"Mr. Burrell has two sisters," said Elizabeth to her, "and if I do not ask Cousin Flora I shall never be forgiven; and father insists upon Georgia Godolphin, because of his friendship with Squire Godolphin; and I cannot manage more than four bridesmaids, can I? So you see, Denas," etc., etc., etc.
Denas saw quite clearly, and with a certain pride of self-respect she relegated herself to a position that would interfere with no one's claims and offend no one's social ideas.
"I am to be your real bridesmaid, Elizabeth," she said. "Miss Burrells, and your cousin Flora, and Miss Godolphin are for show. I shall be really your maid. I shall lace your white satin boots, and fasten your white satin dress, and drape the lace, and clasp the gems, and make your bride-bouquet. I shall stay upstairs while you are at church and lay ready your travelling costume and see that Adele packs your trunks properly; and when you go away I shall fasten your cloak, and tie your bonnet, and button your gloves, and then go away myself; for there will be no one here then that likes me and nothing at all for me to do."
And this programme, made with a little heartache and sense of love's failure, Denas faithfully carried out. It cost her something to do it, but she did not permit Elizabeth to see that she counted her faithless in her heart. For she did not blame her friend; she understood the force of the reasons not given—Mr. Tresham's latent dislike, her humble birth, her want of fine clothes and fine polish and rich connections—and she felt keenly enough that there was nothing about her, personally or socially, to make Mr. Tresham's guests desire her.
And when the day drew near and they began to arrive, Denas shrank more and more from their society. She saw that Elizabeth's manner with them was quite different from her manner to herself, and in spite of much kindness and generosity she felt humiliated, alone, outside, and apart. She wondered why it was. These rich girls came in little companies to Elizabeth's room, and with soft laughter and exclamations of delight examined the bride's pretty garments and presents. They were never haughty with her; on the contrary, they were exceedingly pleasant. They called her "Miss Denas" and carefully avoided anything like condescension in their intercourse. Yet Denas knew that between them and herself there was a line impalpable as the equator and just as potent in its dividing power.
It saddened her beyond reason, and when Roland arrived two days before the wedding and she saw him wandering in the garden, riding, driving, playing tennis, chatting and chaffing, singing and dancing with these four girls of his own circle, she divined a difference, which she could not explain but which pained and angered her.
Still, that last week of Elizabeth's maiden life was a wonderful week. It was like living in the scenes of a theatre—there was no talk but of love. All that everyone said or did referred to the great passion. The house was in the hands of decorators; the aroma of all kinds of delicious things to eat was in the air. There was a constant tinkling of the piano and harp. Snatches of song, ripples of laughter, young voices calling through the house and garden, light footsteps going everywhere, the flutter of pink and blue and white dresses, the snowy ribbons and massed roses in every room, the exciting atmosphere of love and expectation—who could escape it? And who, when in the midst of it, was able to prevent or to deny its influence?
Denas gave herself freely to the moment. The presence of Roland made all things easy to her. He contrived many an unseen meeting; her lips never lost the sense of his stolen kisses; her hands were constantly pink with the passing clasp or the momentary pressure. No one could have supposed he was planning anything, for he was continually with someone or with all of the four bridesmaids; yet there was not an hour in which he did not manage to give Denas her part, though it were but an upward glance at the open window where she sat sewing, or a kiss flung backward to her; or a lifted hat, or a rose left where she alone could find it; or a little love-letter crushed into her hand in passing.
Such a week to stir a young heart to love's sweet fever! It passed like a dream, and went finally with the clashing of wedding-bells and the trampling of horses carrying away the bride. Then the guests followed one by one until the house was lonely and deserted; and the servants began to remove the remnants of the feast and to take down the fading wreaths and roses.
Mr. Tresham took Roland with him to Burrell Court. He seemed determined to keep his son by his side, and the drive to Burrell was an effectual way. No one thought of Denas. She had now no place nor office in the house. But she remained until near sundown, for she trusted that Roland would find out a way to meet her at their usual trysting-place. And just when she had given him up he came. Then he told her that he was going to London in the morning, because his father had suddenly resolved upon a short pleasure-trip, and he had promised to go with him as far as Paris. But he had provided for their correspondence.
"There is a man in St. Clair called Pyn, a boatman living in the first cottage you come to, Denas," he said. "I have given him money, and my letters to you will go to him. Can you walk to St. Clair for them?" It was a foolish question; Roland knew that Denas would walk twenty miles for a letter from him. He then gave her some addressed envelopes in which to enclose her letters to him. "Pyn will post them," he said, "and the handwriting will deceive everyone. And I shall come back to you, Denas, as soon as I can get away from my father; and Pyn will bring a message to St. Penfer and let you know, in some way, when I get home."
These particulars being fully arranged and understood, he talked to her of her own loveliness. He told her she was more beautiful in her plain white frock than the bride in her bride-robes. He said all that lovers have said from the beginning of time; all that lovers will say until time ends. Denas believed him, believed every word, for the nature of true love is to be without doubt or fear. And Roland thought he loved her quite well enough for their future life together. If she was to become a public singer, it would not be wise for him to have too exclusive and jealous affection for her. Roland had always been prudent for himself; he thought of everything which might affect his own happiness. This night, however, he gave up all for love. He kept Denas by his side until the gloaming was quite gone, and then he walked with her down to the very shingle. They parted with tears and kisses and murmured protestations of fidelity. And Denas watched her lover until he reached the first bend in the upward path. There he turned, and she stretched out her arms to him, and Roland lifted his hat and kissed his hand, and then vanished among the thick trees.
The moon was just rising. She made the air silver, and Denas could see the fishing-boats on the horizon swimming in her quivering beams. She knew, then, that her father was at sea. As she approached the cottage she saw her mother sitting on the door-step. Her arms were folded across her knees, she stooped forward, she had an air of discontent or anxiety. There was also a dumb feeling of resentment in her heart, though she did not actually know that there was reason for it. She tried to meet her child pleasantly, but could not, and she was almost angry at the stubborn indifference which she was unable to conquer.
"You be long in getting home, Denas. Father went to sea quite put out. Jane Serlo says the bride did go away at two o'clock. Well, then, it be long after nine now, Denas!"
"I had a lot to do after Mrs. Burrell left, mother—things she would not trust anyone else to look to."
"Hum-m! 'Tis no good way, to take such charge. Who knows what she may be saying after-times? I do feel glad she be married at last, and done with. Mayhap we may see a bit of comfort ourselves now."
"She gave me twenty pounds before she left, mother."
"There be things twenty pound can't buy nor pay for; I tell you that, Denas. And to see your father go off with the boat to-night, without heart in him and only care for company! I do not feel to like it, Denas. If your lover be dear to you, so be my old husband to me."
"What lover are you talking about, mother?"
"The lover that kept you on the cliff-breast—Roland Tresham, he be the lover I mean."
"Who told you I was with Roland?"
"I know that you were not at Mr. Tresham's, for one called there to put you safely home."
"I suppose Tris Penrose has been spying me and telling tales to father and you."
"There be no need for Tris nor for anyone else to speak. Say to me, plain and straight, that you were not with Roland Tresham to-night. Say that to me, if you dare."
"I have had such a happy day, mother, and now you have taken all the pleasure out of it—a mean thing to do! I say that."
"Your father and I had a happy day, thinking of your happiness. And then to please that bad young man, who is not of your kind and not of your kin, you do stay out till bad birds and night creatures are prowling; till the dew be wetting you; till you have sent your father off to the deep sea with a heart heavy enough to sink his boat—a mean thing that to do! Yes! yes! cruel mean thing!"
"Mrs. Burrell gave me twenty pounds. I had to do something to earn it."
"My faith! I'd fling the twenty pound to the fishes. Aw, then, 'tis a poor price for my girl's love, and her innocent heart, and the proud content she once had in her own folk. Only fishers! but God's folk, for all that! But there! What be the use of talking? After Mr. Tresham's flim-flams, my words be only muddling folly."
"I am going to bed, mother."
"To be sure. Go your ways."
Then Joan also rose, and went to the fireside, and drew the few coals together, and lit a lamp. For a moment she stood still, looking at the closed door between her and her child; then she lifted a large book from the window-sill, laid it on the small round table, opened it wide, and sat down before it. It was a homely, workaday-looking book, and she did not read a word of it, though her eyes were upon the page. But it was the Bible. And the Bible is like the sunshine, it comforts and cheers us only to sit down in its presence.
And very soon Joan lifted her hand and laid it across the open page. It was like taking the hand of a friend. God knows what strength, what virtue, there was in that movement! For she immediately covered her face with her other hand and tears began to fall, and anon mighty whispered words parted her lips—words that went from the mother's heart to the heart of God! How can such prayer ever fail?
In the morning John Penelles met his daughter, not with the petulant anger of a wounded woman, but with a graver and more reasonable reproof. "Denas, my dear," he said, and he gently stroked her hair as he spoke, "Denas, you didn't do right yesterday; did you now? But you do be sorry for it, I see; so let the trouble go. But no more of it! No more out in the dark, my girl, either for bride-making or for corpse-waking, and as for the man who kept you out, let him ask God to keep him from under my hand. That is all about it. Come and give father his tea, and then we will mend the nets together; and if Saturday be fair, Denas, we will go to St. Merryn and see your Aunt Agnes. 'You don't want to go?' Aw, yes, my dear, you do want to go. You be vexed now; and not you that should be vexed at all, but your mother and I. There, then! No more of it!"
He spoke the last words as if he was at the end of his patience, and then turned sharply toward the broiled fish and hot tea which Joan was placing on the table. The face of Denas angered him, it was so indifferent and so wretched. He could have laughed away a little temper and excused it, for he was not an unjust nor even an unsympathetic man; and he realized his daughter's youth and her natural craving for those things which youth considers desirable.
But the utter hopelessness of her attitude, her refusal to eat, her silence, her sighs, the unsuitableness of the dress she wore to the humble duties of her station, her disinclination to talk of what troubled her, or indeed to talk at all—both John and Joan felt these things to be a wrong, deliberate and perpetual, against their love and their home and their daily happiness.
It was certainly a great and sudden change in the life of Denas. For the past eight weeks she had been in an atmosphere of excitement, tinctured with the subtle hopes and expectations of love. In it she had grown mentally far beyond the realization of her friends. She had observed, assimilated, and translated her new ideas through her own personality as far as her means permitted. If her mother and father had looked carefully at their daughter, they would have seen how much more effectively her hair was arranged; what piquancy of mode had been observed in the making of her new dresses; what careful pride had dictated the fashion and fit of her high-heeled shoes; what trouble was systematically taken to preserve her delicate skin and to restore the natural beauty of her hands—in short, they must have noticed that their child's toilet and general appearance was being gradually but still rapidly removed from all fitness with her present surroundings.
And just after Elizabeth's marriage came on the hardest and most distinctive part of the fisher's year. All along the rocky coast the "huers" were standing watching for the shoals of pilchard, and the men were in the boats beneath, waiting for their signal to shoot the seines. Every fisher had now, in an intense degree, the look which always distinguishes him—the look of a man accustomed to reflect and to be ready for emergencies. This year the shoals were so large that boat-loads were caught easily in fifty feet of water.
Then every wife in the hamlet had her hands full and busy from dawn till dark; and Joan went to the work with an exuberant alacrity and good nature. In former years Denas had felt all the enthusiasm of the great sea harvest. This year she could not endure its clamour and its labour. What had happened to her that the sight of the beautiful fish was offensive and the smell of its curing intolerable? She shut her eyes from the silvery heaps and would gladly have closed her ears against the jubilant mirth, the shouting and laughing and singing around her.
Her intense repugnance did really at last breed in her a low fever, which she almost gladly succumbed to. She thought it easier to lie in bed and suffer in solitude than to put her arms to her white elbows in fresh fish and bear the familiar jokes of the busy, merry workers in the curing-sheds. Denas was not really responsible for this change. It had grown into her nature, day by day and week by week, while she was unconscious of any transforming power. The little reluctances which had marked its first appearance had been of small note; her father and mother had only laughingly reproved them, telling her "not to nourish prideful notions." She had not even been aware of nourishing anything wrong. Was it wrong? She lay tossing on her bed in the small warm room, and argued the question out while fever burned in her veins and gave to all things abnormal and extravagant aspects.
She was really ill, and she almost wished she could be more ill. No one quite believed she was suffering much. The headache and languor incident to her condition did not win much sympathy until their ravages became apparent. Then Joan honestly believed that a little exercise in the fresh salt air would have cured, perhaps even prevented, the illness. So that at this time Denas thought herself very unkindly used.
This apparent lack of interest in her condition added greatly to that dissatisfaction with her life which she now constantly dwelt upon. She felt that she must do something to escape from an existence which repelled her; and yet what could she do? Somehow she had suddenly lost faith in Elizabeth. Elizabeth changed before she went away; who could say how much greater the change would be when she returned after four months' travel?
Denas at this time pitied herself greatly, and taking women as they are, and not as they ought to be, she deserved some pity. For though it may not be a lofty ambition to long after a finely appointed house, and delicate food delicately served, and elegant clothing and refined society, and, with all and above all, a lover who fits into such externals, yet Denas did long for these things; and the circumstances of her own life were common, and vulgar, and hateful to her.
True, she had her father and mother, and she loved them dearly; but, then, she could undoubtedly love them quite as well if she were rich, while they would not love her any the less. As for Tris Penrose and his tiresome devotion, what was Tris to Roland? Tris did not even know how to woo her. He never told her how beautiful she was, and how he adored her, and longed for her, and thought all women wearisome but her. He never kissed her hands and her hair, her cheeks and her lips, as Roland did. He never said to her, "You are fit to be a duchess or a queen; you sing like a nightingale and charm my soul out of me, and you have hands and feet like a fairy." Poor Tris! He was stupid and silent. He could only look and sigh, or, if he did manage to speak, he was sure to plunge into such final questions as, "Denas, will you marry me? When will you marry me?" Or to tell her of his stone cottage, and his fine boat, and the money he had in the St. Merryn's Savings Bank.
For three weeks this silent conflict went on in the mind and heart of Denas, an unsatisfactory fight in which no victory was gained. At the end she was no more mistress of her inclinations than at the beginning, and her returning health only intensified her longings for the things she had not. One morning she awoke with the conviction that there was a letter for her at St. Clair. She determined to go and see. She said to her mother that she felt almost well and would try to take a walk. And Joan was glad and encouraged the idea.
"Go down to the sea-shore, Denas, and breathe the living air; do, my sweetheart!"
"No, mother. There are crowds there and the smell of fish, and—I can't help it, mother—it turns me sick; it makes me feverish. I want to go among the trees and flowers."
"Aw, my dear, you will be climbing and climbing up to St. Penfer; and you be weak yet and not able to."
"I will not climb at all. I will walk near the shingle; and I will take a bit of bread with me and a drink of milk; then I can rest all day on the grass, mother."
"God bless you, dear! And see now, come home while the sun is warm—and take care of yourself, Denas."
Then Joan went to the curing-sheds. She had a light heart, for Denas was more like her old self, and after going a hundred yards she turned to nod to her girl, and was glad that she was watching her and that she waved her kerchief in reply. Something heavy slipped from Joan's heart at that moment and her work went with her all day long.
It was two miles to St. Clair, but Denas walked there very rapidly. She remembered that Pyn's cottage was the first cottage; and as she approached it the boatman came to the door. He looked at her with a grave curiosity, and she went straight up to him and said: "Have you a letter for me?"
"I do think I have. You be John Penelles' little girl?"
"I knew John years ago. We sat in the same boat. I like John—he is a true man. Here be three letters. At first I thought these letters be going to bring a deal of potter and bother—maybe something worse—and I will put them in the fire. Then I thought, they bean't your letters, Pyn, and if you want to keep yourself out of a mess, never interfere and never volunteer. So here they be. But if you will take an old man's advice, I do say to you, burn the letters. It will be better far than to be reading them."
"Why will it be better?"
"There be letters worse than death drugs. If you do buy a bottle of arsenic, the man will put its character on the bottle. You see 'poison' and you be warned. But young men do write poison, and worse than poison, to young women, and no warning outside the letter. It isn't fair, now, is it?"
"Why did you take charge of the poison?"
"To be sure! Why did I? Just because it was for John Penelles' little girl, and I thought mayhap she'd take a warning from me. Don't you read them letters, my dear. If you do, let the words go in at one ear and out of the other. Roland Tresham! he be nothing to trust to! Aw, my dear—a leaky boat—a boat adrift; no man at the helm; no helm to man; no sail; no compass; no anchor; no anything for a woman to trust to! There, then, I have had my say; if this say be of no 'count, twould be the same if I talked my tongue away. If you come again and there be any letters, you will find them under the turned boat—slip your hand in—so. Dear me! You be fluttering and wuttering like a bird. Poor dear! Step into my boat and I'll put you back home. You look as quailed as a faded flower."
Thus Pyn talked as he helped Denas into the boat and slowly settled himself to the oars. Afterward he said nothing, but he looked at Denas in a way that troubled her and made her thankful to escape his silent, pitiful condemnation. Her mother was still absent when she reached the cottage, and she was so weary that she was very grateful for the solitude. She shut her eyes for a few minutes and collected her strength, and then opened Roland's letters.
They were full of happiness—full of wonders—full of love. He was going to Switzerland with his father. Elizabeth was there, and Miss Caroline Burrell, and a great many people whom they knew. But for him, no one was there. "Denas was all he longed for, cared for, lived for!" Oh, much more of the same kind, for Roland's love lay at the point of his pen.
And he told her also that he had heard many singers, many famous singers, and none with a voice so wildly sweet, so enthralling as her voice. "If you were only on the stage, Denas," he wrote, "you could sing the world to your feet; you could make a great fortune; you could do anything you liked to do."
The words entered her heart. They burned along her veins, they filled her imagination with a thousand wild dreams. She put the fatal letters safely away, and then, stretching her weary form upon her bed, she closed her eyes and began to think.
Why should she cure fish, and mend nets, and clean tables and tea-cups, if she possessed such a marvellous gift? Why should her father go fishing with his life in his hand, and her mother work hard from dawn to dark, and she herself want all the beautiful things her soul craved? And how would Elizabeth feel? Perhaps they might be glad enough yet if she married Roland. And as the possibility of returning social slights presented itself, she remembered many a debt of this kind it would be a joy to satisfy. And then Roland! Roland! Roland! He had always believed in her; always loved her. She would repay his trust and love a thousand-fold. What a joy it would be!
So she permitted herself to grasp impossibilities, to possess everything she desired. Well, in this life, what mortals know is but very little; what they imagine—ah, that is everything!
WHAT SHALL BE DONE FOR ROLAND?
"When, lulled in passion's dream, my senses slept, How did I act?—E'en as a wayward child. I smiled with pleasure when I should have wept, And wept with sorrow when I should have smiled." —MONCRIEFF.
"Love not, love not! O warning vainly said In present years, as in the years gone by; Love flings a halo round the dear one's head, Faultless, immortal—till they change or die." —HON. MRS. NORTON.
Hope has a long reach, and yet it holds fast. So, though Roland's return was far enough away, Denas possessed it in anticipation. The belief that he would come, that he would give her sympathy and assistance, helped her through the long sameness of uneventful days by the witching promise, "Anon—anon!"
There was little to vary life in that quiet hamlet. The pilchard season went, as it had come, in a day; men counted their gains and returned to their usual life. Denas tried to accept it cheerfully; she felt that it would soon be a past life, and this conviction helped her to invest it with some of that tender charm which clings to whatever enters the pathetic realm of "Nevermore."
Her parents were singularly kind to her, and John tried to give a little excitement to her life by coaxing her to share with him the things he considered quite stirring. But visits to her aunt at St. Merryn, and Sunday trips to hear some new preacher, and choir practisings with Tris dangling after them wherever they went, were not interesting to the wayward girl. She only endured them, as she endured her daily duties by keeping steadily in view the hope Roland had set before her. However, as she sang nearly constantly, Joan's mind was easy; she was sure Denas could not be very discontented, for it never entered Joan's thought that people could sing unless there was melody in their heart. And undoubtedly Denas was cheered by her own music, for if song is given half a chance it has the miraculous power of turning the water of life into wine.
Only two more letters repaid her for many walks to the turned boat, and she did not see Pyn again. She was sure, however, that he knew of her visits and wilfully avoided her. The last of these letters contained the startling intelligence of Mr. Tresham's death. He had foolishly insisted upon visiting Rome in the unhealthy season and had fallen a victim to fever. Roland wrote in a very depressed mood. He said that his father's death would make a great difference to him. In a short time the news arrived by the regular sources. Lawyer Tremaine had been advised to take charge of Mr. Tresham's personal estate, and the newspaper of the district had a long obituary of the deceased gentleman.
John said very little on the subject. He had not liked Mr. Tresham while living, but he was particularly careful to avoid speaking ill of the dead. He said only that he had heard that "the effects left would barely cover outstanding debts, and that Mr. Tresham's income died with him. 'Tis a good thing Miss Tresham be well married," he added, "else 'twould have been whist hard times for her now."
Denas did not answer. Her sudden and apparently unreasonable indifference to her former friend was one of the many mental changes which she could not account for. But she waited impatiently for some word about Roland. John appeared to have nothing to say. Joan hesitated with the question on her lips, and at last she almost threw it at her husband.
"What did you hear about young Mr. Tresham?"
"I asked no questions about him. People do say that he will have to go to honest work now. 'Twill do him no harm, I'm sure."
"Honest work will be nothing strange to him, father. He has been in a great many offices. I have heard Elizabeth speaking of many a one."
"I'll warrant—many a one—and he never stays in any. He has a bad temper for work."
"Bad temper! That is not true. Mr. Roland has a very good temper."
"Good temper! To be sure, after a fashion, a kind of Hy-to-everybody fashion. But a good business temper, Denas, be a different thing; it be steady, patient, civil, quiet, hard-to-work temper, and the young man has not got it. No, nor the shadow of it. If he was worth thousands this year he wouldn't have a farthing next year unless he had a guider and a withholder by his side constantly."
"You ought not to speak of Mr. Roland at all, father, you hate him that badly."
"Right you be, Denas. I ought not to speak of the young man. I will let him alone. And I'll thank every one in my house to do the same thing."
For some weeks John's orders were carefully observed. Denas got no more letters, and the summer weather became autumn weather; and then the leaves faded and began to fall, and the equinoctial storm set the seal of advancing winter on the cliff-breast. Yet through all these changes the clock ticked the monotonous days surely away, and one morning when Denas was standing alone in the cottage door a little lad slipped up and put a letter into her hand.
He was gone in a moment, and Denas, even while answering a remark of her mother's, who was busy at the fireside, hid the message in her bosom. Of course it was from Roland. He said that they had all returned to Burrell Court and that he could not rest until he had seen her. Wet or fine, he begged she would be at their old trysting-place that evening.
Then she began to consider how this was to be managed, and she came to the conclusion that a visit to St. Penfer was the best way. She knew well how to prepare for it—the little helps, and confidences, and personal chatter Joan was always pleased and flattered by were the wedge. Then as they washed the dinner dishes and tidied the house together, Denas said:
"Mother, it is going to storm soon, and then whole days to sit and sew and nothing to talk about. Priscilla Mohun promised me some pretty pieces for my quilt, and Priscilla always knows everything that is going on. What do you think? Shall I go there this afternoon? I could get the patches and hear the news and bring back a story paper, and so be home before you would have time to miss me."
"Well, my dear, we do feel to be talked out."
"Priscilla will tell me all there is to hear, and if I get the patches, a few days' sewing and the quilt will be ready for you to cross-stitch; and a story paper is such a comfort when the storm is beating you back to house every hour of the day."
"You say right—it be a great comfort. But you will have to be busy all, for it is like enough to rain within an hour—the tide will bring it, I'll warrant."
"I will wear my waterproof. Mother, dear, I do want a little change so much—just to see some new faces and hear tell of the St. Penfer people."
"Well, then, go your way, Denas, a wetting will do you no harm; and I do know the days be long days, and the nights do never seem to come to midnight and then wear to cock-crow. 'Twould be a whist poor life, my dear, if this life were all."
Denas was now very anxious to get off before her father came back from his afternoon gossip at the boats. With a gay heart she left her home and hastened to St. Penfer to execute the things that had been her ostensible reason for the visit. As it happened, Priscilla Mohun was full of news. The first thing she said to Denas related to the return of the Burrells, and then followed all the gossip about the treasures they had brought with them and changes to be made in the domestic life of the Court.
"Mrs. Burrell be going to turn things upside down, I can tell you, Denas. They do say four new servants are hired, two men and two women; and the horses brought down are past talking about, with silver trimmings on their harness—that, and no less—and carriages of all kinds, and one kind finer than the other! I do suppose Mrs. Burrell's gowns will be all London or Paris bought now; though to be sure poor Priscilla did make her wedding-dress—but there, then! what be the use of talking?"
"How long have they been at home?" asked Denas.
"La! I thought if anybody knew that it would be you. I was just taking a walk last Wednesday, and I happened to see them driving through the town; Mr. Burrell and his sister, and Mrs. Burrell and her handsome brother—how happy they looked, and everyone lifting their hats or making a respectful move to them."
Last Wednesday! and it was now Monday. Denas was dashed by the news. But she chattered away about everyone they knew, and got her patches, and her story paper, and then, just as the gloaming was losing itself in the fog from the sea, she started down the cliff. Roland was waiting for her. He took her in his arms and kissed her with an eager and delighted affection; and though the fog had changed to a soft rain, neither of them appeared to be uncomfortably aware of the fact. Denas drew the hood of her waterproof over her head and Roland the heavy collar of his coat about his ears, and they sat close together on the damp rock, with Roland's umbrella over them.
There was so much to say that they really said nothing. When they had but half finished repeating "Sweet Denas!" and "Dear Roland!" Denas had to go. It was only then she found courage to intimate, in a half-frightened way, that she had been thinking and wondering about her voice, and if she really could learn to sing. Roland flushed with delight to find the seed he had sown with so much doubt grown up to strength and ripeness.
"My lovely one!" he answered, "you must go to London and have lessons; and I will take care of you. I will see that you have justice and that no one hurts you."
"But where could I live? And how? I have one hundred pounds of my own. Will that be enough?"
"You little capitalist! How did you get a hundred pounds?"
"Father has put a few pounds in the bank at St. Merryn every year since I was born for me, and I have put there all the money your sister paid me. Father said it was to furnish my home when I got married, but I would rather spend it on my voice."
"I should think so. Well, Beauty, you are to come and see Elizabeth off Wednesday; then I shall have something sweet and wonderful to say to you."
"Will Elizabeth send for me? That would make it easy."
"I do not think Elizabeth will send for you. I have been hoping for that. She has not named you at all. For my sake, come to the Court on Wednesday."
"It is a long way to walk, but for your sake I will come."
Then they parted, and she hastened back and reached home just as John and Joan were beginning to be uneasy at her delay. The sight of her happy face, the charming little fuss she made about her dripping waterproof and her wet shoes, the perfectly winning way in which she took possession of her father's knee and from it warmed her bare rosy feet at the blaze scattered all shadows. She took their fears and nascent anger by storm; she exhibited her many-coloured bits of cloth, and showed John the pictures in the story paper, and coaxingly begged her mother for a cup of tea, because she was cold and hungry. And then, as Joan made the tea and the toast, Denas related all that Priscilla had told her. And Joan wondered and exclaimed, and John listened with a pleased interest, though he thought it right to say a word about speaking ill of people, and was snubbed by Joan for doing so.
"Mrs. Burrell is putting on grand airs, it seems, so then it will go that people of course will speak ill of her," said Joan.
"Aw, my dear," answered John, "few are better spoken of than they deserve."
"I do think Denas ought to call on the bride," said Joan. "It would only be friendly, and many will make a talk about it if she does not go."
"She must find out, first, if the young man be there."
"No," said Denas warmly, "I will not find out. If you cannot trust your little maid, father, then do not let her go at all. If people could hear you talk they would say, 'What a bad girl John Penelles has! He dare not let her go to see her friend if there be a young man in the house.' 'Tis a shame, isn't it, mother?"
"I think it be, Denas. Father isn't so cruel suspicious as that, my dear. Are you, father?"
And what could John answer? Though sorely against his feeling and his judgment, he was induced to agree that Denas ought perhaps to call once on the bride. There were so many plausible arguments in favour of such a visit; there was nothing but shadowy doubts and fears against it.
"Go to-morrow, then," said John, a little impatiently; "and let me be done with the fret of it."
"The day after-to-morrow, or Wednesday, father. To-morrow it will be still raining, no doubt, and I have something to alter in my best dress. I want to look as fine as I can, father."
"Look like yourself and your people, Denas. That be the best finery. If roses and lilies did grow on the dusty high-road, they would not be as fitly pretty as blue-bells and daisies. I do think that, Denas; and it be the very same with women. Burrell Court is a matter of two miles beyond St. Penfer; 'tis a long walk, my dear, and dress for the walk and the weather. Do, my dear!"
Then the subject was changed, and Denas, having won her way, was really grateful and disposed to make the evening happy for all. She recollected many a little bit of pleasantry; she mimicked Priscilla to admiration, merrily and without ill-will, and then she took the story paper and read a thrilling account of some great shipwrecks and a poem that seemed to John and Joan's simple minds "the sweetest bit of word music that could be."
At the same hour Elizabeth and Roland were playing an identical role under different circumstances. Roland had hoped to slip away to his room unobserved. He knew Miss Burrell had gone to a friend's house for a day or two, and he thought Robert and Elizabeth would be sufficiently occupied with each other. But some gentlemen were with Robert on parish business, and Elizabeth was alone and well inclined to come to an understanding with her brother.
"Caroline had to go without an escort, Roland. It was too bad," she said reproachfully as she stood in the open door of a parlour and waited for his approach.
"You see I am wet through, Elizabeth. I will change my clothing and come to you. Where is Robert?"
"With the churchwardens. I want to talk to you seriously. We shall be alone for an hour. Come as soon as you can."
"In five minutes. It will be delightful to have you all to myself once more."
He came back quickly and placed his chair close to hers, and lifted her face to his face and kissed her, saying fondly, "My dear little sister."
"Where have you been, Roland?"
"I could have bet on the words 'Where have you been?' That is always a woman's first question."
"Have you been with Denas?"
"I have been at the Black Lion and at Tremaine's. We will suppose that I wished to see Denas—is this pouring rain a fit condition? Do think of something more likely, Elizabeth."
"Say to me plainly: 'I have not seen Denas.'"
"If you wish me to say the words, consider that I have done so. Why have you taken a dislike to Denas? You used to be very fond of her."
"I have not taken any dislike to the girl. I have simply passed out of the season of liking her. In the early spring we find the violet charming, but when summer comes we forget the violet in the rose and the lily and the garden full of richer flowers. The time for Denas has passed—that is all, Roland. What are you going to do about Caroline? When will you ask her to marry you?"
"I have asked her twice already; once in Rome, when she put me off; and again in London, when she decidedly refused me."
"What did she say?"
"That she believed she could trust herself to my love, because she did not think I would be unkind to any woman; but she was sure she could not trust me with her fortune, because I would waste it without any intention of being wasteful. Caroline wants a financier, not a lover."
"She talked about the responsibilities of wealth."
"How could she talk to you in that way?"
"Then Caroline is out of reckoning."
"Between ourselves, I think she was right, Elizabeth. I am positive I should spend any sum of money. What I need is a wife who can make money week by week, year by year—always something coming in; like an opera-singer, for instance. Do you understand?"
"Could you expect me to understand such nonsense? I asked Robert to-day about poor father's estate. He thinks there may be four or five hundred pounds after paying all debts. Of course you will receive it all. Robert is very kind, but I can see that he would prefer that you were not always at the Court."
"I daresay he put Caroline up to refuse me."
"I have no doubt of it. He would consider it a brotherly duty; and to tell the truth, Roland, I fear you would give any woman lots of heartache. I cannot tell what must be done. You have had so many good business chances, and yet never made anything of them."
"That is true, Elizabeth. If I take to a business, it fails. If I dream of some fine prospect, the dream does not come true. In fact, my dear sister,
"'I never had a piece of toast Particularly long and wide, But it fell on the sanded floor, And always on the buttered side.'
Still, there is one thing I can do when all else fails: I can take the Queen's shilling and go in for glory."
"Roland, you break my heart with your folly. Why will you not be reasonable? How could I ever show my face if you were a common soldier? But the army is a good thought. Suppose you do try the army. I daresay Robert can get you a commission—at the right time, of course."
"Thanks! I do not think the army would agree with me; not, at any rate, until I had played my last card. And if I have to make a hero of myself, I shall certainly prefer the position of a full private. It is the privates that do the glory business. I would join the army as Private Smith; for though
"'Some talk of Alexander, And some of Hercules, And of many a great commander As glorious as these; If you want to know a hero Of genuine pluck and pith, It's perfectly clear that none come near The full British private Smith.'"
And he declaimed his mock heroics so delightfully that Elizabeth not only succumbed to his charm, but also wondered in her heart why everyone else did not.
"You see, sweet sister, that wealth is not exactly the same thing as shining virtue, or else Caroline would have been generous. I am sure I should be particularly grateful to any woman who made me rich."
"Why woman, Roland?"
"Well, because if a man puts any money in my way he expects me to work for it and with it; to invest it and double it; to give an account of it; to sacrifice myself body and soul for it. But a dear little darling woman would never ask me questions and never worry me about interest. She would take love and kisses as full value received—unless she was a girl like Caroline, an unwomanly, mercenary, practical, matter-of-money creature."
"Do not talk in that way of Caroline."
"I am talking of her money, and it is no impeachment of its value to say that it is mortal like herself. Still, I am ready to acknowledge
"'How pleasant it is to have money, heigho! How pleasant it is to have money!'
and as much of it as possible, Elizabeth."
"We come to no definite results by talking in this way, Roland. When you get to singing snatches of song I may as well be quiet. And yet I am so unhappy about you. O Roland! Roland! my dear, dear brother, what can I do for you?"
She covered her face with her hands, and Roland took them away with gentle force. "Elizabeth, do not cry for me. I am not worth a tear. Darling, I will do anything you want me to do."
"If I get Robert to give you a desk in the bank?"
"Well, love, anything but that. I really cannot bear the confinement. I should die of consumption; besides, I have a moral weakness, Elizabeth, that I am bound to consider—there are times, dear, when I get awfully mixed and cannot help
"'Confounding the difference 'twixt meum and tuum By kindly converting it all into suum.'"
"O Roland, I really do not know what you are fit for!"
"If I had been born three or four centuries ago I could have been a knight-errant or a troubadour. But alas! in these days the knight-errants go to the Stock Exchange and the troubadours write for the newspapers. I am not fitted to wrestle with the wild beasts of the money market; I would rather go to Spain and be a matador."
"Roland, here comes Robert. Do try and talk like a man of ordinary intelligence. Robert wants to like you—wants to help you if you will let him."
"Yes, in his way. I want to be helped in my own way. Good-evening, Robert! I am glad you were not caught in the rain."
The grave face brightened to the charm of the young man, and then for an hour Roland delighted his sister by his sensible consideration, by his patient attention to some uninteresting details, by his prudence in speaking of the future; so that Robert said confidentially to his wife that night:
"Roland is a delightful young man. There must be some niche he can fill with honour. I wonder that Caroline could resist his attentions. Yet she told me to-day that she had refused him twice."
"Caroline is moved by her intellect, not by her heart. Also, she is very Vere-de-Vereish, and she has set her mark for a lord, at least."
"What can be done for Roland?"
"He talked of going into the army."
"Nonsense! Going into the army means, for Roland, going into every possible temptation and expense—that would not do. But he ought to be away from this little town. He will be making mischief if he cannot find it ready-made."
"I am very uneasy about that girl from the fishing village, the girl whom I used to have with me a great deal."
"Denas—the girl with the wonderful voice?"
"Yes. Did you think her voice wonderful?"
"Perhaps I should say haunting voice. She had certainly some unusual gift. I do not pretend to be able to define it. But I remember every line of the first measure I heard her sing. Many a time since I have thought my soul was singing it for its own pleasure, without caring whether I liked it or not; for when mentally reckoning up a transaction I have heard quite distinctly the rhythmical rolling cadence, like sea wave, to which the words were set. I hear it now."
"Upon my word, Robert, you are very complimentary to Denas. I shall be jealous, my dear."
"Not complimentary to Denas at all. I hardly remember what the girl looked like. And it is not worth while being jealous of a voice, for I can assure you, Elizabeth, a haunting song is a most unwelcome visitor when your brain is full of figures. And somehow it generally managed to come at a time when the bank and the street were both in a tumult with the sound of men's voices, the roll of wagons, and the tramp of horses' feet."
"A song of the sea in the roar of the city! How strange! I am curious to hear it: I have forgotten most of the songs Denas sang."
"The roar of the city appeared to provoke it. When it was loudest I usually heard most clearly the sweet thrilling echo, asking
"'What is the tale of the sea, mother? What is the tale of the wide, wide sea?' 'Merry and sad are the tales, my darling, Merry and sad as tales may be. Those ships that sail in the happy mornings, Full of the lives and souls of men, Some will never come back, my darling; Some will never come back again!'"
And as Elizabeth listened to her husband half singing the charmful words, she took a sudden dislike to Denas. But she said: "The song is a lovely song, and I must send for Denas to sing it again for us." In her heart she resolved never to send for Denas; "though if she does come"—and at this point Elizabeth held herself in pause for a minute ere she decided resolutely—"if she does come I will do what is right. I will be kind to her. She cannot help her witching voice—only—only I must step between her and Roland—that is for the good of both;" and she fell asleep, planning for this emergency.
ELIZABETH AND DENAS.
"There is no hate in a woman which is not born of love."
"Ever note, Lucilius, When love begins to slacken and decay, It uses an enforced ceremony: There are no tricks in plain and simple faith." —JULIUS CAESAR.
The rain was over on Wednesday morning, but the day was gray and chill and the crisping turf and the hardening road indicated a coming frost. There was nothing, however, to prevent the contemplated visit to Burrell Court, and a painful momentary shadow flitted over John's face when Denas came to breakfast in her new ruby-coloured merino dress. She was so pretty, so full of the importance of her trip, so affectionate, that he could not say a word to dash her spirits or warn her carelessness, and yet he had a quick spasm of terror about the danger she was going so gayly into. Of what use, alas! are our premonitions if they do not bring with them the inexorable moral courage necessary to enforce their warnings?
Denas had been accustomed to go to Elizabeth's very early in the morning, and it did not come into her mind to make any change in this respect because of Elizabeth's marriage. So after she had taken her breakfast she put on her hat and ulster and her warm wool gloves and took the cliff road. John, with his pipe in his mouth, leaned against the door lintel and watched her. Joan stood by his side for a moment, following with her eyes the graceful figure of her child, but she quickly went back to her work. John's work was over for the day; he had come in on the dawn tide with a good take. So he stood at the door, in spite of the frosty air, and watched his little maid climb the hilly road with the elastic step and untiring breath of happy youth.
It was then only eight o'clock. No one at her home had thought the hour too early. But when she reached Burrell Court Elizabeth had not come downstairs and breakfast was not yet served. She was much annoyed and embarrassed by the attitude of the servants. She had no visiting-card, and the footman declined to disturb Mrs. Burrell at her toilet. "Miss could wait," he said with an air of familiarity which greatly offended Denas. For she considered herself, as the child of a fisherman owning his own cottage and boat and lord of all the leagues of ocean where he chose to cast his nets, immeasurably the superior of any servant, no matter how fine his livery might be.
She sat down in the small reception-room into which she had been shown and waited. She heard Elizabeth and her husband go through the hall together, and the pleasant odours of coffee and broiled meats certified to the serving of breakfast. But no one came near her. As the minutes slipped away her wonder became anger; and she was resolving to leave the inhospitable house when she heard Roland's step. He came slowly down the polished oak stairs, went to the front door, opened it and looked out into the frosty day; then turning rapidly in from the cold, he went whistling softly through the hall to the breakfast-room.
Just as he entered the footman was saying: "A young person, ma'am. She had no card, and when I asked her name she only looked at me, ma'am."
"Where did you put her?" asked Elizabeth.
"In the small reception-room."
"Is the room warm?"
"Not very cold, ma'am."
At this point Robert Burrell looked at his wife and said: "It is perhaps that little friend of yours, called Denas."
"Jove!" ejaculated Roland. "I should not wonder. You know, Elizabeth, she was always an early visitor. Shall I go and see?"
"Frederick will go. Frederick, ask the young person her name." In a few moments Frederick returned and said, "Miss Penelles is the name."
Then Robert Burrell and Roland both looked at Elizabeth. She had a momentary struggle with herself; she hesitated, her brows made themselves into a point, her colour heightened, and the dead silence gave her a most eloquent chance to listen to her own heart. She rose with leisurely composure and left the room. Mr. Burrell and Roland took no notice of the movement. Mr. Burrell had his watch in his hand; Roland was directing Frederick as to the particular piece of fowl he wanted. Then there was a little laugh and the sound of voices, and Elizabeth and Denas entered together. Elizabeth had made Denas remove her hat and cloak, and the girl was exceedingly pretty. Roland leaped to his feet and imperatively motioned Frederick to place a chair beside his own, and Robert Burrell met her with a frank kindness which was pleasantly reassuring.
Denas had been feeling wronged and humiliated, but Elizabeth by a few kind words of apology had caused a reaction which affected her inexperienced guest with a kind of mental intoxication. Her countenance glowed, her eyes sparkled, her hair appeared to throw off light; her ruby-coloured dress with its edges of white lace accentuated the marvellous colouring of her cheeks and lips, the snow-white of her wide brows and slender throat, and the intense blue of eyes that had caught the brightest tone of sea and sky.
She talked well, she was witty without being ill-natured, and she described all that had happened in the little town since Elizabeth's wedding-day with a subdued and charming mimicry that made the room ring with laughter. Also, she ate her breakfast with such evident enjoyment that she gave an appetite to the others. All took an extra cup of coffee with her, and it seemed only a part of the general conversation and delightful intercourse.
After breakfast Robert Burrell said he would delay his visit to London for a train if Denas would sing for him once more; and they went together to the parlour, and Roland fell at once into the rocking measure of Robert's favourite, and in the middle of a bar Denas joined her voice to it, and they went together as the wind goes through the trees or the song of the water through its limpid flow.
As she finished, Roland looked at her with a certain intelligence in his eyes, and then struck a few wild, startling chords. They proved to be the basis of a sea-chant. Denas heard them with a quick movement of her head and an involuntary though slight movement of the hands, as she cried out in a musical cadence:
"Here beginneth the sea, That ends not until the world ends. Blow, westerly wind, for me! When the wind and the tide are friends, Westerly wind and little white star, Safe are the fishermen over the bar."
She would sing no more when the chant was finished. She had seen a look on Elizabeth's face, not intended for her to see, which took the music out of her heart. Yet she had sung enough, for she had never before sung so well. She was astonished at her own power, and Robert Burrell thanked her with a sincerity beyond question.
"My brain will be among figures all the way to London, Miss Penelles," he said, "but I am quite sure my soul will be wandering on the shingle, and feeling the blowing winds, and hearing the plash of the waves, and singing with all its power:
"'Here beginneth the sea, That ends not till the world ends.'"
Then he went away, and Elizabeth took her embroidery and sat down with Denas. A great gulf suddenly opened between them. There was no subject to talk about. Elizabeth had sent Roland away on the double pretence of wanting him to take a message to Caroline and of wanting to have Denas all to herself. And she watched Roland so cleverly that he had no opportunity to say a word to Denas; and yet he had, for in bidding her good-bye he managed, by the quick lift of his brows and the wide-open look in his eyes, to give her assurance that he would be at their usual place of meeting. Elizabeth was a clever woman, but no match for a man who has love in his heart and his eyes to speak for him.
So she had Denas all to herself, and then, in spite of everything she could do, her manner became indifferent and icy. She asked after John and Joan and more pointedly after Tris. And Denas thought there could be no harm in talking of Tris and his affection for her. She chattered away until she felt she was not being listened to. Then she tried to talk of the past; Elizabeth said it was so associated with poor papa she would rather not talk of it. It was very painful to her, and she had promised Mr. Burrell not to indulge in painful thoughts. So Denas felt that the past was a shut and clasped book between them for ever.
Nothing remained but to ask Elizabeth about her wedding-trip. She answered her, but not as she would have answered an acquaintance of her own circle. In her heart she felt it to be a presumption in Denas. Why should this girl question her about her opinions and doings? Her conscience had continually to urge her to justice, and she felt the strife of feeling to be very uncomfortable.
Denas had hoped to be shown all the pretty dresses and cloaks and knick-knacks of fine wearing apparel that Elizabeth had bought in London, Paris, and other European capitals. These things had been much talked of in the town, and it would have been a little distinction to Denas to have seen and handled them. Perhaps, also, there had been, in her deepest consciousness, a hope that Elizabeth had brought her some special gift—some trinket that she could be proud of all her life and keep in memory of their early friendship.
But Elizabeth showed her nothing and gave her nothing; moreover, when Denas spoke of the beautiful morning robe she wore, Elizabeth frowned slightly and answered with an evident disinclination to discuss the subject, "Yes, it is beautiful." For though Elizabeth did not analyse the feeling, she was annoyed at even a verbal return to a time when gowns of every kind had been a consideration worth while discussing with one whose taste and skill would help to fashion them. Poverty casts only shadows on memory, and few people like to stand voluntarily again in them.
About noon there was a visitor, and Elizabeth received her in another room. She made an apology to Denas, but the girl, left to herself, began to be angry with herself. She could hear Elizabeth and her caller merrily discussing the affairs of their own set, and Elizabeth had quite a different voice; it was sympathetic, ready to break into laughter, full of confidential tones. Denas remembered this voice well. She had once been used to hear it and to blend her own with it. Her heart burned when she called to mind her old friend's excessive civility; her hardly concealed weariness; the real coldness of feeling which no pleasant words could warm. There was no longer any sympathy between them; there was not even any interest which could take the place of sympathy. Elizabeth did not really care whether Denas was offended or not, but she had a conscience, and it urged her to be kind and just. And she did try to obey the order, but when orders perversely go against inclination they do not obtain a cheerful service.
Denas felt and thought quickly: "I am not wanted here. I ought to go away, and I will go." These resolutions were arrived at by apprehension, not by any definable process of reasoning. She touched a bell, asked for her hat and cloak, left a message for Elizabeth, and went away from Burrell Court at once.
The rapid walk to St. Penfer relieved her feelings. "I have been wounded to-day," she sobbed, "just as really as if Elizabeth had flung a stone at me or stabbed me with a knife. I am heart-hurt. I am sorry I went to see her. Why did I go? She is afraid of Roland! Good! I shall pay her back through Roland. If she will not be a friend to me, she may have to call me sister." Then she remembered what Roland had said about her voice and her face was illumined by the thought, and she lifted her head and stepped loftily to it. "She may be proud enough of me yet. I wonder what I have done?"
To such futile questions and reflections, she walked back to St. Penfer. She had not yet found out that the sum of her offending lay in her ability to add the four letters which spelled the word fair to her name. If she had been strikingly ugly and dull, instead of strikingly pretty and bright, Elizabeth would have found it easier to be kind and generous to her.
Denas went to Priscilla Mohun's. Reticence is a cultivated quality, and Denas had none of it; so she told the whole story of her ill-treatment to Priscilla and found her full of sympathy. Priscilla had her own little slights to relate, and if all was true she told Denas, then Elizabeth had managed in a week's time to offend many of her old acquaintances irreconcilably.
Denas remained with Priscilla until three o'clock; then she walked down the cliff to the little glade where she hoped to find Roland. He was not there. She calculated the distance he had to ride, she made allowance for his taking lunch with Caroline Burrell, and she concluded that he ought to have been at the trysting-place before she was. She waited until four o'clock, growing more angry every moment, then she hastened away. "I am right served," she muttered. "I will let Roland Tresham and Elizabeth Burrell alone for the future." The tide of anger rose swiftly in her heart, and she stepped homeward to its flow.
She had gone but a little way when she heard Roland calling her. She would not answer him. She heard his rapid footsteps behind, but she would not turn her head. When he reached her he was already vexed at her perverse mood. "I could not get here sooner, Denas," he said crossly. "Do be reasonable."
"You need not have come at all."
"Denas, stop: Listen to me. If you walk so quickly we shall be seen from the village."
"I wish father to see us. I will call him to come to me."
"Denas, what have I done?"
"You! You are a part of the whole. Your sister has taught me to-day the difference between us. I am glad there is a difference—I intend to forget you both from this day."
"Will you punish me because Elizabeth was unkind?"
"Some day you also will change just as she has done. I will not wait for that day. No, indeed! To be sure, I shall suffer. Father, mother, everybody suffers in one way or another. I can bear as much as others can."
"You are an absurd little thing. Come, darling! Come back with me! I want to tell you a very particular secret."
"Do you think you can pet, or coax, or tell me tales like a cross child? I am a woman, and I have been hurt in every place a woman can be hurt by your sister. I will not go back with you."
"Very well, Denas. You will repent this temper, I can tell you, my dear."
"No, I shall not repent it. I will go to my father and mother. I will tell them how bad I have been and ask them to forgive me. I shall never repent that, I know."
She drew her arm from his clasp and, without lifting her eyes to him, went forward with a swift, purposeful step. He watched her a few moments, and then with a dark countenance turned homeward. "This is Elizabeth's doing," he muttered. "Elizabeth is too, too detestably respectable for anything. I saw and felt her sugared patronage of Denas through all her soft phrases; she treats me in the same way sometimes. When women get a husband they are conceited enough, but when they get a husband and money also they are—the devil only knows what they are."
He entered Elizabeth's presence very sulkily. Robert was in London and there was no reason why he should keep his temper in the background. "There is Caroline's answer," he said, throwing a letter on the table, "and I do wish, Elizabeth, you would send me pleasanter errands in the future. Caroline kept me waiting until she returned from a lunch at Colonel Prynne's. And then she hurried me away because there was to be a grand dinner-party at the Pullens'."
"At the Pullens'? It is very strange Robert and I were not invited."
"I should say very strange indeed, seeing that Caroline is their guest. But Lord and Lady Avonmere were to be present, and of course they did not want any of us."
"Any of us? Pray, why not?"
"Father's bankruptcy is not forgotten. We were nobodies until you married Robert Burrell, and even Robert's money is all trade money."
"You are purposely trying to say disagreeable things, Roland. What fresh snub has Caroline been giving you?"
"Snubs are common to all. Big people are snubbed by lesser people, and these by still smaller ones, and so ad infinitum. You are a bit bigger than Denas, so you snub her, and Denas, of course, passes on the snub. Why should she not? Where is Denas?"
"She has gone home, and I do hope she will never come here again. She behaved very impertinently."
"That I will not believe. Put the shoe on your own foot, Elizabeth. You were rude before I left, and I dare swear you were rude, ruder, rudest after you were alone with the girl. For pure spite and ill-nature, a newly married woman beats the devil."
"Who are you talking to, Roland?"
"To you. I have to talk plainly to you occasionally—birds in their little nests agree, but brothers and sisters do not; in fact, they cannot. For instance, I should be a brute if I agreed with you about Denas."
"I say that Denas behaved very rudely. She went away without my knowledge and without bidding me good-bye. I shall decline to have any more to do with her."
"I have no doubt she has already declined you in every possible form. As far as I can judge, she is a spirited little creature. But gracious! how she did sing this morning! I'll bet you fifty pounds if Robert Burrell had heard her sing a year ago you would not have been mistress of Burrell Court to-day."
"Either you or I must leave the room, Roland. I will not listen any longer to you."
"Sit still. I am very glad to go. I shall take a room at the Black Lion to-morrow. The atmosphere of the Court is so exquisitely rarefied and refined that I am choking in it. I only hope you may not smother Robert in it. Good-night! I notice Robert goes to London pretty often lately. Good-night."
Then he closed the door sharply and went smiling to his room. "I think I have made madame quite as uncomfortable as she has made me," he muttered, "and I will go to the Black Lion to-morrow. From there I can reach Denas without being watched at both ends. John Penelles to the right and Elizabeth Burrell to the left of me are too much and too many. For Denas I must see. I must see her if I have to dress myself in blue flannels and oil-skins to manage it."
In the morning Elizabeth ate her breakfast alone. She had determined to have a good quarrel with Roland, and make him ashamed of his speech and behaviour on the previous evening. But before she rose Roland had gone to the Black Lion, and moreover he had left orders for his packed traps and trunks to be sent after him. He had a distinct object in this move. At the Court he was constantly under surveillance, and he was also very much at Elizabeth's commands. He had little time to give to the pursuit of Denas, and that little at hours unsuitable for the purpose. But at the Black Lion his time was all his own. He could breakfast and dine at whatever hour suited his occupation; he could watch the movements of Denas without being constantly suspected and brought to book.
Her temper the previous evening, while it seriously annoyed, did not dishearten him. He really liked her better for its display. He never supposed that it would last. He expected her to make a visit to St. Penfer the next day; she would hope that he would be on the watch for her; she would be sure of it.
But Denas did not visit St. Penfer that week, and Roland grew desperate. On Saturday night he went down the cliff after dark and hung around John's cottage, hoping that for some reason or other Denas would come to the door. He had a note in his hand ready to put into her hand if she did so. He could see her plainly, for the only screen to the windows was some flowering plants inside and a wooden shutter on the outside, never closed but in extreme bad weather. Joan was making the evening meal, John sat upon the hearth, and Denas, with her knitting in her hands, was by his side. Once or twice he saw her rise and help her mother with some homely duty, and finally she laid down her work, and, kneeling on the rug at her father's feet, she began to toast the bread for their tea. Her unstudied grace, the charm of her beauty and kindness, the very simplicity of her dress, fascinated him afresh.
"That is the costume—the very costume—she ought to sing in," he thought. "With some fishing nets at her feet and the mesh in her hands, how that dark petticoat and that little scarlet josey would tell; the scarlet josey cut away just so at the neck. What a ravishing throat she has! How white and round!"
At this point in his reverie he heard footsteps, and he walked leisurely aside. His big ulster in the darkness was a sufficient disguise; he had no fear of being known by any passer-by. But these footsteps stopped at John's door and then went inside the cottage. That circumstance roused in Roland's heart a tremor he had never known before. He cautiously returned to his point of observation. The visitor was a young and handsome fisherman. It was Tris Penrose. Roland saw with envy his welcome and his familiarity. He saw that Joan had placed for him a chair on the hearth opposite John; Denas, therefore, was at his feet also. Tris could feed his eyes upon her near loveliness. He could speak to her. He did speak to her, and Denas looked up with a smile to answer him. When the toast was made Tris helped Denas to her feet; he put her chair to the table, he put his own beside it. He waited upon her with such delight and tender admiration that Roland was made furiously angry and miserable by his rival's happiness. The poor ape jealousy began meddling in all his better feelings.
He hung around the cottage until he was freezing with cold and burning with rage. "And this is Elizabeth's doing," he kept muttering as he climbed the cliff to the upper town. He could not sleep all night. He thought of everything that could add to his despairing uncertainty. The next day was the Sabbath. Denas would go to chapel with her father and mother. Tris would be sure to meet her there, to return home with her, to sit again at her side on that bright, homelike hearthstone.
"I wish I were a fisher," he cried passionately. "They know what it is to live, for their boats make their cottages like heaven." He could not deny to himself that Tris was a very handsome fellow and that Denas smiled pleasantly at him. "But she never smiled once as she smiles at me. He never once drew her soul into her face, as I can draw it. She does not love him as she loves me." With such assertions he consoled his heart, the while he was trying to form some plan which would give him an opportunity to get Denas once more under his influence.
On Monday morning he went to see Priscilla Mohun. He had a long conversation with the dressmaker, and that afternoon Priscilla walked down to John's cottage and made a proposal to Denas. It was so blunt and business-like, so tight in regard to money matters, that John and Joan, and Denas also, were completely deceived. She said she had heard that Denas and Tris Penrose were to be married, and she thought Denas might like to make some steady money to help the furnishing. She would give her two shillings a day and her board and lodging. Also, she could have Saturday and Sunday at her home if she wished.
Denas, who was fretted by the monotony of home duties really too few to employ both her mother and herself, was glad of the offer. John, who had a little vein of parsimony in his fine nature, thought of the ten shillings a week and of how soon it would grow to be ten pounds. Joan remembered how much there was to see and hear at Miss Priscilla's, and Denas was so dull at home! Why should she not have a good change when it was well paid for? And then she remembered the happy week-ends there would be, with so much to tell and to talk over.
She asked Priscilla to stay and have a cup of tea with them, and so settle the subject. And the result was that Denas went back to St. Penfer with Priscilla and began her duties on the next day. That evening she had a letter from Roland. It was a letter well adapted to touch her heart. Roland was really miserable, and he knew well how to cry out for comfort. He told her he had left his sister's home because Elizabeth had insulted her there. He led her to believe that Elizabeth was in great distress at his anger, but that nothing she could say or do would make him forgive her until Denas herself was satisfied.
And Denas was glad that Elizabeth should suffer. She hoped Roland would make her suffer a great deal. For Denas had not yet reached that divine condition in which it is possible to love one's enemies. She was happy to think that Roland was at the Black Lion with all his possessions; for she knew how the gossip on this occurrence would annoy all the proprieties in Mrs. Burrell's social code.
Her anger served Roland's purpose quite as much as her love. After the third letter she wrote a reply. Then she agreed to meet him; then she was quite under his influence again, much more so, indeed, than she had ever been before. In a week or two he got into the habit of dropping into Priscilla's shop for a pair of gloves, for writing paper, for the Daily News, for a bottle of cologne—in short, there were plenty of occasions for a visit, and he took them. And as Priscilla's was near the Black Lion and the only news depot in town, and as other gentlemen went frequently there also for the supply of their small wants, no one was surprised at Roland's purchases. His intercourse with Priscilla was obviously of the most formal character; she treated him with the same short courtesy she gave to all and sundry, and Denas was so rarely seen behind the counter that she was not in any way associated with the customers. This indeed had been the stipulation on which John had specially insisted.
One morning Roland came hurriedly into the shop. "My sister is coming here, I am sure, Miss Mohun," he said. "Tell Denas, if you please, she said she wished to meet her again. Tell her I will remain here and stand by her." There was no time to deliberate, and Denas, acting upon the feeling of the moment, came quickly to Roland, and was talking to him when Mrs. Burrell entered. They remained in conversation a moment or two, as if loth to part; then Denas advanced to the customer with an air of courtesy, but also of perfect ignorance as to her personality.
"Well, Denas?" said the lady.
"What do you wish, madam?"
"I wish to see Miss Priscilla."
Denas touched a bell and returned to Roland, who had appeared to be unconscious of his sister's presence. Elizabeth glanced at her brother; then, without waiting for Priscilla, left the shop. The lovely face of Denas was like a flame. "Thank you, Roland!" she said with effusion. "You have paid my account in full for me."
"Then, darling, let me come here to-night and say something very important to us both. Priscilla will give me house-room for an hour, I know she will. Here she comes. Let me ask her."
Priscilla affected reluctance, but really she was prepared for the request. She had expected it before and had been uneasy at its delay. She was beginning to fear Roland's visits might be noticed, might be talked about, might injure her custom. It pleased her much to anticipate an end to a risky situation. She managed, without urging Denas, to make the girl feel that her relations with Roland ought either to be better understood or else entirely broken off.
So Roland went back to his inn with a promise that made him light-hearted. "Elizabeth has done me one good turn," he soliloquized. "Now let me see. I will consider my plea and get all in order. First, I must persuade Denas to go to London. Second, the question is, marriage or no marriage? Third, her voice and its cultivation. Fourth, the hundred pounds in St. Merryn's Bank. Fifth, everything as soon as can be—to-morrow night if possible. Sixth, my own money from Tremaine. I should have about four hundred pounds. Heigho! I wish it was eight o'clock. And what an old cat Priscilla is! I do not think I shall give her the fifty pounds I promised her. She does not deserve it—and she never durst ask me for it."
IS THERE ANY SORROW LIKE LOVING?
"For love the sense of right and wrong confounds; Strong love and proud ambition have no bounds." —DRYDEN.
"The fate of love is such That still it sees too little or too much." —DRYDEN.
"Fate ne'er strikes deep but when unkindness joins. But there's a fate in kindness, Still to be least returned where most 'tis given." —DRYDEN.
Lovers see miracles, or think they ought to. Roland expected all his own world to turn to his love. The self-denying, forbearing, loyal affection Elizabeth had shown him all her life was now of no value, since she did not sympathize with his love for Denas. John and Joan Penelles were the objects of his dislike and scorn because they could not see their daughter's future as he saw it. He thought it only right that Priscilla Mohun should risk her business and her reputation for the furtherance of his romantic love affair. He had easily persuaded himself that it was utterly contemptible in her to expect any financial reward for a service of love.
Denas had more force of character. She was offended at Elizabeth because Elizabeth had wounded her self-respect and put her into a most humiliating position. She was too truthful not to admit that Elizabeth had from the first hour of their acquaintance openly opposed anything like love-making between Roland and herself. She understood and acknowledged the rights of her parents. In trampling on them she knew that she was sinning with her eyes open. And if Roland spent the day in arranging his plans for the future, she spent it in facing squarely the thing she had determined to do.
For she was aware that Roland was coming that night to urge her to go to London and become a public singer. She did not know how much money would be required, but she knew that whatever the sum was it must come from Roland. Then, of course, she must marry Roland at once. Under no other relationship could she take money from him. Yet on carefully questioning her memory she was sure that the subject of marriage had been avoided, or, at any rate, not spoken of in any discussion of her future.
"But," she said, with a swift motion of determination, "that is the first subject, and the one on which all others depend."
At eight o'clock Roland was with her. He came with his most irresistible manner, came prepared to carry his own desires in an enthusiasm of that supreme selfishness which he chose to designate as "love for Denas."
"You have only to learn how to manage that wonderful voice of yours, Denas," he said, "and a steady flow of money will be the result. You must have read of the enormous sums singers receive, but we will be modest at first and suppose you only make a few hundreds a year. In the long run that will be nothing; and you will be a very rich woman."
"You have often said such things to me, Roland. But perhaps you do not judge me severely enough. I must see a great teacher, and he will tell me the truth."
"To be sure. And you must have lessons also."
"And for these things there must be money."
"Certainly. I have upward of five hundred pounds and you have one hundred at least."
"I have nothing, Roland."
"The money you told me of in St. Merryn's Bank."
"I cannot touch that."
"Because I will not. Father has been saving it ever since I was born. If he is sick it is all he has to live upon. It is bad enough to desert my parents; I will not rob them also."
"You must not look at things in such extreme ways. You are going to spend money in order to make a fortune."
"I will not spend father's money—the fortune may never come."
"Then there is my money. You are welcome to every penny of it. All I have is yours. I only live for you."
"To say such things, Roland, is the way to marry me—if you mean to marry me—is it not? Among the fishermen it is so, only they would say first of all, 'I do wish to be your husband.'"
"I am not a fisherman, Denas. And it would really be very dishonourable to bind your fortune irrevocably to mine. In a couple of years you would be apt to say: 'Roland played me a mean trick, for he made me his wife only that he might have all the money I earn.' Don't you see what a dreadful position I should be in? I should be ashamed to show my face. Really, dearest, I must look after my honour. My money—that is nothing."
"Roland, if honour and money cannot go together, there is something wrong. If I went to London alone and you were also in London and paying for my lessons, do you know what everyone would say in St. Penfer? Do you know what they would call me?"
"Why need you care for a lot of old gossips—you, with such a grand future before you?"
"I do care. I care for myself. I care a thousand times more for father and mother. A word against my good name would kill them. They would never hold up their heads any more. And then, however bad a name the public gave me, I should give myself a worse one; I should indeed! Night and day my soul would never cease saying to me: 'Denas Penelles, you are a murderess! Hanging is too little for you. Get out of this life and go to your own place'—and you know where that would be."
"You silly, bigoted little Methodist! People do not die of grief in these days, they have too much to do. You would soon be able to send them a great deal of money, and that would put all right."
"For shame, Roland! Little you know of St. Penfer fishermen, nothing at all you know of John and Joan Penelles, if you think a city full of gold would atone to them for my dishonour. What is the use of going around about our words when there are straight ones enough to say? I will go to London as your wife, or I will not go at all."
There was a momentary expression on Roland's face which might have terrified Denas if she had seen it, but her gaze was far outward; she was looking down on the waves and the boats of St. Penfer and on one little cottage on its shingle. And Roland's hasty glance into her resolute face convinced him that all parleying was useless. He was angry and could not quite control himself. His voice showed decided pique as he answered:
"Very well, Denas. Take care of your own honour, by all means; mine is of no value, of course."
"If you think marrying me makes it of no value, take care of your own honour, Roland. I will not be your wife; no, indeed. And as for London, I will not go near it. And as for my voice, it may be worth money, but it is not worth my honour, and my good name, and my father's and mother's life. Why should I sing for strangers? I will sing for my father and the fishers on the sea; and I will sing in the chapel—and there is an end of the matter."
She rose with such an air of decision and wounded feeling that Roland involuntarily thought of her attitude when Elizabeth offended her. From the position taken at that hour she had never wavered; she was still as angry at Mrs. Burrell as she had been when she left the Court in the first outburst of her indignation. And she was so handsome in her affected indifference and her real indignation that Roland was ready to sacrifice everything rather than lose her. He let all other considerations slip away from him; he vowed that his chief longing, his most passionate desire, was to marry her—to make her his and his only; and that nothing but a chivalric sense of the wrong he might be doing her future had made him hesitate. And then he eloquently praised himself for such a nicety of honour, and tried to make her understand how really noble he had been in his self-denial, and how hard it was for him to be accused of the very thing he was trying to avoid. And he looked so injured, with his beautiful eyes full of tears, that Denas was privately ashamed of herself, and fearful that she had in defence of her modesty gone beyond proper boundaries.
Then the subject of their marriage was frankly discussed. Roland was now honest and earnest enough, and yet Denas felt that the charm of the great question and answer had been lost in considering it. Spontaneity—that subtle element of all that is lovely and enchanting—had flown away at the first suspicion of constraint. Some sweet illusion that had always hung like a halo over this grand decision evaded her consciousness; the glorious ideal had become a reality and lost all its enchantments in the change.
After a long discussion, it was finally arranged that Roland should meet Denas at a small way-station about four miles distant on the following Monday evening. From there they could take a train to Plymouth, and at Plymouth there was a Wesleyan minister whom Denas had seen and who she felt sure would marry them. From Plymouth to Exeter, Salisbury, and London was a straight road, and yet one which had many asides and not too easy to follow; though as to any fear of interruptions, they were hardly worth considering. Denas would leave her home as usual on Monday morning, and her parents would have no expectation of seeing her until the following Friday night. By that time she would be settled in London—she would have been Roland's wife for nearly four days.
These arrangements were made on Friday night, and on the following morning Denas went home very early. As she took the cliff-road she felt that the spirit of change had entered into her heart and her imagination. The familiar path had become monotonously dreary; she had a kind of pity for the people who had not her hope of a speedy escape from it. The desolate winter beach, the lonely boats, the closed cottages—how inexorably common they looked! She felt that there must be something in the world better for her than such mean poverty. Roland's words had indeed induced this utter weariness and contempt for the conditions of her life, but the conditions themselves were thus made to give the most eloquent sanction to his advice and entreaties.
And when a girl has set her face toward a wrong road, nothing is sadder in life than the general certainty there is that every small event will urge her forward on it. Usually the home-coming of Denas was watched for and seen afar off, and some special dainty was simmering on the hob for her refreshment. There was all the pleasant flurry that belongs to love's warm welcome. But she had delayed her return in order to spend the evening with Roland, and the environments of the morning had not the same air of easy happiness that attaches itself to the evening hours.
Joan was elbow-deep in her week's cleaning and baking. John had the uncomfortable feeling of a man who knows himself in the way. He had only loitered around in order to see Denas and be sure that all was well with his girl. Then he was a trifle disappointed that she had not brought him his weekly paper. He went silently off to the boats, and Denas was annoyed and reproved by his patient look of disappointment. Women who are cleaning and baking are often, what is called by people less troublesomely employed, cross. Denas was sure her mother was cross and a little unreasonable. She had not time to listen to the village gossip; "it would keep till evening," she said.
Then she bid Denas hurry up and get her father's heavy guernsey mended and his bottle of water filled, ready for the boat. "They be going out on the noon ebb," she said, "and back with the midnight tide, and so take thought for the Sabbath; for your father, he do have to preach over to Pendree to-morrow, and the sermon more on his mind than the fishing—God help us!"
"Will father expect me to walk with him to Pendree to-morrow, mother? It is too far; I cannot walk so far."
"Will he expect you? Not as I know by, Denas—if you don't want to go. There be girls as would busy all to do so. But there! it is easy seen you are neither fatherish or motherish these days."
"I wish father was rich enough to stay at home and never go to sea again."
"That be a bit of nonsense! Your father has had a taking to the sea all his life; and he never could abide to be boxed up on land. Aw, my dear, John Penelles is a busker of a fisherman! The storm never yet did blow that down-daunted him! Tris says it is a great thing to see your father stand smiling by the wheel when the lightning be flying all across the elements and the big waves be threatening moment by moment to make a mouthful of the boat. That be the Penelles' way, my dear; they come from a good old haveage; but there, then, it be whist poor speed we make when our tongues tire our hands."
"'Tis like a storm as it can be, mother."
"Aw, then, a young girl should say brave words or no words at all. 'Tis not your work to forespeak bad weather, and I wish you wouldn't do it, Denas; I do for sure."
In an hour John came back and had a mouthful of meat and bread, but he was hurried and anxious, and said he had not come yet to his meat-list and would be off about his business. Then Joan asked him concerning the weather, and he answered:
"The gulls do fly high, and that do mean a breeze; but there be no danger until they fly inland. The boats will be back before midnight, my dear."
"If the wind do let them, John. Denas says it be on its contrary old ways again."
"My old dear, we be safest when the storm-winds blow; for then God do be keeping the lookout for us. Joan, my wife, 'tis not your business to be looking after the wind, nor mine either; for just as long as John Penelles trusts his boat to the Great Pilot, it is sure and certain to come into harbour right side up. Now, my dear, give me a big jug of milk, with a little boiling water in it to take off the edge of the cold, and then I'll away for the gray fish—if so be God fills the net on either side the boat for us."
"Hark, father! The wind has turned to a north-easter—a bad wind on this coast."
"Not it, Denas. What was it you read me in that story paper? Some verses by a great and good man who have been in a stiff north-easter, or else he never could have got the true grip of it:
"'Welcome, wild north-easter! Come, and strong within us Stir the seaman's blood, Bracing brain and sinew; Come, thou wind of God!'"
"That is not right, and that is not the whole of it, father."
"Aw, 'tis enough, my dear; all that the soul wants, the memory can hold to—'tis enough. Good-bye, and God's keeping."
He drank his warm milk, buttoned close his pilot coat, and went off toward the boats. Denas had no fear for him, but Joan had not learned trust from her husband's trust; the iron ring of the wind, the black sea, the wild sky with its tattered remnants of clouds, made her full of apprehension. She hurried her work and was silent over it; while Denas sat in the little window sewing, and occasionally letting her eyes wander outward over the lonely beach and the homely "cob" cottages of the fishers.
It was a solitary, lonesome, dreary-looking spot on that bleak winter day; and life inside those tiny houses was restricted and full of limitations. Denas thought of them all, but she weighed and measured the life without taking into account the love that sat on each hearthstone—the love that turned the simple houses into homes and the plain, hard-working men into husbands and sons and brothers and lovers and saw that they were good men and brave heroes in spite of their poverty. Love would have altered her estimate, but she did not ask love to count with her. She only thought: "If I did not know of a better life, of a life full of pleasure and change, I might go and live with Tris and dree my days out with him; but I am now too wise to be so easily satisfied. I want a house finer than Elizabeth's; I want grand dresses, and plenty of servants, and a carriage; and Roland says all these things are in my voice. Besides, I am far too pretty to be a fisherman's wife and mend guernseys, and make nets, and bake fish-pies every day in the year."
Far too pretty! After all, this was the deepest thought in her foolish heart. At first, Roland's pictures of her in picturesque costume, singing to enthusiastic crowds, had rather terrified her; but she had let the idea enter her mind, it had become familiar, then alluring, and finally a delightful dream. She occupied many hours in devising costumes, in imagining herself in their colours and forms, and in considering how the homage she would receive would be most nobly borne as it affected Roland. Of course she would throw all at his feet—all the admiration, all the love, all the gold that came to her.
She looked at the grave-faced, preoccupied mother and wished she could talk with her about her hopes. Roland had expressed himself as greatly hurt by this inability. "Most mothers, Denas," he said, "would be only too happy to anticipate such a prospect for their daughter, and you ought to have had a mother's sympathy and help at this great epoch of your life. Poor girl! it is too bad that you are obliged to bear the whole weight of such a movement yourself!"
So Denas looked at her mother, and felt aggrieved by the strict creed which ruled her life. Methodists were so very narrow. She remembered her father's anger at a mere proposal of Miss Tresham to take Denas to a theatre with her. She knew that he believed a theatre to be the open door to hell; and that the mere idea of men and women, either with souls saved or souls to be saved, dancing, filled him with shame and anger. Yet she was going to sing in a theatre if possible; and Roland had said a great deal about the fisher dances of various countries and how effective they would be with the songs.
At first she had refused to tolerate the idea; she could not imagine herself dancing to amuse a crowd of strangers—dancing for money. She thought of Herodias dancing the Baptist's head off, and she said solemnly to Roland, and with the utmost sincerity, that she dared not dance. It was the broad road to perdition. Roland had not cared to argue with such a prejudice. He knew well that the dancing would follow the public singing, as naturally as the singing followed the professional orchestra. But he said then, as he said frequently afterward: "It is such a pity, Denas, you have not a mother you can advise with and who could help and encourage you. It just locks a girl up in a box to be born a Methodist!"