In many places an oblong-shaped brick pit, half under ground, but often at the top, is used. The people of Edelsheim, however, stuck by preference to a deserted stone hut belonging to the parish, which, standing alone, could not, when used as a kiln, set fire to other houses. The night between Sunday and Monday was the time appointed for the Hof flax to be dried; so Moidel, Anton and the two Nannis—the grossdirn and the kleindirn in household parlance—carried it down to the hut, where old Traudl, a village crone and the parochial "hair-dryer," had already made the vast oven red hot with a load of wood. Moidel and the servant-girls acting as the flax-dressers, the grummelfuhr spread the flax on planks in the furnace-like room, and returned home with cheerful steps. Through the dead hours of the night a silent watcher sat at the closed hut door. It was no other than Moro: he had, as usual, attended Moidel to the spot and noticed the proceedings. This she remembered clearly afterward, when in the morning, returning to her labors, he greeted her half reproachfully yet full of affection, as much as to say he had been quietly rectifying any short-comings on her part. All that day, whilst the industrious grummelfuhr hackled and received good cheer in the form of krapfen, for hackling is hard work, Moro attended in the character of a kind but strict overseer. Let us hope that when the fairies sat spinning in the stube in the twilight between last Christmas and Epiphany they amply rewarded Moro with an unlimited supply of magic bones, for did he not to the best of his ability help to make the flax "white as chalk, soft as silk and long as the ship's sail"?
A mild excitement reigned in the Hof about the return of the cattle, and it was confided to us that Jakob greatly hoped that we should still be at Edelsheim to witness the triumphal entry. The bitter cold and rain, however, whilst it made it a necessity for us to leave, impeded the downward journey from the Eder Olm, which was still further retarded by Zottel, the new queen, not taking as cleverly to her dignity as Jakob had in the first instance fondly imagined.
Thus, there was nothing for it but to fix the day of departure, besides having in readiness the parting gifts and surprises intended for each member of the worthy family. Such farewell occupations had, however, been long in progress, for it required great management, labor and forethought to hit on the right thing, and have it ready, with only the resources of a very small town. The handsome chromo-lithographs had been smuggled to the stationer's, and framed for the embellishment of the great sitting-room; the snuff-box for the Hofbauer the pipe and beer-mug for Onkel Johann, the satin kerchiefs for Kathi and Moidel, were all ready and ticketed; so were the neckties and tobacco-pouches for Anton and Jakob, when a bright idea struck E——. She would subscribe for the illustrated Alpenfreund, to afford reading in the stube in the long snowy winter evenings. There was no time to be lost: the next day we were leaving; so, the rain having ceased, we started for the town to pay the subscription.
We knew that it was two o'clock as we crossed the fields, by the bell of the Capuchin monastery tolling for vespers: at the same moment the metallic, rattling sound of cattle-bells mixing with the ringing, and the sight of the peasants leaving their work and running in the direction of the high-road, told us that a herd of cattle was returning from the mountains. Other bells immediately became audible in the contrary direction, the tinkling and rattling continued, and just as we reached the shrine the two triumphant processions met. The one approaching from the west was headed by a very queen of Sheba. What a golden heart-shaped bell clanged from her proud neck! What a tall, beautiful crown, shining like a great sun in a bed of crimson ribbons, blazed on her head! Her little princess-calf, adorned with streamers, followed close at her regal heels: her courtiers attended in regular order in their purple and fine linen, or, in other words, their grand red-and-orange collars and their ponderous bells. When the queen saw the advancing herd she turned round her ample forehead and gave a significant low, bidding her attendants imitate her. And then, whilst the senners and herdsmen looked evidently fearful of an encounter between the two factions, she steadily but defiantly maintained the middle of the road, forcing by her lofty airs the other queen, who was young and inexperienced, to slink ignominiously into the ditch; so that after the proud conquering herd had swept on, she was with difficulty brought into the road and induced to proceed at the head of her literally cowed followers. It was but an illustration of what may often be seen in society, when some proud, overbearing chaperone at the head of her party sweeps past some pretty, shy young woman.
The high-road was reported to be wonderfully lively with cattle this afternoon; consequently we came upon Onkel Johann, that most experienced man in the stall, seated by another judge of cattle on a wall, wearing their very longest white aprons and bibs, so that they almost touched the ground. You could tell the Hansel's keen relish of the spectacle by his mustering courage to urge our staying, since the great Jagdhaus herd belonging to the Sterniwitz (landlord of the Star) was approaching. We therefore lingered, and thus saw the beautiful herd. It had suffered from no cruel phantom this year. There were senners and herdsmen in their holiday costumes, with flowers and ribbons in their hats; there were leiterwagen returning with the chests of clothes and the now empty meal-sacks; but more than this, there were four pretty little lads, each leading the bonniest, cleanest little calf ever seen. What, however, made Onkel Johann rub his hands with glee and give a big chuckle was the sight of a great black ox, wearing, instead of the usual verdant wreath round its neck, a real cow's crown. It was as ludicrous in his eyes as the sight of some sober gentleman in a Parisian bonnet would be in ours. Such jokes seemed rife amongst the senners, for later on another black ox, in a fresh but smaller herd, tramped along with a rosette of scarlet ribbon on its head. The herdsman, seeing us smile, adjusted the ends as carefully as a lady's maid would put the last finishing-touches to the toilet of her mistress. That was the final stroke to Hansel's hilarity.
That night the presents were given amidst endless expressions of surprise and affectionate gratitude, which were brought to a climax by E—'s kind mother presenting Kathi with a pair of china vases adorned with carefully painted clusters of flowers. They brought great tears of admiration into the good soul's eyes. She vowed she would treasure them as long as she lived, and then they should be Moidel's. As soon as our plots were revealed, we found that counterplots had been carried on by the Hof family. Thus, Jakob had managed a clandestine journey from the Olm to Bruneck, and met Anton there, where they had both been photographed expressly for the Herrschaft, occasioning Anton to blush up to the roots of his hair when he, with a smile on his slightly pathetic face, presented each of us, as he said, with "a very humble Andenken". Thus, too, a great many flowers with which to laden us had been carefully tended through this inclement season. The next morning, carrying away flowers and good wishes, and filled with thoughts of mingled pleasure and pain, we bade adieu to the quaint, quiet pastoral Hof, to arrive at nightfall in the fortified Italian city of Verona.
For days and weeks upon the lip has hung A precious something for an absent ear— Some tender confidence but lately sprung, Some dear confession that but one must hear.
The heart repeats it over day by day, And fancies how and when the words will fall— What answering smile upon the face will play, What tender light will linger over all.
But eager eyes that watch for one alone May grow reluctant; for the open gate Lets in, with him, perchance a guest unknown, On whom slow words of courtesy must wait.
Or when the presence waited for has come, It may be dull or cold, too sad or light: A look that shows the heart away from home Can often put the dearest words to flight.
Perhaps the time of meeting, or the form, May chill or wither what we've longed to say: What fits the sunshine will not fit the storm— What blends with twilight, jars with noon of day.
Again, when all things seem our wish to serve, Full opportunity may strike us dumb— May sink our precious thoughts in deep reserve, And to the surface bid the lightest come.
And often ere our friend is out of sight, We start: the thing can scarce be credited— We have been silent, or our words been trite, And here's the dearest thing of all unsaid!
CHARLOTTE F. BATES.
If anybody ever could have enjoyed living in heathen times, it must have been Pliny the Younger. A friend of ours calls him the gentlemanly letter writer, and so he was. He wrote letters which must have been treats to his correspondents. It is well that some of his notes did not require answers, for, as the letters of "the parties of the second part" are irretrievably lost, the annoyance one feels over a one-sided record is somewhat abated. Only the imperial replies are preserved. But, as we have said, Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (nephew to the ponderously fat and still more ponderously learned C. Plinius Secundus, who, like Leibnitz in latter times, sat, wrote, was read to, slept, and ate in his arm-chair for days together) must have enjoyed living. If he had not had so gentle a disposition and so loving a recollection of his uncle, we might have fancied him terribly bored by that worthy; for the elder Pliny was a heluo miraculorum, believing in and jotting down everything he heard, saw or read, like the immortal Mr. Pickwick. A book or a reader was ever at his elbow—a tablet or parchment ever within reach. And all this was undertaken or done for his nephew's advantage. There could have been but little pleasure in having such a guardian, though the nephew's easy, loving temper and delicate constitution caused him to be petted a good deal. A lucky dyspepsia (the Romans must have had the dyspepsia from eating the messes their Greek cooks put upon their tables) spared him from continuous attendance upon his uncle's studies. Then, too, Pliny was under his uncle's charge only for a few years, for Pliny the Elder lost his life in the famous eruption of Vesuvius. He was lord high admiral of the Mediterranean west of Italy; and of course when the eruption was reported at Misenum, at the admiralty-house, he must needs view it. It was too remarkable a thing not to have a high place in his Natural History. He ordered out his light galley. The rest we all know—how the admiral was as brave as he was fat, and seeing the danger in which so many friends with whom he had often supped were put, attempted to help some of them. So, because of the widow Rectina and his good friend Pomponianus, he came to his sad death.
It was not so very great a loss to his nephew, now turned of eighteen—a likely youth, of course well connected, and now his uncle's heir. Caius Pliny went through the steps of the civil service with credit to himself, though his advancement was checked during Domitian's reign. He was indeed a consul, but then many consuls were appointed during the year. But it was much more prudent for him to keep quiet. He had a good practice—for this, though not strictly accurate, is the nearest term by which to designate his legal employment—and, to take a leap beyond the time we are speaking of, he was about twenty-five years afterward governor of Bithynia, whence he wrote his famous letter to the emperor Trajan about the Christians in his province. Of this letter much has been said, but we think that Pliny has not always been rightly judged about it. He was too conservative a man to be a persecutor, but was not much above or beyond his own time. And he wrote of the Christians as being a religio illicita—an illegal assembly of heretics—as regarded the state religion, which it was his duty to defend. It was wrong to persecute the Christians—wrong on general principles, wrong on particular axioms. But, alas! it has taken nearly seventeen more centuries of fiercer persecutors than Pliny proved to be to learn this little fact. All this is, as he would have said, obiter—by the way. It has, however, a good deal to do indirectly with his good living; for, as we were saying, C.P.C. Secundus lived very well indeed—not extravagantly, but comfortably.
Now, to live well or comfortably, it is needful to have something wherewith to live thus comfortably. The start which C.P. Secundus gave C.P.C. Secundus lifted him up into a successful lawyer, a sort of public orator. As heir to his uncle's estate, and as coheir to estates of deceased friends, and as a public man, he amassed considerable property. He could undoubtedly—and we undoubtingly believe he did—do this with scrupulous honesty. His fees, salaries and legacies he took pains to earn. Legacies he claimed as they were left him, though he stooped to no fawning to obtain them, and in at least one instance returned the property to the natural (though he says undeserving) heir. If so, let us give him due credit for generosity. Certainly, he was not selfish or illiberal. He assisted his friends with money and influence, as well as advice, and he gave to his native town, Comum, a public library, besides an endowment of three hundred thousand sesterces ($12,000) yearly for ever to maintain children born of free parents. How long this endowment lasted we cannot say, but it must, at any rate, have disappeared in the dilapidations caused three hundred and fifty years afterward by the Gothic invaders of Italy. Then he had two villas at least, besides his town-house, with slaves, attendants and following to match. This will suffice to show that he had the wherewithal. But could he enjoy it? He was a literary man: his uncle had settled that for him. He was an oratorical light in the Senate. His letters show that he was a gentleman, whose delicacy of feeling was as fine as the lauded courtesies of modern times. As proof that he was a gentleman, and that he knew how to distinguish a good from a poor dinner, and as proof, too, of the good advice he was wont to give away as freely as good money, we will put in his letter to Avitus upon occasion of a dinner he had just attended:
"Cains Pliny to his own Avitus, greeting: It would take too long, and do no good, to tell you how, though not on familiar terms, I came to dine with a man who piques himself upon his elegant and correct, though sordid and profuse, entertainments. They are so in this: he placed before the select few some rare delicacies—before the rest he put indifferent or little food. Even of the wine there were but three sorts, and these, besides, in little flagons—evidently not that you should choose" but to prevent your choosing—one sort for himself and us, another for his poorer friends, a third for his and our freedmen. A neighbor on the same couch asked me what I thought of it: Did I approve? 'No.' 'Then what is your rule?' 'I put the same things before all my guests, for I ask them to sup, not to grade them in my esteem: I equalize in all things those I invite to my table.' 'Even the freedmen?' 'Yes, for then they are my guests, and not freedmen.' He replied,' It must cost you a good deal.' 'Very little.' 'How so?' 'Thus: I drink then what my freedmen drink, not they my wines.' And truly, if you will but restrain your taste a little, it is not hard to join in drinking with the many at your table. To be sure, fastidious taste must be repressed, and, as it were, brought under control, if you spare that expense in which one consults rather his own gratification than the feelings of others. But why all this? I write, so that the luxury of some under the specious guise of economy may not impose upon you as a well-disposed youth. And so, out of pure good-will to you, I draw instances from my experience to advise or warn you. There is nothing to be more carefully avoided than that upstart society compounded of meanness and luxury, for these twain, bad enough apart, are abominable when joined together. Vale!"
Now, gentle reader, yourself being judge, we submit to your honor that here are good sense, delicate taste and refinement combined. Two things also must be noted: First, we are glad to find that the well-disposed youth to whom we were introduced in Mr. Adams's Latin Grammar some twenty-odd years ago turns out to be this kindly young man in whom C.P.C. Secundus, Jr., takes such an interest: we are sure he is a deserving young man, and will turn out a brilliant diner-out; only it would have been more ingenuous in Mr. Adams to have told us plainly that it was Avitus whose character was being formed by the famous C.P.C. Secundus, generally known as Pliny the Younger; and then we might have profited by the tuition. Again, the freedman was not one in the sense in which we use the term, but one who was emancipated and a member (not always a menial member) of his patron's family. The African as a slave had just begun to be a common servant in wealthy households, but the libertus was often of better blood than many a citizen. You will remember that Horace was the son of such a freedman. So again we hold it proven that Pliny knew how to enjoy his opportunities of good living—opportunities acquired partly by inheritance, partly by his ability and deserts. He had a well-balanced, self-poised character, and so could trust himself temperare gulce—to eat, drink and enjoy life temperately. He was tested in the troublous times of Domitian. By living quietly, by adroitly parrying pointed and dangerous questions, by avoiding public life, he managed to pass through a very difficult reign; for it was a difficult time under an emperor who spared not even flies: certainly it was the only way in which he ever battled with Beelzebub. Now we hold that had C.P.C. Secundus been anything beyond an amateur epicure—if he had been a gourmand—he would have fatally said or done something that would have prevented his ever writing any more letters to friends or to General Trajanus. To be a well-balanced eater is, cceteris paribus, to be a well-balanced man. Perhaps Pliny was too fastidious to be a proper epicure even—too fastidious in other directions, we mean. And he had learned some habits from his early training which would interfere materially with habitual attention to the pleasures of the table. But we protest we did not intend, even as a first object, to bring up the table as the main proof of Pliny's enjoyment of the good things of this life. We wanted to show you, courteous reader, something of how he lived, and it is necessary to learn his habits in order to decide whether he enjoyed the things which Providence had given him. He had learned of his uncle the bad habit of reading or of being read to at meal-times. He did not indulge in it, he says, when he had company, but only when his family was present. His protestation does not avail him: this plea rather aggravated the rudeness. For, however formal etiquette may be laid aside in the bosom of his family, a paterfamilias is none the less bound to observe the laws of courtesy. But it yet leads us to notice that C.P.C. loved his wife and children. His wife was the daughter of one Fabatus, who would most undoubtedly have been long since forgotten but that his son-in-law wrote him model letters, sometimes on business, sometimes on his health, sometimes about visits that had been delayed—generally complimentary, always short, always implying high reverence for the father of a well-loved wife. But he carried the family passion for reading to excess. One of his regrets is that his favorite reader is consumptive, and, despite a season in Egypt for his health, was still suffering. So he sends him to the country-seat of a friend, to see if the country air and good nursing will not restore him. It was an accomplishment to read well that added to the value of a slave, and Pliny prized his "boy" accordingly. This is but a slight indication of the excess to which he carried his love for reading and scribbling. If he could not read, he must scribble; so he scribbled when out hunting! If he had been fishing with a book in his hand, that had been excusable. But we do not believe that the Romans took kindly to fishing as a sport. They bred their fish in private fish-ponds—piscinae—and they had a revolting habit of fattening their fish. Old Izaak would have abhorred the very thought of casting a line for such prey: sickening thoughts of cannibalism would have filled him with horror. But C.P.C. consented to hunt one day, so he writes to Tacitus. Did he ride after the dogs, spear in hand, to kill the fierce wild-boar? Not he. He; sat down by the nets with tablets on his knee, under the quiet shade, and meditated and enjoyed the solitude, and scribbled to his heart's content. Here a doubt arises. Let us whisper it: Did he inherit the avuncular tendency to obesity? We have seen no hint of this, and of course it would not enter into his correspondence; but it is possible. At all events, our natural conclusion is, that he was too literary to be merely a bon vivant. No, he was a shrewd reader of human nature, a man of rare taste, of strong sense, and fond of an equable life. He had means, and often, if not always, the proper leisure to live well. And by living well we mean, not that he indulged in a greedy enjoyment of the good things of this life, nor yet in a profuse and gaudy display, but that, being a heathen, he lived as an upright heathen lawyer, magistrate, statesman and millionaire should live.
It was needful for him, then, having the wherewithal, and being a refined and well-balanced man, to have the place where to live well. Did he have this? Yes: he had two villas—one a summer residence near the mountains, and a winter one sixteen miles from Rome, near Laurentum. This was the villa of Laurentinum. It was fitted up with every then known comfort and convenience which a man of wealth, pleasure and taste could want and thoroughly enjoy. As he was fond of showing his winter-house, we may go back just seventeen hundred and eighty years and introduce you as his friend Gallus. It is so long since that Pliny would not detect you, and we shall have the benefit of his own guidance in the intricacies of his spacious villa. We will take his advice, and instead of traveling in the clumsy rheda over the sandy road, we will ride out on horseback. The views along the road are pretty—now in a woody skirt, now by meadows in which the sheep and cattle find a later pasturage than higher up the country; so, by a winding path, we come upon a roomy and hospitable villa. This is Laurentinum, near Laurentum. We come before the atrium: a slave announces us, and the courteous master welcomes us on the steps of a porch shaped like the letter D, with pleasant transparent mica windows, and roofed over as a protection against showers. Thence he ushers us into a cheerful entrance-hall: "Let me show you my winter retreat. Your room is in rather a distant part of my little villa, and it is nearly time to bathe. Let me conduct you." We see that our friend is rather proud of his home, and so he ought to be, for we find it a snug retreat for a vacation. Now let us see when and how he enjoys himself after his labors in either of the courts. Let us follow him out of the hall into the dining-room, which has a pleasant southern outlook upon the sea. The murmuring waves echo in it. It has innumerable doors, and windows reaching to the floor, and is as pleasant as the banquet-room of the Americus Club-house. You look out upon, as it were, triple seas: so too from the atrium, the portico and the hall you can look over woods, hills or the sea. Through the hall again, into an ample chamber, then out to a smaller one, which lets in the rising sunlight on the one side and the purple glow of sunset on the other. Here, too, is a partial view of the sea. These rooms are protected from all but fair-weather winds. The great dining-room is the pleasant—weather room. Then next beyond is the apsidal chamber, which admits continuous sunshine through its many windows. Book-presses stand against the partition wall, to hold the books in constant use. "My uncle, good Gallus, taught me not to lose an hour. Behind this is the dormitory, properly tempered according to the season: farther on are the servants' and freedmen's apartments. But here is your room. After the bath we will see the rest. The bath is here between these cool dressing-rooms: you must need it after your dusty ride, my Gallus.
"My friend Spurenna lives pleasantly. I spent a few days with him not long ago. Early in the morning he takes a stroll of three miles. If he has visitors, he chats with them on some improving subject—if not, he reads. Then with books and conversation he fills up the interval till it is time to ride, when, with his wife and a friend or two—perhaps myself—he takes a drive of seven or eight miles. Till it is time to bathe he amuses us with his graceful lyrics, in Greek as well as in Latin. He bathes about two or three o'clock, and then suns himself; for by bathing and rubbing and sunning he fights off the ills of advancing years. Then a lunch. Then dinner, which is served on antique solid silver. Have you enjoyed your bath, my Gallus? The tank is large enough, certainly, for one to swim in. Now, as we pass back, see how conveniently the bathing-house, heater and perfuming-rooms adjoin. Here are my fish-ponds: the poor things can look out upon the sea if they choose. And now my tennis-court, quite a warm place late in the afternoon. Here is a turret with two sunny rooms under it: that one yonder is a pleasant sunlit supper-room, with views of sea and beaches and villas. Yonder is the villa once owned by Hortensius, Cicero's great rival, you remember. It is not in good repair, and is rather old-fashioned too. A third turret has under it a large larder and store-room, and a spacious bed-chamber. In that sunny room, again, you can escape the crash of the surges, which only penetrates here as a gentle murmur. In truth, good Gallus, where there are so many wintry changes on a coast like this, I like to be able to change too. High winds and storms on a seashore compel us to have protected dining-rooms. This one we are now in looks out upon my garden and the shaded alley round it. We will dine early, and in the front triclinium this pleasant evening.... In the country here we have not all the delicacies that the city commands, but by the aid of Ostia and yonder village we manage tolerably.... Some wine? Falernian, that my good uncle bought forty years ago. The wax on the jar is stiff with age. There is nothing I delight in more than in gathering my wife and children around me, as you see. And I make you a member of my household at once by not laying aside my rule. My reader is hoarse to-day, or I would have some interesting extracts out of my uncle's notebook read. Some grapes? They are late October vines. We can look out of those side windows upon the white-sailed galleys that go by. My uncle was admiral of the western fleet, you know, and though I have only been a civil officer, yet I have a sort of love for the sea; and this is one thing that makes Laurentinum so dear to me. Have you dined so simply? Your ride has not given you the appetite it gives me. Fatigue is your true appetizer, and if that fails I cannot hope that these autumn figs will tempt you."
Our host runs on thus at a great rate, and is evidently bent on showing us the rest of his comfortable villa before the daylight fails us:
"So you would see the retreat I claim as my own den? Let us pass back into the box-alley. The box does not grow well unless sheltered from the winds and the beating sunshine; so the gaps in the hedge I fill up with rosemary. You see that the inside of the alley is formed by vines. The shadowy, tender lawn under them is a pleasant place to walk on barefoot. The fig and mulberry are the only trees that grow well here. The garden is backed by two sunny rooms again, and behind that is the kitchen garden. And here is the long covered way near the public work. It has twice as many windows opening out as it has opposite opening into my garden, and on blowing as well as windless days the shutters are ever open. In front is my colonnade, fringed with violets. Here is my basking-walk. You see how it shelters one, too, from the African winds. It cuts off the wind from the other side in winter. It has advantages both for winter and summer: according to the season and the shade, you can enjoy the sea-view or can get the cool of the garden and alley. Then those open windows always keep the air astir. This summer-like place is my special delight, for I planned it myself."
And indeed, my pseudo Gallus, let me remark that, being myself a native of the Mediterranean, I can enter better than you can into the childish delight that our friend Caius Plinius expresses. It is a joy which is not to be found in the nature of the American to sleep in the tropic heats of a July sun. Winter is abhorrent to the nature of every Levanter. To bask upon the shore of the Mediterranean, with the calm lazy sea at your feet and the winds cut off from your back, is the only decent way of hibernating. But this is in your ear as we pass along, and you will have to repress the smile on your lips or change it into a sign of courteous pleasure, or he will detect the impostor.
Now then: "Here is my sun-chamber. It looks out on the colonnade, the sea and the sunshine. It leads into the covered walk by this window, and into my bed-chamber by this door. But hither. Seaward there is a letter cabinet on the division wall. It is entered from the bed-chamber, and can be separated effectually by these curtains and this transparent door. You see it has only a lounge and a couple of arm-chairs. At your feet is the sea, behind you the house, over head the woods: windows look out on either side. My bed-room is convenient, and yet I am far from the babble of the household. Not the trampling of the waves, no sounds of storm, no flash of lightning, even daylight cannot penetrate here unless the shutters are opened. It is so secret and quiet and hidden because it is in the corridor between the bed-room walls and the garden wall, and so every sound is deadened. A small oven is added to the bed-chamber, which by this narrow opening admits heat when required. There lie the antechamber and the bed-room, which get the sun all the day long. What do you think of my den, my Gallus? When I betake myself to this retreat I seem to have left my home behind me; and especially in the Saturnalia I delight in it. When the rest of the house is given up to the license of noisy festivals, no noises can disturb my reveries, no clamors interfere with my studies."
Let us express our admiration of so well-appointed an abode with cautious terms, and let us say that we might wonder if any one could help longing for such a home. Let us be careful that we do not betray ourselves by asking after modern improvements, as you, O Mask, might do, but you are not house-hunting to-day.
"Yes, this is comfortable and delightful, but it has one drawback. There is no spring in the whole enclosure; but we try to make up for it by wells, or rather fountains. But along this wonderful shore you have only to dig a little and there oozes out at once—I cannot call it water, a humor rather, which is unsophisticated brine, on account of the sea so near by, I suppose. Those forests supply us with wood: Ostia supplies us with everything else that cannot be got in yonder village. You see how I live and enjoy myself, and you must be a very ingrained cit indeed if you do not instantly decide to settle down amongst us. There is a little farm not far off: let me negotiate it for you."
It is time for us to vanish, for he will next propose to buy the Hortensian villa from the improvident prodigal who holds it, and will make you settle down here in spite of yourself, and so make a respectable heathen out of you; for of course you have not the courage to whisper in his ear that you are a Christian: his oven is not yet cooled down.
But now own, as we are back in the nineteenth century without a single hair singed, does not C.P.C. Secundus live well as a man who is upright, just, loving his family, honoring and serving the emperor, attending to his own business and enjoying his vacations in a gentlemanly way, though he will become a heathen persecutor before he dies?
A PRINCESS OF THULE.
BY WILLIAM BLACK, AUTHOR OF "THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PHAETON."
Just as Frank Lavender went down stairs to meet Ingram, a letter which had been forwarded from London was brought to Sheila. It bore the Lewis postmark, and she guessed it was from Duncan, for she had told Mairi to ask the tall keeper to write, and she knew he would hasten to obey her request at any sacrifice of comfort to himself. Sheila sat down to read the letter in a happy frame of mind. She had every confidence that all her troubles were about to be removed now that her good friend Ingram had come to her husband; and here was a message to her from her home that seemed, even before she read it, to beg of her to come thither light-hearted and joyous. This was what she read:
"BORVABOST, THE ISLAND OF LEWS, "the third Aug., 18——.
"HONORED MRS. LAVENDER,—It waz Mairi waz sayin that you will want me to write to you, bit I am not good at the writen whatever, and it was 2 years since I was writen to Amerika, to John Ferkason that kept the tea-shop in Stornoway, and was trooned in coming home the verra last year before this. It waz Mairi will say you will like a letter as well as any one that waz goin to Amerika, for the news and the things, and you will be as far away from us as if you waz living in Amerika or Glaska. But there is not much news, for the lads they hev all pulled up the boats, and they are away to Wick, and Sandy McDougal that waz living by Loch Langavat, he will be going too, for he was up at the sheilings when Mrs. Paterson's lasses waz there with the cows, and it waz Jeanie the youngest and him made it up, and he haz twenty-five pounds in the bank, which is a good thing too mirover for the young couple. It was many a one waz sayin when the cows and the sheep waz come home from the sheilings that never afore waz Miss Sheila away from Loch Roag when the cattle would be swimmin across the loch to the island; and I will say to many of them verra well you will wait and you will see Miss Sheila back again in the Lews, and it wazna allwas you would lif away from your own home where you was born and the people will know you from the one year to the next. John McNicol of Habost he will be verra bad three months or two months ago, and we waz thinkin he will die, and him with a wife and five bairns too, and four cows and a cart, but the doctor took a great dale of blood from him, and he is now verra well whatever, though wakely on the legs. It would hev been a bad thing if Mr. McNicol waz dead, for he will be verra good at pentin a door, and he haz between fifteen pounds and ten pounds in the bank at Stornoway, and four cows too and a cart, and he is a ferra religious man, and has great skill o' the psalm-tunes, and he toesna get trunk now more as twice or as three times in the two weeks. It was his dochter Betsy, a verra fine lass, that waz come to Borvabost, and it waz the talk among many that Alister-nan-Each he waz thinkin of makin up to her, but there will be a great laugh all over the island, and she will be verra angry and say she will not have him no if his house had a door of silfer to it for she will have no one that toesna go to the Caithness fishins wi the other lads. It waz blew verra hard here the last night or two or three. There is a great deal of salmon in the rivers; and Mr. Mackenzie he will be going across to Grimersta, the day after to-morrow, or the next day before that, and the English gentlemen have been there more as two or three weeks, and they will be getting verra good sport whatever. Mairi she will be writen a letter to you to-morrow, Miss Sheila, and she will be telling you all the news of the house. Mairi waz sayin she will be goin to London when the harvest was got in, and Scarlett will say to her that no one will let her land on the island again if she toesna bring you back with her to the island and to your own house. If it waz not too much trouble, Miss Sheila, it would be a proud day for Scarlett if you waz send me a line or two lines to say if you will be coming to the Lews this summer or before the winter is over whatever. I remain, Honored Mrs. Lavender, your obedient servant,
"This summer or winter," said Sheila to herself, with a happy light on her face: "why not now?" Why should she not go down stairs to the coffee-room of the hotel and place this invitation in the hand of her husband and his friend? Would not its garrulous simplicity recall to both of them the island they used to find so pleasant? Would not they suddenly resolve to leave behind them London and its ways and people, even this monotonous sea out there, and speed away northwardly till they came in sight of the great and rolling Minch, with its majestic breadth of sky and its pale blue islands lying far away at the horizon? Then the happy landing at Stornoway—her father and Duncan and Mairi all on the quay—the rapid drive over to Loch Roag, and the first glimpse of the rocky bays and clear water and white sand about Borva and Borvabost! And Sheila would once more—having cast aside this cumbrous attire that she had to change so often, and having got out that neat and simple costume that was so good for walking or driving or sailing—be proud to wait upon her guests, and help Mairi in her household ways, and have a pretty table ready for the gentlemen when they returned from the shooting.
Her husband came up the hotel stairs and entered the room. She rose to meet him, with the open letter in her hand.
"Sheila," he said (and the light slowly died away from her face), "I have something to ask of you."
She knew by the sound of his voice that she had nothing to hope: it was not the first time she had been disappointed, and yet this time it seemed especially bitter somehow. The awakening from these illusions was sudden.
She did not answer, so he said in the same measured voice, "I have to ask that you will have henceforth no communication with Mr. Ingram: I do not wish him to come to the house."
She stood for a moment, apparently not understanding the meaning of what he said. Then, when the full force of this decision and request came upon her, a quick color sprang to her face, the cause of which, if it had been revealed to him in words, would have considerably astonished her husband. But that moment of doubt, of surprise and of inward indignation was soon over. She cast down her eyes and said meekly, "Very well, dear."
It was now his turn to be astonished, and mortified as well. He could not have believed it possible that she should so calmly acquiesce in the dismissal of one of her dearest friends. He had expected a more or less angry protest, if not a distinct refusal, which would have given him an opportunity for displaying the injuries he conceived himself to have suffered at their hands. Why had she not come to himself? This man Ingram was presuming on his ancient friendship, and on the part he had taken in forwarding the marriage up in Borva. He had always, moreover, been somewhat too much of the schoolmaster, with his severe judgments, his sententious fashion of criticising and warning people, and his readiness to prove the whole world wrong in order to show himself to be right. All these and many other things Lavender meant to say to Sheila so soon as she had protested against his forbidding Ingram to come any more to the house. But there was no protest. Sheila did not even seem surprised. She went back to her seat by the window, folded up Duncan's letter and put it in her pocket; and then she turned to look at the sea.
Lavender regarded her for a moment, apparently doubting whether he should himself prosecute the subject: then he turned and left the room.
Sheila did not cry or otherwise seek to compassionate and console herself. Her husband had told her to do a certain thing, and she would do it. Perhaps she had been imprudent in having confided in Mr. Ingram, and if so, it was right that she should be punished. But the regret and pain that lay deep in her heart were that Ingram should have suffered through her, and that she had no opportunity of telling him that, though they might not see each other, she would never forget her friendship for him, or cease to be grateful to him for his unceasing and generous kindness to her.
Next morning Lavender was summoned to London by a telegram which announced that his aunt was seriously ill. He and Sheila got ready at once, left by a forenoon train, had some brief luncheon at home, and then went down to see the old lady in Kensington Gore. During their journey Lavender had been rather more courteous and kindly toward Sheila than was his wont. Was he pleased that she had so readily obeyed him in this matter of giving up about the only friend she had in London? or was he moved by some visitation of compunction? Sheila tried to show that she was grateful for his kindness, but there was that between them which could not be removed by chance phrases or attentions.
Mrs. Lavender was in her own room. Paterson brought word that she wanted to see Sheila first and alone; so Lavender sat down in the gloomy drawing-room by the window, and watched the people riding and driving past, and the sunshine on the dusty green trees in the Park.
"Is Frank Lavender below?" said the thin old woman, who was propped up in bed, with some scarlet garment around her that made her resemble more than ever the cockatoo of which Sheila had thought on first seeing her. "Yes," said Sheila. "I want to see you alone: I can't bear him dawdling about a room, and staring at things, and saying nothing. Does he speak to you?"
Sheila did not wish to enter into any controversy about the habits of her husband, so she said, "I hope you will see him before he goes, Mrs. Lavender. He is very anxious to know how you are, and I am glad to find you looking so well. You do not look like an invalid at all."
"Oh, I'm not going to die yet," said the little dried old woman with the harsh voice, the staring eyes and the tightly-twisted gray hair. "I hope you didn't come to read the Bible to me: you wouldn't find one about in any case, I should think. If you like to sit down and read the sayings of the emperor Marcus Antoninus, I should enjoy that; but I suppose you are too busy thinking what dress you'll wear at my funeral."
"Indeed, I was thinking of no such thing," said Sheila indignantly, but feeling all the same that the hard, glittering, expressionless eyes were watching her.
"Do you think I believe you?" said Mrs. Lavender. "Bah! I hope I am able to recognize the facts of life. If you were to die this afternoon, I should get a black silk trimmed with crape the moment I got on my feet again, and go to your funeral in the ordinary way. I hope you will pay me the same respect. Do you think I am afraid to speak of these things?"
"Why should you speak of them?" said Sheila despairingly.
"Because it does you good to contemplate the worst that can befall you, and if it does not happen you may rejoice. And it will happen. I know I shall be lying in this bed, with half a dozen of you round about trying to cry, and wondering which will have the courage to turn and go out of the room first. Then there will be the funeral day, and Paterson will be careful about the blinds, and go about the house on her tiptoes, as if I were likely to hear! Then there will be a pretty service up in the cemetery, and a man who never saw me will speak of his dear sister departed; and then you'll all go home and have your dinner. Am I afraid of it?"
"Why should you talk like that?" said Sheila piteously. "You are not going to die. You distress yourself and others by thinking of these horrible things."
"My dear child, there is nothing horrible in nature. Everything is part of the universal system which you should recognize and accept. If you had but trained yourself now, by the study of philosophical works, to know how helpless you are to alter the facts of life, and how it is the best wisdom to be prepared for the worst, you would find nothing horrible in thinking of your own funeral. You are not looking well."
Sheila was startled by the suddenness of the announcement: "Perhaps I am a little tired with the traveling we have done to-day."
"Is Frank Lavender kind to you?" What was she to say with those two eyes scanning her face? "It is too soon to expect him to be anything else," she said with an effort at a smile.
"Ah! So you are beginning to talk in that way? I thought you were full of sentimental notions of life when you came to London. It is not a good place for nurturing such things."
"It is not," said Sheila, surprised into a sigh.
"Come nearer. Don't be afraid I shall bite you. I am not so ferocious as I look."
Sheila rose and went closer to the bedside, and the old woman stretched out a lean and withered hand to her: "If I thought that that silly fellow wasn't behaving well to you—"
"I will not listen to you," said Sheila, suddenly withdrawing her hand, while a quick color leapt to her face—"I will not listen to you if you speak of my husband in that way."
"I will speak of him any way I like. Don't get into a rage. I have known Frank Lavender a good deal longer than you have. What I was going to say is this—that if I thought that he was not behaving well to you, I would play him a trick. I would leave my money, which is all he has got to live on, to you; and when I died he would find himself dependent on you for every farthing he wanted to spend."
And the old woman laughed, with very little of the weakness of an invalid in the look of her face. But Sheila, when she had mastered her surprise and resolved not be angry, said calmly, "Whatever I have, whatever I might have, that belongs to my husband, not to me."
"Now you speak like a sensible girl," said Mrs. Lavender. "That is the misfortune of a wife, that she cannot keep her own money to herself. But there are means by which the law may be defeated, my dear. I have been thinking it over—I have been speaking of it to Mr. Ingram; for I have suspected for some time that my nephew, Mr. Frank, was not behaving himself."
"Mrs. Lavender," said Sheila, with a face too proud and indignant for tears, "you do not understand me. No one has the right to imagine anything against my husband and to seek to punish him through me. And when I said that everything I have belongs to him, I was not thinking of the law—no—but only this: that everything I have, or might have, would belong to him, as I myself belong to him of my own free will and gift; and I would have no money or anything else that was not entirely his."
"You are a fool."
"Perhaps," said Sheila, struggling to repress her tears.
"What if I were to leave every farthing of my property to a hospital? Where would Frank Lavender be then?"
"He could earn his own living without any such help," said Sheila proudly; for she had never yet given up the hope that her husband would fulfill the fair promise of an earlier time, and win great renown for himself in striving to please her, as he had many a time vowed he would do.
"He has taken great care to conceal his powers in that way," said the old woman with a sneer.
"And if he has, whose fault is it?" the girl said warmly. "Who has kept him in idleness but yourself? And now you blame him for it. I wish he had never had any of your money—I wish he were never to have any more of it."
And then Sheila stopped, with a terrible dread falling over her. What had she not said? The pride of her race had carried her so far, and she had given expression to all the tumult of her heart; but had she not betrayed her duty as a wife, and grievously compromised the interests of her husband? And yet the indignation in her bosom was too strong to admit of her retracting those fatal phrases and begging forgiveness. She stood for a moment irresolute, and she knew that the invalid was regarding her curiously, as though she were some wild animal, and not an ordinary resident in Bayswater.
"You are a little mad, but you are a good girl, and I want to be friends with you. You have in you the spirit of a dozen Frank Lavenders."
"You will never make friends with me by speaking ill of my husband," said Sheila with the same proud and indignant look.
"Not when he ill uses you?" "He does not ill use me. What has Mr. Ingram been saying to you?"
The sudden question would certainly have brought about a disclosure if any were to have been made; but Mrs. Lavender assured Sheila that Mr. Ingram had told her nothing, that she had been forming her own conclusions, and that she still doubted that they were right.
"Now sit down and read to me. You will find Marcus Antoninus on the top of those books."
"Frank is in the drawing-room," observed Sheila mildly.
"He can wait," said the old woman sharply.
"Yes, but you cannot expect me to keep him waiting," with a smile which did not conceal her very definite purpose.
"Then ring, and bid him come up. You will soon get rid of those absurd sentiments."
Sheila rang the bell, and sent Mrs. Paterson down for Lavender, but she did not betake herself to Marcus Antoninus. She waited a few minutes, and then her husband made his appearance, whereupon she sat down and left to him the agreeable duty of talking with this toothless old heathen about funerals and lingering death.
"Well, Aunt Lavender, I am sorry to hear you have been ill, but I suppose you are getting all right again, to judge by your looks."
"I am not nearly as ill as you expected."
"I wonder you did not say 'hoped,'" remarked Lavender carelessly. "You are always attributing the most charitable feelings to your fellow-creatures."
"Frank Lavender," said the old lady, who was a little pleased by this bit of flattery, "if you came here to make yourself impertinent and disagreeable, you can go down stairs again. Your wife and I get on very well without you."
"I am glad to hear it," he said: "I suppose you have been telling her what is the matter with you."
"I have not. I don't know. I have had a pain in the head and two fits, and I dare say the next will carry me off. The doctors won't tell me anything about it, so I suppose it is serious."
"Nonsense!" cried Lavender. "Serious! To look at you, one would say you never had been ill in your life."
"Don't tell stories, Frank Lavender. I know I look like a corpse, but I don't mind it, for I avoid the looking-glass and keep the spectacle for my friends. I expect the next fit will kill me."
"I'll tell you what it is, Aunt Lavender: if you would only get up and come with us for a drive in the Park, you would find there was nothing of an invalid about you; and we should take you home to a quiet dinner at Notting Hill, and Sheila would sing to you all the evening, and to-morrow you would receive the doctors in state in your drawing-rooms, and tell them you were going for a month to Malvern."
"Your husband has a fine imagination, my dear," said Mrs. Lavender to Sheila. "It is a pity he puts it to no use. Now I shall let both of you go. Three breathing in this room are too many for the cubic feet of air it contains. Frank, bring over those scales and put them on the table, and send Paterson to me as you go out."
And so they went down stairs and out of the house. Just as they stood on the steps, looking for a hansom, a young lad came forward and shook hands with Lavender, glancing rather nervously at Sheila.
"Well, Mosenberg," said Lavender, "you've come back from Leipsic at last? We got your card when we came home this morning from Brighton. Let me introduce you to my wife."
The boy looked at the beautiful face before him with something of distant wonder and reverence in his regard. Sheila had heard of the lad before—of the Mendelssohn that was to be—and liked his appearance at first sight. He was a rather handsome boy of fourteen or fifteen, of the fair Jew type, with large, dark, expressive eyes, and long, wavy, light-brown hair. He spoke English fluently and well: his slight German accent was, indeed, scarcely so distinct as Sheila's Highland one, the chief peculiarity of his speaking being a preference for short sentences, as if he were afraid to adventure upon elaborate English. He had not addressed a dozen sentences to Sheila before she had begun to have a liking for the lad, perhaps on account of his soft and musical voice, perhaps on account of the respectful and almost wondering admiration that dwelt in his eyes. He spoke to her as if she were some saint, who had but to smile to charm and bewilder the humble worshiper at her shrine.
"I was intending to call upon Mrs. Lavender, madame," he said. "I heard that she was ill. Perhaps you can tell me if she is better."
"She seems to be very well to-day, and in very good spirits," Sheila answered.
"Then I will not go in. Did you propose to take a walk in the Park, madame?"
Lavender inwardly laughed at the magnificent audacity of the lad, and, seeing that Sheila hesitated, humored him by saying, "Well, we were thinking of calling on one or two people before going home to dinner. But I haven't seen you for a long time, Mosenberg, and I want you to tell me how you succeeded at the Conservatoire. If you like to walk with us for a bit, we can give you something to eat at seven."
"That would be very pleasant for me," said the boy, blushing somewhat, "if it does not incommode you, madame."
"Oh no: I hope you will come," said Sheila most heartily; and so they set out for a walk through Kensington Gardens northward.
Precious little did Lavender learn about Leipsic during that walk. The boy devoted himself wholly to Sheila. He had heard frequently of her, and he knew of her coming from the wild and romantic Hebrides; and he began to tell her of all the experiments that composers had made in representing the sound of seas and storms and winds howling through caverns washed by the waves. Lavender liked music well enough, and could himself play and sing a little, but this enthusiasm rather bored him. He wanted to know if the yellow wine was still as cool and clear as ever down in the twilight of Auerbach's cellar, what burlesques had lately been played at the theatre, and whether such and such a beer-garden was still to the fore; whereas he heard only analyses of overtures, and descriptions of the uses of particular musical instruments, and a wild rhapsody about moonlit seas, the sweetness of French horns, the King of Thule, and a dozen other matters.
"Mosenberg," he said, "before you go calling on people you ought to visit an English tailor. People will think you belong to a German band."
"I have been to a tailor," said the lad with a frank laugh. "My parents, madame, wish me to be quite English: that is why I am sent to live in London, while they are in Frankfort. I stay with some very good friends of mine, who are very musical, and they are not annoyed by my practicing, as other people would be."
"I hope you will sing something to us this evening," said Sheila.
"I will sing and play for you all the evening," he said lightly, "until you are tired. But you must tell me when you are tired, for who can tell how much music will be enough? Sometimes two or three songs are more than enough to make people wish you away."
"You need have no fear of tiring me," said Sheila. "But when you are tired I will sing for you."
"Yes, of course you sing, madame," he said, casting down his eyes: "I knew that when I saw you."
Sheila had got a sweetheart, and Lavender saw it and smiled good-naturedly. The awe and reverence with which this lad regarded the beautiful woman beside him were something new and odd in Kensington Gardens. Yet it was the way of those boys. He had himself had his imaginative fits of worship, in which some very ordinary young woman, who ate a good breakfast and spent an hour and a half in arranging her hair before going out, was regarded as some beautiful goddess fresh risen from the sea or descended from the clouds. Young Mosenberg was just at the proper age for these foolish dreams. He would sing songs to Sheila, and reveal to her in that way a passion of which he dared not otherwise speak. He would compose pieces of music for her, and dedicate them to her, and spend half his quarterly allowance in having them printed. He would grow to consider him, Lavender, a heartless brute, and cherish dark notions of poisoning him, but for the pain it might cause to her.
"I don't remember whether you smoke, Mosenberg," Lavender said after dinner.
"Yes—a cigarette sometimes," said the lad; "but if Mrs. Lavender is going away perhaps she will let me go into the drawing-room with her. There is that sonata of Muzio Clementi, madame, which I will try to remember for you if you please."
"All right," said Lavender: "you'll find me in the next room on the left when you get tired of your music and want a cigar. I think you used to beat me at chess, didn't you?"
"I do not know. We will try once more to-night."
Then Sheila and he went into the drawing-room by themselves, and while she took a seat near the brightly-lit fire-place, he opened the piano at once and sat down. He turned up his cuffs, he took a look at the pedals, he threw back his head, shaking his long brown hair; and then, with a crash like thunder, his two hands struck the keys. He had forgotten all about that sonata: it was a fantasia of his own, based on the airs in Der Freischuetz, that he played; and as he played Sheila's poor little piano suffered somewhat. Never before had it been so battered about, and she wished the small chamber were a great hall, to temper the voluminous noise of this opening passage. But presently the music softened. The white, lithe fingers ran lightly over the keys, so that the notes seemed to ripple out like the prattling of a stream, and then again some stately and majestic air or some joyous burst of song would break upon this light accompaniment, and lead up to another roar and rumble of noise. It was a very fine performance, doubtless, but what Sheila remarked most was the enthusiasm of the lad. She was to see more of that.
"Now," he said, "that is nothing. It is to get one's fingers accustomed to the keys you play anything that is loud and rapid. But if you please, madame, shall I sing you something?"
"Yes, do," said Sheila.
"I will sing for you a little German song which I believe Jenny Lind used to sing, but I never heard her sing. You know German?"
"Very little indeed."
"This is only the cry of some one who is far away about his sweetheart. It is very simple, both in the words and the music."
And he began to sing, in a voice so rich, so tender and expressive that Sheila sat amazed and bewildered to hear him. Where had this boy caught such a trick of passion, or was it really a trick that threw into his voice all the pathos of a strong man's love and grief? He had a powerful baritone, of unusual compass and rare sweetness; but it was not the finely-trained art of his singing, but the passionate abandonment of it, that thrilled Sheila, and indeed brought tears to her eyes. How had this mere lad learned all the yearning and despair of love, that he sang,
Dir bebt die Brust, Dir schlaegt dies Herz, Du meine Lust! O du, mein Schmerz! Nur an den Winden, den Sternen der Hoeh, Muss ich verkuenden mein suesses Weh!—
as though his heart were breaking? When he had finished he paused for a moment or two before leaving the piano, and then he came over to where Sheila sat. She fancied there was a strange look on his face, as of one who had been really experiencing the wild emotions of which he sang; but he said, in his ordinary careful way of speaking, "Madame, I am sorry I cannot translate the words for you into English. They are too simple; and they have, what is common in many German songs, a mingling of the pleasure and the sadness of being in love that would not read natural perhaps in English. When he says to her that she is his greatest delight and also his greatest grief, it is quite right in the German, but not in the English."
"But where have you learned all these things?" she said to him, talking to him as if he were a mere child, and looking without fear into his handsome boyish face and fine eyes. "Sit down and tell me. That is the song of some one whose sweetheart is far away, you said. But you sang it as if you yourself had some sweetheart far away."
"So I have, madame," he said, seriously: "when I sing the song, I think of her then, so that I almost cry for her."
"And who is she?" said Sheila gently. "Is she very far away?"
"I do not know," said the lad absently. "I do not know who she is. Sometimes I think she is a beautiful woman away at St. Petersburg, singing in the opera-house there. Or I think she has sailed away in a ship from me."
"But you do not sing about any particular person?" said Sheila, with an innocent wonder appearing in her eyes.
"Oh no, not at all," said the boy; and then he added, with some suddenness, "Do you think, madame, any fine songs like that, or any fine words that go to the heart of people, are written about any one person? Oh no! The man has a great desire in him to say something beautiful or sad, and he says it—not to one person, but to all the world; and all the world takes it from him as a gift. Sometimes, yes, he will think of one woman, or he will dedicate the music to her, or he will compose it for her wedding, but the feeling in his heart is greater than any that he has for her. Can you believe, madame, that Mendelssohn wrote the Hochzeitm—the Wedding March—for any one wedding? No. It was all the marriage joy of all the world he put into his music, and every one knows that. And you hear it at this wedding, at that wedding, but you know it belongs to something far away and more beautiful than the marriage of any one bride with her sweetheart. And if you will pardon me, madame, for speaking about myself, it is about some one I I never knew, who is far more beautiful and precious to me than any one I ever knew, that I try to think when I sing these sad songs, and then I think of her far away, and not likely ever to see me again."
"But some day you will find that you have met her in real life," Sheila said. "And you will find her far more beautiful and kind to you than anything you dreamed about; and you will try to write your best music to give to her. And then, if you should be unhappy, you will find how much worse is the real unhappiness about one you love than the sentiment of a song you can lay aside at any moment."
The lad looked at her. "What can you know about unhappiness, madame?" he said with a frank and gentle simplicity that she liked.
"I?" said Sheila. "When people get married and begin to experience the cares of the world, they must expect to be unhappy sometimes."
"But not you," he said with some touch of protest in his voice, as if it were impossible the world should deal harshly with so young and beautiful and tender a creature. "You can have nothing but enjoyment around you. Every one must try to please you. You need only condescend to speak to people, and they are grateful to you for a great favor. Perhaps, madame, you think I am impertinent?"
He stopped and blushed, while Sheila, herself with a little touch of color, answered him that she hoped he would always speak to her quite frankly, and then suggested that he might sing once more for her.
"Very well," he said as he sat down to the piano: "this is not any more a sad song. It is about a young lady who will not let her sweetheart kiss her, except on conditions. You shall hear the conditions, and what he says."
Sheila began to wonder whether this innocent-eyed lad had been imposing on her. The song was acted as well as sung. It consisted chiefly of a dialogue between the two lovers; and the boy, with a wonderful ease and grace and skill, mimicked the shy coquetries of the girl, her fits of petulance and dictation, and the pathetic remonstrances of her companion, his humble entreaties and his final sullenness, which is only conquered by her sudden and ample consent. "What a rare faculty of artistic representation this precocious boy must have," she thought, "if he really exhibits all those moods and whims and tricks of manner without having himself been in the position of the despairing and imploring lover!"
"You were not thinking of the beautiful lady in St. Petersburg when you were singing just now," Sheila said on his coming back to her.
"Oh no," he said carelessly: "that is nothing. You have not to imagine anything. These people, you see them on every stage in the comedies and farces."
"But that might happen in actual life," said Sheila, still not quite sure about him. "Do you know that many people would think you must have yourself been teased in that way, or you could not imitate it so naturally?"
"I! Oh no, madame," he said seriously: "I should not act that way if I were in love with a woman. If I found her a comedy-actress, liking to make her amusement out of our relations, I should say to her, 'Good-evening, mademoiselle: we have both made a little mistake.'"
"But you might be so much in love with her that you could not leave her without being very miserable."
"I might be very much in love with her, yes; but I would rather go away and be miserable than be humiliated by such a girl. Why do you smile, madame? Do you think I am vain, or that I am too young to know anything about that? Perhaps both are true, but one cannot help thinking."
"Well," said Sheila, with a grandly maternal air of sympathy and interest, "you must always remember this—that you have something more important to attend to than merely looking out for a beautiful sweetheart. That is the fancy of a foolish girl. You have your profession, and you must become great and famous in that; and then some day, when you meet this beautiful woman and ask her to be your wife, she will be bound to do that, and you will confer honor on her as well as secure happiness to yourself. Now, if you were to fall in love with some coquettish girl like her you were singing about, you would have no more ambition to become famous, you would lose all interest in everything except her, and she would be able to make you miserable by a single word. When you have made a name for yourself, and got a good many more years, you will be better able to bear anything that happens to you in your love or in your marriage."
"You are very kind to take so much trouble," said young Mosenberg, looking up with big, grateful eyes. "Perhaps, madame, if you are not very busy during the day, you will let me call in sometimes, and if there is no one here I will tell you about what I am doing, and play for you or sing for you, if you please."
"In the afternoons I am always free," she said.
"Do you never go out?" he asked.
"Not often. My husband is at his studio most of the day."
The boy looked at her, hesitated for a moment, and then, with a sudden rush of color to his face, "You should not stay so much in the house. Will you sometimes go for a little walk with me, madame, to Kensington Gardens, if you are not busy in the afternoon?"
"Oh, certainly," said Sheila, without a moment's embarrassment. "Do you live near them?"
"No: I live in Sloane street, but the underground railway brings me here in a very short time."
That mention of Sloane street gave a twinge to Sheila's heart. Ought she to have been so ready to accept offers of new friendship just as her old friend had been banished from her?
"In Sloane street? Do you know Mr. Ingram?"
"Oh yes, very well. Do you?"
"He is one of my oldest friends," said Sheila bravely: she would not acknowledge that their intimacy was a thing of the past.
"He is a very good friend to me—I know that," said young Mosenberg, with a laugh. "He hired a piano merely because I used to go into his rooms at night; and now he makes me play over all my most difficult music when I go in, and he sits and smokes a pipe and pretends to like it. I do not think he does, but I have got to do it all the same; and then afterward I sing for him some songs that I know he likes. Madame, I think I can surprise you."
He went suddenly to the piano and began to sing, in a very quiet way,
Oh soft be thy slumbers by Tigh-na-linne's waters: Thy late-wake was sung by MacDiarmid's fair daughters; But far in Lochaber the true heart was weeping Whose hopes are entombed in the grave where thou'rt sleeping.
It was the lament of the young girl whose lover had been separated from her by false reports, and who died before he could get back to Lochaber when the deception was discovered. And the wild, sad air that the girl is supposed to sing seemed so strange with those new chords that this boy-musician gave it that Sheila sat and listened to it as though it were the sound of the seas about Borva coming to her with a new voice and finding her altered and a stranger.
"I know nearly all of those Highland songs that Mr. Ingram has got," said the lad.
"I did not know he had any," Sheila said.
"Sometimes he tries to sing one himself," said the boy with a smile, "but he does not sing very well, and he gets vexed with himself in fun, and flings things about the room. But you will sing some of those songs, madame, and let me hear how they are sung in the North?"
"Some time," said Sheila. "I would rather listen just now to all you can tell me about Mr. Ingram—he is such a very old friend of mine, and I do not know how he lives."
The lad speedily discovered that there was at least one way of keeping his new and beautiful friend profoundly interested; and indeed he went on talking until Lavender came into the room in evening dress. It was eleven o'clock, and young Mosenberg started up with a thousand apologies and hopes that he had not detained Mrs. Lavender. No, Mrs. Lavender was not going out: her husband was going round for an hour to a ball that Mrs. Kavanagh was giving, but she preferred to stay at home.
"May I call upon you to-morrow afternoon, madame?" said the boy as he was leaving.
"I shall be very glad if you will," Sheila answered.
And as he went along the pavement young Mosenberg observed to his companion that Mrs. Lavender did not seem to have gone out much, and that it was very good of her to have promised to go with him occasionally into Kensington Gardens.
"Oh, has she?" said Lavender.
"Yes," said the lad with some surprise.
"You are lucky to be able to get her to leave the house," her husband said: "I can't."
Perhaps he had not tried so much as the words seemed to imply.
"Mr. Ingram," cried young Mosenberg, bursting into the room of his friend, "do you know that I have seen your princess from the island of the Atlantic? Yes, I met her yesterday, and I went up to the house, and I dined there and spent all the evening there."
Ingram was not surprised, nor, apparently, much interested. He was cutting open the leaves of a quarterly review, and a freshly-filled pipe lay on the table beside him. A fire had been lit, for the evenings were getting chill occasionally; the shutters were shut; there was some whisky on the table; so that this small apartment seemed to have its share of bachelors' comforts.
"Well," said Ingram quietly, "did you play for her?"
"And sing for her too?"
"Did you play and sing your very best for her?"
"Yes, I did. But I have not told you half yet. This afternoon I went up, and she went out for a walk with me; and we went down through Kensington Gardens, and all round by the Serpentine—"
"Did she go into that parade of people?" said Ingram, looking up with some surprise.
"No," said the lad, looking rather crestfallen, for he would have liked to show off Sheila to some of his friends, "she would not go: she preferred to watch the small boats on the Serpentine; and she was very kind, too, in speaking to the children, and helping them with their boats, although some people stared at her. And what is more than all these things, to-morrow night she comes with me to a concert in the St. James's Hall—yes."
"You are very fortunate," said Ingram with a smile, for he was well pleased to hear that Sheila had taken a fancy to the boy, and was likely to find his society amusing. "But you have not told me yet what you think of her."
"What I think of her?" said the lad, pausing in a bewildered way, as if he could find no words to express his opinion of Sheila. And then he said, suddenly, "I think she is like the Mother of God."
"You irreverent young rascal!" said Ingram, lighting his pipe, "how dare you say such a thing?"
"I mean in the pictures—in the tall pictures you see in some churches abroad, far up in a half-darkness. She has the same sweet, compassionate look, and her eyes are sometimes a little sad; and when she speaks to you, you think you have known her for a long time, and that she wishes to be very kind to you. But she is not a princess at all, as you told me. I expected to find her grand, haughty, willful—yes; but she is much too friendly for that; and when she laughs you see she could not sweep about a room and stare at people. But if she was angry or proud, perhaps then—"
"See you don't make her angry, then," said Ingram. "Now go and play over all you were practicing in the morning. No! stop a bit. Sit down and tell me something more about your experiences of Shei—of Mrs. Lavender."
Young Mosenberg laughed and sat down: "Do you know, Mr. Ingram, that the same thing occurred the night before last? I was about to sing some more, or I was asking Mrs. Lavender to sing some more—I forget which—but she said to me, 'Not just now. I wish you to sit down and tell me all you know about Mr. Ingram.'"
"And she no sooner honors you with her confidence than you carry it to every one?" said Ingram, somewhat fearful of the boy's tongue.
"Oh, as to that," said the lad, delighted to see that his friend was a little embarrassed—"As to that, I believe she is in love with you."
"Mosenberg," said Ingram with a flash of anger in the dark eyes, "if you were half a dozen years older I would thrash the life out of you. Do you think that is a pretty sort of joke to make about a woman? Don't you know the mischief your gabbling tongue might make? for how is every one to know that you are talking merely impertinent nonsense?"
"Oh," said the boy audaciously, "I did not mean anything of the kind you see in comedies or in operas, breaking up marriages and causing duels? Oh no. I think she is in love with you as I am in love with her; and I am, ever since yesterday."
"Well, I will say this for you," remarked Ingram slowly, "that you are the cheekiest young beggar I have the pleasure to know. You are in love with her, are you? A lady admits you to her house, is particularly kind to you, talks to you in confidence, and then you go and tell people that you are in love with her!"
"I did not tell people," said Mosenberg, flushing under the severity of the reproof: "I told you only, and I thought you would understand what I meant. I should have told Lavender himself just as soon—yes; only he would not care."
"How do you know?"
"Bah!" said the boy impatiently. "Cannot one see it? You have a pretty wife—much prettier than any one you would see at a ball at Mrs. Kavanagh's—and you leave her at home, and you go to the ball to amuse yourself."
This boy, Ingram perceived, was getting to see too clearly how matters stood. He bade him go and play some music, having first admonished him gravely about the necessity of keeping some watch and ward over his tongue. Then the pipe was re-lit, and a fury of sound arose at the other end of the room.
So Lavender, forgetful of the true-hearted girl who loved him, forgetful of his own generous instincts, forgetful of the future that his fine abilities promised, was still dangling after this alien woman, and Sheila was left at home, with her troubles and piteous yearnings and fancies as her only companions? Once upon a time Ingram could have gone straight up to him and admonished him, and driven him to amend his ways. But now that was impossible.
What was still possible? One wild project occurred to him for a moment, but he laughed at it and dismissed it. It was that he should go boldly to Mrs. Lorraine herself, ask her plainly if she knew what cruel injury she was doing to this young wife, and force her to turn Lavender adrift. But what enterprise of the days of old romance could be compared with this mad proposal? To ride up to a castle, blow a trumpet, and announce that unless a certain lady were released forthwith death and destruction would begin,—all that was simple enough, easy and according to rule; but to go into a lady's drawing-room without an introduction, and request her to stop a certain flirtation,—that was a much more awful undertaking. But Ingram could not altogether dismiss this notion from his head. Mosenberg went on playing—no longer his practicing-pieces, but all manner of airs which he knew Ingram liked—while the small sallow man with the brown beard lay in his easy-chair and smoked his pipe, and gazed attentively at his toes on the fender.
"You know Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter, don't you, Mosenberg?" he said during an interval in the music.
"Not much," said the boy. "They were in England only a little while before I went to Leipsic."
"I should like to know them."
"That is very easy. Mr. Lavender will introduce you to them: Mrs. Lavender said he went there very much."
"What would they do, do you think, if I went up and asked to see them?"
"The servant would ask if it was about beer or coals that you called."
A man will do much for a woman who is his friend, but to be suspected of being a brewer's traveler, to have to push one's way into a strange drawing-room, to have to confront the awful stare of the inmates, and then to have to deliver a message which they will probably consider as the very extreme of audacious and meddling impertinence! The prospect was not pleasant, and yet Ingram, as he sat and thought over it that evening, finally resolved to encounter all these dangers and wounds. He could help Sheila in no other way. He was banished from her house. Perhaps he might induce this American girl to release her captive and give Lavender back to his own wife. What were a few twinges of one's self-respect, or risks of a humiliating failure, compared with the possibility of befriending Sheila in some small way?
Next morning he went early in to Whitehall, and about one o'clock in the forenoon started off for Holland Park. He wore a tall hat, a black frock-coat and yellow kid gloves. He went in a hansom, so that the person who opened the door should know that he was not a brewer's traveler. In this wise he reached Mrs. Kavanagh's house, which Lavender had frequently pointed out to him in passing, about half-past one, and with some internal tremors, but much outward calmness, went up the broad stone steps.
A small boy in buttons opened the door.
"Is Mrs. Lorraine at home?"
"Yes, sir," said the boy.
It was the simplest thing in the world. In a couple of seconds he found himself in a big drawing-room, and the youth had taken his card up stairs. Ingram was not very sure whether his success, so far, was due to the hansom, or to his tall hat, or to a silver-headed cane which his grandfather had brought home from India. However, here he was in the house, just like the hero of one of those fine old farces of our youth, who jumps from the street into a strange drawing-room, flirts with the maid, hides behind a screen, confronts the master, and marries his daughter, all in half an hour, the most exacting unities of time and place being faithfully observed.
Presently the door was opened, and a young lady, pale and calm and sweet of face, approached him, and not only bowed to him, but held out her hand.
"I have much pleasure in making your acquaintance, Mr. Ingram," she said, gently and somewhat slowly. "Mr. Lavender has frequently promised to bring you to see us, for he has spoken to us so much about you that we had begun to think we already knew you. Will you come with me up stairs, that I may introduce you to mamma?"
Ingram had come prepared to state harsh truths bluntly, and was ready to meet any sort of anger or opposition with a perfect frankness of intention. But he certainly had not come prepared to find the smart-tongued and fascinating American widow, of whom he had heard so much, a quiet, self-possessed and gracious young lady, of singularly winning manners and clear and resolutely honest eyes. Had Lavender been quite accurate, or even conscientious, in his garrulous talk about Mrs. Lorraine?
"If you will excuse me," said Ingram, with a smile that had less of embarrassment about it than he could have expected, "I would rather speak to you for a few minutes first. The fact is, I have come on a self-imposed errand; and that must be my apology for—for thrusting myself—"
"I am sure no apology is needed," said the girl. "We have always been expecting to see you. Will you sit down?"
He put his hat and his cane on the table, and as he did so he recorded a mental resolution not to be led away by the apparent innocence and sweetness of this woman. What a fool he had been, to expect her to appear in the guise of some forward and giggling coquette, as if Frank Lavender, with all his faults, could have suffered anything like coarseness of manners! But was this woman any the less dangerous that she was refined and courteous, and had the speech and bearing of a gentlewoman?
"Mrs. Lorraine," he said, lowering his eyebrows somewhat, "I may as well be frank with you. I have come upon an unpleasant errand—an affair, indeed, which ought to be no business of mine; but sometimes, when you care a little for some one, you don't mind running the risk of being treated as an intermeddler. You know that I know Mrs. Lavender. She is an old friend of mine. She was almost a child when I knew her first, and I still have a sort of notion that she is a child, and that I should look after her, and so—and so—"
She sat quite still. There was no surprise, no alarm, no anger when Sheila's name was mentioned. She was merely attentive, but now, seeing that he hesitated, she said, "I do not know what you have to say, but if it is serious may not I ask mamma to join us?"
"If you please, no. I would rather speak with you alone, as this matter concerns yourself only. Well, the fact is, I have seen for some time back that Mrs. Lavender is very unhappy. She is left alone; she knows no one in London; perhaps she does not care to join much in those social amusements that her husband enjoys. I say this poor girl is an old friend of mine: I cannot help trying to do something to make her less wretched; and so I have ventured to come to you to see if you could not assist me. Mr. Lavender comes very much to your house, and Sheila is left all by herself; and doubtless she begins to fancy that her husband is neglectful, perhaps indifferent to her, and may get to imagine things that are quite wrong, you know, and that could be explained away by a little kindness on your part."
Was this, then, the fashion in which Jonah had gone up to curse the wickedness of Nineveh? As he had spoken he had been aware that those sincere, somewhat matter—of-fact and far from unfriendly eyes that were fixed on him had undergone no change whatever. Here was no vile creature who would start up with a guilty conscience to repel the remotest hint of an accusation; and indeed, quite unconsciously to himself, he had been led on to ask for her help. Not that he feared her. Not that he could not have said the harshest things to her which there was any reason for saying. But somehow there seemed to be no occasion for the utterance of any cruel truths.
The wonder of it was, too, that instead of being wounded, indignant and angry, as he had expected her to be, she betrayed a very friendly interest in Sheila, as though she herself had nothing whatever to do with the matter.
"You have undertaken a very difficult task, Mr. Ingram," she said with a smile. "I don't think there are many married ladies in London who have a friend who would do as much for them. And, to tell you the truth, both my mamma and myself have come to the same conclusion as yourself about Mr. Lavender. It is really too bad, the way in which he allows that pretty young thing to remain at home, for I suppose she would go more into society if he were to coax her and persuade her. We have done what we could in sending her invitations, in calling on her, and in begging Mr. Lavender to bring her with him. But he has always some excuse for her, so that we never see her. And yet I am sure he does not mean to give her pain; for he is very proud of her, and madly extravagant wherever she is concerned; and sometimes he takes sudden fits of trying to please her and be kind to her that are quite odd in their way. Can you tell me what we should do?"
Ingram looked at her for a moment, and said gravely and slowly, "Before we talk any more about that I must clear my conscience. I perceive that I have done you a wrong. I came here prepared to accuse you of drawing away Mr. Lavender from his wife, of seeking amusement, and perhaps some social distinction, by keeping him continually dangling after you; and I meant to reproach you, or even threaten you, until you promised never to see him again."
A quick flush, partly of shame and partly of annoyance, sprang to Mrs. Lorraine's fair and pale face; but she answered calmly, "It is perhaps as well that you did not tell me this a few minutes ago. May I ask what has led you to change your opinion of me, if it has changed?"
"Of course it has changed," he said, promptly and emphatically. "I can see that I did you a great injury, and I apologize for it, and beg your forgiveness. But when you ask me what has led me to change my opinion, what am I to say? Your manner, perhaps, more than what you have said has convinced me that I was wrong."
"Perhaps you are again mistaken," she said coldly: "you get rapidly to conclusions."
"The reproof is just," he said. "You are quite right. I have made a blunder: there is no mistake about it."
"But do you think it was fair," she said with some spirit—"do you think it was fair to believe all this harm about a woman you had never seen? Now, listen. A hundred times I have begged Mr. Lavender to be more attentive to his wife—not in these words, of course, but as directly as I could. Mamma has given parties, made arrangements for visits, drives and all sorts of things, to tempt Mrs. Lavender to come to us, and all in vain. Of course you can't thrust yourself on any one like that. Though mamma and myself like Mrs. Lavender very well, it is asking too much that we should encounter the humiliation of intermeddling."
Here she stopped suddenly, with the least show of embarrassment. Then she said frankly, "You are an old friend of hers. It is very good of you to have risked so much for the sake of that girl. There are very few gentlemen whom one meets who would do as much."
Ingram could say nothing, and was a little impatient with himself. Was he to be first reproved, and then treated with an indulgent kindness, by a mere girl?