HotFreeBooks.com
A Little Rebel - A Novel
by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

"You seem surprised again," says the professor, somewhat satirically.

"I confess it," says Hardinge.

"I can't see why you should be."

"I do," says Hardinge drily. "That you," slowly, "you should be Sir Hastings' brother! Why——"

"No more!" interrupts the professor sharply. He lifts his hand. "Not another word. I know what you are going to say. It is one of my greatest troubles, that I always know what people are going to say when they mention him. Let him alone, Hardinge."

"Oh! I'll let him alone," says Hardinge, with a gesture of disgust. There is a pause.

"You know my sister, then?" says the professor presently.

"Yes. She is very charming. How is it I have never seen you there?"

"At her house?"

"At her receptions?"

"I have no taste for that sort of thing, and no time. Fashionable society bores me. I go and see Gwen, on off days and early hours, when I am sure that I shall find her alone. We are friends, you will understand, she and I; capital friends, though sometimes," with a sigh, "she—she seems to disapprove of my mode of living. But we get on very well on the whole. She is a very good girl," says the professor kindly, who always thinks of Lady Baring as a little girl in short frocks in her nursery—the nursery he had occupied with her.

To hear the beautiful, courted, haughty Lady Baring, who has the best of London at her feet, called "a good girl," so tickles Mr. Hardinge, that he leans back in his chair and bursts out laughing.

"Yes?" says the professor, as if asking for an explanation of the joke.

"Oh! nothing—nothing. Only—you are such a queer fellow!" says Hardinge, sitting up again to look at him. "You are a rara avis, do you know? No, of course you don't! You are one of the few people who don't know their own worth. I don't believe, Curzon, though I should live to be a thousand, that I shall ever look upon your like again."

"And so you laugh. Well, no doubt it is a pleasant reflection," says the professor dismally. "I begin to wish now I had never seen myself."

"Oh, come! cheer up," says Hardinge, "your pretty ward will be all right. If Lady Baring takes her in hand, she——"

"Ah! But will she?" says the professor. "Will she like Per——Miss Wynter?"

"Sure to," said Hardinge, with quite a touch of enthusiasm. "'To see her is to love her, and love but'——"

"That is of no consequence where anyone is concerned except Lady Baring," says the professor, with a little twist in his chair, "and my sister has not seen her as yet. And besides, that is not the only question—a greater one remains."

"By Jove! you don't say so! What?" demands Mr. Hardinge, growing earnest.

"Will Miss Wynter like her?" says the professor. "That is the real point."

"Oh! I see!" says Hardinge thoughtfully.

The next day, however, proves the professor's fears vain in both quarters. An early visit to Lady Baring, and an anxious appeal, brings out all that delightful woman's best qualities. One stipulation alone she makes, that she may see the young heiress before finally committing herself to chaperone her safely through the remainder of the season.

The professor, filled with hope, hies back to his rooms, calls for Mrs. Mulcahy, tells her he is going to take his ward for a drive, and gives that worthy and now intensely interested landlady full directions to see that Miss Wynter looks—"er—nice! you know, Mrs. Mulcahy, her best suit, and——"

Mrs. Mulcahy came generously to the rescue.

"Her best frock, sir, I suppose, an' her Sunday bonnet. I've often wished it before, Mr. Curzon, an' I'm thinkin' that 'twill be the makin' of ye; an' a handsome, purty little crathur she is an' no mistake. An' who is to give away the poor dear, sir, askin' yer pardon?"

"I am," says the professor.

"Oh no, sir; the likes was never known. 'Tis the the father or one of his belongings as gives away the bride, niver the husband to be, 'an if ye have nobody, sir, you two, why I'm sure I'd be proud to act for ye in this matther. Faix I don't disguise from ye, Misther Curzon, dear, that I feels like a mother to that purty child this moment, an' I tell ye this, that if ye don't behave dacent to her, ye'll have to answer to Mrs. Mulcahy for that same."

"What d'ye mean, woman?" roars the professor, indignantly. "Do you imagine that I——?"

"No. I'd belave nothin' bad o' ye," says Mrs. Mulcahy solemnly. "I've cared ye these six years, an' niver a fault to find. But that child beyant, whin ye take her away to make her yer wife——"

"You must be mad," says the professor, a strange, curious pang contracting his heart. "I am not taking her away to——I—I am taking her to my sister, who will receive her as a guest."

"Mad!" repeats Mrs. Mulcahy furiously. "Who's mad? Faix," preparing to leave the room, "'tis yerself was born widout a grain o' sinse!"

The meeting between Lady Baring and Perpetua is eminently satisfactory. The latter, looking lovely, but a little frightened, so takes Lady Baring's artistic soul by storm, that that great lady then and there accepts the situation, and asks Perpetua if she will come to her for a week or so. Perpetua, charmed in turn by Lady Baring's grace and beauty and pretty ways, receives the invitation with pleasure, little dreaming that she is there "on view," as it were, and that the invitation is to be prolonged indefinitely—that is, till either she or her hostess tire one of the other.

The professor's heart sinks a little as he sees his sister rise and loosen the laces round the girl's pretty, slender throat, begging her to begin to feel at home at once. Alas! He has deliberately given up his ward! His ward! Is she any longer his? Has not the great world claimed her now, and presently will she not belong to it? So lovely, so sweet she is, will not all men run to snatch the prize?—a prize, bejewelled too, not only by Nature, but by that gross material charm that men call wealth. Well, well, he has done his best for her. There was, indeed, nothing else left to do.



CHAPTER X.

"The sun is all about the world we see, The breath and strength of very Spring; and we Live, love, and feed on our own hearts."

The lights are burning low in the conservatory, soft perfumes from the many flowers fill the air. From beyond—somewhere—(there is a delicious drowsy uncertainty about the where)—comes the sound of music, soft, rhymical, and sweet. Perhaps it is from one of the rooms outside—dimly seen through the green foliage—where the lights are more brilliant, and forms are moving. But just in here there is no music save the tinkling drip, drip of the little fountain that plays idly amongst the ferns.

Lady Baring is at home to-night, and in the big, bare rooms outside dancing is going on, and in the smaller rooms, tiny tragedies and comedies are being enacted by amateurs, who, oh, wondrous tale! do know their parts and speak them, albeit no stage "proper" has been prepared for them. Perhaps that is why stage-fright is not for them—a stage as big as "all the world" leaves actors very free.

But in here—here, with the dainty flowers and dripping fountains, there is surely no thought of comedy or tragedy. Only a little girl gowned all in white, with snowy arms and neck, and diamonds gittering in the soft masses of her waving hair. A happy little girl, to judge by the soft smile upon her lovely lips, and the gleam in her dark eyes. Leaning back in her seat in the dim, cool recesses of the conservatory, amongst the flowers and the greeneries, she looks like a little nymph in love with the silence and the sense of rest that the hour holds.

It is broken, however.

"I am so sorry you are not dancing," says her companion, leaning towards her. His regret is evidently genuine, indeed, to Hardinge the evening is an ill-spent one that precludes his dancing with Perpetua Wynter.

"Yes?" she looks up at him from her low lounge amongst the palms. "Well, so am I, do you know!" telling the truth openly, yet with an evident sense of shame. "But I don't dance now because—it is selfish, isn't it?—because I should be so unhappy afterwards if I did!"

"A perfect reason," says Hardinge very earnestly. He is still leaning towards her, his elbows on his knees, his eyes on hers. It is an intent gaze that seldom wanders, and in truth why should it? Where is any other thing as good to look at as this small, fair creature, with the eyes, and the hair, and the lips that belong to her?

He has taken possession of her fan, and gently, lovingly, as though indeed it is part of her, is holding it, raising it sometimes to sweep the feathers of it across his lips.

"Do you think so?" says she, as if a little puzzled. "Well, I confess I don't like the moments when I hate myself. We all hate ourselves sometimes, don't we?" looking at him as if doubtfully, "or is it only I myself, who——"

"Oh, no!" says Hardinge. "All! All of us detest ourselves now and again, or at least we think we do. It comes to the same thing, but you—you have no cause."

"I should have if I danced," says she, "and I couldn't bear the after reproach, so I don't do it."

"And yet—yet you would like to dance?"

"I don't know——" She hesitates, and suddenly looks up at him with eyes as full of sorrow as of mirth. "At all events I know this," says she, "that I wish the band would not play such nice waltzes!"

Hardinge gives way to laughter, and presently she laughs too, but softly, and as if afraid of being heard, and as if too a little ashamed of herself. Her color rises, a delicate warm color that renders her absolutely adorable.

"Shall I order them to stop?" asks Hardinge, laughing still, yet with something in his gaze that tells her he would forbid them to play if he could, if only to humor her.

"No!" says she, "and after all,"—philosophically—"enjoyment is only a name."

"That's all!" says Hardinge, smiling. "But a very good one."

"Let us forget it," with a little sigh, "and talk of something else, something pleasanter."

"Than enjoyment?"

She gives way to his mood and laughs afresh.

"Ah! you have me there!" says she.

"I have not, indeed," he returns, quietly and with meaning. "Neither there, nor anywhere."

He gets up suddenly, and going to her, bends over the chair on which she is sitting.

"We were talking of what?" asks she, with admirable courage, "of names, was it not? An endless subject. My name now? An absurd one surely. Perpetua! I don't like Perpetua, do you?" She is evidently talking at random.

"I do indeed!" says Hardinge, promptly and fervently. His tone accentuates his meaning.

"Oh, but so harsh, so unusual!"

"Unusual! That in itself constitutes a charm."

"I was going to add, however—disagreeable."

"Not that—never that," Says Hardinge.

"You mean to say you really like Perpetua?" her large soft eyes opening with amazement.

"It is a poor word," says he, his tone now very low. "If I dared say that I adored 'Perpetua,' I should be——"

"Oh, you laugh at me," interrupts she with a little impatient gesture, "you know how crude, how strange, how——"

"I don't indeed. Why should you malign yourself like that? You—you—who are——"

He stops short, driven to silence by a look in the girl's eyes.

"What have I to do with it? I did not christen myself," says she. There is perhaps a suspicion of hauteur in her tone. "I am talking to you about my name. You understand that, don't you?"—the hauteur increasing. "Do you know, of late I have often wished I was somebody else, because then I should have had a different one."

Hardinge, at this point, valiantly refrains from a threadbare quotation. Perhaps he is too far crushed to be able to remember it.

"Still it is charming," says he, somewhat confusedly.

"It is absurd," says Perpetua coldly. There is evidently no pity in her. And alas! when we think what that sweet feeling is akin to, on the highest authority, one's hopes for Hardinge fall low. He loses his head a little.

"Not so absurd as your guardian's, however," says he, feeling the necessity for saying something without the power to manufacture it.

"Mr. Curzon's? What is his name?" asks she, rising out of her lounging position and looking, for the first time, interested.

"Thaddeus."

Perpetua, after a prolonged stare, laughs a little.

"What a name!" says she. "Worse than mine. And yet," still laughing, "it suits him, I think."

Hardinge laughs with her. Not at his friend, but with her. It seems clear to him that Perpetua is making gentle fun of her guardian, and though his conscience smites him for encouraging her in her naughtiness, still he cannot refrain.

"He is an awfully good old fellow," says he, throwing a sop to his Cerberus.

"Is he?" says Perpetua, as if even more amused. She looks up at him, and then down again, and trifles with the fan she has taken back from him, and finally laughs again; something in her laugh this time, however, puzzles him.

"You don't like him?" hazards he. "After all, I suppose it is hardly natural that a ward should like her guardian."

"Yes? And why?" asks Perpetua, still smiling, still apparently amused.

"For one thing, the sense of restraint that belongs to the relations between them. A guardian, you know, would be able to control one in a measure."

"Would he?"

"Well, I imagine so. It is traditionary. And you?"

"I don't know about other people," says Miss Wynter, calmly, "I know only this, that nobody ever yet controlled me, and I don't suppose now that anybody ever will."

As she says this she looks at him with the prettiest smile; it is a mixture of amusement and defiance. Hardinge, gazing at her, draws conclusions. ("Perfectly hates him," decides he.)

It seems to him a shame, and a pity too, but after all, old Curzon was hardly meant by Nature to do the paternal to a strange and distinctly spoilt child, and a beauty into the bargain.

"I don't think your guardian will have a good time," says he, bending over her confidentially, on the strength of this decision of his.

"Don't you?" She draws back from him and looks up. "You think I shall lead him a very bad life?"

"Well, as he would regard it. Not as I should," with a sudden, impassioned glance.

Miss Wynter puts that glance behind her, and perhaps there is something—something a little dangerous in the soft, soft look she now turns upon him.

"He thinks so, too, of course?" says she, ever so gently. Her tone is half a question, half an assertion. It is manifestly unfair, the whole thing. Hardinge, believing in her tone, her smile, falls into the trap. Mindful of that night when the professor in despair at her untimely descent upon him, had said many things unmeant, he answers her.

"Hardly that. But——"

"Go on."

"There was a little word or two, you know," laughing.

"A hint?" laughing too, but how strangely! "Yes? And——?"

"Oh! a mere hint! The professor is too loyal to go beyond that. I suppose you know you have the best man in all the world for your guardian? But it was a little unkind of your people, was it not, to give you into the keeping of a confirmed bookworm—a savant—with scarcely a thought beyond his studies?"

"He could study me!" says she. "I should be a fresh specimen."

"A rara avis, indeed! but not such as the professor's soul covets. No, believe me, you are as dust before the wind in his learned eye."

"You think then—that I—am a trouble to him?"

"It is inconceivable," says he, with a shrug of apology, "but he has no room in his daily thoughts, I verily believe, for anything beyond his beloved books, and notes, and discoveries."

"Yet I am a discovery," persists she, looking at him with anxious eyes, and leaning forward, whilst her fan falls idly on her knees.

"Ah! But so unpardonably recent!" returns he with a smile.

"True!" says she. She gives him one swift brilliant glance, and then suddenly grows restless. "How warm it is!" she says fretfully. "I wish——"

What she was going to say, will never now be known. The approach of a tall, gaunt figure through the hanging oriental curtains at the end of the conservatory checks her speech. Sir Hastings Curzon is indeed taller than most men, and is, besides, a man hardly to be mistaken again when once seen. Perpetua has seen him very frequently of late.



CHAPTER XI.

"But all was false and hollow; though his tongue Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest counsels."

"Shall I take you to Lady Baring?" says Hardinge, quickly, rising and bending as if to offer her his arm.

"No, thank you," coldly.

"I think," anxiously, "you once told me you did not care for Sir——"

"Did I? It seems quite terrible the amount of things I have told everybody." There is a distinct flash in her lovely eyes now, and her small hand has tightened round her fan. "Sometimes—I talk folly! As a fact" (with a touch of defiance), "I like Sir Hastings, although he is my guardian's brother!—my guardian who would so gladly get rid of me." There is bitterness on the young, red mouth.

"You should not look at it in that light."

"Should I not? You should be the last to say that, seeing that you were the one to show me how to regard it. Besides, you forget Sir Hastings is Lady Baring's brother too, and—you haven't anything to say against her, have you? Ah!" with a sudden lovely smile, "you, Sir Hastings?"

"You are not dancing," says the tall, gaunt man, who has now come up to her. "So much I have seen. Too warm? Eh? You show reason, I think. And yet, if I might dare to hope that you would give me this waltz——"

"No, no," says she, still with her most charming air. "I am not dancing to-night. I shall not dance this year."

"That is a Median law, no doubt," says he. "If you will not dance with me, then may I hope that you will give me the few too short moments that this waltz may contain?"

Hardinge makes a vague movement but an impetuous one. If the girl had realized the fact of his love for her, she might have been touched and influenced by it, but as it is she feels only a sense of anger towards him. Anger unplaced, undefined, yet nevertheless intense.

"With pleasure," says she to Sir Hastings, smiling at him almost across Hardinge's outstretched hand. The latter draws back.

"You dismiss me?" says he, with a careful smile. He bows to her—he is gone.

"A well-meaning young man," says Sir Hastings, following Hardinge's retreating figure with a delightfully lenient smile. "Good-looking too; but earnest. Have you noticed it? Entirely well-bred, but just a little earnest! Such a mistake!"

"I don't think that," says Perpetua. "To be earnest! One should be earnest."

"Should one?" Sir Hastings looks delighted expectation. "Tell me about it," says he.

"There is nothing to tell," says Perpetua, a little petulantly perhaps. This tall, thin man! what a bore he is! And yet, the other—Mr. Hardinge—well he was worse; he was a fool, anyway; he didn't understand the professor one bit! "I like Mr. Hardinge," says she suddenly.

"Happy Hardinge! But little girls like you are good to everyone, are you not? That is what makes you so lovely. You could be good to even a scapegrace, eh? A poor, sad outcast like me?" He laughs and leans towards her, his handsome, dissipated, abominable face close to hers.

Involuntarily she recoils.

"I hope everyone is good to you," says she. "Why should they not be? And why do you call yourself an outcast? Only bad people are outcasts. And bad people," slowly, "are not known, are they?"

"Certainly not," says he, disconcerted. This little girl from a far land is proving herself too much for him. And it is not her words that disconcert him so much as the straight, clear, open glance from her thoughtful eyes.

To turn the conversation into another channel seems desirable to him.

"I hope you are happy here with my sister," says he, in his anything but everyday tone.

"Quite happy, thank you. But I should have been happier still, I think, if I had been allowed to stay with your brother."

Sir Hastings drops his glasses. Good heavens! what kind of a girl is this!

"To stay with my brother! To stay," stammers he.

"Yes. He is your brother, isn't he? The professor, I mean. I should quite have enjoyed living with him, but he wouldn't hear of it. He—he doesn't like me, I'm afraid?" Perpetua looks at him anxiously. A little hope that he will contradict Hardinge's statement animates her mind. To feel herself a burden to her guardian—to anyone—she, who in the old home had been nothing less than an idol! Surely Sir Hastings, his own brother, will say something, will tell her something to ease this chagrin at her heart.

"Who told you that?" asks Sir Hastings. "Did he himself? I shouldn't put it beyond him. He is a misogynist; a mere bookworm! Of no account. Do not waste a thought on him."

"You mean——?"

"That he detests the best part of life—that he has deliberately turned his back on all that makes our existence here worth the having. I should call him a fool, but that one so dislikes having an imbecile in one's family."

"The best part of life! You say he has turned his back on that." She lets her hands fall upon her knees, and turns a frowning, perplexed, but always lovely face to his. "What is it," asks she, "that best part?"

"Women!" returns he, slowly, undauntedly, in spite of the innocence, the serenity, that shines in the young and exquisite face before him.

Her eyes do not fall before his. She is plainly thinking. Yes; Mr. Hardinge was right, he will never like her. She is only a stay, a hindrance to him!

"I understand," says she sorrowfully. "He will not care—ever. I shall be always a trouble to him. He——"

"Why think of him?" says Sir Hastings contemptuously. He leans towards her: fired by her beauty, that is now enhanced by the regret that lies upon her pretty lips, he determines on pushing his cause at once. "If he cannot appreciate you, others can—I can. I——" He pauses; for the first time in his life, on such an occasion as this, he is conscious of a feeling of awkwardness. To tell a woman he loves her has been the simplest thing in the world hitherto, but now, when at last he is in earnest—when poverty has driven him to seek marriage with an heiress as a cure for all his ills—he finds himself tongue-tied; and not only by the importance of the situation, so far as money goes, but by the clear, calm, waiting eyes of Perpetua.

"Yes?" says she; and then suddenly, as if not caring for the answer she has demanded. "You mean that he——You, too, think that he dislikes me?" There is woe in the pale, small, lovely face.

"Very probably. He was always eccentric. Perfect nuisance at home. None of us could understand him. I shouldn't in the least wonder if he had taken a rooted aversion to you, and taken it badly too! Miss Wynter! it quite distresses me to think that it should be my brother, of all men, who has failed to see your charm. A charm that——" He pauses effectively, to let his really fine eyes have some play. The conservatory is sufficiently dark to disguise the ravages that dissipation has made upon his handsome features. He can see that Perpetua is regarding him earnestly, and with evident interest. Already he regards his cause as won. It is plain that the girl is attracted by his face, as indeed she is! She is at this moment asking herself, who is it he is like?

"You were saying?" says she dreamily.

"That the charm you possess, though of no value in the eyes of your guardian, is, to me, indescribably attractive. In fact—I——"

A second pause, meant to be even more effective.

Perpetua turns her gaze more directly upon him. It occurs to her that he is singularly dull, poor man.

"Go on," says she. She nods her head at him with much encouragement.

Her encouragement falls short. Sir Hastings, who had looked for girlish confusion, is somewhat disconcerted by this open patronage.

"May I?" says he—"You permit me then to tell you what I have so longed, feared to disclose. I"—dramatically—"love you!"

He is standing over her, his hand on the back of her chair, waiting for the swift blush, the tremor, the usual signs that follow on one of his declarations. Alas! there is no blush now, no tremor, no sign at all.

"That is very good of you," says Perpetua, in an even tone. She moves a little away from him, but otherwise shows no emotion whatever. "The more so, in that it must be so difficult for you to love a person in fourteen days! Ah! that is kind, indeed."

A curious light comes into Sir Hastings' eyes. This little Australian girl, is she laughing at him? But the fact is that Perpetua is hardly thinking of him at all, or merely as a shadow to her thoughts. Who is he like? that is the burden of her inward song. At this moment she knows. She lifts her head to see the professor standing in the curtained doorway down below. Ah! yes, that is it! And, indeed, the resemblance between the two brothers is wonderfully strong at this instant! In the eyes of both a quick fire is kindled.



CHAPTER XII.

"Love, like a June rose, Buds and sweetly blows— But tears its leaves disclose, And among thorns it grows."

The professor had been standing inside the curtain for a full minute before Perpetua had seen him. Spell-bound he had stood there, gazing at the girl as if bewitched. Up to this he had seen her only in black—black always—severe, cold—but now!

It is to him as though he had seen her for the first time. The graceful curves of her neck, her snowy arms, the dead white of the gown against the whiter glory of the soft bosom, the large, dark eyes so full of feeling, the little dainty head! Are they all new—or some sweet, fresher memory of a picture well beloved?

Then he had seen his brother!—Hastings—the disgrace, the roue ... and bending over her!... There had been that little movement, and the girl's calm drawing back, and——

The professor's step forward at that moment had betrayed him to Perpetua.

She rises now, letting her fan fall without thought to the ground.

"You!" cries she, in a little, soft, quick way. "You!" Indeed it seems to her impossible that it can be he.

She almost runs to him. If she had quite understood Sir Hastings is impossible to know, for no one has ever asked her since, but certainly the advent of her guardian is a relief to her.

"You!" she says again, as if only half believing. Her gaze grows bewildered. If he had never seen her in anything but black before, she had never seen him in ought but rather antiquated morning clothes. Is this really the professor? Her eyes ask the question anxiously. This tall, aristocratic, perfectly-appointed man; this man who looks positively young. Where are the glasses that until now hid his eyes? Where is that old, old coat?

"Yes." Yes, the professor certainly and as disagreeable as possible. His eyes are still aflame; but Perpetua is not afraid of him. She is angry with him, in a measure, but not afraid. One might be afraid of Sir Hastings, but of Mr. Curzon, no!

The professor had seen the glad rush of the girl towards him, and a terrible pang of delight had run through all his veins—to be followed by a reaction. She had come to him because she wanted him, because he might be of use to her, not because.... What had Hastings been saying to her? His wrathful eyes are on his brother rather than on her when he says:

"You are tired?"

"Yes," says Perpetua.

"Shall I take you to Gwendoline?"

"Yes," says Perpetua again.

"Miss Wynter is in my care at present," says Sir Hastings, coming indolently forward. "Shall I take you to Lady Baring?" asks he, addressing Perpetua with a suave smile.

"She will come with me," says the professor, with cold decision.

"A command!" says Sir Hastings, laughing lightly. "See what it is, Miss Wynter, to have a hard-hearted guardian." He shrugs his shoulders. Perpetua makes him a little bow, and follows the professor out of the conservatory.

"If you are tired," says the professor, somewhat curtly, and without looking at her, "I should think the best thing you could do would be to go to bed!"

This astounding advice receives but little favor at Miss Wynter's hands.

"I am tired of your brother," says she promptly. "He is as tiresome a creation as I know—but not of your sister's party; and—I'm too old to be sent to bed, even by a Guardian!!" She puts a very big capital to the last word.

"I don't want to send you to bed," says the professor simply. "Though I think little girls like you——"

"I am not a little girl," indignantly.

"Certainly you are not a big one," says he. It is an untimely remark. Miss Wynter's hitherto ill-subdued anger now bursts into flame.

"I can't help it if I'm not big," cries she. "It isn't my fault. I can't help it either that papa sent me to you. I didn't want to go to you. It wasn't my fault that I was thrown upon your hands. And—and"—her voice begins to tremble—"it isn't my fault either that you hate me."

"That I—hate you!" The professor's voice is cold and shocked.

"Yes. It is true. You need not deny it. You know you hate me." They are now in an angle of the hall where few people come and go, and are, for the moment, virtually alone.

"Who told you that I hated you?" asks the professor in a peremptory sort of way.

"No," says she, shaking her head, "I shall not tell you that, but I have heard it all the same."

"One hears a great many things if one is foolish enough to listen," Curzon's face is a little pale now. "And—I can guess who has been talking to you."

"Why should I not listen? It is true, is it not?"

She looks up at him. She seems tremulously anxious for the answer.

"You want me to deny it then?"

"Oh, no, no!" she throws out one hand with a little gesture of mingled anger and regret. "Do you think I want you to lie to me? There I am wrong. After all," with a half smile, sadder than most sad smiles because of the youth and sweetness of it, "I do not blame you. I am a trouble, I suppose, and all troubles are hateful. I"—holding out her hand—"shall take your advice, I think, and go to bed."

"It was bad advice," says Curzon, taking the hand and holding it. "Stay up, enjoy yourself, dance——"

"Oh! I am not dancing," says she as if offended.

"Why not?" eagerly, "Better dance than sleep at your age. You—you mistook me. Why go so soon?"

She looks at him with a little whimsical expression.

"I shall not know you at all, presently," says she. "Your very appearance to-night is strange to me, and now your sentiments! No, I shall not be swayed by you. Good-night, good-bye!" She smiles at him in the same sorrowful little way, and takes a step or two forward.

"Perpetua," says the professor sternly, "before you go you must listen to me. You said just now you would not hear me lie to you—you shall hear only the truth. Whoever told you that I hated you is the most unmitigated liar on record!"

Perpetua rubs her fan up and down against her cheek for a little bit.

"Well—I'm glad you don't hate me," says she, "but still I'm a worry. Never mind,"—sighing—"I daresay I shan't be so for long."

"You mean?" asks the professor anxiously.

"Nothing—nothing at all. Good-night. Good-night, indeed."

"Must you go? Is enjoyment nothing to you?"

"Ah! you have killed all that for me," says she. This parting shaft she hurls at him—malice prepense. It is effectual. By it she murders sleep as thoroughly as ever did Macbeth. The professor spends the remainder of the night pacing up and down his rooms.



CHAPTER XIII.

"Through thick and thin, both over bank and bush, In hopes her to attain by hook or crook.

"You will begin to think me a fixture," says Hardinge with a somewhat embarrassed laugh, flinging himself into an armchair.

"You know you are always welcome," says the professor gently, if somewhat absently.

It is next morning, and he looks decidedly the worse for his sleeplessness. His face seems really old, his eyes are sunk in his head. The breakfast lying untouched upon the table tells its own tale.

"Dissipation doesn't agree with you," says Hardinge with a faint smile.

"No. I shall give it up," returns Curzon, his laugh a trifle grim.

"I was never more surprised in my life than when I saw you at your sister's last evening. I was relieved, too—sometimes it is necessary for a man to go out, and—and see how things are going on with his own eyes."

"I wonder when that would be?" asks the professor indifferently.

"When a man is a guardian," replies Hardinge promptly, and with evident meaning.

The professor glances quickly at him.

"You mean——?" says he.

"Oh! yes, of course I mean something," says Hardinge impatiently. "But I don't suppose you want me to explain myself. You were there last night—you must have seen for yourself."

"Seen what?"

"Pshaw!" says Hardinge, throwing up his head, and flinging his cigarette into the empty fireplace. "I saw you go into the conservatory. You found her there, and—him. It is beginning to be the chief topic of conversation amongst his friends just now. The betting is already pretty free."

"Go on," says the professor.

"I needn't go on. You know it now, if you didn't before."

"It is you who know it—not I. Say it!" says the professor, almost fiercely. "It is about her?"

"Your ward? Yes. Your brother it seems has made his mind to bestow upon her his hand, his few remaining acres, and," with a sneer, "his spotless reputation."

"Hardinge!" cries the professor, springing to his feet as if shot. He is evidently violently agitated. His companion mistakes the nature of his excitement.

"Forgive me!" says he quickly. "Of course nothing can excuse my speaking of him like that—to you. But I feel you ought to be told. Miss Wynter is in your care, you are in a measure responsible for her future happiness—the happiness of her whole life, Curzon—and if anything goes wrong with her——"

The professor puts up his hand as if to check him. He has grown ashen-grey, and the other hand resting on the back of the chair is visibly trembling.

"Nothing shall go wrong with her," says he, in a curious tone.

Hardinge regards him keenly. Is this pallor, this unmistakable trepidation, caused only by his dislike to hear his brother's real character exposed.

"Well, I have told you," says he coldly.

"It is a mistake," says the professor. "He would not dare to approach a young, innocent girl. The most honorable proposal such a man as he could make to her would be basely dishonorable."

"Ah! you see it in that light too," says Hardinge, with a touch of relief. "My dear fellow, it is hard for me to discuss him with you, but yet I fear it must be done. Did you notice nothing in his manner last night?"

Yes, the professor had noticed something. Now there comes back to him that tall figure stooping over Perpetua, the handsome, leering face bent low—the girl's instinctive withdrawal.

"Something must be done," says he.

"Yes. And quickly. Young girls are sometimes dazzled by men of his sort. And Per—Miss Wynter ... Look here, Curzon," breaking off hurriedly. "This is your affair, you know. You are her guardian. You should see to it."

"I could speak to her."

"That would be fatal. She is just the sort of girl to say 'Yes' to him because she was told to say 'No.'"

"You seem to have studied her," says the professor quietly.

"Well, I confess I have seen a good deal of her of late."

"And to some purpose. Your knowledge of her should lead you to making a way out of this difficulty."

"I have thought of one," says Hardinge boldly, yet with a quick flush. "You are her guardian. Why not arrange another marriage for her, before this affair with Sir Hastings goes too far."

"There are two parties to a marriage," says the professor, his tone always very low. "Who is it to whom you propose to marry Miss Wynter?"

Hardinge, getting up, moves abruptly to the window and back again.

"You have known me a long time, Curzon," says he at last. "You—you have been my friend. I have family—position—money—I——"

"I am to understand, then, that you are a candidate for the hand of my ward," says the professor slowly, so slowly that it might suggest itself to a disinterested listener that he has great difficulty in speaking at all.

"Yes," says Hardinge, very diffidently. He looks appealingly at the professor. "I know perfectly well she might do a great deal better," says he, with a modesty that sits very charmingly upon him. "But if it comes to a choice between me and your brother, I—I think I am the better man. By Jove, Curzon," growing hot, "it's awfully rude of me, I know, but it is so hard to remember that he is your brother."

But the professor does not seem offended. He seems, indeed, so entirely unimpressed by Hardinge's last remark, that it may reasonably be supposed he hasn't heard a word of it.

"And she?" says he. "Perpetua. Does she——" He hesitates as if finding it impossible to go on.

"Oh! I don't know," says the younger man, with a rather rueful smile. "Sometimes I think she doesn't care for me more than she does for the veriest stranger amongst her acquaintances, and sometimes——" expressive pause.

"Yes? Sometimes?"

"She has seemed kind."

"Kind? How kind?"

"Well—friendly. More friendly than she is to others. Last night she let me sit out three waltzes with her, and, she only sat out one with your brother."

"Is it?" asks the professor, in a dull, monotonous sort of way. "Is it—I am not much in your or her world, you know—is it a very marked thing for a girl to sit out three waltzes with one man?"

"Oh, no. Nothing very special. I have known girls do it often, but she is not like other girls, is she?"

The professor waves this question aside.

"Keep to the point," says he.

"Well, she is the point, isn't she? And look here, Curzon, why aren't you of our world? It is your own fault surely; when one sees your sister, your brother, and—and this," with a slight glance round the dull little apartment, "one cannot help wondering why you——"

"Let that go by," says the professor. "I have explained it before. I deliberately chose my own way in life, and I want nothing more than I have. You think, then, that last night Miss Wynter gave you—encouragement?"

"Oh! hardly that. And yet—she certainly seemed to like—that is not to dislike my being with her: and once—well,"—confusedly—"that was nothing."

"It must have been something."

"No, really; and I shouldn't have mentioned it either—not for a moment."

The professor's face changes. The apathy that has lain upon it for the past five minutes now gives way to a touch of fierce despair. He turns aside, as if to hide the tell-tale features, and going to the window, gazes sightlessly on the hot, sunny street below.

What was it—what? Shall he ever have the courage to find out? And is this to be the end of it all? In a flash the coming of the girl is present before him, and now, here is her going. Had she—had she—what was it he meant? No wonder if her girlish fancy had fixed itself on this tall, handsome, young man, with his kindly, merry ways and honest meaning. Ah! that was what she meant perhaps when last night she had told him "she would not be a worry to him long." Yes, she had meant that; that she was going to marry Hardinge!

But to know what Hardinge means! A torturing vision of a little lovely figure, gowned all in white—of a little lovely face uplifted—of another face down bent! No! a thousand times, no! Hardinge would not speak of that—it would be too sacred; and yet this awful doubt——

"Look here. I'll tell you," says Hardinge's voice at this moment. "After all, you are her guardian—her father almost—though I know you scarcely relish your position; and you ought to know about it, and perhaps you can give me your opinion, too, as to whether there was anything in it, you know. The fact is, I,"—rather shamefacedly—"asked her for a flower out of her bouquet, and she gave it. That was all, and," hurriedly, "I don't really believe she meant anything by giving it, only," with a nervous laugh, "I keep hoping she did!"

A long, long sigh comes through the professor's lips straight from his heart. Only a flower she gave him! Well——

"What do you think?" asks Hardinge after a long pause.

"It is a matter on which I could not think."

"But there is this," says Hardinge. "You will forward my cause rather than your brother's, will you not? This is an extraordinary demand to make I know—but—I also know you."

"I would rather see her dead than married to my brother," says the professor, slowly, distinctly.

"And——?" questions Hardinge.

The professor hesitates a moment, and then:

"What do you want me to do?" asks he.

"Do? 'Say a good word for me' to her; that is the old way of putting it, isn't it? and it expresses all I mean. She reveres you, even if——"

"If what?"

"She revolts from your power over her. She is high-spirited, you know," says Hardinge. "That is one of her charms, in my opinion. What I want you to do, Curzon, is to—to see her at once—not to-day, she is going to an afternoon at Lady Swanley's—but to-morrow, and to—you know,"—nervously—"to make a formal proposal to her."

The professor throws back his head and laughs aloud. Such a strange laugh.

"I am to propose to her—I?" says he.

"For me, of course. It is very usual," says Hardinge. "And you are her guardian, you know, and——"

"Why not propose to her yourself?" says the professor, turning violently upon him. "Why give me this terrible task? Are you a coward, that you shrink from learning your fate except at the hands of another—another who——"

"To tell you the truth, that is it," interrupts Hardinge, simply. "I don't wonder at your indignation, but the fact is, I love her so much, that I fear to put it to the touch myself. You will help me, won't you? You see, you stand in the place of her father, Curzon. If you were her father, I should be saying to you just what I am saying now."

"True," says the professor. His head is lowered. "There, go," says he, "I must think this over."

"But I may depend upon you"—anxiously—"you will do what you can for me?"

"I shall do what I can for her."



CHAPTER XIV.

"Now, by a two-headed Janus, Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time."

Hardinge is hardly gone before another—a far heavier—step sounds in the passage outside the professor's door. It is followed by a knock, almost insolent in its loudness and sharpness.

"What a hole you do live in," says Sir Hastings, stepping into the room, and picking his way through the books and furniture as if afraid of being tainted by them. "Bless me! what strange beings you scientists are. Rags and bones your surroundings, instead of good flesh and blood. Well, Thaddeus—hardly expected to see me here, eh?"

"You want me?" says the professor. "Don't sit down there—those notes are loose; sit here."

"Faith, you've guessed it, my dear fellow, I do want you, and most confoundedly badly this time. Your ward, now, Miss Wynter! Deuced pretty little girl, isn't she, and good form too? Wonderfully bred—considering."

"I don't suppose you have come here to talk about Miss Wynter's good manners."

"By Jove! I have though. You see, Thaddeus, I've about come to the length of my tether, and—er—I'm thinking of turning over a new leaf—reforming, you know—settling down—going in for dulness—domesticity, and all the other deuced lot of it."

"It is an excellent resolution, that might have been arrived at years ago with greater merit," says the professor.

"A preacher and a scientist in one! Dear sir, you go beyond the possible," says Sir Hastings, with a shrug. "But to business. See here, Thaddeus. I have told you a little of my plans, now hear the rest. I intend to marry—an heiress, bien entendu—and it seems to me that your ward, Miss Wynter, will suit me well enough."

"And Miss Wynter, will you suit her well enough?"

"A deuced sight too well, I should say. Why, the girl is of no family to signify, whereas the Curzons——It will be a better match for her than in her wildest dreams she could have hoped for."

"Perhaps, in her wildest dreams, she hoped for a good man, and one who could honestly love her."

"Pouf! You are hardly up to date, my dear fellow. Girls, now-a-days, are wise enough to know they can't have everything, and she will get a good deal. Title, position——I say, Thaddeus, what I want of you is to—er—to help me in this matter—to—crack me up a bit, eh?—to—you know."

The professor is silent, more through disgust than want of anything to say. Staring at the man before him, he knows he is loathsome to him—loathsome, and his own brother! This man, who with some of the best blood of England in his veins, is so far, far below the standard that marks the gentleman. Surely vice is degrading in more ways than one. To the professor, Sir Hastings, with his handsome, dissipated face, stands out, tawdry, hideous, vulgar—why, every word he says is tinged with coarseness; and yet, what a pretty boy he used to be, with his soft, sunny hair and laughing eyes——

"You will help me, eh?" persists Sir Hastings, with his little dry chronic cough, that seems to shake his whole frame.

"Impossible," says the professor, simply, coldly.

"No? Why?"

The professor looks at him (a penetrating glance), but says nothing.

"Oh! damn it all!" says his brother, his brow darkening. "You had better, you know, if you want the old name kept above water much longer."

"You mean——?" says the professor, turning a grave face to his.

"Nothing but what is honorable. I tell you I mean to turn over a new leaf. 'Pon my soul, I mean that. I'm sick of all this old racket, it's killing me. And my title is as good a one as she can find anywhere, and if I'm dipped—rather—her money would pull me straight again, and——"

He pauses, struck by something in the professor's face.

"You mean——?" says the latter again, even more slowly. His eyes are beginning to light.

"Exactly what I have said," sullenly. "You have heard me."

"Yes, I have heard you," cries the professor, flinging aside all restraints and giving way to sudden violent passion—the more violent, coming from one so usually calm and indifferent. "You have come here to-day to try and get possession, not only of the fortune of a young and innocent girl, but of her body and soul as well! And it is me, me whom you ask to be a party to this shameful transaction. Her dead father left her to my care, and I am to sell her to you, that her money may redeem our name from the slough into which you have flung it? Is innocence to be sacrificed that vice may ride abroad again? Look here," says the professor, his face deadly white, "you have come to the wrong man. I shall warn Miss Wynter against marriage with you, as long as there is breath left in my body."

Sir Hastings has risen too; his face is dark red; the crimson flood has reached his forehead and dyed it almost black. Now, at this terrible moment, the likeness between the two brothers, so different in spirit, can be seen; the flashing-eyes, the scornful lips, the deadly hatred. It is a shocking likeness, yet not to be denied.

"What do you mean, damn you?" says Sir Hastings; he sways a little, as if his passion is overpowering him, and clutches feebly at the edge of the table.

"Exactly what I have said," retorts the professor, fiercely.

"You refuse then to go with me in this matter?"

"Finally. Even if I would, I could not. I—have other views for her."

"Indeed! Perhaps those other views include yourself. Are you thinking of reserving the prize for your own special benefit? A penniless guardian—a rich ward; as a situation, it is perfect; full of possibilities."

"Take care," says the professor, advancing a step or two.

"Tut! Do you think I can't see through your game?" says Sir Hastings, in his most offensive way, which is nasty indeed. "You hope to keep me unmarried. You tell yourself, I can't live much longer, at the pace I'm going. I know the old jargon—I have it by heart—given a year at the most the title and the heiress will both be yours! I can read you—I—" He breaks off to laugh sardonically, and the cough catching him, shakes him horribly. "But, no, by heaven!" cries he. "I'll destroy your hopes yet. I'll disappoint you. I'll marry. I'm a young man yet—yet—with life—long life before me—life——"

A terrible change comes over his face, he reels backwards, only saving himself by a blind clinging to a book-case on his right.

The professor rushes to him and places his arm round him. With his foot he drags a chair nearer, into which Sir Hastings falls with a heavy groan. It is only a momentary attack, however; in a little while the leaden hue clears away, and, though still ghastly, his face looks more natural.

"Brandy," gasps he faintly. The professor holds it to his lips, and after a minute or two he revives sufficiently to be able to sit up and look round him.

"Thought you had got rid of me for good and all," says he, with a malicious grin, terrible to see on his white, drawn face. "But I'll beat you yet! There!—Call my fellow—he's below. Can't get about without a damned attendant in the morning, now. But I'll cure all that. I'll see you dead before I go to my own grave. I——"

"Take your master to his carriage," says the professor to the man, who is now on the threshold. The maunderings of Sir Hastings—still hardly recovered from his late fit—strike horribly upon his ear, rendering him almost faint.



CHAPTER XV.

My love is like the sky, As distant and as high; Perchance she's fair and kind and bright, Perchance she's stormy—tearful quite— Alas! I scarce know why."

It is late in the day when the professor enters Lady Baring's house. He had determined not to wait till the morrow to see Perpetua. It seemed to him that it would be impossible to go through another sleepless night, with this raging doubt, this cruel uncertainty in his heart.

He finds her in the library, the soft light of the dying evening falling on her little slender figure. She is sitting in a big armchair, all in black—as he best knows her—with a book upon her knee. She looks charming, and fresh as a new-born flower. Evidently neither last night's party nor to-day's afternoon have had power to dim her beauty. Sleep had visited her last night, at all events.

She springs out of her chair, and throws her book on the table near her.

"Why, you are the very last person I expected," says she.

"No doubt," says the professor. Who was the first person she has expected? And will Hardinge be here presently to plead his cause in person? "But it was imperative I should come. There is something I have to tell you—to lay before you."

"Not a mummy, I trust," says she, a little flippantly.

"A proposal," says the professor, coldly. "Much as I know you dislike the idea, still; it was your poor father's wish that I should, in a measure, regulate your life until your coming of age. I am here to-day to let you know—that—Mr. Hardinge has requested me to tell you that he——"

The professor pauses, feeling that he is failing miserably. He, the fluent speaker at lectures, and on public platforms, is now bereft of the power to explain one small situation.

"What's the matter with Mr. Hardinge," asks Perpetua, "that he can't come here himself? Nothing serious, I hope?"

"I am your guardian," says the professor—unfortunately, with all the air of one profoundly sorry for the fact declared, "and he wishes me to tell you that he—is desirous of marrying you."

Perpetua stares at him. Whatever bitter thoughts are in her mind, she conceals them.

"He is a most thoughtful young man," says she, blandly. "And—and you're another."

"I hope I am thoughtful, if I am not young," says the professor, with dignity. Her manner puzzles him. "With regard to Hardinge, I wish you to know that—that I—have known him for years, and that he is in my opinion a strictly honorable, kind-hearted man. He is of good family. He has money. He will probably succeed to a baronetcy—though this is not certain, as his uncle is, comparatively speaking, young still. But, even without the title, Hardinge is a man worthy of any woman's esteem, and confidence, and——"

He is interrupted by Miss Wynter's giving way to a sudden burst of mirth. It is mirth of the very angriest, but it checks him the more effectually, because of that.

"You must place great confidence in princes!" says she. "Even 'without the title, he is worthy of esteem.'" She copies him audaciously. "What has a title got to do with esteem?—and what has esteem got to do with love?"

"I should hope——" begins the professor.

"You needn't. It has nothing to do with it, nothing at all. Go back and tell Mr. Hardinge so; and tell him, too, that when next he goes a-wooing, he had better do it in person."

"I am afraid I have damaged my mission," says the professor, who has never once looked at her since his first swift glance.

"Your mission?"

"Yes. It was mere nervousness that prevented him coming to you first himself. He said he had little to go on, and he said something about a flower that you gave him——"

Perpetua makes a rapid movement toward a side table, takes a flower from a bouquet there, and throws it at the professor. There is no excuse to be made for her beyond the fact that her heart feels breaking, and people with broken hearts do strange things every day.

"I would give a flower to anyone!" says she in a quick scornful fashion. The professor catches the ungraciously given gift, toys with it, and—keeps it. Is that small action of his unseen?

"I hope," he says in a dull way, "that you are not angry with him because he came first to me. It was a sense of duty—I know, I feel—compelled him to do it, together with his honest diffidence about your affection for him. Do not let pride stand in the way of——"

"Nonsense!" says Perpetua, with a rapid movement of her hand. "Pride has no part in it. I do not care for Mr. Hardinge—I shall not marry him."

A little mist seems to gather before the professor's eyes. His glasses seem in the way, he drops them, and now stands gazing at her as if disbelieving his senses. In fact he does disbelieve in them.

"Are you sure?" persists he. "Afterwards you may regret——"

"Oh, no!" says she, shaking her head. "Mr. Hardinge will not be the one to cause me regret."

"Still think——"

"Think! Do you imagine I have not been thinking?" cries she, with sudden passion. "Do you imagine I do not know why you plead his cause so eloquently? You want to get rid of me. You are tired of me. You always thought me heartless, about my poor father even, and unloving, and—hateful, and——"

"Not heartless; what have I done, Perpetua, that you should say that?"

"Nothing. That is what I detest about you. If you said outright what you were thinking of me, I could bear it better."

"But my thoughts of you. They are——" He pauses. What are they? What are his thoughts of her at all hours, all seasons? "They are always kind," says he, lamely, in a low tone, looking at the carpet. That downward glance condemns him in her eyes—to her it is but a token of his guilt towards her.

"They are not!" says she, with a little stamp of her foot that makes the professor jump. "You think of me as a cruel, wicked, worldly girl, who would marry anyone to gain position."

Here her fury dies away. It is overcome by something stronger. She trembles, pales, and finally bursts into a passion of tears that have no anger in them, only an intense grief.

"I do not," says the professor, who is trembling too, but whose utterance is firm. "Whatever my thoughts are, your reading of them is entirely wrong."

"Well, at all events you can't deny one thing," says she checking her sobs, and gazing at him again with undying enmity. "You want to get rid of me, you are determined to marry me to some one, so as to get me out of your way. But I shan't marry to please you. I needn't either. There is somebody else who wants to marry me besides your—your candidate!" with an indignant glance. "I have had a letter from Sir Hastings this afternoon. And," rebelliously, "I haven't answered it yet."

"Then you shall answer it now," says the professor. "And you shall say 'no' to him."

"Why? Because you order me?"

"Partly because of that. Partly because I trust to your own instincts to see the wisdom of so doing."

"Ah! you beg the question," says she, "but I'm not so sure I shall obey you for all that."

"Perpetua! Do not speak to me like that, I implore you," says the professor, very pale. "Do you think I am not saying all this for your good? Sir Hastings—he is my brother—it is hard for me to explain myself, but he will not make you happy."

"Happy! You think of my happiness?"

"Of what else?" A strange yearning look comes into his eyes. "God knows it is all I think of," says he.

"And so you would marry me to Mr. Hardinge?"

"Hardinge is a good man, and he loves you."

"If so, he is the only one on earth who does," cries the girl bitterly. She turns abruptly away, and struggles with herself for a moment, then looks back at him. "Well. I shall not marry him," says she.

"That is in your own hands," says the professor. "But I shall have something to say about the other proposal you speak of."

"Do you think I want to marry your brother?" says she. "I tell you no, no, no! A thousand times no! The very fact that he is your brother would prevent me. To be your ward is bad enough, to be your sister-in-law would be insufferable. For all the world I would not be more to you than I am now."

"It is a wise decision," says the professor icily. He feels smitten to his very heart's core. Had he ever dreamed of a nearer, dearer tie between them?—if so the dream is broken now.

"Decision?" stammers she.

"Not to marry my brother."

"Not to be more to you, you mean!"

"You don't know what you are saying," says the professor, driven beyond his self-control. "You are a mere child, a baby, you speak at random."

"What!" cries she, flashing round at him, "will you deny that I have been a trouble to you, that you would have been thankful had you never heard my name?"

"You are right," gravely. "I deny nothing. I wish with all my soul I had never heard your name. I confess you troubled me. I go beyond even that, I declare that you have been my undoing! And now, let us make an end of it. I am a poor man and a busy one, this task your father laid upon my shoulders is too heavy for me. I shall resign my guardianship; Gwendoline—Lady Baring—will accept the position. She likes you, and—you will find it hard to break her heart."

"Do you mean," says the girl, "that I have broken yours? Yours? Have I been so bad as that? Yours? I have been wilful, I know, and troublesome, but troublesome people do not break one's heart. What have I done then that yours should be broken?" She has moved closer to him. Her eyes are gazing with passionate question into his.

"Do not think of that," says the professor, unsteadily. "Do not let that trouble you. As I just now told you, I am a poor man, and poor men cannot afford such luxuries as hearts."

"Yet poor men have them," says the girl in a little low stifled tone. "And—and girls have them too!"

There is a long, long silence. To Curzon it seems as if the whole world has undergone a strange, wild upheaval. What had she meant—what? Her words! Her words meant something, but her looks, her eyes, oh, how much more they meant! And yet to listen to her—to believe—he, her guardian, a poor man, and she an heiress! Oh! no. Impossible.

"So much the worse for the poor men," says he deliberately.

There is no mistaking his meaning. Perpetua makes a little rapid movement towards him—an almost imperceptible one. Did she raise her hands as if to hold them out to him? If so, it is so slight a gesture as scarcely to be remembered afterwards, and at all events the professor takes no notice of it, presumably, therefore, he does not see it.

"It is late," says Perpetua a moment afterwards. "I must go and dress for dinner." Her eyes are down now. She looks pale and shamed.

"You have nothing to say, then?" asks the professor, compelling himself to the question.

"About what?"

"Hardinge."

The girl turns a white face to his.

"Will you then compel me to marry him?" says she. "Am I"—faintly—"nothing to you? Nothing——" She seems to fade back from him in the growing uncertainty of the light into the shadow of the corner beyond. Curzon makes a step towards her.

At this moment the door is thrown suddenly open, and a man—evidently a professional man—advances into the room.

"Sir Thaddeus," begins he, in a slow, measured way.

The professor stops dead short. Even Perpetua looks amazed.

"I regret to be the messenger of bad news, sir," says the solemn man in black. "They told me I should find you here. I have to tell you, Sir Thaddeus, that your brother, the late lamented Sir Hastings is dead." The solemn man spread his hands abroad.



CHAPTER XVI.

'Till the secret be secret no more In the light of one hour as it flies, Be the hour as of suns that expire Or suns that rise."

It is quite a month later. August, hot and sunny, is reigning with quite a mad merriment, making the most of the days that be, knowing full well that the end of the summer is nigh. The air is stifling; up from the warm earth comes the almost overpowering perfume of the late flowers. Perpetua moving amongst the carnations and hollyhocks in her soft white cambric frock, gathers a few of the former in a languid manner to place in the bosom of her frock. There they rest, a spot of blood color upon their white ground.

Lady Baring, on the death of her elder brother, had left town for the seclusion of her country home, carrying Perpetua with her. She had grown very fond of the girl, and the fancy she had formed (before Sir Hastings' death) that Thaddeus was in love with the young heiress, and that she would make him a suitable wife, had not suffered in any way through the fact of Sir Thaddeus having now become the head of the family.

Perpetua, having idly plucked a few last pansies, looked at them, and as idly flung them away, goes on her listless way through the gardens. A whole long month and not one word from him! Are his social duties now so numerous that he has forgotten he has a ward? "Well," emphatically, and with a vicious little tug at her big white hat, "some people have strange views about duty."

She has almost reached the summer-house, vine-clad, and temptingly cool in all this heat, when a quick step behind her causes her to turn.

"They told me you were here," says the professor, coming up with her. He is so distinctly the professor still, in spite of his new mourning, and the better cut of his clothes, and the general air of having been severely looked after—that Perpetua feels at home with him at once.

"I have been here for some time," says she calmly. "A whole month, isn't it?"

"Yes, I know. Were you going into that green little place. It looks cool."

It is cool, and particularly empty. One small seat occupies the back of it, and nothing else at all, except the professor and his ward.

"Perpetua!" says he, turning to her. His tone is low, impassioned. "I have come. I could not come sooner, and I would not write. How could I put it all on paper? You remember that last evening?"

"I remember," says she faintly.

"And all you said?"

"All you said."

"I said nothing. I did not dare. Then I was too poor a man, too insignificant to dare to lay bare to you the thoughts, the fears, the hopes that were killing me."

"Nothing!" echoes she. "Have you then forgotten?" She raises her head, and casts at him a swift, but burning glance. "Was it nothing? You came to plead your friend's cause, I think. Surely that was something? I thought it a great deal. And what was it you said of Mr. Hardinge? Ah! I have forgotten that, but I know how you extolled him—praised him to the skies—recommended him to me as a desirable suitor." She makes an impatient movement, as if to shake something from her. "Why have you come to-day?" asks she. "To plead his cause afresh?"

"Not his—to-day."

"Whose then? Another suitor, maybe? It seems I have more than even I dreamt of."

"I do not know if you have dreamed of this one," says Curzon, perplexed by her manner. Some hope had been in his heart in his journey to her, but now it dies. There is little love truly in her small, vivid face, her gleaming eyes, her parted, scornful lips.

"I am not given to dreams," says she, with a petulant shrug, "I know what I mean always. And as I tell you, if you have come here to-day to lay before me, for my consideration, the name of another of your friends who wishes to marry me, why I beg you to save yourself the trouble. Even the country does not save me from suitors. I can make my choice from many, and when I do want to marry, I shall choose for myself."

"Still—if you would permit me to name this one," begins Curzon, very humbly, "it can do you no harm to hear of him. And it all lies in your own power. You can, if you will, say yes, or——" He pauses. The pause is eloquent, and full of deep entreaty.

"Or no," supplies she calmly. "True! You," with a half defiant, half saucy glance, "are beginning to learn that a guardian cannot control one altogether."

"I don't think I ever controlled you, Perpetua."

"N—o! Perhaps not. But then you tried to. That's worse."

"Do you forbid me then to lay before you—this name—that I——?"

"I have told you," says she, "that I can find a name for myself."

"You forbid me to speak," says he slowly.

"I forbid! A ward forbid her guardian! I should be afraid!" says she, with an extremely naughty little glance at him.

"You trifle with me," says the professor slowly, a little sternly, and with uncontrolled despair. "I thought—I believed—I was mad enough to imagine, from your manner to me that last night we met, that I was something more than a mere guardian to you."

"More than that. That seems to be a Herculean relation. What more would you be?"

"I am no longer that, at all events."

"What!" cries she, flushing deeply. "You—you give me up——"

"It is you who give me up."

"You say you will no longer be my guardian!" She seems struck with amazement at this declaration on his part. She had not believed him when he had before spoken of his intention of resigning. "But you cannot," says she. "You have promised. Papa said you were to take care of me."

"Your father did not know."

"He did. He said you were the one man in all the world he could trust."

"Impossible," says the professor. "A—lover—cannot be a guardian!" His voice has sunk to a whisper. He turns away, and makes a step towards the door.

"You are going," cries she, fighting with a desperate desire for tears, that is still strongly allied to anger. "You would leave me. You will be no longer my guardian, Ah! was I not right? Did I not tell you you were in a hurry to get rid of me?"

This most unfair accusation rouses the professor to extreme wrath. He turns round and faces her like an enraged lion.

"You are a child," says he, in a tone sufficient to make any woman resentful. "It is folly to argue with you."

"A child! What are you then?" cries she tremulously.

"A fool!" furiously. "I was given my cue, I would not take it. You told me that it was bad enough to be your ward, that you would not on any account be closer to me. That should have been clear to me, yet, like an idiot, I hoped against hope. I took false courage from each smile of yours, each glance, each word. There! Once I leave you now, the chain between us will be broken, we shall never, with my will, meet again. You say you have had suitors since you came down here. You hinted to me that you could mention the name of him you wished to marry. So be it. Mention it to Gwendoline—to any one you like, but not to me."

He strides towards the doorway. He has almost turned the corner.

"Thaddeus" cries a small, but frantic voice. If dying he would hear that and turn. She is holding out her hands to him, the tears are running down her lovely cheeks.

"It is to you—to you I would tell his name," sobs she, as he returns slowly, unwillingly, but surely, to her. "To you alone."

"To me! Go on," says Curzon; "let me hear it. What is the name of this man you want to marry?"

"Thaddeus Curzon!" says she, covering her face with her hands, and, indeed, it is only when she feels his arms round her, and his heart beating against hers, that she so far recovers herself as to be able to add, "And a hideous name it is, too!"

But this last little firework does no harm. Curzon is too ecstatically happy to take notice of her small impertinence.

THE END.



* * * * *

JELLY OF CUCUMBER AND ROSES.

MADE BY W. A. DYER & CO., MONTREAL, is a delightfully fragrant Toilet article. Removes freckles and sun-burn, and renders chapped and rough skin, after one application, smooth and pleasant. No Toilet-table is complete without a tube of Dyer's Jelly of Cucumber and Roses. Sold by all Druggists.

Agents for United States— CASWELL, MASSEY & CO., New York & Newport.

* * * * *

Teeth Like Pearls!

Is a common expression. The way to obtain it, use Dyer's Arnicated Tooth Paste, fragrant and delicious. Try it. Druggists keep it.

W.A. DYER & CO., MONTREAL.

* * * * *

Burdock BLOOD BITTERS

THE KEY TO HEALTH unlocks all the clogged secretions of the Stomach, Liver, Bowels and Blood, carrying off all humors and impurities from the entire system, correcting Acidity, and curing Biliousness, Dyspepsia, Sick Headache, Constipation, Rheumatism, Dropsy, Dry Skin, Dizziness, Jaundice, Heartburn, Nervous and General Debility, Salt Rheum, Erysipelas, Scrofula, etc. It purifies and eradicates from the Blood all poisonous humors, from a common Pimple to the worst Scrofulous Sore.

* * * * *

DYSPEPSINE!

The Great American Remedy.

FOR DYSPEPSIA

In all Its forms,

As Indigestion, Flatulency, Heartburn, Waterbrash, Sick-Headache, Constipation, Biliousness, and all forms of Dyspepsia; regulating the action of the stomach, and of the digestive organs.

Sold by all druggist, 5Oc. a bottle.

Sole Proprietor, WALLACE DAWSON. MONTREAL, CAN., ROUSES POINT, N. Y.

* * * * *

DR. CHEVALLIER'S RED SPRUCE GUM PASTE,

DR. NELSON'S PRESCRIPTION, GOUDRON de NORWEGE, ARE THE BEST REMEDIES For COUGHS and COLDS.

Insist upon getting one of them. 25c. each.

For Sale by all Respectable Druggists.

LAVIOLETTE & NELSON, Druggists, AGENTS OF FRENCH PATENTS. 16O5 Notre Dame St.

* * * * *

Have you Teeth?

—THEN PRESERVE THEM BY USING—

LYMAN'S CHERRY TOOTH PASTE.

Whitens the teeth, sweetens the breath, prevents decay.

In handsome Engraved Pots,—25 cents each.

Trade Mark Secured.

Lyman's Royal Canadian Perfumes.

The only CANADIAN PERFUMES on the English Market.

Cerise. English Violets. Heliotrope. Jockey Club. Etc.

Prairie Flowers. Pond Lily White Rose. Ylang Ylang. Etc.

* * * * *

ESTABLISHED 1852

LORGE & CO.,

HATTERS & FURRIERS.

21 ST. LAWRENCE MAIN ST. 21

MONTREAL.

Established 1866.

L. J. A. SURVEYER,

6 ST. LAWRENCE ST.

(near Craig Street.)

HOUSE FURNISHING HARDWARE,

Brass, Vienna and Russian Coffee Machines,

CARPET SWEEPERS, CURTAIN STRETCHERS,

BEST ENGLISH CUTLERY,

FRENCH MOULDS, &c.,

BUILDERS' HARDWARE, TOOLS, ETC.

* * * * *

COVERNTON'S SPECIALTIES

GOOD MORNING!

HAVE you used COVERNTON'S Celebrated FRAGRANT CARBOLIC TOOTH WASH,

For Cleansing and Preserving the Teeth, Hardening the Gums, etc. Highly recommended by the leading Dentists of the City. Price, 25c., 50c., and $1.00 a bottle.

COVERNTON'S SYRUP OF WILD CHERRY,

For Coughs, Colds, Asthma, Bronchitis, etc. Price 25c.

COVERNTON'S AROMATIC BLACKBERRY CARMINATIVE,

For Diarrhea, Cholera Morbus, Dysentery, etc. Price 25c.

COVERNTON'S NIPPLE OIL,

For Cracked or Sore Nipples. Price 25c.

GOOD EVENING!

USE COVERNTON'S ALPINE CREAM

for Chapped Hands, Sore Lips, Sunburn, Tan, Freckles, etc. A most delightful preparation for the Toilet. Price 25c.

C. J. COVERNTON & CO.,

Dispensing Chemists, CORNER OF BLEURY AND DORCHESTER STREETS, Branch, 469 St. Lawrence Street, MONTREAL.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse