"Mamma," said Mrs. Lorraine, as an elderly lady entered the room, "let me introduce to you Mr. Ingram, whom you must already know. He proposes we should join in some conspiracy to inveigle Mrs. Lavender into society, and make the poor little thing amuse herself."
"Little!" said Mrs. Kavanagh with a smile: "she is a good deal taller than you are, my dear. But I am afraid, Mr. Ingram, you have undertaken a hopeless task. Will you stay to luncheon and talk it over with us?"
"I hope you will," said Mrs. Lorraine; and naturally enough he consented.
Luncheon was just ready. As they were going into the room on the opposite side of the hall, the younger lady said to Ingram in a quiet undertone, but with much indifference of manner, "You know, if you think I ought to give up Mr. Lavender's acquaintance altogether, I will do so at once. But perhaps that will not be necessary."
So this was the house in which Sheila's husband spent so much of his time, and these were the two ladies of whom so much had been said and surmised? There were three of Lavender's pictures on the walls of the dining-room, and as Ingram inadvertently glanced at them, Mrs. Lorraine said to him, "Don't you think it is a pity Mr. Lavender should continue drawing those imaginative sketches of heads? I do not think, myself, that he does himself justice in that way. Some bits of landscape, now, that I have seen seemed to me to have quite a definite character about them, and promised far more than anything else of his I have seen."
"That is precisely what I think," said Ingram, partly amused and partly annoyed to find that this girl, with her clear gray eyes, her soft and musical voice and her singular delicacy of manner, had an evil trick of saying the very things he would himself have said, and leaving him with nothing but a helpless "Yes."
"I think he ought to have given up his club when he married. Most English gentlemen do that when they marry, do they not?" said Mrs. Kavanagh.
"Some," said Ingram. "But a good deal of nonsense is talked about the influence of clubs in that way. It is really absurd to suppose that the size or the shape of a building can alter a man's moral character."
"It does, though," said Mrs. Lorraine confidently. "I can tell directly if a gentleman has been accustomed to spend his time in clubs. When he is surprised or angry or impatient you can perceive blanks in his conversation which in a club, I suppose, would be filled up. Don't you know poor old Colonel Hannen's way of talking, mamma? This old gentleman, Mr. Ingram, is very fond of speaking to you about political liberty and the rights of conscience; and he generally becomes so confused that he gets vexed with himself, and makes odd pauses, as if he were invariably addressing himself in very rude language indeed. Sometimes you would think he was like a railway-engine, going blindly and helplessly on through a thick and choking mist; and you can see that if there were no ladies present he would let off a few crackers—fog-signals, as it were—just to bring himself up a bit, and let people know where he was. Then he will go on again, talking away until you fancy yourself in a tunnel, with a throbbing noise in your ears and all the daylight shut out, and you perhaps getting to wish that on the whole you were dead."
"I beg your pardon, mamma," said the younger lady with a quiet smile "you look so surprised that Mr. Ingram will give me credit for not often erring in that way. You look as though a hare had turned and attacked you."
"That would give most people a fright," said Ingram with a laugh. He was rapidly forgetting the object of his mission. The almost childish softness of voice of this girl, and the perfect composure with which she uttered little sayings that showed considerable sharpness of observation and a keen enjoyment of the grotesque, had an odd sort of fascination for him. He totally forgot that Lavender had been fascinated by it too. If he had been reminded of the fact at this moment he would have said that the boy had, as usual, got sentimental about a pretty pair of big gray eyes and a fine profile, while he, Ingram, was possessed by nothing but a purely intellectual admiration of certain fine qualities of wit, sincerity of speech and womanly shrewdness.
Luncheon, indeed, was over before any mention was made of the Lavenders; and when they returned to that subject it appeared to Ingram that their relations had in the mean time got to be very friendly, and that they were really discussing this matter as if they formed a little family conclave.
"I have told Mr. Ingram, mamma," Mrs. Lorraine said, "that so far as I am concerned I will do whatever he thinks I ought to do. Mr. Lavender has been a friend of ours for some time, and of course he cannot be treated with rudeness or incivility; but if we are wounding the feelings of any one by asking him to come here—and he certainly visited us pretty often—why, it would be easy to lessen the number of his calls. Is that what we should do, Mr. Ingram? You would not have us quarrel with him?"
"Especially," said Mrs. Kavanagh with a smile, "that there is no certainty he will spend more of his time with his wife merely because he spends less of it here. And yet I fancy he is a very good-natured man."
"He is very good-natured," said Ingram with decision. "I have known him for years, and I know that he is exceedingly unselfish, and that he would do a ridiculously generous thing to serve a friend, and that a better-intentioned fellow does not breathe in the world. But he is at times, I admit, very thoughtless and inconsiderate."
"That sort of good-nature," said Mrs. Lorraine in her gentlest voice, "is very good in its way, but rather uncertain. So long as it shines in one direction, it is all right and quite trustworthy, for you want a hard brush to brush sunlight off a wall. But when the sunlight shifts, you know—"
"The wall is left in the cold. Well," said Ingram, "I am afraid it is impossible for me to dictate to you what you ought to do. I do not wish to draw you into any interference between husband and wife, or even to let Mr. Lavender know that you think he is not treating Shei—Mrs. Lavender—properly. But if you were to hint to him that he ought to pay some attention to her—that he should not be going everywhere as if he were a young bachelor in chambers; if you would discourage his coming to see you without bringing her also, and so forth—surely he would see what you mean. Perhaps I ask too much of you, but I had intended to ask more. The fact is, Mrs. Kavanagh, I had done your daughter the injustice of supposing—"
"I thought we had agreed to say no more about that," said Mrs. Lorraine quickly, and Ingram was silent.
Half an hour thereafter he was walking back through Holland Park, through the warm light of an autumn afternoon. The place seemed much changed since he had seen it a couple of hours before. The double curve of big houses had a more friendly and hospitable look: the very air seemed to be more genial and comfortable since he had driven up here in the hansom.
Perhaps Mr. Ingram was at this moment a little more perturbed, pleased and bewildered than he would have liked to confess. He had discovered a great deal in these two hours, been much surprised and fascinated, and had come away fairly stupefied with the result of his mission. He had indeed been successful: Lavender would now find a different welcome awaiting him in the house in which he had been spending nearly all his time, to the neglect of his wife. But the fact is, that as Edward Ingram went rapidly over in his own mind everything that had occurred since his entrance into that house, as he anxiously recalled the remarks made to him, the tone and looks accompanying them, and his own replies, it was not of Lavender's affairs alone that he thought. He confessed to himself frankly that he had never yet met any woman who had so surprised him into admiration on their first meeting.
Yet what had she said? Nothing very particular. Was it the bright intelligence of the gray eyes, that seemed to see everything he meant with an instant quickness, and that seemed to agree with him even before he spoke? He reflected, now that he was in the open air, that he must have persecuted these two women dreadfully. In getting away from Lavender's affairs they had touched on pictures, books and what not—on the young poet who was playing Alfred de Musset in England; on the great philosopher who had gone into the House to confuse and bewilder the country gentlemen there; on all sorts of topics, indeed, except those which, as Ingram had anticipated, such a creature as Mrs. Lorraine would naturally have found interesting. And he had to confess to himself that he had lectured his two helpless victims most unmercifully. He was quite conscious that he sometimes laid down the law in an authoritative and even sententious manner. On first going into the house certain things said by Mrs. Lorraine had almost surprised him into a mood of mere acquiescence; but after luncheon he had assumed his ordinary manner of tutor in general to the universe, and had informed those two women, in a distinct fashion, what their opinions ought to be on half the social conundrums of the day.
He now reflected, with much compunction, that this was highly improper. He ought to have asked about flower-shows, and inquired whether the princess of Wales was looking well of late. Some reference to the last Parisian comedy might have introduced a disquisition on the new grays and greens of the French milliners, with a passing mention made of the price paid for a pair of ponies by a certain marquise unattached. He had not spoken of one of these things: perhaps he could not if he had tried. He remembered, with an awful consciousness of guilt, that he had actually discoursed of woman suffrage, of the public conscience of New York, of the extirpation of the Indians, and a dozen different things, not only taking no heed of any opinions that his audience of two might hold, but insisting on their accepting his opinions as the expression of absolute and incontrovertible truth.
He became more and more dissatisfied with himself. If he could only go back now, he would be much more wary, more submissive and complaisant, more anxious to please. What right had he to abuse the courtesy and hospitality of these two strangers, and lecture them on the Constitution of their own country? He was annoyed beyond expression that they had listened to him with so much patience.
And yet he could not have seriously offended them, for they had earnestly besought him to dine with them on the following Tuesday evening, to meet an American judge; and when he had consented Mrs. Lorraine had written down on a card the date and hour, lest he should forget. He had that card in his pocket: surely he could not have offended them? If he had pursued this series of questions, he might have gone on to ask himself why he should be so anxious not to have offended these two new friends. He was not ordinarily very sensitive to the opinions that might be formed of him—more especially by persons living out of his own sphere, with whom he was not likely to associate. He did not, indeed, as a general rule, suffer himself to be perturbed about anything; and yet, as he went along the busy thoroughfare at this moment, he was conscious that rarely in his life had he been so ill at ease.
Something now occurred that startled him out of his reverie. Communing with himself, he was staring blankly ahead, taking little note of the people whom he saw. But somehow, in a vague and dreamlike way, he seemed to become aware that there was some one in front of him—a long way ahead as yet—whom he knew. He was still thinking of Mrs. Lorraine, and unconsciously postponing the examination of this approaching figure, or rather pair of figures, when, with a sudden start, he found Sheila's sad and earnest eyes fixed upon him. He woke up as from a dream. He saw that young Mosenberg was with her, and naturally the boy would have approached Ingram, and stopped and spoken. But Ingram paid no attention to him. He was, with a quick pang at his heart, regarding Sheila, with the knowledge that on her rested the cruel decision as to whether she should come forward to him or not. He was not aware that her husband had forbidden her to have any communication with him; yet he had guessed as much, partly from his knowledge of Lavender's impatient disposition, and partly from the glance he caught of her eyes when he woke up from his trance.
Young Mosenberg turned with surprise to his companion. She was passing on: he did not even see that she had bowed to Ingram, with a face flushed with shame and pain and with eyes cast down. Ingram, too, was passing on, without even shaking hands with her or uttering a word. Mosenberg was too bewildered to attempt any protest: he merely followed Sheila, with a conviction that something desperate had occurred, and that he would best consult her feelings by making no reference to it.
But that one look that the girl had directed to her old friend before she bowed and passed on had filled him with dismay and despair. It was somehow like the piteous look of a wounded animal, incapable of expressing its pain. All thoughts and fancies of his own little vexations or embarrassments were instantly banished from him: he could only see before him those sad and piteous eyes, full of kindness to him, he thought, and of grief that she should be debarred from speaking to him, and of resignation to her own lot.
Gwdyr House did not get much work out of him that day. He sat in a small room in a back part of the building, looking out on a lonely little square, silent and ruddy with the reflected light of the sunset.
"A hundred Mrs. Kavanaghs," he was thinking to himself bitterly enough, "will not save my poor Sheila. She will die of a broken heart. I can see it in her face. And it is I who have done it—from first to last it is I who have done it; and now I can do nothing to help her."
That became the burden and refrain of all his reflections. It was he who had done this frightful thing. It was he who had taken away the young Highland girl, his good Sheila, from her home, and ruined her life and broken her heart. And he could do nothing to help her!
"We met Mr. Ingram to-day," said young Mosenberg ingenuously.
He was dining with Lavender, not at home, but at a club in St. James's street; and either his curiosity was too great, or he had forgotten altogether Ingram's warnings to him that he should hold his tongue.
"Oh, did you?" said Lavender, showing no great interest. "Waiter, some French mustard. What did Ingram say to you?"
The question was asked with much apparent indifference, and the boy stared. "Well," he said at length, "I suppose there is some misunderstanding between Mrs. Lavender and Mr. Ingram, for they both saw each other, and they both passed on without speaking: I was very sorry—yes. I thought they were friends—I thought Mr. Ingram knew Mrs. Lavender even before you did; but they did not speak to each other, not one word."
Lavender was in one sense pleased to hear this. He liked to hear that his wife was obedient to him. But, he said to himself with a sharp twinge of conscience, she was carrying her obedience too far. He had never meant that she should not even speak to her old friend. He would show Sheila that he was not unreasonable. He would talk to her about it as soon as he got home, and in as kindly a way as was possible.
Mosenberg did not play billiards, but they remained late in the billiard-room, Lavender playing pool, and getting out of it rather successfully. He could not speak to Sheila that night, but next morning, before going out, he did.
"Sheila," he said, "Mosenberg told me last night that you met Mr. Ingram and did not speak to him. Now, I didn't mean anything like that. You must not think me unreasonable. All I want is, that he shall not interfere with our affairs and try to raise some unpleasantness between you and me, such as might arise from the interference of even the kindest of friends. When you meet him outside or at any one's house, I hope you will speak to him just as usual."
Sheila replied calmly, "If I am not allowed to receive Mr. Ingram here, I cannot treat him as a friend elsewhere. I would rather not have friends whom I can only speak to in the streets."
"Very well," said Lavender, wincing under the rebuke, but fancying that she would soon repent her of this resolve. In the mean time, if she would have it so, she should have it so.
So that was an end of this question of Mr. Ingram's interference for the present. But very soon—in a couple of days, indeed—Lavender perceived the change that had been wrought in the house in Holland Park to which he had been accustomed to resort.
"Cecilia," Mrs. Kavanagh had said on Ingram's leaving, "you must not be rude to Mr. Lavender." She knew the perfect independence of that gentle young lady, and was rather afraid it might carry her too far.
"Of course I shall not be, mamma," Mrs. Lorraine had said. "Did you ever hear of such a courageous act as that man coming up to two strangers and challenging them, all on behalf of a girl married to some one else? You know that was the meaning of his visit. He thought I was flirting with Mr. Lavender and keeping him from his wife. I wonder how many men there are in London who would have walked twenty yards to help in such a matter?'
"My dear, he may have been in love with that pretty young lady before she was married."
"Oh no," said the clear-eyed daughter quietly, but quite confidently. "He would not be so ready to show his interest in her if that were so. Either he would be modest, and ashamed of his rejection, or vain, and attempt to make a mystery about it."
"Perhaps you are right," said the mother: she seldom found her daughter wrong on such points.
"I am sure I am right, mamma. He talks about her as fondly and frequently and openly as a man might talk about his own daughter. Besides, you can see that he is talking honestly. The man couldn't deceive a child if he were to try. You see everything in his face."
"You seem to have been much interested in him," said Mrs. Kavanagh, with no appearance of sarcasm.
"Well, I don't think I meet such men often, and that is the truth. Do you?" This was carrying the war into the enemy's country.
"I like him very well," said Mrs. Kavanagh. "I think he is honest. I do not think he dresses very carefully; and he is perhaps too intent on convincing you that his opinions are right." "Well, for my part," said her daughter, with just the least tinge of warmth in her manner, "I confess I like a man who has opinions, and who is not afraid to say so. I don't find many who have. And for his dressing, one gets rather tired of men who come to you every evening to impress you with the excellence of their tailor. As if women were to be captured by millinery! Don't we know the value of linen and woolen fabrics?"
"My dear child, you are throwing away your vexation on some one whom I don't know. It isn't Mr. Lavender?" "Oh dear, no! He is not so silly as that: he dresses well, but there is perfect freedom about his dress. He is too much of an artist to sacrifice himself to his clothes."
"I am glad you have a good word for him at last. I think you have been rather hard on him since Mr. Ingram called; and that is the reason I asked you to be careful."
She was quite careful, but as explicit as good manners would allow. Mrs. Lorraine was most particular in asking about Mrs. Lavender, and in expressing her regret that they so seldom saw her.
"She has been brought up in the country, you know," said Lavender with a smile; "and there the daughters of a house are taught a number of domestic duties that they would consider it a sin to neglect. She would be unhappy if you caused her to neglect them: she would take her pleasure with a bad conscience."
"But she cannot be occupied with them all day."
"My dear Mrs. Lorraine, how often have we discussed the question! And you know you have me at a disadvantage, for how can I describe to you what those mysterious duties are? I only know that she is pretty nearly always busy with something or other; and in the evening, of course, she is generally too tired to think of going out anywhere."
"Oh, but you must try to get her out. Next Tuesday, now, Judge —— is going to dine with us, and you know how amusing he is. If you have no other engagement, couldn't you bring Mrs. Lavender to dine with us on that evening?"
Now, on former occasions something of the same sort of invitation had frequently been given, and it was generally answered by Lavender giving an excuse for his wife, and promising to come himself. What was his astonishment to find Mrs. Lorraine plainly and most courteously intimating that the invitation was addressed distinctly to Mr. and Mrs. Lavender as a couple! When he regretted that Mrs. Lavender could not come, she said quietly, "Oh, I am so sorry! You would have met an old friend of yours here, as well as the judge—Mr. Ingram."
Lavender made no further sign of surprise or curiosity than to lift his eyebrows and say, "Indeed!"
But when he left the house certain dark suspicions were troubling his mind. Nothing had been said as to the manner in which Ingram had made the acquaintance of Mrs. Kavanagh and her daughter, but there was that in Mrs. Lorraine's manner which convinced Lavender that something had happened. Had Ingram carried his interference to the extent of complaining to them? Had he overcome a repugnance which he had repeatedly admitted, and thrust himself upon these two people for this very purpose of making him, Lavender, odious and contemptible? Lavender's cheeks burned as he thought of this possibility. Mrs. Lorraine had been most courteous to him, but the longer he dwelt on these vague surmises the deeper grew his consciousness that he had been turned out of the place, morally if not physically. What was that excess of courtesy but a cloak? If she had meant less, she would have been more careless; and all through the interview he had remarked that, instead of the free warfare of talk that generally went on between them, Mrs. Lorraine was most formally polite and apparently watchful of her words.
He went home in a passion, which was all the more consuming that it could not be vented on any one. As Sheila had not spoken to Ingram—as she had even nerved herself to wound him by passing him without notice in the street—she could not be held responsible; and yet he wished that he could have upbraided some one for this mischief that had been done. Should he go straight down to Ingram's lodgings and have it out with him? At first he was strongly inclined to do so, but wiser counsels prevailed. Ingram had a keen and ready tongue, and a way of saying things that made them rankle afterward in the memory. Besides, he would go into court with a defective case. He could say nothing unless Ingram admitted that he had tried to poison the mind of Mrs. Lorraine against him; and of course if there was a quarrel, who would be so foolish as to make such an admission? Ingram would laugh at him, would refuse to admit or deny, would increase his anger without affording him an opportunity of revenging himself.
Sheila could see that her husband was troubled, but could not divine the cause, and had long ago given up any habit of inquiry. He ate his dinner almost in silence, and then said he had to make a call on a friend, and that he would perhaps drop in to the club on his way home, so that she was not to sit up for him. She was not surprised or hurt at the announcement. She was accustomed to spend her evenings alone. She fetched down his cigar-case, put it in his top-coat pocket and brought him the coat. Then he kissed her and went out.
But this evening, at least, she had; abundant occupation, and that of a sufficiently pleasant kind. For some little time she had been harboring in her mind a dark and mysterious plot, and she was glad of an opportunity to think it out and arrange its details. Mairi was coming to London, and she had carefully concealed the fact from her husband. A little surprise of a dramatic sort was to be prepared for him—with what result, who could tell? All of a sudden Lavender was to be precipitated into the island of Lewis as nearly as that could be imitated in a house at Notting Hill.
This was Sheila's scheme, and on these lonely evenings she could sit by herself with much satisfaction and ponder over the little points of it and its possible success. Mairi was coming to London under the escort of a worthy Glasgow fishmonger whom Mr. Mackenzie knew. She would arrive after Lavender had left for his studio. Then she and Sheila would set to work to transform the smoking-room, that was sometimes called a library, into something resembling the quaint little drawing-room in Sheila's home. Mairi was bringing up a quantity of heather gathered fresh from the rocks beside the White Water; she was bringing up some peacocks' feathers, too, for the mantelpiece, and two or three big shells; and, best of all, she was to put in her trunk a real and veritable lump of peat, well dried and easy to light. Then you must know that Sheila had already sketched out the meal that was to be placed on the table so soon as the room had been done up in Highland fashion and this peat lit so as to send its fragrant smoke abroad. A large salmon was to make its appearance first of all. There would be bottles of beer on the table; also one of those odd bottles of Norwegian make, filled with whisky. And when Lavender went with wonder into this small room, when he smelt the fragrant peat-smoke—and every one knows how powerful the sense of smell is in recalling bygone associations—when he saw the smoking salmon and the bottled beer and the whisky, and when he suddenly found Mairi coming into the room and saying to him, in her sweet Highland fashion, "And are you ferry well, sir?"—would not his heart warm to the old ways and kindly homeliness of the house in Borva, and would not some glimpse of the happy and half-forgotten time that was now so sadly and strangely remote cause him to break down that barrier between himself and Sheila that this artificial life in the South had placed there?
So the child dreamed, and was happy in dreaming of it. Sometimes she grew afraid of her project: she had not had much experience in deception, and the mere concealment of Mairi's coming was a hard thing to bear. But surely her husband would take this trick in good part. It was only, after all, a joke. To put a little barbaric splendor of decoration into the little smoking-room, to have a scent of peat-smoke in the air, and to have a timid, sweet-voiced, pretty Highland girl suddenly make her appearance, with an odor of the sea about her, as it were, and a look of fresh breezes in the color of her cheeks,—what mortal man could find fault with this innocent jest? Sheila's moments of doubt were succeeded by long hours of joyous confidence, in which a happy light shone on her face. She went through the house with a brisk step; she sang to herself as she went; she was kinder than ever to the small children who came into the square every forenoon, and whose acquaintance she had very speedily made; she gave each of her crossing-sweepers threepence instead of twopence in passing. The servants had never seen her in such good spirits; she was exceptionally generous in presenting them with articles of attire; they might have had half the week in holidays if Mr. Lavender had not to be attended to. A small gentleman of three years of age lived next door, and his acquaintance also she had made by means of his nurse. At this time his stock of toys, which Sheila had kept carefully renewed, became so big that he might, with proper management, have set up a stall in the Lowther Arcade. Just before she left Lewis her father had called her to him, and said, "Sheila, I wass wanting to tell you about something. It is not every one that will care to hef his money given away to poor folk, and it wass many a time I said to myself that when you were married maybe your husband would think you were giving too much money to the poor folk, as you wass doing in Borva. And it iss this fifty pounds I hef got for you, Sheila, in ten banknotes, and you will take them with you for your own money, that you will not hef any trouble about giving things to people. And when the fifty pounds will be done, I will send you another fifty pounds; and it will be no difference to me whatever. And if there is any one in Borva you would be for sending money to, there is your own money; for there is many a one would take the money from Sheila Mackenzie that would not be for taking it from an English stranger in London. And when you will send it to them, you will send it to me; and I will tek it to them, and will tell them that this money is from my Sheila, and from no one else whatever."
This was all the dowry that Sheila carried with her to the South. Mackenzie would willingly have given her half his money, if she would have taken it or if her husband had desired it; but the old King of Borva had profound and far-reaching schemes in his head about the small fortune he might otherwise have accorded to his daughter. This wealth, such as it was, was to be a magnet to draw this young English gentleman back to the Hebrides. It was all very well for Mr. Lavender to have plenty of money at present: he might not always have it. Then the time would come for Mackenzie to say, "Look here, young man: I can support myself easily and comfortably by my farming and fishing. The money I have saved is at your disposal so long as you consent to remain in Lewis—in Stornoway if you please, elsewhere if you please—only in Lewis. And while you are painting pictures, and making as much money as you can that way, you can have plenty of fishing and shooting and amusement; and my guns and boats and rods are all at your service." Mr. Mackenzie considered that no man could resist such an offer.
Sheila, of course, told her husband of the sum of money she owned, and for a longtime it was a standing joke between them. He addressed her with much respect, and was careful to inform her of the fluctuations of the moneymarket. Sometimes he borrowed a sovereign of her, and never without giving her an I O U, which was faithfully reclaimed. But by and by she perceived that he grew less and less to like the mention of this money. Perhaps it resembled too closely the savings which the overcautious folks about Borvabost would not entrust to a bank, but kept hid about their huts in the heel of a stocking. At all events, Sheila saw that her husband did not like her to go to this fund for her charities; and so the fifty pounds that her father had given her lasted a long time. During this period of jubilation, in which she looked forward to touching her husband's heart by an innocent little stratagem, more frequent appeals were made to the drawer in which the treasure was locked up, so that in the end her private dowry was reduced to thirty pounds.
If Ingram could have but taken part in this plan of hers! The only regret that was mingled with her anticipations of a happier future concerned this faithful friend of hers, who seemed to have been cut off from them for ever. And it soon became apparent to her that her husband, so far from inclining to forget the misunderstanding that had arisen between Ingram and himself, seemed to feel increased resentment, insomuch that she was most careful to avoid mentioning his name.
She was soon to meet him, however. Lavender was resolved that he would not appear to have retired from the field merely because Ingram had entered it. He would go to this dinner on the Tuesday evening, and Sheila would accompany him. First, he asked her. Much as she would have preferred not visiting these particular people, she cheerfully acquiesced: she was not going to be churlish or inconsiderate on the very eve of her dramatic coup. Then he went to Mrs. Lorraine and said he had persuaded Sheila to come with him; and the young American lady and her mamma were good enough to say how glad they were she had come to this decision. They appeared to take it for granted that it was Sheila alone who had declined former invitations.
"Mr. Ingram will be there on Tuesday evening," said Lavender to his wife.
"I was not aware he knew them," said Sheila, remembering, indeed, how scrupulously Ingram had refused to know them.
"He has made their acquaintance for his own purposes, doubtless," said Lavender. "I suppose he will appear in a frock-coat, with a bright blue tie, and he will say 'Sir' to the waiters when he does not understand them."
"I thought you said Mr. Ingram belonged to a very good family," said Sheila quietly.
"That is so. But each man is responsible for his own manners; and as all the society he sees consists of a cat and some wooden pipes in a couple of dingy rooms in Sloane street, you can't expect him not to make an ass of himself."
"I have never seen him make himself ridiculous: I do not think it possible," said Sheila, with a certain precision of speech which Lavender had got to know meant much. "But that is a matter for himself. Perhaps you will tell me what I am to do when I meet him at Mrs. Kavanagh's house."
"Of course you must meet him as you would any one else you know. If you don't wish to speak to him, you need not do so. Saying 'Good-evening' costs nothing."
"If he takes me into dinner?" she asked calmly.
"Then you must talk to him as you would to any stranger," he said impatiently. "Ask him if he has been to the opera, and he won't know there is no opera going on. Tell him that town is very full, and he won't know that everybody has left. Say you may meet him again at Mrs. Kavanagh's, and you'll see that he doesn't know they mean to start for the Tyrol in a fortnight. I think you and I must also be settling soon where we mean to go. I don't think we could do better than go to the Tyrol."
She did not answer. It was clear that he had given up all intention of going up to Lewis, for that year at least. But she would not beg him to alter his decision just yet. Mairi was coming, and that experiment of the enchanted room had still to be tried.
As they drove round to Mrs. Kavanagh's house on that Tuesday evening, she thought, with much bitterness of heart, of the possibility of her having to meet Mr. Ingram in the fashion her husband had suggested. Would it not be better, if he did take her in to dinner, to throw herself entirely on his mercy, and ask him not to talk to her at all? She would address herself, when there was a chance, to her neighbor on the other side: if she remained silent altogether, no great harm would be done.
When she went into the drawing-room her first glance round was for him, and he was the first person whom she saw; for, instead of withdrawing into a corner to make one neighbor the victim of his shyness, or concealing his embarrassment in studying the photographic albums, Mr. Ingram was coolly standing on the hearth-rug, with both hands in his trousers pockets, while he was engaged in giving the American judge a great deal of authoritative information about America. The judge was a tall, fair, stout, good-natured man, fond of joking and a good dinner, and he was content at this moment to sit quietly in an easy-chair, with a pleasant smile on his face, and be lectured about his own country by this sallow little man, whom he took to be a professor of modern history at some college or other.
Ingram, as soon as he found that Sheila was in the room, relieved her from any doubt as to his intentions. He merely came forward, shook hands with her, and said, "How do you do, Mrs. Lavender?" and went back to the judge. She might have been an acquaintance of yesterday or a friend of twenty years' standing: no one could tell by his manner. As for Sheila, she parted with his hand reluctantly. She tried to look, too, what she dared not say; but whatever of regret and kindness and assurance of friendship was in her eyes he did not see. He scarcely glanced at her face: he went off at once, and plunged again into the Cincinnati Convention.
Mrs. Kavanagh and Mrs. Lorraine were exceedingly and almost obtrusively kind to her, but she scarcely heard what they said to her. It seemed so strange and so sad to her that her old friend should be standing near her, and she so far removed from him that she dared not go and speak to him. She could not understand it sometimes: everything around her seemed to get confused, until she felt as if she were sinking in a great sea, and could utter but one despairing cry as she saw the light disappear above her head. When they went in to dinner she saw that Mr. Ingram's seat was on Mrs. Lorraine's right hand, and, although she could hear him speak, as he was almost right opposite to her, it seemed to her that his voice sounded as if it were far away. The man who had taken her in was a tall, brown-whiskered and faultlessly-dressed person who never spoke, so that she was allowed to sit and listen to the conversation between Mrs. Lorraine and Ingram. They appeared to be on excellent terms. You would have fancied they had known each other for years. And as Sheila sat and saw how preoccupied and pleased with his companion Mr. Ingram was, perhaps now and again the bitter question arose to her mind whether this woman, who had taken away her husband, was seeking to take away her friend also. Sheila knew nothing of all that had happened within these past few days. She knew only that she was alone, without either husband or friend, and it seemed to her that this pale American girl had taken both away from her.
Ingram was in one of his happiest moods, and was seeking to prove to Mrs. Lorraine that this present dinner-party ought to be an especially pleasant one. Everybody was going away somewhere, and of course she must know that the expectation of traveling was much more delightful than the reality of it. What could surpass the sense of freedom, of power, of hope enjoyed by the happy folks who sat down to an open atlas and began to sketch out routes for their coming holidays? Where was he going? Oh, he was going to the North. Had Mrs. Lorraine never seen Edinburgh Castle rising out of a gray fog, like the ghost of some great building belonging to the times of Arthurian romance? Had she never seen the northern twilights, and the awful gloom and wild colors of Loch Coruisk and the Skye hills? There was no holiday-making so healthy, so free from restraint, as that among the far Highland hills and glens, where the clear mountain-air, scented with miles and miles of heather, seemed to produce a sort of intoxication of good spirits within one. Then the yachting round the wonderful islands of the West—the rapid runs of a bright forenoon, the shooting of the wild sea-birds, the scrambled dinners in the small cabin, the still nights in the small harbors, with a scent of sea-weed abroad, and the white stars shining down on the trembling water. Yes, he was going yachting this autumn: in about a fortnight he hoped to start. His friend was at present away up Loch Boisdale, in South Uist, and he did not know how to get there except by going to Skye, and taking his chance of some boat going over. Where would they go then? He did not know. Wherever his friend liked. It would be enough for him if they kept always moving about, seeing the strange sights of the sea and the air and the lonely shores of those northern islands. Perhaps they might even try to reach St. Kilda—
"Oh, Mr. Ingram, won't you go and see my papa?"
The cry that suddenly reached him was like the cry of a broken heart. He started as from a trance, and found Sheila regarding him with a piteous appeal in her face: she had been listening intently to all he had said.
"Oh yes, Sheila," he said kindly, and quite forgetting that he was speaking to her before strangers: "of course I must go and see your papa if we are any way near the Lewis. Perhaps you may be there then?"
"No," said Sheila, looking down.
"Won't you go to the Highlands this autumn?" Mrs. Lorraine asked in a friendly way.
"No," said Sheila in a measured voice as she looked her enemy fair in the face: "I think we are going to the Tyrol."
If the child had only known what occurred to Mrs. Lorraine's mind at this moment! Not a triumphant sense of Lavender's infatuation, as Sheila probably fancied, but a very definite resolution that if Frank Lavender went to the Tyrol, it was not with either her or her mother he should go.
"Mrs. Lavender's father is an old friend of mine," said Ingram, loud enough for all to hear; "and, hospitable as all Highlanders are, I have never met his equal in that way, and I have tried his patience a good many times. What do you think, Mrs. Lorraine, of a man who would give up his best gun to you, even though you couldn't shoot a bit, and he particularly proud of his shooting? And so if you lived with him for a month or six months—each day the best of everything for you, the second best for your friend, the worst for himself. Wasn't it so, Lavender?"
It was a direct challenge sent across the table, and Sheila's heart beat quick lest her husband should say something ungracious.
"Yes, certainly," said Lavender with a readiness that pleased Sheila. "I, at least, have no right to complain of his hospitality."
"Your papa is a very handsome man," said Mrs. Lorraine to Sheila, bringing the conversation back to their own end of the table. "I have seen few finer heads than that drawing you have. Mr. Lavender did that, did he not? Why has he never done one of you?"
"He is too busy, I think, just now," Sheila said, perhaps not knowing that from Mrs. Lorraine's waist-belt at that moment depended a fan which might have given evidence as to the extreme scarcity of time under which Lavender was supposed to labor.
"He has a splendid head," said Ingram. "Did you know that he is called the King of Borva up there?"
"I have heard of him being called the King of Thule," said Mrs. Lorraine, turning with a smile to Sheila, "and of his daughter being styled a princess. Do you know the ballad of the King of Thule in Faust, Mrs. Lavender?'"
"In the opera?—yes," said Sheila.
"Will you sing it for us after dinner?"
"If you like."
The promise was fulfilled, in a fashion. The notion that Mr. Ingram was about to go away up to Lewis, to the people who knew her and to her father's house, with no possible answer to the questions which would certainly be showered upon him as to why she had not come also, troubled Sheila deeply. The ladies went into the drawing-room, and Mrs. Lorraine got out the song. Sheila sat down to the piano, thinking far more of that small stone house at Borva than of the King of Thule's castle overlooking the sea; and yet somehow the first lines of the song, though she knew them well enough, sent a pang to her heart as she glanced at them. She touched the first notes of the accompaniment, and she looked at the words again:
Over the sea, in Thule of old, Reigned a king who was true-hearted, Who, in remembrance of one departed—
A mist came over her eyes. Was she the one who had departed, leaving the old king in his desolate house by the sea, where he could only think of her as he sat in his solitary chamber, with the night-winds howling round the shore outside? When her birthday had come round she knew that he must have silently drank to her, though not out of a beaker of gold. And now, when mere friends and acquaintances were free to speed away to the North, and get a welcome from the folks in Borva, and listen to the Atlantic waves dashing lightly in among the rocks, her hope of getting thither had almost died out. Among such people as landed on Stornoway quay from the big Clansman her father would seek one face, and seek it in vain. And Duncan and Scarlett, and even John the Piper—all the well-remembered folks who lived far away across the Minch—they would ask why Miss Sheila was never coming back.
Mrs. Lorraine had been standing aside from the piano. Noticing that Sheila had played the introduction to the song twice over in an undetermined manner, she came forward a step or two and pretended to be looking at the music. Tears were running down Sheila's face. Mrs. Lorraine put her hand on the girl's shoulder, and sheltered her from observation, and said aloud, "You have it in a different key, have you not? Pray don't sing it. Sing something else. Do you know any of Gounod's sacred songs? Let me see if we can find anything for you in this volume."
They were a long time finding anything in that volume. When they did find it, behold! it was one of Mrs. Lorraine's songs, and that young lady said if Mrs. Lavender would only allow herself to be superseded for a few minutes—And so Sheila walked, with her head down, to the conservatory, which was at the other end of the piano; and Mrs. Lorraine not only sung this French song, but sang every one of the verses; and at the end of it she had quite forgotten that Sheila had promised to sing.
"You are very sensitive," she said to Sheila, coming into the conservatory.
"I am very stupid," Sheila said with her face burning. "But it is a long time since I will see the Highlands—and Mr. Ingram was talking of the places I know—and—and so—"
"I understand well enough," said Mrs. Lorraine tenderly, as if Sheila were a mere child in her hands. "But you must not get your eyes red. You have to sing some of those Highland songs for us yet, when the gentlemen come in. Come up to my room and I will make your eyes all right. Oh, do not be afraid! I shall not bring you down like Lady Leveret. Did you ever see anything like that woman's face to-night? It reminds me of the window of an oil-and-color shop. I wonder she does not catch flies with her cheeks."
So all the people, Sheila learned that night, were going away from London, and soon she and her husband would join in the general stampede of the very last dwellers in town. But Mairi? What was to become of her after that little plot had been played out? Sheila could not leave Mairi to see London by herself: she had been enjoying beforehand the delight of taking the young girl about and watching the wonder of her eyes. Nor could she fairly postpone Mairi's visit, and Mairi was coming up in another couple of days.
On the morning on which the visitor from the far Hebrides was to make her appearance in London, Sheila felt conscious of a great hypocrisy in bidding good-bye to her husband. On some excuse or other she had had breakfast ordered early, and he found himself ready at half-past nine to go out for the day.
"Frank," she said, "will you come in to lunch at two?"
"Why?" he asked: he did not often have luncheon at home.
"I will go into the Park with you in the afternoon if you like," she said: all the scene had been diligently rehearsed on one side, before.
Lavender was a little surprised, but he was in an amiable mood.
"All right!" he said. "Have something with olives in it. Two, sharp."
With that he went out, and Sheila, with a wild commotion at her heart, saw him walk away through the square. She was afraid Mairi might have arrived before he left. And, indeed, he had not gone above a few minutes when a four-wheeler drove up, and an elderly man got out and waited for the timid-faced girl inside to alight. With a rush like that of a startled deer, Sheila was down the stairs, along the hall and on the pavement; and it was, "Oh, Mairi! and have you come at last? And are you very well? And how are all the people in Borva? And Mr. M'Alpine, how are you? and will you come into the house?"
Certainly, that was a strange sight for a decorous London square—the mistress of a house, a young girl with bare head, coming out on the pavement to shake hands in a frantic fashion with a young maid-servant and an elderly man whose clothes had been pretty well tanned by sunlight and sea-water! And Sheila would herself help to carry Mairi's luggage in. And she would take no denial from Mr. M'Alpine, whose luggage was also carried in. And she would herself pay the cabman, as strangers did not know about these things, Sheila's knowledge being exhibited by her hastily giving the man five shillings for driving from Euston Station. And there was breakfast waiting for them both as soon as Mairi could get her face washed; and would Mr. M'Alpine have a glass of whisky after the night's traveling?—and it was very good whisky whatever, as it had come all the way from Stornoway. Mr. M'Alpine was nothing loath.
"And wass you pretty well, Miss Sheila?" said Mairi, looking timidly and hastily up, and forgetting altogether that Sheila had another name now. "It will be a great thing for me to go back to sa Lewis, and tell them I wass seeing you, and you wass looking so well. And I will be thinking I wass neffer coming to any one I knew any more; and it is a great fright I hef had since we came away from sa Lewis; and I wass thinking we would neffer find you among all sa people and so far away across sa sea and sa land. Eh—!" The girl stopped in astonishment. Her eyes had wandered up to a portrait on the walls; and here, in this very room, after she had traveled over all this great distance, apparently leaving behind her everything but the memory of her home, was Mr. Mackenzie himself, looking at her from under his shaggy eyebrows.
"You must have seen that picture in Borva, Mairi," Sheila said. "Now come with me, like a good girl, and get yourself ready for breakfast. Do you know, Mairi, it does my heart good to hear you talk again? I don't think I shall be able to let you go back to the Lewis."
"But you hef changed ferry much in your way of speaking, Miss—Mrs. Lavender," said Mairi with an effort. "You will speak just like sa English now."
"The English don't say so," replied Sheila with a smile, leading the way up stairs.
Mr. M'Alpine had his business to attend to, but, being a sensible man, he took advantage of the profuse breakfast placed before him. Mairi was a little too frightened and nervous and happy to eat much, but Mr. M'Alpine was an old traveler, not to be put out by the mere meeting of two girls. He listened in a grave and complacent manner to the rapid questions and answers of Mairi and her hostess, but he himself was too busy to join in the conversation much. At the end of breakfast he accepted, after a little pressing, half a glass of whisky; and then, much comforted and in a thoroughly good-humor with himself and the world, got his luggage out again and went on his way toward a certain inn in High Holborn.
"Ay, and where does the queen live, Miss Sheila?" said Mairi. She had been looking at the furniture in Sheila's house, and wondering if the queen lived in a place still more beautiful than this.
"A long way from here."
"And it iss no wonder," said Mairi, "she will neffer hef been in sa Lewis. I wass neffer thinking the world wass so big, and it wass many a time since me and Mr. M'Alpine hef come away from Styornoway I wass thinking it wass too far for me effer to get back again. But it is many a one will say to me, before I hef left the Lewis, that I wass not to come home unless you wass coming too, and I wass to bring you back with me, Miss Sheila. And where is Bras, Miss Sheila?"
"You will see him by and by. He is out in the garden now." She said "gyarden" without knowing it.
"And will he understood the Gaelic yet?"
"Oh yes," Sheila said. "And he is sure to remember you."
There was no mistake about that. When Mairi went into the back garden the demonstrations of delight on the part of the great deerhound were as pronounced as his dignity and gravity would allow. And Mairi fairly fell upon his neck and kissed him, and addressed to him a hundred endearing phrases in Gaelic, every word of which it was quite obvious that the dog understood. London was already beginning to be less terrible to her. She had met and talked with Sheila. Here was Bras. A portrait of the King of Borva was hung up inside, and all round the rooms were articles which she had known in the North, before Sheila had married and brought them away into this strange land.
"You have never asked after my husband, Mairi," said Sheila, thinking she would confuse the girl.
But Mairi was not confused. Probably she had been fancying that Mr. Lavender was down at the shore, or had gone out fishing, or something of that sort, and would return soon enough. It was Sheila, not he, whom she was concerned about. Indeed, Mairi had caught up a little of that jealousy of Lavender which was rife among the Borva folks. They would speak no ill of Mr. Lavender. The young gentleman whom Miss Sheila had chosen had by that very fact a claim upon their respect. Mr. Mackenzie's son-in-law was a person of importance. And yet in their secret hearts they bore a grudge against him. What right had he to come away up to the North and carry off the very pride of the island? Were English girls not good enough for him, that he must needs come up and take away Sheila Mackenzie, and keep her there in the South so that her friends and acquaintances saw no more of her? Before the marriage Mairi had a great liking and admiration for Mr. Lavender. She was so pleased to see Miss Sheila pleased that she approved of the young man, and thanked him in her heart for making her cousin and mistress so obviously happy. Perhaps, indeed, Mairi managed to fall in love with him a little bit herself, merely by force of example and through sympathy with Sheila; and she was rapidly forming very good opinions of the English race and their ways and their looks. But when Lavender took away Sheila from Borva a change came over Mairi's sentiments. She gradually fell in with the current opinions of the island—that it was a great pity Sheila had not married young Mr. Maclntyre of Sutherland, or some one who would have allowed her to remain among her own people. Mairi began to think that the English, though they were handsome and good-natured and free with their money, were on the whole a selfish race, inconsiderate and forgetful of promises. She began to dislike the English, and wished they would stay in their own country, and not interfere with other people.
"I hope he is very well," said Mairi dutifully: she could at least say that honestly.
"You will see him at two o'clock. He is coming in to luncheon; and he does not know you are here, and you are to be a great surprise to him, Mairi. And there is to be a greater surprise still; for we are going to make one of the rooms into the drawing-room at home; and you must open your boxes, and bring me down the heather and the peat, Mairi, and the two bottles; and then, you know, when the salmon is on the table, and the whisky and the beer, and Bras lying on the hearth-rug, and the peat-smoke all through the room, then you will come in and shake hands with him, and he will think he is in Borva again."
Mairi was a little puzzled. She did not understand the intention of this strange thing. But she went and fetched the materials she had brought with her from Lewis, and Sheila and she set to work.
It was a pleasant enough occupation for this bright forenoon, and Sheila, as she heard Mairi's sweet Highland speech, and as she brought from all parts of the house the curiosities sent her from the Hebrides, would almost have fancied she was superintending a "cleaning" of that museum-like little drawing-room at Borva. Skins of foxes, seals and deer, stuffed eagles and strange fishes, masses of coral and wonderful carvings in wood brought from abroad, shells of every size from every clime,—all these were brought together into Frank Lavender's smoking-room. The ordinary ornaments of the mantelpiece gave way to fanciful arrangements of peacocks' feathers. Fresh-blown ling and the beautiful spikes of the bell-heather formed the staple of the decorations, and Mairi had brought enough to adorn an assembly-room.
"That is like the Lewis people," Sheila said with a laugh: she had not been in as happy a mood for many a day. "I asked you to bring one peat, and of course you brought two. Tell the truth, Mairi: could you have forced yourself to bring one peat?"
"I wass thinking it was safer to bring sa two," replied Mairi, blushing all over the fair and pretty face.
And indeed, there being two peats, Sheila thought she might as well try an experiment with one. She crumbled down some pieces, put them on a plate, lit them, and placed the plate outside the open window, on the sill. Presently a new, sweet, half-forgotten fragrance came floating in, and Sheila almost forgot the success of the experiment in the half-delighted, half-sad reminiscences called up by the scent of the peat. Mairi failed to see how any one could willfully smoke a house—any one, that is to say, who did not save the smoke for his thatch. And who was so particular as Sheila had been about having the clothes come in from the washing dried so that they should not retain this very odor that seemed now to delight her?
At last the room was finished, and Sheila contemplated it with much satisfaction. The table was laid, and on the white cloth stood the bottles most familiar to Borva. The peat-smoke still lingered in the air: she could not have wished anything to be better.
Then she went off to look after the luncheon, and Mairi was permitted to go down and explore the mysteries of the kitchen. The servants were not accustomed to this interference and oversight, and might have resented it, only that Sheila had proved a very good mistress to them, and had shown, too, that she would have her own way when she wanted it. Suddenly, as Sheila was explaining to Mairi the use of some particular piece of mechanism, she heard a sound that made her heart jump. It was now but half-past one, and yet that was surely her husband's foot in the hall. For a moment she was too bewildered to know what to do. She heard him go straight into the very room she had been decorating, the door of which she had left open. Then, as she went up stairs, with her heart still beating fast, the first thing that met her eye was a tartan shawl belonging to Mairi that had been accidentally left in the passage. Her husband must have seen it.
"Sheila, what nonsense is this?" he said.
He was evidently in a hurry, and yet she could not answer: her heart was throbbing too quickly.
"Look here," he said: "I wish you'd give up this grotto-making till to-morrow. Mrs. Kavanagh, Mrs. Lorraine and Lord Arthur Redmond are coming here to luncheon at two. I suppose you can get something decent for them. What is the matter? What is the meaning of all this?"
And then his eyes rested on the tartan shawl, which he had really not noticed before.
"Who is in the house?" he said. "Have you asked some washerwoman to lunch?"
Sheila managed at last to say, "It is Mairi come from Stornoway. I was thinking you would be surprised to see her when you came in."
"And these preparations are for her?"
Sheila said nothing: there was that in the tone of her husband's voice which was gradually bringing her to herself, and giving her quite sufficient firmness.
"And now that this girl has come up, I suppose you mean to introduce her to all your friends; and I suppose you expect those people who are coming in half an hour to sit down at table with a kitchen-maid?"
"Mairi," said Sheila, standing quite erect, but with her eyes cast down, "is my cousin."
"Your cousin! Don't be ridiculous, Sheila. You know very well that Mairi is nothing more or less than a scullery-maid; and I suppose you mean to take her out of the kitchen and introduce her to people, and expect her to sit down at table with them. Is not that so?" She did not answer, and he went on impatiently: "Why was I not told that this girl was coming to stay at my house? Surely I have some right to know what guests you invite, that I may be able at least to ask my friends not to come near the house while they are in it."
"That I did not tell you before—yes, that was a pity," said Sheila, sadly and calmly. "But it will be no trouble to you. When Mrs. Lorraine comes up at two o'clock there will be luncheon for her and for her friends. She will not have to sit down with any of my relations or with me, for if they are not fit to meet her, I am not; and it is not any great matter that I do not meet her at two o'clock."
There was no passion of any sort in the measured and sad voice, nor in the somewhat pale face and downcast eyes. Perhaps it was this composure that deceived Frank Lavender: at all events, he turned and walked out of the house, satisfied that he would not have to introduce this Highland cousin to his friends, and just as certain that Sheila would repent of her resolve and appear in the dining-room as usual.
Sheila went down stairs to the kitchen, where Mairi still stood awaiting her. She gave orders to one of the servants about having luncheon laid in the dining-room at two, and then she bade Mairi follow her up stairs.
"Mairi," she said, when they were alone, "I want you to put your things in your trunk at once—in five minutes if you can: I shall be waiting for you."
"Miss Sheila!" cried the girl, looking up to her friend's face with a sudden fright seizing her heart, "what is the matter with you? You are going to die!"
"There is nothing the matter, Mairi. I am going away."
She uttered the words placidly, but there was a pained look about the lips that could not be concealed, and her face, unknown to herself, had the whiteness of despair in it.
"Going away!" said Mairi, in a bewildered way. "Where are you going, Miss Sheila?"
"I will tell you by and by. Get your trunk ready, Mairi. You are keeping me waiting."
Then she called for a servant, who was sent for a cab; and by the time the vehicle appeared Mairi was ready to get into it, and her trunk was put on the top. Then, clad in the rough blue dress that she used to wear in Borva, and with no appearance of haste or fear in the calm and death-like face, Sheila came out from her husband's house and found herself alone in the world. There were two little girls, the daughters of a neighbor, passing by at the time: she patted them on the head and bade them good-morning. Could she recollect, five minutes thereafter, having seen them? There was a strange and distant look in her eyes.
She got into the cab and sat down by Mairi, and then took the girl's hand. "I am sorry to take you away, Mairi," she said; but she was apparently not thinking of Mairi, nor of the house she was leaving, nor yet of the vehicle in which she was so strangely placed. Was she thinking of a certain wild and wet day in the far Hebrides, when a young bride stood on the decks of a great vessel and saw the home of her childhood and the friends of her youth fade back into the desolate waste of the sea? Perhaps there may have been some unconscious influence in this picture to direct her movements at this moment, for of definite resolves she had none. When Mairi told her that the cabman wanted to know whither he was to drive, she merely answered, "Oh yes, Mairi, we will go to the station;" and Mairi added, addressing the man, "It was the Euston Station." Then they drove away.
"Are you going home?" said the young girl, looking up with a strange foreboding and sinking of the heart to the pale face and distant eyes—"Are you going home, Miss Sheila?"
"Oh yes, we are going home, Mairi," was the answer she got, but the tone in which it was uttered filled her mind with doubt, and something like despair.
[TO BE CONTINUED.]
* * * * *
THE LAST OF THE IDYLLS.
"Ended at last Those wondrous dreams, so beautifully told! It seems that I have through enchantment passed, And lived and loved in that fair court of old.
"Yes, yes, I know— The old Greek idylls about which you rave, Theocritus and his melodious flow Of verse, and all that Moschus sang o'er Bion's grave.
"You've shown me oft How far superior all that they have said— That Tennyson has learned to soar aloft By seeking inspiration from the greater dead.
"And yet in me A pulse is never stirred by what they sing: The reason I know not, unless it be Their idylls are not Idylls of the King.
"You smile: no doubt You think I've never learned to criticise. Perhaps so, yet I feel that which I speak about. And Enim is the last! Well, no more sighs;
"For spring is here: I have no time to waste in dreamings vain. After our marriage—nay, you need not sneer— We will read all the idylls through again."
"So shall it be So long as lives the love which poets sing. The harp is still, yet is begun for thee A lifelong dream—the idyll of thy king."
* * * * *
OUR MONTHLY GOSSIP.
AN EVENING IN CALCUTTA.
About six o'clock every evening the beau monde of Calcutta begins to take the air on the Course, a very pleasant drive which runs along the bank of the river. It is usually crowded with carriages, but it must be confessed that none of them would be likely to excite the envy of an owner of a fashionable turn-out at home, unless indeed it might be now and then for the sake of the occupants.
Long before the Course begins to thin it is almost dark, and then, if the poor lounger is "unattached," and is sharing his buggy with a friend as unfortunate as himself, the general effect of the scene before him is the most interesting object for his gaze. The carriages continue to whirl past, but one sees hardly more of them than their lamps. The river glides, cold and shining, a long silvery light under the opposite bank, while trees and masts and rigging relieve themselves against the golden bars of the distant sky. But the band ceases to play, and every one goes home to dress.
If the traveler chooses, he may find many an amusing drive in the native parts of the town. Tall Sikhs, whose hair and beards have never known scissors or razor, and who stride along with a swagger and high-caste dignity; effeminate Cingalese; Hindoo clerks, smirking, conceited and dandified too, according to their own notions; almost naked palkee-bearers, who nevertheless, if there is the slightest shower, put up an umbrella to protect their shaven crowns; up-country girls with rings in their noses and rings on their toes; little Bengalee beauties; Parsees, Chinese, Greeks, Jews and Armenians, in every variety of costume, are to be seen bargaining on the quays, chaffering in the bazaars, loading and unloading the ships, trotting along under their water-skins, driving their bullock-carts, smoking their hookahs or squatting in the shade.
We have had the good fortune, thanks to our interest in native manners and customs, to make the acquaintance of a Hindoo merchant, a millionaire and a bon vivant, on whom his religion sits somewhat lightly. We might, if we had not been otherwise engaged, have dined with him this evening. He would have been delighted to receive us, and would have treated us with abundant hospitality and kindness. The dinner would have been of a composite character, partly European, partly native. A sort of rissole of chicken would certainly have been one of the dishes, and with equal certainty would have met with your approval: the curry, too, would have satisfied you, even if you had just come from Madras or Singapore. There would have been knives and forks for us: our convives would not have made much use of the latter, and some of the dishes on which they would have exercised their fingers would hardly have tempted us. The champagne and claret are excellent, and our host, Hindoo as he is, is not sparing in his libations; and at the same time he and his countrymen would have been vociferous in pressing us to eat and drink, filling our glasses the moment they were empty, and heaping our plates with the choicest morsels. After all, however, perhaps we have had no great loss in missing the dinner. We shall enjoy the pleasant drive, and by being a little late shall escape the not very delightful sound of various stringed instruments being tuned. Arrived, we leave our horse and buggy to the care of some most cutthroat-looking individuals, who crowd round with much noise and gesticulation, wondering who and what we are, while the noise brings out a sort of majordomo, who recognizes us as friends of the master, and soon clears a way for us across the courtyard, takes us up a flight of steps, and ushers us into a long and tolerably well-lighted room. Our host comes forward with outstretched hands, and with great cordiality welcomes and presents us to his friends. We can't understand all he says, for his English at the best is not always intelligible, and he is now particularly talkative and jolly: it is evident he has dined. There is a great noise; every one is talking and laughing; and the talking is loud, for it has to overcome the sounds made by sundry musicians seated at the other end of the room, who are striking their tomtoms and singing a most doleful chant. The baboo bustles about, and makes vacant for us two sofas, the places of honor. Little marble tables are before them, on which are placed wine, brandy and soda-water. The other guests resume their seats along the two sides of the room on our right and left. There are eight or ten men and two or three ladies; the ladies very handsomely dressed. Lower down are several young girls in light drapery, laughing, talking and smoking their hookahs. The fair sex look rather scared and shyly at the foreigners, but some of the men are evidently trying to reassure them. Order being at length restored, our cheroots lighted and our iced brandy-pawnee made ready, the performance recommences. The corps de ballet are not hired for the occasion, but form part of the establishment of our friend the baboo. One of the girls seated near the musician advances slowly, in time with the music, to within a few feet of one of our sofas, and she is followed by another, who places herself opposite the other sofa. Others in the same way prepare to dance before the other guests. They all stand for a moment in a languid and graceful attitude, the music strikes up a fresh air, and each nautch-girl assumes the first position of her dance. She stands with outstretched arm and hand, quivering them, and allowing her body very slightly to partake of the same movement. Her feet mark the time of the music, not by being raised, but by merely pressing the floor with the toes. The action and movement thus seem to run like a wave through the body, greatest where it begins in the hand, and gradually diminishing as it dies away in the foot. With a change of time in the accompaniment the girl drops her arm, advances a step or two nearer the person before whom she is dancing, and leans back, supporting her whole weight on one foot, with the other put forward, and pressing against the floor the border of her drapery.
In her hands she holds a little scarf, which serves to give a motive to the action of the arms and head. The movement in this figure, which admits of great variety, no two performers being at all alike in it, is somewhat stronger than in the first. The undulation, too, instead of dying away gradually from its commencement, runs with equal force, like the line of an S, through the body. Without any pause in the music the dancer sometimes glides imperceptibly into, sometimes begins with startling suddenness, the next movement. The general position remains what it was before, but to describe how its principle of life and motion seems concentrated below the dancer's waist, and from thence flows in undulating streams, to flash from or to dull, according to her organization, the eyes, and to crisp the child-like feet with which she grasps the carpet, is for me impossible. A Gavarni might draw what would recall this wonderful pantomime to the brain of one who had seen it, but nothing but his own imagination could suggest it to him who had not. One of these girls is a perfect actress: numberless shades of expression pass over her delicate features, but the prevailing one is a beseeching, supplicating look. We administer to her, as the custom is, some rupees in token of our admiration, and with an arch smile the no longer supplicating damsel passes on.
A vague notion prevails that a nautch is a very naughty and improper exhibition. My experience is limited, but I must say that in the few I have seen there was nothing that a sergent de mile at Mabille could have objected to. Certainly, no one who retains a seat during the performance of a ballet can say a word on the subject. If the charge of indelicacy is to be brought against either, it would, I think, weigh most heavily against the latter. The Indian dance is voluptuous and graceful, as a dance should be; which is more than can be affirmed of a ballet of the French school, some of the attitudes of which are certainly not addressed only to the sense of beauty. But it was now late, and, although the festivities showed no signs of abatement, we bade our host adieu and returned home. W.H.S.
NO DANBURY FOR ME.
Not in Danbury. No: life has too many vicissitudes in that Connecticut borough. It presents too kaleidoscopic an appearance to suit my style. Family catastrophes succeed each other at a brisker rate than I am used to. I shouldn't relish being a Danbury man on North street or South street: indeed, if you urge the thing, not even on East, West or any other street. I could by no manner of means hope to get reconciled to the accidents, you know. It is climatic, I suppose—an exhilarating air. I should be attempting all sorts of impossible feats, my sickly failures would of course get into the papers, and chagrin, dismay and general discomfort would be my earthly lot. I am not ambitious to undertake teaching the family to rock the cradle, fry doughnuts, do the family ironing and coax our stray hens into the coop, all in one motion. Nor am I impatient to get up in the moonlight with the idea buzzing in my brain that burglars have arrived, and after putting two or three pounds of lead into our best cow, to creep back to bed feeling badly, like a second Alexander, that there's no more glory. Really, I haven't enterprise enough for Danbury.
Now, there are men who ought to start off at once and move into that town. A wide-awake, bustling fellow, who craves excitement, who is never happy unless whirling around like a bobbin with a ten-per-cent. semi-annual dividend to earn, who is on hand at all the dog-fights, Irish funerals, runaway teams, tenement fires, razor-strop matinees, and public convulsions generally,—such a man, if he went well recommended, would be likely to find, I imagine, constant employment in the town of Danbury. He might make arrangements to take his meals on the jump, and would sleep of course with his hat and boots on. Browne is mercurial. Browne would be happy in Danbury. Till he died. For a fortnight, say—one brief, glowing, ecstatic fortnight. Fourteen giddy days would surely finish him. Imagine Browne (him of the eagle eye) up in the morning, his face washed, hair combed, breakfast taken aboard, and everything trim and tight for sailing out into the surging whirlpool of Danbury locals. We see him fold the substantial Mrs. B. to his manly bosom and discharge a parent's duty toward the little Brownes. We see him tear himself from the bosom of his family. It is affecting, as those things usually are.
Browne gains the street, backing out of his gate as he blows a superfluous kiss to Miss Tilly Browne, his youngest. He lurches, just as you may expect, into a stout market-woman laden with eggs and garden vegetables. She careens wildly, and plunges into a baby-cart that is pushing by. The darling occupant of fourteen months is smothered in a raw omelet and frescoed over the eye by bunches of asparagus. The cries of the sweet little cherub would melt the stoutest heart. The market-lady caracoles around, and leads Browne to infer that his conduct is not approved, from her festooning that gentleman's eyes with heavy lines of crape. Mrs. Browne arrives on the scene. The baby goes into fits. The fast-assembling crowd cry "Shame!" and Browne, after trying in vain to apologize, seeks the shelter of a hack and makes good his escape.
He descends at Main street, just in time to observe the man with the ladder and paint-pot working his way up along. That genius is smashing in store fronts and dropping paint liberally on the population. However, as he does this twice a day regularly through the week, it does not appear to attract much attention, except from strangers.
The fat gentleman who is in training to remove pieces of orange-peel from the sidewalk has already begun his labor of love for the day. He is just getting up and dusting himself as Browne goes by. There is nothing fresh in this either, so Browne does not stop. He merely nods and hurries on.
That Danbury youth who gets snarled up so badly when he is sent to do anything, and who has lived through no end of mustard plaster and other soothing applications, is standing in a doorway whistling. Browne conceives it to be a capital idea to waylay this boy and interview him. But, as if divining Browne's purpose, the young hero gives a war-whoop and dives down a side alley. Browne will write up the interview just the same, though.
Browne sees something lively now, something Danburian. A fire company in lobster-colored shirts turn into Main street, aided and abetted by a brass band hired by the job to play furiously. Browne admires the gallant firemen as they step along bravely, winking at the pretty girls on either side—at the machine which glistens in the sun, and maintains a lively jingling of bells and brass-work as it joggles over the pavement. "Ah," thinks Browne, "this is gorgeous!" It is. Browne's instincts are generally correct.
The man who assists in carrying the bass drum has a sore thumb, a sensitively sore thumb. Nothing more natural, when Sherman goes "marching through Georgia," than that this thumb should come in for a share of attention. The bang it gets sends the acutest pain running up and down its owner's spine. In a frenzy (in a moment, we may say, of emotional insanity) he draws a tomahawk and buries it in the head of the captain of that bass drum. The infuriated musician, supposing it to be the cornet who has mutinied, at once gets his Smith & Wesson in range. When the smoke has cleared away three shots are found to have taken effect—two of them in a span of high-stepping horses attached to the elegant turnout of old Mrs. P——. That estimable lady is spilled into the third-story window of an establishment where sits our old friend Hannah binding shoes. The shock so far upsets poor Hannah's reason that she turns a blood-curdling somersault out upon an awning, bounces back, and on her return trip carries away a swinging sign and a barber's pole. These heavy articles strike on a copper soda-fountain, which explodes with a fearful noise, and mortally wounds a colored man uninsured against accident. (Full particulars for the next twelve months in the insurance journals.) The gallant boys in red flannel, assuming from the commotion that a fire must be under way in the neighborhood, set the machine to work in a twinkling. The leading hoseman in his hurry rams his bouquet into the fire-box, tries to screw his silver trumpet on the end of the hose, and stands on his stiff glazed hat to find out what kind of strategy is needed. Then they proceed to drown out an ice-cream saloon on the wrong side of the street.
Browne is happy. He climbs a lamppost, and sets to work taking notes as fast as his pencil can fly. Somebody, mistaking his coat-tail pockets for the post-office, drops in a set of public documents (it is the last day of franking), which so interferes with Browne's equilibrium that he falls over backward into an ash-barrel, after getting out of which he finds it rests him to write with his pencil in his teeth. At last order is restored, the thumb is repaired, and the procession, getting untangled, moves off to the inspiriting strains of "Ain't you glad," etc.
Browne mixes in two more scenes before lunch. In the afternoon there's a balloon ascension, where everything goes up but the balloon; and a croquet-party brim full of eccentricities. Browne picks up half a dozen juvenile and domestic incidents, hardly worth alluding to, and goes home, through a series of adventures, to find a tall, raw-boned horse, a total stranger, walking over his flower-beds and occasionally looking in at the windows. Browne's skirmishes around the animal (the whole campaign together) cost him about thirty dollars.
I resign Danbury to Browne. Though there's a capital fellow there whom I should like to see, I'd rather not go down there and pay taxes.
In the August number of this magazine a narrative is given of a ghostly appearance which haunted a house in a seaside town. The writer states that she was not an actor in its scenes, nor was it related to her by one who was. Having more than once heard the story from the lips of the principal witness of the events, Mrs. M—— of Newport, I can confirm the correctness of the narrative, in the main. Some of the particulars, however, having been altered in the transmission, I will give my version, to the best of my remembrance.
When Mrs. M—— hired the house, which had been for some time vacant, she found it difficult to procure or keep servants. This in itself is not uncommon, but in this case there was something more. The servants complained of being disturbed at night by a woman who walked the chambers with a white hood upon her head—not a sun-bonnet, as I am glad to state, which is certainly a more commonplace head-dress. Some of the neighbors were also asking from time to time who that woman was who sat at the upper hall window in a white hood. It could not have been a little boy who was disturbed by the strange woman, for Mrs. M—— had no son, but one of the daughters when sitting in the upper hall on a hot evening, and making the remark that it was very warm, heard the reply from out of the darkness, "I am so cold!"