he has
not come to you as a _warning_," her voice now sinking to an awe-struck
whisper.

"A fiddlestick! it was undoubtedly a human being going out to snare
rabbits. There are no such things as ghosts; at any rate, if this was
one, he smelt very strongly of bad tobacco! Come now, to change the
subject, do tell me something more about your bold cousin Barry,—who
runs like a hare?"

"Oh, Helen! please, now really, you must not laugh at Barry. He can't
bear being chaffed," remonstrated Katie, in some dismay. "He is as
brave as any one in reality."

"Oh, indeed! and what are his other virtues?"

"Perhaps you may think him coarse and countrified, and too fond of
contradicting every word you say, and laying down the law; but he is a
very good fellow in the main, if you take him the right way."

"And what is the right way? Please instruct me, in order that _I_ may
find him a very good fellow!"

"Well; pretend that you think he is conferring a great, great favour,
and he will do anything for you. He can stand any amount of blarney,
but no contradiction!"

"Strictly between ourselves, my little Katie, I don't think I shall
like this cousin of yours."

"Exactly what he said of _you_," she exclaimed, clapping her hands in
great glee. "He declared you would be a stuck-up English girl, with a
grand accent, and a great opinion of yourself. He said you were sure
to have had your head turned by all the attention you had received in
those islands."

"Well, if it was,—which I do not admit,—it has had ample time to go
back again. Governesses are not often the spoiled darlings of society."

"But you are not a bit like a governess."

"Am I not? You should see me at Mrs. Kane's."

"Barry wondered very much that you came home unmarried," continued
Katie, who knew not the meaning of the words reticence and discretion,
and delighted in the sound of her own voice. "He said it was either of
two things——" pausing meditatively.

"Did he, really! How kind of him to give his mind to my humble
affairs," exclaimed Helen, with an irony entirely lost upon her cousin,
who was now fighting her way through a small forest of currant bushes,
and discoursing as fluently as if she was sitting in an arm-chair.

"Yes; he said it was either of two things—Helen, mind your eyes with
that branch! Either—I'll give you his own words—either you were
mortal ugly, or you had had a love affair, and the pigs ran through
it—meaning a disappointment, you know."

Helen winced as though she had been struck, and if her companion had
happened to glance round, she would have been astonished at the colour
of her face;—a sudden deep blush suffused it from chin to brow. She
told herself passionately that dislike was far too weak a term to apply
to this country clown, whose clumsy curiosity had probed her secret to
the very core. This to herself; but aloud she merely said,—

"Your cousin Barry must be blessed with a rich imagination?"

"Oh, no! he is not a bit clever; but he is uncommonly sharp. He rather
prides himself——"

Whatever he prided himself upon was not to be disclosed at present, for
a sudden turn brought them close to Dido, who called out,—

"I thought I saw your heads above that thicket! I have to go to the
Cross, to speak to Darby: would you care to come, Helen? You may as
well learn all the geography of the place at once."

To this suggestion she promptly assented, and in a few minutes was
walking down the neatly-kept front avenue, whose gates opened on the
Cross (or cross-road); the middle of which amply testified to the
indefatigable dancing that took place on Sundays (for "Crowmore Cross"
was what the assembly-rooms would be in some populous, fashionable
neighbourhood). A dozen cottages were scattered about, and the windows
of one of them exhibited two long clay pipes, some red and white candy,
and a ball of worsted, and on the strength of this rich display was
called "the shop." Dido halted at the door of a comfortable slated
house, and called out over the half-door,—

"Is Darby within, Mrs. Chute?"

"No, me lady, he is not," replied a little, withered old woman,
dropping a curtsey; then, as her eye fell upon Katie and Helen, she
said, "An' this is your cousin from England? The Lord spare you your
health, Miss."

"And how are you yourself, Mrs. Chute?" inquired Dido sympathetically.

"Oh, I got a very heavy turn that last time, me lady; but that stuff
you sent me and the jam did me a power of good. I'm finely now."

"Well, I'm very glad to hear it. Tell Darby I want to see him this
evening, please—it's about the pigs; you won't forget?" said Dido,
turning her face homewards as she spoke.

"Isn't it a funny thing, that of all the years we have been here we
have never been inside Chute's house!" exclaimed Katie. "Mrs. Chute
comes and stands at the door, but she never asks us further. This in
Ireland, where the first word is, 'Won't you walk in and take a sate?'
is _odd_."

"Is that his wife?" inquired Helen.

"Oh, no; his mother. He was nearly being married once to the daughter
of a well-to-do farmer, but they fell out about her dowry. They
'split,' as they call it, over a chest of drawers. I don't think he
will ever marry now. Somehow the neighbours don't like him; they say he
is very distant and dark in himself."

"I heard you were wanting me, Miss Dido," said a squeaky voice, which
made them all turn round with quite a guilty start.

Standing on the grass behind them (why could he not walk on the road?)
Helen beheld a tall, elderly man, with sharp features and a pair of
keen, grey eyes, set close together in his head. He had a coat over his
shoulder, a stick in his hand, and a most deceitful-looking lurcher at
his heels.

"Yes, Darby, I left a message," replied Dido, quickly recovering
herself. "It's only to ask you about selling the store pigs."

"Av they are fit,—and with all the feeding they are getting they bid
to be as fat as snails—ye might sell them on the fifteenth; but mind
you," shaking his head solemnly, "pigs is down—terribly down! And so
this is your cousin, Miss Denis?" putting his finger to his hat.

"Yes; and you would never know she was any relation, would you?" said
Katie. "Would you guess we were cousins?"

"'Deed I would _not_. And I never thought them English ladies were so
handsome till now," he rejoined, resting his hands on the top of his
stick, and speaking in a deliberate, confidential squeak. "I declare
that wan up at Ballyredmond has a face that sour on her, she gives me
the cramps every time I look at her; an' her walk!" raising his stick
and his eyes simultaneously, "for all the world like a turkey among
stubbles. Now, av I was asked——"

"Darby, what _do_ you think? Only fancy! she met John Dillon face to
face last evening!" interrupted Katie with extraordinary irrelevance.

A very curious look flashed into Darby's eyes. It came and went in the
space of half a second, and he rejoined, in a peevish, argumentative
tone,—

"And sure, and how would Miss Denis know him?"

"She describes him exactly; cap and all."

"Yes, but all the same, I'm positive that it was no _ghost_,"
supplemented Helen stoutly.

"Holy St. Patrick, do ye hear her!" ejaculated Darby, in a tone of
pious horror. "Well, well, well; poor young lady; it's easy seen she is
a stranger! Don't ye be for letting her out about the place alone after
dark just now," he added in a sort of husky aside.

"It's rather early for him _yet_," grumbled Katie. "From August to
February is his usual time."

"Yes, the shooting season!" rejoined Helen, with a merry laugh.
"Nothing more is needed to persuade _me_ that the notorious John is
anything worse than a common poacher!"

"Have your own way,—have your own way, Miss," wheezed Darby,
irritably. And it struck her that there was the _soupçon_ of a threat
in his narrow little eyes as he added,—

"Maybe you won't get off so _aisy_ next time he meets you! If ye will
be said and led by me, ye will not be going about alone afther dusk.
And mind, if anything happens, and ye are found with the print of five
black fingers on your neck"—spreading out his own horny digits by way
of illustration—"and stretched as dead as a doornail, don't go and say
afterwards that ye waren't warned."

With this remarkable caution, Darby hitched his coat over his shoulder,
nodded his head impressively, and then turning to Dido, said,—

"I'll be up about them pigs this evening, Miss; but you need not be
laying out to get a heavy price for them! I'm for my dinner now," and
with an abrupt nod, Mr. Chute plodded off.

"I'm sure you are shocked at his free-and-easy ways, Helen—at
all their free-and-easy ways!" exclaimed Dido. "But they mean no
incivility, and they take an interest in the——"

"Yes, Darby, I can see, is very anxious that I should not put myself
in the way of being strangled by John Dillon. Really, it will be quite
exciting to go out after dark."

"And the _only_ excitement we can offer you. You have no idea what a
quiet place you have come to," said Katie; "we have no society at all.
Papa never returned people's visits, or answered their invitations. He
never goes out, excepting about the place, in the dusk; he is entirely
buried in his experiments. People have all sorts of ideas about us;
they think that the Padré practises the black art, and that Dido and I
keep pigs in the parlour, and a threshing-machine in the back hall!"

Helen laughed aloud at this description. If Crowmore was shabby, it was
beautifully clean; and if her cousins occasionally used the first thing
to hand instead of a regulation implement, the interior of the house
was not merely neat, but tasteful.

"Of course, that's an exaggeration," said Dido. "But no one calls
here, excepting the rector, Barry, and old Mr. Redmond. He comes
from mere idle curiosity, to see if we are all alive and the house
not burnt down—he _said_ so! He and papa fought frantically about a
Greek word the only time they ever met. We tried to cut him, he was
so awfully rude to the Padré; but he would not see it, and he comes
here, and sends us books, and baskets of hot-house fruit and flowers,
and fish and game. We call it Mr. Redmond's out-door relief. He is a
kind-hearted old man!"

"And does he live alone?"

"No, there is Miss Redmond, his sister, a cripple from rheumatism, and
his ward, a horrid, supercilious creature; and in the shooting season,
he always has a house full. He rents the shooting of Crowmore as well.
Papa lets it—he lets everything."

Her cousin's eyes travelled reflectively along the extensive demesne
wall, and she said,—

"Crowmore is a large estate, is it not?"

"Yes; but you need not run away with the notion that it is a fine
property. We are as poor as rats. On the other hand, Mr. Redmond is as
rich as a Jew."

"Dido, do tell me who is the unfortunate English girl who has such a
painful effect on Mr. Chute," inquired Helen, as she and her relatives
strolled up the avenue arm-in-arm.

"Oh, she is not nearly as bad as he makes out, though personally I do
not like her," replied Dido frankly. "She is the girl we were speaking
of just now; a Miss Calderwood—Kate Calderwood—a great heiress."

"Has she freckles and high shoulders?"—halting as she asked the
question.

"How on earth did _you_ know?" cried Dido in amazement. "Her shoulders
are up to her ears, and she is as freckled as a turkey's egg! But
for all that they say she is engaged to be married,—and to such a
good-looking man, to Mr. Redmond's favourite nephew, Gilbert Lisle."



CHAPTER XXXIII.

"THE FANCY."

  "All impediments in fancy's course
  Are motives of more fancy."


JUDY THE FANCY was one of the most prominent characters about Crowmore.
She lived at the Cross, and haunted that well-beaten thoroughfare from
early morn till dewy eve. Despite her name, "The Fancy" was certainly
no beauty; she had a yellow, wrinkled face, a pair of greedy little
black eyes, and features which bore a ludicrous resemblance to a turnip
ghost. Although she went bare-footed, she wore good, warm clothes, and
a respectable white cap; and no stranger could have guessed at her
profession until she struck up her habitual whine of—"Give the poor
ould woman the price of a cup of tay, your honour, the price of a cup
of tay, and I'll pray for ye; andeed ye might do worse than have the
prayers of the poor!"

Sitting basking at her post, she taxed all comers, and taxed them most
successfully; for the little world of Crowmore were mortally afraid to
draw down the "Fancy's" tongue, and she received propitiatory offerings
of sods of turf, and "locks of male" from her own class, and numerous
sixpences, and coppers, from well-to-do neighbours.

She was the mother of Andy All Right, and looked to the Castle with
confidence for the supply of her wardrobe, and praties, and sweet milk.
She would sorely vex the spirits of those who figuratively buttoned
up their pockets, by loud, uncomplimentary remarks on their personal
appearance, painful allusions to family secrets, and dismal prophetic
warnings of their future downfall. Many a stout-hearted man would
rather (if he had no small change), go a round of two miles, than run
the gauntlet of the "Fancy's" corner.

She had also other means of levying tribute that rarely failed; not
begging with gross directness, or angry importunity, as I regret to say
was her occasional wont, but merely exclaiming aloud, as if talking to
herself,—

"Musha! and it's Mrs. Megaw! and 'tis herself has the finest young
family in the whole side of the country; faix, no one denies that, not
wan; and signs on it, 'tis the mother they takes afther!"

Or to a victim of the sterner sex (who are equally vulnerable in such
matters),—

"And so that's Tim Duffy!"—in a tone of intense surprise—"sure,
an' I hardly know him. Troth, and it's a _trate_ to sit here and see
the likes of him going by. It's an officer in the army he should be,
instead of trailing there, afther a cart of turf!"

These little speeches, had an excellent effect, and generally bore a
rich harvest. She had also an unfailing method of raising a spirit of
emulation among her benefactors. As for instance, having received,
we will say sixpence, from some charitable hand, she would turn it
over rather contemptuously in her palm, and exclaim, in a tone more of
sorrow than of anger,—

"Well, I always thought ye were as free-handed as Mrs. Ryan; and _she_
never asks me to look at less than a shilling! But maybe ye can't so
well afford it, dear; and God bless ye all the same."

As Helen and her cousins returned from church on Sunday, they descried
the "Fancy" sitting on the hall door-steps; a clean cap on her head,
and a pipe in her mouth.

"Your servant, ladies," she said, without rising, and gazing over their
heads in a rather abstracted (not to say embarrassing) fashion.

"Well, Judy, and what is it to-day?" inquired Dido.

"Oh, it's only Mr. Barry. He is inside"—with a wave of her pipe. "He
is a Justice of the Pace now, and I want him to do a small turn for me.
Just go in and don't trouble yourself about me, dearie."

"So Barry is here!" cried Katie, visibly delighted. "What brings him?
Sunday is never his day?"

"No," admitted her sister, as she followed her into the hall; "but he
has come to see Helen; and it gives him an excuse for his best clothes."

Two large pointers with swaggering bodies, animated tails, and muddy
paws, now rushed out of the drawing-room to meet them; and in the
drawing-room, extended full length on the sofa, in an easy, negligent
attitude, they discovered the pointers' master. Turning his face
towards the door, he said,—

"So you are back at last," then rising slowly, and putting his boots
on the ground, he raised himself to his full height, shot his cuffs,
and stared fixedly at Helen, and she at him (it must be confessed); he
was far, far worse than she had expected. She beheld a middle-sized
man, with bandy legs, a red face, and beaming countenance,—lit up by
an inward sun of self-complacency—dressed in a short cutaway coat,
a white waistcoat, and brilliant tie,—the sleeves of his coat and
the legs of his trousers revealed an unusual margin of red wrist and
grey stocking; but these discrepancies did not occasion the smallest
embarrassment to their wearer.

"I hope you have been pretty comfortable, Barry?" inquired Dido, with a
rueful glance at the tumbled cushions and antimacassars.

"No; that old bench of yours is as hard as a board! This is Miss Denis,
isn't it? Miss Denis," laying his hand on his heart, and making a low
bow, "your most humble."

Which salute the young lady acknowledged by sweeping him a somewhat
disdainful curtsey.

"Many in church?"—now looking at Katie.

"Oh, the usual set, Reids and Redmonds. Mr. Redmond walked down the
avenue with Helen. Helen, you have certainly made a conquest _there_."

"Of course she has," quoth Barry, seating himself; "it is not every day
he sees a pretty girl in these parts." Thus administering a compliment
to her, and a backhander to his cousins in the same breath.

"What was Miss Calderwood saying to you, Dido?" inquired
Katie,—totally ignoring the foregoing agreeable speech!

"Oh, she talked of the weather, and about Helen. She wanted to know
when she came, how long she was going to stay, and if it was true she
was a governess?"

"Odious girl!" cried Katie, "she has a knack of asking nasty questions.
I can't endure her—nor the glare of her cold grey eyes."

"Oh, she is not a bad sort of young woman," protested Barry, sticking
his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat, and leaning back in his
chair. "She and I get on first-class; but all the same, and quite
between ourselves, girls, I would never think of marrying her!"

Helen stared in astonishment. Unquestionably here was a creature who
pressingly invited the most inflexible snubbings! He on his part had
been gazing at her with untrammelled amazement and admiration, and
now that these feelings had slightly subsided, began to engage her in
conversation.

"And how do you like this part of the world?"

"Very much indeed."

"Humph! I would not have thought you were so easily pleased; it will
seem uncommonly dull after all your fine times in the East; there you
had balls, and parties, and admirers by the score."

Helen drew up her neck, and looked dignified, and he said to himself,
"Ha, ha, my fine madam, I'll have to take you down a peg, if that's
your style."

"Had you a comfortable situation in London at that school?"

"Yes, thank you," she replied haughtily.

"Well, we shall not allow you to go back this long time! Dido, we
must take Helen (could she believe her ears?) over to the band at
Terryscreen next week. I'LL treat you all at the hotel. You don't
mind me calling you Helen, do you? You know we are all cousins here!"
concluded Barry, with a discriminating readiness to claim kinship with
a pretty girl.

"Yes," he said to himself, "Katie and Dido were not bad in their way,
but this new connection was really splendid!"

In his mind's eye he already saw himself proudly parading her at the
band, and driving his intimates, and maybe the officers (who were _not_
his intimates) simply mad with envy.

She was a little bit stiff now, but that would soon wear off.

"And how is the great inventor?" he inquired facetiously.

"As usual," responded Dido, "quite well and very busy."

"Is luncheon ready? for I'm as hungry as a hawk," he said. "I hope you
have got something decent to-day. None of your bacon and eggs! Mind,
Helen, you don't let them starve you, they are by no means liberal
with their butcher's meat," and he laughed uproariously, and evidently
considered that he had said something exquisitely witty.

"We always have meat on _Sundays_," said Dido sarcastically, as she led
the way to an excellent repast in the dining-room.

When Barry had taken the edge off his appetite, which he compassed in
a manner that excited Helen's disgust, he looked across at her, and
said abruptly,—

"What's the name of those islands you were at?"

"The Andamans."

"You had fine times; twenty men to one girl, and no end of tennis and
parties; it's the other way about here," grinning complacently, "twenty
girls to one man, and no parties, balls, or fun of any kind."

"I was only at one dance all the time I was at Port Blair."

"Port Blair! _now_ i have it!" suddenly laying down his knife and fork,
and speaking in a loud, exultant tone, "I _thought_ i had heard of the
place somewhere. Girls, I'll tell you who was at those islands for
months, old Redmond's nephew! I say, Helen, did you ever come across a
fellow, of the name of Lisle?"

"Yes, I knew him," returning his gaze with calm, untroubled eyes.

"He was there for a long time. What was the attraction, eh?"

"How can I tell you? Sport, I believe."

"Oh!" with a palpable wink at Katie. "Sport! There are a good many
different kinds of _sport_. And now tell me what you think of him."

"I'm not prepared with an opinion at such short notice."

"Which means that you don't like him! Neither do _I_. Come, that's one
bond of union—give us your hand on it," jumping up and stretching
an eager red member across the table,—where it remained alone, and
unsought!

"I never said that I did not like Mr. Lisle," returned Helen, with
freezing politeness.

"Oh!" drawing back, visibly affronted. "So that's the way with you,
is it? Well, he is not a bad-looking chap, and you know he is a great
catch! Plenty of _other_ girls would give their ears to marry him."

"Pray explain yourself, Mr. Sheridan," said Helen, fiercely. "Do you
mean me to understand that _I_ would have given my ears to marry him?"
Her eyes were flashing and her colour rising, and there was every
indication of a domestic storm.

"Don't mind him! Don't mind him!" cried Katie, gallantly turning the
tide of battle, "it's only his chaff; he _loves_ to put people in a
passion. Barry, you must really remember that Helen is not used to your
jokes _yet_."

"Nor ever would be," thought that young lady, wrathfully.

"Oh, well, no offence, no offence; I did not know you were so _touchy_
about him! He is a great favourite with the old boy—I mean his
uncle,—but he is hardly ever here, always rambling about the world. I
think myself, he is by no means the saint his fond relations imagine,
and that he has a screw loose somewhere."

"And I'm sure he has not," rejoined Dido, hotly. "I like him, though
I've only met him once or twice. He is a gentleman, which is more than
I can say for other people in this part of the world. He is delightful
to talk to, very good-looking, never gives himself airs, never
brags——"

"One would think you were his hired trumpeter," interrupted Barry,
angrily. "What do _you_ know, a girl like _you_! Believe me, still
waters run deep. Give me a jolly, above-board chap that will light a
pipe, and mix a tumbler of whisky punch, and open his mind to you! None
of your cool, deliberate fellows, who smoke cigarettes, drink claret,
and look as if you have seven heads when you make a little joke."

"I wonder if he is coming for the shooting," said Katie, amiably
anxious to smooth matters. "He is fond of it, I know."

"Yes, and a fair shot, but jealous, as I found the only day I was out
with him; _twice_ he took my bird."

"Perhaps because you missed it," retorted Dido, coolly. "Sometimes he
comes for a month's hunting in winter,"—turning to Helen. "He's a
splendid rider, the best in the county."

"Well, I don't know about that, Dido! Ahem! I don't wish to praise
myself, but I'll be glad to hear of a more forward man with the Bag Fox
pack, than Barry Sheridan, Esq., J.P. Why, the very last time I was out
I jumped a gate—a five-barred gate!" addressing himself specially to
Helen.

"Then if you did, Barry," said Dido, rising and pushing back her chair,
"it must have been on the _ground_! You know very well that you can't
ride a yard. Your shooting I don't deny; but when you boast of jumping
five-barred gates, you know you are talking nonsense." So saying,
she walked out of the room, followed by the two girls and Barry—who
brought up the rear after a considerable interval, muttering wrathfully
to himself.

As he passed into the hall, he came in full view of the "Fancy," seated
on the steps. On beholding him, she called out in her most dulcet
coaxing key,—

"Oh, my own darling young gentleman, you are a sight for sore eyes;
your 'Fancy' has been waiting on you these two hours!"

"Then she _must_ wait," he growled, nevertheless approaching, with his
hands in his pockets and a rather important strut.

"Oh, then, I know ye don't mane _that_. An' sure now, Miss," appealing
to Helen, and languishing at her with her head on one side, "and isn't
he an ornament to any country?"

Helen became crimson with suppressed laughter, and was totally unable
to utter any reply. However, her levity was not lost on Barry, who made
a note of it against some future occasion, when she should be repaid in
kind.

"Well, Judy, what is it?" impatiently.

"Only a whisper, darlin'. 'Tis just this," suddenly rising to her feet,
"ever since I lost me health, come Christmas twenty years, and manny
and manny a time before that, I washed for your mother——"

"Just cut all that part, will you?"

"Well thin, I'm here at the Cross, a poor, lone widder, that has
buried all belonging to me but Andy, and living on the charity of the
public, as ye know, this blessed nineteen years! And now, a thief of
a black stranger from beyant Terryscreen, has come and set himself
down alongside of me. A _blind_ man itself—any way it's what he lets
on—and every one knows I'm _not_; and they are all for giving to the
poor dark creature. And sure, he has me ruined and destroyed entirely!"
now raising her voice a full octave, and commencing to cry with
alarming energy.

"You know if I did right I'd give you six weeks of Terryscreen jail for
begging in the public highway," said Barry, magisterially.

"An' if ye did that same," drying her eyes, and stretching out her
hands, "I take these beautiful angels as mee witnesses, I'd rather have
six weeks from your honour, than six days from another; and that's as
sure as I'm standing here!"

Barry was palpably flattered, and grinned, and looked at Helen out of
the corner of his left eye to see if she was impressed, as much as
to say, "What do you think of _that_?"—But, unfortunately, she was
grinning also.

"Indeed, it's bitterly cold in winter," put in Dido, "and I'm not a bit
sorry that some one has taken your corner. With Andy in constant work,
and milk, and potatoes, and a pinch of tea from us, you know you will
_never_ miss it."

"Arrah, Miss Dido! sure ye don't know what you are talking about.
And how would ye? If that rapscallion gets a footing in my holding,
it's ruin and destruction that's in it; just that, and no more! Why,"
lowering her voice mysteriously, "sure it's as good as a _farm_ to me,
darlin'! Aye, and betther; it's all in-comings, and no stock, and no
rint."

This amazing confidence threw an entirely new light on the subject. Her
three listeners stared at the old woman in respectful astonishment.
They would have stared still more, could they have seen the
comfortably-filled stocking that was hidden away under the thatch of
Judy's cabin.

"Well, I can't stay here all day. I'll see what I can do for you," said
Barry, abruptly. "I've important papers to sign at home, and I must be
off."

The truth was, that the good gentleman was ruffled at Helen's attitude
of repressed amusement, and at Dido's courageous candour; and he felt
that he could not punish the offending couple more simply, or more
effectually, than by removing himself, and leaving them to their own
devices all through the long Sunday afternoon. He flattered himself
that Miss Denis would _soon_ learn his value.

Now Barry was the only eligible bachelor, in a neighbourhood where
there were legions of girls,—and was fully sensible of his own
importance. In his secret heart, he believed that he had only to ask
any young woman within a radius of say twenty miles, and, in his own
homely parlance, "she would be thankful to jump at him." And he felt
conscious that he was dealing a cruel blow to the little circle at
Crowmore when, seizing his hat and stick, and calling his dogs, he bade
them a general farewell, and hurried down the steps.

His departure was the signal for the "Fancy" to take leave. Willy
nilly, she escorted him to the gate,—to the intense delight of the
spectators in the doorway. Vainly he tried to shake her off; vainly
he increased his pace; his manœuvres were totally unavailing, his
companion still trotted bare-footed beside him, gesticulating as she
went with both head and hands. Her eloquence undoubtedly had its
reward, for within a week "the dark man from beyond Terryscreen" had
mysteriously disappeared, and she reigned in undisputed possession of
her own warm corner.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

"THE SLAVE OF BEAUTY."

  "A 'strange coincidence,' to use a phrase
  By which such things are settled now-a-days."

  _Byron._


"HERE'S the comrade of your glove, Miss Dido," said Biddy, descending
into the hall, where the three girls, attired in their best summer
dresses (being about to set forth for a tennis party at Ballyredmond),
were impatiently awaiting her.

"Will I do?" inquired Dido, as she received her property. "Or is my hat
too shabby? This is its third summer, you know!"

"An' deed, an' you'll do finely; 'tis only too grand you are! What
call is there to be dressing just for the ould gentleman and Miss
Calderwood, and maybe Misther Barry, that ye can see any day of the
week without putting yourselves to any rounds at all?" demanded Biddy
in an acrimonious key.

"Oh, but this is to be quite a grand affair," protested her younger
nursling. "We have had three days' invitation. It's my opinion,"
glancing at her pretty cousin, "that this 'at home' is given for _you_,
Helen. Mr. Redmond has been here twice this week; you have bewitched
him."

"I would not put it past him! for nothing grows old with a man but his
clothes," cried Biddy scornfully. "And shure he might give something
dacent when he went about it; _I've_ no opinion of these grass parties
and chape entertainments. God be with the good ould times, when no one
was axed to cross the door, under a dinner or a ball; indade, Redmond's
own father used to give the height of high feedin' and kep' a butt
of claret standing in the hall, just ready to your hand. But now,
when you go out, no one even so much as axes, if you have a mouth on
you?—for—by a drink of tay, that wake, that ye can see the bottom of
the cup!"

Notwithstanding this gloomy sketch, the three young ladies (to whom
this "chape entertainment" was a delightful novelty) were not the least
disheartened, and set off to walk across the demesne in the highest
possible spirits, leaving Biddy and her apple-cheeked niece filling up
the doorway, and gazing after them with the affectionate complacency of
people who were surveying a creditable personal possession.

"There's not their like in the county!" exclaimed Sally, as she folded
her massive arms across her apron strings.

"No, nor in ten counties! and what's the good of it all; will ye tell
me that?" inquired her aunt peevishly. "There's Miss Dido, with the
walk of a duchess and the voice of a thrush, and Miss Helen, a real
beauty, and Katie not too bad entirely,—and not a sign of any one,
watching wan of them!"

"I think Misther Barry has an eye on Miss Denis," insinuated Sally
timidly.

"Is it that spalpeen? An' much good may it do him! She would not look
at the same side of the road as him," returned Biddy fiercely. "He
would not dar' to ax her. Shure she's the only one of them all knows
how to talk to him, and that quenches him rightly."

"That's true for you," assented Sally, nodding her head in grave
acknowledgment of this indisputable fact.

"It's just killing me," continued the old woman, "to see them young
ladies wasting their looks and their years here, slaving in the house,
and garden, like blacks. What's to be the end of it, at all, at all?"

"The end will be that the masther will burn us all in our beds yet,"
replied Sally with angry promptitude. "What is he up to now?" glancing
at one of the tower windows, out of which vast volumes of dense black
smoke were curling in lazy clouds.

"Oh, the Lord only knows!" retorted her aunt impatiently, as she turned
and walked into the hall with an unusually sour expression on her
jovial old countenance.

"There's no daling with the likes of him," she muttered as she
descended to the lower regions, "for he will nayther do wan thing, or
the other; he won't go properly out of his mind, and he won't lave it
alone; and he has me fairly bothered, and me heart is broke, with his
mischeevous contrivances."

Meanwhile, the three girls walked over the hill, and passed through
Dillon's gate into the precincts of Ballyredmond, a fine park of
seemingly endless extent, through which a beautifully-kept avenue wound
like a white ribbon, by clumps of beeches, rows of lime trees, and
great solitary oaks. Nearer the house beds of brilliant flowers broke
the monotony of the turf, and a long gravelled terrace was crowned
by an ugly but dignified-looking mansion, that seemed an appropriate
centre for the surrounding scene.

The Misses Sheridan and Miss Denis were the last arrivals, and were
received by Miss Redmond in the pleasure-ground. They found her sitting
under a tree in her bath chair, arrayed in her best white shawl and a
picturesque garden bonnet. She was a pretty old lady, with white hair,
an ivory skin, and soft, caressing manners, and she greeted the three
chaperoneless (to coin a word) girls with evident pleasure. Not so
Miss Calderwood, the deputy hostess; her welcome was by no means so
gracious or so genial. She gave the two Sheridans a limp shake-hands,
and bestowed a curt bow and a long stare upon their cousin, the
governess (who was looking remarkably pretty and well-dressed in one
of the costumes upon which Mrs. Creery had once fixed her elderly
affections). Evidently she did not think that Miss Denis was entitled
to participate in the advantages of her acquaintance and patronage.
However, Mr. Redmond more than atoned for his ward's deficiencies. He
led Helen to a seat, introduced her to several of the county people,
fussed about her rather too assiduously with tea and cakes and other
light refreshments, and finally took share of the same rustic bench,
and engaged her entire attention.

Biddy's dismal forebodings had been brilliantly refuted. We notice the
party from the Rectory (a considerable contingent), several remote
families, half-a-dozen officers from a garrison town, and last, but by
no means least, our friend Barry, standing beside Miss Calderwood, with
his hands behind his back, and such an air of serious criticism in his
port, that one would imagine he was in an African slave-market, and
contemplated the purchase of one or two of Mr. Redmond's guests.

Mr. Redmond himself never left Helen's side, and coolly (and I consider
selfishly) dismissed all overtures respecting a game of tennis, with
a bland wave of his hand. His beautiful young _protégée_, the desired
partner of several eligible tennis players, was simply not allowed to
have a voice in the matter.

"We are very happy here! Just go away, my good fellow, and leave us
alone," was his complacent reply to each eager suitor. "You and I,"
to Helen, "will do better than that! we will stroll round the grounds
together by-and-by, when all these energetic idiots have settled down
to what they consider the business of life."

It never seemed to occur to him that Helen would have preferred to join
the said band of energetic idiots, or to have liked the company of a
younger swain—and presently he marched her off—to make a grand tour
of the greenhouses and gardens.

Although Mr. Redmond was a little, round, old gentleman, who had
white eyebrows, and wore an ostentatious brown wig—his heart was as
young, as susceptible, and as fickle as if he was three-and-twenty; he
delighted in a pretty face, and especially in the company of a lovely,
smiling girl, like his present companion, who, besides all her other
charms, proved to be a most accomplished listener. As they walked, he
talked, talked incessantly; indeed, the garrulous old personage became
most gratuitously confidential about his property, his neighbours,
and his nephew. "My nephew" was dragged headlong into every other
sentence,—conversationally you came face to face with "my nephew" at
each corner; his opinion was quoted on all conceivable subjects, from
politics down to black currant jam. Another listener might have been
a little bored, and even irritated, but the pretty tall girl in white
listened with a greedy attention, of which she angrily told herself she
ought to be heartily ashamed.—The world was but a small place after
all! Here, in what her aunt Julia called the "wilds," she was strolling
along, _tête-à-tête_ with Gilbert Lisle's uncle, undoubtedly the very
identical old gentleman whom he had mentioned as carrying on an ink
feud with his father, but who was somewhat partial to _him_. Partial
was no word for it! infatuation was nearer to the mark.

"I'm sure all those young fellows are mad with me for carrying you
off," and he chuckled delightedly. "But, after all, it's no reason that
because I'm an old fogey I'm not to have a pleasant afternoon, too, eh?
From the time I could walk alone, I was always the slave of Beauty!"
Here he doffed his hat, and made Helen a most courtly bow, at which she
blushed and laughed.

"Yes, the slave of Beauty; all the same," resuming his hat with a
flourish; "I never married, you see! The fact was, I butterflied about
too long, and then it was winter before I knew where I was! We are not
a marrying family; there's my sister and myself, and my nephew, I'm
always preaching to him, but he laughs when I talk to him, and tells me
to go and marry myself—impudent rascal, that's a nice way to speak to
his uncle, eh? All the same, he is a fine fellow, as true as steel,
and a more honourable, upright gentleman never drew breath; whoever
gets him for a husband will be a lucky girl."

The corners of his companion's pretty lips curved somewhat scornfully,
and she said to herself, "Shall I explode a social torpedo under this
innocent old gentleman's feet, and say I know your illustrious nephew,
he asked _me_ to marry him, and instantly took ship and left me;
although he swore that he would return, as surely as the sun rose in
the heavens! Would it be agreeable to her companion to learn that his
paragon's idea of honour was more elastic than he imagined?"

"Two or three times," continued Mr. Redmond, "I've tried to marry my
nephew to some nice girl, and it has always been a dead failure, I've
picked out a beauty, had her to stay, got up riding parties, driving
parties, and even moonlight picnics (as if moonlight picnics were
irresistible), and it was all no go. Just as I thought everything was
arranged, he would slip through my fingers like a piece of soap!"
(precisely Helen's own experience). "Well, now I want to ask your
advice. What do you think of those two yew-trees?" he demanded with
rather bewildering suddenness.

"I—candidly, I don't admire them; they remind one of a church-yard."

"Exactly, and as I don't want to be reminded of anything so deuced
unpleasant: down they shall come! And, now, what's your opinion of
these new flower-beds they have just cut out in this ribbon garden?"

"I think they are not sharp enough at the corners; they are too much
the shape of biscuits,—the 'People's mixed.'"

"So they are! and shall we have them filled with pink verbenas, or
crimson geraniums?"

"Crimson—that lovely new, deep shade."

"And crimson it shall be! Allow me to give you this rose!" suddenly
plucking one as he spoke. "My dear Miss Denis, I see that our tastes
are identical.—I only wish I was a young man for your sake."

His companion made no response, but on the whole she thought she
preferred him as he was.

By this time they had encountered various other promenading couples,
and in a shady walk they came face to face with Barry and Miss
Calderwood, and the latter, instead of passing by on the other side,
with her nose in the air, halted directly in front of Helen, and said
most abruptly,—

"Miss Denis, Mr. Sheridan tells me that you were in the Andamans with
Gilbert Lisle,—and knew him _intimately_!"

Helen coloured vividly, partly at this sudden accost and partly because
of that sting in the tail of the sentence, that thrice underlined word
"intimately;" and Mr. Redmond, wheeling swiftly round so as to face
her, ejaculated, "God bless my soul! you don't tell me so."

"Yes, I knew a Mr. Lisle in the Andamans," admitted Helen reluctantly.

"Only fancy! How immensely funny!" drawled Miss Calderwood.

To Helen there had been nothing specially amusing in the acquaintance,
so she closed her lips firmly and held her peace.

"Why—why—I've been talking to you about him for the last hour, and
you never told me this!" cried Mr. Redmond, eyeing her with an air of
angry suspicion. "Eh, what?"

"You mentioned no name," faltered the young lady, feeling that verily
this quibbling with the truth was as bad as any downright lie; but
confronted by three curious faces, with the eyes of Barry—of Gilbert
Lisle's uncle—and Gilbert Lisle's betrothed, fixed imperatively on
hers—was she to appease their greedy curiosity and boldly confess the
painful reason of her silence? was she to proclaim the humiliating fact
that they were all staring at the girl who had been jilted by that
honourable gentleman?

"Mentioned no name—neither I did! And how were you to know? Eh, what?
Well, and what did you think of my nephew?" inquired the loquacious old
relative.

At this point-blank query Miss Calderwood flashed a satirical look at
Miss Denis, as much as to say, "What a silly unnecessary question!" But
Helen met her eyes with proud steadiness.

"I think most people liked Mr. Lisle," she answered with well-assumed
carelessness.

"And how long was he at the Andamans?" continued Mr. Redmond.

"About six months."

"Six months! And what was he doing there all that time? Any little
entanglement—eh?" rather anxiously.

"I cannot tell you."

"Ah!—I see that you know more about Gilbert than you will admit!"
exclaimed Miss Calderwood with a sharp accusing glance. "I believe
girls in India are odious creatures. I have no doubt he got into some
scrape out there." Helen blushed scarlet. "Yes," with an unpleasant
little laugh, "your face tells tales. I suppose he was drawn into some
silly flirtation—men _are_ such fools! Well, it is very good of you to
keep his secret; it's more than others would have done!" and with this
insolent hint and a patronizing nod the heiress walked on.

Helen felt almost breathless with anger. "She had the passions of her
kind;" her eyes sparkled, her nostrils quivered as she gazed after
her receding rival. What had she done that she should be insulted and
flouted by this supercilious heiress?

"Scrape!—stuff! Flirtation!—rubbish! It's all jealousy, every bit of
it!" cried Mr. Redmond, as he removed his hat and cautiously passed his
bandana across his forehead. "Gilbert is not a ladies' man—I only wish
he was! And so you knew him very well? Eh, what?"

"As well as most people," turning away to break off a bit of syringa.

"Well, now let me hear all about him," very eagerly. "He hardly ever
writes, and when he does there's nothing in his letters. Come, now,
what did he do? How did he pass his time?"

"I really cannot tell you much—he lived a long way off on the
mainland. I believe he spent his days in fishing and sailing. He liked
the Andamans because they were a lazy, out-of-the-world region."

"I hope to goodness he liked them for nothing _else_. Eh, what? Six
months' sailing and fishing was the deuce of a time, you know! You
don't—just between you and me, you know—you don't think he had any
_other_ attraction? Eh, what—what?"

"Honestly, I don't believe he cared a straw for any one in the place,"
raising her eyes gravely to his, and speaking with unusual emphasis.

"Oh, well, I fancy _you_ would be likely to know," rejoined the old
gentleman innocently. "We must have some nice long talks about Gilbert;
but just now I'm afraid we will have to go back to the tennis-ground; I
want to have a chat with old Mrs. Morony. I need not tell you I'd much
rather stay here walking about with you," he added gallantly. "But I
must not be too selfish; and I'll give the young fellows a chance!"

So Helen was at last released from this purgatorial _tête-à-tête_, and
permitted to join the rest of the company.

When she took leave of Miss Calderwood (which I must say she did very
stiffly), she read more than a mere contemptuous dismissal in that
lady's eyes; she saw suspicion, ay, and dislike, lurking in those
shallow grey orbs; but Mr. Redmond wrung her hand affectionately at
parting and said in his heartiest manner,—

"And to think of your knowing Gilbert! Eh, what? Well, I have dozens of
questions to ask you about him; I shall be over to-morrow or next day."

"Poor Helen, I pitied you," said Katie as they walked home. "It was too
bad of Mr. Redmond to carry you off."

"_Il faut souffrir pour être belle_," added Dido, with a laugh. "What a
dose you must have had of 'my nephew!—my nephew'!"

As far as the Misses Sheridan were concerned "the chape entertainment"
had been a prodigious success. They had enjoyed themselves immensely;
had played tennis, sipped tea, and strolled about the grounds under
military escort. Katie's tongue as she tripped along went like the
clapper of the proverbial mill; but Helen was preoccupied and unusually
silent. To return _viâ_ dillon's Gate at the hour of seven p.m. was a
feat quite beyond the Misses Sheridan's courage, and in spite of their
cousin's protestations and remonstrances they insisted on going round
by the road and entered Crowmore by the old avenue. As they turned a
corner they noticed Sally's portly figure speeding towards the Castle
with somewhat guilty haste, and a man approaching in their direction
with his hands in his pockets and a straw in his mouth. To Helen's
amazement it was Larry Flood.

"More power, ladies," was his brief but novel greeting.

"A fine evening, Larry," returned Dido. "So you have been walking with
Sally?"

"'Tis only wance in a way, your ladyship."

"Is Biddy still against it?"

"She's that much again it, that if I wor to go next or near the house
she'd just pick mee eyes out! Maybe you'll put in a word for me, Miss?"

"I don't see why Sally should not please herself. She's old enough."

"Well, for that matter we are both of us pretty long in the tooth! But
I'll have her before the priest in spite of the old wan yet, though she
_is_ trying to draw down a match with Darby Chute!"

"Oh, _that_ would never do!" exclaimed Helen with involuntary emphasis.

"I'm entirely of your opinion, Miss," said Larry, turning towards her.
"I see you're none the worse for that little tip off the car! An' you
are looking just as beautiful as a harvest moon!"

"And how is Finnigan's mare?" she inquired, not to be outdone in
politeness.

"Oh, faix!" scratching his head, "shure she nearly drowned herself and
me about a month ago. Coming out of Terryscreen fair and aisy, we met
a band of music all of a sudden on the bridge, and without the least
provocation she just turned about and leapt over the parapet, car and
all!"

"And did YOU go over, Larry?" asked Helen with benevolent solicitude.

"Troth, and I did not. _I_ stayed on land. We had terrible work to
get her out, though she swam like an otter, and there was no great
harm done, barrin' to the shafts again; but the mails was soaking
wet—just in a sort of pulp; and the postmaster was raging and spoke
very bitter. The end of it was I had to get shut of the mare! A horse
on the road is well enough; but when they show a taste for the water
it's a different kind of driving is required. So I sold her to a canal
boatman—and maybe she's aisy now. She'll be hard set to run away with
the boat! Well, she was a fine traveller!" he concluded regretfully.

"And what have you now?"

"Only the blind brown, till the fair of Banagher. He's a hape of work
in him yet, and there's no fear of _him_ shying. Well, Miss Dido, I'll
not be detaining you. You'll mind and put in a word for me with the
ould 'fostooke,'—I mane Biddy Macgravy. Tell her I'm a warm man, and
an honest man, and a dacent man. Sure all the world knows that! She's
taking her pigs to the wrong market," he added significantly, as he
abruptly touched his caubeen, and departed.

"Modesty, thy name is Larry Flood!" ejaculated Helen. "Every one know's
he's an honest man, and a dacent man!"

"Well, yes, he is in his way," acquiesced Dido, "but HE knows who is
the heiress of these parts, and that Sally is a splendid dairy woman,
and has a fortune of forty pounds! not to speak of a second-hand gold
watch!"



CHAPTER XXXV.

"THE APPARITION."

  "And having once turned round, walks on,
    And turns no more his head,
  Because he knows a frightful fiend
    Doth close behind him tread."

  _Ancient Mariner._


HOWEVER highly Mr. Sheridan's intellectual faculties might be rated
by foreign philosophers, and corresponding _savants_, yet, like the
typical prophet, he had no honour in his own country, and was credited
by the most lenient, with wanting at least one day in the week! Even
Andy All Right (who was dimly conscious of his own deficiencies), had
more than once been heard to draw comparisons between himself and his
master, which were by no means to the latter's advantage.

Helen saw but little of her uncle; indeed, only on those rare
occasions, when he joined his family at dinner, and during that meal,
he rarely opened his lips, save for the purpose of swallowing food,
his attention was wholly absorbed by some object not present, that
monopolized all his thoughts. Now and then he would pause, lay down
his knife and fork, lean back in his chair, and meditatively comb his
beard with somewhat inky fingers, sometimes he would suddenly catch
fire at a passing remark, and use it as a text for an unexpected
and eloquent lecture on astronomy, biology, philosophy, or even
hydrophobia; he had an excellent and intelligent listener in his
niece, who followed him patiently through all the mazes of his varied
subjects, anxiously endeavouring to glean information for the benefit
of herself and her pupils; (and what she could not comprehend, from its
being enclosed in a labyrinth of words, she modestly attributed to her
own mental density). As Mr. Sheridan proceeded with his discourse, his
voice gradually gained such force, his words came so rapidly and so
opportunely, that he seemed to be completely transformed. As he warmed
to his subject, he would start from his seat, his dark eyes flashing,
his weird hands waving, he looked more like an impassioned Druid,
invoking his countrymen to war, and human sacrifices, than a modern
paterfamilias, presiding at a frugal domestic meal. Then, as suddenly
as it had kindled, the fire would expire, he would pause abruptly,
sigh, and presently push back his chair, and steal noiselessly from the
room.

He lived altogether in the tower, behind barred and bolted doors, and
through which Dido and Biddy had the sole _entrée_, and there,—secure
against interruption, or indiscreet investigation,—he carried on
some mysterious undertaking, to which he gave the rather vague name
of "scientific research." But loud explosive sounds, odours (not of
Araby), and dense volumes of smoke, were the only outward symptoms of
his industry.

During all the summer months every one at Crowmore pursued the even
tenour of their way, with uneventful regularity. Larry drove the red
car, and made surreptitious love to Sally, the "Fancy" clamoured at the
Cross, Darby continued to plunder his master, and that master remained
shut up in his fastness, throwing away time, and money, with both hands.

Helen was an adaptable girl, and was now as much at home at the Castle,
as if she had lived there for years: she had completely regained
her health, and spirits, and was as full of life and energy as the
indefatigable Dido. She toiled in the garden with unremitting industry,
and took as profound an interest in the weekly "cart," and the result
of Sally's "day," as did her cousins themselves. She had learnt how to
make butter, to bandy blarney with her relatives, to baffle Barry's
compliments, and, the greatest feat of all,—elude Mr. Redmond's
cross-examinations.

By the middle of August, the bushes in the garden were bent down
with fruit, and many and many an hour, the three girls spent picking
strawberries, currants, and gooseberries for the public market, or for
private sale. Time passed merrily enough in songs, stories, jokes, and
riddles, but no story, song, or riddle, had half as much interest for
the Misses Sheridan as their cousin's experiences at Port Blair! This
topic afforded inexhaustible entertainment to these two county mice;
over and over again Helen was called upon to recount her arrival, her
first impressions, to describe boating, shelling, and picnic parties.
Indeed, after a time Dido and Katie said they were perfectly familiar
with the appearance of every one in the settlement, and declared that
they almost felt as if they had been in the islands themselves! Strange
to say, that in the midst of all her glowing descriptions of people and
places, Helen never once let fall the name of _Lisle_. It was—had her
simple cousins but known—like the play of "Hamlet," without the Prince
of Denmark. She gave spirited representations of Mrs. Creery, and
mimicked Lizzie Caggett's screech, and Apollo's languid drawl. She had
an extraordinary faculty (I will not say talent) for such imitations,
a faculty that had been inflexibly nipped in the bud at school, an
accomplishment that she doubtless inherited from her versatile Greek
mother. Who would have guessed that, at a moment's notice, pretty
Miss Denis, could take off the voice, laugh, and demure manner of any
specified acquaintance? She had never practised this art till now,
when she discovered that a few such illustrations, brightened up her
narrative, and threw her audience into ecstasies of delight.—Helen
was undoubtedly an unusually clever girl, when she could thus infuse
interest, amusement, life and romance into a story—and yet omit the
hero!

One evening, after early tea, the three girls were busy in the garden,
sitting on little three-legged stools, among a thicket of bushes,
picking raspberries into a huge tin can, when Helen—whose thoughts
were sharpened by her cousins' grinding poverty, their unremitting
endeavours to make both ends meet, and their father's apathetic
seclusion—said suddenly,—

"Don't think me a Paul Pry, Dido; but do tell me what uncle is
doing.—Is he writing a book?"

"No; not now.—He _has_ written several splendid pamphlets on
gravitation, and about a dozen on wind; there are thousands of them
upstairs; they did not sell; they were above the average intellect;
indeed, I could not understand them myself. But then, I'm not clever!"

"Yes, you are, Dido," said her cousin decidedly. "You are a first-rate
musician, a capital German scholar. I wish I had half your brains!"

"That is nonsense, my dear——"

"Papa has invented no end of wonderful things," interrupted Katie
proudly.

Helen looked up expectantly, and Dido answered,—

"Yes; little machines for measuring and weighing air; but,
unfortunately, his most remarkable contrivances have all been
discovered before!"

"And what is he doing now?"

"He is constructing an apparatus that is to be the marvel of the age.
It is to be an overwhelming success. A surprise to humanity; but I do
not know what it is!"

"Can you not guess?"

Dido shook her head gravely, and Katie burst out, "Poor papa is out
of his element here. When we were children—indeed, till Dido was
sixteen—we lived in Germany, as you know, at a cheap little place,
called Kraut, and the Padré had plenty of congenial society, and made
many literary friends, who profess a great interest in his work still.
He takes them into his confidence. They know all about it.—They often
write to him——"

"To ask for money," appended Dido bitterly. "They are not real
_savants_ and inventors, and great literary lights, as papa fancies—at
least, I don't think they are. Certainly, some of our neighbours at
Kraut were clever, intellectual people, but others, whom papa picked
up in the train, or in the gardens, or the street, it's my opinion
they were all impostors. You remember the man from Baden, Katie; you
remember the Pole; you remember the Italian who——"

"Don't talk of them!" cried her sister impatiently. "They were all
swindlers and thieves!"

"And still papa has faith in strangers!" continued Dido. "A man has
only to claim him as a brother inventor, and say he is short of funds,
and were he making an instrument to bray like an ass, the Padré would
send him a cheque for fifty pounds.—And yet he grudges himself a pair
of slippers, and says he can't afford a door-knocker! I've no patience
with these hateful foreign harpies!" she concluded, tossing a handful
of fruit into the general receptacle, and rising as she spoke. "This
can is nearly full," she added; "you two can finish it without me, and
I must go in and weigh the strawberries." So saying, she tucked her
stool under her arm, pushed her way through the bushes, and vanished.

"Dido is vexed," exclaimed her sister, looking straight at Helen; "and
indeed it is trying sometimes, to think that while she works so hard
to earn a few shillings, the Padré sends away hundreds of pounds to
any person who chooses to write him flattering begging letters! And he
spends a fortune on books—expensive scientific works. He orders whole
boxes full; and when they come he never even opens them! There are a
dozen great cases, all mouldering, out in the coach-house. When mamma
was alive she kept some of the money; and she and the old steward
managed pretty well. After they died there was no one—for of course
the Padré could not have his mind disturbed about pigs and grazing
stock. After a time he took a great fancy to Darby; and Darby and Dido
do their best—and very bad it is! Barry wanted to manage the property,
but papa was furious at the bare notion! I myself, think it would have
been a good plan, but Dido set her face against it; and when she does
that you may give up your point. You have no idea how poor we are,
Helen."

Helen thought she had some glimmering idea—they could not be poorer
than she was!!! her uncle having borrowed all her earnings, (with the
exception of a few shillings), shortly after her arrival.

"What becomes of the rent?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know! It's paid to papa."

"And the money for the grazing?"

"Is paid to him also," admitted Katie reluctantly.

"And what has uncle done with his time all these years?" she asked
impatiently.

"Rome was not built in a day," rejoined Katie rather confusedly. "I
believe he is making something marvellous, and that it is nearly
completed. Of course we are pinched now, but we shall be rich some day.
I don't grumble, neither does Dido; for we believe the Padré will be
the great man of the age, and that in years to come, we shall be known
as the daughters of the celebrated Malachi Sheridan!"

Helen noticed, (not for the first time) that Katie generally talked
fluently of her father in her sister's absence; indeed Dido rarely
alluded to him; on the contrary, she would turn the subject rather
abruptly, when it touched upon him or his pursuits.

"Dido is not quite so sanguine as she used to be," said Katie, slowly
filtering a handful of fruit through her fingers. "She has never been
the same, since the Padré sent away Mr. Halliday,—her lover."

"Her lover! Dido's lover!" ejaculated Helen.

"Yes! don't say I told you, but she had one once. She did not meet him
_here_, so you need not stare."

"Perhaps she may not like you to tell me any more—so please _don't_,"
entreated Helen, with extraordinary self-denial.

"Oh, it's no matter!—it's no secret, the Reids and every one know all
about it. It happened two years ago. After papa's long illness—Dido
was completely worn out with nursing him, and the doctor said she must
have a change to the seaside—and as the Rectory people were going
to Portrush she went with them, and was away for two months—it was
there she met him. He had some appointment in India, and was only on
six months' leave. She came home looking quite beautiful—even Barry
remarked it—and she was engaged to Mr. Halliday—providing papa made
no objection. He wrote to the Padré, a very nice letter I believe,
and what do you think the Padré did? he tore it up into little bits,
enclosed it in an envelope, and sent it back by the next post!"

"Oh!" groaned Helen, "how frightful! and was Mr. Halliday nice?"

"_Very_ nice.—Of course I don't go by Dido,—but the Reids were
enchanted with him. He came here, nothing daunted, and insisted on
papa giving him an audience. I was out—just my luck—but Biddy told
me they were shut up in the drawing-room for an hour, and that she
heard the Padré roaring and raving like all the bulls of Bashan. At
last Mr. Halliday came out, looking very white and queer; he had a long
interview with Dido,—and then he went away. Poor Dido, how she used
to cry at night! She told me that Mr. Halliday wanted her to marry him
right off, without papa's consent; as there was nothing against him,
and he was ready to take her out to India then and there and give her a
happy home, and she said she would have gone—only for one reason——"

"And what was that?"

"I've been trying to find out for two years, and never discovered it
yet."

"I wonder what it could have been?" said Helen, musingly—"want of
money?"

"No! I'm sure it was not that, Mr. Halliday is rich. I've tried to
guess it, and I've given it up at last as a bad job."

"And so," said Helen to herself, "her merry, lively cousin Dido—whose
wit and spirits rarely failed her—had had what Katie would call 'a
disappointment,' too!"

"This can is quite full, so come along," said that young lady, rising
with joyous activity. "Thank goodness, these are the last of these
odious raspberries for this year."

The two girls had locked the garden gate, and were crossing the yard,
carrying the can of fruit between them, when they were nearly knocked
down, by Sally and Andy, who came running frantically in an opposite
direction, and without the smallest apology dashed through the back
door, which they slammed loudly after them. Prompted by very excusable
curiosity, the spectators followed by the same entrance, and discovered
Andy in the middle of the kitchen, looking as if his wits had entirely
departed, and Sally wiping the perspiration from her face with the
corner of her apron, and loudly expounding some terrible experience to
Dido and her aunt.

"Oh, save us and send us, Miss Katie!" she exclaimed as she entered,
"I'm after seeing the frightfullest thing that walks above ground! It
was ayther an evil sperrit or the ould wan himself! Oh, musha, musha, I
never get such a turn in mee life! Oh, Andy, darlin', what did we ever
do to bring such a thing about us?"

But Andy was utterly incapable of making any reply, and stood
trembling, and open-mouthed, in the middle of the floor.

"But what _was_ it?" demanded Helen, approaching the table and laying
down the can.

"Well then, miss, I'll just describe it, and I'll lave it to yourself
to put a name on it. Andy and me was down at the far croft, looking at
a sick cow, and were coming home, thinking of nothing in the world,
when all at wanst, I saw within two perch of me, what I thought was a
tree walkin'. I nudged Andy, and we both looked, and sure enough, there
it was, as plain as plain, with big wings reaching down each side, and
a long tail trailing after it;" here she was so overcome by the bare
recollection, that she was obliged to stop and gasp for breath, and
once more apply her apron to her countenance.

"Well, miss, it went by quietly, within about the length of this
kitchen of us,—and never passed no remark, so we just took to our
heels, and ran for the dear life, and small blame to us. And now, Miss
Dido, av I was to be hung in diamonds, I will never set foot outside
the yard after dark!" she concluded with a whimper.

"Sally, I wonder at you!" exclaimed Helen, "_I'll_ put a name to it,
fast enough—it was the mule you saw! In the dark he looked larger than
usual, his ears were the wings—they are big enough for anything—his
tail—was just his tail!"

"Ah now, Miss Helen, get out with your jokes! Is it the mule I'm
driving these eight year, and me not know him? Any way, I saw him in
the harness room as I went out—it was never the mule, it was ayther
Dillon in another form—or——" here she paused significantly, and left
her listeners to complete the sentence for themselves.

The next evening, Helen was sitting out under a hay-cock, after tea,
reading a venerable magazine. She had had a very fatiguing day, and
overcome by the sultry, drowsy air, she fell fast asleep.—After a
pleasant little doze, she awoke with a guilty start, and discovered
that the stars were out, and the midges had gone in, that the air
had become chill,—and that she had been asleep. Somewhat ashamed
of herself, she rose, picked up her book, replaced her hat, and was
turning towards the house, when a curious trailing, whirring noise on
the grass, arrested her attention. Glancing behind her, she beheld what
seemed to be a colossal, winged figure, pacing the sward within ten
yards of her recent nest. A figure somewhat resembling old Father Time,
with pinions which rose and fell, expanded, or collapsed at will. She
stood and stared, in blank bewilderment. The creature, like a gorged
vulture, appeared to be making futile efforts to rise from the ground
and fly! but, in spite of its exertions, and violent, almost passionate
flapping of its wings, it still remained a prisoner to mother earth.
_What_ was it? Was it as Sally had suggested? Her heart stood still,
for she now beheld it moving towards her! she felt her knees giving way
beneath her,—her hair rising on her forehead; she leant against the
hay-cock for support, and tightly closed her eyes. Hearing no sound for
the space of a minute, she ventured to open them once more, and it was
nowhere to be seen. Seizing this opportunity, she flew across the lawn,
and darted into the candle-lit, ever-open hall, from thence into the
dining room, where she sank into the nearest chair, gasping for breath.
She had barely recovered the power of speech, and was about to explain
her condition to her astonished cousins, when the door opened gently,
and her uncle came into the room; he stood near the table, and looking
at her fixedly with his coal-black eyes, said, in his usual slow way,—

"I'm afraid I alarmed you somewhat, niece—you saw me just now trying
the apparatus."

Helen gazed at him blankly, unable to utter a word.

"You look quite foolishly startled; but come with me, and you shall be
completely reassured. Dido and Katie," addressing his daughters, "rise
and follow me, my children, and behold with your own eyes the fruit of
my labours!"



CHAPTER XXXVI.

"THE APPARATUS."

  "The flighty purpose never is o'ertook."

  _Macbeth._


THE three girls lost no time in responding to this invitation; they
crossed the hall, passed through the door connecting it with the
Castle, and ascended a rugged, spiral stone staircase in the wake of
Mr. Sheridan, who preceded them at a swift pace,—carrying a light in
his hand. Halting on the first landing, he threw open a door, and said
to his niece,—

"This is my library. Here I think, calculate, and write. This room has
been the birth-place of many a glorious inspiration."

By the glimmer of one candle, Helen made out a large apartment that
seemed to contain nothing but books. They lined the walls, loaded the
tables, and covered the floor. Here and there they stood in untidy
stacks, as if cart-loads of volumes had been shot about the room at
random. The books were doubtless ancient, for a disagreeable odour of
fusty paper and mouldy leather, impregnated the atmosphere, and Helen
was glad to withdraw to the chill but less oppressive staircase, when
her uncle, with a dangerous wave of his composite, said,—

"Now let us ascend to the '_Locus in quo_'—in short, to the
laboratory."

When they reached their destination they found the same wild disorder
reigned there as they had just witnessed below. A forge and bellows, a
carpenter's bench and tools, a lathe, quantities of peculiar-looking
bottles,—presumably containing chemicals; a furnace, steel tools,
newspapers, lumps of coal, bits of whalebone, and the remains of Mr.
Sheridan's dinner on a tray were all mixed up together in extraordinary
confusion. In the middle of the room stood a large table, on which lay
a mysterious object, concealed by a red cover. It was something long,
something broad; but all further speculation was ended by Mr. Sheridan
delicately raising the cloth, and solemnly displaying what looked like
a pair of umbrellas blown inside out!

"I suppose you know nothing of aerostation?" he said gravely,
addressing his niece.

She shook her head; shameful to state, the very name was new to her.

"It is the art—as yet in its infancy—of travelling through the air;
an art that has ever baffled mankind. In me,"—pointing to his beard
with a long forefinger,—"you see the fortunate inventor of a pair
of wings, by means of which I hope shortly to make the first aerial
voyage—and fly to Dublin."

To an ordinary listener, this announcement would have seemed the mere
raving of a Bedlamite; but the three girls were profoundly impressed by
the inventor's voice, and presence, and enthusiastic belief in himself,
and they hung upon his words, with parted lips, and awe-struck eyes.

"It is quite true," he resumed, "that Borelli and Liebnitz, both
denied the possibility of any man's flying. But Bacon and Wilkin,
thought as _I_ do," he added with a nod that implied,—"and so much the
better for _them_!"

"Observe this," now tenderly holding up a wing. (It was of immense
length, and seemed surprisingly light and flexible.) "Here it is
annexed to the shoulders, by means of mechanical contrivances; these
springs, and a certain amount of muscular exertion, waft a human body
into the elements! _Once_ fairly afloat, a very slight effort, similar
to a bird's, will keep one going for hours! The first ascent is the
principal,—and indeed, I may say,—only difficulty. Fairly poised in
the air, the process is ludicrously simple. The main idea is, to attach
to one's person some mass, which, by being lighter than air, raises
itself, and the annexed incumbrance. But these details are rather
beyond your mental grasp. To be brief, this little contrivance of mine
blows into atoms all other modes of human locomotion—trains, steamers,
carriages, bicycles,—their fate is sealed. We shall all be as the
birds of the air in future. The boon to humanity will be incalculable;
and, believe me, the day predicted by good Bishop Wilkin is not far
distant, when every man who is going a journey, will call for his
_wings_, just as he now calls for his boots!"

"I hope you will make us each a pair, papa," said Katie, "whenever your
own are finished."

To this request her parent vouchsafed no notice, but continued to
expound with increased animation with one hand, as he held up a pinion
in the other.

"Roger Bacon, the greatest genius the world has seen since Archimedes,
was confident that it was possible to make instruments for flying, and
that a man with wings, sitting in the middle thereof and steering with
a rudder, may pass through the air. I quote from his _Opus Magnus_,
which he wrote in the form of a letter, to that enlightened prelate,
Pope Clement the Fourth!"

If anything had been needed to convince Helen and her cousins of the
practicability of the matter in question, the mention of Roger Bacon
was sufficient; and Mr. Sheridan, noting the expression of reverent
attention on their faces, was kindled to still greater enthusiasm.

"Bacon was a marvellous man! it is true that he indulged in chimerical
notions with regard to prolonging life, and placed some confidence in
astrology, yet the imputation on his character, of a leaning to magic
was totally unfounded. He studied languages, logic, and mathematics;
his information was exhaustive, his premises sound, as in the case in
point," waving his hand dramatically towards the table. "And now, my
children, I will attach these wings to my shoulders, in order that
you may be convinced of their extraordinary value, and of the amazing
dignity which they impart to the human body! Dido, light another
candle. No,—no assistance is required,—I can adjust them myself."

Helen and her cousins, looked on with breathless interest, whilst Mr.
Sheridan deftly arranged and strapped on the apparatus. Then he held
himself erect before them, and commenced to pace up and down a cleared
space at the end of the room, and as he paced to and fro, he continued
to expound as volubly as ever, on the importance of his prodigious
discovery.

If any cool-headed, matter-of-fact persons had happened to climb the
ivy, and look in through the shutterless window, and "discovered" the
room dimly lit by two candles (placed on the ground), the gray-robed
figure with trailing wings, lecturing with outstretched hands to a
group of eager-eyed girls,—they would have unhesitatingly declared,
that they were witnessing the exploits of the inmates of some private
lunatic asylum.

"My dear children," continued Malachi in an impressive tone, "in me you
see, the instrument of introducing a discovery that will be of untold
benefit to all mankind—wherever the wind blows, it will carry the name
of Malachi Sheridan. Of course aerostation is as yet in its infancy,"
tenderly stroking one of his pinions as he spoke, "but everything
must have a beginning. Look at railways; they had _their_ origin in
an ordinary domestic kettle, and behold they now cover the face of
the globe; this invention has to do with air, and like that element,
is—sublime! I have made an exhaustive study of air currents; there are
certain places where there is a continual brisk movement in various
directions! these will be the termini, the junctions of departure,
the same as Waterloo or Euston—but again let me not take you out of
your intellectual depth.—See how easily the apparatus works," he
exclaimed, pulling a small cord; and it became evident, that he could
extend or compress, his huge appendages at will. Now they towered above
his head—now they spread out—and now they collapsed, with marvellous
facility.

"Night is the only time, in which I can as yet venture abroad," he
said regretfully, "and there is something unsympathetic in the chill
atmosphere after dusk, that is discouraging to aerial attempts. Would
that I could go forth in full daylight, and spread out my pinions to
the sun!"

"If you came into the garden, when Andy was at his dinner, you might
manage it easily, papa.—We will keep guard at the gate," said Katie,
the ever practical.

"I'll—see—about it—yes, yes, it may be done! And you, Dido, my
daughter, shall now have your heart's desire. These will bring you
riches—money—money in millions. Do not deny, Dido, that money is your
idol; you worship money," he added, gazing at her austerely.

"I, papa!" she cried. "Oh, no!"

"Then why do you annoy me with your prayers and tears, craving money,
money, money? What is money? A few miserable pounds of yellow ore; and
they tell me that it makes a man happy! Miserable, miserable, wretch!"
he exclaimed with angry scorn.

"But, indeed, papa——"

"There, that is sufficient!" he shouted, with a fiery flash of his
black eyes.

"Niece Helen," turning to her, after a somewhat awkward interval, and
surveying her critically, "you will doubtless make a graceful aerial
figure. Let me assure you that a happy day is coming, when you may wing
your way back to tropical lands, and migrate at pleasure, like the
swallows, and the wild geese."

Here he paused, and flapped his pinions so successfully, that both
candles were instantly extinguished, and the company were left in outer
darkness. Dead silence ensued, which lasted about a minute.

"Dido, you know your way," said her father at length in his ordinary
tone, "never mind the lights, the matches are below.—Go; I will no
longer detain you, my children. I have some important details to
accomplish that will occupy me for hours. Go—good-night, good-night."

Thus imperiously dismissed by this voice from the gloom, the three
girls groped their way slowly, and carefully, downstairs, and finally
into the hall, where, sitting down on the first seats they could find,
they sat and stared at one another, in solemn silence. Of course Katie
was the first to speak.

"I wonder if this will come to anything?" she exclaimed. "It's very
wonderful,—but then the Padré always thinks of things that never occur
to other people!"

"It does seem to be a marvellous discovery," said Dido, in anything but
a triumphant key. Was it the light, or what, that made her face look
quite anxious and careworn? "Of course we won't mention what we have
seen to a soul! eh, Helen?" glancing nervously at her cousin.

Helen nodded her head in impressive assent, but made no audible answer.
Down among commonplace surroundings, and away from the spell of that
imposing winged figure, with its sonorous quotations from Bacon and
Wilkin—cold distrust came whispering into her ear. Could it be
possible that she had discerned the mysterious reason, that held Dido
to her duty? Could it be possible, that her uncle Malachi was _mad_?



CHAPTER XXXVII.

"IN CONFIDENCE."

  "No hinge, nor loop,
          To hang a doubt on."

  _Othello._


THIS is Dido Sheridan's birthday.—She is twenty-four years old to-day.
Her cousin Helen's offering is to take the shape of this hat, which
she is engaged in trimming with somewhat anxious feelings. This straw
hat, a bunch of daisies, and a few yards of cream-coloured lace, have
swallowed up her very _last_ shilling, and there she sits, pinning, and
twisting, and unpinning and untwisting, in the greatest perplexity. Her
thoughts are running upon charming constructions, that she had seen in
milliners' windows in Bond Street, that looked so simple and yet were
so effective (and so expensive). How were they put together? Certainly
_not_ by amateur fingers, my dear young lady! After a long struggle,
sheer perseverance was rewarded by a result that would pass admirably
in Terryscreen, if not in Tyburnia. "Yes, it really looks very nice,"
she said to herself aloud as she held it up critically. Then, of
course, she went over to the glass and tried it on! The next thing was
to see how it suited Dido? so she walked to the door, and called "Dido"
in her clearest treble.

"She's out in the garden, miss," returned a voice from the dining-room,
"with a parcel of hucksters from Terryscreen; they are after the apples
and onions."

Helen reached her hat from its peg, and ran down the steps, and in
another moment was at the garden gate. There, in the middle walk,
beside the sun-dial, stood Dido, rake in hand, sun-bonnet on head,
solemnly bargaining with two weather-beaten women, whilst Darby Chute
sat on the side of a wheel-barrow, and listened, and looked on, with a
cunning and diverted countenance. Properly speaking, this selling of
fruit and vegetables "all standing" was Andy's legitimate business;
but, unfortunately, Andy was not to be trusted with finance! He had
been known to ask half-a-crown for a head of cabbage, and to sell a
whole plot of cauliflowers for three half-pence!

"You are very stiff to-day, Miss Dido," expostulated one of her
customers. "Shure, I bought all Mr. Reid's apples at a shillin' a
hundred, and you are talking of two! I wish I was sellin' to you."

"_Our_ apples are the best in the country, Mrs. Carmody. You get a
penny a piece for them, I know, and I cannot let you have them for less
than what I say."

"Here's your cousin Helen a-coming," wheezed Darby. "Sure she thinks
she's sharper than the whole houseful put together. Maybe she'll drive
a bargain for ye, Miss Dido! Avick!"

"Oh, indeed, the less _you_ say about bargains, Darby, the better,"
retorted Helen severely. "I wonder you were not ashamed to bring home
such a price for those calves!"

"Shure, I can't help the prices, miss; calves is down—all stock is
down, and what does a beautiful young English lady like you know about
farming?"

"Not much, indeed! but I used to go marketing in London, and I paid
thirteen pence a pound for veal; and fancy a great big calf selling for
twenty shillings! It's ridiculous!"

"I met Miss Katie and Misther Barry on the road there below," said
Darby, clumsily turning the subject. "She was perched up on the back
of his horse—on his saddle—and mighty unaisy she looked; faix, and
so did the horse! All at wanst it gave a little lep, and down she came
on the top of Misther Barry. Oh, she was not a happorth the worse—she
fell into his arms! The horse tore off home, and Mr. Barry was left
raging! I laughed, till I haden't an eye in me head!"

Helen looked at him indignantly, and turning to her cousin said, "Dido,
your hat is ready, come and try it on!"

"Mrs. Carmody, you can take the beans and the cabbages at your own
price—I'm going in now," said Miss Sheridan, taking her cousin's arm,
and so departing.

"Mrs. Mooney and Mrs. Carmody expect to get the things for nothing. I
don't know which of them is the greatest skinflint! And Darby just sat
there grinning, and never helped me a bit. He was worse than useless!"

"Never mind Darby, but come into the drawing-room and put on your hat;
you can see yourself beautifully in the glass over the chimney-piece!"

"It looks lovely,"—taking it up admiringly. "Yes,"—advancing to the
mirror—"and it suits me too! What do _you_ think?"

Helen ascended to the fender-stool, so as to have a good view, and to
be enabled to give her cousin the benefit of her candid opinion.

"I had no idea you were so clever, with your fingers," continued Dido;
"I won't know myself in a new hat. This will come in nicely for Mr.
Redmond's tennis party next week. I should not be a bit surprised if we
meet _my nephew_ there!" and she laughed merrily.

Of course all this time she was contemplating herself in the glass—and
lifting her eyes to her cousin's reflection, to her astonishment she
noticed that she coloured to the roots of her hair! With a sudden flash
of comprehension she wheeled right about and looked at her curiously!
but Helen moved hastily away, and walking towards the window said,—

"Those daisies are too much at one side, they must come out."

"Never mind the daisies, Helen! I'm going to be very impertinent—I'm
going to be as bad as Barry. I'm going to guess something about _you_."

"Guess what?" sitting down in the window seat, and turning as if at bay.

"Guess something about 'my nephew.' Why did you blush just now, and why
is he the only person you met at Port Blair, whom you never mention?
Well, well," in answer to the expression of her cousin's face, "I see
you don't like it, so I won't say any more. If you don't wish to give
me your confidence I won't try to steal it."

After a moment's hesitation she added, with averted face,—

"I suppose Katie has told you all about _me_?"

"Yes, poor Dido! it was a hard, hard case," replied Helen, gently
taking her hand.

Dido sighed, and nodded her head, and then remarked, in quite a
cheerful voice, "I try not to think of it—it could not be helped."

An unusually long silence succeeded this speech, and at last Helen
said, "What I am going to tell you, Dido, I have never spoken of
before, not even to papa. I have never put my—my—experience—into
words—yet. I wonder very much how it will sound, both to you, and me.
No! You must not gaze at me like that, or I shall never be able to tell
it. Look out of the window and listen. Dido," lowering her voice to a
whisper, "you were right about Mr. Lisle."

"Yes," nodding her head with quick assent.

"You know everything about my life out there, all excepting—_that_.
He was at the Andamans when I arrived, but I did not meet him for a
month or more. He lived far away on the mainland—he did not go into
society; and because he was silent and shabby, people thought he was
an impostor, or some needy adventurer, or that he was hiding from his
creditors—if not worse—so he was a kind of social outlaw."

"What! Mr. Lisle, with his thousands a year!" cried her listener in a
key of angry astonishment.

"Yes; and he never undeceived any one—I suppose he was laughing in his
sleeve all the time. He told me once that he rather enjoyed living in
the Palace of Truth, and being valued for his appearance alone,—and
rated according to his wardrobe! especially his hat!"

"And when did you meet him?"

"We met one evening, on a kind of savage coast, where I was
accidentally deserted by a picnic party. I was nearly mad with fright,
and luckily for me, Mr. Lisle's boat was passing, and he saw me, and
took me off. On our way home we came in for an awful storm; over and
over again I thought we should have been drowned, but after the most
dreadful hour I ever spent, he landed me safely on Ross pier."

"Yes!—well, that was certainly a romantic beginning. Go on."

"Then he came and called. Papa liked him. Yes, and so did I. He was so
different to other people; he had a distinct personality of his own. He
had read and travelled, and kept his eyes open. He put old things in a
new light; in short, he was charming to talk to, and I was always glad
whenever he came and spoke to me,—though it was not very often. At one
time, he ventured over to the station tennis parties, and was quite
callous to Mrs. Creery's snubs and Lizzie Caggett's scowls. Then for
weeks he would disappear."

"And all this while had he ever said anything?" inquired Dido with the
authority of a girl, who had had an authenticated proposal.

"He never paid me a single compliment in his life; but I believed he
liked me."

"And you liked him?"

Helen made no direct answer, but continued her tale, and her cousin
accepted her silence for the proverbial consent.

"At length we had a grand ball, my first and only dance. To every one's
amazement, Mr. Lisle appeared in irreproachable evening dress, and
danced nearly the whole evening."

"With _you_, of course?"

"No; with a married lady, a Mrs. Durand."

"Well, I must say, that I think that was rather peculiar."

"Oh! but I found out afterwards that they had known each other as
children, and been old playmates and friends. I confess I was angry,
and—very, well—I suppose jealous. Afterwards I danced the last
waltz with him, almost in spite of myself, and when it was over we
walked up the island in the moonlight. Dido," suddenly raising her
eyes to her cousin's, "I shall never forget that night if I live to
be a hundred! The look of the sea, the stillness, the fire-flies, and
the moon, bright as day, casting sharp shadows of palms, and cactus
plants, across our path. I shut my eyes, and I can see it _now_. Then
we talked. He told me that he was going away the next day—a trip to
the Nicobars. He also told me that he understood that I was going to
be married to Mr. Quentin, whom you know I detest,—and offered me his
congratulations! Of course I denied this indignantly, and he seemed
positively not inclined to believe me at first, and then—and then—he
asked me. He told me—I need not go on—Dido, _you_ understand the
rest!"

"And am I to understand that you said 'Yes'?"

"I believe so."

"You had no idea who he really was all the time?"

"I knew he was a gentleman, that he was well educated, and well bred;
like every one else, I thought he was poor, but that made no difference
to me."

"You never dreamt that he was the Honourable Gilbert Lisle, with about
twelve thousand a year?"

"Never! He was commencing to tell me something, when Mrs. Creery
swooped down upon us, and carried me off."

"Hateful old woman! And afterwards?"

"We never had an opportunity of speaking till the very last moment. He
followed me towards our bungalow, and said he would come over and see
papa early the next morning, before he sailed if possible. If not to
look for him in six weeks time,—and to be sure not to forget him."

"Well?" ejaculated her listener breathlessly.

"That was nearly two years ago.—I have never seen him since."

"What?" cried Dido, jumping to her feet, and tossing her new hat
passionately down on the sofa. "And you believe that _that_ man was
Gilbert Lisle. He was nothing of the kind! Mrs. Creery and Miss Caggett
were perfectly right. He was an impostor. He and the real Mr. Lisle are
as different as night from day!"

"But Mr. Lisle was in the Andamans at that time. Mrs. Durand, who was
a great friend of mine, could not be mistaken—it was she, who really
told us who he was, one night at the General's. He was travelling about
in search of amusement. I was a school-girl, and an easy prey—and all
the time he was engaged to Miss Calderwood."

"He was not, and he is not," retorted Dido, decidedly. "That is only
old Mr. Redmond's pet project—and Katie has got some silly idea into
her head because she saw them riding together once or twice; for that
matter, so did I! She looked as cross as two sticks, and he looked
bored to death; she told me once, in a burst of confidence, you know
her style of being one's bosom friend one day and cutting you dead the
next?"

"No, I don't" (shortly), "Miss Calderwood and I never coalesced."

"Well, she imparted to me that Mr. Lisle had a hateful temper and
unsufferable manners, but that one could not expect everything! I said
to myself, if _you_ expect to be Mrs. Lisle, you will find yourself
excessively mistaken. Mind you, _I_ am speaking of Mr. Redmond's
nephew."

"So am I."

"It is incredible that it should be him. Could there have been any
misunderstanding? Did you flirt with any one when he was away?"

"I flirt? I never did such a thing in my life!"

"Excepting with poor old Mr. Redmond; his infatuation is really
pitiable," interrupted her cousin with a laugh. "Well, Helen, believe
me, Gilbert Lisle never voluntarily broke his word to man or woman.
There is something in the background that will be explained _yet_. I
have a presentiment about it, and my presentiments are infallible."

"Do you ever have them about yourself?"

"No; excepting that I shall live and die an old maid; of course, there
ought to be one in every family."

"Yes, and I reserve that post for Helen Denis! Now, never mind my
humiliating experience, please tell me something more about Mr.
Halliday?"

"I fancy Katie has left me but little to tell! I met him at Portrush,
and there was nothing romantic about _our_ first meeting; no rescue
from a jungle; no hairbreadth escape—he was simply taking tea at the
Reids, in the most hum-drum fashion. We used to go for expeditions
along the coast, and sit upon the rocks by the sea, and watch the
waves, or the moon, and talk—_you_ understand the rest!" (smiling
significantly). "And one night, as we were walking home, he asked me to
marry him—oh, Helen, I was so surprised, and so happy! but it did not
last long—"

"Do you ever hear of him now?"

"Yes, occasionally, through the Reids; but it is all over.—We shall
never meet again."

"Well, at least you have the consolation of knowing that he loved you,
and wished to make you his wife; there is some poor satisfaction in
_that_, whilst I," and here she broke down, and buried her face in her
hands. But this emotion was merely momentary; presently she lifted her
face to her cousin, and said, "So you see that I have had a lesson for
life; I shall never, never marry."

"Neither will I," returned Dido, with much emphasis.

In the midst of their interesting confidences, and mutual assurances of
celibacy, the door opened, and Biddy's befrilled face was thrust in,
recalling them sharply from romance to reality.

"Miss Dido, will ye come out, av ye plase! Mrs. Carmody says she'll go
to two shillin' a hundred for them apples, and the onions sixpence a
stone!"



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

"SALLY'S SUBSTITUTE."

                    "I stood
  Among them, but not of them."

  _Childe Harold._


IN a large flagged room on the basement story, Helen, Katie, and old
Biddy, were seated round a well-scoured table, making busy preparations
for the despatch of a creditable "cart" to Terryscreen Market; neat
bunches of salads, bouquets of flowers, and bundles of asparagus,
testify to their industry. As far as the young ladies are concerned,
their labours have been lightened by the interchange of riddles,
chiefly very poor ones, and the worse they were, the more they laughed,
and the more Biddy sniggered.

"I give up that one, as to what makes more noise than a pig under a
gate!" said Helen, holding an exquisite bouquet of roses towards her
cousin. "There is no answer. The pig could not be beaten."

"I wish I had some more twine," she added, looking anxiously around.

"I wish you had, my dear," returned Katie, "but I can do nothing _but_
wish! My hands are full. There is some in the cup on the chimney-piece
in the office. No, that's _gum_; it's in Dido's desk."

The office was a little den behind the dining-room, consecrated to
business, and the communings of Dido and Darby. The latter was in the
act of leaving it, when Helen appeared; his face looked more foxy than
usual, and there was a sly smile in his eyes as he said,—

"And what way are ye the day, Miss Denis?"

"Busy, Darby, terribly busy; I have half the asparagus to tie up yet,
and not a plum picked."

"Shure 'tis nothing but divarshion for the like of yees," he rejoined
contemptuously. "An I would not grudge to see you young ladies so
entirely fond of flowers and gardening—'Tis a nice quiet taste."

"Divarshion, indeed? There's little divarshion in picking gallons of
fruit in the blazing sun—and as to the wasps! but I'm in a hurry,
Darby, I have not a moment to spare. Please let me pass," she said, now
walking into the little office, where she discovered Dido seated at her
brass-bound bureau, surrounded by papers, and dissolved in tears.

"What on earth is the matter?" she inquired, laying her hand on her
cousin's shoulder.

"Nothing—nothing at all," hurriedly drying her eyes, and averting her
face.

"Come, Dido, I am certain that you are the last girl to cry for
nothing. What is it? Won't you tell me? Two heads are better than one.
Is it these accounts?"

"It is just this, Helen," wheeling round with sudden energy, "I've come
to the conclusion that it is hopeless to go on struggling any longer,
and trying to make both ends meet; I strive, and strive, to keep out
of debt—we spend next to nothing on ourselves, as you know, and when
I think I am getting my head above water at last, down comes something
and pushes me under, such as a big bill that I never expected, and
that nearly breaks my heart. Look at this," holding out a rather dirty
scrawl, "here is one now, and Darby says it must be paid at once. And I
did not even know it was owing. It's for seed-potatoes, and guano, and
wire to keep out the rabbits—altogether eleven pounds," she concluded
with a little sob.

"Eleven pounds!" ejaculated her cousin, taking it up and examining it.

"I notice that it is made out by Darby—does not that strike you as
rather peculiar?"

"Oh, no; he always does it," returned Dido, (the unsuspicious,) pulling
out a little drawer as she spoke.

"See! I have only three shillings, till after to-morrow, and these
Murphys declare they can't wait any longer than Monday—they are
pressed themselves, and Darby says they _must_ be paid. To hear him
talk, one would think I had only to go out and pick up sovereigns on
the gravel!"

"Then let uncle pay," said Helen sternly, "it's not more than the price
of one of his old books. I do think, Dido, that it is rather hard that
you should have to work for the support of the whole family, and that
all the income from the place goes, I may say, on _air_! Barry told me
that, even as it is, it brings in a thousand a year."

Dido made no immediate answer, but sat resting her chin on her hand,
and gazing fixedly out of the window. At length she seemed to have come
to some settled decision, for she rose and said, "I think I will try
the Padré once more; it's rather a forlorn hope, but nothing venture,
nothing have. Wait here till I come back, Helen," and with a melancholy
little nod she quitted the room.

Helen sat down in her cousin's chair in front of the old bureau,
with its inky baize desk, and numerous musty drawers; and noted with
feelings of hot indignation, the traces of Dido's tears—tears that
had splashed unchecked upon the leaves of an open account-book.
Sitting here before these tear-stained columns, she asked herself
dispassionately if a man who had brought forth nothing but second-hand
inventions, after forty years of costly experiments, was likely to
revolutionize the universe at last?

No, she had no patience with his concentrated selfishness, and _no_
faith in the apparatus. As to Darby Chute, she had never trusted him,
and although she had no solid grounds for her suspicions, yet she could
not divest herself of the idea, that he was a rascal! She was aware
that Darby did not eye _her_ with any favour, and indeed he had more
than once made craftily-veiled inquiries as to _when_ she was going
away?

"It was no use," said Dido, entering the room, and shaking her
head hopelessly. "I knew it. He just held up empty hands. That is
his invariable answer when I beg for a little money. It will just
have to be, as Darby says," sitting down, and looking at her cousin
despondently, "we must sell the white cow."

"Not the one I call _my_ cow; not Daisy?" cried Helen in consternation.

"Yes; she is the best of them all. She will fetch the most money. Darby
thinks we might get twenty pounds for her at the fair to-morrow. There
is no use in putting off the evil day, and I hate to owe a penny. I
cannot sleep if I am in debt."

"You should see what some girls owe, and how they sleep," said her
cousin, thinking of the Miss Platts, and how very lightly their
milliner's accounts lay on their minds. "Is there no resource but
Daisy? Can you suggest nothing else?"

"Nothing, unless—" and she hesitated and coloured—"unless I borrowed
the money from you, and I would not do that, for I might never be able
to pay you. No; there is nothing for it but Daisy!"

"My dearest Dido," said Helen, putting her arm round her neck, "what a
horribly mean wretch you must think me all this time. Don't you _know_
very well, that every farthing I possess, would have been in the common
purse months ago, only—only—uncle borrowed all my money the day after
I came here."

"What do you say?" cried Dido, jumping to her feet. "Oh, no, Helen; oh,
_surely_ he did not! Oh!" in great distress, and her eyes filling with
tears. "This is worse than all! This is _too_ bad. Oh, my dear, foolish
child, why did you let him know you had a farthing?"

"He asked me, and what could I say?"

"He has such odd ideas about money. He looks upon it as a kind of
common property, and he has all kinds of queer, wild schemes about
abolishing it altogether.—Was it much?" she asked anxiously.

"Never mind, Dido, how much. The loss is yours, dear; not mine. It
would have been in your hands long ago, only for this."

"Helen," said her cousin, looking very pale, "I can speak to you, as I
can to no one else—not even Katie. Papa is not like other people!"

"No," assented his niece with a very serious face.

"He was always eccentric; but latterly he has been getting more so.
Sometimes," lowering her voice, and glancing nervously at the door, "he
is——"

"Yes; I think I understand," nodding her head gravely.

"Biddy guesses it; so does Barry. Katie suspects nothing, poor child.
I've kept this to myself ever since I've known it," leaning her face on
her hand, and covering her eyes.

"And that was the reason that you would not listen to Mr. Halliday?"

"Yes;—mamma dreaded it, and not long before she died she—told me—and
she made me solemnly promise, to guard him as closely as possible, to
keep him near me as long as he had the faintest chance," her voice
dying away to a whisper.

Helen took her cousin's hand in hers, and her face was full of sympathy.

"He was only a little strange at times," continued Dido, "especially
about money. But during the last year I have seen it coming, and this
is one reason I've always resisted having Barry to live here, and
taking over the place; this is the reason that I struggle with all my
might to keep him and the Padré apart, for if he and Barry were to meet
constantly, Barry would _know_, and Barry would immediately insist upon
what is only to be the last resource. I promised mamma," here Dido
broke down, and leaning her head against her cousin's shoulder, wept
miserably.

"My poor Dido!" said Helen, smoothing her hair tenderly. "What a burden
you have had to bear all alone, and how noble, and unselfish, and
patient you have been. When I think of you, and think of myself, I am
bitterly ashamed! I have been latterly entirely wrapped up in myself,
and my own affairs, I never seem to give a thought to other people,
and you—you have renounced your own happiness for the benefit of
others——"

"I am not unhappy," interrupted Dido, drying her eyes; "or, at any
rate, I would not be, if he was getting better; but he is getting
_worse_, much worse—I see it coming nearer and nearer!" and she looked
up at her companion with pallid lips and startled eyes. "For days, when
you do not see him, he is sitting still in the workshop, and never
opens his lips. I carry him up his meals, and he takes no notice.
Other times he has delusions. Not long ago, when I went up to speak
to him, I found him pacing up and down the room, shouting into a long
tube; he would not answer when I spoke, but at last he went and wrote
on a bit of paper, '_Leave me, mortal, I am the trumpet of Fame!_'

"See," searching in her bureau, "here it is! I brought it away
unintentionally, and then I hid it here, I don't know why."

Helen gazed at this proof of her uncle's mental aberration with
startled eyes, and then she said quietly,—

"I think the time has arrived when something ought to be done. Uncle
should have an experienced person to look after him, and surely _you_
might manage the money."

"Yes! Barry must know at last, and Katie, and every one," said Dido,
tearing up the scrap of paper with a sigh; "but to-day he is as sane
as I am, and as busy as possible over the apparatus, he may not have
another attack for a long time. Let us put it out of our heads. Don't
think of it, we will talk of something else. I must send word to Darby
this evening about Daisy; twenty pounds is the least——"

"Dido, Dido!" cried her sister, bursting into the room, "come down
this moment; Sally has fallen over the step in the dairy and sprained
her ankle, she is lying groaning on the settle in the kitchen, and she
won't be able to stir to-morrow?"

"Oh, of course!" exclaimed Dido, starting up. "Do misfortunes ever come
alone?"

Half an hour later, the three girls were standing together looking
blankly at their preparation for the morrow's market. There lay golden
butter, cream-cheeses, pounds of honey, bouquets of flowers, and last,
but not least, their precious stock of grapes—grapes nursed through
the winter, in a windy old vinery, with a tenderness they had but ill
repaid.

"Is Sally's ankle very painful?" inquired Helen after a long pause.

"Yes; I've bathed it with arnica, but she won't be able to put her foot
to the ground for a week."

"Could Andy go?"

"Andy, my dear girl, wouldn't set foot in Terryscreen to save his life;
he was in jail there! It's just our luck, the best cart of the season!
I'd take it myself, only I would be known. There would be no real
disgrace in doing it—it's ten times more shameful to owe money."

"There's nothing for it but to put away what will keep, and to use the
rest ourselves," said Katie, the ever practical.

After a moment's silence, Helen said suddenly, "Look here, Dido, why
should not _I_ take the cart?"

"You!" shrieked her cousin. "Are you mad?"

"Now, just please to listen quietly, both of you," she returned with
decision.

"In the first place, I'm a stranger to all but the Reids and
Redmonds—that's one point," reckoning on her fingers. "In the second,
I can get myself up in character so that you would never know me.
Thirdly, I flatter myself that my brogue is undeniable. Fourthly, I've
plenty of confidence. Fifthly, I mean to go."

"Helen, you are not serious?" said Dido, gravely.

"Never more so, my dear.—I know the market prices as well as
yourselves. I shall dress myself up in an old garden frock and
sun-bonnet, and you will see if I don't pass off as a good-looking
slip of a country girl. You know very well you can't tell my brogue
from Sally's in the dark, so I will be your market woman, ladies, and
come home to-morrow with my pocket full of money, 'an ye may make your
minds quite aisy about me,'" suddenly adopting a brogue and dropping
a curtsey. "No one will know a hate about it, barrin' the Masther and
meeself."

At this her cousins burst out laughing, and finding that she was so
sanguine, and so resolute, and that all their expostulations were
uttered to deaf ears, they submitted to the scheme without further
demur. Of course Sally was taken into the secret, and when the subject
was very gently broken to her by her smiling, would-be deputy, at
first she held up her hands dramatically, and invoked both the local
and her own patron saints; but in the end she came round. Her thrifty
soul revolted against the wanton waste of all her beautiful cheese
and butter, and presently she was instructing Helen (who sat beside
the settle, gravely attentive), with immense animation, and impressive
authority.

"You'll find the Masther very tough to drive, miss, but he knows every
stone of the road, and is acquainted with all the shops, so ye may just
lave it to himself; there does be no use in prodding him, or striving
to drive him, for his mouth is as hard as the heart of Pharaoh,—and he
is that detarmined in his own way, that nations would not hould him!
First and foremost, ye go to Clancy's with the butter and the eggs, an'
you'll not take less than a shilling a pound, dear, and sevenpence the
dozen. She'll bate you down, seeing you are strange, and it's not Sally
MacGravy she has to dale with! but just you say, 'Divil a copper less
you'll take,' and let on you are going to Dooley's across the street.
Afther that I'm thinking you will never be able to stand forenint the
fruit and vegetables in the square, so ye might go over to Dooley's
in _earnest_ and offer him the vegetables and fruit chape; that's in
raison, do ye mind. Then there's the grapes and flowers, I don't know
what to say about them at all! They must just take their chance; it's
the butter that's lying so heavy on me! With regard to the cowcumbers,
and honey, and cream-cheeses, a messman does be in from barracks, a
fellow with an eye like a needle in his head, and the deuce for bating
you down. Then, wance in a way, ye have the officers' ladies; them's
the wans for the flowers, and you'll mind to charge them double,
darlin'! that's about all," concluded Sally, coming to the end of her
instructions, and her breath, simultaneously.

Next morning, at grey dawn, Helen was astir and dressed; her cousins,
who had hardly been able to sleep a wink with excitement, attended
her at her early breakfast, poured out her tea, buttered her toast,
and surveyed her appearance with subdued giggles and expressions of
astonished delight. They assured her repeatedly that they would pass
her on the road and never recognize her. She was arrayed in a clean
but faded cotton, turned up over a striped dark petticoat, a pink
sun-bonnet, a white apron, and a little checked shawl. Certainly
she was not quite as _like_ sally as her relations could have
wished—which, considering that Sally was bordering on forty, and
weighed fourteen stone, was not surprising—but they both emphatically
declared that she would readily pass for what she professed to be—"a
good-looking slip of a country girl who had taken Sally's place."

"Too good-looking, Helen, dear," said Dido, kissing her as she mounted
the cart. "Keep your bonnet pulled well over your eyes, and try and do
not show your teeth when you laugh; and above all stick to the brogue!"

These were Dido's final injunctions; and she escorted the cart half-way
down the avenue, and then took off her shoe, and threw it after it for
luck. The last glimpse Helen caught of her favourite cousin, she was
hopping along the damp drive, in quest of the said slipper.

The Master was not to be hurried. Two hours for the five miles was his
_own_ time, lounging along in a leisurely way, in a series of zig-zags
from ditch to ditch.

It was a lovely August morning; the dew lay heavy on the grass, and
silvery, gossamer cobwebs hung about the hedges. Helen felt her pulses
beating with excitement entirely untouched by fear. A bold adventurous
spirit possessed her; there was something so utterly novel, so
deliciously strange, in her present undertaking; as if she had left
Helen Denis behind, and had embodied herself in a new identity!

Presently the Master was overtaken and passed by various carts, and
even by pedestrians—who had each, and all, a word for Sally. But this
was not Sally! this was a black stranger, who was not disposed to waste
her time in idle badinage, and who took no more notice of them than the
stick in her hand, and seemed an "impident, stuck-up piece!" However,
it was the Crowmore mule; there was no mistake about _him_—once
seen—never forgotten!

"Mind that mule," cried one, "or he'll break everything that's on him,
and run away with you!"

"Faix, and no loss if he does!" retorted another.

"Musha, an' will ye look at the nate foot and ankle we have, hanging so
aisy and so careless over the side of the shaft! 'Tis a lady we are,
all out! Do ye mind the gloves on her!"

"Bedad, an' if she is, she looks mighty at home on an ass's car,"
shouted a fourth.

The subject of these and other delicate witticisms, was not sorry
to find herself jogging over the cobble stones of the High Street
of Terryscreen. Greatly to her astonishment, the Master, of his own
accord, rose a beautiful trot for the town, and rattled up in gallant
style to Clancy's, the butter shop. His new driver's heart beat
unusually fast as she alighted, made the reins secure, and taking a
heavy basket on her arm, proceeded to air her brogue in real earnest.

Early as it was, the place was crowded, and she had some difficulty in
edging her way to the counter, where she was at once confronted by a
big, stout woman, with a merry face, and her hands on her hips, who,
staring at her hard, said,—

"An' where is Sally the day?"

"She's hurt her foot," replied her substitute, in a voice that was
scarcely above a whisper.

"And so you are doing her work?"

"Just for the time, Mrs. Clancy."

"From this part of the country, dear?"

"No; a good bit beyant."

"Oh, well,"—tasting the butter with her finger and glancing at her
sharply—"butter is down, ye know. Elevenpence."

"Is it?" innocently. "I am not to go home with less than the shilling."

"Is that the way with you? Well, we'll say elevenpence halfpenny,
honey!"

"No, Mrs. Clancy, mam, I really _dar_ not do it!"

"Well, I see she has ye well schooled, and I suppose you'll just have
to get it! Eighteen pounds did ye say?" now going towards the till—but
being waylaid by a customer, Helen was left to wait among the crowd for
a considerable time.

Far from every eye being centred on her, as she had tremblingly feared,
no one noticed her by word or glance; and her courage, which had ebbed
as she entered the shop, now came back in full tide.

The Clancys were driving a roaring trade, if one might judge by
appearances. Their establishment was thronged by men in corduroy and
frieze, and women in long blue cloaks, or plaid shawls, all bargaining,
buying, or gossiping. She was wedged in between the counter and two
stalwart matrons, who were holding forth to one another with great
animation. And oh, how their garments did smell of turf!

"And what way is Mary the day, Mrs. Daly?" inquired one.

"'Deed, an' I'm thinking, she is just dying on her feet; first she had
a slight sketch of a cold, now 'tis a melancholy that ails her. John
took her up to Rafferty's funeral, thinking to cheer her out of it, but
she got a wakness standin' in the berryin'-ground, an 'tis worse she
is, instead of better."

"That's bad! An' how is Dan?"

"Oh, finely. Shure he has the pledge! Glory be to God!"

"Musha, an' I wish Pat had! When he comes into the town here, he gits
into that much company there's no daling with him at all. Ye can't
be up to them men! I thought this morning he was getting very good
entirely, when I was in Fagan's store, and saw him and a couple of
chaps drinking coffee. Shure, wasent it that Moody and Sanky they were
at—an' wasent it half whiskey?"

"Ah! now ye don't tell me that?"

"An' 'deed, an' I do! I don't say as a needleful of sperrits ever did
any wan any harm—but there does be _some_ would drink the Shannon!"

"Purviding it was potheen," supplemented her listener, dryly.

"There's your change, Alannah," called out Mrs. Clancy across the
counter, "and mind ye, it will be elevenpence next week."

Helen smiled agreeably, nodded her head, and pocketed the silver. Sally
would surely be able to do battle for herself by the following market
day! After a considerable struggle she made her way out of the crowd,
and once more ascended the market-cart. So far so good—the butter and
eggs were off her mind—now for Dooley's, and the vegetables. But,
unluckily, the Master—who was, as we know, an animal of great strength
of character—had determined to trot off to his usual station, near
the Courthouse. Of course Helen could please herself about Dooley's,
but he and the cart went to their accustomed post. The habits of years
were not to be thus trifled with! This clause had not been in the bond.
Helen had meant to have got rid of the fruit and vegetables (even at
a sacrifice) and to have immediately afterwards set her face towards
home—but to stand and sell her wares from the cart in the open market,
was an ordeal that she had never anticipated. However, as she and the
Master came together, together they were bound to return, and her
arrangements were solely dependent on his good pleasure (a somewhat
humbling reflection). For years he had been accustomed to stand for
three hours per week in Terryscreen Market Square, just behind the
Courthouse, and to vary the programme to-day was an idea that never
once entered his grizzled head. His lady driver, who had discovered
that his mouth was all that Sally had prophesied (and more), meekly
abandoned herself to her fate, and having loosened her tyrant's bit,
and administered a "lock of hay," set to work to lay out her wares,
and arrange her stall to the best of her ability. As she gazed around
upon the crowd, and listened to the confused buzz of many brogues, her
head failed her, her boasted confidence seemed to be oozing away at
the tips of her fingers. Supposing she lost her head, supposing she
was discovered? But who was to discover her? argued common sense; and
if she had passed in Clancy's shop, surely she would pass here. She
was doing no harm, quite the reverse; and when she thought of Dido's
difficulties, and Dido's tears, and those three shillings lying in her
desk, and looked round on her fine stock of garden produce, capable of
being turned into silver coin of the realm, she recovered herself, and
by the time she had sold her first head of cabbage, her courage and
_sang-froid_ were completely restored!



CHAPTER XXXIX.

"THE MARKET GIRL."

  "We met—'twas in a crowd."—_Haynes Bayley._


HELEN soon discovered that the Crowmore cart had quite an established
reputation; her peas, and beans, strawberries and asparagus commanded
a brisk sale. Customers came flocking round her, and she actually
ventured to retort to some of their sallies with mild replies in kind.

"Shure, we are all fighting and killing one another to dale with you!"
said a sturdy old farmer, vigorously elbowing his way to the front.
"Aren't we for all the world like flies round a pot of honey! 'Tis
yourself has the jewels of eyes, avick! But why do ye wear gloves?"

"To keep me hands like a lady's, to be sure," she retorted, promptly.

"Oh! well, as long as ye don't cover up your face, I don't care a
thraneen! And what are ye asking for the white cabbage?" making an
abrupt descent from blarney to business.

       *       *       *       *       *

Who shall depict the emotions of Larry Flood, when, lounging up to
have a little idle dalliance with his sweetheart, he found himself
confronted by the young English lady? Yes, the young English lady! She
was busily engaged in selling three cauliflowers and a bunch of parsley
to the priest's housekeeper, and seemed just as much at home at the
trade as Sally herself. She looked up and gave him a sign of warning,
and when the press of business had somewhat abated, he sidled over to
her and made the following cautious inquiry in a husky whisper,—

"In the name of goodness, miss, will ye tell me if I'm in me seven
sinses?"

"I believe so, Larry," she answered with a merry smile.—"Don't betray
me, for your life! Sally hurt her foot, and I offered to take her place
just for to-day. I'm getting on beautifully you see; and no one is a
bit the wiser."

"I could not make out what was up!" exclaimed Larry, "there's been a
crowd round the cart as if it was an execution! 'Tis only now I got
next or nigh it. And signs on it! they had raison, for such a sight
as yourself has never before stood on Terryscreen Street. But I don't
like it, miss, no, not for you—you are too venturesome; and if you'll
allow me, miss, I'll try my hand at selling. I'm not for the road
till five o'clock. I'll do my best for ye, and tell as many lies as a
horse-daler, and you might just slip over into the hotel, and they'll
wait on you hand and foot."

"No, thank you, Larry, though I'm very much obliged to you all the
same. That would never do—never!"

"Well, I'm not aisy in me mind. It's the fair day, and supposing some
of them young Bostogues come round ye, and gives ye some of their lip?"

At this disagreeable suggestion the young lady blanched visibly.

"I shall go home early,—that is to say, as soon as the mule will go,"
was her rather enigmatic reply.

"Early or late, do you see that window over beyant?" pointing to a
ledge in a neighbouring store. "Well, I'll just take me sate there, wid
this whip, an' if I see any one offer to as much as look crooked at ye,
by me sowl! I'll bate him to a _jelly_; and that's as sure as my name
is Flood. So at any rate, miss, ye need not be anxious!" and having
made this alarming announcement, her self-elected protector stalked
away and actually established himself in the said window-sill, where
he sat sentry, with his whip in hand, and his eyes on Helen's stall,
looking daggers at her customers.

The messman duly came, and purchased lavishly from the new market-girl,
and did not attempt to "bate her down," as had been predicted; on the
contrary, he paid her some very ornate compliments, and lingered so
long that Helen literally trembled lest Larry should misconstrue his
civilities.

As the morning wore on, it brought some fashionable patrons, among them
several ladies, who, after turning over and sniffing every separate
bouquet, purchased half-a-dozen of the best. During her dealings
with these Helen kept her sun-bonnet well pulled over her eyes, and
commanded her countenance to the best of her ability, whilst they
discussed her appearance in French, and declared that she was the
prettiest Irish girl they had ever seen. The fame of the beautiful
market-girl must have been noised abroad, for several young men came
crowding around the cart, and eagerly demanded "button holes." For
these she charged double prices without the slightest compunction.
(Meanwhile Larry stood in the background armed with his whip!)

"A shilling!" exclaimed one of the customers, "oh, I say, come, you
must not be getting these extravagant notions into your head, Kathleen
Mavourneen, Eileen Aroon! One would think you had been in Covent
Garden! I suppose you fancy that a pretty girl may charge what she
pleases. Here's two shillings; one for the flowers, and the other for a
good look in your charming face."

"'Deed," scornfully tossing back a shilling, "An' it's more than any
one will ever ask to lay out on your honour's."

As the unhappy gentleman was unusually plain, his companions seemed to
experience the keenest delight at this sally, and one of them, pressing
forward, and taking up a bouquet, said,—

"How much for this, my prickly wild rose?"

"Two shillings, your honour."

"Too dear! say eighteen-pence, Acushla ma cree."

"Sure the times is bad, your honour, and we must live."

"And where _do_ you live, when you are at home—where do you come from?"

"Where I'm going back to," she returned, carelessly jingling her silver
in her pockets.

She was making a fortune; her career so far had been one unbroken
triumph, and her heart beat exultantly as she rattled her shillings
and half-crowns, and complacently surveyed her almost empty cart.
Carrying her glance a little above it, she met point-blank the eyes
of a gentleman on horseback, who was looking over the heads of her
customers. He wore his hat tilted far over his brows, and was gazing
at her with grave, concentrated scrutiny—the man was Gilbert Lisle.
For a moment she stood as if turned to stone, then suddenly wheeling
about and kneeling down, she pretended to tie her shoe-string, but her
fingers trembled so ridiculously, that this was indeed a farce. She
felt a sense of choking panic; nevertheless, she was called upon to
exercise all her self-command, for an officious old crone, who presided
at the next stall, came over and shouted to her, saying,—

"The gentleman on the horse is spaking to you, Alannah; see here!"
displaying a sovereign that had been thrown among the cabbage-leaves.
"He wants a flower."

"Tell him they are all gone," she replied, still fiddling with her
shoe-string. However, it was impossible that she could carry on this
pretence much longer—and when with beating heart she at last ventured
to raise her head, he was nowhere to be seen. Was it a dream? no, for
there lay the piece of gold.

"It's ould Redmond's heir," volunteered her neighbour, eyeing the money
with greedy eyes. "He's a great traveller, he has been away round by
India, where me son is. I've never known him notice the likes of _you_
before, and I know him man and boy. What ails ye? ye seem to have got a
turn—ye look so white and wake."

"What would ail me? nothing at all—I'm a bit tired standing so long,
and I'll just sit down on this creel till I see me way to getting out
of the throng."

"Well, you are easily bet up, I'll say that for you," muttered the
other, moving back to her own stall. "One would think ye wor a lady!"

It was eleven o'clock, all Helen's stock was disposed of, but for the
present she saw no prospect of making her way through the crowd, and
was compelled to sit, and wait, and listen to the surrounding gabble,
which she did half unconsciously, for her thoughts were centred in her
last customer; from which subject two tall countrymen were the first to
attract her attention. They were standing so close to her that she made
a kind of third party in the conversation, which proved unexpectedly
interesting.

"What are you doing here, Tim?" inquired one; "sure you have nothing to
sell."

"An' it's at home I ought to be! with all me barley standing; but sure
I'm drawn for the jury, and bad luck to it."

"Troth, and so am I! an' I'm due in there," jerking his thumb at the
Courthouse, "at twelve o'clock."

"Me hands is that full at home, I don't know what to be at first.
However," as if it was some small satisfaction, he added, "the devil a
wan I'll bring in guilty."

"Nayther will I," agreed his companion, in solemn tones. "I seen Darby
Chute in the day, with a few little bastes and a fine cow," (the name
possessed a spell for Helen, and bound her attention at once). "I met
him coming out of the bank, ere now; 'tis him has feathered his nest."

"Faix, ye may well say _feathered_," retorted the other, with a loud
laugh; "he does not give the gun much time to cool!"

"Begorra, it's a shame! an old mad man and a couple of girls—well, if
poor Pat Connor was to rise out of his grave, and see the way things is
going."

Just as the conversation was becoming most exciting, these two tall
countrymen moved away. Not five minutes afterwards, Darby's own
well-known husky squeak fell upon Helen's ear. Little did he guess who
it was that was sitting with her back to him, in the pink sun-bonnet.
He was accompanied by a companion, and they were evidently about to
clinch some bargain.

"I'm not very swate on that Scotch whiskey," said the latter, "it has
not the right sort of bite in it to plase _me_! An' now Darby, me boy,
what's the lowest you are going to say for the ould lady?"

"Ould lady! Holy Saint Patrick, do ye hear him? is it the young, white,
short-horn cow, on her second calf?"

"I just mane the big bony cow you are striving to stick me with, for
twenty-three pounds."

Helen pricked up her ears—twenty-_three_ pounds!

"See here, James Casey, av I was to drop down dead this blessed minute,
I won't take a halfpenny less than the twenty pounds, and only I'm hard
pressed for money, and times is bad, I would drive her home afore me.
She'd be chape at five-and-twenty: a pedigree cow. An' ye know it! so
ye need not be playing with me, as if I was trying to sell you an ould
Kerry Stripper. Take her or lave her, you are keeping others off, and
the fair is getting thin."

After ten minutes of the fiercest chaffering, and many loud invocations
and denunciations on both sides, the bargain was closed, and to Helen's
great joy, she saw twenty dirty one-pound notes counted into Darby's
horny hand, the price of Daisy. The fair was getting "thin," as he had
said, and as the clock was striking twelve, she and her empty cart
emerged from the _melée_ of pigs, sheep, and turf kishes, and waving a
friendly farewell to Larry, she proceeded homewards at a brisk trot.
Naturally, most of her thoughts were occupied by Gilbert Lisle, and
she was consumed by a burning desire to know if he had recognized her?
Had it been only amazement at a curious likeness that she had read in
that glance?—a glance that revived a spirit that she thought was laid;
it stirred—it recalled days of painful endurance, nights of tears.
"However, that is all at an end now," she assured herself, half aloud.
"Thank goodness I have lived it down."

She cast one or two apologetic thoughts to Darby Chute; yes, her
conscience smote her with regard to him. Darby, after all, was an
honest, upright man! Hearing is believing, he had done as much to sell
Daisy to good advantage,—as if she had been his own property.



CHAPTER XL.

"BARRY'S CHALLENGE."

  "The place is haunted."—_Hood._


THE Master's trot proved to be a mere flash in the pan, and after
a mile the aged animal subsided into his normal pace,—namely, a
desultory and erratic stroll. His driver, wearied by this monotonous
crawl, alighted, and accompanied the cart on foot, walking at the
mule's head, with her sun-bonnet tilted over her face, and her
thoughts miles away—say as far as Ballyredmond. Proceeding in this
somewhat absent fashion, it came to pass, that in turning a corner she
nearly fell into the arms of Barry Sheridan, who, taking her for what
she represented at the first glance, exclaimed, "Hullo, my Beauty,
'tis yourself;" but, "The deuce!" "The devil!" were his concluding
ejaculations, as he recognized the Crowmore mule, and something
familiar in the cut of the market-girl's pink sun-bonnet—not to
mention the face that was under it. Finding herself fairly caught, and
that escape was out of the question, Helen resolved to make a virtue of
necessity, and to brazen it out to the best of her ability.

"What the mischief does this mean?" he blustered, authoritatively.

"It means that Sally has hurt her foot," she returned, with complete
composure, and speaking in her natural voice, "and I have been her most
successful substitute."

"Bother your long words! Do you mean to tell me you have been selling
vegetables and butter in Terryscreen?"

"I do," she answered gaily.

"Then, not alone old Malachi, but every mother's son in Crowmore is
mad. I'm blest if I ever saw anything to beat _this_," surveying
Helen, and her costume, and her flatteringly empty cart, with wrathful
amazement.

"You need not be alarmed, no one recognized me, excepting Larry
Flood—the cat is _still_ in the bag, unless you let it out."

"What put it into your head to go play-acting about the country, along
with the market-cart? What did you do it for?"

"Merely to make money; an article that is rather scarce at the Castle.
You hardly suppose that I did it for a joke, do you, or for pleasure?"

"Well, all I can say is, that if I had anything to say to you——"

"Which you have not," she interrupted quickly.

"There you go, as usual—snapping the nose off my face. I was only
saying if I _had_. However, I'm glad enough to meet you in any
shape—alone."

Helen glanced at him nervously, and waited to hear the sequel to this
rather significant remark.

"You see, up at the Castle, you have Dido pinned to your elbow all day,
and I never get a word with you."

"It seems to me that you get a good many, all the same."

"Well, not _the_ word. Look here, Helen. Of course I know that you are
only a teacher in a school, and have not a shilling to bless yourself
with, and never will have—worse luck; but you are a thundering pretty
girl, and I am very spoony on you, so here goes. Will you marry me?"

"I?" she ejaculated with a gasp of incredulity.

"Yes; you to be sure! Who else?" approaching his arm affectionately
to her waist. But a very sharp rap on the knuckles from the stick she
carried in her hand caused him to change his mind.

"Come now, you don't mean _that_, I know?"

"Yes, indeed I do! please keep to your own side of the road."

"And is it to be yes? Am I not speaking to the future Mrs. Sheridan?"
he inquired with an air of jaunty confidence.

"No, indeed you are not!"

"Oh, I say! you are not in earnest!" in a bantering tone. "Think it
over. I'm not a bad sort of fellow. I've a snug little place. I'm old
Malachi's heir. I'm quite a catch, I can tell you—you might do worse."

"Impossible!" she exclaimed scornfully.

"Do you mean to tell me you are serious; do you mean me to take no in
earnest? For, mind you, I'll not ask you _again_," speaking with angry
vehemence.

"I really mean no! You may consider that the honour is declined."

"And pray, why did you encourage me, and pretend you were fond of me,
eh?"

"You must be out of your senses to say so."

"Not a bit of it! You did encourage me, flirting and arguing, and
making sharp speeches just to attract my notice and draw me on; why any
one could see it with half an eye!"

At this amazing statement the little remnant of the lady's temper
completely gave way, and halting in the road, and turning to him with
blazing eyes, she said,—

"Mr. Barry Sheridan, a few plain truths shall be spoken to you for once
in your life. I would not marry you if you were a king. You are rude;
you are ignorant."

"No, I'm not," he interrupted furiously.

"Yes, you are," she continued inflexibly. "Only last night I heard
you pointing out the constellation of _O'Brien's_ belt! and you
cannot spell two words; you are ignorant and boorish. This may be
your misfortune, not your fault; but it _is_ your fault that you are
selfish and overbearing, and as vain as the frog in the fable. You
imagine, you poor blind ostrich," mixing her metaphors in the heat of
her irritation, "that any one of the girls in the county would marry
you! If you asked them, they would laugh in your face.—If you do not
believe me, you can make the experiment, that's all.—You will have
to improve very much indeed, before you may aspire to the hand of any
_lady_, however penniless." So saying, she lightly hitched herself up
on the cart, gave the mule a bang with her stick, and rattled noisily
away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Helen's return was hailed with acclamation; her cousins, who had long
been on the look out, met her at the gate, and escorted her to the
kitchen, where she poured out her earnings and rendered a faithful
account of her dealings to Sally—Sally, who cross-examined her
sharply, and was transparently jealous of her success. Indeed, the only
poor consolation left Miss MacGravy was, that her deputy had failed
with the "sparrow-grass."

"One and sixpence, miss, I tould ye, and ye took the shilling! however,
ye were clever with the cauliflowers, and on the whole, ye done well!"

"I should rather think she _had_ done well!" said Dido, sweeping up the
silver. "What are you going to say to them next week, Sally, when they
all come asking for the smart new girl?"

"Oh, faix, it's not many will do that, they are mostly too earnest
after bargains—but if they do, I'll just tell a good one when I go
about it, and face them all down, that there was ne'er a one in it, but
myself!"

"You won't find it easy to make them believe that," said Dido
emphatically; "that would be a _good_ one with a vengeance!" taking her
cousin by the arm and leading her affectionately to the upper regions,
where a delicate little repast awaited her.

Helen having given her relatives a modified account of her adventures
(in which she dwelt on Larry's ferocious guardianship, but skipped all
mention of the two most thrilling incidents of the day, _i.e._, Gilbert
Lisle's unexpected appearance, and Barry's unwelcome proposal), was
considered to have richly earned the right to enjoy an afternoon of
pure and unalloyed idleness. The white blinds in the drawing-room were
pulled down to keep out the sun, the sashes were up to admit a little
breeze, and she lay back in a comfortable chair, watching Dido's busy
fingers at work.

Presently her cousin looked up, and said, "I don't know whether it's
the colour of the blinds, or what, Helen, but you look completely done
up. I'm afraid that adventure this morning was too much for you!"

"Oh, no, not the least—my arms are a little stiff from driving the
mule, that's all, _tough_ is no name for him!"

"Only fancy your making nearly five pounds!" laying down her work as
she spoke.

"I made more than that—something which I have not shown you," putting
her hand in her pocket, and holding it out, with a sovereign in her
palm.

"Gold!"

"Yes. Who do you think rode up and tossed it down among the
cabbage-leaves, and asked for a flower?"

"Not—_not_ Mr. Lisle?"

"Yes, but it was Mr. Lisle."

"And you—did you faint?"

"Not I. I stooped and pretended to be tying my shoe the moment after
I recognized him. Of course he may have been staring at me for five
minutes, for all I know. No doubt he thought the market-girl had a look
of his former sweetheart, and he threw her a sovereign, as a kind of
little salve to his conscience," contemptuously balancing the said coin
on her middle finger.

For quite two minutes Dido did not answer. There was not a sound in the
room, excepting the lazy flapping of the window blind. At length she
said rather reproachfully,—

"Helen, I think if I had once cared for a person, as you certainly did
for Mr. Lisle, I could not speak of him so bitterly."

"I am sure you could not! But you are naturally far more amiable than
I am, and your illusions have never been shattered. The last two
years have hardened me. I seem to stand alone in the world. I have
no protector but Helen Denis. I use my natural weapon, my tongue,
rather mercilessly sharp, cutting speeches seem to slip out of my
mouth unawares, and they hurt no one half as much as they do me,
afterwards,—when I am sorry!"

"I never heard you say anything sharp, until that speech about Mr.
Lisle. Now that he is in the country, how will you meet him?"

"Certainly not 'in silence and tears,' like the individual in the
song; most probably with a smiling allusion to our former delightful
acquaintance."

"Now, Helen, you know you won't."

"No! Well then we shall probably shake hands, and say—'How do you do?
What lovely weather we are having.' That will be all."

At this moment the door was thrown open with a violence that shook its
ancient hinges, and Katie, who had been absent ever since dinner-time,
burst into the room. She was breathless with excitement, her cheeks
were crimson, and there was certainly a spark of triumph in her eye.

"Girls!" she gasped, "what do you think has happened? No, I'm not going
to let you guess, because I can't keep it another second—Barry has
asked me to marry him!"

An awful pause ensued, and then Dido said, in a sharp voice, "And of
course you said no!"

"And of course I said yes! Only imagine my having a proposal before
_you_, Helen!" darting an exultant look at her pretty, pale cousin,
who now suddenly unclasped her hands from behind her head, and sat up
erect, and looked at her with eyes wide with horrified surprise.

Vanity is one of those curious elements in human nature which defy
every rule, and impel the victim into the most unexpected courses.
Barry had been put upon his mettle, and he was resolved to show Miss
Denis her mistake at any cost. Accordingly he offered himself to the
very first young lady he met, who happened to be her cousin, Katie,
and here, within four hours of Helen's scornful rejection of his hand,
he was engaged to a girl under the same roof as herself! The long
exciting day, the unexpected encounter with Gilbert, Barry's proposal,
and Barry's revenge, were too much for her over-wrought nerves; to the
horror of Dido, and the amazement of Katie, their cousin received the
news—and she, who had always been so _down_ on Barry—in a storm of
hysterical tears!

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day brought the successful suitor to Crowmore to receive the
congratulations of his friends; his attitude was one of sulky triumph
as he nodded his acknowledgements of Dido's tepid felicitations, and
Biddy's brief greeting—Biddy, who had more than once imparted to the
bride elect that "she would not grudge Mr. Barry a good bating, to
take the concate out of him!" For once he obtained an interview with
his uncle, and then he sought Helen,—but at first she was nowhere to
be seen! All the afternoon she had been digging dandelion roots out of
the gravel, with a kitchen knife, a weary, exasperating performance,
and now, with an aching back, she was enjoying well-earned repose
under a beech-tree on the lawn. She had scarcely begun to realize
the delight of this exquisite August evening, scarcely turned a page
of her book, when, to her great disgust, she heard a loud "ahem,"
and, looking up, beheld Barry—Barry, gazing at her with angry,
vindictive eyes! His recent penchant had been speedily replaced by
a good, sound, substantial hatred, which he was at no pains to keep
out of his countenance. Helen raised her head and looked at him, and
beheld defiance in his port, and triumph in his glance. No rebuff, no
rejection, could quench the unquenchable.

"So you see you were wrong!" he sneered; "who is the ostrich now—who
is the frog, eh? I wonder you are not above calling people names!"

"Go away, and don't dare to speak to me, sir!"

"But I will speak to you!" he retorted defiantly. "You see, with _all_
your fine talk, the very first girl I asked took me, and was glad of
the chance!"

Helen merely lifted her eyes again and looked at him with frank disgust.

"I'm going to live here; the old fellow agrees. Katie is his favourite
daughter, and any way, it is high time to take the money out of his
hands, and that there was some sane person over the property! I shall
give Darby Chute the sack," he grinned at Helen, and she read in his
eyes that she would undoubtedly "get the sack" also.

"Of course you'll say nothing to them about yesterday," dropping his
tone of authority for one of querulous entreaty, as his eyes fell on
Dido and Katie, hurrying across the lawn. "You keep what I said to you
to yourself?"

"Need you ask?" she returned scornfully.

"Come away from under the tree, and sit upon these shawls!" cried
Katie. "That bench is so unsociable. Here," spreading it as she spoke,
"is one for you and me, Barry, and you may smoke, to keep away the
midges."

"I don't want _your_ leave to do that," was the gallant reply as he
flung himself heavily at the feet of his lady-love, and commenced to
blow clouds of tobacco into the air. Presently he said, "How much did
the cow fetch, Dido?"

"Only sixteen pounds—I'm _so_ disappointed; but Darby said he was glad
to get it, as there were no buyers of dairy stock—only shippers——"

"Sixteen pounds!" echoed Helen. "Are you sure?"

"As sure as any one _can_ be, who has the money in their pocket. Darby
brought it up this afternoon."

"Then, Dido, Darby has robbed you—robbed you shamefully! I overheard
him sell the cow yesterday, and I meant to have told you, but other
things put it out of my head; he sold her for twenty pounds—no wonder
people say he has feathered his nest!"

"Oh, Helen," cried Dido, in dismay, "what is this you are telling me?"

"Just what I've been telling you for the last year, and you would not
listen to me," said Barry in a loud voice. "I always knew he robbed you
out of the face!"

It does not often happen that twice within twenty-four hours, a man's
predictions are fulfilled to the letter—Barry's star was undoubtedly
in the ascendant, he literally swelled with triumph.

"I saw the money counted into his hand," continued Darby's accuser;
"twenty one-pound notes, and I thought how pleased you would be,
and—he kept back four!"

"I've a great mind to go down to him this very evening, and impeach him
to his face. I suppose he has been doing this all along. No _wonder_ i
can't make both ends meet!"

"Don't go to-night," said Katie gravely, "wait till to-morrow. I hear
John Dillon is about again—he shot the Crowmore grouse bog yesterday."

"I always knew that he was nothing but a poacher. Why don't some of the
people try and catch him!" inquired Helen calmly.

"But it _is_ john Dillon—exactly as he was in the flesh—he has been
seen scores of times! Why, you saw him yourself, Barry, _you_ have met
him?" said Katie, appealing to her lover with judicious docility.

"Yes! and I would not meet him again for a million of money. Catch him,
indeed! that's a good joke! You know the man that was found last winter
drowned in a bog hole; they say he was seen struggling with a big black
figure on the brink, and that it was John Dillon put him in, and no
less!"

"I don't believe in Dillon's ghost—a ghost that shoots and smokes!"
retorted Helen scornfully.

"I tell you what, Miss Helen Denis, it is all very fine for you to say,
you don't believe this, and you don't believe that—talking is easy.
I'd have some respect for your opinion, if you will start off now,
alone, and walk to the black gate and back—this," glancing up to the
sky, "is just about his time."

"Do leave her alone, Barry," exclaimed Dido, irritably; "why are you
two always wrangling with each other? Helen, you are not to think of
going."

"Yes!" returned her cousin, rising, "I should like a walk. I'll go, if
it is only to prove to you and Katie, that I have more courage in my
little finger, than other people have in their whole body."

"Do you mean that for me?" demanded Barry fiercely, rising on his elbow
as he spoke.

"If the cap fits, wear it, by all means! You said a moment ago, that
you would not face Dillon for a million. I don't care a fig for
Dillon,—and I am going to meet him now!"

More than this, she was eager to seize the excuse to have a nice long
stroll through the woods by herself, in order that she might arrange
her ideas, and meditate at leisure—for thanks to her affectionate
cousins, she rarely had a moment alone.

"Do you think you will catch him, or will he catch you?" inquired Barry
rudely.

To this she made no reply, and, resisting Katie's eager, almost tearful
entreaties, she snatched up a shawl, and sped away across the grass;
and, as she did so, Barry shouted after her,—

"Mind you carve your name on the gate, to prove you go there _at all_!"



CHAPTER XLI.

"THE POACHER'S GHOST."

  "But I am constant as the Northern Star."


IT was not dark, it was not even dusk, when Helen, having fought her
way through the laurustinus and syringa of the pleasure-grounds,
mounted the hill which lay between Crowmore and Ballyredmond. Here she
paused on the summit, and looked back. What a change even two days can
make in one's whole existence! Two evenings previously she had been
picking mushrooms on this very hill in her ordinary, tranquil frame
of mind; now, glancing down on the old Castle, Crowmore was to have a
new master, and she must leave its shelter! Her annual pittance would
soon be due, and she would thus be enabled to return to her duties,
at Malvern House. Well, she had never intended to quarter herself
altogether on her cousins! With a half-stifled sigh she turned her face
towards Ballyredmond, whose gables and chimneys peeped above the trees.
And so Gilbert Lisle was under that roof—probably at dinner at that
moment, sitting opposite to Miss Calderwood! "Of _course_ he is engaged
to her," she said aloud; "Dido only denied it because the wish was
father to the thought! I dare say they will be married soon; perhaps
before I leave. Well, I think I shall be able to decorate the church,
and even to accept an invitation to the wedding—if I get one!"

These thoughts brought her to the notorious gate, which separated the
two estates. It led from the hill-side pasture of Crowmore straight
into the dense woods of Ballyredmond and was at present fastened by a
stout padlock. There was no sign of John Dillon; no sound to be heard,
save the cawing of rooks and the cooing of wood-pigeons; and, without a
moment's delay, Helen dived into her pocket, produced a small penknife,
and commenced to carve her initials with somewhat suspicious haste.
She was not the least afraid of ghosts; her solution of the great
"apparatus" scare had effectually banished all such fears; but it was a
silent, lonely place, where she had no desire to linger.

The wood she was operating upon was hard, the penknife brittle, and
the process slow. She had only achieved the letter H, when her ears,
being quickened by an almost unconscious apprehension, caught the tread
of a footstep coming through the plantation. Nearer and nearer it
approached; now it was walking over leaves, which deadened the sound;
now it stepped upon a rotten twig, which snapped. Her heart, despite
her bravery, commenced to flutter wildly. Was this the poacher's ghost?
she would know in another second; in another second the branches were
thrust aside by a grey tweed arm, and she beheld, not John Dillon,—but
Gilbert Lisle! and she felt that the sharpest crisis of her life, was
at hand.

He stopped for an instant, as though to collect himself, then came
straight up to the gate and doffed his cap. He looked grave, and
extremely pale; and after a perceptible pause, he said,—

"Miss Denis, I am very glad to meet you again."

In answer to this she merely inclined her head. At this supreme moment
she could not have spoken to save her life.

"I see that the pleasure is entirely on my side; and, naturally, you
believe me to be the most faithless, perfidious—"

"The past is past," she interrupted in a low hurried voice. "Let
us agree to forget that we have ever met before. I was a silly
school-girl; you were a traveller—a man of the world, seeking to
enlarge your experience of places and people. You experimented on _me_.
It was rather cruel, you know, but it does not matter now. We do not
live in the age of broken hearts!"

"Miss Denis!" he returned passionately, "I'd rather a man had struck
me across the mouth than be obliged to stand and listen to such
words from a woman! And the worst of it all is, that your taunts
seem well-deserved. You do not know the _truth_. Look here," hastily
producing a letter addressed to herself, "I was on my way to leave this
for you with my own hands. I did not venture to expect that you would
see me; but since I have so happily met you, will you listen to me?"

"No, Mr. Lisle," she answered coldly, "I am not a school-girl _now_."

"Pardon me, but you must—you shall—hear me," suddenly closing his
hand on her wrist with a vice-like grasp, and speaking with unusual
vehemence.

"Of course I must hear you, if you choose to detain me against my will!
Would you keep me here by such means?" she asked, her voice trembling
with indignation.

"I would! Yes, brutal as it sounds, I _would_. Every criminal has a
right to be heard; and from you, in whose eyes I appear a miserable
traitor, I claim that privilege. I will no longer suffer you to think
me a base, false-hearted cur! There," suddenly liberating her hand as
he spoke, "There, I release you, but I appeal to your sense of honour,
and justice, to give me a hearing!"

Helen made no reply, but, as she did not move, he naturally took
silence for consent, and, without a moment's delay, began to plead his
cause in rapid, broken sentences.

"Do you know, that for the last ten days I have been searching for you
everywhere, and that I have been half distracted!—At first I addressed
myself to your aunt, who curtly refused your address, and made some
sceptical remarks on my motives in seeking you; then I travelled down
to Tenby, and interviewed Mrs. Kane,—unfortunately, she had lost your
last letter, and could only remember that your post town began with a
T,—which was rather vague. Next I telegraphed out to Mrs. Holmes—who
replied with 'Malvern House.' Finally Mrs. Platt was induced to believe
that I was in _earnest!_ she sent a line to Mrs. Durand; Mrs. Durand
forwarded it to me instantly. I started for Ireland within half an
hour, and here I am!"

"But why?" inquired the young lady frigidly.

"Simply because, until the last fortnight, I believed you to be the
wife of James Quentin! Yes, you may well look indignant and scornful;
I richly deserve such looks. You shall judge me, you alone—Here,"
suddenly removing his cap, and laying his hand on the gate. "I stand
as it were at the bar before you. Be patient with me for a few
minutes; hear my defence, and then you shall say if I am guilty or not
guilty.—I leave my cause, my fate, my future life in your hands!"

Helen listened to his appeal in profound silence; poignant memories,
maidenly pride, trembling expectation, struggled fiercely in her
breast. In the end her heart proved to be her suitor's most eloquent
advocate, and with a hasty gesture of assent, she motioned him to go on.

"You remember that night at Port Blair, when we parted, as I hoped
but for a few hours? Well, I went home and waited up for Quentin, and
talked to him in a way that astonished him. Nevertheless, he stuck
to his point, and blustered, and stormed, and swore that you _were_
engaged to him."

"And you believed him?" she exclaimed, with repressed emphasis.

"I did not believe his words. What converted me was his facts—the fact
that he possessed the wreck ring, and placed it in my hand. That was
sufficient. I thought, when you could give _him_ that,—you could not
care for _me_."

"And from first to last you were Mr. Quentin's cat's-paw?"

"His cat's-paw, his tool, his fool; whatever you like!" vehemently. "I
was an infatuated idiot. I mistook him for a gentleman, and measured
him by a wrong standard. He told me lies by the dozen, and when I left
the Nicobars I was under the impression that he was about to return to
Port Blair, and to marry you at once. I went to Singapore, to Japan, to
California; I rambled about the world, quite beyond reach of news from
the Andamans. Indeed, news from the Andamans I never sought—_that_
page in my life was closed. I came to London about three weeks ago, and
almost the first people I met were Quentin and his wife! After that,
Mrs. Durand cleared up the whole business.—She told me how your ring
had been stolen, and she it was, who succeeded in wringing your address
from your aunt, and that's about the whole story!"

"What did Mr. Quentin mean?" inquired Helen gravely.

"It's hard to say. He is a notorious lady-killer. He did not like to be
cut out. He was going away, and was utterly reckless. I believe he had
a comfortable conviction that he could commit any social enormity in
those out-of-the-way islands with the utmost impunity. He believed that
when he sailed away, he put himself beyond the reach of all reprisals.
And now, Helen, what do _you_ say? If you only knew what I have felt
the last fortnight, you would think that I've been pretty well punished
for being Quentin's dupe! Am I guilty or not guilty? Can you ever
forgive me?"

"Yes; I do forgive you," she replied at length, with a little catch in
her breath.

"And we will go back to where we left off that evening at Port Blair,"
suddenly leaning his arms on the gate, and looking at her earnestly.

To this she shook her head in silence.

"There is some one else?" he said, in a low voice.

"No, there is no one else," she answered, without looking up.

"Then you are really implacable; and, indeed, I cannot wonder."

"I am not implacable," and she laughed a little nervous laugh; "but I
am a governess!"

"And what in the world has that to do with it?"

"Everything. I am not a suitable wife for a great landed proprietor
like you. You took us all in at Port Blair; but now I know who you
really are, it would never do. I am a lady, certainly—your wife can be
no more than that—but I have no money, no connections."

"I don't understand you," he said, rather stiffly.

"Ask your friends, ask your father, your uncle, _they_ will explain it
all very forcibly."

"That is a miserable excuse, and will not serve you. My father has
been goading me towards the yoke of matrimony for years. My worthy
uncle, little knowing, talked of you all lunch-time, to-day, and wished
himself a young man for your sake—not that if he were—you would
listen to him, I _hope_!"

"I am not going to listen to any one."

"Yes, you are, you are going to listen to ME. When I was a poor obscure
nobody at Port Blair, you accepted me as your future husband—you know
you did."

"Yes; and now that I'm a poor obscure nobody at Crowmore, you wish to
return the compliment."

"Helen!" he exclaimed, in a tone of sharp reproach, "you don't believe
in your heart that I set any value on my money, or my birth. I want you
to take me for myself alone, as if you were a dairy-maid, and I was a
blacksmith. Will you?" extending his hand.

"But if I say yes, what will become of Miss Calderwood?" she inquired,
ignoring the proffered clasp.

"Miss Calderwood is nothing to me, I am nothing to her; our estates
suit one another, that's all. You don't suppose that I care a straw for
Miss Calderwood, or she for me?" coming as close to her as the gate
would permit, and looking at her fixedly. "You know very well that I
care for no one but _you_; don't you, Helen?"

Helen raised her eyes, and looked at him—and believed him.

"I'm afraid you have had a very rough time of it since we parted—both
at Port Blair, and in London?—I hate to think of it."

"Yes. I was miserable at first, most miserable," her eyes filling.
"Afterwards I got on better, and I've been very happy here."

"But, my dearest Helen—" (N.B. from Miss Denis to Helen, from Helen
to my dearest Helen, had been a rapid transition)—"Is not your uncle
very" mad, he was going to say, but changed it to the word "odd?"

"Very, very odd; indeed, more than odd, poor man, but he was very good
to me. I am fond of my cousins, especially Dido. Katie is going to
marry her cousin Barry."

"Unhappy Katie!" in a tone of profound commiseration. "Tell me, Helen,
has that ill-conditioned Orson ever dared to make love to you?"

"Never mind—I detest him—in fact, it is to prove that he is a coward,
that I am here now. He defied me to come up here, and cut my name on
this gate. See, I have got as far as H."

"I see! and it is hardly worth your while to add the D," he added,
significantly. "Before very long you will have another initial. And why
did Mr. Barry Sheridan defy you to cut your monogram on this gate?"

"Because it is said to be haunted by Dillon's ghost! No one ventures
here after dusk."

"Indeed! Do you know that I came across _your_ ghost in Terryscreen
yesterday; a market girl who is your double. When I saw her I felt that
it was a good omen, that you and I would be face to face ere long."

"Yes, and you were kind enough to toss her a sovereign—here it is,"
now producing it; "it has been burning a hole in my pocket ever since.
Yes," in answer to his stare of incredulity, "I may as well confess to
you at once, that it was not my double that you saw, but myself. You
may well look amazed. Did I not play my part to perfection?"

"Inimitably—but why?"

"We," with a backward wave of her hand, "are miserably poor! Uncle's
inventions absorb all the money. Darby, the steward, is a thief, and
Dido has nothing to look to but the garden; every week she sends a
cart to market, and it is the mainstay of the housekeeping. Sally, the
dairy-maid, was laid up—I took her place."

"And when did you pick up the brogue and the blarney?"

"Oh, that was the easiest part of the matter! I can take off anything."

"_You_ can?" rather startled.

"Yes, ever since I could speak; but I never attempted it in earnest
till yesterday. Please take back your sovereign," holding it out.

"What am I to do with it? Fasten it to my watch-chain as a memento of
the day my wife sold vegetables in the market square at Terryscreen?"

"If I were you, I would not talk of your wife before you have one,"
returned the young lady, blushing crimson. "I think you might give it
in charity."

"So be it!" obediently placing it in his waistcoat pocket. "After
all, I'm glad that you and the flower-seller were identical. I always
thought you were the prettiest girl in the world and it gave me quite
an unpleasant shock to see your counterpart."

(After this speech it was no longer in Helen's power to say that Mr.
Lisle had never paid her a compliment.)

"And who have we here, coming down the hill with a brace of rabbits
over his shoulders, and a gun under his arm?" he asked abruptly.

Helen glanced behind her, and beheld a man approaching with a black
beard and peaked cap, and shrank closer to her companion instinctively,
as she answered,—

"It must be John Dillon!"

And it was. The seemingly solitary white figure offered a peculiarly
tempting opportunity to the ghost, and he advanced with long and rapid
strides (not being aware of the presence of a third party, who was at
the other side of the gate and somewhat in the shade). He was within
three yards of Helen, and had already stretched out a threatening arm,
when,—

"Hullo, John!" in a masculine voice, caused him to pause and recoil a
step or two. "I say, you seem to have had good sport?"

John glowered, backed, and would have fled, but Gilbert was too quick
for him. He vaulted over the gate, and said,—

"Come here, my friend, and give an account of yourself. It's not every
day that I see a ghost! Let me have a look at you!"

Very slowly and reluctantly the spectre slouched back, and stood within
a few feet of his questioner. Flight was useless; he had to deal with a
man of half his age, and thrice his activity. Moreover, his gun was not
loaded.

"And so I hear that you made a capital bag on our bog on the eleventh,
John; what do you do with your game? You know you have no game licence
and are a terrible poacher; woodcock, pheasants, hares, all come handy
to you. My uncle tells me that three hundred head of his long tails
were sent away to Dublin and sold last winter, and this in spite of
watchers at night, and every precaution; you won't leave a head of game
in the county! Now, I don't mind betting a sovereign that you have a
brace of grouse in one of your pockets."

Here John, who had hitherto simply stood and glowered, showed signs of
moving off, but his captor took him firmly by the arm, and leading him
out beyond the shadow of the trees, said,—

"Mr. Darby Chute, if I'm not greatly mistaken! I've suspected you
for years. Just take off your cap, will you? Now your beard, if you
please?" And, sure enough, there stood Darby.

For some seconds there was an eloquent silence, broken at last by Helen
who, notwithstanding her scepticism of Mr. Chute, was unprepared for
_this dénouement_.

"Oh, Darby, how COULD you?" she exclaimed with horror.

"Mr. Gilbert," he stammered in a tremulous voice, "I've known ye,
man and boy, and ever since ye wor a terror with the catapult. 'Twas
I first taught you to handle ferrets, and sure you would not go and
expose me now?"

"Why should I not? You have poached this estate for the last ten years;
not modestly now and then, like your neighbours, but as systematically
as if you had leased the shooting. You must have made your fortune."

"Fortune, indeed! an' how would I make a fortune?" indignantly.

"Easily, Darby! what about the white cow you sold for Miss Dido
for twenty pounds, and you only gave her sixteen?" demanded Helen
authoritatively.

"Arrah! what are you talking about, miss?" he asked with an air of
virtuous repudiation. "Do ye want to destroy mee character?"

"It is all right, Darby, _I_ was there. I heard you sell it to a man
named James Casey. We will send for him to-morrow if you like."

"Faix, I see I may as well make a clean breast of it—I see that it's
all over," remarked Darby with sullen self-possession.

"If you mean the shooting of the best covers in the county, and robbing
old Mr. Sheridan, I think you are about right, and that it _is_ all
over," returned Gilbert emphatically.

"Well, sure, if _I_ did not take from him, some one else would," was
the cool rejoinder. "'Tis a shame for the likes of him, to be tempting
poor people!"

"I suppose it was your shots that we used to hear in the woods?"

"I expect it was, Mr. Gilbert."

"And it was you who terrified the wits out of every one after
dark—more especially other poachers. That was a clever dodge."

"It was not too bad, Mr. Gilbert.—Some people does be very wake in
themselves, and shy at night."

"And there are not half enough knaves in the world, for the fools that
are in it! You are a most infernal rascal."

"Maybe I am, Mr. Gilbert; but I never went again me conscience."

"You could not well go against what you have not got."

"And, sure, what is game but wild birds?"

"And the cow, was she a wild bird?—I suppose you sent all your bags to
Dublin?"

"Faix, an' I did, Mr. Gilbert!" returned Darby with perfect equanimity.

"And who bought your spoil?"

"Oh, a spalpeen in William Street, a rale chate! he never gave me more
ner two shillings a brace. Don't _you_ have no dalings with him," said
the culprit with heroic impudence.

"And now, what am I to do with you, Mr. Chute? You are convicted here
as a thief and poacher, on your own confession."

"Well, now, since you _ax_ me, I think ye might as well let me off, Mr.
Gilbert! Sure, it won't be no pleasure, or relief, to you to prosecute
me, and me old mother would think bad of me going to jail. Won't you
spake a word for me, Miss Helen? Sure, there's no one but yourself
can say a hate against me, and ye would not like to be put up in the
witness box at Terryscreen."

"You need not be distressed about Miss Denis, Darby," said Gilbert
sternly. "I could prove enough without her. If I do let you off, it
will be on account of your old mother, and because I've known you ever
since I could walk, and because the harm is done now, and to publish
your knavery, would make half the county look like fools."

"Look here, Mr. Gilbert, I'll never offer to fire a shot in anyone's
ground again, nor to set foot in Crowmore. And I'll make restitution
on the cow, an' wan or two small matters beside, in all twinty pounds.
There now! I'm laying me sins bare before you—and what more can I do?"

"You can leave the country! You must clear out within twenty-four
hours, and never show your face again in these parts, either as John
Dillon or Darby Chute. And, as to the restitution, I shall have a word
with Father Fagan, _he_ will see to that."

"Very well, Mr. Gilbert," he rejoined quietly, "as you plase. But I
warn you that there will be nations of poachers in it, when I go."

"Nations or not, go you must. I wonder what my uncle would say if he
knew I let you off so cheap."

"'Deed then, Mr. Gilbert, I'm thinking he would just destroy both you
and me! Howd-somever, I've a brother in America, and I've long laid out
to go there. So it's not putting me much about!"

"And is less inconvenient than jail! Well, I daresay you will be smart
enough even for some of them."

"Shure, how would I be smart, that never had no book learning?"
protested Darby scornfully. "Look here, Mr. Gilbert, if that's your
young lady—and, faix, it _looks_ like it—I never saw any one make
a worse hand of coortin' than yourself. Raally, I'm surprised at ye!
You at one side of the gate, and her at the other. Miss Helen," now
turning to her, "I suppose ye may as well have this brace of grouse,"
producing the birds from his pocket. "And with regard to that little
account you were spakin' of, and the _other_ change, I'll send it up
the first thing in the morning, and may be you won't let on, but it was
a mistake."

"Indeed, Darby, I shall tell the whole truth," cried Helen indignantly.
"You need not expect _me_ to keep such a thing secret."

"Well, I'll be out of it to-morrow! so it's no great matter. Good-bye,
Mr. Gilbert; good-bye, Miss Helen. You and I were never very thick,
still I wish you both luck and grace, and that you may live long and
die happy," and picking up his cap and gun, Mr. Darby Chute walked away
with considerable dignity.

"There's a nice ruffian for you!" exclaimed Gilbert emphatically.

"Yes; and to think how he must have robbed uncle, and poor Dido!"

"And to think of the years he has been poaching the country. However,
never mind him now, we have something else to talk about."

"But there's the stable clock striking eight, and I must go. And it's
your dinner-hour at Ballyredmond."

"Not to-night.—To-night I don't want any dinner. (Could manly devotion
go further?) I am going to walk back with you. Thank goodness, there is
no Mrs. Creery to hustle me away _this_ time."

To his proposal the young lady made no demur, no protestations; not
even when he insisted on taking her home by the longest way, up the
hill, out by the road, and in by the new avenue! The whole distance
was about three-quarters of a mile; the time occupied three-quarters
of an hour; the moon, a full harvest moon, had risen, and the twilight
had given place to a light almost as clear as day. Seated on her own
door-step, smoking her little dhudeen, they descried the "Fancy,"—and
she saw them! The unexpected appearance of an interesting-looking young
couple strolling down the road, was a welcome windfall to this active
old woman, who instantly sprang up, and darted out, to waylay them with
her invariable whine of,—

"Give the poor old woman the price of a cup of tay, your honour. Oh!"
recognizing him, "and 'tis yourself is welcome home, me own darling Mr.
Gilbert. Give me the price of a new petticoat, and that you may _gain
the lady_!"

In answer to this romantic appeal, he promptly threw her the sovereign
that Helen had returned, and Judy (having made herself acquainted with
the value of the coin) accompanied the lovers to the gates overpowering
them the while with shrill benedictions.

From the following few words it would appear as if the "Fancy's"
good wishes were wholly superfluous, and that the lady had already
surrendered.

"Good-night," she said as she paused half-way up the avenue. "You
really must not come any further."

"And pray why not?"

"Because they know nothing, and it will look so strange," she
stammered. "I should like to tell them first," she added rather shyly.

"Then I shall come over at cock-crow, to-morrow. May I come to
breakfast?"

"Yes, you may. Good-night," holding out her hand.

"Good-night! and is that all? I am not going to let you run off like
that, _this_ time!" detaining her. "You have forgotten something."

"Oh, of course! how stupid of me—the grouse to be sure!"

"No—NOT the grouse!" replied Gilbert—who was far bolder than Darby
imagined!

Two minutes later Helen's cousins,—who had been sitting with the
drawing-room door open, and the hall door as usual, eagerly listening
to every sound,—heard her running up the gravel, and then up the
steps. Her cheeks were scarlet, but on the whole, she did not look as
if she was flying from a ghost!

"What a fright you have given us!" cried Dido, rushing at her. "Katie
and I have been almost distracted.—You have been away nearly two
hours."

"Have I really!" she exclaimed apologetically. "I did not think I had
been half that time."

The anxieties of her relatives had evidently not been shared by Barry,
who sat with his feet upon a chair, a paper in his hand, and a look of
stolid indifference on his face.

"Well, did you see Dillon?" he demanded, as she entered the
drawing-room.

"Oh, yes! I saw him," she returned carelessly; "and here," exhibiting
the birds, "are a brace of grouse he gave me!"

"I don't believe you!" bringing down his boots with a loud bang.

"And there's his beard!" tossing a black object into Katie's lap,—who
immediately rose with a loud shriek, and shook it off as if it had been
a rattlesnake.

"I'll tell you something else,"—addressing herself specially to her
cousins. "What do you think? We made a grand discovery this evening.
John Dillon, the notorious ghost poacher, is your esteemed friend,
Darby Chute!"

When the ensuing storm of exclamations and questions had somewhat
subsided, Dido said suddenly, "But surely he never confessed all this
to you alone? Who was with you? What do you mean by _we_?"

Helen's sole answer was a brilliant blush; and, strange to say, this
reply was sufficient for her cousin.

       *       *       *       *       *

A year has elapsed since Gilbert Lisle stood on his trial at the black
gate. He has now quite settled down in the _rôle_ of a married man, and
spends most of his time between Berkshire and Ballyredmond. However,
his wings have not been _too_ closely clipped, for people who bore a
striking resemblance to him and his wife were met in Tangiers last
winter; and they are meditating a trip to the East, and paying a flying
visit to Dido (Dido who is now residing on the plains of Hindostan and
learning the practical use of punkahs and mosquito nets).

Thanks to Helen's good offices, the course of Miss Sheridan's true
love ran smoothly after all, and she was married with considerable
_éclat_ from the Lisles' house in London. Between that mansion and 15,
Upper Cream Street—there is a cloud. Helen and her relatives exchange
dignified salutes when they meet in public, but there their intimacy
ceases. Mr. Lisle has forbidden his wife to cross her aunt's threshold
(an embargo that is by no means irksome to that young lady), and the
Misses Platt tell all their acquaintance what an odious, ungrateful
creature she is, and how once upon a time they took her in, and kept
her out of charity. And _this_ is their reward!

Nevertheless, the Honourable Mrs. Gilbert Lisle does not forget old
friends. She is not ashamed to see the Smithson Villa vehicle standing
before her door; and she has more than once visited at Malvern House,
and entertained Mrs. Kane, and some of her former pupils. Lord
Lingard has been altogether captivated by his daughter-in-law. She
is everything his heart desires; young, pretty, and pleasant. He has
invested her with the family diamonds!

Barry and Katie reign at Crowmore. The place is much altered, for the
better; the old lodges have been swept away, the wall is gone, the
gates restored; the garden is pruned, the yard is reclaimed, and the
out-offices are roofed, and filled. Katie is happy in her own way.
She rather enjoys being bullied by Barry, is lenient to his little
foibles, and she listens to his vainglorious personal reminiscences
with deep interest, and implicit faith. On one point alone she is
somewhat sceptical, viz., that Barry could have married her cousin,
had he chosen;—her pretty cousin Helen, who occasionally drives over
from Ballyredmond in a smart Stanhope phaeton, and seems perfectly
satisfied with her own husband, and who snubs Barry, as mercilessly as
ever!

Mr. Sheridan, poor gentleman, has now but few lucid intervals. He is
at present engaged in an absorbing search for the elixir of life, and
lives in his tower along with a companion, whom he treats with the most
reverent respect and calls "Archimedes," but to the outer world he is
known as James Karney—a keeper from a lunatic asylum.

Biddy, thanks to Helen's good offices, has relented at last, and
permitted her niece Sally to bestow her capable hand upon "that little
sleveen, Larry Flood." The market-cart has consequently been abolished,
and the Master's occupation (like Othello's), is gone. He is now a
pensioner at Ballyredmond, where, to quote his late charioteer, Mrs.
Flood, "he never does a hand's turn, barrin' thievin' in the haggard,
and chasing the cows."

The "Fancy" continues to flourish, to levy tribute, and to make a
comfortable income out of her holding at the Cross. And, according to
the last accounts from America, Darby Chute reported himself to be
doing _well_.


THE END



  PRINTED BY
  KELLY AND CO., GATE STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS, W.C.
  AND MIDDLE MILL, KINGSTON-ON-THAMES.



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES.

1. Silently corrected simple spelling, grammar, and typographical errors.

2. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.



*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A bird of passage" ***




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