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women instinctively perceive the same, why is he not the honored object of their regards? Or am I to understand that the female mind prefers an exhilarating sprinkling of vice in its idol, if only to throw the virtues up into broader light, as it were"?"
"No, not that exactly," Mrs. Marchmont answered rather hesitatingly; "but I think, perhaps, that women prefer in general a—well—a more showy style of thing than Mr. Mortimer. Don't laugh, Frank."
But I did laugh.
"Of course they do, bless their hearts! And so poor Jack is to be the victim of an nnappreciating female world."
"I don't think I meant that, either, Frank; but'of this I am convinced, that any woman willing to marry Mr. Mortimer would have to make him understand it in an unmistakable manner, or he would never credit the fact."
"Well—well, my love. Then let us hope that a lady may cross our friend's path in life with sufficient sense to appreciate his worth, and sufficient courage and candor to volunteer the state of her heart to the object for which it beats, or else we may consider his fate as sealed, I suppose."
"Mr. Mortimer would never marry any woman who could forget in the slightest degree womanly delicacy or propriety," my wife returned with much dignity.
"Then may the saints help him, my dear; for help from man or woman availeth not, as I understand you," said I, dismissing the subject.
I had pooh-poohed my wife's observations, of course, thus vindicating my natural supremacy and superiority, but secretly I own they had weight with me, and I had long ago set down Jack as not a marrying man, in spite of his natural predilection for the society of women, as evinced in his seeking that of those who were safely provided with husbands.
The tender evening light was fast fading into the transparent darkness of a midsummer night as we sank into mutual silence. Streaks of mellow light from the wide-open windows of the adjacent drawing-room chequered the long shadows of tree and shrub on the lawn with broad bars of quiet light. The low airs
New Sebiks—Vol. II., No. 2.
of evening sighed tenderly to the trees, which whispered back answers all lovingly tremulous, and then, suddenly, there grew out from that murmurous accompaniment, a strain of plaintive passion, of wondrous sweetness.
"Einmm bin Ich."
I think we both held our breaths an that inspiration of Carl Maria von Weber's, breathing sorrowful regrdt, passionate yearning, came borne to us on a rich young voice; and when, in a few minutes, it sank and faltered into silence, Jack rose from his chair and leaned out of the window without speaking. "Come," said I, presently, "let us join the ladies. 'Music hath charms,' especially on au evening like this."
The sudden change from the darkling atmosphere of the room we had left, to the radiance of that which enshrined the ladies of my household, was a little dazzling and bewildering. Was it only that! or did I see, as Jack Mortimer turned from his friendly greeting to Mrs. Marchmont, to bow in response to my introduction of "Mr. Mortimer" to "Mis* Francis," a sudden start, followed by utter confusion on Jack's part, a vivid blush, and an exceedingly haughty uprearing of the head, on that of my pretty little cousin, Beaty Francis?
WIIAT IS THE PLOT?
"So, Miss Beaty! My introduction of my friend, John Mortimer, last night, was altogether superfluous, it seems. You were already acquainted?"
"I have seen the—the gentleman before, cousin Frank," answered Miss Francis loftily, but with that faltering, telltale color rushing over her face nevertheless.
Dignity is not my cousin's forte; she can be saucy and loving, and pettish and tender, charming always, but she can not be dignified nor awe-inspiring; consequently I pursued the subject, in no wise daunted by the little lady's displeasure.
"What, in the name of wonder, did you mean by that awful pause before "gentleman," my dear? What denomination did it take the place of?"
"Squatter, perhaps," was the pert answer. "Is not that what the creatures 11
are called, who live in the outlandish place your friend comes from 1" • "Certainly not, Miss. The term is not euphonious, I admit, but it is neither one of ignominy nor reproach, as you in your ignorance would imply, being only another name for a landed proprietor, and signifying the same thing. My friend was merely a cattle dealer, and I own it puzzles me to imagine when your high mightiness could have met an individual in so lamentably an inferior condition otTif'e."
"What does it matter where I met him t" my cousin burst out with a vehemence that quite startled and overwhelmed me, her sweet face crimson, her eyes filling with tears—of anger, of pain, of mortification—of what? "I never want-' ed to see him; I wish I never had! Oh,' how often I have wished I never, never j had! Why did he not s,tay out at the other side of the world? 1 thought he was gone for ever."
These sentences, full of "evers" and "nevers," came in jerks from lips that quivered pitifully, and when they were ended, two great tears fought their way through restraining lashes, and rolled heavily down her lace.
If 1 was ut erly surprised, I was moved also. My little cousin was very dear to me; f\\e had been my pet and plaything ever since the day when I, a rough schoolboy, used to steal away from companions of my own sex and age, to play with a pretty toddling baby in a white frock and blue shoes.
I took her two hands and drew her up '•beside me.
'• My dear," said I, " I ask your par•don if I have jested on a subject that really touched you in any way. I never •dreamed of your having any special interest in Jack Mortimer; how could 11"
Hard is it for the mind masculine, to follow the twists and twiniugs of the one feminine. I had touched the wrong string again. Up went my cousin's head, while a hot flush came to dry up the two great tears.
"And I have no interest—special or otherwise—in Mr. Mortimer, lie is nothing to me, nor ever will be. I beg you to believe that once for all, Frank."
"Of course, dear," said I, soothingly, but taking leave, at the same time, to doubt that assertion under the circum
stances. '• Any one could see from your meeting last night that your previous acquaintance must have been of the most casual nature. A ball-room one, perhaps, dear, when you danced five out of every six dances with Jack, ate ices together under the orange trees in a shady conservaVjry, watched the moon out of the cool balcony, and passed him in the street the next day, without so much as even a glance of recognition. It was something of that kind, wasn't it, my little Beaty?"
"No, Frank—nothing like it. A ballroom and dancing! Oh, no, no! A death-chamber, and dying words rather. Oh, Frank, Frank! I wish I could tell you all!" And with that, poor Beaty nestled her' flushed face on to my breast (many a time in the old days she had cried herself to sleep there after some childish grief, or a tit of naughtiness) and wept.
"Then tell me, as indeed, my pet, who has a better right to know all that vexes or pleases you than your poor cousin Frank; and in the dear old days that are gone, Beaty, to whom did you ever carry all your griefs (thank God, they have not been many nor heavy, my dear!) but to him!"
"Ah, used, Frank!" she cried, nestling ever closer and closer.
"And will still—yes; for I have never separated the Beaty of to-day from the little child I used to love so dearly j and I claim the right still to be the sharer of all that pleases, all that grieves her: I shall never give it up till one comes between us with a belter, and that can only be a husband."
"No husband will ever come between us. Frank, dear, I shall never marry— never!" said Beaty, with much energy, through her tears; and beyond reiterating this, presently, when she sat up and dried her eyes, I could extract nothing at all from my cousin on the subject that moved her. I had loved this little girl very dearly. I had been accustomed to think of her as mine by a peculiarly near and'familiar tie. I was wounded to think the woman could have a secret, when the child had confided all. I was hurt, and I suppose I showed it, for with a faltering smile Beatrice put her arms round my neck as she said—
"There we pome things-^-some troublea—that are best never told, dear Frank, I think, and this is one of them. It could do me no good, and would, perhaps, be wrong also, since another person is concerned in it. You could not help me, dear, no, not if it were possible to wish to do so more than you do—which could not be, I know—and—and it's nothing new—and I don't often think of it nosv —only, last night, it all seemed to come back so freshly. I am afraid I have been very silly, and pained you needlessly. Don't speak or think of it any more, and I will try and forget it also."
"One word, Beatrice; do you know that Mr. Mortimer is our near neighbor and constant visitor t Tell me, my dear, would you rather not see him any more, •while you remain here1?"
"Oh! I don't know; I don't care, Frank; let that be as he likes," again with that burning color; "don't say any more about it;" and with this I was obliged to be content.
Feign to be so, I mean, for content I certainly was not.
A horrible, haunting idea that Jack Mortimer, whom I had hitherto sworn by, as the worthiest, kindest, most chivalrous of men, had fallen short somehow of right-doing where my little cousin was concerned, beset me painfully.
It seemed incredible, and yet how otherwise account for what had passed between my cousin and me?
I could not rest, so laying the reins upon the neck of my inclination they straightway led me in the direction of The Wild.
Mr. Mortimer was at home—yes— would I walk into the study or the diningroom, while I Jinks went in search of his master, who was somewhere out of doors T
'• Out of doors T No—I would not come in then. I would prefer finding Mr. Mortimer myself;" and being pretty •well acquainted with Jack's habits, I turned confidently down the shrubbery walk that led towards the stables. The responsible-looking head groom was standing at the door of the harness room (the stable department at The Wild was much more ably administered than the rest of the establishment).
He touched his forelock in answer to my inquiry.
"Mr. Mortimer? Yes, sir, in the loose box, sir, along of Ajax—mostly there at this time. This way, sir."
In the loose box accordingly—an apartment as spacious and much more neatly kept than the dwelling-room of many a family—I found my friend seated, pipe in mouth, and in a very easy position, on one corner of the manger, out of which black Ajax was leisurely partaking of his midday meal, yet lifting his head ever and anon to look into his master's face with that pensive kindness we see in the eyes of the horse or dog that loves us. Close at Jack's feet, too, lay an aninnl of the last-named species, a splendid kangaroo dog, that, too noble for jealousy, watched yet, with a certain wistfulness, the hand so often withdrawn from its resting-place in the sort of sash Jack wore, in place of a belt or braces, to fondle the horse's short velvet ears, or shining crest.
The man, the horse, and the dog, all powerful and beautiful of their kind, made a pretty picture, and verily, Jack's frank face, and kind eyes were not those of a man who could wilfully wrong any of God's creatures, great or small.
The doubt lying heavy at my heart vanished somehow, when my hand was griped in that friendly one; but curiosity and interest, deep and overpowering, remained.
Jack duly inquired after Mrs. Marchmont's health, but referred in no way to our visitor or his recognition of her, and biding my time I rn.ide none either. After half an hour with Ajax, stable topics, local matters, crops, and neighborly talk generally, we sauntered away from, the stable precincts, out under a row of flowering limes, where the bees were making drowsj -nusic.
One of those intervals of silence had befallen—that more than any thing,a'most, goes to show the complete intimacy that subsists between those who indulge it in each other's society—and preseptly into this silence stole the plaintive music of that melody of last night, whistled very deftly and sweetly, whistled a? I think only one man can execute that accomplishment, that man being Jack Mortimer.
I let him finish and then turned rather suddenly:
"By-the-bye, Jack, you never told me you were acquainted with my cousin, Beatrice Francis!"
Jack's brown face gained a perceptible I access of color.
'• Didn't I? Well—no—I dare say I never did. I saw her once, I think, before I went to Australia, five years ago—never since I came home, till last night.! I don't even know, being mightily igno- j rant on such matters, whether one meeting gives me any right to claim acquaintanceship with Miss Francis—what should you say, Frank?"
"That it depends upon the circumstances under which the meeting took place, of course," I answered, remembering with; great perplexity Beaty's reference to death-chambers and dying words. Under j what possible combination of circumstances could these, my friend Jack, and my little cousin be associated?
I had been quite as accustomed to suppose I possessed Jack's confidence as well as that of rny cousin ; yet here evidently was a mystery I was not to know, and one that had existed for five years, apparently, without my ever having had an inkling of it. I had felt wounded on the first discovery; by this time I began to experience a feeling of injury, and, with perhaps unwise frankness, avowed the same.
Jack withdrew his pipe from his lips, j •hook out the ashes in troubled silence, j put the pipe slowly into its case, and the case into his pocket, before he spoke.
"I hate 'mysteries and secrets; they are not at all in my way, as you know, old friend. I never expected the thing to befall me that I could not talk over with you ; but, Frank, there comes something into most men's lives, sooner or later, that they do not care to speak of, that no good could come of speaking of, and besides—" He paused and then added: "This is not my own affair either, entirely—another is concerned as 1 well as I—"
"Why, those were Beaty's very words j and reasons for denying me any explana- • tion," I ejaculated in intense astonishment.
"Have you spoken to Miss Francis— to yonr cousin on the subject t" asked Jack, flushing.
"Certainly, and got the same amount of satisfaction as from yourself."
"Thank Heaven, then, that I never breathed word of it to living creature," said Jack. "I might have done it one day to you, Frank, though I never regarded myself as having any right to talk of it. But tell Miss Francis—assure her from me, that I never have, never will now—she need never fear any allusion, not the slightest, to what is gone, from me—tell her this, please, Frank," said Jack, earnestly.
"I'll tell her nothing of the kind. Hang me if I ever speak to either of you again on the matter!" I answered, losing patience; '• and I wish your future wife joy of the nice little Bluebeard secret you carry about with you, Jack!"
"I shall never marry," Jack said quietly.
"Grant me patience," I cried out; "she said that, too!"
"Did shet" inquired Jack, very earnestly.
The next minute he turned away his head, and I heard him mutter; "Oh '. Amy, Amy!"
In a few minutes more Jack and I parted, for the first time in our lives, with mutual relief.
IN SKAKCH Or SOCIETY.
A week, a fortnight went by; long days of rich unclouded sunshine, evenings of tranquil sweetness, evenings long, and still, all periumy with the breath of flowers, like those Jack had declared made the loneliness of his empty old house intolerable to him; but neither glancing sunshine, nor tranquil sunset brought my old triend any more to Meadowsleigh.
I can not tell all that want was to me; I scarce knew myself; and I chafed angrily, as I was forced to own that I was powerless to do anything but mourn over it.
Who but Jack himself, could judge how lar his presence was fitting m tae house where the sharer of this precious mystery was lor the present domiciled t
At the end of the first week I had called at The Wild ; but Mr. Mortimer was from home, and not expected to return till night: at the end of another, I sallied forth once more in that direction.
The footway to the domain called The Wild led up through my own grounds, crossed the high road, and entered my j friend's by a low gate. The day was one j of these same summer ones, bright and still, hot and glowing. Brilliant sunshine steeped all the fields of waving grain, fast ripening now to harvest, in floods of golden light; but the arching trees that met overhead, above the pretty wood- j land path I walked, only admitted here 1 and there glimpses of that glowing splendor. Shadows, broad and cool, closed all around me; the light that came in here, all soft, and dim, and broken, caused one to think of solemn old churches in a land beyond the sea; dim with painted windows, misty with incensed altars, and grave with the gathered memories of all the bygone years. Perhaps, too, of trysting-places, and waiting lovers, all the joy of meeting made tremulous, and sorrowfully sweet, by the shadow of that inevitable parting that waits upon all meetings here. As this last thought strayed across my fancy, I reached a sudden opening in the trees around me, through which the pathway wound, and turning into it, I came to an abrupt halt in utter and unbounded surprise.
Lovers and trysting-places, truly !— Why, what was this, and who were these, standing among the flickering shadows yonder? Surely I could not mistake that figure, full of. graceful lines and flexile curves; I knew every one of them by heart. I knew, too, the downward bend of that golden head, with its pretty rippled hair drawn into a knot behind the ears; I could fancy the very look on the downcast face at this moment, though it was turned from me—and then—well— yes, I knew my cousin Beaty's usual walking dress of simple holland, and the little velvet hat with the bright wing—in which she looked—like herself, in short, and like no one else ever did, in my eyes.
And if this was unmistakably my cousin Beatrice, the tall gentleman in light morning clothes, the set of which was somehow so indescribably loose and easy, who stood hat in hand beside her, speaking so earnestly, and looking so steadily at the bent-down face that yet turned to
wards him too, was no less certainly Mr. John Mortimer.
How long had this conference between these two apparently hostile powers lasted? How long was it going to last? Was a truce being declared, war determined on? Or was peace, mild-eyed and beautiful, hovering sweetly over this communing pair 1
How could I tell, who had never been admitted within the mysterious circle that seemed somehow to enclose these two? Should I advance now, on my way, which would lead me straight upon the unconscious creatures'! or should I turn back and pretend I had not seen what I had? While I still remained dubious, pondering these things, Beaty turned and saw me; and observing that without an instant's hesitation she came slowly towards me, and that Mr. Mortimer followed her, I in my turn advanced.
I did not care to look too closely into the child's face, as she came up and quietly put her hand within my arm, but I did look at Jack.
He colored a little, but he met my eyes very frankly and steadily, and when he held out his hand, it was with the unmistakable look about him, somehow, of a man who never had, who never could do anything he was ashamed to be caught in.
"I was on my way to The Wild, Jack."
"Were you? It is well we fell in, then, for I was coming over to call on Mrs. Marchmont, whom it seems an age since I saw. I met Miss Francis a few yards from here, and learned she was at home."
Was that simple inquiry the one Jack was making so earnestly as I came upon them 1
We all turned, and strolled back towards Meadowsleigh together, I disguising whatever curiosity I had (I may as well own, it was intense) under, as I fla ter myself, a very perfectly simulated aspect of unconsciousness that my companions stood towards each other in any than the ordinary relations of a lady and gentleman who met then and there, for the second or third time in their lives ; but I speedily arrived at the conviction that that confabulation among the trees, which I had interrupted, had partaken of