"Always!" he answered, sighing. "Though I have my books—and an old man's dreams. But, God bless you, child, how radiant you look; you seem the soul incarnate of this glorious day."
"And this is Peregrine," said she a little hastily, with a wave of her hand in my direction.
"Sir, I trust I see you well!" said I, bareheaded and bowing, and his lordship, glancing at me for the first time, recognised me despite my altered appearance.
"Mr. Vereker," quoth he, with another bow, "this is a twofold pleasure! So you are acquainted with my Penthesilea?"
"Yes, sir, though I know her as Diana!"
"But my real name's Anna, sir—as I tells you at the fair," she added.
"Yes," answered his lordship, "and you called me your old pal, I remember. Yet Mr. Vereker is indubitably right, for Diana you surely are, as fair as the chaste goddess, as brave and—"
"As nobly good!" said I.
"Assuredly, sir!" he nodded, in the quick, decisive way I remembered. "The eyes of Age are as quick to recognise purity as the eyes of Love, and a great deal less prejudiced."
"If you're saying all this about me—don't!" quoth Diana. "Because I ain't a goddess and don't want to be. And now, old gentleman, it's gettin' lateish and I've supper to cook, so if you'm going our way let me give you a lift; there's plenty o' room for you 'twixt Peregrine an' me."
"No, no," sighed his lordship with a somewhat sad and wistful smile. "You have each other, and I am old and wise enough to know that age is no fit companion for youth and beauty—"
"But I like old folks," said Diana in her direct fashion. "I like you, your voice and grand manners; it's plain you was a fine gentleman once—though your coat wants mendin'."
"Indeed, I fear it is almost beyond mending," answered his lordship; "but it is a favourite, and old like myself, though I am glad you can find it in your heart to be kind to an old fellow in a shabby coat—"
"What's a coat matter?" smiled Diana. "Peregrine's was worse than yours."
"Yes," nodded his lordship. "I fancy it was, and I'm glad—very glad that you like me also, Diana; it does me good, child."
"Why, then, come on up," she commanded, reaching out her hand to him in her imperious manner.
"Pray do, sir," said I. "It would be an honour and pleasure."
"It'll save your poor, old, stiff leg, sir!" added Diana.
"Ah, Diana, fair goddess," said he in his placid, stately manner, "when you put my disturbers to such ignominious flight at the fair, you graciously unbent enough to address me as 'your old pal'—"
"You seemed s' very lonely!" she explained.
"Child," he sighed, "I am lonely still!"
"Why, then," said she in her gentlest voice, smiling down into his wistful face, "come on up, old pal, an' forget your loneliness awhile."
And now his lordship smiled also, and having pocketed his book, climbed into the cart with our assistance and seated himself between us.
"This," sighed he, as Diogenes ambled on again, "is exceedingly kind in you, to burden yourselves thus with a solitary and garrulous old man—"
"What's garrulous?" demanded Diana.
"Talkative, my child, excessive verbosity—Mr. Vereker will doubtless remember our conversation on music," said he, with a whimsical glance at me.
"Indeed, yes, sir," I answered. "I was greatly interested."
"Well, I like to hear you talk, too," said Diana, "you speaks like Peregrine does, only he says such silly things, and he's a great deal too cocksure of himself into the bargain!"
"Concerning which," said his lordship gently, "you may have remarked that Mr. Vereker possesses a chin."
"What's his chin to do with it? You've got one—so have I for that matter."
"True, child, we all three possess chins that typify dogged resolution to a remarkable degree—"
"Peregrine's hatefully dogged; I know that!" sighed Diana.
"Excellent youth!" nodded our aged companion, regarding me with twinkling eyes.
"And Diana is excessively and unreasonably illogical!" I retorted.
"Adorable maiden!" sighed his lordship, glancing at Diana.
"Lord, Peregrine, how can you say such things!" she exclaimed indignantly. "He only says it because he wants to marry me!" she explained into our companion's right ear. "If I don't tell you he will in a minute; he tells it to every one."
"Perspicacious youth!" nodded his lordship.
"And Diana very foolishly attempts to deny me, for no just or adequate reason," I explained into his left ear.
"Extremely natural and feminine!" nodded his lordship.
"Because of his grand aunt and fine uncles for one thing," said Diana.
"And for what other reason?" I demanded.
"Because of what?"
"And there you have it, sir!" I exclaimed. "Did you ever hear such futile answers?"
"Often, and generally from the loveliest lips, Mr. Vereker—"
"Pray, sir, call me Peregrine if you will: and, sir," said I, grasping his worn left sleeve, "I beg you to advise me in this matter, for you are so wise—"
"Never heed him, old pal!" cried Diana, grasping his right sleeve. "Peregrine only thinks he ought to marry me because he bought me and folks talk and—"
"Pardon me, dear child, but how and where may one purchase a goddess?" his lordship enquired. "You said 'bought', I think?"
"Yes, he bought me for fourteen guineas, a florin, one groat and three pennies!" and in two breaths, or thereabouts, she had recounted the whole incident.
"Admirable!" exclaimed his lordship, glancing from one to other of us with shining eyes. "Ridiculous! Magnificent!"
"And that's the only reason he wants to marry me—"
"There you are wrong, Diana, and most unjust!" said I indignantly. "You know my chief purpose in wedding you is to take you from this wandering life and shield you from all hardship and coarseness."
"And what of love, Peregrine?" enquired his lordship, gently. At this I hesitated, glanced down at the gleaming buckles of my new shoes, glanced up at the blue serenity of heaven, and finally looked at Diana, to find her watching me beneath scowling brows.
"And there you have it!" said she in disdainful mimicry, "he—he don't know!"
The Ancient Person smiled and laid his small, white hand upon Diana's brown fingers.
"But then, dear child with the wise, woman's eyes—you have seen and surely know." Now at this Diana glanced swiftly from him to me and then, to my amazement, flushed hotly and drooped her head. "Ah, yes," sighed his lordship, "I see you know, child, so what matter?"
"Sir," said I, "what do you mean?"
"Peregrine, I touch upon an abstract theme and therefore one better sensed than described, so I will not attempt it." Here, to my further surprise, Diana nestled closer to him and whispered something in his ear.
"I believe," said the Ancient Person, after Diogenes had plodded some little distance, "I believe you are camping with Jessamy Todd?"
"Yes, sir, but pray, how did you learn this?"
"Well, I know the redoubtable Jessamy rather well."
"We'm settled in the wood beyond Wyvelstoke Park," added Diana, "along by the stream."
"I know it," nodded his lordship, "I have killed many a fine trout along that same stream. I shall do myself the pleasure of finding you one of these days, if I may?"
"Pray do sir," said I eagerly, "you will find Jeremy Jarvis the most wonderful tinker in the world and one who writes poetry besides mending kettles and shoeing horses."
"This has been a truly memorable occasion," said his lordship, "I feel myself honoured by your confidence, it has given me a new interest in my solitary life."
"And why are you so solitary?" questioned Diana.
"Because old age is usually solitary, and because in my youth, when Love came to me, I was a coward, by reason of worldly considerations, and let it plead in vain, alas! And thus, although my friends were many in those days, my empty heart was always solitary, and now—my friends are mostly dead, and I am—a childless, lonely old man!"
The white head drooped disconsolate, the slender, delicate hands wrung each other, and then about these bowed and aged shoulders Diana clasped protecting arm and stooped soft cheek to his.
"Ah, poor old soul, don't grieve!" she murmured. "Here's Peregrine and me will be your friends and pals, if you'll have us, and if you're ever very lonely or in want, come to us—wait!" Then, opening her gipsire, and before I could prevent, into those slender fingers she thrust a bright, new guinea; for a long moment his lordship stared down at the coin while I grew alternately hot and cold. When at last he lifted his white head I saw his keen eyes dimmed with unshed tears.
"Why, child?" he murmured. "Generous girl—"
"No, don't!" she smiled. "Don't say anything! Only let me be your friend to cheer your loneliness an' help you now an' then."
Lord Wyvelstoke stared at the coin in his palm as if it had been a very rare and curious object, then, having deposited it carefully within an inner pocket, he bared his head in his courtly fashion.
"Diana," said he, "sweet friend, you have given me something precious as my vanished youth and more lasting; accept a once solitary old man's gratitude. Mr. Vereker—Peregrine, you who stand perhaps where I stood years ago with the best of all things in your reach—grasp it, boy, follow heart rather than head, and may you find those blessings I have never known. Here, I think, is the advice you sought of me—for the rest, you are a Vereker, sir, and carry honour in your name. And now is good-bye for a time; my way lies yonder," said he, pointing towards a by-lane. So here we stopped and down sprang I to aid our Ancient Person to alight.
"You'll come soon and let me patch your coat?" said Diana, giving him her hand.
"Assuredly!" he answered, with his quick, decisive nod. "Meantime, God be kind to you both, your friendship has lifted much of the heaviness of years from my heart and I shall walk the lighter henceforth!" So saying, he bent and kissed Diana's hand, shook mine vigorously and limped away.
"A dear old man!" said Diana, looking after him gentle-eyed.
"I wonder," said I, "I wonder what he meant by that talk regarding my 'head and heart'—"
"How should I know?"
"But what do you think?"
"That you'd better get in if you're goin' to!" Obediently I clambered into the cart, whereupon Diana prodded the somnolent Diogenes into motion.
"Where did you meet his l—that Ancient Person, Diana?"
"At the fair. Hooky Sam and two pals tried to rob him, an' him such a poor, lonely old soul, only I stood 'em off, made 'em cut their stick, I did."
"But he had a pistol—"
"What—him? Well if so, he didn't have t' use it, my little churi was enough."
"Indeed, you are far braver than I was, Diana—"
"Tush! There's few men as won't cut and run from a female if she's got a knife—an' means t' use it."
"This was why he named you Penthesilea."
"She was a Queen of the Amazons and fought at Troy—"
"Fierce, terrible women who hated men and loved to fight."
"Well, I hates a fight, so don't you go calling me Penthe—whatever her name was."
"No, Diana, I would have you her very opposite, if possible."
"How d'ye mean?"
"I'd have you a lady, sweet-mannered, soft-voiced, tender and gentle—"
"Like your aunt? But she ain't exactly a pet lamb, Peregrine, nor yet a cooin' dove—now, is she? And as for me I'm just—"
"My goddess Diana!"
"Was the real goddess a lady?"
"Well, I—I suppose so—but I want to ask you—"
"No, tell me about her—the goddess Diana."
"Well, besides Diana, she was called Cynthia, Delia, Ancia, Orthia and several other names—"
"And all of 'em pretty, too!"
"And she was passionately fond of hunting."
"And didn't like men overmuch, did she?"
"Well, it appears not. She changed Actaeon into a stag and had him devoured by her dogs—"
"Which wasn't very ladylike, Peregrine—that was coming it a bit too strong, I think! Why did she do it? Poor young man!"
"Because he spied upon her—at her toilet."
"Was that all? d'ye mean he catches her undoin' her curl papers?"
"Oh!" said Diana. "Well, poor young man! She'd got modesty pretty bad, I think, and if all goddesses are like her—"
"They were not."
"Oh, well, let's talk o' something more human-like—"
"Ourselves!" I suggested.
"Well, I sold every one o' my baskets and earned fifty-six shillings. How much money did you spend, Peregrine?"
"I'm not sure, but about twenty-seven pounds, I fancy."
"Pounds?" she cried so suddenly that Diogenes pricked his ears. "For them noo duds—"
"Horrible!" I exclaimed.
"It is!" said she. "It's wicked robbery—"
"I mean your grammar, Diana, and the word 'duds', whatever it may mean, sounds atrocious, especially on your lips—"
"Oh, tush! d'ye mean as they charges you all that money for them new—"
"Those!" I corrected.
"Things you're wearing—"
"You forget the despised locket and chain," said I reproachfully, "and I also purchased two silver watches—"
"Watches? Two on 'em? What for?"
"One for our Tinker and one for Jessamy," I explained.
"Foolishness!" she exclaimed.
"It's wicked waste o' money—an' don't call me 'madam'!"
"I suppose I may be permitted to spend my money to please myself, girl?"
"I s'pose so, boy! Easy come, easy go! You can get more any time ye want, just for the askin', can't you? But you wouldn't spend s' gay an' careless if you had to earn your money, to slave an' sweat for it—not you!"
"How do you know?" I demanded in towering anger.
"I consider you are very—exceedingly—" I checked the word upon my lips and scowled.
"Well? Very exceedingly—what?" she demanded.
"I don't!" she retorted, and flicked Diogenes to speedier gait, for evening was beginning to fall.
A VEREKER'S ADVICE TO A VEREKER
Diogenes, perceiving he was permitted to loiter no more, philosophically betook himself to his heels, or rather hoofs, and trotted briskly supper-wards, up hill and down, until suddenly, above the rattle and grind of the wheels, I was aware of a man's voice, peculiarly sonorous and sweet, upraised in joyful singing.
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow Praise Him all creatures here below—"
The single voice was joined by others that swelled in jubilant chorus:
"Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Host Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost."
Reaching the top of a hill I looked down upon a little hamlet shady with trees, a cluster of thatched, flower-girt cottages, a hoary church, an ancient inn before which last stood Jessamy Todd and a group of rustic folk, men in smocked frocks or shirt sleeves, bare-armed women in aprons or print gowns, children tousled and round of eye, and all, for the most part, very silent, with heads reverently bowed, for Jessamy was praying:
"—so Heavenly Father here we be, Thy children all, weary with another day's labour, grant us this night Thy peace, each one. If any there be that grieve, O Father, comfort 'em; if any there be in pain, O Father, pity an' cherish 'em; if any do bear ill-will agin his brother, O Father, turn his anger to love that love may come thereby. Oh, make us strong against all temptations, that when we come to our last, long sleep we may rest with Thee for ever. Amen.
And good-night, friends and brothers."
Hereupon Jessamy put on his hat, paused to grasp the horny hands extended to him, then lifted a large canvas bag to his shoulder, but at my shout he turned and flourished his hat in salutation as we drove up.
"Why, Jessamy," exclaimed Diana, as he placed the bag in the cart, "what's come t' your face?" And now I saw his comely features were disfigured by an ugly blue weal.
"Oh, nothin' much, Ann," he exclaimed, smiling a little sheepishly. "Only a whip—"
"I come on a fine gentleman thrashing of a little lad, whereupon I ventured a word of remonstrance as in dooty bound and turned to look to the lad as lay a-weepin', whereupon the gentleman took occasion to gi'e me this here—ye see he didn't 'appen to know me, poor soul!"
"Well, I hope you gave the 'poor soul' all he needed!" cried Diana, cracking the whip so loudly that Diogenes pricked startled ears.
"I'm afraid I did, Ann, God forgive me. The Old Adam's very strong in me."
"And how's the poor boy?"
"Why, the gentleman wore ridin' boots, d'ye see—"
"Ah!" exclaimed Diana between white teeth. "And what's become o' the gentleman—"
"They—put him to bed," confessed Jessamy guiltily, "but he's nice an' comfortable, Ann, an'll be right as nine pence in th' morning."
"What sort of a person was he?" I enquired.
"A biggish chap, a bit too round an' wi' too much neck."
"How often did ye hit him, Jess?"
"Four times, Ann! Four times, an' one would ha' been plenty. Four times an' me preachin' forgiveness an' brotherly love—"
"Brotherly love's no good agin' that kind o' beast, a good strong fist's the thing, or better still a little, sharp churi—like mine!"
"Ah, but when I hit him," sighed Jessamy, "I went on hitting him—not for the good of his soul but because—I—I j'yed in it—"
"Well, it did him just as much good, anyhow!" said Diana whereupon Jessamy sighed again and shook his head in self-reproof. Seeing him thus downcast, I laid a hand on his arm and with the other felt in my pocket.
"Do you happen to possess a watch, Jessamy?" I enquired.
"Aye, for sure," he nodded, "that is, I did, an' a rare good 'un too, but it don't go these days by reason of a brick as was hove at me by a riotous fe-male."
"Good heavens!" I exclaimed. "Why?"
"The poor creetur' being in liquor didn't take kindly to my method o' prayer, so she let fly a brick as took me in the watch, bein' fortunate for me but bad for my watch—a good, silver watch, too, as was given me by my old dad just afore he died. An' so I ain't had the 'eart to buy another."
"Then will you please accept this?" said I a little diffidently, aware of Diana's sharp eyes, and I thrust the timepiece into his hand.
"Why—but—how can I—Lord bless me!" stammered Jessamy, glancing from the watch to me and back again irresolutely.
"You'd better put it into your pocket, Jess, quick, or he'll throw it into the ditch!" nodded Diana. "So put it into your pocket and thank the pretty gentleman." This Jessamy did, after no little demur and with reiterated expressions of thanks.
"Which do remind me, sir, as I have a letter for you," said he.
"And my name is Peregrine," I nodded.
"A letter, Peregrine, as was give to me for you by your uncle, Sir Jervas." And presently, having felt through his numerous pockets, he brought forth the letter in question, which, with due apology, I proceeded to open and read; here it is:
"MY DEAR PEREGRINE: Apropos of your forthcoming marriage (at this I started) be guided by your own discretion in the matter, since Marriage is one of the few serious dangers to be feared in an otherwise somewhat vapid tedium we call life. Be yourself to yourself, guide, philosopher and friend, since you are likely to heed the wisdom of such more than that of any other friend, for I judge that being a Vereker, no Vereker (or any other lesser human) can stay you from your fixed purpose. So (writing as a relation who has developed an unexpected regard for you) my serious advice is—act upon your own advice. Your beautiful gipsy is a magnificent creature with a mind and will of her own, the dignified unrestraint of a dryad and the deplorable diction of a wandering gipsy wench. She would be excellent as a picture, entertaining as a companion and execrable as a wife. This of course is merely the opinion of a Vereker which to another Vereker is of not the slightest consideration. None the less, being somewhat your senior in years, I would venture to point out what I have learned by bitter experience, to wit, nephew, viz: that which is delightful for an hour may disgust in a week and become intolerable within a month.
In which certainty I subscribe myself, Most humbly your uncle, Jervas Vereker.
P.S. If you care to designate such address as will find you, your allowance shall be forwarded either by week or month as you shall determine."
Scarcely had I finished the perusal of this characteristic missive than we turned from the road and jolted down the grassy slope towards the little wood from whose rustling shadow came the blithe thump and ring of the Tinker's busy hammer, which merry clamour ceased suddenly; and forth to welcome us came Jerry, sooty and grimed as Vulcan himself and smiling in cheery greeting. And glancing from his honest face, with its wise and kindly eyes, over the quiet peace of this sheltered wood and smiling countryside, to Diana's proud and vital beauty, I knew indeed that no Vereker or any other human could stay me from my purpose.
"Jeremy," said I, plunging hand into pocket, "I don't know if you possess a watch or want a watch, but I've bought you one; pray accept it in memory of our friendship and as a very small mark of my esteem."
"Lord love me—a silver watch!" exclaimed the Tinker for about the tenth time, clapping the same to his ear.
"Two on 'em, brother!" said Jessamy, doing the same by his.
"My soul!" exclaimed the Tinker. "Fortune ain't in the habit o' showering brand-noo silver watches about me like this an' it's apt to ketch me unprepared with words to soot the occasion—"
"True, brother, when Peregrine stuck mine into my fist it was like a roaster in the short ribs, low, brother, low—I was floored, taken aback, an' nat'rally broached to an' come to a dead halt—"
"Wicked extravagance, I call it!" exclaimed Diana, glancing up from the potatoes she was peeling. "Though if he wants to waste his money, he couldn't ha' wasted it better!"
"For that," said I, seating myself beside her, "I will help you with those things if you'll show me how!" At this she glanced swiftly at me without lifting her head and in her eyes was an indescribable kindliness and her vivid lips were curved to smile so tender that I stared in joyful bewilderment and forgot all else in the world until roused by the Tinker's voice:
"And exactly what o'clock might it be by your chronometer, Jessamy?"
"Precisely fifteen minutes an' three quarters past seven, brother."
"Then, according to mine, you're precisely three quarters of a minute fast, Jessamy, my lad."
"Why, as to that, friend," answered Jessamy, "it's in my mind that you're just about that much slow, comrade."
And so, reaching a knife, I began to help Diana in the peeling of potatoes and, though finding it a somewhat trying business, yet contrived ever and anon to steal surreptitious glances at her downbent face and to surprise more than once that new soft and shy-sweet wonder in her glance.
"You'll cut yourself if you aren't more careful!" she admonished, and the kindness it seemed had somehow got into her voice.
"What matter?" said I. "What does anything matter except—"
"What?" she questioned softly.
"You, Diana—you and only you—"
"Don't be silly!" said she, but in the same gentle voice and though she stooped her head a little lower, I thought the colour was deepened in her cheek.
"Should you think me silly, Diana, if I told you—"
"Yes, I should!" she answered so suddenly that I started and the wet potato shot from my grasp.
"I fancy it'll rain to-night, Jessamy," said the Tinker, glancing up at the heavens.
"Brother, I'm pretty sure of it," answered Jessamy, "I noticed the clouds bankin' up to wind'ard. We'd best rig up t' other tent—"
"Why, Peregrine," exclaimed the Tinker, as I stooped to recover the elusive vegetable, "who's been sp'iling of your noo coat, your collar's all ripped, lad?"
"A black scoundrel who insulted Diana," I exclaimed, clenching my fists.
"A gentleman as spoke to me, you mean!"
"The damned rogue tried to kiss you—"
"Well, what of it—I didn't let him, did I?"
"You have no business to run such risks," said I angrily, my gorge rising at memory of the fellow, "a tavern is no place for a girl—"
"Well, I can't live under a glass case!" she retorted. "And, anyway, I can take care of myself—better than you can!"
"Yes," I answered humbly, "I fear I am not a very terrible champion—Jessamy, O Jessamy, teach me how to fight!"
For answer Jessamy rose and opening his canvas bag reached thence four of those padded gloves termed 'mufflers.'
"With your uncle George's compliments!" said he, glancing at me with twinkling eyes. "And now, seeing the light's good, if you'm minded to try a round or so afore supper, why cheerily it is, messmate!"
Then, tossing aside the half-peeled potato I stripped off my coat.
HOW I MADE A SURPRISING DISCOVERY, WHICH, HOWEVER, MAY NOT SURPRISE THE READER IN THE LEAST
From brake and thicket gemmed with a myriad sparkling dewdrops, birds were singing a jubilant paean, as well indeed they might upon so fair a morning; yet these were but a chorus to the singer down by the brook whose glorious voice soared in swelling ecstasy and sank in plaintive sweetness only to rise again, so high and clear and ineffably sweet as seemed verily to inspire the birds to an eager and joyful emulation.
So they sang together thus in pretty rivalry, the birds and Diana, until, her song ended, I went my way and presently found her beside the bubbling rill, combing out her shining hair. At sight of me she laughed and, tossing back her tresses, flourished her comb in a sweep that took in radiant sky, earth and sparkling brook.
"O Peregrine, ain't it glorious!" she cried.
"It is!" said I, staring at her loveliness, whereupon she flushed and recommenced combing her hair.
"Thought you was asleep an' snoring," said she in her most ungracious manner.
"Well, you see I'm not, and besides I don't snore!"
"Tush, how can you know?"
"I don't think I do—and for heaven's sake why talk of such things on such a morning, Diana?"
"Because!" she answered, turning away.
"Because of what?" I demanded, grasping a silky handful of her glossy hair. "Why are you so ungracious to me lately; why do you do and say things that you imagine will make me think you hard and unlovely; why do you try to shock me so often?"
"I don't! How?"
"By pretending to be trivial and shallow and commonplace."
"Because I am!"
"Don't blaspheme, Diana. How could you be shallow or commonplace, you who taught me to love the Silent Places? So why attempt things so impossible, dear child?" And taking hold of her smooth, round chin I turned her head that she must look at me. "Why, Diana, why?" I repeated. For a moment she met my look, then her lids fluttered and fell. Yet she stood before me strangely docile.
"Because," said she at last, "you looks at me lately as—as you are doing now, as if—as though—"
"I had only just found out how beautiful you are, Diana? And don't you know why?"
"Yes," she murmured, "but—you don't."
"I have discovered the reason this morning," said I, drawing her a little nearer, "I love you, Diana, I know it at last. Why, good heaven, I must have loved you for days!"
"You have!" she nodded, without looking at me.
"You—you knew it, then?"
"Of course!" she nodded again. "So did Jerry—so did Jessamy, so did your tall uncle—and your aunt, I think, and—and everybody else in all the world—except yourself, Peregrine."
"Blind fool that I was—"
"No, Peregrine, it was because you never guessed, that I didn't run away—"
"And you never will now, Diana, because you are mine, But I loved the sweet, pure soul of you first and so, my Diana, although I am longing—longing to kiss you—those dear gentle eyes, your red lips—I never will until you give them, because my love, being very great, is very humble, like—like this!" And sinking to my knees, I would have kissed the hem of her gown, but with a soft, sweet cry of reproach, she slipped to her knees also and swaying to me, hid her face in my breast.
"O Peregrine," she murmured, looking up at me through a mist of tears, "it is a wonderful thing to be loved by a gentleman—"
"Then God keep me so!" I whispered.
"He will, Peregrine, so long as you are Peregrine—kiss me!" And so for a deathless moment I held her close, to kiss her tumbled hair, her tearful eyes, the tremor of her sweet mouth.
"Peregrine—dear," she sighed, "at first I hated love and when it came it frighted me and then, when it came to you and you not knowing, I knew love could only be a dream 'twixt you and me and so I—I tried to make you hate me—I talked and acted rough—as much as I could, or—or very nearly—but I couldn't keep it up all the time, it hurt me so—"
"Then," cried I, "why then, you do love me, heart and soul, Diana?"
"Ah—don't you know—even yet?" said she passionately. "You are so different, so gentle—oh, you're—just Peregrine! Ah, it isn't your money I want, or to be a fine lady like your aunt wi' horses and carriages and servants; ah, not dear Peregrine, no—it's just you and me together in the Silent Places—"
"And so we will be," I cried, "together in life and death—"
"O Peregrine, it isn't a dream is it—a dream that can't come true. You'll—make me marry you, won't you?"
"Ah, by God I will—whenever you are ready, for you are mine!"
"Yes, yours," she whispered, "for ever and always! You ha' no doubts o' the future, have ye, Peregrine?"
"None!" said I, arrogant in my happiness.
"When I called you cocksure I—loved you for it!"
Thus sat we, embracing and embraced, beside this prattling stream, looking upon the glory of this midsummer morning and each other to find all things ever more beautiful, and knowing a happiness that went far beyond mere speech.
Birds have sung as blithely—perhaps; the sun may have beamed as kindly and brooks have laughed as joyously as this chattering rill of ours, but as for me, I soberly doubt it.
"Peregrine," said she at last, "where is my locket?"
"Here!" said I, reaching the case from my pocket. "When your singing woke me to this wonderful, glorious morning, I brought it to find you."
"How pretty it is!" she sighed happily, touching it tenderly with the extreme tip of one slender finger.
"It isn't anything near good enough," said I, viewing it a little gloomily, "I will get you one infinitely better—"
"No!" said she. "This is what I shall always love best," and stooping, she touched the trinket with the heaven of her mouth. Then, being upon our knees, she stooped her head that I might set it about her throat, but what with her nearness and the touch of her velvety neck, I bungled the business sadly, so that she lifted her two hands to aid me and her lips being so near, how could I help but kiss her.
"Now this, Peregrine!" she commanded, drawing my mouth to the locket where it hung. And so I kissed the locket and chain and throat and neck until she laughed, a little tremulously, and slipping from my hold, sprang to her feet and fled away.
And now, being upon my knees, I bowed my head and passionately besought a blessing on this sweet-souled Diana, this woman of mine, and upon our love and the years that were to be. My supplication ended, I remembered that this was the first prayer I had uttered since faring out into the world. And as I arose, came Jessamy, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
"Lord bless us, Perry, what a morning—the j'y of it, brother! List to the birds and hark—ah, do but hark how Ann do be singing; never 'eard her voice sound so wonderful afore, Perry."
"Nor I, Jessamy," said I, as the golden notes died away; "but then there never was quite such another morning as this."
OF TWO INCOMPARABLE THINGS. THE VOICE OF DIANA AND JESSAMY'S "RIGHT"
Exuberant, with blood a-dance and nerves braced and tingling from the sparkling water, we faced each other upon the grassy level, Jessamy and I, stripped to the waist and with muffled fists and I very conscious of the keen eyes that appraised my slender arms, and the muscles of what uncle George would have called my 'torso.'
"I'm afraid I am—hatefully puny!" I exclaimed, casting a disparaging glance at my proportions.
"Smallish," nodded Jessamy, "smallish, but that ain't a matter to weep over, brother. Small muscles is quicker than big. Moreover, the Lord has given you a sound and healthy body and left you to develop an' do the best wi' it. Fresh air an' exercise, sledge 'ammer an' bellers'll work wonders in a week or so, mark my words. Now come on an' keep your weather peeper on my right, for look'ee your left is a feeler, good to keep your man away, to jolt him now an' then an' to feint him to an opening, then it's in wi' your right an' all o' you behind it—that's my way and I've found it a pretty good way."
"You've always won your fights, haven't you, Jessamy?"
"Pretty often—though 'tis all vanity, lad, arter all—"
"And why did you win—and often against bigger and stronger men?"
"Well, p'raps because I eat little an' drink less, or p'raps because I meant to win, or p'raps again because I knew how. However, the fightin' game is all vanity an' vexation an' keep your ogles on my right! Now, into me, lad, an' hit hard—that's your fashion—try for my chin but don't forget my right! Swing in for my ribs, Perry—and heartily! Steady boy—on your toes now!"
Such were his expressions as we danced and ducked, feinted and smote, and as often as he bade me watch his right, that same right smacked home upon my ribs or face while I wasted myself in futile yet exceedingly earnest efforts to smite in turn his ever-moving body or elusive, wagging head, what time over and under and through my guard shot his terrible fists, to tap me lightly here, to pat me there until my breath grew short. And now, while I stood to get my wind, he explained how it was done, showing me sudden volts and turns and shifts which he termed foot-work. He showed me how to drive in short-arm blows, swinging from the hips, and how to evade them; how, when occasion favoured, to hit from the shoulder with all my strength and weight behind the blow, and how to meet a ducking head with what he called an uppercut, just such a terrible stroke as had caused the downfall of the big man Tom.
Thus Jessamy alternately smote and lectured me until, warned by Diana's clear call, we donned shirts and waistcoats and strode away to breakfast.
"And how's he shaping, Jessamy?" enquired the Tinker, serving out ham, pink and savoury, from the hissing frying pan, while Diana poured out the coffee.
"None s' bad," answered Jessamy; "he's quick an' willing an' don't mind bein' knocked down now and then, which is a good thing—you went down pretty frequent that last round, brother!" Here Diana, noting my battered dishevelment, scowled at Jessamy adorably.
"It ain't—isn't needful to hit quite so hard, is it, Jessamy?" she enquired.
"Why, yes, Ann. Peregrine wants me to teach him to fight an' you can't teach that to any man by tapping him, d'ye see."
"But, then, Jessamy," said the Tinker, with his twinkling, bright eyes on Diana, "Peregrine ain't exactly a Milo o' Crete as had a habit o' slayin' oxen wi' a blow of his fist; Peregrine's delicate frame could never endoor real good, hard knocks—"
"But it could, Jerry!" exclaimed Diana. "Nobody could hit him harder than I've seen him hit, except Jessamy, p'raps." Now at this I was seized of such a yearning to kiss her that I bent lower over my platter lest the impulse prove ungovernable.
"It ain't size as counts, brother," added Jessamy, "no—not once in a thousand; an' as for this cove Milo, big an' heavy an' slow as a waggon o' bricks, I could eat him alive any day. Though to be sure 't would only be vanity an' vexation arter all," he added mournfully, "so let's talk o' better things."
"Why, then, Jessamy," said the Tinker, his eyes twinkling more than usual, "what might be the pre-cise time by your chronometer?"
"It is now," replied Jessamy, solemnly consulting his watch, "exactly five an' three quarter minutes to seven, Jerry."
"Then I take leave to tell ye, you're exactly two minutes an' a half slow," retorted the Tinker, glancing at his own.
"You're very silent, Peregrine; does aught grieve ye?" enquired the Tinker.
"Did I shake ye up a bit too much, brother?" enquired Jessamy anxiously.
"No, no, indeed," I answered, "it is only that I am a—a little thoughtful this morning."
And so, in a while, breakfast being done, Jessamy rose.
"An' now for another go at Old Nick!" quoth he.
"Where are ye for to-day?" questioned the Tinker.
"Tonbridge—'tis market day an' Nick'll be busy in every tavern an' inn, as usual. What'll I bring back for supper?"
"Well, a chicken's tasty," mused the Tinker, "but then so's lamb, or there's liver an' bacon—"
"A shin o' beef!" said Diana in voice of finality.
"Stooed!" nodded the Tinker. "Stooed wi' plenty o' vegetables. A shin o' beef or say a couple—oh, prime! An' it's my turn to pay, Jessamy."
"No, it's mine!" quoth Diana.
"Pray allow me!" said I, reaching for my purse.
"Lord bless us, we're all that rich!" laughed Jessamy. "Come, let's toss for it." The which we did and the lot fell to Jessamy. "A couple o' shins o' beef, loaves an' what vegetables?"
"Get some of all sorts!" nodded the Tinker.
"We've plenty o' potatoes an' onions!" said Diana. "And bring 'em as early as possible, Jess; a shin o' beef ought to simmer for hours."
"Cheerily it is, Ann!" and catching up the canvas bag, Jessamy flourished his hat and strode off.
"How does Jessamy contrive to live?" I enquired.
"Lord, Peregrine," answered the Tinker, "Jessamy's rich—or was—made a fortun' wi' his fists, though I reckon he's give most of it away, like the tender-hearted cove he is."
And now, while Diana busied herself in matters culinary, Jeremy and I lighted the forge and got us to work. And very often above the ring and clamour of our hammers would rise the wonder of her voice singing some wild air of the Zingari or plaintive old ballad; so often and so gloriously she sang that at last, as I blew the fire for another heat, Jeremy bade me hush, and silent thus we stood to hearken.
"Peregrine," said he at last, "I knew Ann's voice was a wonder, but I never heard her sing so blithe an' happy-'earted. I wonder why?"
"Perhaps it is this wonderful morning," said I, watching the flutter of her gown amid the thickets across the little glade.
"Aye, most likely, for 't is surely a day o' glory, lad, a glory as is a-shining at me this moment out o' your eyes, Peregrine, singing in your voice—"
"Jeremy," said I, reaching out to grasp his grimy hand, "O Jeremy, you are right. Love found me in the dawn and this morning Diana promised to be my—wife. God make me worthy!"
"Amen, lad, amen!" said the Tinker.
And then from the shade of the willows that bordered the stream limped the small and shabby yet stately form of Lord Wyvelstoke.
THE NOBLE ART OF ORGAN-PLAYING
Catching sight of me as I hurried towards him, Lord Wyvelstoke advanced, a vigorous man despite his lameness and silvery hair.
"Peregrine—who was it?" he enquired, slipping his hand within my arm and glancing round the glade. "Who was it sang so divinely—can it be, is it—our Diana? But of course it is—"
"Yes, sir," said I, wondering at his eagerness.
"She has a peerless, a wonderful voice, but more—she sings with that divine intuition that is genius. I must speak with her—meantime, pray present your friend."
"This, sir, is my good and kind friend, Jeremy Jarvis; Jerry, his Lordship, the Earl of Wyvelstoke."
The Earl bowed to the Tinker with his usual grave courtesy, and the Tinker (albeit a little disquieted) knuckled sooty eyebrow and bobbed tousled head to the Earl, humbly respectful yet with a simple dignity all his own.
"You seem very happily situated here," said his lordship, sweeping the shady dingle with his keen gaze.
"Why, as to that, sir—my lord," said Jeremy with unwonted diffidence, "I fear we'm a-trespassing on your land, but my friend Todd—Jessamy assured me—"
"Rest assured, friend Jarvis! None of my keepers shall disturb you—"
"Peregrine—O Jerry, dinner! Come while it's hot and come quick!" called Diana from those boskages that screened our little camp.
"It's liver and bacon," said she, busy at the fire, but beholding our companion, she set down the frying pan and hastened to welcome him with both hands outstretched.
"Why, 't is my old pal!" she cried, whereupon Jeremy blinked and seemed to swallow hard.
"You're just in time for a bit o' liver an' bacon. Bring another plate, Jerry."
"But, Ann," said he, hesitating and much at a loss, "p'raps his lordship won't care t' eat off a tin plate an'—"
"Who?" demanded Diana, turning, with the frying pan in her hand.
"His lordship! What, don't ye know this gentleman's the Earl o' Wyvelstoke?" Diana set down the frying pan and turned upon his lordship with a frown.
"Is this true?" she demanded. "Are you a lord?"
"I am, Diana."
"I confess it. But always your pal, I trust, notwithstanding—"
"Why, then you own Wyvelstoke Park?"
"An' horses an' carriages an' houses, I suppose?"
"Why, then, you're rich! And you let me give you a guinea!"
"A treasure dearer to me than all the rest!" he answered gently; and taking out the coin he looked down at it, smiling wistfully.
"And I thought you were such a poor, lonely old soul—"
"So I was, Diana, and so I should be without your friendship."
"I s'pose you don't want any liver an' bacon, do you, lord?"
"Why not, goddess?"
"Because lords an' earls don't eat liver an' bacon off tin plates, do they?"
"You behold one who would if you will so far honour him," answered the Earl with one of his stately obeisances.
"You might have told me, all the same!" said Diana, pouting a little.
"Dear child, had I done so would you have called me your old pal? It is a title dearer to me than any other." Hereupon she brought him the three-legged stool which, despite his protestations, she forced him to take. And so we began dinner, though often the Tinker would pause, food-laden jackknife in mid-air, to steal amazed and surreptitious glances at his lordship, sitting serenely, the tin plate balanced on his knees, eating with remarkable appetite and gusto.
"D'ye like it, old pal?" questioned Diana suddenly.
"Diana," answered the Ancient Person with his whimsical look, "words are sometimes poor and inadequate—I like it beyond expression."
"That's because it's strange to you an' in the open air—"
"Nay, child, I have eaten strange meals amid strange people in strange, wild places of the earth, but never such a meal as this."
"D'ye mean foreign places—across the sea?" questioned Diana eagerly.
"Yes, I have seen much of the wonders and glories of the world, vasty deserts, trackless forests, stupendous mountains, mighty rivers, and yet—and yet what more wonderful than this little island of ours, what more tenderly beautiful than our green, English countryside? The thunderous roar of plunging cataracts, the cloud-capped pinnacles of mighty mountains may fill the soul with awed and speechless wonder, but for pure joy give me an English coppice of a summer evening when blackbird and thrush are calling, or to sit and hearken to the immemorial music of a brook—Friend Jarvis, you write verses, I believe?"
"Lord, sir—my lord," answered Jeremy, his bronzed cheek flushing, "how should you know that?"
"I learned the fact from Peregrine who spoke of them in such high praise that I should much like to read some of them if you would suffer me—"
"Why, sir," stammered Jeremy, "they're wrote on such scraps an' bits o' paper, I only write 'em to please myself an'—an'—"
"Because he must!" added Diana. "You see, old pal, Jerry writes poetry like the birds sing and brooks flow, just because 't is his nature. I know lots of his verses by heart an' I love all of 'em, but I like this about the Silent Places best; listen:
"'He that the great, good thing would know Must to the Silent Places go, Leaving wealth and state behind Who the great good thing would find. Glories, honours, these will fade, Life itself's a phantom shade; But the soul of man—who knoweth Whence it came and where it goeth. So, God of Life, I pray of Thee Ears to hear and eyes to see. In bubbling brooks, in whispering wind He who hath ears shall voices find, Telling the wonder of the earth: The awful miracle of birth; Of love and joy, of Life and Death, Of things that were ere we had breath; Of man's soul through the ages growing, Whence it comes or whither going, That soul of God, a deathless spark Unquenched through ages wild and dark, Up-struggling through the age-long night Through glooms and sorrows, to the light. The soul that marches, age to age, On slow and painful pilgrimage Till man through tears and strife and pain Shall thus his Godhead find again. Of such, the wind in lonely tree The murmurous brook, doth tell to me. These are the wonders ye may know Who to the Silent Places go; Who these with reverent foot hath trod May meet his soul and walk with God.'"
"Friend Jarvis," said the Ancient Person, setting down his empty platter and beginning to fill his pipe, "Peregrine was exactly right; you are a most astonishing tinker. You, sir, are a poet as I am a musician,—by a natural predisposition; and your poetry is true as is my music because it is simple; for what is Truth but Simplicity, that which touches the soul, the heart, the emotions rather than the cold, reasoning intellect, since poetry, but more especially music, is a direct appeal to and expression of, the emotion? Do you agree?"
"Why, sir," answered the Tinker, shaking his head a little sadly, "I don't know aught about music, d'ye see—"
"Fiddlestick, man! You are full of music. Who has not heard leaves rustle in the wind, or listened to the babble of a brook; yet to the majority they are no more than what they seem—rustling leaves, a babbling brook—but to you and me these are an inspiration, voices of Nature, of God, of the Infinite, urging us to an attempt to express the inexpressible—is it not so?"
"Why, my lord," quoth the Tinker, chafing blue chin with knife-handle, "since you put it that way I—I fancy—"
"Of course you do!" nodded his lordship. "Take yonder stream: to you it finds a voice to speak of the immemorial past; to me it is the elemental music of God. As it sings to-day so has it sung to countless generations and mayhap, in earth's dim days, taught some wild man-monster to echo something of its melody and thus perchance came our first music. What do you think?"
"'Tis a wonderful thought, sir, but I should think birds would be easier to imitate than a brook—"
"Possibly, yes. But man's first lyrical music was undoubtedly an imitation of the voices of nature. And what is music after all but an infinite speech unbounded by fettering words, an auricular presentment of the otherwise indescribable, for what words may fully reveal all the wonder of Life, the awful majesty of Death? But music can and does. By music we may hold converse with the Infinite. Out of the dust came man, out of suffering his soul and from his soul—music. You apprehend me, friend Jarvis?"
"Here an' there, my lord. I—I mean," stammered the Tinker, a little at a loss, "I understand enough to wish I could hear some real music—but music ain't much in a tinker's line—"
"You shall!" exclaimed his lordship, rising suddenly. "I will play to you, and after, Diana shall bless us with the glory of her voice if she will. Your arm, Tinker. Leave your irons and hammers awhile and come with me—let us go. Your arm, friend Jarvis!"
"But, sir—my clothes, my lord!" gasped Jeremy. "I ain't fit—"
"A fiddlestick!" quoth his lordship. "Give me your arm, pray." So limping thus beside the Tinker, the Earl of Wyvelstoke led us along beside the brook until we presently reached a grassy ride. Here he paused and, taking a small gold whistle that hung about his neck, blew a shrill blast, whereupon ensued the sound of wheels and creaking harness, and a phaeton appeared driven by a man in handsome livery who, touching smart hat to his shabby master, brought the vehicle to a halt, into which we mounted forthwith and away we drove. Soon before us rose stately parapet, battlement and turret above the green of trees ancient like itself, a mighty structure, its frowning grimness softened by years. Diana viewed massive wall and tower with eyes of delighted wonder, then suddenly turned to clasp the hand of the slender, shabby figure beside her.
"Poor old soul, no wonder you were lonely!" she sighed, whereupon the Earl smiled a little wistfully and stooped to kiss her sunburnt fingers in his stately fashion.
The carriage stopping, behold the sedate Atkinson (who manifested not the least surprise at our incongruous appearance) a square-shouldered, square-faced person he, whose features wore an air of resolution, notwithstanding his soft voice and deferential ways.
At a word from the Earl he ushered us in by a side entrance, through a long and noble gallery, where stood many effigies in bright armour, backed by pictures of bewigged gentlemen who smirked or scowled upon us, and fair dames in ruff and farthingale who smiled, or ladies bare-bosomed who ogled through artful ringlets; across panelled rooms and arras-hung chambers, to lofty and spacious hall, with a great, many-piped organ at one end. Here his lordship made us welcome with a simple and easy courtesy, himself setting chairs for Diana and the Tinker.
"Sit ye, friend Jarvis," said he, "and if you care to smoke, pray do so, you will find tobacco in the jar on the cabinet yonder. As for you, my goddess of the Silent Places, yonder comes my admirable valet with fruit and sweetmeats for your delectation; you, Peregrine, have Diana beside you. Listen now, and you shall hear the joy of Life and Youth and Self-sacrifice. Blow, Atkinson!" So saying, he crossed the wide hall and seated himself at the great instrument.
I saw his white fingers busy among the many stops, then his slim hands fell upon the keys and forth gushed a torrent of sweet sound, a peal of triumphant joy that thrilled me; great, rolling chords beneath and through which rippled an ecstasy of silvery notes, whose magic conjured to my imagination a dew-spangled morning joyous with sun and thrilling with the glad song of birds new-waked,—a green and golden world wherein one sped to meet me, white arms outstretched in love, one herself as fresh and sweet as the morning.
But now the organ notes changed, the pealing rapture sank into a sighing melody inexpressibly sweet and softly tender, my vision's smiling lips quivered to drooping sadness, the bright eyes grew dimmed with tears; and hearkening to the tender passion of this melody, full of poignant yearning and fond regret, I knew that here was parting and farewell. And lo! She, my Spirit of Love, was gone, and I alone in a desolate wilderness to grieve and wait, to strive and hope through weary length of days. And listening to these soft, plaintive notes, I bowed my head with eyes brimful of burning tears and heart full of sudden, chilling dread of the future, and glancing furtively towards Diana's beautiful, enraptured face, I clenched my fists and prayed desperate, wordless supplications against any such parting or farewell. And then, in this moment, grief and fear and heart-break were lost, forgotten, swept utterly away as the wailing, tender notes were 'whelmed in the triumphant melody that pealed forth, louder, more sublimely joyous than ever. She was back, within my arms, upon my heart, but a greater, nobler She, mine for ever and the world all glorious about us.
The rapture ended suddenly on a note of triumph, and Diana, leaning to me, was looking at me through glistening tears, our hands met and clung and never a word between us; then we glanced up to meet the Ancient Person's keen, smiling glance and his voice was gentle when he spoke.
"God bless you, children! Then hearing, you saw and understood? No true love can be that knows nothing of pain, for pain ennobles love and teaches self-sacrifice and this surely is the noblest good of all. And now, friend Jarvis, I will endeavour to show you something of the soul's upward pilgrimage, the working out of man's salvation as pictured in your verse."
He turned back to the organ and from its quivering pipes rose a series of noble chords, stately and solemn, a hymn-like measure, rolling in awful majesty, shattered all at once by a wild confusion of screaming discords that yet gradually resolved into a wailing melody of passionate despair beneath which I seemed to hear the relentless tramp of countless marching feet with, ever and anon, a far, faint echo of that first grand and stately motive.
And as I listened it seemed I watched the age-old struggle between might and right, the horrors of man's persecution of man, the agonies of flaming cities, of Death and Shame, of dungeon and torment. I seemed to hear the thunder of conflicting hosts, the groans of dying martyrs, to sense all the sweat and blood, the agony and travail of these long and bitter years wherein man wrought and strove through tears and tribulation, onward and up to nobler ideals, working out his own salvation and redemption from his baser self. Suddenly, above this wild and rushing melody, rose a single dulcet voice, soft yet patiently insistent, oft repeated with many variations, like some angel singing a promise of better things to come,—a voice which, as the wailing tumult died, swelled to a chorus of rejoicing, louder and louder, resolving back into that majestic hymn-like measure, but soaring now in joyous triumph, rising, deepening to an ecstasy of praise.
And then I was staring at the slender, shabby figure who sat, hands on knees, glancing down into the Tinker's awed face.
"Well, friend Jarvis?" he questioned, with his kindly smile.
"Ah, sir!" cried the Tinker. "Music can surely say more than words ever will."
"O Peregrine!" sighed Diana under her breath, "has it told you how I love you—all those things that I can never tell you?" And then she was away, to seat herself upon the organ-bench beside our host, while he explained something of the wonders of the noble instrument, its pedals, stops and triple rank of keys.
"Lord, Peregrine!" said the Tinker in my ear. "This is a day to remember, this is a—my soul!" he exclaimed and fell suddenly mute as a gorgeous person in powder and silk stockings entered, bearing tea upon a silver tray; a somewhat nervous and high-strung person he seemed, for catching sudden vision of the grimy Tinker's shock head and my shirt sleeves, his protuberant eyes took on a glassy look, he gulped audibly, his knees bent and he set down his burden with a jingling crash.
The Earl turned sharply; the footman began setting out the tea things.
"I've never seen an organ close to before," said Diana, "though I've often stopped outside a church to listen."
The footman's hands grew vague, his glassy eyes turned themselves upon Jeremy in fascinated horror, beneath which disdainful scrutiny Jeremy flushed, uneasily conscious of work-grimed hands and clothes.
"Of course I shan't mind singing to you," said Diana, "because you are my old pal."
The footman dropped a plate; stooping for this, he brought down three or four spoons and forks in his agitation.
"My lord!" answered Atkinson, appearing suddenly.
"What is this?" demanded his lordship, fixing the gorgeous person with terrible eye.
"The third footman, I believe, my lord."
"Send him out—he annoys me."
The gorgeous person having taken himself off, Jeremy sighed in huge relief but glanced furtively askance from dainty china and snowy linen to his own grimy hands and smirched garments; perceiving which embarrassment the Earl hastened to set him at his ease:
"John Bunyan was a tinker also, friend Jarvis," said he, as we drew to the table. And a cheery meal we made of it, for what with his lordship's tactful, easy courtesy and Diana's serene unconsciousness, who could worry over such trifles as grimy hands or shirt sleeves; and if the Tinker be-jammed his fingers or Diana drank from her saucer, she did it with such assured grace as charmed me, and when his lordship followed her example, I loved him for the courtly gentleman he was.
"You have studied and thought deeply, I think, friend Jarvis?" said his lordship. "You reverence books?"
"Aye, sir—my lord. I used to peddle 'em once, but I read more than I ever sold."
"Ah, yes," said Diana; "'t was our good, kind Jerry taught me how to read and write when I lived wi' the Folk."
"And what of your parents, child?"
"I only remember old Azor."
"But you are not of the Zingari, I think?"
"I don't know, old pal—and what's it matter—O Jerry, the shin o' beef!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands. "Jessamy's back by this and it ought to be in the pot. So if you want me to sing—"
"We do!" said his lordship, and rising he brought her to the organ; there, standing beside him while he played a hushed accompaniment, she sang, at my suggestion, that same wild gipsy air which had so stirred me once before in the wood. But to-day, confined within these surrounding walls, her voice seemed to me even more glorious, so softly pure and plaintively sweet, anon soaring in trilling ecstasy—until the swelling glory sank, languished to a sigh and was gone; and I for one lost in awed wonder and delight. For to-day she sang with all that tender, unaffected sweetness, all that passionate intensity that was part of her strange self.
"Diana," said his lordship gravely, "God has entrusted you with a great and beneficent power; you have a rare and wonderful voice such as might stir mankind to loftier thought and nobler ideal and thus make the world a better place. Child, how will you acquit yourself of this responsibility? Will you make the most of your great gift, using it for the benefit of countless others, or let it atrophy and perish unheard—?"
"Perish?" exclaimed Diana, opening her eyes very wide. "Old pal, what do you mean?"
"I mean, Diana, that every one of the gifts that nature has lavished upon us—speech, sight, thought, motion—would all become atrophied and fail us utterly without use. The more we think and the more varied our thoughts, the greater our intellect; he that would win a race must exercise his muscles constantly, and this is especially true in regard to singing. Have you no thought, no will to become a great singer, Diana?"
"Yes," she answered softly, "I might ha' liked it once, but—not now—because, you see, I've found a—better thing, old pal, and nothing else matters!"
"Child," he questioned gently, "may I be privileged to know what this better thing may be?"
"Yes—yes!" she answered, stooping to catch his hand in her sweet, impulsive way and fondle it to her soft check.
"Love has come to us—Peregrine and me, he—knows at last, though I think you had guessed already because you played our love into your music, better—oh, better than I can ever tell it. Only it's here in my heart and in the sunshine; the birds sing of it and—and—oh, how can I think of anything else?"
The Ancient Person laid gentle hand upon her glossy hair. "Wait, dear child, and Love, I think, shall open to you a nobler living, shall give you pinions to soar awhile—"
"How—what d'ye mean, old pal?"
"Nay, ask Peregrine," answered his lordship, shaking his head. "Only very sure am I that love which is true and everlasting is infinitely unselfish."
And presently we took our leave, the Earl attending to see us into the phaeton and bid us adieu; and all the way back I must needs ponder his definition of love and wonder exactly what he had meant.
OF A SHADOW IN THE SUN
And now ensued a halcyon season, dewy dawns wherein I bathed and sparred with Jessamy, long, sunny days full of labour and an ever-growing joy of Diana's radiant loveliness, nights of healthful, dreamless slumber beneath the stars.
Sometimes, when work was slack, I would walk far afield with Diana for my companion, or we would jog to market with the Tinker in the four-wheeled cart, hearkening to his shrewd animadversions upon men and life in general; and Diana's slim hand in mine.
Indeed this poor pen may never adequately set down all the happiness of these care-free, swift-passing days, and how may I hope to describe Diana's self or the joy of her companionship, a sweet intimacy that did but teach me to love her the more for her changing moods and swift intuitions, her quickness of perception, her deep wisdom, her warm impetuousness and the thousand contradictions that made her what she was.
So grew my love and with it a deep reverence for her innate and virginal purity. It touched me deeply to note with what painful care she set herself to correct the grammatical errors and roughness of her speech; often she would fall to a sighful despondency because of her ignorance and at such times it was, I think, that I loved her best, vowing I would not change her for any proud lady that was or ever had been; whereof ensued such conversations as the following:
DIANA. But when I am your wife we shall live in a fine house, I suppose.
MYSELF. Would this distress you?
DIANA. And meet grand folk, I suppose—earls and lords and—and that sort of thing?
MYSELF. It is likely.
DIANA. Shall we—must we have—servants?
MYSELF. To be sure.
DIANA (dismally). That's it! I shouldn't mind the earls s' much—it's the grand servants as would bother me. And then—O Peregrine—if ever I talked wrong or—acted wrong—not like a lady should—O Peregrine, would you be—ashamed o' me?
MYSELF. No, no—I swear it!
DIANA. I never wanted to be a lady—but I do now, Peregrine, for your sake.
MYSELF. You are good and brave and noble, Diana, and this is better than all the fine-ladyishness in the world.
DIANA (wistfully). Well, I wish I was a lady, all the same.
MYSELF. You will soon learn, you who are so quick and clever.
It was at this period that she began to purchase books and study them with passionate earnestness, more especially one, a thin, delicate volume that piqued my curiosity since, judging by her puckered brow and profound abstraction, this seemed to trouble and perplex her not a little.
"Peregrine," she enquired suddenly one morning, as I leaned, somewhat short of breath, upon the long shaft of the sledge-hammer, "Peregrine, what's a moo?"
"A moo?" I repeated, a little startled, "why, the sound a cow makes, I should think."
"No, it can't be that," said Diana, shaking her head and frowning at the open page of that same slim book I have mentioned, "it can't have anything to do with a cow, Peregrine, because that's what a grand lady does when she enters a ballroom; it says she moos slightly—"
"Lord, Ann!" exclaimed the Tinker. "What's she want to do that for? A moo's a beller, as Peregrine says, but who ever heard of a grand lady bellerin' in a ballroom or out—"
"I said moo!" retorted Diana. "And it's in this book."
"May I see?" I enquired. Obediently Diana rose and tendered me the volume, marking the paragraph with her finger, and at her command, I read aloud as follows.
"'UPON ENTERING A BALLROOM. The head should be carried stately, the bust well-poised, the arms disposed gracefully. The gait should be swimming, the head graciously aslant and the lips slightly moue.'"
"Well?" demanded Diana, glancing at Jeremy defiantly. "Now what's it mean, Peregrine?"
"'Moue?" I explained gravely, "is a French word signifying 'to pout' the lips."
"Which be a bit different to bellerin'!" chuckled the Tinker. Diana merely glanced at him, whereupon he began to hammer away lustily, in spite of which I fancied I heard him chuckle again. Turning to the title page of the little book I saw this:
ETIQUETTE FOR THE FAIR SEX BEING HINTS ON FEMININE MANNERS & DEPORTMENT. BY AN ACKNOWLEDGED SCION OF THE BON TON.
"It's a rather terrible book, I think," sighed Diana.
"Not a doubt of it," said I. "What do you think, Jerry?"
"Aye," he nodded, "I used to sell that book once, or one like it—"
"I mean," explained Diana, "it will be terribly hard to teach myself to do everything it says—"
"Indeed, I should think so," I nodded.
"You see," she mourned, "I—I didn't act a bit right when you—told me you—loved me—"
"Ah, but you did, Diana—"
"No, Peregrine, I was quite wrong and oh, most unladylike!"
"Well, I didn't tremble with maiden modesty or yield my hand coyly and by degrees, or droop my lashes, or falter with my breath—or—"
"Why in the world should you?"
"Because all ladies must do that—let me show you." So saying she took the book, turned over a leaf or so, and putting it into my hand, bade me read aloud, which I did, as follows:
"'UPON RECEIVING A PROPOSAL OF MARRIAGE. On this trying occasion, should the answer be in the affirmative, yield the hand coyly and by degrees to the passion of the happy suitor's lips; at the same time the lashes must droop, the whole form tremble with maiden modesty, the breath must falter and the bosom surge a little, though perceptibly—'"
My voice faltered and in spite of my efforts I burst out laughing, while Jeremy began to hammer again; whereupon Diana wrested the book from me and stood, flushed and angry, viewing me in lofty disdain.
"O Diana," I pleaded, "don't be offended, and don't—do not trouble your dear head over that foolish book—"
"Foolish!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Why, it's to teach ladies how to behave, and written by—"
"By a snuffy old rascal in some pothouse, like as not, Diana—" Here she turned and hasted away, but I sped after her and seeing the quiver of her lips and her dear eyes a-swim with tears, my own grew moist also.
"O Peregrine," sighed she, "I thought the book was foolish too—but for your sake—to be a lady—"
"O girl!" I cried, clasping her to me. "Dear goddess of the Silent Places, you are above all such silly pettinesses as this book; no woodland nymph or dryad could ever learn such paltry affectations and Diana herself would look a fool with a fan or a reticule. It is your own sweet, natural self I love, just as you are and for what you are."
"But you're a gentleman and I ought to be a lady."
"Be my own goddess Diana, and let me worship you as such."
"Why, then, let me go, Peregrine, for your goddess has the supper to prepare!" Reluctantly I obeyed her, and coming back, found the Tinker seated upon his anvil, lost in a profound meditation.
"What is it, Jerry?" I asked him, for he had sighed deeply.
"Ah, Peregrine," said he, without lifting his head, "oh, lad, lad—I've missed more than I thought—Love's a wonderful thing, far better and more beautiful than I ever dreamed it; pain and grief lose half their bitterness when Love looks at us from a woman's eyes and Death itself would come kinder—less dreadful, for the touch o' the loved hand, the sound o' the loved voice when the shadows gather. And—I might ha' had this blessing once—for the takin'—ah, Peregrine—if I'd only known, lad, if I'd only known!"
O joyous season of sweet simplicity, of homely kindliness and good-fellowship! Would to God this carpet beneath my feet might change to velvet moss and springy turf, these walls to the trees and whispering boskage I grew to love so well, this halting pen to the smooth shaft of sledge hammer or the well-worn crank of the Tinker's little forge, if I might but behold again she who trod those leafy ways with the stately, vigorous grace of Dian's very self, she who worked and wrought and sang beside me with love for me in her deep eyes and thrilling in the glory of her voice; she who sped light-footed to greet me in the dawn, who clung to kiss me "good night" amid the shadows. O season of joy so swiftly sped, to-day merging into yesterday (how should I guess you were so soon to end?), gone from me ere I had fully realised.
A hot, stilly afternoon full of the drowsy hum of insects and droning bees; birds chirped sleepily from motionless tree and thicket; even the brook seemed lulled to a slumberous hush.
Jessamy was away hard on the track of his Satanic antagonist, the Tinker had driven off to buy fresh provisions, and I sat watching Diana's dripping hands and shapely brown arms where she scrubbed, wrung out, and hung up to dry certain of our garments, for it was washing day.
"Dear," said I at last, "when shall we be married?"
"Lord, Peregrine, how sudden you are!" she answered, as if I had never broached the subject before.
"Shall it be next week?"
"Well, then, the week after?"
"No, Peregrine, not—not until I am fit to be your wife—"
"That of course is now, Diana, this very moment!"
Here, having tossed back a loosened tress of glossy hair, she shook grave head at me.
"I must be sure I am—I must know myself a little—more fit—"
"A month, Diana!"
"We will get married in a month and camp hereabouts in these silent places all the summer. And when winter comes, I'll buy a little cottage somewhere, anywhere—wherever you choose—"
"Even then I—shouldn't be quite happy, Peregrine."
"Because of what?"
"Now you are provoking!"
"Am I, Peregrine?"
"And very stubborn."
"That's what old Azor used to say—"
"Why won't you marry me and be done with it?"
"Why should I? Aren't you happy as we are?"
"Of course, but to know you mine for always would be greater happiness."
"Oh, be content—a little longer. There's lots o' time—and I'm learning—I speak a—bit better, don't you think?"
"Is this your reason for delay, Diana?"
"Some of it. I want you to be—a little proud of me, if you can—if you ever grew ashamed of me—it would kill me, I think—"
"Sweet soul!" I cried, leaping to my feet to clasp her in eager arms. "Why are you grown so humble?"
"It's love, I think, Peregrine—oh, mind the basin!" But I was not to be stayed and, sure enough, over went the great tin basin, scattering wet garments and soapy water broadcast.
"There!" sighed Diana tragically.
"What of it?" said I, and kissed her. "Why will you kiss me so seldom, Diana?"
"I ought to have done the washing in the brook like I always do."
"Don't you like me to kiss you, Diana?"
"Yes—and you've spilt all the water—"
"I'll bring you more. But why will you so seldom suffer me to—"
"Because—and take the large pail, Peregrine, and take it now—here's these four shirts ought to be hanging out to dry—so hurry, hurry! Get the water from the pool beyond the big tree, the stream runs clearer there!"
This pool was at some little distance, but away I went, happy in her service, swinging the heavy bucket and humming to myself, as care-free and light-hearted as any youth in Christendom, and presently reached the pool. I was stooping, in the act of filling the bucket, when I paused, arrested by a sudden, vague indefinable sound that puzzled me to account for and set me idly speculating whence it came and what it might be; so I filled the bucket and then, all in a moment, though why I cannot explain, puzzlement changed to swift and sudden dread and, dropping the bucket, I began to run, and with every stride my alarm grew, and to this was added horror and a great passion of rage. Panting, I reached the dingle at last to behold Diana struggling in the arms of a man, and he that same fine gentleman who had accosted her at "The Chequers." They were swaying together close-grappled, her knife-hand gripped in his sinewy fingers, his evil face smiling down into hers; and I burned with wilder fury to see her tumbled hair against his coat and her garment wrenched from throat and white shoulder.
Then as I sprang, with no eyes but for this man, a masterful hand gripped me, a commanding voice spoke in my ear.
"Back—stand back, boy!"
Turning to free myself, I beheld the Earl of Wyvelstoke, but now in his look and bearing was that which halted me in awed amaze.
"Devereux!" said he, not loudly but in voice so terrible that the man started and, loosing Diana, sprang back to glare at the speaker, heedless of Diana's blazing fury and threatening knife. "Stop, Diana!" commanded the Earl. "Come here and leave this unhanged ruffian to me—come, I say!" Humbly she obeyed, shrinking a little beneath his lordship's eyes, to creep into the clasp of my arm.
And so they faced each other, the stranger pale and coldly self-possessed, the Earl, his slender figure erect, one hand in the bosom of his shabby coat, his countenance placid, though frowning a little, but in his eyes a glare to daunt the boldest.
"Devereux!" he repeated in the same leisured, even tone. "Murderer—ravisher, I followed you, and by God you have betrayed yourself!"
"Ancient dotard!" smiled the other. "You babble like the poor, doddering imbecile you appear—my name is Haredale!"
"Liar!" said the Earl, softly. "I never forget faces, good or evil, hence I know you for the loathsome vermin, the obscene and unnameable thing you are!"
The stranger's pale face grew dreadfully suffused, his lips curled from gnashing teeth and, snatching up the heavy riding-whip that lay at his feet, he strode towards his lordship.
A deafening report—a gush of smoke, and the oncoming figure stumbled, checked uncertainly and stood swaying, right arm dangling helplessly, and I saw blood welling through the sleeve of his fine coat and dribbling from his finger ends; but he stood heedless of the wound, his burning gaze fixed upon the grim and silent figure before him. Once it seemed he strove to speak but no words came, and slowly he reached a fumbling hand to clasp uncertain fingers above the gushing wound.
Slipping from my hold, Diana took a step towards him, but his lordship's voice stopped her.
"Leave him, girl! Touch him not—do not sully your maidenhood with thing so vile. Let him crawl hence as best he may. Begone, beastly villain!" he commanded, with imperious gesture of the smoking pistol, "and be sufficiently thankful that my bullet sought your dastardly arm and not your pitiless black heart! Go, and instantly, lest I be tempted to change my mind and rid the world of thing so evil!"
Speechlessly the stranger turned, hand clasped above his hurt to stay the effusion of blood, and lurched and stumbled from our sight.
"Sir—O sir," I stammered, "who—what is that man?"
"A creature so unutterably evil, Peregrine, that only music could adequately describe him. He is one who should be dead years ago and consequently I am somewhat perturbed that I did not slay him outright instead of merely breaking his arm. It was a mistake, I fear, yes, a grave omission, yet there may offer another opportunity, who knows? Pray God his black shadow may never again darken your path, Peregrine, nor sully your sweet purity, my goddess of the woods. Forget him, my children. See, I have come to renew my youth with you, to talk and eat with you here amid God's good, green things, if I may.
"Yonder comes the excellent Atkinson with the tea equipage. Will you be my hostess, Diana?"
"Old pal—dear," she answered a little tremulously, "I'd just love to."
"Why, child," said the Earl, while I assisted the grave and decorous Atkinson to unpack the various dainties and comestibles, "why, child, how beautiful your hair is!" and lifting a silky tress in gentle, reverent fingers, our Ancient Person kissed it with stately gallantry.
TELLS HOW I MET ANTHONY AGAIN
"What with banns and certif'cates and this and that and t'other, they don't make it very easy for people to get married, do they, Peregrine?"
"No!" I answered.
We were jolting Tonbridge-wards in the Tinker's cart; the afternoon was very hot, and Diogenes, hearing the murmur of our voices, subsided to a leisured amble like the knowing, four-footed philosopher he was.
"Seven pounds seems a lot to pay for just one gown—even if it is to marry you in, doesn't it, Peregrine?"
"In three weeks!" I added.
"And four days!" she nodded.
"Twenty-five days—it's an age, Diana! Much may happen in such a time—"
"It will, Peregrine!"
"Lots of things, banns and certif-icates and—my new dress as will cost so much—"
"Seven pounds is ridiculously cheap, you dear child! And talking of banns, it may seem strange, Diana, that I have never troubled to enquire your surname, nor should I bother you now but that the parson must know—"
"Well, it's not so very strange that I've never bothered to tell you my name, Peregrine, because I don't know it. Old Azor often told me I had no name, but the Folk I lived with, theirs was Lovel—that'll do, won't it?"
"Of course! Goddesses don't need surnames."
"Will you still think me a goddess when we're married, Peregrine?"
"No, as something infinitely dearer and more precious."
"My wife! It—it sounds strange on my lips, doesn't it?"
"I love the way you say it!" sighed Diana, and with such a look in her eyes that I clasped her to me and she, all unresisting, gave up her lips to mine. So, for a space, we forgot all but ourselves and I grew blind to all but her beauty, deaf to all but her voice.
"O Peregrine!" she sighed. "O Peregrine, I never thought love could be so—wonderful!"
"In three weeks you will be mine utterly, Diana—in three weeks!"
"I am now, Peregrine. I could never love—never, never marry any one but you. I never meant to marry because I never thought I could love any man—but now—O Peregrine!"
"Dear," said I, "if—if anything should happen to separate us, could you—would you always love me?"
"Always, Peregrine, always and for ever. Hark, there is some one coming."
Faint and far rose the sound of hoofs and, glancing up, I espied the distant forms of two equestrians and also observed that the perspicacious Diogenes, quick to heed and take advantage of our lapse, had halted to crop and nibble busily in the shade of a great tree that stretched one mighty branch protectingly above us.
"People are coming, Peregrine."
"I know, but they are still very far off; besides we are in the shade—kiss me again, Diana."
The advancing hoofs sounded nearer and presently, obedient to the rein, Diogenes ambled on again; and now I saw that the approaching riders were a lady and gentleman and mounted on spirited animals for, as they drew nearer, it seemed to me that the lady had much difficulty in managing her fiery steed.
Now between us and these riders was another tall tree that cast a jagged shadow athwart the white road, noting which, I kept my gaze on the lady's mount somewhat anxiously.
My apprehensions were suddenly realised for, reaching this patch of shadow, the lady's horse shied, swerved suddenly, and hurled his rider into the ditch.
Diana cracked the whip and Diogenes broke into a gallop, but long before we had come up with them, the gentleman was off his horse, had lifted the swooning woman in his arms, and was pouring out a breathless farrago of endearments and prayers with curses upon himself, his helplessness and the jibbing horse.
"Barbara, dear love—oh, damnation and the devil, what shall I do—Barbara, are you much hurt, dearest—the accursed brute—a thousand curses—look at me, beloved, speak—O God have mercy on her!"
Now glancing at the beautiful, pale face of this swooning girl, I started, and looking from her to the athletic form and handsome features of this distracted youth who clasped her, I caught my breath; and then Diana had leapt from the cart and, pushing aside this miserable, helping being, had busied herself to recover the unconscious girl in her own quick, capable fashion.
"A woman!" gasped the gentleman. "O God bless you—thank heaven! Say she isn't dead—you'll want water—not a drop for miles, dammit—brandy—not a spot—oh, curse and confound it—say she isn't dead!"
"She's not!" said Diana briefly.
"God bless you again! Tell me what to do?"
"Go away and leave her to me."
"But how can I leave her?"
"I must loose her stays—you'll find a brook t' other side the hedge—in your hat!"
Scarcely were the words uttered than the gentleman was over the hedge and as quickly back again, slopping water right and left from his modish, curly-brimmed hat in his frantic haste; this he set down at Diana's command and, turning away, began to stride up and down, muttering agitated anathemas upon himself and scowling ferociously at the two horses, which I had taken the opportunity to hitch to an adjacent gatepost.
At last in his restless tramping he seemed to become aware of me where I sat, for I had climbed back into the cart, and he now addressed me, though with his anxious gaze bent towards the unconscious form of his companion.
"Good God, man—this is pure damnation! If you can't do anything, since I can't do anything, can't you suggest something I can do?"
"Only that you strive for a little patience, sir."
At this he turned to stare at me, then his grey eyes widened suddenly, and he leapt at me with both hands outstretched.
"Vereker!" he cried. "Peregrine—Perry, by all that's wonderful."
"Anthony!" said I, as our hands gripped.
"Peregrine—O Perry, we—we were married—not an hour ago—Barbara and I—and now—"
"Look!" said I and nodded where Barbara sat, her pale check pillowed on Diana's bosom.
"Anthony!" she called softly. And then he was beside her on his knees, his head down-bent, her arm about his neck.
"Perry!" he called suddenly. "Come here, man, come here! Sure you haven't forgot the angel who stooped to a miserable dog, who trusted a desperate-seeming rogue and lifted him back to manhood and self-respect—you remember my Barbara? And you, dearest, recall my friend Peregrine—the gentle, immaculate youth who was willing to trust and bestow his friendship upon the same miserable dog and desperate rogue—aye, and fed him into the bargain—"
"How should I ever forget?" said Barbara. "Indeed, Mr. Vereker, we have talked of you often—though always as 'Peregrine'—"
"Mrs. Vere-Manville," I began.
"It was Barbara at the 'Jolly Waggoner'!" she reminded me, smiling and nestling closer into her husband's encircling arm.
"Barbara—Anthony," said I, "it is my happy privilege to introduce Diana—Miss Lovel—who is to honour me by becoming my wife shortly—"
Anthony bowed to Diana, laughed, and drew his wife a little closer all in the same moment, it seemed; then Barbara turned to look into the vivid, dark beauty of Diana's down-bent face where she knelt, and for a long moment eyes of blue stared up into eyes of grey, a long, questioning look.
"May I kiss you?" said Barbara at last.
Swiftly, almost eagerly, Diana leaned forward, then hesitated, drew away, and glanced swiftly upon each of us in turn with a troubled look.
"Lady," said she in her rich, soft voice, and speaking with careful deliberation, "Peregrine has not told you—all. Please look at me—my dress—"
"Very pretty, I think, and quaint—like a gipsy's—"
"I am a gipsy, lady—one Peregrine met by the roadside! 'T is best you should know this—first—before—before—"
The soft, sweet voice faltered and stopped and there fell a silence, a long, tense moment wherein I held my breath, I think, and was conscious of the heavy beating of my heart, but with every throb I loved and honoured Diana the more. Slowly and gently Barbara loosed her husband's clasping arm and rose to her knees.
"Now—I must kiss you, Diana!" she said.
"O lady!" sighed Diana.
"Barbara, my dear! Barbara ever and always!"
"Barbara!" murmured Diana. And then they were in each other's arms and Anthony was on his feet and tucking his arm in mine led me where the horses stood tethered, with such disconnected mutterings as:
"Come away, Perry—true blue, 'egad—leave 'em together—angels of heaven both—too good for me—or even you—not a doubt of it—"
"Agreed!" quoth I.
"Peregrine," said he, pausing suddenly to grasp me by the shoulders in his well-remembered way, "O Peregrine, she is the loveliest, sweetest, tenderest creature that ever made a man wish himself better—"
"Anthony," quoth I, "she is the bravest, noblest, purest maid that ever taught a man to be better!"
"She is, Peregrine!"
"They are, Anthony!"
"For one frightful moment I thought she—was killed, Perry!"
"But God is good and—Diana was there, Anthony."
"A wonderful creature, your Diana, Perry, as capable as she is handsome!"
"She is beyond all description, Anthony!"
"Yes, I can find no word for Barbara, damme!"
Now as he looked down on me, his handsome face radiant, his powerful form set off by the most elegant attire, I could not but contrast him with the forlorn, down-at-heels outcast he had been.
"It seems I have much to congratulate you upon," said I.
"God, yes, Peregrine! And I owe you a guinea—here it is! My curmudgeonly uncle (Heaven rest him!) had the kindness to choke himself to death in a fit of passion. And to-day, Perry, to-day—we gave 'the Gorgon' the slip (Barbara's aunt)—got married and are now on our way to outface her father—a regular Tartar by all accounts—and there's the situation in a word."