Part 3 out of 3
"Masters I don't know who ye may be, but I'm grateful to ye an'
more than grateful, sir. An' now I'm ready to go back an' finish my time."
"How much longer is that?"
"Three years, sir."
"And when you come out, what shall you do then?"
"Start all over again, sir; try to get some honest work an' live
"Do you think you can?"
"I know I can, sir. Ye see, he died in my arms, called me 'is bye
Jarge, said 'e were proud of me, 'e did! A man can begin again an'
live straight an' square wi' a memory the like o' that to 'elp 'im."
"Then why not begin to-night?"
He passed a tremulous hand through his silver hair, and stared at me
with incredulous eyes.
"Begin-to-night!" he half whispered.
"I have an old house among the Kentish hop-gardens," I went on; "no
one lives there at present except a care-taker, but it is within
the bounds of probability that I may go to stay there - some day.
Now the gardens need trimming, and I'm very fond of flowers; do you
suppose you could make the place look decent in - say, a month ?"
"Sir," he said in a strange, broken voice, "you ain't jokin' with
me, are you?"
"I could pay you a pound a week; what do you say?"
He tried to speak, but his lips quivered, and he turned his back
upon us very suddenly. I tore a page from my pocket-book and
scrawled a hasty note to my care-taker.
"Here is the address," I said, tapping him on the shoulder. "You
will find no difficulty. I will write again to-night. You must
of course have money to get there and may need to buy a few
necessaries besides; here is your first week's wages in advance,"
and I thrust a sovereign into his hand. He stared down at it with
blinking eyes, shuffling awkwardly with his feet, and at that
moment his face seemed very worn, and lined, and his hair very
grey, yet I had a feeling that I should not regret my quixotic
action in the end.
"Sir," he faltered, "sir, do ye mean - ?" and stopped.
"I mean that to-night 'the bye Jarge' has a chance to make a new
beginning, a chance to become the man his father always thought
he would be. Of course I may be a fool to trust you. That only
time will show; but you see I had a great respect for old Jasper.
And now that you have the address you'd better go; stay, though,
you must have a hat; folks might wonder - take this," and I
handed him my cap.
"Sir, I can't thank ye now, I never can. It - it won't come; but - "
with a nervous, awkward gesture he caught my hand suddenly pressed
it to his lips, and was gone down the lane.
Thus it was that old Jasper's "bye Jarge" went out to make a trial
of life a second time, and as I watched him striding through the
moonlight, his head erect, very different to the shambling creature
he had been, it seemed to me that the felon was already ousted by
"I 'specks he forgot all 'bout me !" said the Imp disconsolately.
"No," I answered, shaking my head; "I don't think he will ever
forget you, my Imp."
"I 'spose he's awfull' fond of you, Uncle Dick?"
"Not that I know of,"
"Then why did he kiss your hand?"
"Oh, well - er - perhaps it is a way he has."
"He didn't kiss mine," said the Imp.
A door opened and closed very softly, and Lisbeth came towards us
down the path, whereupon the Imp immediately "took cover" in the
"He is dead, Dick!" she said as I opened the gate. "He died in
his son's arms - the George he was always talking about. And oh,
Dick, he died trying to sing 'The British Grenadiers."
"Poor old Jasper!" I said.
"His son was a convict once, wasn't he?"
"It was strange that he should come back as he did - just in time;
it almost seems like the hand of Providence, doesn't it, Dick?"
"Yes." Lisbeth was standing with her elbows upon the gate and her
chin in her hands, staring up at the moon, and I saw that her eyes
were wet with tears.
"Why, where is your cap ?" she exclaimed when at last she
condescended to look at me.
"On the head of an escaped convict,"
"Do you mean - "
"The 'bye Jarge,'" I nodded.
"Yes, Lisbeth; it was a ridiculous piece of sentiment I admit. Your
1aw abiding, level-headed citizen would doubtless be highly shocked,
not to say scandalised; likewise the Law might get up on its hind
legs and kick - quite unpleasantly; but all the same, I did it"
"You were never what one might call - very 'level-headed,' were you,
"No, I'm afraid not."
"And, do you know, I think that is the very reason why I - good
gracious! - what is that?" She pointed toward the shadow of the
"Merely the Imp," I answered; "but never mind that - tell me what
you were going to say - 'the very reason why you' - what?"
"Reginald!" said Lisbeth, unheeding my question, "come here, sir!"
Very sheepishly the Imp crept forth from the ditch, and coming up
beside me, stole his hand into mine, and I put it in my pocket.
"Reginald?" she repeated, looking from one to the other of us with
that expression which always renews within me the memory of my
boyish misdeeds, "why are you not asleep in bed?"
"'Cause I had to go an' feed my outlaw, Auntie Lisbeth."
"And," I put in to create a diversion, "incidentally I've discovered
the secret of his 'enormous appetite.' It is explained in three
words, to wit, 'the bye Jarge."
"Do you mean to say - " began Lisbeth.
"Fed him regularly twice a day," I went on, "and nearly famished
himself in the doing of it - you remember the dry-bread incident?"
"Imp!" cried Lisbeth; "Imp!" And she had him next moment in her
"But Uncle Dick gave him a whole sovereign, you know," he began;
"an' - "
"I sent him to a certain house, Lisbeth," I said, as her eyes met
mine; "an old house that stands not far from the village of Down,
in Kent, to prune the roses and things. I should like it to be
looking its best when we get there; and - "
"An' my outlaw kissed Uncle Dick's hand," pursued the Imp. "Don't
you think he must love him an awful lot?"
"I gave him a month to do it in," I went on; "but a month seems
much too long when one comes to consider - what do you think,
"I think that I hear the wheels of the dog-cart!" she cried. Sure
enough, a moment later Peter hove in view, and great was his
astonishment at sight of "Master Reginald."
"Peter," I said, "Miss Elizabeth has changed her mind, and will
walk back with us; and - er - by the way, I understand that Master
Reginald purchased a coat, a shirt, and a pair of trousers of you,
for which he has already paid a deposit of sixpence. Now, if you
will let me know their value - "
"That's hall right, Mr. Brent, sir. Betwixt you and me, sir, they
wasn't up to much, nohow, the coat being tightish, sir - tightish -
and the trousis uncommon short in the leg for a man o' my hinches,
"Nevertheless," said I, "a coat's a coat, and a pair of trousers
are indubitably a pair of trousers, and nothing can alter the fact;
so if you will send me in a bill some time I shall be glad."
"Very good, Mr. Brent, sir." Saying which Peter touched his hat
and turning, drove away.
"Now," I said as I rejoined Lisbeth and the Imp, "I shall be glad
if you will tell me how long it should take for my garden to look
fair enough to welcome you?"
"Oh, well, it depends upon the gardener, and the weather, and - and
heaps of things," she answered, flashing her dimple at me,
"On the contrary," I retorted, shaking my head, "it depends
altogether upon the whim of the most beautiful, tempting - "
"Supposing," sighed Lisbeth, "supposing we talk of fish!"
"You haven't been fishing lately, Uncle Dick," put in the Imp.
"I've had no cause to," I answered; "you see, I am guilty of such
things only when life assumes a grey monotony of hue and everything
is a flat, dreary desolation. Do you understand, Imp?"
"Not 'zackly - but it sounds fine! Auntie Lisbeth," he said suddenly,
as we paused at the Shrubbery gate, "don't you think my outlaw must
be very, very fond of Uncle Dick to kiss his hand?"
"Why, of course he must," nodded Lisbeth.
"If," he went on thoughtfully, "if you loved somebody - very much -
would you kiss their hand, Auntie Lisbeth ?"
"I don't know - of course not!"
"But why not - s'posing their hand was nice an' clean
"Oh, well - really I don't know. Imp, run along to bed; do."
"You know now that I wasn't such a pig as to eat all that food,
don't you?" Lisbeth kissed him.
"Now be off to bed with you."
"You'll come an' tuck me up, an' kiss me good-night, won't you?"
"To be sure I will," nodded Lisbeth,
"Why, then, I'll go," said the Imp; and with a wave of the hand to
me he went.
"Dick," said Lisbeth, staring up at the moon, "it was very unwise
of you, to say the least of it, to set a desperate criminal at
"I'm afraid it was, Lisbeth; but then I saw there was good in the
fellow, you know, and - er - "
"Dick," she said again, and then laughed suddenly, with the dimple
in full evidence; "you foolish old Dick - you know you would have
done it anyway for the sake of that dying old soldier."
"Poor old Jasper!" I said; "I'm really afraid I should." Then a
wonderful thing happened; for as I reached out my hand to her, she
caught it suddenly in hers, and before I knew had pressed her lips
upon it - and so was gone.
THE BLASTED OAK
I had quarrelled with Lisbeth; had quarrelled beyond all hope of
redemption and forgiveness, desperately, irrevocably, and it had
all come about through a handkerchief - Mr. Selwyn's handkerchief.
At a casual glance this may appear all very absurd, not to say
petty; but then I have frequently noticed that insignificant things
very often serve for the foundation of great; and incidentally quite
a surprising number of lives have been ruined by a handkerchief.
The circumstances were briefly these: In the first place, I had
received the following letter from the Duchess, which had perturbed
me not a little:
MY DEAR DICK: I hear that that Agatha Warburton creature has written
threatening to cut off our dear Lisbeth with the proverbial shilling
unless she complies with her wish and marries Mr. Selwyn within the
year. Did you ever know of anything so disgusting?
If I were Lisbeth, and possessed such a 'creature" for an aunt, I'd
see her in Timbuctoo first - I would! But then I forget the poor
child has nothing in the world, and you little more, and "love in a
cottage" is all very well, Dick, up to a certain time. Of course,
it is all right in novels but you are neither of you in a novel, and
that is the worst of it. If Providence had seen fit to make me
Lisbeth's aunt, now, things might have been very different; hut alas!
it was not to be. Under the circumstances, the best thing you can
do, for her sake and your own, is to turn your back upon Arcadia and
try to forget it all as soon as possible in the swirl of London and
P.S. Of course, "Romance is dead ages and ages ago; still, it
really would be nice if you could manage to run off with her some
Thus the fiat had gone forth, the time of waiting was accomplished;
to-day Lisbeth must choose between Selwyn and myself.
This thought was in my mind as I strode along the river path,
filling me with that strange exhilaration which comes, I suppose, to
most of us when we face some climax in our lives.
But now the great question, How would she decide? leaped up and
began to haunt me. Because a woman smiles upon a man, he is surely
a most prodigious fool to flatter himself that she loves him,
therefore. How would she decide? Nay, indeed; what choice had she
between affluence and penury? Selwyn was wealthy and favoured by
her aunt, Lady Warburton, while as for me, my case was altogether
the reverse. And now I called to mind how Lisbeth had always
avoided coming to any understanding with me, putting me off on one
pretence or another, but always with infinite tact. So Fear came
to me, and Doubt began to rear its head; my step grew slower and
slower, till, reaching the Shrubbery gate, I leaned there in doubt
whether to proceed or not. Summoning up my resolution, however,
I went on, turning in the direction of the orchard, where I knew
she often sat of a morning to read or make a pretence of sewing.
I had gone but a little way when I caught sight of two distant
figures walking slowly across the lawn, and recognised Lisbeth
and Mr. Selwyn. The sight of him here and at such a time was
decidedly unpleasant, and I hurried on, wondering what could
have brought him so early.
Beneath Lisbeth's favourite tree, an ancient apple-tree so gnarled
and rugged that it seemed to have spent all its days tying itself
into all manner of impossible knots - in the shade of this tree, I
say, there was a rustic seat and table, upon which was a work-basket,
a book, and a handkerchief. It was a large, decidedly masculine
handkerchief, and as my eyes encountered it, by some unfortunate
chance I noticed a monogram embroidered in one corner - an extremely
neat, precise monogram, with the letters F. S. I recognised it at
once as the property of Mr. Selwyn.
Ordinarily I should have thought nothing of it, but to-day it was
different; for there are times in one's life when the most foolish
things become pregnant of infinite possibilities; when the veriest
trifles assume overwhelming proportions, filling and blotting
out the universe.
So it was now, and as I stared down at the handkerchief, the Doubt
within me grow suddenly into Certainty. I was pacing restlessly up
and down when I saw Lisbeth approaching; her cheeks seemed more
flushed than usual, and her hand trembled as she gave it to me.
"Why, whatever is the matter with you?" she said; "you look so - so
"I received a letter from the Duchess this morning."
"Yes; in which she tells me your aunt has threatened to - "
"Cut me off with a shilling," nodded Lisbeth, crossing over to the
"Yes," I said again.
"Oh, for goodness' sake, Dick, stop tramping up and down like a - a
caged bear, and sit down - do!"
I obeyed; yet as I did so I saw her with the tail of my eye whip up
the handkerchief and tuck it beneath the laces at her bosom.
"Lisbeth," said I, without turning my head, "why hide it - there?"
Her face flushed painfully, her lips quivered, and for a moment she
could find no answer; then she tried to laugh it off.
"Because I - I wanted to, I suppose !"
"Obviously!" I retorted; and rising, bowed and turned to go.
"Stay a moment, Dick. I have something to tell you."
"Thank you, but I think I can guess."
"Aren't you just a little bit theatrical, Dick?" Now, as she spoke
she drew out Selwyn's handkerchief and began to tie and untie knots
in it. "Dick," she went on - and now she was tracing out Selwyn's
monogram with her finger - "you tell me you know that Aunt Agatha
has threatened to disinherit me; can you realise what that would
mean to me, I wonder?"
"Only in some small part," I answered bitterly; "but it would be
awful for you, of course - good-bye to society and all the rest of
it - no more ball gowns or hats and things from Paris, and - "
"And bearing all this in mind," she put in, "and knowing me as you
do, perhaps you can make another guess and tell me what I am likely
to do under these circumstances?"
Now, had I been anything but a preposterous ass, my answer would
have been different; but then I was not myself, and I could not
help noticing how tenderly her finger traced out those two letters
F. S., so I laughed rather brutally and answered:
"Follow the instinct of your sex and stick to the Paris hats and
I heard her breath catch, and turning away, she began to flutter
the pages of the book upon the table.
"And you were always so clever at guessing, weren't you?" she said
after a moment, keeping her face averted.
"At least it has saved your explaining the situation, and you should
be thankful for that."
The book slipped suddenly to the ground and lay, all unheeded, and
she began to laugh in a strange, high key. Wondering, I took a
step toward her; but as I did so she fled from me, running toward
the house, never stopping or slackening speed, until I had lost
sight of her altogether.
Thus the whole miserable business had befallen, dazing me by its
very suddenness like a "bolt from the blue." I had returned to the
'Three Jolly Anglers,' determined to follow the advice of the
Duchess and return to London by the next train. Yet, after passing
a sleepless night, here I was sitting in my old place beneath the
alders pretending to fish.
The river was laughing among the reeds just as merrily as ever, bees
hummed and butterflies wheeled and hovered - life and the world were
very fair. Yet for once I was blind to it all; moreover, my pipe
refused to "draw" - pieces of grass, twigs, and my penknife were
So I sat there, brooding upon the fickleness of womankind, as many
another has done before me, and many will doubtless do after, alack!
And the sum of my thoughts was this: Lisbeth had deceived me; the
hour of trial had found her weak; my idol was only common clay,
after all. And yet she had but preferred wealth to comparative
poverty, which surely, according to all the rules of common sense,
had shown her possessed of a wisdom beyond her years. And who was
I to sit and grieve over it? Under the same circumstances
ninety-nine women out of a hundred would have chosen precisely the
same course; but then to me Lisbeth had always seemed the one
exempt - the hundredth woman; moreover, there be times when love,
unreasoning and illogical, is infinitely more beautiful than this
much-vaunted common sense.
This and much more was in my mind as I sat fumbling with my useless
pipe and staring with unseeing eyes at the flow of the river. My
thoughts, however, were presently interrupted by something soft
rubbing against me, and looking down, I beheld Dorothy's fluffy
kitten Louise. Upon my attempting to pick her up, she bounded
from me in that remarkable sideways fashion peculiar to her kind,
and stood regarding me from a distance, her tail straight up in
the air and her mouth opening and shutting without a sound. At
length having given vent to a very feeble attempt at a mew, she
zig-zagged to me, and climbing upon my knee, immediately fell into
a purring slumber.
"Hallo, Unc1e Dick! - I mean, what ho, Little John!" cried a voice,
and looking over my shoulder, carefully so as nor to disturb the
balance of "Louise," I beheld the Imp. It needed but a glance at
the bow in his hand, the three arrows in his belt, and the feather
in his cap to tell me who he was for the time being.
"How now, Robin?" I inquired.
"I'm a bitter, disappointed man, Uncle Dick!" he answered, putting
up a hand to feel if his feather was in place.
"Yes the book says that Robin Hood was 'bitter an' disappointed' an'
so am I."
"Why, how's that?"
The Imp folded his arms and regarded me with a terrific frown. "It's
all the fault of my Auntie Lisbeth'!" he said in a tragic voice.
"Sit down, my Imp, and tell me all about it."
"Well," he began laying aside his 'trusty sword,' and seating himself
at my elbow, "she got awfull' angry with me yesterday, awfull' angry,
indeed, an' she wouldn't play with me or anything; an' when I tried
to be friends with her an' asked her to pretend she was a hippopotamus,
'cause I was a mighty hunter, you know, she just said, 'Reginald, go
away an' don't bother me!'
"You surprise me, Imp!"
"But that's not the worst of it," he continued, shaking his head
gloomily; "she didn't come to 'tuck me up' an' kiss me good-night
like she always does. I lay awake hours an' hours waiting for
her, you know; but she never came, an' so I've left her!"
"Left her!" I repeated.
"For ever an' ever!" he said, nodding a stern brow. "I 'specks
she'll be awfull' sorry some day!"
"But where shall you go to?"
"I'm thinking of Persia!" he said darkly.
"It's nice an' far, you know, an' I might meet Aladdin with the
"Alas, Imp, I fear not," I answered, shaking my head; "and besides,
it will take a long, long time to get there, and where shall you
sleep at night?"
The Imp frowned harder than ever, staring straight before him as
one who wrestles with some mighty problem, then his brow cleared
and he spoke in this wise:
"Henceforth, Uncle Dick, my roof shall be the broad expanse of
heaven, an - an - wait a minute!" he broke off, and lugging
something from his pocket, disclosed a tattered, paper-covered
volume (the Imp's books are always tattered), and hastily turning
the pages, paused at a certain paragraph and read as follows:
"'Henceforth my roof shall be the broad expanse of heaven, an' all
tyrants shall learn to tremble at my name!' Doesn't that sound
fine, Uncle Dick? I tried to get Ben, you know, the gardener's
boy - to come an' live in the 'greenwood' with me a bit an' help
to make 'tyrants' tremble, but he said he was 'fraid his mother
might find him some day, an' he wouldn't, so I'm going to make
them tremble all by myself, unless you will come an' be Little
John, like you were once before - oh, do!"
Before I could answer, hearing footsteps, I looked round, and my
heart leaped, for there was Lisbeth coming down the path.
Her head was drooping and she walked with a listless air. Now, as
I watched I forgot everything but that she looked sad, and troubled,
and more beautiful than ever, and that I loved her. Instinctively
I rose, lifting my cap. She started, and for the fraction of a
second her eyes looked into mine, then she passed serenely on her
way. I might have been a stick or stone for all the further notice
Side by side, the Imp and I watched her go, until the last gleam of
her white skirt had vanished amid the green. Then he folded his
arms and turned to me.
"So be it!" he said, with an air of stern finality; "an' now, what
is a 'blasted oak,' please?"
"A blasted oak!" I repeated.
"If you please, Uncle Dick."
"'Well, it's an oak-tree that has been struck by lightning."
"Like the one with the 'stickie-out' branches, where I once hid
Auntie Lis - Her stockings?"
I nodded, and sitting down, began to pack up my fishing rod and
"I'm glad of that," pursued the Imp thoughtfully. "Robin Hood was
always saying to somebody, 'Hie thee to the blasted oak at midnight!'
an' it's nice to have one handy, you know."
I thought that under certain circumstances, and with a piece of
rope, it would be very much so, "blasted" or otherwise, but I only
said, "Yes" and sighed.
"'Whence that doleful visage,' Uncle Dick - I mean Little John?
Is Auntie angry with you, too?"
"Yes," I answered, and sighed again.
"Oh!" said the Imp, staring, "an' do you feel like - like - wait
a minute - and once more he drew out and consulted the tattered
volume - "'do you feel like hanging yourself in your sword-belt to
the arm of yonder tree?'" he asked eagerly, with his finger upon a
"Very like it, my Imp."
"Or - or 'hurling yourself from the topmost pinnacle of yon lofty
"Yes, Imp; the 'loftier' the better!"
"Then you must be in love, like Alan-a-Dale; he was going to hang
himself, an' 'hurl himself oft the topmost pinnacle,' you know,
only Robin Hood said, 'Whence that doleful visage,' an' stopped
him - you remember?"
"To be sure," I nodded.
"An' so you are really in love with my Auntie Lisbeth, are you?"
"Is that why she's angry with you?"
The Imp was silent, apparently plunged once more in a profound
"'Fraid there's something wrong with her," he said at last, shaking
his head; "she's always getting angry with everybody 'bout something
- you an' me an' Mr. Selwyn
"Mr. Selwyn!" I exclaimed. "Imp, what do you mean?"
"'Well, she got cross with me first - an' over such a little thing,
too! We were in the orchard, an' I spilt some lemonade on her gown
- only about half a glass, you know, an' when she went to wipe it
off she hadn't a handkerchief, an' 'course I had none. So she told
me to fetch one, an' I was just going when Mr. Selwyn came, so I
said, 'Would he lend Auntie Lisbeth his handkerchief, 'cause she
wanted one to wipe her dress?' an' he said, 'Delighted!' Then auntie
frowned at me an' shook her head when he wasn't looking. But Mr.
Selwyn took out his handkerchief, an' got down on his knees, an'
began to wipe off the lemonade, telling her something 'bout his
'heart,' an' wishing he could 'kneel at her feet forever!' Auntie
got awfull' red, an' told him to stand up, but he wouldn't; an'
then she looked at me so awfull' cross that I thought I'd better
leave, so while she was saying, 'Rise, Mr. Selwyn-do!' I ran away,
only I could tell she was awfull' angry with Mr. Selwyn - an' that's
I rose to my knees and caught the Imp by the shoulders.
"Imp," I cried, are you sure - quite sure that she was angry with
Mr. Selwyn yesterday morning?"
"'Course I am. I always know when Auntie Lisbeth's angry. An' now
let's go an' play at 'Blasted Oaks.'
"Anything you like, Imp, so long as we find her."
"You're forgetting your fishing rod an' - "
"Fishing rod be - blowed!" I exclaimed, and set oft hurriedly in the
direction Lisbeth had taken.
The Imp trotted beside me, stumbling frequently over his "trusty
sword" and issuing numberless commands in a hoarse, fierce voice to
an imaginary "band of outlaws." As for me, I strode on unheeding,
for my mind was filled with a fast-growing suspicion that I had
judged Lisbeth like a hasty fool.
In this manner we scoured the neighbourhood very thoroughly, but
with no success. However, we continued our search with unabated
ardour - along the river path to the water stairs and from thence
by way of the gardens to the orchard; but not a sign of Lisbeth. The
shrubbery and paddock yielded a like result, and having interrogated
Peter in the harness-room, he informed us that "Miss Helezabeth
was hout along with Miss Dorothy." At last, after more than an hour
of this sort of thing, even the Imp grew discouraged and suggested
Our wanderings had led by devious paths, and now, as luck would have
it, we found ourselves beneath "the blasted oak."
We sat down very solemnly side by side, and for a long time there was
"It's fine to make 'tyrants tremble,' isn't it Uncle Dick?" said the
Imp at last.
"Assuredly." I nodded.
"But I should have liked to kiss Auntie Lisbeth good-bye first, an'
Dorothy, an' Louise - "
"What do you mean, my Imp?"
"Oh, you know, Uncle Dick! "My roof henceforth shall be the broad
expanse.' I'm going to fight giants an' - an' all sorts of cads,
you know. An' then, if ever I get to Persia an' do find the
wonderful lamp, I can wish everything all right again, an' we
should all be 'happy ever after' - you an' Auntie Lisbeth an'
Dorothy an' me; an' we could live in a palace with slaves. Oh, it
would be fine!"
"Yes, it's an excellent idea, Imp, but on the whole slightly risky,
because it's just possible that you might never find the lamp;
besides, you'll have to stop here, after all, because, you see, I'm
going away myself."
"Then let's go away together, Uncle Dick, do!"
"Impossible, my Imp; who will look after your Auntie Lisbeth and
Dorothy and Louise?"
"I forgot that," he answered ruefully.
"And they need a deal of taking care of," I added.
"'Fraid they do," he nodded; "but there's Peter," he suggested,
"Peter certainly knows how to look after horses, but that is not
quite the same. Lend me your trusty sword."
He rose, and drawing it from his belt handed it to me with a
"You remember in the old times, Imp, when knights rode out to battle,
it was customary for them when they made a solemn promise to kiss the
cross-hilt of their swords, just to show they meant to keep it. So
now I ask you to go back to your Auntie Lisbeth, to take care of her,
to shield and guard her from all things evil, and never to forget
that you are her loyal and true knight; and now kiss your sword in
token, will you?" and I passed back the weapon.
"Yes," he answered, with glistening eyes, "I will, on my honour, so
help me Sam!" and he kissed the sword.
"Good!" I exclaimed; "thank you, Imp."
"But are you really going away?" he inquired, looking at me with a
"Must you go?"
"Will you promise to come back some day - soon?"
"Yes, I promise."
"On your honour?"
"On my honour!" I repeated, and in my turn I obediently kissed his
"Are you going to-night, Uncle Dick?"
"I start very early in the morning, so you see we had better say
'good-bye' now, my Imp."
"Oh!" he said, and stared away down the river. Now, in the
button-hole of my coat there hung a fading rosebud which Lisbeth
had given me two days ago, and acting on impulse, I took it out.
"Imp," I said, "when you get back, I want you to give this to your
Auntie Lisbeth and say - er - never mind, just give it to her, will
"Yes, Uncle Dick," he said, taking it from me, but keeping his face
"And now good-bye, Imp!"
"Good-bye!" he answered, still without looking at me.
"Won't you shake hands?"
He thrust out a grimy little palm, and as I clasped it I saw a big
tear roll down his cheek.
"You'll come back soon - very soon - Uncle Dick?"
"Yes, I'll come back, my Imp."
"So - help you - Sam?"
"So help me Sam!"
And thus it was we parted, the Imp and I, beneath the "blasted oak,"
and I know my heart was strangely heavy as I turned away and left
After I had gone some distance I paused to look back. He still
stood where I had left him, but his face was hidden in his arms as
he leaned sobbing against the twisted trunk of the great tree.
All the way to the 'Three Jolly Anglers' and during the rest of the
evening the thought of the little desolate figure haunted me, so
much so that, having sent away my dinner untasted, I took pen and
ink and wrote him a letter, enclosing with it my penknife, which I
had often seen him regard with "the eye of desire," despite the
blade he had broken upon a certain memorable occasion. This done,
I became possessed of a determination to send some message to
Lisbeth also - just a few brief words which should yet reveal to
her something of the thoughts I bore her ere I passed ut of her
For over an hour I sat there, chewing the stem of my useless pipe
and racking my bran, but the "few brief words" obstinately refused
to come. Nine o'clock chimed mournfully from the Norman tower of
the church hard by, yet still my pen was idle and the paper before
me blank; also I became conscious of a tapping somewhere close at
hand, now stopping, now beginning again, whose wearisome iteration
so irritated my fractious nerves that I flung down my pen and rose.
The noise seemed to come from the vicinity of the window. Crossing
to it, therefore, I flung the casement suddenly open, and found
myself staring into a round face, in which were set two very round
eyes and a button of a nose, the whole surmounted by a shock of
"'Allo, Mr. Uncle Dick!"
It needed but this and a second glance at the round face to assure
me that it pertained to Ben, the gardener's boy.
"What, my noble Benjamin?" I exclaimed.
"No, it's me!" answered the redoubtable Ben. "'E said I was to
give you this an' tell you, 'Life an' death!'" As he spoke he held
out a roll of paper tied about the middle with a boot lace; which
done, the round head grinned, nodded, and disappeared from my ken.
Unwinding the boot lace, I spread out the paper and read the
following words, scrawled in pencil:
Hi the to the Blasted Oke and all will be forgiven. Come back to
your luving frends and bigones shall be bigones. Look to the hole
in the trunk there of.
ROBIN, Outlaw and Knight.
P.S. I mean where i hid her stockings - you no.
I stood for some time with this truly mysterious document in my
hand, in two minds what to do about it; if I went, the chances were
that I should run against the Imp, and there would be a second
leave-taking, which in my present mood I had small taste for. On
the other hand, there was a possibility that something might have
transpired which I should do well to know.
And yet what more could transpire? Lisbeth had made her choice, my
dream was over, to-morrow I should return to London - and there was
an end of it all; still -
In this pitiful state of vacillation I remained for some time, but
in the end curiosity and a fugitive hope gained the day, and taking
my cap, I sallied forth.
It was, as Stevenson would say, "a wonderful night of stars," and
the air was full of their soft, quivering light, for the moon was
late and had not risen as yet. As I stepped from the inn door,
somebody in the tap-room struck up "Tom Bowling" in a rough but not
unmusical voice; and the plaintive melody seemed somehow to become
part of the night.
Truly, my feet trod a path of "faerie," carpeted with soft mosses,
a path winding along beside a river of shadows on whose dark tide
stars were floating. I walked slowly, breathing the fragrance of
the night and watching the great, silver moon creeping slowly up
the spangled sky. So I presently came to the "blasted oak." The
hole in the trunk needed little searching for. I remembered it
well enough, and thrusting in my hand, drew out a folded paper.
Holding this close to my eyes, I managed with no little difficulty
to decipher this message:
Don't go unkel dick bekors Auntie lisbeth wants you and i want you
to. I heard her say so to herself in the libree and she was crying
to, and didn't see me there but i was. And she said 0 Dick i want
you so, out loud bekors she didn't no I was there. And i no she
was crying bekors i saw the tiers. And this is true on my onner so
help me sam.
Yore true frend and Knight,
A revulsion of feeling swept over me as I read. Ah! if only I could
believe she had said such words - my beautiful, proud Lisbeth.
Alas! dear Imp, how was it possible to believe you? And because I
knew it could not possibly be true, and because I would have given
my life to know that it was true, I began to read the note all over
Suddenly I started and looked round; surely that was a sob! But the
moon's level rays served only to show the utter loneliness about me.
It was imagination, of course, and yet it had sounded very real.
And she said, "0 Dick, I want you so!"
The river lapped softly against the bank, and somewhere above my head
the leaves rustled dismally.
"Dear little Imp, if it were only true!"
Once again the sound came to me, low and restrained, but a sob
On the other side of the giant tree I beheld a figure half sitting,
half lying. The shadow was deep here, but as I stooped the kindly
moon sent down a shaft of silver light, and I saw a lovely, startled
face, with great, tear-dimmed eyes.
"Lisbeth!" I exclaimed; then, prompted by a sudden thought, I
glanced hastily around.
"I am alone," she said, interpreting my thought aright.
"But - here - and - and at such an hour!" I stammered foolishly.
She seemed to be upon her feet in one movement, fronting me with
"I came to look for the Imp. I found this on his pillow. Perhaps
you will explain?" and she handed me a crumpled paper.
DEAR AUNTIE LISBATH: (I read)
Unkel dick is going away bekors he is in luv with you and you are
angry with the Blasted oke, where I hid yore stokkings if you want
to kiss me and be kind to me again, come to me bekors I want
someboddie to be nice to me now he is gone.
yore luving sorry IMP.
P.S. He said he would like to hang himself in his sword-belt to
the arm of yonder tree and hurl himself from yon topmost pinnakel,
so I no he is in luv with you.
"Oh, blessed Imp!"
"And now where is he?" she demanded.
"Lisbeth, I don't know."
"You don't know! Then why are you here?"
For answer I held out the letter I had found, and watched while she
read the words I could not believe.
Her hat was off, and the moon made wonderful lights in the coils of
her black hair. She was wearing an indoor gown of some thin material
that clung, boldly revealing the gracious lines of her supple figure,
and in the magic of the moon she seemed some young goddess of the
woods - tall and fair and strong, yet infinitely womanly.
Now as she finished reading she turned suddenly away, yet not before
I had seen the tell-tale colour glowing in her cheeks - a slow wave
which surged over her from brow to chin, and chin to the round, white
column of her throat.
And she said, "0 Dick, I want you so!" I read aloud.
"Oh," Lisbeth murmured.
"Lisbeth, is it true?"
She stood with her face averted, twisting the letter in her fingers.
"Lisbeth!" I said, and took a step nearer. Still she did not speak,
but her hands came out to me with a swift, passionate gesture, and
her eyes looked into mine; and surely none were ever more sweet,
with the new shyness in their depths and the tears glistening
on their lashes.
And in that moment Doubt and Fear were swallowed up in a great joy,
and I forgot all things save that Lisbeth was before me and that I
loved her. The moon, risen now, had made a broad path of silver
across the shadowy river to our very feet, and I remembered how the
Imp had once told me that it was there for the moon fairies to come
down by when they bring us happy dreams. Surely, the air was full
of moon fairies to-night.
"0 Imp, thrice blessed Imp!"
"But - but Selwyn?" I groaned at last.
"If you love him - "
"But I don't!"
"But if you are to marry him - "
"But I'm not! I was going to tell you so in the orchard yesterday,
but you gave me no chance; you preferred to guess, and, of course,
guessed wrong altogether. I knew it made you wretched, and I was
glad of it and meant to keep you so a long, long time; but when I
looked up and saw you standing there so very, very miserable, Dick,
I couldn't keep it up any longer, because I was so dreadfully
wretched myself, you know."
"Can you ever forgive me?"
"That depends, Dick."
Lisbeth stooped, and picking up her hat, began to put it on.
"Depends on what?" I repeated.
Her hat was on now, but for a while she did not answer, her eyes
upon the "fairy path." When at last she spoke her voice was very
low and tender.
"'Not far from the village of Down, in Kent, there is a house,'" she
began, "'a very old ho use, with pointed gables and pannelled
chambers, but empty to-night and desolate.' You see I remember it
all," she broke off.
"Yes, you remember it all," I repeated, wondering.
"Dick - I - I want you to - take me there. I've thought of it all
so often. Take me there, Dick."
"Lisbeth, do you mean it?"
"It has been the dream of my life for a long time now - to work for
you there, to take care of you, Dick - you need such a deal, such
a great deal of taking care of - to walk with you in the old rose
garden; but I'm a beggar now, you know, though I sha'n't mind a bit
if - if you want me, Dick."
"Want you!" I cried, and with the words I drew her close and kissed
her. Now, from somewhere in the tree above came a sudden crack and
mighty snapping of twigs.
"All right, Uncle Dick!" cried a voice; "it's only the branch.
"Imp!" I exclaimed.
"I'm coming, Uncle Dick," he answered, and with much exertion and
heavy breathing he presently emerged into view and squirmed himself
safely to earth. For a moment he stood looking from one to the
other of us, then he turned to Lisbeth.
"Won't you forgive me, too, Auntie Lisbeth, please?" he said.
"Forgive you!" she cried, and falling on her knees, gathered him in
"I'm glad I didn't go to Persia, after all, Uncle Dick," he said
over her shoulder.
"Persia!" repeated Lisbeth, wonderingly.
"Oh, yes; you were so angry with Uncle Dick an' me - so frightfull'
angry, you know, that I was going to try to find the 'wonderful
lamp' so I could wish everything all right again an' all of us 'live
happy ever after'; but the blasted oak did just as well, an' was
nicer, somehow, wasn't it?"
"Infinitely nicer," I answered.
"An' you will never be angry with Uncle Dick or me any more, will
you, auntie - that is, not frightfull' angry, you know?"
"Never any more, dear."
"On your honour?"
"On my honour!"
"So help you Sam?"
"So help me Sam!" she repeated, smiling, but there were tears in
Very gravely the Imp drew his "trusty sword," which she, following
his instructions, obediently kissed.
"And now," cried he, "we are all happy again, aren't we?"
"More happy than I ever hoped or dreamed to be," answered Lisbeth,
still upon her knees; "and oh, Imp - dear little Imp, come and kiss
THE LAND OF HEART'S DELIGHT
Surely there never was and never could be such another morning as
this! Ever since the first peep of dawn a blackbird had been
singing to me from the fragrant syringa-bush that blossomed just
beneath my window. Each morning I had wakened to the joyous
melody of his golden song. But to-day the order was reversed. I
had sat there at my open casement, breathing the sweet purity of
the morning, watching the eastern sky turn slowly from pearl-grey
to saffron and from saffron to deepest crimson, until at last
the new-risen sun had filled all the world with his glory. And
then this blackbird of mine had begun - very hoarse at first, trying
a note now and then in a tentative sort of fashion, as though still
drowsy and not quite sure of himself, but little by little his notes
had grown longer, richer, mellower, until here he was pouring out
his soul in an ecstasy.
Ah! surely there never was, there never could be, such another
morning as this!
Out of the green twilight of the woods a gentle wind was blowing,
laden with the scent of earth and hidden flowers. Dewdrops twinkled
in the grass and hung glistening from every leaf and twig, and
beyond all was the sheen of the murmurous river.
The blackbird was in full song now, and by degrees others joined
in - thrush, and lark, and linnet, with the humbler voices of the
farmyard - until the sunny air was vibrant with the chorus.
Presently a man in a sleeved waistcoat crossed the paddock,
whistling lustily, and from somewhere below there rose a merry
clatter of plates and dishes; and thus the old inn, which had seen
so many mornings, woke up to yet another. But there never was,
there never could be, just such another morning as this was!
And in a little while, having dressed with more than usual care, I
went downstairs to find my breakfast awaiting me in the "Sanded
Parlour," having ordered it for this early hour the night
previously - ham and eggs and fragrant coffee, what mortal could
wish for more?
And while I ate, waited on by the rosy-cheeked chambermaid, in came
Master Amos Baggett, mine host, to pass the time of day, and likewise
to assure me that my baggage should catch the early train; who when
I rose, my meal at an end, paused to wipe his honest hand quite
needlessly upon his snowy apron ere he wished me "Good-bye."
So having duly remembered the aforesaid rosy-cheeked chambermaid,
the obsequious "Boots" and the grinning ostler, I sallied forth into
the sunshine, and crossing the green, where stood the battered
sign-post, I came to a flight of rough steps, at the foot of which
my boat was moored. In I stepped, cast loose the painter, and
shipping the sculls, shot out into the stream.
No, there never was, there never could be, just such another morning
as this, for to-day I was to marry Lisbeth, and every stroke of the
oar carried me nearer to her and happiness. Gaily the alders bent
and nodded to me; joyfully the birds piped and sang; merrily the
water laughed and chattered against my prow as I rowed through the
Long before the hour appointed I reached the water-stairs at Fane
Court, and tying my skiff, lighted my pipe and watched the smoke
rise slowly into the still air while I tried "to possess my soul
in patience." Sitting thus, I dreamed many a fair dream of the new
life that was to be, and made many resolutions, as a man should
upon his wedding morn.
And at last came Lisbeth herself, swiftly, lightly, as fair and
sweet and fresh as the morning, who yet paused a while to lean upon
the balustrade and look down at me beneath the brim of her hat. Up
I rose and stretched out my hands to her, but she still stood there,
and I saw her cheeks were flushed and her eyes shy and tender. So
once more we stood upon the old water-stairs, she on the top stair,
I on the lower; and again I saw the little foot beneath her skirt
come slowly towards me and hesitate.
"Dick," she said, "you know that Aunt Agatha has cut me off
- disinherited me altogether - you have had time to think it all
"And you are quite - quite sure?"
"Quite! I think I have been so all my life."
"I'm penniless now, Dick, a beggar, with nothing in the world but
the clothes I wear."
"Yes," I said, catching her hands in mine, "my beggar-maid; the
loveliest, noblest, sweetest that ever stooped to bestow her love
"Dick, how glorious everything is this morning - the earth, the sky,
and the river!"
"It is our wedding morning!" said I.
"Our wedding day," she repeated in a whisper.
"And there never was just such a morning as this," said I.
"But, Dick, all days cannot be as this - there must come clouds and
storm sometimes, and - and - O Dick! are you sure that you will
never, never regret - "
"I love you, Lisbeth, in the shadow as well as the sunshine - love
you ever and always." And so, the little foot hesitating no longer,
Lisbeth came down to me.
Oh, never again could there be such another morning as this!
I looked round with a start, and there, his cap cocked rakishly over
one eye, his "murderous cutlass" at his hip and his arms folded
across his chest, stood "Scarlet Sam, the Terror of the South Seas."
"Imp!" cried Lisbeth.
"Avast!" cried he in lusty tones; "whereaway ?"
I glanced helplessly at Lisbeth and she at me.
"Whereaway, shipmate?" he bel1owed in nautical fashion, but before
I could find a suitable answer Dorothy made her appearance with the
fluffy kitten "Louise" cuddled under her arm as usual.
"How do you do?" she said demurely; "it's awfully nice to get up so
early, isn't it? We heard auntie creeping about on tippity-toes,
you know, so we came, too. Reginald said she was pretending to be
burglars, but I think she's going 'paddling.' Are you, auntie ?"
"No, dear; not this morning," answered Lisbeth, shaking her head.
"Then you are going for a row in Uncle Dick's boat. How fine!"
"An' you'll take us with you, won't you, Uncle Dick?" cried the Imp
eagerly. "We'll be pirates. I'll be 'Scarlet Sam,' an' you can be
'Timothy Bone, the bo'sun,' like you were last time.
"Impossible, my Imp," I said firmly. He looked at me incredulously
for a moment, then, seeing I meant it, his lip began to quiver.
"I didn't think "T-Timothy B-Bone' would ever desert me," he said,
and turned away.
"Oh, auntie!" exclaimed Dorothy, "won't you take us?"
"Dear - not this morning."
"Are you going far, then, Uncle Dick ?"
"Yes, very far," I answered, glancing uneasily from the Imp's
drooping figure to Lisbeth,
"I wonder where ?"
"Oh - well - er - down the rivers" I stammered, quite at a loss.
"Y-e-s, but where ?" persisted Dorothy.
"Well. to - er - to - "
"To the 'Land of Heart's Delight,'" Lisbeth put in, "and you may
come with us, after all, if Uncle Dick will take you,"
"To be sure he will, if your auntie wishes it," I cried, "so step
aboard, my hearties, and lively!" In a moment the Imp's hand was
in mine, and he was smiling up at me with wet lashes.
"I knew 'Timothy Bone' could never be a - a 'mutinous rogue,'" he
said, and turned to aid Dorothy aboard with the air of an admiral
on his flagship.
And now, all being ready, he unhitched the painter, or, as he said,
"slipped our cable," and we glided out into midstream.
"A ship," he said thoughtfully, "always has a name. What shall we
call this one? Last time we were 'pirates' and she was the Black
Death - "
"Never mind last time, Imp," I broke in; "to-day she is the Joyful
"That doesn't sound very 'pirate-y,' somehow," he responded with a
disparaging shake of the head, "but I s'pose it will have to do.
And so, upon that summer morning, the good ship Joyful Hope set sail
for the "Land of the Heart's Delight," and surely no vessel of her
size ever carried quite such a cargo of happiness before or since.
And once again "Scarlet Sam" stamped upon the "quarter-deck" and
roared orders anent "lee shrouds" and "weather braces," with divers
injunctions concerning the "helm," while his eyes rolled and he
flourished his 'murderous cutlass" as he had done upon a certain
other memorable occasion. Never, never again could there be just
such another morning as this - for two of us at least.
On we went, past rush and sedge and weeping willow, by roaring weir
and cavernous lock, into the shadow of grim stone bridges and out
again into the sunshine, past shady woods and green uplands until
at length we "cast anchor" before a flight of steps leading up to
a particularly worn stone gateway surmounted by a crumbling
"Why," exclaimed the Imp, staring, "this is a church!"
"Imp," I nodded, "I believe it is?"
"But to-day isn't Sunday, you know," he remonstrated, seeing it was
our intention to land.
"Never mind that, Imp; 'the better the deed, the better the day, you
On we went, Dorothy with the fluffy Louise beneath her arm and the
Imp with cutlass swinging at his belt, while Lisbeth and I brought
up the rear, and as we went she slipped her hand into mine. In the
porch we came upon an aged woman busy with a broom and a very large
duster, who, catching sight of Dorothy's kitten and the Imp's
"murderous weapon," dropped first the duster and then the broom, and
stood staring in open-mouthed astonishment.
And there in the dim old church, with the morning sun making a glory
of the window above our heads, and with the birds for our choristers,
the vows were exchanged and the blessing pronounced that gave Lisbeth
and her future into my keeping; yet I think we were both conscious
of those two small figures in the gloom of the great pew behind, who
stared in round-eyed wonderment.
The register duly signed and all formalities over and done, we go
out into the sunshine; and once more the aged woman, richer now by
half a crown, is reduced to mute astonishment, so that speech is
beyond her, when the Imp, lifting his feathered cap, politely
wishes her "good-morning."
Being come aboard the Joyful Hope, there ensued an awkward pause,
during which Lisbeth looked at the children and I at her.
"We must take them back home," she said at last.
"We shall miss our train, Lisbeth."
"But," and here she blushed most delightfully, "there is really no
hurry; we can take a - a later one."
"So be it," I said, and laid our course accordingly.
For a time there was silence, during which the Imp, as if in
momentary expectation of an attack by bloodthirsty foes, scowled
about him, pistol in hand, keeping, as he said, "his weather eye
lifting," while Dorothy glanced from Lisbeth to me and back again
with puzzled brows.
"I do believe you have been marrying each other!" she said suddenly.
The Imp forgot all about his "weather eye" and stared aghast.
"'Course not!" he cried at last. "Uncle Dick wouldn't do such a
thing, would you, Uncle Dick?"
"Imp I have - I do confess it."
"Oh!" he exclaimed in a tone of deepest tragedy. "And you let him
go and do it, Auntie Lisbeth?"
"He was so very, very persistent, Imp," she sad, actually turning
crimson beneath his reproachful eye.
"Don't be too hard on us, Imp," I pleaded.
"I s'pose it can't he helped now," he said, a little mollified, but
frowning sternly, nevertheless.
"No," I answered, with my eyes upon Lisbeth's lovely, blushing face,
"it certainly can't be helped now,"
"And you'll never do it again ?"
"Never again, Imp."
"Then I forgive you, only why - why did you do it?"
"Well, you see, my Imp, I have an old house in the country, a very
cosy old place, but it's lonely, horribly lonely, to live by one's
self. I've wanted somebody to help me to live in it for a long time,
but nobody wou1d you know, Imp. At last our Auntie Lisbeth has
promised to take care of the house and me, to fill the desolate rooms
with her voice and sweet presence and my empty life with her life.
You can't quite understand how much this means to me now, Imp, but
you will some day, perhaps."
"But are you going to take our Auntie Lisbeth away from us?" cried
"Yes, dear," I answered, "but - "
"Oh, I don't like that one bit!" exclaimed the Imp.
"But you shall come there and stay with us as often as you wish,"
"That would be perfectly beautiful!" cried Dorothy.
"Yes, but when?" inquired the Imp gloomily.
"Soon," I answered.
"Very soon!" said Lisbeth.
"Will you promise to be 'Timothy Bone, the bo'sun,' an' the 'Black
Knight,' an' 'Little-John' whenever I want you to - so help you
Sam, Uncle Dick?"
"I will, Imp."
"An' make me a long sword with a - a 'deadly point' ?"
"Yes," I nodded, "and show you some real ones, too."
"Real ones?" he cried.
"Oh, yes, and armour as well; there's lots of it in the old house,
"Let's go now!" he cried, nearly upsetting the boat in his eagerness.
"Oh! 0 Dick!" cried Lisbeth at this moment, "Dick - there's Aunt!"
"Aunt?" I repeated.
"Aunt Agatha, and she sees us; look!"
Turning my head, I beheld a most unexpected sight. Advancing
directly upon us was the old boat, that identical, weather-beaten
tub of a boat which Lisbeth and I had come so near ending our lives
together, the which has already been told in these Chronicles. On
the rowing-thwart sat Peter, the coachman, and in the stern-sheets,
very grim and stiff in the back, her lorgnettes at her eyes, was
Escape was quite out of the question, and in half a dozen strokes
of the oar we were alongside and close under the battery of the
"Elizabeth," she began in her most ponderous manner, ignoring my
presence altogether, "Elizabeth, child, I blush for you."
"Then, Aunt, please don't," cried Lisbeth; "I can do quite enough
of that for myself. I'm always blushing lately," and as if to
prove her words she immediately proceeded to do so.
"Elizabeth," proceeded Lady Warburton, making great play with her
lorgnettes, "your very shameless, ungrateful letter I received last
night. This morning I arose at an objectionably early hour,
travelled down in a draughty train, and here I am out on a damp and
nasty river in a leaky boat, with my feet horribly wet, but
determined to save you from an act which you may repent all your
"Excuse me," I said, bowing deeply, "but such heroic devotion cannot
be sufficiently appreciated and admired. In Lisbeth's name I beg
to thank you; nevertheless
"Mr. Brent, I believe?" she said in a tone of faint surprise, as
though noticing my presence for the first time.
"At your service, madam!" I answered with another bow.
"Then I must ask you to convey my ward back to Fane Court immediately;
she and the children will accompany me to London at once."
"My dear Lady Warburton," I said, fronting the lorgnettes with really
admirable fortitude, "it grieves me to deny you this request, but
believe me, it is impossible!"
"Impossible!" she repeated.
"Quite!" I answered. "You here behold the good ship Joyful Hope,
bound for the 'Land of Heart's Delight,' and we aboard are all
determined on our course."
"'An' the wind blows fair, an' our helm's a-lee, so it's heave, my
mariners, all - O!' " cried the Imp in his nautical voice.
"Dear me!" ejaculated Lady Warburton, staring. "Elizabeth, be so
obliging as to tell me what it all means. Why have you dragged these
children from their beds to come philandering upon a horrid river at
such an hour?"
"Excuse me, Aunt, but she didn't drag us," protested the Imp, bowing
exactly as I had done a moment before.
"Oh, no, we came," nodded Dorothy.
"An' we've been getting married, you know," said the Imp.
"And it was all very, very beautiful," added Dorothy; "even Louise
enjoyed it ever so much!" and she kissed the fluffy kitten.
"Married!" cried Lady Warburton in a tone of horror; "married!"
"They would do it, you know," sighed the Imp.
"And quite right, too," said Dorothy; "everybody always marries
somebody, some time; it's very fashionable at present. Mamma did
and so shall I when I grow up, I suppose."
"Goodness gracious, child!" exclaimed Lady Warburton.
"I s'pose you're angry 'bout it, Aunt," pursued the Imp. "I was at
first - just a weeny bit; but you see Uncle Dick has a wonderful
house with swords an' armour, but empty, an' he wanted to keep
somebody in it to see that everything was nice, I s'pose, an' sing,
you know, an' take care of his life. Auntie Lisbeth can sing, an'
she wanted to go, so I forgave them."
"Oh, indeed, Reginald?" said Lady Warburton in a rather queer voice,
and I saw the corners of her high, thin nose quiver strangely.
"Beggin' your pardon, ma' am," said Peter at this moment, touching
his cap, "I don't know much about boats, my line bein' 'osses, but
I do think as this 'ere boat is a-goin' to sink."
"Then row for the shore instantly," said Lady Warburton firmly,
"and should I never reach it alive" - here she brought her lorgnette
to bear on Lisbeth - "I say if I do meet a watery grave this day,
my epitaph shall be, 'Drowned by the Ingratitude of a Niece.'
However, this gloomy tragedy being happily averted, and Lady
Warburton safely landed, I, at a nod from Lisbeth, rowed to the bank
likewise and we all disembarked together.
Now, as kind Fortune would have it, and Fortune was very kind that
morning, the place where we stood was within a stone's throw of The
Three Jolly Anglers, and wafted to us on the warm, still air there
came a wondrous fragrance, far sweeter and more alluring than the
breath of roses or honeysuckle - the delightful aroma of frying bacon.
Lady Warburton faced us, her parasol tucked beneath her arm, looking
very much like a military officer on parade.
"Dorothy and Reginald," she said in a short, sharp voice of command,
"bid good-bye to your Auntie Lisbeth and accompany me home at once."
"No, no," cried Lisbeth, with hands stretched out appealingly, "you
will not leave us like this, Aunt - for the sake of the love I shall
always bear you, and - and - "
"Elizabeth, I cared for you from your babyhood up. Ingratitude is
my return. I watched you grow from child to woman. I planned out
a future for you; you broke those plans. I might tell you that I
am a lonely, disappointed old woman, who loved you much more than
she thought, but I won't!"
"Dear, dear Aunt Agatha, did you love me so much, and I never
guessed; you wouldn't let me, you see. Ah! do not think me
ungrateful, but when a woman comes to marry she must choose for
herself as I have done; and I am happy, dear, and proud of my choice
- proud to have won the true love of a true man; only do not think
I am ungrateful. And if this must be good-bye, do not let us part
like this - for my sake and your sake and the sake of my - husband."
Lady Warburton had turned away, and there ensued a somewhat
"Elizabeth," she said suddenly, "if I don't mistake, somebody is
frying bacon somewhere, and I'm ravenously hungry."
"So am I," cried the Imp.
"And so am I," Dorothy chimed in.
"Then suppose we have breakfast," I suggested, and in almost less
time than it takes to tell I was leading the way across the green
with Lady Warburton on my arm - actually leaning on my arm. It all
happened so quickly that Heaven and Lisbeth alone know how she got
And now who so surprised to see us as honest Amos Baggett, ushering
us with many bows and smiles into the Sanded Parlour, where breakfast
was soon ready; and who so quick and dexterous in attending to our
wants as the rosy-cheeked chambermaid?
And what a breakfast that was! Never had the antique andirons on
the hearth, the pewter plates and dishes upon the walls, the
brass-bound blunderbuss above the mantel seemed so bright and
polished before, and surely never had they gleamed upon a merrier
company. To be sure, the Imp's remarks were somewhat few and far
between, but that was simply on account of the blackberry jam.
"I suppose you are both ridiculously happy," said Lady Warburton,
eyeing us over her coffee cup.
"Most absurdly!" answered Lisbeth, blushing all in a moment.
"Preposterously!" I nodded.
"Of course!" said Lady Warburton, and setting down her cup, she
sighed, while I wondered what memories her narrow life could hold.
"Uncle Dick," said the Imp suddenly, "do you s'pose Scarlet Sam
ever ate blackberry jam?"
"Undoubtedly, my Imp, when he could get it." This appeared to
greatly relieve his mind; for he took another helping.
But all things must have an end, alas!-even such a breakfast as
this, and presently we were out in the sunshine again, standing
beneath the weather-beaten sign whereon three faded fishermen
fished with faded rods in a faded stream; while away down the
road we could see Peter already approaching with the carriage.
"And now I suppose you are going?" said Lady Warburton.
"There is a train at half-past ten," I answered.
"An' we are going, too !" said Dorothy.
"Yes, we're quite ready, Uncle Dick," cried the Imp, thrusting his
pistols into his belt.
"But you wouldn't leave me all alone, would you, children?" asked
Lady Warburton, and there was a certain wistfulness in her sharp
face that seemed new to it.
"'Course not," sighed the Imp, "only - "
"We must stay and take care of her, Reginald," nodded Dorothy
"Yes, I'll take care of you, Aunt, with lance, battle-axe, an'
sword, by day an' night," said the Imp, "only - I should have
liked to see Uncle Dick's wonderful house, with the real swords
an' armour, in the Land of Heart's Delight - some day, you know."
"And so you shall," cried Lady Warburton, and she actually stooped
to kiss him, and then Dorothy, rather 'pecky' kisses, perhaps, but
very genuine kisses notwithstanding.
"Richard," she said, giving me her hand, "we shall come down to your
wonderful house - all three of us next week, so be prepared - now
be off - both of you."
"Then you forgive me, Aunt?" asked Lisbeth, hesitating.
"Well, I don't quite know yet, Lisbeth; but, my dear, I'll tell you
something I have never mentioned to a living soul but you; if I had
acted forty years ago as you did to-day, I should have been a very
different creature to the cross-grained old woman you think me.
There - there's a kiss, but as for forgiving you - that is quite
another matter; I must have time to think it all over. Good-bye,
my dear; and, Richard, fill her life with happiness, to make up for
mine, if you can. Children, bid good-bye to your Auntie - and
"You won't forget the sword with the 'deadly point,' will you,
"I won't forget, my Imp!" Hereupon he tried to smile, but his
trembling lips refused, and snatching his band from mine he turned
away; as for Dorothy, she was sobbing into the fur of the fluffy
Then I helped Lisbeth aboard The Joyful Hope, loving her the more
for the tears that gleamed beneath her long lashes, and 'casting
loose,' we glided out into the stream.
There they stood, the two children, with the white-haired figure
between them, Dorothy holding up the round-eyed "Louise" for a
parting glimpse, and the Imp flourishing his cutlass, until a
bend of the river hid them from view.
So Lisbeth and I sailed on together through the golden morning to
"The Land of Heart's Delight."