Part 4 out of 8
moment I have ungratefully forgotten his existence, and all the
interesting facts he told me connected with his existence--how his lodge
faces ours--how he has no father nor mother, and lives by himself at an
abbey. Alas! in this latter particular, can I not feel for him? Am I not
living by myself at a _hall_?
Vick recognizes him at about the same moment as I do. Having first
sprung at him with that volubility of small but hostile _yaps_, with
which she strikes terror into the hearts of tramps, she has now--having
_smelt_ him to be not only respectable, but an acquaintance--changed her
behavior to a little servile whine and a series of high jumps at his
"It is you, is it?" cry I, springing up and running to meet him with an
elate sensation of company and sociability; "I had quite forgotten that
you lived near here. I'm _so_ glad!"
At my happy remark as to having been hitherto oblivious of his
existence, his face falls in the old lowering way I remember so well,
and that brings back to me so forcibly the Prager Strasse, the Zwinger,
the even sunshine, that favored my honey-moon; but at the
heartily-expressed joy at seeing him, with which I conclude, he cheers
up again. If he had known that I was in so reduced a state that I should
have enjoyed a colloquy with a chimney-sweep, and not despised
exchanging opinions with a dustman, he would not have thought my
admission worth much.
"So you have come at last," he says, holding my hand, and looking at me
with those long dark eyes that I would swear were black had not a
conscientious and thorough daylight scrutiny of them assured me long ago
that they were hazel.
"Yes," say I, cheerfully; "I told you you would catch sight of us,
sooner or later, if you waited long enough."
"And your tenants never dragged you in, after all?"
"No," say I; "we did not give them the chance. But how do _you_ know?
Were you peeping out of your lodge? If I had remembered that you lived
there, I would have been on the lookout for you."
"You had, of course, entirely forgotten so insignificant a fact?" he
says, with a tone of pique.
That happy one! how well I recollect it! I feel quite fondly toward it;
it reminds me so strongly of the Linkesches Bad, of the brisk band, and
of Roger smoking and smiling at me with his gray eyes across our
"Yes," I say, contritely, "I am ashamed to say I had--_quite_; but you
see I have had a good many things to think of lately."
At this point it strikes me that he must have forgotten that he has my
hand, so I quietly, and without offense, resume it.
"And you are _alone_--Sir Roger has left you quite _alone_ here?"
"Yes," say I, lachrymosely; "is not it _dreadful?_ I never was so
miserable in my life; I do not think I _ever_ was by myself for a
_whole_ night before, and"--(lowering my voice to a nervous whisper)--
"they tell me there is a ghost somewhere about. Did you ever hear of
it?--and the furniture gives _such_ cracks!"
"And--he has gone _by himself?_" he continues, still harping on the same
string, as if unable to leave it.
"Yes," reply I, laconically, hanging my head, for this is a topic on
which I feel always guilty, and never diffuse.
"H'm!" he says, ruminatingly, and as if addressing the remark more to
himself than to me. "I suppose it _is_ difficult to get out of old
habits, and into new ones, all of a sudden."
"I do not know what you mean by old habits and new habits," cry I,
angrily; "if you think he did not want me to go with him, you are very
much mistaken; he would have much rather that I had."
"But _you_" looking at me penetratingly, and speaking with a sort of
alacrity, "you did not see it? I remember of old" (with a smile) "your
abhorrence of the sea."
"You are wrong again," say I, reddening, and still speaking with some
heat, "I _wished_ to go--I begged him to take me. However sick I had
been, I should have liked it better than being left moping here, without
a soul to speak to!"
Silence for a moment. Then he speaks with a rather sarcastic smile.
"I confess myself puzzled; if _you_ were dying to go, and _he_ were
dying to take you, how comes it that you are sitting at the present
moment on this bench?"
I can give no satisfactory answer to this query, so take refuge in a
"I see," say I, tartly, "that you have still your old trick of asking
questions. I wish that you would try to get the better of it; it is very
disadvantageous to you, and very trying to other people!"
He takes this severe set-down in silence.
The trees that surround the garden are slowly darkening. The shadows
that intervene between the round masses of the sycamore-leaves deepen,
deepen. A bat flitters dumbly by. Vick, to whose faith all things seem
possible, runs sharply barking and racing after it. We both laugh at the
fruitlessness of her undertaking, and the joint merriment restores
suavity to me, and assurance to him.
"And are you to stay here by yourself _all_ the time he is away--_all_?"
"God forbid!" reply I, with devout force.
"Not? well, then--I am really afraid this is a question again, but I
cannot help it. If you will not volunteer information, I must ask for
it--who is to be your companion?"
"I suppose they will take turns," say I, relapsing into dejection, as I
think of the precarious nature of the society on which I depend;
"sometimes one, sometimes another, whichever can get away best--they
will take turns."
"And who is to have _the first_ turn?" he asks, leaning back in the
corner of the seat, so as to have a fuller view of my lamentable
profile; "when is the first installment of consolatory relatives to
"Algy and Barbara _were_ to have come to-day," reply I, feeling a covert
resentment against something of faintly _gibing_ in his tone, but being
conscious that it is not perceptible enough to justify another snub,
even if I had one ready, which I have not.
"And they did not?"
"Now is not that a silly question?" cry I, tartly, venting the crossness
born of my desolation on the only person within reach; "if they _had_,
should I be sitting moping here with nobody but Vick to talk to?"
"You forget _me!_ may I not run in couples even with a _dog?_" he asks,
with a little bitter laugh.
"I did not forget you," reply I, coolly; "but you do not affect the
question one way or another--you will be gone directly and--when you
"Thank you for the hint," he cries springing up, picking up his little
stick off the grass and flushing.
"You are not going?" cry I, eagerly, laying my hand on his coat-sleeve,
"do not! why should you? there is no hurry. Let me have some one to help
me to keep the ghosts at bay as long as I can!" then, with a dim
consciousness of having said something rather _odd_, I add, reddening,
"I shall be going in directly, and you may go then."
He reseats himself. A tiny air is ruffling the flower-beds, giving a
separate soft good-night to each bloom.
"And what happened to Algy and Barbara?" he says presently.
"Happened? Nothing!" I answer, absently.
"Very brutal of Algy and Barbara, then!" he says, more in the way of a
reflection than a remark.
"Very brutal of _father_, you should say!" reply I, roused by the
thought of my parent to a fresh attack of active and lively resentment.
"I have no doubt I should if I knew him."
"He would not let them come!" say I, explanatorily, "for what reason?
for _none_--he never has any reasons, or if he has, he does not give
them. I sometimes think" (laughing maliciously) "that _you_ will not be
unlike him, when you grow old and gouty."
"_You_ have no father, have you?" continue I, presently; "no, I remember
your telling me so at the Linkesches Bad. Well" (laughing again, with a
certain grim humor), "I would not fret about it _too_ much, if I were
you--it is a relationship that has its disadvantages."
He laughs a little dryly.
"On whatever other heads I may quarrel with Providence, at least no one
can accuse me of ever murmuring at its decrees in this respect."
We have risen. The darkness creeps on apace, warmly, without damp or
chillness; but still, on it comes! I have to face the prospect of my
great and gloomy house all through the lagging hours of the long black
"They will come to-morrow, _certainly_, I suppose?" (interrogatively).
"Not _certainly_, at all!" reply I, with an energetic despondence in my
voice; "quite the contrary! most likely not! most likely not the day
after either, nor the day after that--"
"And if they do not" (with an accent of sincere compassion), "what will
"What I have done to-day, I suppose," I answer dejectedly; "cry till my
cheeks are _sore!_ You may not believe me" (passing my bare fingers
lightly over them as I speak), "but they feel quite _raw_. I wonder"
(with a little dismal laugh) "why tears were made _salt_!--they would
not blister one half so much if they were fresh water."
He has drawn a pace-or two nearer to me. In this light one has to look
closely at any object that one wishes specially and narrowly to observe;
and I myself have pointed out the peculiarities of my countenance to
him, so I cannot complain if he scrutinizes me with a lengthy attention.
"It is going to be such a _dark_ night!" I say, with a slight shiver;
"and if the wind gets up, I know that I shall lie awake all night,
thinking that the gen--that Roger is drowned! Do you not think" (looking
round apprehensively) "that it is rising already? See how those boughs
"Not an atom!" reassuringly.
We both look for an instant at the silent flower-beds, at the sombre
bulk of the house.
"If they do not come to-morrow--" begins Frank.
"But they _will_,'" cry I, petulantly; "they _must_! I cannot do without
them! I believe some people do not _mind_ being alone--not even in the
evenings, when the furniture cracks and the door-handles rattle. I dare
say _you_ do not; but I hate my own company; I have never been used to
it. I have always been used to a great deal of noise--_too_ much, I have
sometimes thought, but I am sure that I never shall think so again!"
"Well, but if they do not--"
"You have said that three times," I cry, irritably. "You seem to take a
pleasure in saying it. If they do not--well, what?"
"I will not say what I was going to say," he answers, shortly. "I shall
only get my nose bitten off if I do."
"Very well, do not!" reply I, with equal suavity.
We walk in silence toward the house, the wet grass is making my long
gown drenched and flabby. We have reached the garden-door whence I
issued, and by which I shall return.
"You must go now, I suppose," say I, reluctantly. "_You_ will be by
yourself too, will not you? Tell me" (speaking with lowered confidential
tone), "do _your_ chairs and tables ever make odd noises?"
"Awful!" he answers, laughing. "I can hardly bear myself speak for
I laugh too.
"You might as well tell me before you go what the remark that I quenched
was? One always longs to hear the things that people are _going_ to say,
and do not! Have no fear! your nose is quite safe!"
"It is nothing much," he answers, with self-conscious stiffness, looking
down and poking about the little dark pebbles with his cane; "nothing
that you would care about."
"_Care about!_" echo I, leaning my back against the dusk house-wall, and
staring up at the sombre purple of the sky. "Well, no! I dare say not!
What _should_ I care to hear now? I am sure I should be puzzled to say!
But, as I have been so near it, I may as well be told."
"As you will!" he answers, with an air of affected carelessness. "It is
only that, if they _do not_ come to-morrow--"
"_Fourth time_!" interject I, counting on my fingers and smiling.
"If you _wish_--if you _like_--if it would be any comfort to you--I
shall be happy--! mean I shall be very glad to come up again about the
same time to-morrow evening."
"_Will_ you?" (eagerly, with a great accession of exhilaration in my
voice). "Are you serious? I shall be so much obliged if you will, but--"
"It is _impossible_ that any one can say any thing-," he interrupts,
hastily. "There _could_ be no harm in it!"
"_Harm_!" repeat I, laughing. "Well, _hardly_! I cannot fancy a more
Though my speech is in agreement with his own, the coincidence does not
seem to gratify him.
"What did you mean, then?" he says, sharply. "You said 'but'--"
"Did I?" answer I, again throwing back my head, and looking upward, as
if trying to trace my last preposition among the clouds; "but--_-but_--
where could I have put a '_but'_'?--oh, I know! _but_ you will most
likely forget I Do not!" I continue, bringing down my eyes again, and
speaking in a coaxing tone. "If you do, it will be play to you, but
_death_ to me; the thought of it will keep me up all the day!"
"Will it?" in a tone of elated eagerness. "You are not _gibing_, I
suppose? it does not sound like your gibing voice!"
"Not it!" reply I, gloomily. "My gibing voice is packed away at the
bottom of my imperial. I do not think it has been out since we left
Dresden. Well, good-night! What do you want to shake hands _again_ for?
We have done that _twice_ already. You are like the man who, the moment
he had finished reading prayers to his family, began them all over
again. _Mind_ you do not forget! and" (laughing) "if you cannot come
yourself, _send some one else! any one_ will do--I am not particular,
but I _must_ have _some one_ to speak to!"
Almost before my speech is finished, Frank is out of sight. With such
rapid suddenness has he disappeared round the house-corner. I stand for
a moment, marveling a little at his hurry. Five minutes ago he seemed
willing enough to dawdle on till midnight. Then I go in, and forget his
Suppose that in all this world, during all its ages, there never was a
case of a person being _always_ in an ill-humor. I believe that even
Nantippe had her lucid intervals of amiability, during which she fondled
her Socrates. At all events, father has. On the day after my
disappointment, one such interval occurs. He relents, allows Algy and
Barbara to have the carriage, and sends them off to Tempest.
Either Mr. Musgrave becomes aware of this fact, or, as I had
anticipated, he forgets his promise, for he never appears, and I do not
see him again till Sunday. By Sunday my cheeks are no longer _raw_; the
furniture has stopped cracking--seeing that no one paid any attention to
it, it wisely left off--and the ghosts await a fitter opportunity to
I have heard from Sir Roger--a cheerful note, dated Southampton. If _he_
is cheerful, I may surely allow myself to be so too. I therefore no
longer compunctiously strangle any stray smiles that visit my
countenance. I have taken several drives with Barbara in my new
pony-carriage--it is a curious sensation being able to order it without
being subject to fathers veto--and we have skirted our own park, and
have peeped through his close wooden palings at Mr. Musgrave's, have
strained our eyes and stretched our necks to catch a glimpse of his old
gray house, nestling low down among its elms. (Was there ever an abbey
that did not live in a hollow?) With bated breath, lest the groom behind
should overhear me, I have slightly sketched to Barbara the outline of
an idea for establishing her in that weather-worn old pile--an idea
which I think was born in my mind as long ago as the first evening that
I saw its owner at the Linkesches Bad, and heard that he _had_ an abbey,
and that it was over against my future home.
Barbara does not altogether deny the desirability of the arrangement;
she is not, however, so sanguine as I as to its feasibility, and she
positively declines to consent to enter actively into it until she has
seen him. This will be on Sunday. To Sunday, therefore, I look forward
with pious haste.
Well, it is Sunday now--the Sunday of my first appearance as a bride at
Tempest church. A bride without her bridegroom! A pang of mortification
and pain shoots through me, as this thought traverses my soul. I look at
myself dissatisfiedly in the glass. Alas! I am no credit to his taste.
If, for this once. I could but look taller, personabler, _older!_
"They will all say that he has made a fool of himself," I say, half
It is a sultry day, without wind or freshness, and with a great deal of
sun; but in spite of this, I put on a silk gown, rich and heavy, as
looking more _married_ than the cobweb muslins in which I have hitherto
met the summer heat. On my head I place a sedately feathered bonnet,
which would not have misbecome mother. I meet Algy and Barbara in my
boudoir. They are already dressed. I examine Barbara with critical care,
and with a discontented eye, though to a stranger her appearance would
seem likely to inspire any feeling rather than dissatisfaction, for she
looks as clean and fair and chastely sweet as ever maiden did. Ben
Jonson must have known some one like her when he wrote:
"Have you seen but a bright lily grow
Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall of the snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?
Have you felt the wool of the beaver
Or swan's-down ever?
Or have smelled of the bud of the brier,
Or the nard in the fire?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
Oh so white, oh so soft, oh so sweet is she?"
But all the same, having a bonnet on, she is distinctly less like Palma
Vecchio's St. Catherine, to which in my talk with Frank I compared her,
than she was bareheaded this morning at breakfast. Who in the annals of
history ever heard of a saint in a _bonnet_?
"I wish that people might be allowed to go to church without their
bonnets these hot Sundays," I say, grumblingly. "_You_ especially,
"I should be very glad, but I am afraid the beadle would turn me out."
"For Heaven's sake," says Algy, gravely, putting back his shoulders and
throwing out his chest, as he draws on a pair of exact gray gloves, "do
not let us make ourselves to stink in the nostrils of the inhabitants by
any eccentricities of conduct, on this our first introduction to them.
If we consulted our own comfort, there is no doubt that we should reduce
our toilets by a good many more articles than a bonnet--in fact--" (with
an air of reflection), "I shudder to think _where_ we should stop!"
We are in church now. I have run the gantlet of the observation of all
the parishioners, and have been unable to look calmly unaware of it; on
the contrary, have grown consciously rosy red, and have walked over
hastily between the open sittings. But now I have reached the shelter of
our own seat, near the top of the church, with all the gay bonnets
behind me, and only the pulpit, the spread-eagle reading-desk, and the
gaudy stained window in front. As soon as I am established--almost
sooner, perhaps--I turn my eyes in search of Mr. Musgrave, I know
perfectly where to look for him, as he drew a plan of Tempest church and
the relative position of our sittings, with the point of his stick on
the gravel in the gardens close to the Zwinger at Dresden, while we sat
under the trees by the little pool, feeding the pert sparrows and the
intimate cock-chaffinch that resort thither. He is not there!
Barbara may be crowned with any abomination, in the way of a bonnet,
that ever entered into the grotesque imagination of a milliner to
conceive--coal-scuttle, cottage, spoon:--for all that it matters. The
organ strikes up, a file of chorister-boys in dirty surplices--Tempest
is a more pretentious church than ours--and a brace of clergy enter. All
through the Confession I gape about with vacant inattention--at the
grimy whiteness of the choir; at the back of the organist's head; at the
parson, a mealy-mouthed fledgling, who, with his finger on his place in
the prayer to prevent his losing it, is taking a stealthy inventory of
Suddenly I hear the door, which has been for some time silent, creak
again in opening. Footsteps sound along the aisle. I look up. Yes, it is
he! walking as quickly and noiselessly as he can, and looking rather
ashamed of himself, while patches of red, blue, and golden light, from
the east window, dance on his Sunday coat and on the smooth darkness of
his hair. I glance at Barbara, to give her notice of the approach of her
destiny, but my glance is lost. Barbara's stooped head is hidden by her
hands, and her pure thoughts are away with God. As a _pis aller_, I look
at Algy. No absorption in prayer on _his_ part baffles me. He is leaning
his elbow on his knee, and wearily biting the top of his prayer-book. He
returns my look by another, which, though wordless, is eloquent. It
says, in raised eyebrow and drooped mouth, "Is that all? I do not think
much of him?"
The church is full and hot. The windows are open, indeed, but only the
infinitesimally small chink that church-windows ever do open. The
pew-opener sedulously closes the great door after every fresh entrance.
I kneel simmering through the Litany. Never before did it seem so long!
Never did the chanted, "We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!" appear
so endlessly numerous.
Under cover of my arched hands, shading my eyes, I peep at one after
another of the family groups. Most of them are behind me indeed, but
there are still a good many that I can get a view of sideways. Among
these, the one that oftenest engages my notice is a small white woman,
evidently a lady--and, at the moment I first catch sight of her, with
closed eyes and drawn-in nostrils, inhaling smelling-salts, as if to
her, too, church was up-hill work this morning--in a little seat by
herself. At the other pews one glance a piece satisfies me, but, having
looked at _her_ once, I look again. I could not tell you _why_ I do it.
There is nothing very remarkable about her in the matter of either youth
or beauty, and yet I look.
The service is ended at length, but eagerly as I long for the fresh air,
we are--whether to mark our own dignity, or to avoid further scrutiny on
the part of our fellow-worshipers--almost the last to issue from the
church. At the porch we find Mr. Musgrave waiting. A sort of _mauvaise
honte_ and a guilty conscience combine to disable me from promptly
introducing him to my people, and before I recover my presence of mind,
Algy has walked on with Barbara, and I am left to follow with Frank.
He does not seem in one of his most sunshiny humors, but perhaps the
long morning service, so trying in its present arrangement of lengthy
prayers, praises, and preaching, to a restless and irritable temper, is
to blame for that.
"I suppose," he says, speaking rather stiffly, "that I must congratulate
you on the arrival of the first detachment."
"First detachment of what?"
"Of your family. I understood you to say that there were to be _relays_
of them during all Sir Roger's absence."
"It is to be hoped so, I am sure," I say, devoutly; "especially"
(looking up at him with mock reproach) "considering the way in which my
friends neglect me. You never came, after all! No!" (seeing the utter
unsmilingness of his expression, and speaking hastily), "I am not
serious; I am only joking! No doubt you heard that they had come, and
thought that you would be in the way. But, indeed you would not. We had
no secrets to talk; we should not have minded you a bit."
"I _did_ hear that they had arrived," he answers, still speaking
ungraciously, "but even if I had not, I should not have come!"
I look up in his face, and laugh.
"You _forgot_? Ah, I told you you would!"
"I did _not_ forget."
Again I look up at him, this time in honest astonishment, awaiting the
solution of his enigma.
"There is no particular use in making one's self _cheap_, is there?" he
says, with a bitter little laugh. "What is the use of going to a place
where you are told that _any one else_ will do as well?"
A pause. I walk along in silent wonderment. So he actually was happy
again! We have left the church-yard. We are in the road, between the
dusty quicks of the hedgerows. The carriages bowl past us, whirling
clouds of dust down our throats. One is trotting by now, a victoria and
pair of grays, and in it, leaning restfully back, and holding up her
parasol, is the lady I noticed in church. Musgrave knows her apparently.
At least, he takes off his hat.
"Who is she?" I say, with a slightly aroused interest. "I was wondering
in church. I suppose she is delicate, as she sat down through the
At the moment I address him, Mr. Musgrave is battling angrily with an
angrier wasp, but no sooner has he heard my question than he ceases his
warfare, and allows it to buzz within half an inch of his nose, as he
turns his hazel eyes, full of astonished inquiry, upon me.
"You _do not know?_"
"Not I," reply I lightly. "How should I? I know nobody in these parts."
"That is Mrs. Huntley."
"You do not say so!" reply I, ironically. "I am sure I am very glad to
hear it, but I am not very much wiser than I was before."
"Is it possible," he says, looking rather nettled at my tone, and
lowering his voice a little, as if anxious to confine the question to me
alone--a needless precaution, as there is no one else within hearing--
"that you have _never_ heard of her?"
"Never!" reply I, in some surprise; "why should I?--has she ever done
any thing very remarkable?"
He laughs slightly, but disagreeably.
"Remarkable! well, no, I suppose not!"
The victoria is quite out of sight now--quite out of sight the
delicately poised head, the dove-colored parasol.
"You are joking, of course," says Frank, presently, turning toward me,
and still speaking in that needlessly lowered key. "It is so long since
I have seen you, that I have got out of the habit of remembering that
you never speak seriously; but, _of course_, you have heard--I mean Sir
Roger has mentioned her to you!"
"He has not!" reply I, speaking sharply, and raising my voice a little.
"Neither has he mentioned any of the other neighbors to me! He had not
time." No rejoinder. "Most likely," continue I, speaking with quick
heat, for something in his manner galls me, "he did not recollect her
He is looking down at the white dust which is defiling his
patent-leather boots, and smiling slightly.
"How do you know--what reason have you for thinking that he was aware
that there was such a person?" I ask, with injudicious eagerness.
"I have no reason--I think nothing," he answers, coldly, with an air of
I walk on in a ruffled, jarred silence. Presently Frank speaks again.
"Are those two "--(slightly indicating by a faint nod the figures in
front of us)--"the two you expected?--Are these--what are their names?--
_Algy_ and _Barbara_?"
"Yes," say I, smiling, with recovered equanimity; "Algy and Barbara." A
little pause. "You can judge for yourself now," say I, laughing rather
nervously, "whether I spoke truth--whether Barbara is as like the St.
Catherine as I told you." For a moment he does not answer. "Of course,"
I say, rather crestfallen, "the bonnet makes a difference; the likeness
is much more striking when it is off."
"The St. Catherine!" he repeats, with a puzzled air, "_what_ St.
Catherine? I am afraid you will think me very stupid, but I really am
quite at sea."
"Do you mean to say," cry I, reddening with mortification, "that you
forget--that you do not remember that St. Catherine of Palma Vecchio's
in the Dresden Gallery that I always pointed out to you as having such a
look of Barbara? Well, you _have_ a short memory!"
"Have I?" he answers, dryly; "perhaps for _some_ things; for _others_ I
fancy that mine is a good deal longer than yours."
"It might easily be that," I answer, recovering from my temporary
annoyance and laughing; "I suppose you mean for books and dates, and
things of that kind. Well, you may easily beat me there. The landing of
William the Conqueror, and the battle of Waterloo, were the only two
dates I ever succeeded in mastering, and that was only after the
struggle of years."
"Dates!" he says, impatiently, "pshaw! I was not thinking of _them_! I
was thinking of Dresden!"
"Are you so sure that you could beat me there?" ask I, thoughtfully; "I
do not know about that! I think I could stand a pretty stiff
examination; but perhaps you are talking of the pictures and the names
of the artists. Ah, yes! there you are right; with _me_ they go in at
one ear, and out at another. Only the other day I was racking my brain
to think of the name of the man that painted the _other_ Magdalen--not
Guido's--I was telling Algy about it. Bah! what is it? I know it as well
as my own."
His head is turned away from me. He does not appear to be attending.
"What is it?" I repeat; "have _you_ forgotten too?"
"Battoni!" he answers, laconically, still keeping his face averted.
"_Battoni_! oh, yes! thanks--of course! so it is!--Algy "--(raising my
voice a little)--"_Battoni!_"
"Well, what about him?" replies Algy, turning his head, but not showing
much inclination to slacken his speed or to join Frank and me.
"The Magdalen man--you know--I mean the man that painted the Magdalen,
and whose name I could not recollect last night, Algy. Barbara! how fast
you are walking!"--(speaking rather reproachfully)--"stop a moment! I
want to introduce you to Mr. Musgrave."
Thus adjured, they have come to a halt, and the presentation is made.
"Surely," think I, glancing at Barbara's face, slightly flushed by the
heat, and still gently grave with the sobriety of expression left by
devotion, "he _must_ see the likeness now!" To insure his having the
chance of telling her that he does, I fall behind with Algy.
Claret cup has washed the dust from our throats; cold lamb and
mayonnaise have restored the force of body and equanimity of mind which
the exhausted air and long-drawn Gregorian chants of Tempest Church
destroyed. Frank is lunching with us. He had accompanied us to our own
gates, and had then made a feint of leaving, but I had pressed him, with
an eagerness proportioned to the seriousness of my design upon him, to
accompany us, and he had yielded with a willing ease.
I cannot help thinking that Algy does not look altogether pleased with
the arrangement, but after all, it is my house, and not Algy's. It is
the first time that I have entertained a guest since the far-off
childish birthdays, when the neighbors' little boys and girls used to be
gathered together to drink tea out of the doll's tea service. In the
afternoon, we all walk to church again, and in the same order. Barbara
and Algy in front, Frank and I behind. I had planned differently, but
Algy is obtuse, Barbara will come into the manoeuvres, and Frank seems
simply indifferent. So it happens, that all through the park, and up the
bit of dusty white road we are out of ear-shot of the other two.
"A sky worthy of Dresden!" says Mr. Musgrave, throwing back his head and
looking up at the pale blue sultriness above our heads--the waveless,
stormless ether sea--as we pace along, with the church-bells' measured
ding-dong in our ears, and the cool ripe grasses about our feet.
"_Dear_ Dresden!" say I, pensively, with a sigh of mixed regret and
remorse, as I look back on the sunshiny hours that at the time I thought
so long, in that fair, white foreign town.
"Dear Linkesches Bad!" says Frank, sighing too.
"Dear Groosegarten!" cry I, thinking of the long pottering stroll that
Roger and I had taken one evening up and down its green alleys, and that
_then_ I had found so tedious.
"Dear Zwinger!" retorts Frank.
"Dear Weisserhirsch!" say I, half sadly. "Dear white acacias! dear
drives under the acacias!"
"_Drives under the acacias_!" echoes Frank, dropping his accent of
sentimentalism, and speaking rather sharply. "We never had any drives
under the acacias! We never had any drives at all, that I recollect!"
"_You_ had not, I dare say," reply I, carelessly, "but _we_ had. They
are the things that I look back at with the greatest pleasure of any
thing that happened there!"
Frank does not apostrophize as "_dear_" any other public resort; indeed,
he turns away his head, and we walk on without uttering a word for a few
"By-the-by," say I, with a labored and not altogether successful attempt
at appearing to speak with suddenness and want of premeditation, "what
did you mean this morning, about that la--about Mrs. Huntley?"
"I meant nothing," he answers, but the faint quiver of a smile about his
mouth contradicts his words.
"That is not true!" reply I, with impatient brusqueness; "why were you
surprised at my not having heard of her?"
"I was not surprised."
"What is the use of so many falsehoods?" cry I, indignantly; "at least I
would choose some better time than when I was going to church for
telling them. What reason have you for supposing that--that Roger knows
more about her than I--than Barbara do?"
"How persistent you are!" he says, with that same peculiar smile--not
latent now, but developed--curbing his lips and lightening in his eyes.
"There is no baffling you! Since you dislike falsehoods, I will tell you
no more. I will own to you that I made a slip of the tongue; I took it
for granted that you had been told a certain little history, which it
seems you have _not_ been told."
The blood rushes headlong to my face. It feels as if every drop in my
body were throbbing and tingling in my cheeks, but I look back at him
"I don't believe there _is_ any such history."
"I dare say not."
More silence. Swish through the butter-cups and the yellow rattle; a
lark, miles above our heads, singing the music he has overheard in
heaven. Frank does not seem inclined to speak again.
"Your story is _not_ true," say I, presently, laughing uncomfortably,
and unable to do the one wise thing in my reach, and leave the subject
alone--"but untrue stories are often amusing, more amusing than the true
ones. You may tell yours, if you like."
"I have not the slightest wish."
A few steps more. How quickly we are getting through the park! We shall
reach the church, and I shall not have heard. I shall sit and stand and
kneel all through the service with the pain of that gnawing curiosity--
that hateful new vague jealousy aching at my heart.
It is _impossible!_ I stop. I stand stock-still in the summer grass.
"I _hate_ your hints! I hate your innuendoes!" I say, passionately. "I
have always lived with people who spoke their thoughts straight out!
Tell me this moment! I will not move a step from this spot till you do."
"I have nothing worth speaking of to tell," he answers, slightly. "It is
only that never having had a wife myself, I have taken an outsider's
view; I have taken it for granted that when two people marry each other
they make a clean breast of their past history--make a mutual confession
of their former--"
He pauses, as if in search of a word.
"But supposing," cry I, eagerly, "that they have nothing to tell,
nothing to confess--"
He shrugs his shoulders.
"That is so likely, is it not?"
"Likely or not," cry I, excitedly, "it was true in _my_ case. If you had
put me on the rack, I could have confessed nothing!"
"I do not see the analogy," he answers, coldly; "_you_ are--what did you
tell me? nineteen?--It is to be supposed"--(with a rather unlovely
smile)--"that your history is yet to come; and he is--_forty-seven!_ We
shall be late for church!"--with a glance at Algy's and Barbara's
quickly diminishing figures.
"I do not care whether we are late or not!" cry I, vehemently, and
stamping on the daisy-heads as I speak. "I will not _stir_ until you
"There is really no need for such excitement!" returns he with a cold
smile; "since you will have it, it is only that rumor--and you know what
a liar _rumor_ is--says that once, some years ago, they were engaged to
marry each other."
"And why did not they?" speaking with breathless panting, and forgetting
my stout asseveration that the whole tale is a lie.
"Because--mind, I _vouch_ for nothing, I am only quoting rumor again--
because--she threw him over."
"_Threw him over!_" with an accent of most unfeigned astonishment.
"You are surprised!" he says, quickly, and with what sounds to me like a
slightly annoyed inflection of voice; "it _does_ seem incredible, does
not it? But at that time, you see, he had not all the desirables--not
quite the pull over other men that he has now; his brother was not dead
or likely to die, and he was only General Tempest, with nothing much
besides his pay."
"_Threw--him--over!_" repeat I, slowly, as if unable yet to grasp the
sense of the phrase.
"We shall _certainly_ be late; the last bell is beginning," says Frank,
I move slowly on. We have reached the turnstile that gives issue from
the park to the road. The smart farmers' wives, the rosy farmers'
daughters, are pacing along through the powdery dust toward the
"Is she a _widow?_" ask I, in a low voice.
He laughs sarcastically.
"A widow indeed, and desolate, eh? No! I believe she has a husband
somewhere about, but she keeps him well out of sight--away in the
colonies. He is there now, I fancy."
"And why is not she with him?" cry I, indignantly; but the moment that
the words are out of my mouth, I hang my head. Might not _she_ ask the
same question with regard to _me?_
"She did not like the _sea_, perhaps," answers Frank, demurely.
A day--two days pass.
"More callers," say I, hearing the sound of wheels, and running to the
window; "I thought we _must_ have exhausted the neighborhood yesterday
and the day before!" I add, sighing.
"_Whoever they are_," says Barbara, anxiously, lifting her head from the
work over which it is bent, "mind you do not ask after their relations!
Think of the man whose wife you inquired after, and found that she had
run away with his groom not a month before!"
"That certainly was one of my unlucky things," answer I, gravely; then,
beginning to laugh--"and I was so _determined_ to know what had become
of her, too."
I am still looking out. It is a soft, smoke-colored day; half an hour
ago, there was a shower--each drop a separate loud patter on the
sycamore-leaves--but now it is fair again. A victoria is coming briskly
up the drive; servants in dark liveries; a smoke-colored parasol that
matches the day.
"Shall I ring, and say 'not at home?'" asks Barbara, stretching out her
hand toward the bell.
"No, no!" cry I, hurriedly, in an altered voice, for the parasol has
moved a little aside, and I have seen the face beneath.
In two minutes the butler enters and announces "Mrs. Huntley," and the
"plain woman--not very young--about thirty--who cannot be very strong,
as she sat down through the Psalms," enters.
At first she seems uncertain _which_ to greet as bride and hostess;
indeed, I can see that her earliest impulse is to turn from the small
insignificance in silk, to the tall little loveliness in cotton, and as
I perceive it, a little arrow--not of jealousy, for, thank God, I never
was jealous of our Barbara--never--but of pain at my so palpable
inferiority, shoots through all my being. But Barbara draws back, and
our visitor perceives her error. We sit down, but the brunt of the talk
falls on Barbara. I am never glib with strangers, and I throw in a word
only now and then, all my attention and observation having passed into
my eyes. A plain woman, indeed! I have always been convinced of the
unbecomingness of church, but _now_ more than ever am I fully persuaded
of it. And yet she is not pretty! Her mouth is very wide, that is
perhaps why she so rarely laughs; her nose cannot say much for itself;
her cheeks are thin, and I _think_--nay, let me tell truth--I _hope_
that in a low gown she would be _scraggy_, so slight even to meagreness
is she! But how thoroughly made the most of! What a shapeless,
pin-cushion fit my gown seems beside the admirable French sit of hers!
How hard, how metallic its tint beside the indefinite softness of that
sweep of smoke-color! What a stiff British erection my hair feels beside
the careless looseness of these shining twists! What a fine, slight
hand, as if cut in faint gray stone!
At each fresh detail that I note, Musgrave's anecdote gains ever more
and more probability; and my heart sinks ever lower and more low.
_One_ hope remains to me. Perhaps she may be stupid! Certainly she is
How heavily poor Barbara is driving through the fine weather and the
_Times!_ and how little more than "yes" and "no" does she get! I take
heart. Roger loves people who talk--people who are merry and make jests.
It was my most worthless gabble that first drew him toward me. Cheered
and emboldened by this thought, I swoop down like a sudden eagle to the
"You know Rog--, my husband, do not you?" I say, with an abrupt
bluntness that contrasts finely with the languid gentleness with which
her little remarks steal out like mice. _Mine_ rushes forth like a
"You knew him in India, did not you?" say I, unable to resist the
temptation of seizing this opportunity to gratify my curiosity, drawing
my chair a little nearer hers, and speaking with an eagerness which I,
in vain, try to stifle.
"Yes," smiling sweetly, "in India."
"He was there a long time," continue I, communicatively.
(Well, she _is_ baffling! when she does not say "yes" affirmatively, she
says it interrogatively.)
"All the same he did not like it," I go on, with amicable volubility;
"but I dare say you know that. They say--" (reddening as I feel,
perceptibly, and nervously twisting my pocket-handkerchief round my
fingers)--"that people are so sociable in India: now, I dare say you saw
a good deal of him."
"Yes; we met several times."
She is smiling again. There is not a shade of hesitation or unreadiness
in her low voice, nor does the faintest tinge of color stain the fine
pallor of her cheeks.
(It _must_ have been a lie!)
"_Your_ husband, too, is out--" I pause; not sure of the locality, but
she does not help me, so I add lamely, "_somewhere_, is not he?"
"He is in the West Indies."
"In the West Indies!" cry I, with animation, drawing my chair yet a
little nearer hers, and feeling positively friendly; "why, that is where
_mine_ is too!"
"We are companions in misfortune," cry I, heartily; "we must keep up
each other's spirits, must not we?"
Another smile, but no verbal answer.
A noise of feet coming across the hall--of manly whistling makes itself
heard. The door opens and Algy enters. It is clear that he is unaware of
there being any stranger present, for his hat is on his head, his hands
are in his pockets, and he only stops whistling to observe:
"Well, Nancy! any more aborigines?" then he breaks suddenly off, and we
all grow red--he himself beaming of as lively a scarlet as the new tunic
that he tried on last night. I make a hurried and confused presentation,
in which I manage to slur over into unintelligibility and utter
doubtfulness the names of the two people made known to one another.
"One more aborigine, you see!" says Mrs. Huntley, to my surprise--after
the experience I have had of her fine taste in monosyllables--
beginning the conversation. I look at her with a little wonder. Her
voice is quite as low as ever, but there is an accent of playfulness in
it; and on her face a sparkle of _esprit_, whose possible existence I
had not conjectured. Certainly, she showed no symptom of playfulness or
_esprit_ during our late talk. I have yet to learn that to some women,
the presence of a man--not _the_ man, but _a_ man--any man--is what warm
rain is to flowers athirst. I am still marveling at this metamorphosis,
when the door again opens, and another guest is announced--an old man,
as great a stranger to us as is the rest of the neighborhood, but of
whom we quickly discover that he is deadly, deadly deaf. For five
minutes, I bawl at him a series of remarks, each and all of which he
misunderstands. He does it so invariably, that I come at length to the
conclusion that he is doing it on purpose, and stop talking in a huff.
Then Barbara takes her turn--Barbara can always make deaf people hear
better than I do, though she does not speak to them nearly so loud, and
I rest on my oars. Owing to my position between the two couples, I can
hear what is passing between Algy and Mrs. Huntley.
To tell the truth, I do not take much pains to avoid hearing it, for
surely they can have no secrets. They are sitting rather close together,
and speaking in a low key, but I am so used to _his_ voice, and her
articulation is so distinct, that I do not miss a word.
"I think I had the pleasure of seeing you in church, last Sunday," Algy
says, rather diffidently; not having yet quite recovered from the
humiliation engendered by his unfortunate remark.
"And I you," with a gently reassuring smile.
"Did you, really? did you see me--I mean us?"
"Yes, I saw you," with a delicate inflection of voice, which somehow
confines the application of the remark to him. "I made up my mind--one
takes ideas into one's head, you know--I made up my mind that you were a
_soldier_; one can mostly tell."
He laughs the flattered, fluttered laugh, that _my_ rough speech was
never known to provoke in living man.
"Yes, I am; at least, I am going to be; I join this week."
"Yes?" with a pretty air of attention and interest.
"We--we--found out who _you_ were," he says, laughing again, with a
little embarrassment, and edging his chair nearer hers; "we asked
"Mr. Musgrave!" (with a little tone of alert curiosity)--"oh! you know
"I know him! I should think so: he is quite a tame cat here."
"Have you any _children?_" cry I, suddenly, bundling with my usual fine
tact head-foremost into the conversation (where I am clearly not wanted,
and altogether forgetting Barbara's warning injunction) with my
unnecessary and malapropos query. For a moment she looks only
astonished; then an expression of pain crosses her face, and a slight
contraction passes over her features. Evidently, she _had_ a child, and
it is _dead_. She is going to _cry_! At this awful thought, I grow
scarlet, and Algy darts a furious look at me. What _have_ I said? I have
outdone myself. How far worse a case than the fugitive wife whose
destiny I was so resolute to learn from her injured husband!
"I am so sorry," I stammer--"I never thought--I did not know--"
"It is of no consequence," she answers, speaking with some difficulty,
and with a slight but quite musical tremor in her voice--very different
from the ugly gulpings and catchings of the breath which always set off
_my_ tears--"but the fact is, that I _have_ one little one--and--and--
she no longer lives with me; my husband's people have taken her; I am
sure that they meant it for the best; only--only--I am afraid I cannot
quite manage to talk of her yet" (turning away from me, and looking up
into Algy's face with a showery smile). Then, as if unable to run the
risk of any other further shock to her feelings, she rises and takes her
leave; Algy eagerly attending her to the door.
The old deaf gentleman departs at the same time, loading Barbara with
polite parting messages to her husband, and bowing distantly to _me_.
Algy reenters presently, looking cross and ruffled.
"You really are _too_ bad, Nancy!" he says, harshly, throwing himself
into the chair lately occupied by Mrs. Huntley. "You grow worse every
day--one would think you did it on purpose--riding rough-shod over
I stand aghast. Formerly, I used not to mind rough words; but I think
Roger must have spoilt me; they make me wince now.
"But--but--it was not _dead!_" I say, whimpering; "it had only gone to
visit its grandmother."
"Never you mind, my Nancy!" says Barbara, in a whisper, drawing me away
to the window, and pressing her soft, cool lips, to the flushed misery
of my cheeks; "she was not hurt a bit! her eyes were as dry as a bone!"
One more day is gone. We are one day nearer Roger's return. This is the
way in which I am growing to look at the flight of time; just as, in
Dresden, I joyfully marked each sunset, as bringing me twenty-four hours
nearer home and the boys. And now the boys are within reach; at a wish I
could have them all round me; and still, in my thoughts, I hurry the
slow days, and blame them for dawdling. With all their broad, gold
sunshine, and their rainbow-colored flowers, I wish them away.
Alas! that life should be both so quick and so lagging!
It is afternoon, and I am lying by myself on a cloak at the bottom of
the punt--the _unupsettable_, broad-bottomed punt. My elbow rests on the
seat, and a book is on my lap. But, in the middle of the pool, the glare
from the water is unbearably bright, but _here_, underneath those
dipping, drooped trees, the sun only filters through in little flakes,
and the shade is brown, and the reflections are so vivid that the flags
hardly know which are themselves--they, or the other flags that grow in
the water at their feet.
A while ago I tried to read; but a private vexation of my own--a small
new one--interleaved with its details each page of the story, and made
nonsense of it. I have shut the volume, therefore, and, with my hat
tilted over my eyes, and my cheek on my hand, am watching the long blue
dragon-flies, and the numberless small peoples that inhabit the summer
air. All at once, I hear some one coming, crashing and pushing through
the woody undergrowth. Perhaps it is Algy come to say that he has
changed his mind, and that he will not go after all! No! it is only Mr.
Musgrave. I am a little disappointed, but, as my fondness for my own
company is always of the smallest, I am able to smile a sincere welcome.
"It is you, is it?" I say, with a little intimate nod. "How did you know
where I was?"
"Barbara told me."
"_Barbara_, indeed!" (laughing). "I wish father could hear you."
"I am very glad he does not."
"And so you found her at home?" I say, with a feeling of pleased
curiosity, as to the details of the interview. (He cannot well have
volunteered the abbey _already_, can he?)
"I suppose I may come in," he says, hardly waiting my permission to jump
into the punt, which, however, by reason of the noble broadness of its
bottom, is enabled to bid defiance to any such shock. "She was making a
flannel petticoat for an old woman," he goes on, sitting down opposite
me, and looking at me from under his hat-brim, with gravely shining
eyes; "_herring-boning_, she called it. She has been teaching me how to
herring-bone, I like Barbara."
"How kind of you!" I say, ironically, and yet a little gratified too.
"And does she return the compliment, may I ask?"
"Yes, I think so."
"She would like you better still if you were to lose all your money, and
one of your legs, and be marked by the small-pox," I say, thoughtfully;
"to be despised, and out at elbows, and down in the world, is the sure
way to Barbara's heart."
I had meant to have drawn for him a pleasant and yet most true picture
of her sweet disinterestedness, but his uneasy vanity takes it amiss.
"As it entails being enrolled among the blind and lame," he says,
smiling sarcastically, and flushing a little, "I am afraid I shall never
A moment ago I had felt hardly less than sisterly toward him. Now I look
at him with a disgustful and disapprobative eye. What a very great deal
of alteration he needs, and, with that face, and his abbey, and all his
rooks to back it, how very unlikely he is to get it! Well, _I_ at least
will do my best!
We both remain quiet for a few moments. Vick sits at the end of the
punt, a shiver of excitement running all over her little white body, her
black nose quivering, and one lip slightly lifted by a tooth, as she
gazes with eager gravity at the distant wild-ducks flying along in a
row, with outstretched--necks, making their pleasant quacks. How low
they fly; so low that their feet splash in the water, that makes a
bright spray-hue in the sun!
"Algy is going away to-morrow!" say I, presently.
"So he told me."
"This is his last evening here!" (in a rather dolorous tone).
"So I should gather," laughing a little at the obviousness of my last
piece of information.
"And yet," say I, looking down through the clear water at a dead
tree-bough lying at the bottom, and sighing, "he is going to dine out
to-night--to dine with Mrs. Huntley."
"With Mrs. Huntley! when?" with a long-drawn whistle of intelligence.
"Tell me," cry I, impulsively, raising myself from my reclining pose,
and sitting upright, "you will understand better than I do--perhaps it
is my mistake--but, if you had seen a person only _once_ for five or ten
minutes, would you sign yourself 'Yours very sincerely' to them?"
He laughs dryly.
"Not unless I was writing _after dinner_--why?"
Again he laughs.
"I think I can guess."
"Her name is Zephine," say I again, leaning over the boat-side and
pulling my forefinger slowly to and fro through the warm brown water.
"I am well aware of that fact" (smiling).
How near the swans are drawing toward us! One, with his neck well thrown
back, and his wings raised and ruffled, sailing along like a lovely
snow-white ship; another, with less grace and more homeliness, standing
on his head, with black webs paddling out behind.
"You were quite wrong on Sunday--_quite_," say I, speaking with sudden
abruptness, and reddening.
"On Sunday!" (throwing his luminous dark eyes upward to the light clouds
and faint blue of the August sky above us, as if to aid his
recollection), "nothing more likely--but what about?"
"About--Roger," I answer, speaking with some difficulty ("and Mrs.
Huntley," I was going to add, but some superstition hinders me from
coupling their names even in a sentence).
"I dare say"--carelessly--"but what new light have you had thrown upon
"I asked her," I say, looking him full in the face, with simple
"_Asked her_!" repeats he, with an accent of profound astonishment.
"Asked the woman whether she had been engaged to him, and jilted him?
"No! no!" cry I, with tremulous impatience, "of course not; but I asked
her whether she used not to know him in India, and she said, 'Yes, we
met several times,' just like _that_--she no more blushed and looked
confused than _I_ should if any one asked me whether I knew you!"
He is still leaning over the punt, and has begun to dabble as I did.
"You certainly have a way of putting things very strongly," he says in a
rather low voice, "_convincingly_ so!"
"She did not even know what part of the world he was in!" I cry,
"Did she say so?" (lifting up his face, and speaking quickly).
"Well, no--o--" I answer, reluctantly; "but I said, 'He is in the West
Indies,' and she answered 'Yes,' or 'Indeed,' or 'Is he?' I forget
which, but at any rate it implied that it was news to her."
A pike leaps not far from us, and splashes back again. I watch to see
whether the widening faint circles will have strength to reach us, or
whether the water's smile will be smoothed and straightened before it
gets to us.
"Did Mrs. Huntley happen to say" (leaning lazily back, and speaking
carelessly), "how she liked her house?"
"She has only just got into it," he answers, slightly; "only about a
fortnight, that is."
"I wonder," say I, ruminatingly, "what brought her to this part of the
world, for she does not seem to know anybody."
He does not answer.
"We _ought_ to be friends, ought not we?" say I, beginning to laugh
nervously, and looking appealingly toward him, "both of us coming to
sojourn in a strange land! It is a curious coincidence our both settling
here in such similar circumstances, at almost the same time, is not it?"
Still he is silent.
"_Is not it_?" cry I, irritably, raising my voice.
Again he has thrown his head back, and is perusing the sky, his hands
clasped round one lifted knee.
"What _is_ a coincidence?" he says, languidly. "I do not think I quite
know--I am never good at long words--two things that happen accidentally
at the same time, is not it?"
He lays the faintest possible stress on the word accidentally.
"And you mean to say that this in not accidental?" I cry, quickly.
"I mean nothing; I only ask for information."
How still the world is to-day! The feathery water-weeds sway, indeed, to
and fro, with the motion of the water, but the tall cats'-tails, and all
the flags, stand absolutely motionless. I feel vaguely ruffled, and take
up my forgotten book. Holding it so as to hide my companion's face from
me, I begin to read ostentatiously. He seems content to be silent; lying
on the flat of his back, at the bottom of the punt, staring at the sky,
and declining the overtures, and parrying the attacks, of Vick, who,
having taken advantage of his supine position to mount upon his chest,
now stands there wagging her tail, and wasting herself in efforts,
mostly futile, but occasionally successful, to lick the end of his nose.
A period of quiet elapses, during which, for the sake of appearances, I
turn over a page. By-and-by, he speaks.
"Algy is your eldest brother, is not he?--get away, you little beast!"--
(the latter clause, in a tone of sudden exasperation, is addressed, not
to me, but to Vick, and tells me that my pet dog's endeavors have been
crowned with a tardy prosperity.)
"Yes" (still reading sedulously).
"I thought so," with a slight accent of satisfaction.
"Why?" cry I, again letting fall my volume, and yielding to a curiosity
as irresistible as unwise; for he had meant me to ask, and would have
been disobliged if I had not.
"We all have our hobbies, don't you know?" he says, shifting his eyes
from the sky, and fixing them on the less serene, less amiable object of
my face--"some people's is old china--some Elzevir editions--_I_ have a
mania for _clocks_--I have one in every room in my house--by-the-by, you
have never been over my house--Mrs. Huntley's--she is a dear little
woman, but she has her fancies, like the rest of us, and hers is--
"But she is married!" exclaim I, stupidly. "What good can they do her,
now?"--then, reddening a little at my own simplicity, I go on,
hurriedly: "But he is such a boy!--younger than _you_--young enough, to
be her _son_--it _can_ be only out of good-nature that she takes notice
"Yes--true--out of good-nature!" he echoes, nodding, smiling, and
speaking with that surface-assent which conveys to the hearer no
impression less than acquiescence.
"Boys are not much in her way, either," he pursues, carelessly;
"generally she prefers such as are of _riper_ years--_much_ riper!"
"How spiteful you are!" I say, glad to give my chafed soul vent in
words, and looking at him with that full, cold directness which one can
employ only toward such as are absolutely indifferent to one. "How she
_must_ have snubbed you!"
For an instant, he hesitates; then--"Yes," he says, smiling still,
though his face has whitened, and a wrathy red light has come into his
deep eyes; "in the pre-Huntley era, I laid my heart at her feet--
by-the-way, I must have been in petticoats at the time--and she kicked
it away, as she had, no doubt, done--_others_"
The camel's backbone is broken. This last innuendo--in weight a straw--
has done it. I speak never a word; but I rise up hastily, and, letting
my novel fall heavily prone on the pit of its stomach at the
punt-bottom, I take a flying leap to shore--_toward_ shore, I should
rather say:--for I am never a good jumper--Tou Tou's lean spider-legs
can always outstride me--and now I fall an inch or two short, and draw
one leg out booted with river-mud. But I pay no heed. I hurry on,
pushing through the brambles, and leaving a piece of my gown on each.
Before I have gone five yards--his length of limb and freedom from
petticoats giving him the advantage over me--he overtakes me.
"What _has_ happened? at this rate you will not have much gown left by
the time you reach the house."
To my excited ears, there seems to be a suspicion of laughter in his
voice. I disdain to answer. The path we are pursuing is not the regular
one; it is a short cut through the wood. At its widest it is very
narrow; and, a little ahead of us, a bramble has thrown a strong arm
right across it, making a thorny arch, and forbidding passage. By a
quick movement, Mr. Musgrave gets in advance of me, and, turning round,
faces me at this defile.
"What _has_ happened?"
Still I remain stubbornly silent.
"We are not going to fight, at this time of day, such old friends as we
The red-anger light has died out of his eyes. They look softer, and yet
less languid, than I have ever seen them before; and there is subdued
appeal and entreaty in his lowered voice. At the present moment, I
distinctly dislike him. I think him altogether trying and odious, and I
should be glad--yes, _glad_, if Vick were to bite a piece out of his
leg; but, at the same time, I cannot deny that I have seldom seen any
thing comelier than the young man who now stands before me, with the
green woodland lights flickering about the close-shorn beauty of his
face--he is well aware that his are not features that need _planting out
_--while a lively emotion quickens all his lazy being.
"We are _not_ old friends! Let me pass!"
"_New_ friends, then--_-friends_ at all events!" coming a step nearer,
and speaking without a trace of sneer, sloth, or languor.
"Not friends at all! Let me pass!"
"Not until you tell me my offense--not until you own that we are
friends!" (in a tone of quick excitement, and almost of authority, that,
in him, is new to me).
"Then we shall stay here all night!" reply I, with a fine obstinacy,
plumping down, as I speak, on the wayside grass, among the St.
John's-worts, and the red arum-berries. In a moment he has stepped
aside, and is holding the stout purple bramble-stem out of my way.
"Pass, then!" he says, in a tone of impatience, frowning a little; "as
you have said it, of course you will stick to it--right or wrong--or you
would not be a woman; but, whether you confess it or not, we _are_
"We are NOT!" cry I, resolute to have the last word, as I spring up and
fly past him, with more speed than dignity, lest he should change his
mind, and again detain me.
The swallows are gone: the summer is done: it is October. The year knows
that I am in a hurry, and is hasting with its shortened days--each day
marked by the loss of something fair--toward the glad Christmas-time--
Christmas that will bring me back my Roger--that will set him again at
the foot of his table--that will give me again the sound of his foot on
the stairs, the smile in his fond gray eyes. So I thought yesterday, and
to-day I have heard from him; heard that though he is greatly loath to
tell me so, yet he cannot be back by Christmas; that I must hear the
joy-bells ring, and see the merry Christmas cheer _alone._ It is true
that he earnestly and insistantly begs of me to gather all my people,
father, mother, boys, girls, around me. But, after all, what are father,
mother, boys, girls, to me? Father never _was_ any thing, I will do
myself that justice, but at this moment of sore disappointment as I lean
my forehead on the letter outspread on the table before me, and dim its
sentences with tears, I _belittle_ even the boys. No doubt that
by-and-by I shall derive a little solace from the thought of their
company; that when they come I shall even be inveigled into some sort of
hilarity with them; but at present, "No."
There are some days on which all ills gather together as at a meeting.
This is one. Barbara is prostrated by a violent headache, and is in such
thorough physical pain that even she cannot sympathize with me. Mr.
Musgrave never makes his now daily appearance--he comes, as I jubilantly
notice, as regularly as the postman--until late in the afternoon. All
day, therefore, I must refrain myself and be silent. And I am never one
for brooding with private dumbness over my woes. I much prefer to air
them by expression and complaint. About noon it strikes me that, _faute
de mieux_, I will go and see Mrs. Huntley, tell her _suddenly_ that
Roger is not coming back, and see if she looks vexed or confused or
grieved. Accordingly, soon after luncheon, I set off in the
pony-carriage. It is a quiet sultry-looking unclouded day. One uniform
livery of mist clothes sky and earth, dimming the glories of the dying
leaves, and making them look dull and sodden. Every thing has a drenched
air: each crimson bramble-leaf is clothed in rain-drops, and yet it is
not raining. The air is thick and heavy, and one swallows it like
something solid, but it is not raining: in fact, it is an English fine
Under the delusive idea that it is warm, or at least not cold, I have
protected my face with no veil, my hands with no mittens; so that, long
before I reach the shelter of the Portugal laurels that warmly hem in
and border Mrs. Huntley's little graveled sweep, the end of my nose
feels like an icy promontory at a great distance from me, and my hands
do not feel at all. Mrs. Huntley _is_ at home. Wise woman! I knew that
she would be. I suppose that I follow on the footsteps of the butler
more quickly than is usual, for, as the door opens, and before I can get
a view of the inmate or inmates, I hear a hurried noise of scrambling,
as of some one suddenly jumping up. For a little airy woman who looks as
if one could blow her away--puff!--like a morsel of thistle-down or a
snowball, what a heavy foot Mrs. Huntley has! The next moment, I am
disabused. Mrs. Huntley has clearly not moved. It was not _she_ that
scrambled. She is lying back in a deep arm-chair, her silky head gently
denting the flowered cushion, the points of two pretty shoes slightly
advanced toward the fire, and a large feather fan leisurely waving to
and fro, in one white hand. Beyond the _fan_ movement she is not _doing_
any thing that I can detect.
"How do you do?" say I, bustling in, in a hurry to reach the fire. "How
comfortable you look! how cold it is!--Algy!" For the enigma of the
noise is solved. It was Algy who shuffled and scuffled--yes, scuffled up
from the low stool which he has evidently been sharing with the pretty
shoes--at Mrs. Huntley's feet, on to his long legs, on which he is now
standing, not at all at ease. He does not answer.
"ALGY!" repeat I, in a tone of the profoundest, accentedest surprise,
involuntarily turning my back upon my hostess and facing my brother.
"Well, what about me?" he cries tartly, irritated (and no wonder) by my
open mouth and tragical air.
"What _has_ brought you here?" I ask slowly, and with a tactless
"The fly from the White Hart," he answers, trying to laugh, but looking
confused and angry.
"But I mean--I thought you told me, when I asked you to Tempest this
week, that you could not get away for an _hour_!"
"No more I could," he answers impatiently, yet stammering; "quite
unexpected--did not know when I wrote--have to be back to-night."
"Will not you come nearer the fire?" says Mrs. Huntley, in her slow
sugared tones, with a well-bred ignoring of our squabble. "I am sure
that you must be perished with cold."
I recollect myself and comply. As I sit down I catch a glimpse of myself
in the glass. It is indeed difficult to abstain from the sight of one's
self, however little fond one may be of it, so thickly is the room set
round with rose-draped mirrors. For the moment, O friends, I will own to
you that I appear to myself nothing less than _brutally_ ugly. I know
that I am not so in reality, that the disfigurement is only temporary,
but none the less does the consciousness deeply, deeply depress me. My
nose is of a lively scarlet, which the warmth of the room is quickly
deepening into a lowering purple. My quick passage through the air has
set my hat a little awry, giving me a falsely rakish air, and the wind
has loosened my hair--not into a picturesque and comely disorder, but
into mere untidiness. And, meanwhile, how admirably small and cool _her_
nose looks! What rest and composure in her whole pose! What a neat
refinement in the disposition of her hair! What a soft luxury in her
dress! Even my one indisputable advantage of _youth_ seems to me as
dirt. Looking at the completeness of her native grace, I _despise_
youth. I think it an ill and ugly thing in its green unripeness. I look
round the room. After the thick outside air, saturated with moisture, I
think that the warm atmosphere would, were my spirit less disquieted,
lull me quickly to sleep. How perfumed it is, not with any meretricious
artificial scents, but with the clean and honest smell of sweet live
flowers. Yes, though I am aware that Mrs. Huntley has no conservatory,
yet hot-house flowers and airy ferns are scattered about the room in far
greater profusion than in mine, with all Roger's imposing range of
glass--scattered about here, there, and everywhere; not as if they were
a rare and holiday treat, but a most common, every-day occurrence. There
is not much work to be seen about, and _not a book!_ On the other hand,
lounging-chairs, suited to the length or shortness of _any_ back; rococo
photograph stands, framing either a great many men, or a few men in a
great many attitudes; soothing pictures--_decollete_ Venuses, Love's
_greuze_ heads--tied up with rose-ribbon, and a sleepy half-light. On a
small table at the owner's elbow, a blue-velvet jeweler's case stands
open. On its white-satin lining my long-sighted eyes enable me to
decipher the name of Hunt and Roskell; and it does not need any long
sight to observe the solid breadth of the gold band bracelet, set with
large, dull turquoises and little points of brilliant light, which is
its occupant. As I note this phenomenon, my heart burns within me--yea,
burns even more hotly than my nose,' For father keeps Algy very tight,
and I know that he has only three hundred pounds a year, besides his
"I have had such bad news to-day," I say, suddenly, looking my
_vis-a-vis_ full and directly in the face.
So far she certainly shows no signs of emotion. Her fan is still waving
with slow steadiness. I see the diamonds on her hands (whence did _they_
owe their rise, I wonder?) glint in the fire-light.
"Roger is not coming back!"
"Not at all?" with a slight raising of the eyebrows.
"Not before Christmas, certainly."
"Really! how disappointing! I am very sorry!"
There is not a particle of sorrow in face or tone: only the counterfeit
grief of an utterly indifferent acquaintance. My heart feels a little
"And have _you_ no better luck, either?" I say, more cheerfully. "Is
there no talk of your--of Mr. Huntley coming back?"
Her eyelids droop: her breast heaves in a placid sigh.
"Not the slightest, I am afraid."
What to say next? I have had enough of asking after her child. I will
not fall into _that_ error again. Ask who all the men in the rococo
frames are?--which of them, or whether any, is _Mr._ Huntley? On
consideration, I decide not to do this either; and, after one or two
more stunted attempts at talk, I take my leave. I ask Algy to accompany
me just down the drive, and with a most grudging and sulky air of
unwillingness he complies. Alas! he always used to like to be with us
girls. The ponies are fresh, and we have almost reached the gate before
I speak, with a difficult hesitation.
"Algy," say I, "did you happen to notice that--that _bracelet?_"
He does not answer. He is looking the other way, and turns only the back
of his head toward me.
"It was from Hunt and Roskell," I say.
"It must have--must have--_come to_ a good deal," I go on, timidly.
He has turned his face to me now. I cannot complain, but indeed, as it
now is, I prefer the back of his head, so white and headstrong does he
"I wish to God," he says, in a voice of low anger, "that you would be so
obliging as to mind your own business, and allow me to mind mine!"
"But it _is_ mine!" I cry, passionately; "what right has she to be
sitting all day with young men on stools at her feet?--she, a married
woman, with her husband--"
"This comes extremely well from _you_," he says, in a voice of
concentrated anger, with a bitterly-sneering tone; "_how is Musgrave?_"
Before I can answer, he has jumped out, and is half-way back to the
house. But indeed I am dumb. Is it possible that _he_ makes such a
mistake?--that he does not see the difference?
For the next half-mile, I see neither ponies, nor misty hedges, nor
wintry high-road, for tears. I _used_ to get on so well with the boys!
I return home, I find that Barbara is still no better. She is still
lying in her darkened room, and has asked not to be disturbed. And even
my wrongs are not such as to justify my forcing myself upon the painful
privacy of a sick-headache. How much the better am I then than I was
before my late expedition? I have brought home my old grievance quite
whole and unlightened by communication, and I have got a new and fresh
one in addition, with absolutely no one to whom to impart it; for, even
when Frank comes, I will certainly not tell _him_. I am too restless to
remain in-doors over the fire, though thoroughly chilled by my late
drive, and resolve to try and restore my circulation by a brisk walk in
The afternoon is still young, and the day is mending. A wind has risen,
and has pulled aside the steel-colored cloud-curtain, and let heaven's
eyes--blue, though faint and watery--look through. And there comes
another strong puff of autumnal wind, and lo! the sun, and the leaves
float down in a sudden shower of amber in his light. I march along
quickly and gravely through the long drooped grass--no longer sweet and
fresh and upright, in its green summer coat--through the frost-seared
pomp of the bronze bracken, till I reach a little knoll, whose head is
crowned by twelve great brother beeches. From time immemorial they have
been called the Twelve Apostles, and under one apostle I now stand, with
my back against his smooth and stalwart trunk.
How _beaming_ is death to them! Into what a glorious crimson they
decline! My eyes travel from one tree-group to another, and idly
consider the many-colored majesty of their decay. Over all the landscape
there is a look of plaintive uncontent. The distant town, with its two
church-spires, is choked and effaced in mist: the very sun is sickly and
irresolute. All Nature seems to say, "Have pity upon me--I die!"
It is not often that our mother is in sympathy with her children. Mostly
when we cry she broadly laughs; when we laugh and are merry she weeps;
but to-day my mood and hers match: The tears are as near my eyes as
hers--as near hers as mine.
"See the leaves around us falling!"
say I, aloud, stretching out my right arm in dismal recitation. We had
the hymn last Sunday, which is what has put it into my head:
"See the leaves around us falling,
Dry and withered to the ground--'"
Another voice breaks in:
"Thus to thoughtless mortals calling--.'"
"How you made me jump!" cry I, descending with an irritated leap to
prose, and at least making the leaves say something entirely different
from what they had ever been known to say before.
"Why did not you bring your sentinel, Vick?"
He--it is Musgrave, of course--has joined me, and is leaning his flat
back also against the apostle, and, like me, is looking at the mist, at
the red and yellow leaves--at the whole low-spirited panorama.
"She is ill," say I, lamentably, drawing a portrait in lamp-black and
Indian-ink of the whole family; "we are _all_ ill--Barbara is ill!"
"She has got a headache."
"And I have got a heartache," say I, more for the sake of preserving the
harmony of my sketch, and for making a pendant to Barbara, than because
the phrase accurately describes my state.
"_Poor me, indeed_!" cry I, with emphasis, and to this day I cannot make
up my mind whether the ejaculation were good grammar or no.
"I have had _such_ bad news," I continue, feeling, as usual, a sensible
relief from the communication of my grief. "Roger is not coming back!"
"_Not at all?_"
The words are the same as those employed by Mrs. Huntley; but there is
much more alacrity and liveliness in the tone.
"_Not at all!_" repeat I, scornfully, looking impatiently at him; "that
is so likely, is not it?"--then "No not _at all_"--I continue,
ironically, "he has run off with some one else--some one _black_!" (with
a timely reminiscence of Bobby's happy flight of imagination).
"Not till _when_, then?"
"Not till after Christmas," reply I, sighing loudly, "which is almost as
bad as not at all."
"I knew _that_!" he says, rather petulantly; "you told me _that_
"_I told you that before?_" cry I, opening my eyes, and raising my
voice; "why, how could I? I only heard it myself this morning!"
"It was not you, then," he says, composedly; "it must have been some one
"It _could_ have been no one else," retort I, hastily. "I have told no
one--no one at least from whom _you_ could have heard it."
"All the same, I _did_ hear it" (with a quiet persistence); "now, who
could it have been?" throwing back his head, elevating his chin, and
lifting his eyes in meditation to the great depths of burning red in the
beech's heart, above him--"ah!"--(overtaking the recollection)--"I
"Who?" say I, eagerly, "not that it _could_ have been any one."
"It was Mrs. Huntley!" he answers, with an air of matter-of-fact
I laugh with insulting triumph. "Well, that _is_ a bad hit! What a pity
that you did not fix upon some one else! I have once or twice suspected
you of drawing the long bow--_now_ I am sure of it! As it happens, I
have just come from Mrs. Huntley, and she knew no more about it than the
I am looking him full in the face, but, to my surprise, I cannot detect
the expression of confusion and defeat which I anticipate. There is only
the old white-anger look that I have such a happy knack of calling up on
"I _am_ a consummate liar!" he says, quietly, though his eyes flash.
"Every one knows _that_; but, all the same, she _did_ tell me."
"I do not believe a word of it!" cry I, in a fury.
He makes no answer, but, lifting his hat, begins to walk quickly away.
For a hundred yards I allow him to go unrecalled; then, as I note his
quickly-diminishing figure and the heavy mists beginning to fold him, my
resolution fails me; I take to my heels and scamper after him.
"Stop!" say I, panting as I come up with him, "I dare say--perhaps--you
_thought_ you were speaking truth!--there must, must be some _mistake!_"
He does not answer, but still walks quickly on.
"Tell me!" cry I, posting on alongside of him, breathless and
distressed--"when was it? where did you hear it? how long ago?"
"I never heard it?"
"Yes, you did," cry I, passionately, asseverating what I have so lately
and passionately denied. "You know you did; but when was it? how was it?
where was it?"
"It was _nowhere_," he answers with a cold, angry smile. "I was _drawing
the long bow_!'"
I stop in baffled rage and misery. I stand stock-still, with the long,
dying grass wetly and limply clasping my ankles. To my surprise he stops
"I wish you were _dead_!" I say tersely, and it is not a figure of
speech. For the moment I do honestly wish it.
"Do you?" he answers, throwing me back a look of hardly inferior
animosity; "I dare say I do not much mind." A little pause, during which
we eye each other, like two fighting-cocks. "Even if I _were_ dead," he
says, in a low voice--"mind, I do not blame you for wishing it--
sometimes I wish it myself--but even if I _were_, I do not see how that
would hinder Sir Roger and Mrs. Huntley from corresponding."
"They _do not_ correspond," cry I, violently; "it is a falsehood!" Then,
with a quick change of thought and tone: "But if they do, I--I--do not
mind! I--I--am very glad--if Roger likes it! There is no harm in it."
"Not the slightest."
"Do you _always_ stay at home?" cry I, in a fury, goaded out of all
politeness and reserve by the surface false acquiescence of his tone;
"do you _never_ go away? I _wish_ you would! I wish"--(speaking between
laughing and crying)--"that you could take your abbey up on your back,
as a snail does its shell, and march off with it into another county."
"But unfortunately I cannot."
"What have I done to you?" I cry, falling from anger to reproach, "that
you take such delight in hurting me? You can be pleasant enough to--to
other people. I never hear you hinting and sneering away any one else's
peace of mind; but as for me, I never--_never_ am alone with you that
you do not leave me with a pain--a tedious long ache _here_"--
(passionately clasping my hands upon my heart).
"Do not I?"--(Then half turning away in a lowered voice)--"_nor you
"_I_" repeat I, positively laughing in my scorn of this accusation. "_I_
hint! _I_ imply! why, I _could_ not do it, if I were to be shot for it!
it is not _in_ me!"
He does not immediately answer; still, he is looking aside, and his
"Ask mother, ask the boys, ask Barbara," cry I, in great excitement,
"whether I ever _could_ wrap up any thing neatly, if I wished it ever so
much? Always, _always_, I have to blurt it out! _I_ hint!"
"Hint! no!" he repeats, in a tone of vexed bitterness. "Well, no! no one
could accuse you of _hinting_! Yours is honest, open cut and thrust!"
"If it is," retort I, bluntly, still speaking with a good deal of heat,
"it is your own fault! I have no wish to quarrel, being such near
neighbors, and--and--altogether--of course I had rather be on good terms
than bad ones! When you _let_ me--when you leave me alone--I _almost_--
sometimes I _quite_ like you. I am speaking seriously! I _do_"
"You do not say so?" again turning his head aside, and speaking with the
objectionable intonation of irony.
"At home," pursue I, still chafing under the insult to my amiability, "I
never was reckoned quarrelsome--_never!_ Of course I was not like
Barbara--there are not many like her--but I did very well. Ask _any one_
of them--it does not matter which--they will all tell you the same--
whether I did not!"
"You were a household angel, in fact?"
"I was nothing of the kind," cry I, very angry, and yet laughing: the
laughter caused by the antagonism of the epithet with the many
recollected blows and honest sounding cuffs that I have, on and off,
exchanged with Bobby.
The sun has quite gone now: sulky and feeble, he has shrunk to his cold
bed in the west, and the victor-mist creeps, crawls, and soaks on
"Good-night!" cry I, suddenly. "I am going!" and I am as good as my
With the triple agility of health, youth, and indignation, I scurry away
through the melancholy grass, and the heaped and fallen leaves, home.
Ding-dong bell! The Christmas bells are ringing. Christmas has come--
Christmas as it appears on a Christmas card, white and hard, and beset
with puffed-out, ruffled robins. Only Nature is wise enough not to
express the ironical wish that we may have a "merry one." For myself, I
have but small opinion of Christmas as a time of jollity. Solemn--
_blessed_, if you will--but no, not jovial. At no time do the dead so
clamor to be remembered. Even those that went a long time ago, the
regret for whose departure has settled down to a tender, almost pleasant
pain; whom at other times we go nigh to forget; even they cry out loud,
"Think of us!"
When all the family is gathered, when the fire burns quick and clear,
and the church-bells ring out grave and sweet, neither will _they_ be
left out. But, on the other hand, to one who has paid his bills, and in
whose family Death's cannon have as yet made no breaches, I do not see
why it may not be a season of moderate, placid content.
Festivity! jollity! _never!_ I have paid my bills, and there are no gaps
among my people. Sometimes I tremble when I think how many we are; one
of us must go soon. But, as yet, when I count us over, none lacks.
Father, mother, Algy, Bobby, the Brat, Tou Tou. Slightly as I have
spoken of them to myself, and conscientiously as I have promised myself
to derive no pleasure from their society, and even to treat them with
distant coolness, if they are, any of them, and Bobby especially--it is
he that I most mistrust--more joyfully disposed than I think fitting,
yet my heart has been growing ever warmer and warmer at the thought of
them, as Christmas-time draws nigh; and now, as I kiss their firm, cold,
healthy cheeks--(I declare that Bobby's cheeks are as hard as marbles),
I know how I have lied to myself.
Father is not in quite so good a humor as I could have wished, his man
having lost his hat-box _en route_, and consequently his nose is rather
more aquiline than I think desirable.
"Do not be alarmed!" says Bobby, in a patronizing aside, introducing me,
as if I were a stranger, to father's peculiarities; "a little infirmity
of temper, but the _heart_ is in the right place."
"Bobby," say I, anxiously, in a whisper, "has he--has he brought the
Bobby shakes his head.
"I _knew_ he would not," cry I, rather crestfallen. Then, with sudden
exasperation: "I wish I had not given it to him; he always _hated_ it. I
wish I had given it to Roger instead."
"Never you mind!" cries Bobby, while his round eyes twinkle
mischievously; "I dare say he has got one by now, a nice one, all beads
and wampums, that the old Begum has made him."
I laugh, but I also sigh. What a long time it seems since I was jealous
of Bobby's Begum! We are a little behind father, whispering with our
heads together, while he, in his raspingest voice, is giving his
delinquent a month's warning. That tone! it still makes me feel sneaky.
"Bobby," say I, putting my arm through his substantial one, and speaking
in a low tone of misgiving, "how is he? how has he been?"
"We have been a little fractious," replies Bobby, leniently--"a little
disposed to quarrel With our bread-and-butter; but, as you may remember,
my dear, from _your_ experience of our humble roof, Christmas never was
our happiest time."
"No, never," reply I, pensively.
The storm is rising: at least father's voice is. It appears that the
valet is not only to go, but to go without a character.
"Never you mind," repeats Bobby, reassuringly, seeing me blench a little
at these disused amenities, pressing the hand that rests on his arm
against his stout side; "it is nothing to _you!_ bless your heart, you
are the apple of his eye."
"Am I?" reply I, laughing. "It has newly come to me, if I am."
"And I am his 'good, brave Bobby!'--his 'gallant boy! '--do you know
"Because I am going to Hong-Kong, and he hears that they are keeping two
nice roomy graves open all the time there!"
"You are _not?_" (in a tone of keen anxiety and pain); then, with a
sudden change of tone to a nervous and constrained amenity: "Yes, it
_is_ a nice-sized room, is not it? My only fault with it is, that the
windows are so high up that one cannot see out of them when one is
For father, having demolished his body-servant, and reduced mother to
her usual niche-state, now turns to me, and, in his genialest, happiest
society-manner, compliments me on my big house. That is a whole day
ago. Since then, I have grown used to seeing father's austere face,
unbent into difficult suavity, at the opposite end of the dinner-table
to me, to hearing the well-known old sound of Tou Tou's shrieks of mixed
anguish and delight, as Bobby rushes after her in headlong pursuit, down
the late so silent passages; and to looking complacently from one to
another of the holiday faces round the table, where Barbara and I have
sat, during the last noiseless month, in stillest dialogue or
I _love_ noise. You may think that I have odd taste; but _I love_
Bobby's stentor laugh, and Tou Tou's ear-piercing yells. I even forget
to think whether their mirth passes the appointed bounds I had set it. I
have mislaid my receipt of cold repression. My heart goes out to them.
I have been a little disturbed as to how to dispose of father during the
day, but he mercifully takes that trouble off my hands. Providence has
brought good out of evil, congenial occupation out of the hat-box. He
has spent all the few daylight-hours in telegraphing for it to every
station on the line; in telling several home-truths to the porters at
our own station, which--it being Christmas-time, and they consequently
all more or less tipsy--they have taken with a bland playfulness that he
has found a little trying; and, lastly, in writing a long letter to the
_Times._ And I, meanwhile, being easy in my mind on his score, knowing
that he is happy, am at leisure to be happy myself. In company with my
brother, I have spent all the little day in decorating the church,
making it into a cheerful, green Christmas bower. We always did it at
The dusk has come now--the quick-hurrying, December dusk, and we have
all but finished. We have had to beg for a few candles, in order to put
our finishing touches here and there about the sombre church. They
flame, throwing little jets of light on the glossy laurel-leaves that
make collars round the pillars' stout necks; on the fresh moss-beds,
vividly green, in the windows; on the dull, round holly-berries. In the
glow, the ivy twines in cunning garlands round the rough-sculptured
font, and the oak lectern; and, above God's altar, a great white cross
of hothouse flowers blooms delicately, telling of summer, and matching
the words of old good news beneath it, that brought, as some say,
summer, or, at least, the hope of summer, to the world.
Yes, we have nearly done. The Brat stands on the top of a step-ladder,
dexterously posing the last wintry garland; and all we others are
resting a moment--we and our coadjutors. For we have _two_ coadjutors.
Mr. Musgrave, of course. Now, at this moment, through the gray light,
and across the candles, I can see him leaning against the font, while
Barbara kneels with bent head at his feet, completing the ornamentation
of the pedestal. I always knew that things would come right if we waited
long enough, and _coming_ right they are--_coming_, not _come_, for
still, he has not spoken. I have consulted each and all of my family,
father excepted, as to the average length of time allotted to _unspoken_
courtship, and each has assigned a different period; the _longest_,
however, has been already far exceeded by Frank. Tou Tou, indeed,
adduces a gloomy case of a young man, who spent two years and a half in
dumb longing, and broke a blood-vessel and died at the end of them; but
this is so discouraging an anecdote, that we all poo-poohed it as