Meanwhile Cardo, who had driven in to the market with Dr. Hughes in the morning, had started on his homeward journey just as Valmai was leaving the town behind her. It had been a lovely day, he had had pleasant company, and had transacted his business satisfactorily; but a deep and settled gloom seemed to have fallen upon him, which he was powerless to shake off. Through the whole tenor of his life ran the distracting memory of Valmai's unrelenting anger in the Velvet Walk, and of the bitterness of the subsequent meeting at Colonel Meredith's. As he stepped along through the summer twilight, and saw the silver moon which hung above him, his thoughts flew back to the first evening of his acquaintance with her. Ah! how long ago it seemed, and yet how everything pertaining to that evening seemed to repeat itself. There were the strains of the militia band throbbing on the quiet evening air, just as they did on that eventful evening; and there was even a grey female figure hurrying before him as before, and Cardo smiled bitterly as he thought how different everything was, in spite of the curious "harking back" of all the small circumstances. Awaking from a reverie, he missed the grey figure; but forgetting her at once, and again absorbed in thought, he had passed the hollow in the bank, when a soft voice followed him on the breeze.
Instantly he turned, and standing still as a statue, watched with eagerness a grey form which seemed to rise from the hedge. He heard his own heart beat loudly, and in the still night air he heard the sough of the sea, and the harsh call of the corncrake. Again the voice said, "Cardo!" very low and trembling. With one bound he was beside the speaker, and in the light of the moon Valmai stood plainly revealed. The sweet eyes glistened as of old, and the night breeze played with the little curls of gold which escaped from their restraining coiffure. She held out her hands, and in a moment Cardo's strong arms were around her.
"My wild sea-bird," he said, in a passionate whisper, "have you flown back to me? Valmai, my darling, what does it mean? Have you forgiven me? Have you repented of those cruel words, dearest? Oh, say it was not my Valmai who called me 'base and dishonourable.' Speak dearest," he said, while he showered kisses upon the uncovered head which leant upon his breast.
"It was not your Valmai, Cardo. How could you think it possible? It was not I whom you saw in the Moss Walk. I did not know till to-day, this very day, that those cruel words were spoken."
"Let us sit here, my beloved; give me your hand; let me try to realise this bewildering joy." And hand in hand they sat on the grassy bank, while the corn-crake called, and the sea heaved and whispered behind them.
There, under the golden moon, with endless questions and reiteration of answers, Valmai told her story and Cardo told his, until the moon rode high in the sky. Again and again Cardo pressed her to his heart, and again and again she took his brown hands in her own and laid her cheek upon them.
"Oh, Cardo! is it true? or is it all a dream? So suddenly to leave my sadness and sorrow behind, and to awake to this blessed reality!" And as they rose to pursue their walk together, Cardo drew her arm through his, as if afraid for a moment to loosen his hold of her.
"But your sister, dearest, is not like you! How could I have been deceived? How could I, for one moment, have thought my gentle darling would say such cruel things? No, no! you are utterly unlike each other, though so strangely alike."
"Well, indeed, Cardo bach! when you know her you will see how sweet and beautiful she is! how much wiser and more noble than I! It was her great love for me, and her desire that I should be happy, that made her act as she did; and to-morrow you must read her penitent letter, and learn to forgive her, and to love her for my sake."
"I will—I will, love; I will forgive anybody, anything, and will love the whole world now that I have you back again. But oh, Valmai, my beloved, how shall I ever make up to you for all you have gone through? I know now you never received my letter written on the Burrawalla, and sent by The Dundee, for I have heard of her sad fate. In that, dearest, I retracted my request that you should keep our marriage a secret, and you would have been saved all the sorrow you have borne had you received it. But I will make up to you, dearest, if the devotion of a lifetime can do so."
"This is happiness enough to make up for anything," said Valmai; "and I am glad I was able to keep my promise."
"Faithful friend, and trustful wife!" answered Cardo.
"Ah! no," continued Valmai; "I shall never regret having kept my promise! Indeed, I never felt tempted to break it, except one day, when, in the old church, I met your father face to face. Never shall I forget the agonising longing I felt to throw myself at his feet and tell him all, and mingle my tears with his."
"He has told me all about it, love, and how he thought it was an angel, when he first saw you standing there. But let us leave all tales of sorrow for another day; to-night is for love only, for rapturous joy! Are we not together, love? and what does anything else matter?"
"Nothing, nothing," answered Valmai, in words which lost none of their depth of feeling from being spoken in soft, low tones.
In silence, which was more eloquent than words, they pursued their way till they reached the bridge over the Berwen; and as they leant over its side, and looked into the depths of the woods beneath them, they recalled all the circumstances of their first meeting.
"I wish I had bought some gingerbread in the Mwntroyd, Cardo, so that we might eat it here together. Ah! how it all comes back to me!"
And as they leant over the bridge he held her hand in his, and with eyes which sought each other's in the moonlight, they let the time slip by unheeded. The only sound that rose upon the still night air was the babbling of the Berwen.
When at last both had told their story, and every question and answer had again and again been renewed, and all its side bearings and suggestions had been satisfactorily explained, the sweet, lisping sounds of the river flooded their souls with its music.
"Oh, Cardo! to think we can once more sing together. How different to that miserable evening at Colonel Meredith's, when you stood aloof, and Gwen sang the dear old song. I thought it would kill me."
"And I, darling, when I carried you up in my arms, what did I feel?"
"Well, indeed, I don't know; but we have had a dreadful experience, whatever." And presently Valmai began to hum "By Berwen Banks," Cardo irresistibly joining in with his musical bass, and once again the old ballad floated down the valley and filled the night with melody.
"We ought to be going now, or we shall be shut out. I know Nance will be gone to bed already, but, certainly, there is not much distance between her bed and the door."
"Nance!" said Cardo. "No, indeed, my wild sea-bird. I have caught you now, and never again will I part with you. Home to Brynderyn, dearest, with me, where my father is longing to fold you in his arms."
"Anywhere with you, Cardo." And down by the Berwen they took their way, by the old church, where the white owl hooted at them as they passed, and down to the shore, where the waves whispered their happy greetings.
The "Vicare du," as he sat by his study fire that night, was lost in thought. A wonderful change had come over his countenance, the gloom and sternness had disappeared, and a softened and even gentle look had taken their place. A smile of eager interest crossed his face as he heard the crunching of the gravel, which announced his son's return. Betto was already opening the door, and a cry of surprise and gladness woke an echo in the old man's heart as he hurried along the stone passage into the parlour. Cardo came in to meet him, leading Valmai, who hung back a little timidly, looking nervously into the Vicar's pale face. But the look she saw there banished all her fears, and in another moment she was clasped in his arms, and in all Wales no happier family drew round their evening meal that night than the Wynnes of Brynderyn.
There is nothing more to be said, except that Gwynne Ellis's letter awaited Cardo's home-coming, and it shall speak for itself.
"DEAR WYNNE,—I write with such mixed feelings, and at the same time in such a hurry to catch the first possible post, that probably you will think my letter is a little 'mixed' too. You will guess what was my astonishment, when calling upon Mrs. Power, to find—not Valmai, but her twin-sister, Miss Gwladys Powell! My dear Wynne, I was struck dumb by the likeness between them. I waited eagerly for Valmai's arrival, which they were daily expecting, and it was not until I heard she was going to Cardiganshire instead that I mentioned to Gwladys your marriage to her sister, and the cruel manner in which she had received you after your long absence. Then came the explanation, which, no doubt, ere this you have received from Valmai's own lips, for I know that to-morrow she will see you, having received her sister's letter in the morning; and the veil will be lifted, and all your sorrow will disperse like the baseless fabric of a dream. You will see already how Gwladys, dreading your influence upon the sister whom she thought you had deceived and deserted, was tempted, by your mistaking her for Valmai, to impersonate her, and to drive you away from her presence. Her sorrow and repentance are greater than the occasion demands, I think, for, after all, it was her deep love for her sister which made her act in this way; and I am sure that, when you and Valmai have been reunited and all your joys return, you will have no room in your hearts for anger against Gwladys. She is the most lovely girl I have ever seen, except your wife, and her mind and heart are quite worthy of her beautiful face; indeed, my dear Cardo, she is what I once thought was not to be found—a second Valmai! In fact I love her, and I am not without a faint hope that my love is returned. Remember me to Shoni, and tell him I hope to see him again next spring. And what if I bring Gwladys down, and we all roam by the Berwen together?—not Shoni! What can I add more, except that I hope this delicious programme may be carried out?
"Yours as of old,