Part 7 out of 8
if _you_ are so unforgiving, how do you expect God to forgive you your
I shrug my shoulders with a sort of despairing contempt. God has seemed
to me but dim of late.
"He may forgive them or leave them unforgiven as He sees best; but--_I
will never forgive you!_"
"What!" he cries, his face growing even more ash-white than it was
before, and his voice quivering with a passionate anger; "not for
I shudder. I hate to hear him pronounce her name.
"No," say I, steadily, "not for Barbara's sake!"
"You will have to," he cries violently; "it is nonsense! think of the
close connection, of the _relationship_ that there will be between us!
think of the remarks you will excite! you will defeat your own object!"
"I will excite no remark!" I reply resolutely. "I will be quite civil to
you! I will say 'good-morning' and 'good-evening' to you; if you ask me
a question I will answer it; but--I will _never_ forgive you!"
We are standing, as I before observed, close together, and are so wholly
occupied--voices, eyes, and ears--with each other, that we do not
perceive the approach of two hitherto unseen people who are coming
dawdling and chatting up the conservatory that opens out of the room;
two people that I suppose have been there, unknown to us, all along.
They have come quite close now, and we must needs perceive them.
In a second our eager talk drops into silence, and we look with
involuntary, startled apprehension toward them. They are Roger and Mrs.
Huntley. This is why he acceded with such alacrity to my request. This
is why he was so afraid of being late. He has been helping her to smell
the jasmine, and to look down the datura's great white trumpet-throats.
Even at this agitated moment I have time to think this with a jeering
pain. The next instant all other feelings are swallowed up in breathless
dread as to how they will meet. My fears are groundless. On first
becoming aware, indeed, whose _tete-a-tete_ it is that he has
interrupted, whose low, quick voices they are that have dropped into
such sudden, suspicious silence at his approach--I can see him start
perceptibly, can see his gray eyes dart with lightning quickness from
Musgrave to me, and from me to Musgrave; and in his voice there is to me
an equally perceptible tone of ice-coldness; but to an ordinary observer
it would seem the greeting, neither more nor less warm, exchanged
between two moderately friendly acquaintances meeting after absence.
"How are you, Musgrave? I had no idea that you were in this part of the
"No more had I!" answers Musgrave, with an exaggerated laugh. "No more I
was, until--until _to-day_."
He has not caught the infection of Roger's stately calm. His face has
not recovered a _trace_ of even its usual slight color, and his eyes are
twitching nervously. Mrs. Huntley appears unaware of any thing. Her
artistic eye has been caught by the tight bean-pot, and her fingers are
employed in trying to give a little air of ease and liberty to its
crowded inmates. Then, thank God, the others come in, and dinner is
announced, and the situation is ended.
The old host, still under the influence of his hallucination, is bearing
down like a hawk (with his old bent elbow extended) on Barbara, until
intercepted and redirected by a whispered roar and graphic pantomime on
the part of his nephew. Then, at last, he realizes Roger's bad taste,
and we go in.
As soon as we are seated, I look about me. It is a round table. For my
part, I hate a round table. There is no privacy in it. Everybody seems
eavesdropping on everybody else.
There are only eight of us in all--those I have enumerated, and Algy.
Yes, he is here. Bellona is a goddess who can always spare her sons when
there is any chance of their getting into mischief. Roger has taken Mrs.
Huntley. _That_, poor man, he could hardly help, his only alternative
being his own sister-in-law. Musgrave has taken Barbara. He is still as
white as the table-cloth, and hardly speaks. It is clear that _he_ will
not get up his conversation again, until after the champagne has been
round. Algy has taken no one; and, consequently, a bear is an amiable
and affable beast in comparison of him. I am placed between our host and
his nephew. The latter comes in for a good deal of my conversation, as
most of my remarks have to be taken up and rebellowed by him with a loud
emphasis, that contrasts absurdly with their triviality; and even then
they mostly miscarry, and turn into something totally different.
Talking to the old man is not a dialogue, but a couple of soliloquies,
carried on mostly on different subjects, which in vain try to become the
same, between two interlocutors. Through soup we prospered--that is to
say, we talked of the weather; and though I said several things about it
that surprised me a good deal, yet we both knew that we _were_ talking
of the weather. But since then we have been diverging ever more and more
hopelessly. _He_ is at the shah's visit, and so he imagines am I. I, on
the contrary, am at the Bishop of Winchester's death, and, for the last
five minutes have been trying, with all the force of my lungs, and with
a face rendered scarlet by the double action of heat and of the
consciousness of being the object of respectful attention to the whole
company, to convey to him that, in my opinion, the deceased prelate
ought to have been buried in Westminster Abbey. I have at last
succeeded, at least in so far as to make him understand that I wish
_somebody_ to be buried in Westminster Abbey; but, as he still persists
in thinking it the shah, we are perhaps not much better off than we were
before. I lean back with a sense of despairing defeat, and, behind my
fan, turn to the young man on the other side. He is a jolly-looking
fellow, with an aureole of fiery red hair.
"Would you mind," say I, with panting appeal, "trying to make him
understand that it _is not_ the shah?"
He complies, and, while he is trying to make it clear to his uncle that
he wrongs me in crediting me with any wish to thrust the Persian monarch
among the ashes of the Plantagenets, I take breath, and look round
again. Algy is eating nothing, and is drinking every thing that is
offered to him. His face is not much redder than Musgrave's, and he is
glancing across the table at Mrs. Huntley, with the haggard anger of his
eyes. Of this, however, she seems innocently unaware. She is leaning
back in her chair; so is Roger. They are talking low and quickly, and
looking smilingly at each other. When does his face ever light up into
such alert animation when he is talking to me? There can be no doubt of
it! Why blink a thing because it is unpleasant? I _bore him_.
I have no intention of listening, and yet I hear some of their words--
enough to teach me the drift of their talk. "Residency!" "Cawnpore!"
"Simlah!" "_Cursed_ Simlah!" "_Cursed_ Cawnpore!" My attention is
recalled by the voice of my old neighbor.
"Talking of that--" he says--(talking of _what_, in Heaven's name?)--"I
once knew a man--a doctor, at Norwich--who did not marry till he was
seventy-eight, and had four as fine children as any man need wish to
By the extraordinary irrelevancy of this anecdote, I am so taken aback
that, for a moment, I am unable to utter. Seeing, however, that some
comment is expected from me, I stammer something about its being a great
age. He, however, imagines that I am asking whether they were boys or
"Three boys and a girl, or three girls and a boy!" he answers, with loud
distinctness--"I cannot recollect which; but, after all--" (with an
acrid chuckle)--"that is not the point of the story!"
I sink back in my chair, with a slight shiver.
"Give it up!" says my other neighbor, with a compassionate smile, and
speaking in a voice not a whit lower than usual--"_I_ would!--it really
is no good!"
"Why does not he have a _trumpet_?" ask I, with a slight accent of
irritation, for I have suffered much, and it is hot.
"He had one once," replies my companion, still pityingly regarding the
flushed discomposure of my face; "but people _would_ insist on bawling
so loudly down it, that they nearly broke the drum of his ear, and so
_he_ broke _it_."
I laugh a little, but in a puny way. There is not much laugh in me.
Again I look round the table. Musgrave is better; he is a better color
than he was. Under the influence of Barbara's gentle talk, his features
have reassumed almost serenity. Algy is _no_ better. I see him lean
back, and speak to the servant behind him. He is asking for more
champagne. I wish he would not. He has had quite enough already. Roger
and Mrs. Huntley are much as they were. They are still leaning back in
their chairs--still looking with friendly intimacy into each other's
eyes--still smiling. Again a few words of their talk reach me.
"Do you recollect?"
"Do you remember?"
"Have you forgotten?"
Clearly, they have fallen upon old times. I wish--I dearly wish--that I
might bite a piece out of somebody.
"I saw pale kings, and princes, too;
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all,
They cried, 'La Belle Dame, sans merci,'
Hath thee in thrall."
The long penance of dinner is over at last, thank God! I may intermit my
hopeless roarings, melancholy as those of any caged zoological beast.
Roger and Zephine must also fain suspend their reminiscences. There
being no lady of the house, I have taken upon myself to hasten the date
of our departure. Before Mrs. Zephine has finished her last grape, I
have swept her incontinently away into the drawing-room. But I might as
well have let it alone: almost before you could say "Knife" they are
after us. I suppose that when three are eager to come, and only two
anxious to stay--(I acquit my old friend and his nephew of any
over-hurry to rejoin us)--the three must needs get their way. Anyhow,
here they all five are! I am so hot! so hot! Nothing heats one like
bellowing and being miserable and a failure. I have again taken
advantage of the mistressless condition of the establishment, have drawn
back the window-curtains, and lifted the heavy sash. The night always
soothes me. There is something so stilling in the far placidity of the
high stars--in the sweet sharpness of the night winds. I have sat down
on a couch in the embrasure, alone.
When the men come in, I remain alone. It does not at all surprise or
much vex me. I have nothing pleasant to say to any one. Also, I think I
must be almost hidden by the droop of the curtains. Roger, indeed, sent
his eyes round the room on his first entry, as if searching for
something or somebody. It cannot be Mrs. Huntley, who is right under his
nose, and who is, indeed, saying something playful to him over the top
of her black fan. For once, he does not hear her. He is still looking.
Then he catches a glimpse of my skirts, and comes straight toward me.
Thank God! it _was_ me he was looking for. I feel a little throb of
disused gladness, as I realize this.
"Are not you cold?" he says, perceiving the open window.
"Not I!" reply I, brusquely--"naught never comes to harm."
"I wish you would have a shawl!" he says, as the evening wind comes,
with the tartness of autumn, to his face.
"Why do not you say, '_do, for my sake_!' as Algy once said to me, when
he mistook me in the dark for Mrs. Huntley?" reply I, with a mocking
laugh--"I am not sure that he did not add _darling_, but I will excuse
At the mention of Algy, a shade crosses his face, and his eye travels to
where, in the dignified solitude of a corner, my eldest brother is
sitting, biting his lips, and reading "Alice Through the Looking-glass,"
"Foolish fellow! I wish he had not come!"
"I dare say he returns the compliment."
"I wish she would leave him alone!" he says, with an accent of
impatience, more to himself than to me.
"That is so likely," say I, quickly, "so much her way, is not it?"
I suppose that something in the exceeding bitterness of my tone strikes
him, for his eyes return from Algy to me.
"Nancy," he says, speaking with a sort of hesitating impulse, while a
dark flush crosses his face, "it has occurred to me once or twice--if
the idea had been less unspeakably absurd, it would have occurred to me
many times--that you are--are _jealous_ of Zephine and me!--YOU jealous
There is such a depth of emphasis in his last words--such a wealth of
reproachful appeal in the eyes that are bent on me--that I can answer
nothing. I say neither yea nor nay. He has sat down on the couch beside
"Tell me," he says, with low, quick excitement--"and for God's sake do
not grow scarlet, and turn your head aside as you mostly have done--did
you, or did you not know that--that _Musgrave_ was to be here to-day?"
"I _did not--indeed_ I _did not!_" I cry, with passionate eagerness;
thankful for once to be able to tell the truth; "we none of us did--not
He repeats my last words with a slightly sarcastic inflection, "_not
A moment's pause.
"Why did you stop talking so suddenly, the moment that we interrupted
you?" he asks, with an abruptness that is almost harsh--"what were you
Phew! how hot it is! even though one is by the open window!--even
despite the cool moistness of the night wind.
"I was--I was--I was--congratulating him!" I say, doing the very thing
he has forbidden me, reddening and turning half away. He makes no
rejoinder; only I hear him sigh, and put his hand with a quick,
impatient movement to his head.
"You believe me?" I ask, timidly, laying my hand on his arm.
"No, _I do not_!" he replies, shaking off my touch, and turning his
stern and glittering eyes full upon me, "I should be a _fool_ and an
_idiot_ if I did!"
Then he rises hastily and leaves me. I watch him as he joins the other
men. They are _all_ round her now--all but Musgrave.
Algy has left his corner and his reversed picture-book, moved thereto by
the unparalleled audacity of young Parker, who has pulled one of the
sofa-cushions down on the floor, and is squatting on it, like a great
toad at her feet, examining a gnat-bite on her sacred arm.
Even the old host is doing the agreeable according to his lights. In a
very loud voice he is narrating a long anecdote about a pretty girl that
he once saw at a windmill near Seville, during the Peninsular. With a
most unholy chuckle he is trying to hint that there was more between him
and the young lady than it well beseems him to tell; but fortunately no
one, but I, is listening to him.
I turn away my head, and look out of the window up at Charles's Wain,
and all my other bright old friends. No one is heeding me--no one sees
me; so I drop my hot cheek on the sill.
Suddenly I start up. Some one is approaching me: some one has thrown
himself with careless freedom on the couch beside me. It is Algy.
Having utterly failed in dislodging Mr. Parker from his cushion--having
had a suggestion on his part, on the treatment of the gnat-bite, passed
over in silent contempt--he has retired from the circle in dudgeon.
"This is lively, is not it?" he says, in an aggressively loud voice, as
if he were quarrelsomely anxious to be overheard.
I say "Hush!" apprehensively
"As no one makes the slightest attempt to entertain _us_, we must
entertain each other, I suppose!"
"Yes, dear old boy!" I say, affectionately, "why not?--it would not be
the first time by many."
"That does not make it any the more amusing!" he says, harshly.--"I say,
Nancy"--his eyes fixing themselves with sullen greediness on the central
figure of the group he has left--on the slight round arm (after all, not
half so round or so white as Barbara's or mine)--which is still under
treatment, "_is_ eau de cologne good for those sort of bites?--her arm
_is_ bad, you know!"
"_Bad!_" echo I, scornfully; "_bad!_ why, I am _all_ lumps, more or
less, and so is Barbara! who minds _us_!"
"You ought to make your old man--'_auld Robin Gray_'--mind you," he
says, with a disagreeable laugh. "It is _his_ business, but he does not
seem to see it, does he? ha! ha!"
"I _wish_!" cry I, passionately; then I stop myself. After all, he is
hardly himself to-night, poor Algy!
"By-the-by," he says, presently, with a wretchedly assumed air of
carelessness, "is it true--it is as well to come to the fountain-head at
once--is it true that _once_, some time in the dark ages, he--he--
thought fit to engage himself to, to _her_?" (with a fierce accent on
the last word).
A pain runs through my heart. Well, that is nothing new nowadays. He too
has heard it, then.
"I do not know!" I answer, faintly.
"What! he has not told you? _Kept it dark!_ eh?" (with the same hateful
"He has kept nothing dark!" I answer, indignantly. "One day he began to
tell me something, and I stopped him! I would not hear; I did not want
to hear, I believe; I am sure that they are--only--only--old friends."
"_Old friends!_" he echoes, with a smile, in comparison of which our
host's satyr-leer seems pleasant and chaste. "_Old friends!_ you call
yourself a woman of the world" (indeed I call myself nothing of the
kind), "you call yourself a woman of the world, and believe _that_! They
looked like _old friends_ at dinner to-day, did not they? A little less
than kin, and more than kind! Ha! ha!"
Partridges are not General Parker's strong point, and the few he ever
had his nephew has already shot. Roger must, therefore, for one day
abstain from the turnip-ridges. To amuse us, however, and keep us all
sociably together, and bridge the yawning gulf between breakfast and
dinner, we are to be sent on an expedition. Not only an expedition, but
a picnic. This is perhaps a little risky in such a climate as ours, and
in a month so doubtfully hovering on the borders of winter as September;
but the sun is shining, and we therefore make up our minds, contrary to
all precedent, that he must necessarily go on shining.
Some ten miles away there is a spot whence one can see seven counties,
not to speak of the sea, a mountain or two, and some other trifles; and
thither Mr. Parker is kindly going to bowl us down on his coach.
A drive on a coach is always to me a most doubtful joy; the ascent,
labor; the drive itself, long anxiety and peril; the descent, agony, and
sometimes shame. However, that is neither here nor there. I am going. It
is still half an hour till the time appointed for our departure, and I
am sitting alone in my room when Roger enters.
"Nancy," he says, coming quickly toward me, "have you any idea what sort
of a whip that boy is?"
"Not the slightest!" reply I, shortly.
I feel as hard as a flint to-day. Algy's words last night seem to have
confirmed and given a solider reality to my worst fears. He has walked
to the window and is looking out.
"Are you _nervous?_" say I, with a slightly sarcastic smile.
He does not appear to notice the sarcasm.
"Yes," he says, "that is just what I am. He is a mad sort of fellow, and
a coach is not a thing to play tricks with!"
"No," say I, indifferently. It seems to me of infinitely little
consequence whether we are upset or not.
"That is what I came to speak to you about!" he says, still looking out
of the window.
"Is nervous, too?" ask I, smiling disagreeably. "What a curious
"I do not know whether she is nervous or not!" he answers, quickly; "I
never asked her, but it seems that Huntley never would let her go on a
drag; he had seen some bad accident, and it had given him a fright--"
"And so you and she are going to stay at home?" say I, coldly, but
breathing a little heavily, and whitening.
"Stay at home!" he echoes, impatiently, "of course not; why should we?
The fact is" (beginning to speak quickly in clear and eager explanation)
"that I heard them talking of this plan yesterday, and so I thought I
would be on the safe side, and send over to Tempest for the
pony-carriage, and it is here now, and--"
"And you are going to drive her in it?" I say, still speaking quietly,
and smiling. "I see! nothing could be nicer!"
"I wish to Heaven that you would not take the words out of my mouth," he
cries, losing his temper a little; while his brows contract into a
slight and most unwonted frown. "What I wish to know is, will _you_
"Yes, _you_; I know--" (speaking with a sort of hurried deprecation) "I
know that you are not fond of her; she is not a woman that other women
are apt to get on with; but it would not be for long! I tell you
candidly" (with a look of sincere anxiety) "I do not half like trusting
you to Parker!--I think you are as likely as not to come to grief."
"To come to grief!" repeat I, with a harsh, dry laugh; "ha! ha! perhaps
I have done that already!"
"But will you?" he asks, eagerly; not heeding my sorry mirth, and taking
my hand. "I would drive you myself, if I could, and if--" (almost
humbly) "if it would not bore you; but you see--" (rather slowly) "about
the carriage, she--she _asked_ me, and one does not like to say 'No' to
such an old friend!"
_Old friend!_ At the phrase, Algy's sneering white face rises before my
"Will you?" he repeats, looking pleadingly at me, with the gray darkness
of his eyes.
"No, I will not!" I reply, resolutely, and still with that unmirthful
mirth; "what ever else I may be, I will not be a _spoil-sport!_"
"A _spoil-sport!_" he echoes, passionately, while his face darkens, and
hardens with impatient anger; "good God! will you _never_ understand?"
Then he hastily leaves the room. And so it comes to pass that, half an
hour later, I am crawling up with a sick heart to the box-seat,
piteously calling on all around me to hold down my garments during my
ascent. The grooms have let go the horses' heads, and have climbed up in
dapper lightness at the back: we are through the first gate! Bah! that
was a near shave of the post; yes, we are off, off for a long day's
pleasuring! The very thought is enough to put any one in low spirits, is
Barbara and Musgrave are behind us; and at the back, our old host and
Algy. The two latter are, I think, specially likely to enjoy themselves;
as the raw morning air has got down the old gentleman's throat, and he
is coughing like a wheezy old squirrel; and Algy is in a dumb frenzy. I
am no great judge of coachmanship, but we have not gone a quarter of a
mile, before it is borne in on my mind that Mr. Parker has about as much
idea of driving as a tomcat. The team do what is good in their eyes; we
must throw ourselves on their clemency and discretion, for clearly our
only hope is in them. He has not an idea of keeping them together; they
are all over the place; the wheelers' reins are all loose on their
backs. We seem to have an irresistible tendency toward bordering to the
right which keeps us hovering over the ditch. However, fortunately, the
road is very broad--one of the old coach-roads--and the vehicles we meet
are few and anxious to get out of our way. Such as they are, I will do
ourselves the justice to say that we try our best to run down each and
all of them.
It is September, as I have before said. The leaves are still all green,
only a stray bramble reddening here and there; but most of the midsummer
hedge-row peoples are gathered to their rest. Only a lagging few, the
slight-throated blue-bell, the uncouth ragwort, the little, tight
scabious, remain. At least, the berries are here, however. While each
red hip shows where a faint rose blossomed and fell; while the elder
holds stoutly aloft her flat, black clusters; while the briony clasps
the hawthorn-hedge, we cannot complain. Not only the _main_ things of
Nature, but all her odds and ends, are so exceedingly fair and daintily
It is one of those days that look charming, when seen through the
window; bright and sunny, with lights that fly, and shadows that pursue;
but it is a very different matter when one comes to _feel_ it. There is
a bleak, keen wind, that sends the clouds racing through the heavens,
and that blows right in our teeth; nearly strangling me by the violence
with which it takes held of my head.
There has been no rain for a week or two, and it is a chalky country.
The dust is waltzing in white whirlwinds along the road. High up as we
are, it reaches us, and thrusts its fine and choking powder up our
"I suppose," say I, doubtfully, looking up at the shifting uncertainty
of the heavens, and trying to speak in a sprightly tone, a feat which I
find rather hard of accomplishment, with such a blast cutting my eyes,
and making me _gasp_--"I suppose that it will not rain!"
"_Rain!_ not it!" replies our coachman, with contemptuous cheerfulness.
"The glass was going down!" I say, humbly, "and I think I felt a drop
"_Impossible!_ it _could_ not rain with this wind."
He says this with such a jovial and robust certainty of scorn, that I am
half inclined to distrust the sky's evidence--to disbelieve even in the
big drop that so indisputably splashed into my eye just now. "But in
case it _does_ rain," continue I, pertinaciously, "I suppose that there
is a house near, or some place where we can take refuge?"
"No, there is no house nearer than a couple of miles"--making the
statement with the easiest composure--"but it will not rain."
"Perhaps"--say I, with a sinking heart--"there is a wood--trees?"
"Well, no, there is not much in the way of trees--except Scotch firs--
there are plenty of them--it is a bare sort of place--that is the beauty
of it, you know"--(with a tone of confident pride)--"there is a
monstrously fine view from it!--one can see _seven_ counties!"
"Yes," say I, faintly, "so I have heard!"
At this point, the old gentleman is understood to be bawling something
from the back. By the utter morosity of Algy's face--faintly seen in the
distance--I conjecture that it is a joke; and, by the chuckling agony of
zest with which the old man is delivered of it, I further conclude that
it is something slightly unclean, but, thanks to the wind, none of us
overtake a word of it. The wind's spirits are rising. Its play is
becoming ever more and more boisterous. It would be difficult to imagine
any thing disagreeabler than it is making itself; but perhaps it _will_
keep off the rain. Thinking this, I try to bear its blows and buffets--
its slaps on the face--its boxes on the ear--with greater patience, We
have left the broad and safe high-road; Mr. Parker having, in an evil
moment, bethought himself of a short-cut. We are, therefore, entangled
in a labyrinth of cross-roads--finger-postless, guideless, solitary.
_So_ solitary, indeed, that we meet only one vacant boy of tender years,
of whom, when we inquire the way, the wind absolutely refuses to allow
us to hear a word of the broad Doric of his answer. At last--after many
bold and stout declarations on the part of Mr. Parker, that he _will
not_ be beaten--that he knows the way as well as he does his ABC--and
that he will find it if he stays till midnight--he is compelled, by the
joint and miserable clamor of us all, to turn back--(a frightful
process, as the road is narrow, and the coach will not lock)--to retrace
our steps, and take up again the despised high-road, where we had left
it. These manoeuvres have naturally taken some time. It is three o'clock
in the afternoon before we at length reach the great spread of desolate,
broad, moorland, which is our destination. For more than an hour,
absolute silence has fallen upon us. Like poor Yorick, we are "quite,
quite chapfallen!" Even the gallant old gentleman could not make a dirty
jest if he were to be shot for it. Mr. Parker alone maintains his
exasperating good spirits. We find Roger and Mrs. Huntley sitting on the
heather waiting for us. There is a good deal of relief--as it seems to
me--in the former's eye, as he sees us appear on the scene; and a good
deal of another expression, as he watches the masterly manner in which
we pull up: all the four horses floundering together on their haunches;
the leaders, moreover, exhibiting a mysterious desire to turn round and
look in the wheelers' faces.
"Here we are!" cries Mr. Parker, joyously; "I have brought you along
capitally, have not I?--but I am afraid we are a little late--eh, Mrs.
Huntley? I hope we have not kept you long."
"_Is_ it late?" she replies, with a smile and a fine hypocrisy--for she
_looks_ hungry--"I did not know; we have been quite happy!"
Roger has risen, and is coming to help me down, but I say, crossly, "Do
not, please; Algy manages best!" Algy, however, has no intention of
helping anybody down. He has helped _himself_ down; and, without a word
or a look to any of his fellow-travellers, has thrown himself down on
the heather at Mrs. Huntley's feet, and is relieving his mind by audible
animadversions on our late triumphal progress. I am therefore left to
the tender mercies of the grooms; at least, I should have been, if Mr.
Musgrave had not taken pity on me, and guided my uncertain feet and the
petticoats, which Zephyr is doing his playful best to turn over my head,
down the steep declivity of the ladder. This, as you may guess, does not
help to restore my equanimity. However, I am down now, on firm ground;
and, at least, we are rid of the dust. My eyes are still full of grit,
but I suppose they will get over that. I turn them disconsolately about.
On a fine sunny day--with butterflies hovering over the heather-flowers,
and bees sucking honey from the gorse--with little mild airs playing
about, and a torquoise sky shining overhead--it might be a spot on which
to lie and dream dreams of paradise; but _now_! The sun has finally
retired, and hid his sulky face for the day; the heather is over; and,
though the gorse is not, yet it gives no fragrance to the raw air. All
over the great rolling expanse there is a heavy, leaden look, caught
from the angry heavens above. The great clouds are gathering themselves
together to battle; and the mighty wind, with nothing to check its
progress, is sweeping over the great plain, and singing with eerie, loud
"Where are the Scotch firs?" (I say, querulously, to Mr. Parker, who by
this time had joined me); "you said there were plenty of them! where are
"_Where?_" (looking cheerfully round), "oh, _there_!" (pointing to where
one lightning-riven little wreck bends its sickly head to the gale).
"Ah! I see there is only _one_, after all. I thought that there had been
My heart sinks. Is that one withered, scathed little stick to be our
sole protection against the storm, so evidently quickly coming up?
"Fine view, is not it?" pursues my companion, not in the least
perceiving my depression, and complacently surveying the prospect. "Of
course it might have been clearer, but, after all, you get a very good
idea of it."
I turn my faint eyes in the same direction as his. Down on the horizon
the sullen rain-clouds are settling, and, to meet them, there stretches
a dead, colorless flat, dotted with little round trees, little
church-spires, little houses, little fields, little hedges--one of those
mappy views, that lack even the beauties of a map--the nice pink and
green and blue lines which so gayly define the boundaries of each
"Very extensive, is not it?" he says, proudly; "you know you can see--"
"Seven counties!" interrupt I, sharply, snapping the words out of his
mouth. "Yes, I know; you told me."
The horses have been led away to the distant ale-house. The coach stands
forlorn and solitary on the moor. Some of us, looking at the threatening
aspect of the weather, have suggested that _we_ too should make for
shelter; but this suggestion is indignantly vetoed by Mr. Parker.
"_Rain!_ not a bit of it! It is not _thinking_ of raining! The wind!
what is the matter with the wind? Nice and fresh! Much better than one
of those muggy days, when you can hardly breathe!"
The cloth is therefore laid, with the dead heather-flowers beneath it,
and the low leaden sky above. As large stones as can be found have to be
sought on the moorland road to weight it, and hinder our banquet from
flying bodily away. It is at last spread--cold lamb, cold partridges,
chickens, _mayonnaise_, cakes, pastry--they have just been arranged in
their defenceless nakedness under the eye of heaven, when the rain
begins. And, when it begins, it begins to some purpose. It deceives us
with no false hopes--with no breakings in the serried clouds--with no
flying glimpses of blue sky. Down it comes, straight,_straight_ down, on
the lamb, on the _mayonnaise_, splash into the bitter. Each of us seizes
the viand dearest to his or her heart, and tries to shelter it beneath
his or her umbrella. But in vain! The great slant storm reaches it under
the puny defense. Even Mr. Parker has to change the _form_ of his
consolation, though not the spirit. He can no longer deny that it is
raining; but what he now says is that it will not last--that it is only
a shower--that he is very glad to see it come down so hard at first, as
it is all the more certain to be soon over.
Nobody has the heart to contradict him, though everybody knows that it
is a lie. Mrs. Huntley, at the first drop, has made for the coach, and
now sits in it, serene and dry. Algy follows her, with a chicken and a
champagne bottle. I sit doggedly still, where I am, on the cold moor.
Roger has not spoken to me since my rude reception of him on arriving,
but he now comes up to me.
"Had not you better follow her example?" he asks, speaking rather
formally, and looking toward the coach, where, with, smiling profile and
neat hair, my rival is sitting, reveling among the flesh-pots.
Something in the sight of her sleek, smooth tidiness, joined to the
consciousness of my own miserable, blowsed disorder, stings me more even
than the rain-drops are doing.
"Not I," I answer, brusquely; "that is what I trust I shall never
He passes by my sneer without notice.
"In this rain you will be drenched in two minutes."
"_Apres_!" repeats, impatiently, "_apres_? you will catch your death of
"And you will be a widower!" reply I, with a bitter smile.
Barbara is as obstinate as I am. She, too, seems to prefer the spite of
the elements to disturbing the _tete-a-tete_ in the coach. Musgrave has
made her as comfortable as he can, with her back against the poor little
Scotch fir, and a plaid over both their heads.
The feast proceeds in solemn silence. Even if we had the heart to talk,
the difficulty of making ourselves heard would quite check the
There are little puddles in all our plates--the bread and cakes are
_pap_--lamb is damp and flabby, and the _mayonnaise_ is reduced to a
sort of watery whey.
Mr. Parker is the only one who, under these circumstances, makes any
attempt to pretend that we are enjoying ourselves.
"This is not so bad, after all," he says, still with that same
unconquerable accent of joviality. He has to say it three times, and to
put up his hands to his mouth like a speaking-trumpet, before any one
hears him. When they do, "answer comes there none!"
I, indeed, am not in a position for conversation at the exact moment
that the demand is made upon me. I have just come to the end of a long
wrestle with my umbrella. It has at last got its wicked will, and has
turned right inside out! All its whalebones are aspiring heavenward. It
is transformed into a melancholy _cup_--like a great ugly flower, on a
bare stalk. I lay the remains calmly down beside me, and affront the
blast and the tempest alone! I have a brown hat on--at least it _was_
brown when we set off--I am just wondering, therefore, with a sort of
stupid curiosity, why the _rill_ that so plenteously distills from its
brim, and so madly races down my cold nose, should be _sky blue_, when I
perceive that Barbara has left her shelter, and her lover, and is
standing beside me.
"Poor Nancy!" she says, with a softly compassionate laugh, "how wet you
are! come under the plaid with me! you have no notion how warm it keeps
one; and the tree, though it does not _look_ much, saves one a bit, too
--and Frank does not mind being wet--come quick!"
I am too wretched to object. No water-proof could stand the deluge to
which mine has been subjected. My shoulder-blades feel moist and
_sticky_: my hair is in little dismal ropes, and dreadful runlets are
coursing down my throat, and under my clothes.
Without any remonstrance, I snuggle under the plaid with Barbara--with a
little of the feeling of soothing and dependence with which, long ago,
in the dear old dead days at home, I used, when I was a naughty child,
or a bruised child--and I was very often both--to creep to her for
Thanks to the wind, and to our proximity, we are able to talk without a
fear of being overheard.
"You are wrong!" Barbara says, glancing first toward the coach, and then
turning the serene and limpid gravity of her blue eyes on me; "you are
making a mistake!"
I do not affect to understand her.
"_Am I_?" I say, indignantly; "I am doing nothing of the kind! it is not
only my own idea!--ask Algy!"
"_Algy_!" (with a little accent of scorn), "poor Algy!--he is in such a
fit state for judging, is not he?"
We both involuntarily look toward him.
It is _his_ turn now, and his morosity is exchanged for an equally
uncomfortable hilarity. His cheeks are flushed; he is laughing loudly,
and going in heavily for the champagne. The next moment he is scowling
discourteously at his old host, who, with his poor old chuckle entirely
drowned, and overcome by an endless sort of choking monotony of cough,
is clambering on tottery old legs into the coach, to try and get his
share of shelter.
We both laugh a little; and then Barbara speaks again.
"Nancy, I want to say something to you. Just now I heard Roger ask
whether there was a fly to be got at the public-house where the horses
are put up, and it seems there _is_; and he has sent for it. You may
think that it is for _her_, but it is not--it is for _you_! Will you
promise me to go home in it, if he asks you?"
I am silent.
"Will you?" she repeats, taking hold of one of my froggy hands, while
her eyes shine with a soft and friendly urgency; "you know you always
used to take my advice when we were little--will you?"
Somehow, at her words, a little warmth of comfortable reassurance steals
about my heart. At home she always used to be right: perhaps she is
right now--perhaps _I_ am wrong. I will be even better than her
Roger is standing not far from us. The rain has drenched his beard and
his heavy mustache: the great drops stand on his eyelashes, and on his
straight brows. Perhaps I only imagine it, but to me he looks sad and
out of heart. It is not the weather that makes him so, if he is. Much he
cares for that!
I call him "Roger!" My voice is small and low, and the wind is large and
loud, but he hears me.
"Yes?" (turning at the sound with a surprised expression).
"May I go home in the fly?" I ask impulsively, yet humbly, "I mean with
--with _her_!" (a gulp at the pronoun), then, under the influence of a
fear that he may think that I am driven by a hankering after creature
comforts to this overture, I go on quickly, "it is not because I want to
be kept dry--if I were to be dragged through the sea I could not be
wetter than I am--but if you wish--Barbara thought--Barbara said--"
I mumble off into shy incoherency.
"_Will_ you?" he says, with a tone of eagerness and pleasure, which, if
not real, is at least admirably feigned. "It is what I was just wishing
to ask you, only" (laughing with a sort of constraint and a touch of
bitterness) "I really was _afraid_!"
"Am I such a _shrew_?" I say, looking at him with a feeling of growing
lightheartedness. "Ah! I always was! was not I, Barbara?" Then, a moment
after, in a tone that is almost gay, I say, "May Barbara come, too? is
"Of course!" he answers readily; "surely there is plenty of room for
While the words are yet on his lips, while I am still smiling up at
him, under the soaked tartan there comes a voice from the coach.
"Roger!" He obeys the summons. It is just five paces off, and I hear
each of the slow and softly-enunciated words that follow.
"I hear that you have sent for a fly! how very thoughtful of you! did
you ever forget _any thing_ I wonder? I was--no--not _dreading_ my drive
home; but now I am _quite_ looking forward to it. Why did you not bring
a pack of cards? we might have had a game of bezique."
"I think we have made another arrangement," he answers, quietly. "I
think Nancy will be your companion instead of me."
"_Lady Tempest!_" (with a slight but to me quite perceptible raising of
eyebrows, and accenting of words).
I can see her face, but not his. To my acutely listening, sharply
jealous ears there sounds a tone of faint and carefully hidden annoyance
in his voice. It seems to me, too, that her features would not dare to
wear such an expression of open disappointment if they were not answered
and meeting something in his. I therefore take my course. I jump up
hastily, flinging off the plaid, and advance toward the interlocutors.
She is just saying, "Oh, I understand! very nice!" in a little formal
voice when I break in.
"I am going to do nothing of the kind!" I cry, hurriedly. "I have
altered my mind; I shall keep to the coach, that is" (with a nervous
laugh, and a miserable attempt at coquetry), "if Mr. Parker is not tired
This is the way in which I take Barbara's advice. The fly arrives
presently, and the original pair depart in it. Roger neither looks at
nor speaks to me again; in fact, he ignores my existence; although,
under the influence of one of those speedy and altogether futile
repentances which always follow hard on the heels of my tantrums, I have
waylaid him once or twice in the hope that he would be induced to
recognize it. But no! this time I have outdone myself. I have tried his
patience a little too far. I am in disgrace.
It is long, _long_ after their departure before _we_ get under way. The
grooms have either misunderstood Mr. Parker's directions, or are
enjoying their mulled beer over the pot-house fire too much to be in any
violent haste again to meet the raw air and the persisting deluge.
It is past six o'clock before the horses arrive on the ground; it is
half-past before we are off.
And meanwhile Mr. Parker has been rivaling Algy in the ardor with which
he calls in the aid of the champagne to keep out the wet. At each fresh
tumbler his joviality goes up a step, until at length it reaches a pitch
which produces an opposite effect on me, and engenders a depressed
"Barbara," say I, in a low voice, when at length the moment of departure
draws near, and only Musgrave is within ear-shot--"Barbara, has it
struck you? do not you think he is rather--"
Barbara, however, is diffident of her own opinion, and repeats my
question to her lover.
He shrugs his shoulders.
"Is he? I have not noticed him; nothing more likely; last time I saw him
he was _flying_! It was in India at a great pig-sticking meeting, and
after dinner he got up to the top of a big mango-tree, and tried to
_fly_! Of course he fell down, but he was so drunk that he was not in
the least hurt."
Mr. Musgrave seems to think this an amusing anecdote; but we do not.
"Why do not _you_ drive?" I ask, contrary to all my resolutions
addressing my future brother-in-law, and indeed forgetting in my alarm
that I had ever made such. I am reminded of it, however, by the look of
gratification that flashes--for only one moment and is gone--but still
flashes into the depths of his great dark eyes.
"It is so likely that he would let me!" he says, laughing.
"I would not mind so much if I were at the _back_!" I say, piteously,
turning to Barbara. "At the back one does not know what is coming, but
on the box one sees whatever is happening."
"That is rather an advantage I think," she answers, laughing. "I do not
mind; I will go on the box."
"Will you?" say I, eagerly. "_Do!_ and I will take care of the old
general at the back."
So it is settled. We are on the point of starting now. Mr. Parker is up
and is already beginning to struggle with the hopeless muddle of his
reins. I think we have perhaps done him an injustice; at all events, his
condition is not at all what it must have been when he mounted the
mango. Algy's morosity has returned tenfold, and he is performing the
evolution familiarly known as "pulling your nose to vex your face." That
is to say, he is standing about in the pouring rain utterly unprotected
from it. He entirely declines to put on any mackintosh or overcoat. Why
he does this, or how it punishes Mrs. Huntley, I cannot say, but so it
We are off at last. I, in accordance with my wishes, up at the back,
facing the grooms; but not at all in accordance with my wishes, Mr.
Musgrave, and not the old host, is my companion.
"This is all wrong!" I cry, with vexed abruptness, as I see who it is
that is climbing after me. "Where is the general? We settled that he--"
"I am afraid you will have to put up with me!" interrupts Musgrave,
coldly, with that angry and mortified darkening of the whole face, and
sudden contraction of the eyeballs that I used so well to know. "We
could not make him hear; we all tried, but none of us could make him
understand." So I have to submit.
Well, we are off now. The night is coming quickly down: it will be
_quite_ dark an hour sooner than usual tonight, so low does the great
black cloud-curtain stoop to the earth's wet face. Ink above us, so
close above us, too, that it seems as if one might touch it with lifted
hand; ink around us; a great stretch of dull and sulky heather; and,
maddening around us with devilish glee, hitting us, buffeting us,
bruising us, taking away our breath, and making our eyelids smart, is a
wind--such a wind! I should have laughed if any one had told me an hour
ago that it would rise. I should have said it was impossible, and yet it
The wind which turned my umbrella inside out was a zephyr compared to
that which is now _thundering_ round us. Sometimes, for one, for two
false moments, it lulls (the lulls are almost awfuller than the
whirlwind that follows them), then with gathered might it comes tearing,
howling, whooping down on us again, gnashing its angry teeth; bellowing
with a voice like ten million lost devils. And on its pinions what rain
it brings; what stinging, lacerating, bitter rain! And now, to add to
our misfortunes, to pile Pelion on Ossa, we _lose our way_. Mr. Parker
cannot be persuaded to abandon the idea of the short-cut. The natural
If we were hopelessly bewildered--utterly at sea among the maze of
lonely roads into which he has again betrayed us at high noon--what must
we be now in the angry dark of the evening? This time we have to go into
a field to turn, a field full of tussocks, which in the dark we are
unable to see, and over which the horses flounder and stumble. However,
now at length--now that we have wasted three-quarters of an hour, and
that it is quite pitch dark--(I need hardly say that we have no lamps)--
we have at length regained the blessed breadth of the high-road, and I
think that not even our coachman, to whose faith most things seem
possible, will attempt to leave it a second time. I give a sigh of
"It is all plain sailing now!" Musgrave says, reassuringly.
"There is one bad turn," reply I, gloomily--"very bad, at the bottom of
the village by the bridge."
We relapse into silence, and into our unnatural battle with the
elements. I have to grasp my hat firmly with one hand, and the side of
the coach with the other, to prevent being blown off. If my companion
were any one else, I should grasp _him_.
We are only a mile and a half from our haven now; the turn I dread is
"Are you frightened?" asks Musgrave, in a pause of the storm.
"_Horribly!_" I answer.
I have forgotten Brindley Wood--have forgotten all the mischief he has
done. I recollect only that he is human, and that we are sharing what
seems to me a great and common peril.
"Do not be frightened!" he says, in an eager whisper--"you need not. I
will take care of you!"
Even through all the preoccupation of my alarm something in his tone
jars upon and angers me.
"_You_ take care of me!" I cry, scornfully. "How could you? I wish you
would not talk nonsense."
We have reached the turn now! Shall we do it? One moment of breathless
anxiety. I set my teeth and breathe hard. No, we shall not! We turn too
sharp, and do not take a wide-enough sweep. The coach gives a horrible
lurch. One side of us is up on the hedge-bank!--we are going over! I
give a little agonized yell, and make a snatch at Frank, while my
fingers clutch his nearest hand with the tenacity of a devil-fish. If it
were his hair, or his nose, I should equally grasp it. Then, somehow--to
this moment I do not know how--we right ourselves. The grooms are down
like a shot, pulling at the horses' heads, and in a second or two--how
it is done I do not see, on account of the dark--but with many bumpings,
and shouts and callings, and dreadful jolts, we come straight again, and
I drop Frank's hand like a hot chestnut.
In ten minutes more we are briskly and safely trotting up to the
hall-door. Before we reach it, I see Roger standing under the lit
portico, with level hand shading his eyes, which are intently staring
out into the darkness.
"All right? nothing happened?" he asks, in a tone of the most poignant
anxiety, almost before we have pulled up.
"All right!" replies Barbara's voice, softly cheerful. "Are you looking
for Nancy? She is at the back with Frank."
Roger makes no comment, but this time he does not offer to lift me down.
"Well, here we are!" cries Mr. Parker, coming beaming into the hall,
with his mackintosh one great drip, laughing and rubbing his hands. "And
though I say it that should not, there are not many that could have
brought you home better than I have done to-night, and, I declare, in
spite of the rain, we have not had half a bad day, have we?"
But we are all strictly silent.
"... Peace, pray you, now,
No dancing more. Sing sweet, and make us mirth.
We have done with dancing measures; sing that song
You call the song of love at ebb."
Yesterday it had seemed impossible that we could ever be dry again, and
yet to-day we are. Even our hair is no longer in dull, discolored ropes.
A night has intervened between us and our sufferings. We have at last
got the sound of the hissing rain and the thunder of the boisterous wind
out of our ears. We have all got colds more or less. I am among the
_less_ for rough weather has never been an enemy to me, and at home I
have always been used to splashing about in the wet, with the native
relish of a young duck. Mrs. Huntley is (despite the fly) among the
_more_. She does not appear until late--not until near luncheon-time.
Her cold is in the head, the _safest_ but unbecomingest place,
producing, as I with malignant joy perceive, a slight thickening and
swelling of her little thin nose, and a boiled-gooseberry air in her
The old gentleman is--with the exception, perhaps, of Algy--the most
dilapidated among us. He has not yet begun one anecdote, whose point was
not smothered and effaced by that choking, goat-like cough. This is
perhaps a gain to _us_, as one is not expected to laugh at a _cough_ nor
does its _denoument_ ever put one to the blush.
Mr. Parker has no cold at all, and has even had the shameless audacity
to propose _another_ expedition to-day. But we all rise in such loud and
open revolt that he has perforce to withdraw his suggestion.
He must save his superfluous energy for the evening, when the neighbors
are to come together, and we are to dance. This fact is news to most of
us, and I think we hardly receive it with the elation he expects. There
seems to be more of rheumatism than of dance in many of our limbs, and
our united sneezes will be enough to drown the band. However, revolt in
this case is useless. We must console ourselves with the notion that at
least in a ballroom there can be neither rain nor wind--that we cannot
lose our way or be upset, at least not in the sense which had such
terror for us yesterday. Roger has gone over to Tempest on business, and
is away all day. Mrs. Huntley sits by the fire, with a little fichu over
her head, sipping a tisane; while Algy, in undisturbed possession, and
with restored but feverish amiability, stretches his length on the rug
at her feet, and looks injured if Barbara or I, or even the footman with
coals, enters the room.
As the day goes on, there is not much to do; a new idea takes possession
of Mr. Parker's active mind.
Why should not we all be in fancy-dress to-night? Well, not all of us,
then--not his uncle, of course, nor Sir Roger, but any of us that liked.
_Trouble!_ Not a bit of it. Why, the ladies need only rouge a bit, and
put some flour on their heads, and there they are; and, as for the men,
there is a heap of old things up in the lumber-room that belonged to his
great-grandfather, and among them there is sure to be something to fit
everybody. If they do not believe him, they may come and see for
Such is the force of a strong will, that he actually carries off the
deeply unwilling Musgrave to inspect his ancestor's wardrobe. At first
we have treated his proposal only with laughter, but he is so profoundly
in earnest about it, and dwells with such eagerness on the advantage of
the fact that not a soul among the company will recognize us--he can
answer for _himself_ at least--it is always by his _hair_ (with a laugh)
that people know _him_--that we at length begin to catch his ardor.
To tell truth, from the beginning the idea has approved itself to
Barbara and me, only that we were ashamed to say so--carrying us back in
memory as it does to the days when we dressed the Brat up in my clothes
as _me_, and took in all the maid-servants. I think, too, that I have a
little of the feeling of faint hope that inspired Balak when he showed
Balaam the Israelites from a fresh point of view. Perhaps, in carmine
cheeks and a snow-white head, I may find a little of my old favor in
Human wills are mostly so feeble and vacillating, that if one
thorough-going determined one sticks to _any_ proposition, however
absurd, he is pretty sure to get the majority round to him in time; and
so it is in the present case. Mr. Parker succeeds in making us all,
willing and unwilling, promise to travesty ourselves. We are not to
dress till after dinner; that is over now, and we are all adorning
For once I am taking great pains, and--for a wonder--pleasant pains with
my toilet. It is slightly delayed by a variety of unwonted
interruptions--knocks at the door, voices of valets in interrogation,
and dialogue with my maid.
"If you please, Mr. Musgrave wants to know has Lady Tempest done with
(There is only one edition of rouge, which is traveling from room to
Five minutes more, another knock.
"If you please, Mr. Parker's compliments, and will Lady Tempest lend him
a hair-pin to black his eyelashes?"
I am finished now, quite finished--metamorphosed. I have suffered a
great deal in the process of powdering, as I fancy every one must have
done since the world began; the powder has gone into my eyes, up my
nose, down into my lungs. I have breathed it, and sneezed it, and
swallowed it, but "_il faut souffrir pour etre belle_" and I do not
grumble; for I _am_ belle! For once in my life I know what it feels like
to be a pretty woman. My uninteresting flax-hair is hidden. Above the
lowness of my brow there towers a great white erection, giving me height
and dignity, while high aloft a little cap of ancient lace and soft pink
roses daintily perches. On my cheeks there is a vivid yet delicate
color; and my really respectable eyes are emphasized and accentuated by
the dark line beneath them. To tell you the truth, I cannot take my eyes
off myself. It is _delightful_ to be pretty! I am simpering at myself
over my left shoulder, and heartily joining in my maid's encomiums on
myself, when the door opens, and Roger enters. For the first instant I
really think that he does not recognize me. Then--
"_Nancy!_" he exclaims, in a tone of the most utter and thorough
astonishment--"_is_ it Nancy?"
"_Nancy_, at your service!" reply I, with undisguised elation, looking
eagerly at him, with my blackened eyes, to see what he will say next.
"But--what--_has_--happened--to you?" he says, slowly, looking at me
exhaustively from top to toe--from the highest summit of my floured head
to the point of my buckled shoes. "What have you got yourself up like
"To please Mr. Parker," reply I, breaking into a laugh of excitement.
"But I have killed two birds with one stone; I have pleased _myself_
too! Did you ever see any thing so nice as I look?" (unable any longer
to wait for the admiration which is so justly my due).
"Not often!" he answers, with emphasis.
We had parted rather formally--rather _en delicatesse_--this morning,
but we both seem to have forgotten this.
"I must not dance _much_!" say I, anxiously turning again to the glass,
and closely examining my complexion--"must I?--or my rouge will _run_!"
After a moment--
"You must be sure to tell me if I grow to look at all _smeary_, and I
will run up-stairs at once, and put some more on."
He is looking at me, with an infinite amusement, and also commendation,
in his eyes.
"Why, Nancy," he says, smiling--"I had no idea that you were so vain!"
"No," reply I, bubbling over again into a shamefaced yet delighted
laughter--"no more had I! But then I had no idea that I was so pretty,
My elation remains undiminished when I go down-stairs. Yes, even when I
compare myself with Mrs. Huntley, for, _for once_, I have beaten her! I
really think that there can be no two opinions about it! indeed, I have
the greatest difficulty in refraining from asking everybody whether
She is not in powder. Her hair, in its present color, is hardly dark
enough to suit the high comb, and black lace mantilla which she has
draped about her head, and the red rose in her hair is hardly redder
than the catarrh has made her eyelids. A cold always comes on more
heavily at night; and no one can deny that her whole appearance is
stuffy and choky, and that she speaks through her nose.
As for me, I am not sure that I do not beat even _Barbara_. At least,
the idea has struck me; and, when she herself suggests, and with hearty
satisfaction, and elation not inferior to my own, insists upon it, I do
not think it necessary to contradict her.
None of the three young men have as yet made their appearance; and the
guests are beginning quickly to arrive. All the neighbors--all the
friends who are staying with the neighbors to shoot their partridges--
some soldiers, some odds and ends, _bushels_ of girls--there always are
bushels of girls somehow; here they come, smiling, settling their ties,
giving their skirts furtive kicks behind, as their different sex and
costume bid them.
All the duties of reception fall upon the poor old gentleman, and drive
him to futile wrath, and to sending off many loud and desperate messages
to his truant heir. However, to do him justice, the poor old soul is
hospitality itself, and treats his guests, not only to the best food,
drink, and fiddling in his power, but also to all his primest anecdotes.
No less than _three_ times in the course of the evening do I hear him go
through that remarkable tale of the doctor at Norwich, of the age of
seventy-eight, and the four fine children.
To my immense delight, hardly anybody recognizes me. Many people look
_hard_--really _very_ hard--at me, and I try to appear modestly
We are all in the dancing-room. The sharp fiddles are already beginning
to squeak out a gay galop, and I am tapping impatient time with my foot
to that brisk, emphasized music which has always seemed to Barbara and
me exhilarating past the power of words to express.
I think that Roger perceives my eagerness, for he brings up a, to me,
strange soldier, who makes his bow, and invites me.
I comply, with contained rapture, and off we fly. For I have pressingly
consulted Roger as to whether I may, with safety to my complexion, take
a turn or two, and he has replied strongly in the affirmative. He has,
indeed, maintained that I may dance all night without seeing my rosy
cheeks dissolve, but I know better.
The room is almost lined with mirrors. I can even perceive myself over
my partner's shoulder as I dance. I can ascertain that my loveliness
How pleasant it is, after all, to be young! and how _delightful_ to be
Does Barbara _always_ feel like this? It seems to me as if I had never
danced so lightly--on so admirably slippery and springy a floor, or with
any one whose step suited mine better. His style of dancing is, indeed,
very like Bobby's. I tell him so. This leads to an explanation as to who
Bobby is, which makes us extremely friendly.
We are standing still for a moment or two to take breath--we are
long-winded, and do not _often_ do it; but still, once in a way, it is
unavoidable--and everybody else is whirling and galloping, and prancing
round us, like Bacchantes, or tops, or what you will, when, looking
toward the door, I catch a glimpse of the three missing young men. They
are dodging behind one another, and each nudging and pushing the other
forward. Clearly, they are horribly ashamed of themselves; and, from the
little I see of them, _no wonder_!
"Here they are!" I cry, in a tone of excitement. "Look! do look!" for,
having at length succeeded in urging Mr. Parker to the front, they are
making their entry, hanging as close together as possible, and with an
extremely hang-dog air.
My partner has opened his eyes and his mouth.
"_What_ are they?" he says, in a tone of extreme disapprobation. "_Who_
are they? Are they _Christy Minstrels?_"
"Oh, do not!" cry I, in a choked voice, "I do not want to laugh, it will
make them so angry--at least not Mr. Parker, but the others."
As I speak, they reach me, that is, Algy and Mr. Parker do. Musgrave has
slunk into a corner, and sits there, glaring at whoever he thinks shows
a disposition to smile in his direction.
I have done Mr. Parker an injustice in accrediting him with any
_mauvaise honte_. On the contrary, he clearly glories in his shame.
"Not half so bad, after all, are they?" he says in a voice of loud and
cheerful appeal to me, as he comes up. "I mean considering, of course,
that they were not _meant_ for one, they really do very decently, do not
I have put up my fan to hide the irresistible contortions which lips and
mouth are undergoing.
"Very!" I say, indistinctly.
Almost everybody has stopped dancing, and is staring with unaffected
wonder at them. Their heads are heavily floured, and their cheeks
rouged. They have also greatly overdone the burnt hair-pin, as a huge
smouch of black under each of their eyes attests.
They have all three got painfully tight knee-breeches, white stockings,
and enormously long, broad-skirted coats, embroidered in tarnished gold.
Algy's is plum-color. The arms of all three are very, _very_ tight. Had
our ancestors indeed such skinny limbs, and such prodigious backs?
Algy is a tall young man, but the waist of his coat is somewhere about
the calves of his legs. It has told upon his spirits; he looks
Mr. Parker is differently visited. He has an apparently unaccountable
reluctance to turning his back to me. I put it down at first to an
exaggerated politeness; but, when, at last, in walking away, he
unavoidably does it, I no longer wonder at his unwillingness, as his
coat-tails decline to meet within half a mile. His forefathers must have
been oddly framed.
"_Poor fellows!_" says my partner, in a tone of the profoundest
compassion, as he puts his arm round me, and prepares to whirl me again
into the throng, "_how_ I pity them! What on earth did they do it for?"
"Oh, I do not know," I reply; "for _fun_ I suppose!"
But I think that except in the case of Mr. Parker, who really enjoys
himself, and goes about making jovial jests at his own expense, and
asking everybody whether he is not immensely improved by the loss of his
red hair, that there is not much fun in it.
Algy is as sulky and shamefaced as a dog with a tin kettle tied to his
tail, and Mr. Musgrave has altogether disappeared.
The evening wears on. I forget my cheeks, and dance every thing. _How_ I
_am_ enjoying myself! Man after man is brought up to me, and they all
seem pleased with me. At many of the things I say, they laugh heartily,
and I do not wonder--even to myself my speeches sound pleasant. What a
comfort it is that, for once in his life, Roger may be honestly proud of
me! And he is.
It is surely pride, and also something better and pleasanter than pride,
that is shining in the smile with which he is watching me from the
door-way. At least, during the first part of the evening he _was_
Is not he still? I look round the room. No, he is not here! he has
disappeared! By a sudden connection of ideas I turn my eyes in search of
the high comb and mantilla. Neither are they here. Last time I saw them,
they were sitting on the stairs, pathetically observing to their
companion how hard it was that one might not feel cool without looking
as if one were flirting.
Perhaps they are on the stairs still; perhaps she has gone to bed as she
threatened. Somehow my heart misgives me. I become rather absent: my
partners grow seldomer merry at my speeches. Even my feet feel to fly
less lightly, and I forget to look at myself in the glass.
Then it strikes me suddenly that I will not dance any more. The sparkle
seems to have gone out of the evening since I missed Roger's face from
I decline an overture on the part of my first friend to trip a measure
with me--we have already tripped several--and, by the surprise and
slight mortification which I read on his face as he turns away, I think
I must have done it with some abruptness.
I decline everybody. I stand in the door-way, whence I can command both
the ballroom and the passages. They are not on the stairs.
A moment ago Mr. Parker came up to me, and told me in his gay, loud
voice how much he would like to have a valse with me, but that his
clothes are so tight, he really _dare not_. Then he disappears among the
throng, with an uncomfortable sidelong movement, which endeavors to
shield the incompleteness of his back view.
I am still smiling at his dilemma, when another voice sounds in my ears.
"You are not dancing?"
It is Musgrave. He has had the vanity to take-off his absurd costume,
and to wash the powder from his hair, and the rouge from his cheeks. He
stands before me now, cool, pale, and civilized, in the faultless
quietness of his evening dress.
"No," reply I, shortly, "I am not!"
"Will you dance with me?"
I am not looking at him; indeed, I never look at him now, if I can help;
but I hear a sort of hesitating defiance in his tone.
"No, thank you"--(still more shortly)--"I might have danced, if I had
liked: it is not for want of asking"--(with a little childish vanity)--
"but I do not wish."
"Do not you mean to dance any more this evening, then?"
"I do not know; that is as may be!"
I have almost turned my back upon him, and my eyes are following--not
perhaps quite without a movement of envy--my various acquaintances,
scampering, coupled in mad embraces. I think that he is gone, but I am
"Will you at least let me take you in to supper?" in a tone whose
formality is strongly dashed with resentment.
I wish that I did not know his voice so hatefully well: all its
intonations and inflections are as familiar to me as Roger's.
"I do not want any supper," I answer, petulantly, turning the back of my
head and all my powdered curls toward him; "I never eat supper at a
ball; I like to stand here; I like to watch the people--to watch
This at least is true. To see Barbara dance has always given, and does
even now give, me the liveliest satisfaction. No one holds her head so
prettily as Barbara; no one moves so smoothly, and with so absolutely
innocent a gayety. The harshest, prudishest adversary of valsing, were
he to see Barbara valse, would be converted to thinking it the most
modest of dances. Mr. Musgrave is turning away. Just as he is doing so,
an idea strikes me. Perhaps they are in the supper-room.
"After all," say I, unceremoniously, and forgetting for the moment who
it is that I am addressing, "I do not mind if I do have something; I--I
--am rather hungry."
I put my hand on his arm, and we walk off.
The supper-room is rather full--(when, indeed, was a supper-room known
to be empty?)--some people are sitting--some standing--it is therefore a
little difficult to make out who is here, and who is not. In total
absolute forgetfulness of the supposed cause that has brought me here, I
stand eagerly staring about, under people's arms--over their shoulders.
So far, I do not see them. I am recalled by Mr. Musgrave's voice, coldly
"Will not you sit down?"
"No, thank you," reply I, bending my neck back to get a view behind an
intervening group; "I had rather stand."
"Are you looking for any one?"
Again, I wish that I did not know his voice so well--that I did not so
clearly recognize that slightly guardedly malicious intonation.
"Looking for any one?" I cry, sharply, and reddening even through my
rouge--"of course not!--whom should I be looking for?--but, after all, I
do not think I care about having any thing!--there's--there's nothing
that I fancy."
This is a libel at once upon myself and on General Parker's hospitality.
He answers nothing, and perhaps the smile, almost imperceptible--which I
fancy in his eyes, and in the clean curve of his lips--exists only in my
imagination. He again offers me his arm, and I again take it. I have
clean forgotten his existence. His arm is no more to me than if it were
a piece of wood.
"Where are they? where can they be?" is the thought that engrosses all
I hardly notice that he is leading me away from the ballroom--down the
long corridor, on which almost all the sitting-rooms open. They are, one
and all, lit up to-night; and in each of them there are guests. I glance
in at the drawing-room: they are not there! We take a turn in the
conservatory. We find Mr. Parker sitting very carefully upright, for his
costume does not allow of any lolling, or of any tricks being played
with it under a magnolia, with a pretty girl--(I wonder, have _my_
cheeks grown as streaky as his?)--but they are not there. We go back to
the corridor. We peep into the library: two or three bored old
gentlemen--martyrs to their daughters' prospects--yawning over the
papers and looking at their watches. They are not here. Where _can_ they
be? Only one room yet remains--one room at the very end of the passage--
the billiard-room, shut off by double doors to deaden the sound of the
balls. One of the double doors is wide open, the other closed--not
absolutely _sJiut_, but not ajar. Musgrave pushes it, and we look in. I
do not know why I do. I do not expect to see any one. I hardly think it
will be lit, probably blank darkness will meet us. But it is not so. The
lamps above the table are shining subduedly under their green shades;
and on a couch against the wall two people are sitting. They _are_ here.
I found them at last.
Evidently they are in deep and absorbing talk. Roger's elbow rests on
the top of the couch. His head is on his hand. On his face there is an
expression of grave and serious concern; and she--she--is it
_possible?_--she is evidently--plainly weeping. Her face is hidden in
her handkerchief, and she is sobbing quietly, but quite audibly. In an
instant, with ostentatious hurry, Musgrave has reclosed the door, and we
stand together in the passage.
I am not mistaken now: I could not be: that can be no other expression
than triumph that so darkly shines in his great and eager eyes.
"You _knew_ they were there!" I cry in a whisper of passionate
resentment, snatching my hand from his arm; "you brought me here _on
Then, regardless of appearances, I turn quickly away, and walk back down
the passage alone!
This is how the ball ends for me. As soon as I am out of sight, I
quicken my walk into a run, and, flying up the stairs, take refuge in my
bedroom. Nor do I emerge thence again. The ball itself goes on for
hours. The drawing-room is directly beneath me. It seems to me as if the
sound of the fiddling, of the pounding, scampering feet would never,
I believe, at least I hear afterward, that Mr. Parker, whose spirits go
on rising with the steady speed of quicksilver in fine weather, declines
to allow his guests to depart, countermands their carriages, bribes
their servants, and, in short, reaches the pitch of joyfully confident
faith to which all things seem not only _possible_, but extremely
desirable, and in whose eyes the mango-tree feat would appear but a
The room is made up for the night; windows closed, shutters bolted,
curtains draped. With hasty impatience I undo them all. I throw high the
sash, and lean out. It is not a warm night; there is a little frosty
crispness in the air, but I am _burning_. I am talking quickly and
articulately to myself all the time, under my breath; it seems to me to
relieve a little the inarticulate thoughts. I will not wink at it any
longer, indeed I will not; nobody could expect it of me. I will not be
taken in by that transparent fallacy of old friends! Nobody but me is.
They _all_ see it; Algy, Musgrave, all of them. At the thought of the
victory written in Musgrave's eyes just now--at the recollection of the
devilish irony of his wish, as we parted in Brindley Wood--
"I hope that your fidelity may be rewarded as it deserves--" I start up,
with a sort of cry, as if I had been smartly stung, and begin to walk
quickly up and down the room. I will not storm at Roger--no, I will not
even raise my voice, if I can remember, and, after all, there is a great
deal to be said on his side; he has been very forbearing to me always,
and I--I have been trying to him; most petulant and shrewish; treating
him to perpetual, tiresome tears, and peevish, veiled reproaches. I will
only ask him quite meekly and humbly to let me go home again; to send me
back to the changed and emptied school-room; to Algy's bills and
morosities; to the wearing pricks of father's little pin-point
I have lit the candles, and am looking at myself in the cheval-glass.
What has become of my beauty, pray? The powder is shaken from my hair;
it no longer rises in a white and comely pile; the motion of dancing has
loosened and tossed it; it has a look of dull, gray dishevelment. The
rouge has almost disappeared; melted away, or sunk in; there never was a
great deal of it, never the generous abundance that adorned Mr. Parker's
face. I cannot help laughing, even now, as I think of the round red
smouch that so artlessly ornamented each of his cheeks.
I neither ring for my maid, nor attempt to undress myself. I either keep
walking restlessly to and fro, or I sit by the casement, while the cold
little wind lifts my dusty hair, or blows against my hot, stiff eyes; or
I stand stupidly before the glass; bitterly regarding the ruins of my
one night's fairness. I do not know for how long; it must be hours, but
I could not say how many.
The fiddles' shrill voices grow silent at last; the bounding and
stamping ceases; the departing carriage-wheels grind and crunch on the
gravel drive. I shall not have much longer to wait; he will be coming
soon now. But there is yet another interval. In ungovernable impatience,
I open my door and listen. It seems to me that there reaches me from the
hall, the sound of voices in loud and angry altercation; it is too far
off for me to distinguish to whom they belong. Then there is silence
again, and then at last--at last Roger comes. I hear his foot along the
passage, and run to the door to intercept him, on his way to his
dressing-room. He utters an exclamation of surprise on seeing me.
"Not in bed yet? Not undressed? They told me that you were tired and had
gone to bed hours ago!"
I can say only these two little words. I am panting so, as if I had run
hard. We are both in the room now, and the door is shut. I suppose I
look odd; wild and gray and haggard through the poor remains of my
"You are late," I say presently, in a voice of low constraint, "are not
you? everybody went some time ago."
"I know," he answers, with a slight accent of irritation; "it is Algy's
fault! I do not know what has come to that boy; he hardly seems in his
right mind to-night; he has been trying to pick a quarrel with Parker,
because he lit Mrs. Huntley's candle for her."
"Yes," say I, breathing short and hard. Has not he himself introduced
"And you know Parker is always ready for a row--loves it--and as he is
as screwed to-night as he well can be, it has been as much as we could
do to make them keep their hands off each other!" After a moment he
adds: "Silly boy! he has been doing his best to fall out with _me_, but
I would not let him compass that."
Roger has begun to walk up and down, as I did a while ago; on his face a
look of unquiet discontent.
"It was a mistake his coming here this time," he says with a sort of
anger, and jet compassion, in his tone. "If he had had a grain of sense,
he would have staid away!"
"It is a thousand pities that you cannot send us _all_ home again!" I
say, with a tight, pale smile--"send us packing back again, Algy and
Barbara and _me_--replace me on the wall among the broken bottles, where
you found me."
My voice shakes as I make this dreary joke.
"Why do you say that?" he cries, passionately. "Why do you _torment_ me?
You know as well as I do, that it is impossible--out of the question!
You know that I am no more able to free you than--"
"You _would_, then, if you _could_?" cry I, breathing short and hard.
"You _own_ it!"
For a moment he hesitates; then--
"Yes," he says firmly, "I would! I did not think at one time that I
should ever have lived to say it, but I _would_."
"You are at least candid," I answer, with a sort of smothered sob,
"Nancy!" he cries, following me, and taking hold of my cold and clammy
hands, while what _looks_--what, at least, I should have once said
_looked_--like a great yearning fills his kind and handsome eyes; "we
are not very happy, are we? perhaps, child, we never shall be now--often
I think so. Well, it cannot be helped, I suppose. We are not the first,
and we shall not be the last! (with a deep and bitter sigh). But indeed,
I think, dear, that we are unhappier than we need be."
I shrug my shoulders with a sort of careless despair.
"Do you think so? I fancy not. Some people have their happiness thinly
spread over their whole lives, like bread--and--scrape!" I say, with a
homely bitterness. "Some people have it in a _lump_! that is all the
difference! I had mine in a _lump_--all crowded into nineteen years that
is, nineteen _very good years_!" I end, sobbing.
He still has hold of my hands. His face is full of distress; indeed,
distress is too weak a word--of acute and utter pain.
"What makes you talk like this _now_, to-night?" he asks, earnestly. "I
have been deceiving myself with the hope that you were having _one_
happy evening, as I watched you dancing--did you see me? I dare say not
--of course you were not thinking of me. You looked like the old
light-hearted Nancy that lately I have been thinking was gone forever!"
"Did I?" say I, dejectedly, slowly drawing my hands from his, and wiping
my wet eyes with my pocket-handkerchief.
"_Any one_ would have said that you were enjoying yourself," he pursues,
eagerly--"_were_ not you?"
"Yes," say I, ruefully, "I was very much." Then, with a sudden change of
tone to that sneering key which so utterly--so unnaturally misbecomes
"_I!_" He laughs slightly. "I am a little past the age when one derives
any very vivid satisfaction from a ball; and yet," with a softening of
eye and voice, "I liked looking at you too!"
"And it was pleasant in the billiard-room, was not it?" say I, with a
stiff and coldly ironical smile--"so quiet and shady."
"_In the billiard room!_"
"Do you mean to say," cry I, my factitious smile vanishing, and flashing
out into honest, open passion, "that you mean to deny that you were
"Deny it!" he echoes, in a tone of the deepest and most displeased
astonishment; "of course not! Why should I? What would be the object?
And if there _were_ one--have _I_ ever told _you_ a lie?" with a
reproachful accent on the pronouns. "I was there half an hour, I should
"And why were you?" cry I, losing all command over myself. "What
business had you? Were not there plenty of other rooms--rooms where
there were lights and people?"
"Plenty!" he replies, coldly, still with that look of heavy displeasure;
"and for my part I had far rather have staid there. I went into the
billiard-room because Mrs. Huntley asked me to take her. She said she
was afraid of the draughts anywhere else."
"Was it the _draughts_ that were making her cry so bitterly, pray?" say
I, my eyes--dry now, achingly dry--flashing a wretched hostility back
into his. "I have heard of their making people's eyes run indeed, but I
never heard of their causing them to sob and moan."
He has begun again to tramp up and down, and utters an exclamation of
"How could I help her crying?" he asks, with a tired irritation in his
tone. "Do you think I _enjoyed_ it? I _hate_ to see a woman weep! it
makes me _miserable_! it always did; but I have not the slightest
objection--why, in Heaven's name, should I?--to tell you the cause of
her tears. She was talking to me about her child."
"Her _child_!" repeat I, in an accent of the sharpest, cuttingest scorn.
"And you were taken in! I knew that she made capital out of that child,
but I thought that it was only neophytes like Algy, for whose benefit it
was trotted out! I thought that _you_ were too much of a man of the
world, that she knew _you_ too well--" I laugh, derisively.
"Would you like to know the true history of the little Huntley?" I go
on, after a moment. "Would you like to know that its grandmother,
arriving unexpectedly, found it running wild about the lanes, a little
neglected heathen, out at elbows, and with its frock up to its knees,
and that she took it out of pure pity, Mrs. Zephine not making the
slightest objection, but, on the contrary, being heartily glad to be rid
of it--do you like to know _that_?"
"How do _you_ know it?" (speaking quickly)--"how did _you_ hear it?"
"I was told."
"But _who_ told you?"
"That is not of the slightest consequence."
"I wish to know"
"Mr. Musgrave told me."
I can manage his name better than I used, but even now I redden. For
once in his life, Roger, too, sneers as bitterly as I myself have been
"Mr. Musgrave seems to have told you a good many things."
This is carrying the war into the enemy's quarters, and so I feel it.
For the moment it shuts my mouth.
"Who is it that has put such notions into your head?" he asks, with
gathering excitement, speaking with rapid passion. "_Some one_ has! I am
as sure as that I stand here that they did not come there of themselves.
There was no room for such suspicions in the pure soul of the girl I
I make no answer.
"If it were not for the _misery_ of it," he goes on, that dark flush
that colored his bronzed face the other night again spreading over it,
"I could _laugh_ at the gross absurdity of the idea! To begin such
fooleries at _my_ age! Nancy, Nancy!" his tone changing to one of
reproachful, heart-rending appeal--"has it never struck you that it is a
little hard, considering all things, that _you_ should suspect _me_?"
Still I am silent.
"Tell me what you wish me to do!" he cries, with passionate emphasis.
"Tell me what you wish me to leave undone! I will do it! I will leave it
undone! You are a little hard upon me, dear: indeed you are--some day I
think that you will see it--but it was not your own thought! I know that
as well as if you had told me! It was suggested to you--_by whom_ you
best know, and whether his words or mine are most worthy of credit!"
He is looking at me with a fixed, pathetic mournfulness. There is in his
eyes a sort of hopelessness and yet patience.
"We are _miserable_, are not we?" he goes on, in a low voice--"_most_
miserable! and it seems to me that every day we grow more so, that every
day there is a greater dissonance between us! For my part, I have given
up the hope that we can ever be happier! I have wondered that I should
have entertained it. But, at least, we might have _peace_!"
There is such a depth of depression, such a burden of fatigue in his
voice, that the tears rise in my throat and choke the coming speech.
"At least you are undeceived about me, are not you?" he says, looking at
me with an eager and yet almost confident expectation. "At least, you
But I answer nothing. It is the tears that keep me dumb, but I think
that he thinks me still unconvinced, for he turns away with a groan.
"I made a posy while the day ran by,
Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
My life within this band;
But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they
By noon most cunningly did steal away,
And withered in my hand!"
We are home again now; we have been away only three days after all, but
they seem to me like three years--three disastrous years--so greatly
during them has the gulf between Roger and me widened and deepened.
Looking back on what it was before that, it seems to me now to have been
but a shallow and trifling ditch, compared to the abyss that it is now.
We left Mr. Parker standing at the hall-door, his red hair flaming
bravely in the morning sun, loudly expressing his regret at our
departure, and trying to extract an unlikely promise from us that we
will come back next week.
During the drive home we none of us hardly speak. Roger and I are
gloomily silent, Barbara sympathetically so. Barbara has the happiest
knack of being in tune with every mood; she never jostles with untimely
mirth against any sadness. I think she sees that my wounds are yet too
fresh and raw to bear the gentlest handling, so she only pours upon them
the balm of her tender silence. There is none of the recognized and
allowed selfishness of a betrothed pair about Barbara. Sometimes I
almost forget that she _is_ engaged, so little does she ever bring
herself into the foreground; and yet, if it were not for us, I think
that to-day she could well find in her heart to be mirthful.
After all is said and done, I _still_ love Barbara. However much the
rest of my life has turned to Dead Sea apples, I still love Barbara;
and, what is more, I shall always love her now. Is not she to live at
only a stone's-throw from me? I do not think that I am of a very gushing
nature generally, but as I think these thoughts I take hold of her
slight hand, and give it a long squeeze. Somehow the action consoles me.
Two more days pass. It is morning again, and I am sitting in my boudoir,
doing nothing (I never seem to myself to do any thing now), and
listlessly thinking how yellow the great horse-chestnut in the garden is
turning, and how kindly and becomingly Death handles all leaves and
flowers, so different from the bitter spite with which he makes havoc of
_us_, when Roger enters. It surprises me, as it is the first time that
he has done it since our return.
We are on the formalest terms now; perhaps so best; and, if we have to
address each other, do it in the shortest little icy phrases. When we
are _obliged_ to meet, as at dinner, etc., we both talk resolutely to
Barbara. He does not look icy now; disturbed rather, and anxious. He has
an open note in his hand.
"Nancy," he says, coming quickly up to me, "did you know that Algy was
at Laurel Cottage?".
"Not I!" I answer, tartly. "He does not favor me with his plans;
tiresome boy. He is more bother than he is worth."
"Hush!" he says, hastily yet gently. "Do not say any thing against him;
you will be sorry if you do. He is _ill_"
"_Ill!_" repeat I, in a tone of consternation, for among us it is a new
word, and its novelty is awful. "What is the matter with him?"
Then, without waiting for an answer, I snatch the note from his hand. I
do not know to this day whether he meant me to read it or not, but I
think he _did_, and glance hastily through it. I am well into it before
I realize that it is from my rival.
"MY DEAR ROGER
"My hand is trembling so much that I can hardly hold the pen, but, _as
usual_, in my troubles, I turn to you. Algy Grey is here. You, who
always understand, will know how much against my will his coming was,
but he _would_ come; and you know, poor fellow, how headstrong he is! I
am grieved to tell you that he was taken ill this morning; I sadly fear
that it is this wretched low fever that is so much about. It makes me
_miserable_ to leave him! If I consulted my own wishes, I need not tell
you that I should stay and nurse him; but alas! I know by experience the
sharpness of the world's tongue, and in my situation I dare not brave
it; nor would it be fair upon Mr. Huntley that I should. Ah! what a
different world it would be if one might follow one's own impulses! but
one may not, and so I am leaving at once. I shall be gone before this
I throw the letter down on the floor with a gesture of raging disgust.
"Gone!" I say, with flashing eyes and lifted voice; "is it possible
that, after having decoyed him there, she is leaving him now to die,
"So it seems," he answers, looking back at me with an indignation hardly
inferior to my own. "I could not have believed it of her."
"He will die!" I say a moment after, forgetting Mrs. Huntley, and
breaking into a storm of tears. "I _know_ he will! I always said we were
too prosperous. Nothing has ever happened to us. None of us have ever
gone! I _know_ he will die; and I said yesterday that I liked him the
least of all the boys. Oh, I _wish_ I had not said it.--Barbara!
Barbara! I _wish_ I had not said it."
For Barbara has entered, and is standing silently listening. The roses
in her cheeks have paled, indeed, and her blue eyes look large and
frightened; but, unlike me, she makes no crying fuss. With noiseless
dispatch she arranges every thing for our departure. Neither will she
hear of Algy's dying. He will get better. We will go to him at once--all
three of us--and will nurse him so well that he will soon be himself
again; and whatever happens (with a kindling of the eye, and godly
lightening of all her gentle face), is not _God_ here--God _our friend_?
This is what she keeps saying to me in a soft and comforting whisper
during our short transit, with her slight arm thrown round me as I sob
in helpless wretchedness on her shoulder. It is very foolish, very
childish of me, but I cannot get it out of my head, that I said I liked
him the least. It haunts me still when I stand by his bedside, when I
see his poor cheeks redder than mine were when they wore their rouge,
when I notice the hot drought of his parched lips. It haunts me still
with disproportioned remorse through all the weeks of his illness.
For the time stretches itself out to weeks--abnormal, weary weeks, when
the boundaries of day and night confound themselves--when each steps
over into his brother's territories--when it grows to feel natural,
wakefully, to watch the candle's ghostly shadows, flickering at
midnight, and to snatch fitful sleeps at noon! to watch the autumnal
dawns coldly breaking in the gloom of the last, and to have the stars
His insane exposure of himself to the rage of the storm, on the night of
the picnic, has combined, with previous dissipation, to lower his system
so successfully as to render him an easy booty to the low, crawling
fever, which, as so often in autumn, is stealing sullenly about, to lay
hold on such as through any previous cause of weakness are rendered the
more liable to its attacks. Slowly it saps the foundations of his being.
But Algy has always loved life, and had a strong hold on it; neither
will he let go his hold on it now, without a tough struggle; and so the
war is long and bitter, and we that fight on Algy's side are weak and
Sometimes the silence of the night is broken by the boy's voice calling
strongly and loudly for Zephine. Often he mistakes me for her--often
Barbara--catches our hands and covers them with insane kisses.
Sometimes he appeals to her by the most madly tender names--names that I
think would surprise Mr. Huntley a good deal, and perhaps not altogether
please him; sometimes he alludes to past episodes--episodes that perhaps
would have done as well to remain in their graves.
On such occasions I am dreadfully frightened, and very miserable; but
all the same, I cannot help glancing across at Roger, with a sort of
triumph in my eyes--sort of _told-you-so_ expression, from which it
would have required a loftier nature than mine to refrain.
And so the days go on, and I lose reckoning of time. I could hardly tell
you whether it were day or night.
My legs ache mostly a good deal, and I feel dull and drowsy from want of
sleep. But the brunt of the nursing falls upon Barbara.
When he was well--even in his best days--Algy was never very reasonable
--very considerate--neither, you may be sure, is he so now.
It is always Barbara, Barbara, for whom he is calling. God knows I do my
best, and so does Roger. No most loving mother could be gentler, or
spare himself less, than he does; but somehow we do not content him.
It is not to every one that the gift of nursing is vouchsafed. I think I
am clumsy. Try as I will, my hands are not so quick and light and deft
as hers--my dress rustles more, and my voice is less soothing.
And so it is always "Barbara! Barbara!" And Barbara is always there--
The lovely flush that outdid the garden-flowers has left her cheeks
indeed, and her eyelids are drooped and heavy; but her eyes shine with
as steady a sweetness as ever; for God has lit in them a lamp that no
weariness can put out.
Sometimes I think that if one of the lovely spirits that wait upon God
in heaven were sent down to minister here below, he would not be very
different in look and way, and holy tender speech, from our Barbara.
Whether it be through her nursing, or by the strength of his own
constitution, and the tenacious vitality of youth, or, perhaps, the help
of all three, Algy pulls through.
I think he has looked Death in the face, as nearly as any one ever did
without falling utterly into his cold embrace, but he pulls through.
By very slow, small, and faltering steps, he creeps back to
convalescence. His recovery is a tedious business, with many tiresome
checks, and many ebbings and flowings of the tide of life; but--he
lives. Weak as any little tottering child--white as the sheets he lies
on; with prominent cheek-bones, and great and languid eyes, he is given
back to us.