"I told you how it would be," says Kit, in a nervous whisper, taking almost a bit out of poor Monica's arm in her excitement. "Oh, when I have a lover I hope he will be like he."
Her grammar has gone after her nerve.
Monica is silent: some color has gone from her cheeks, and her heart is beating faster. It is her very first affaire, so we must forgive her: a little frightened shadow has fallen into her eyes, and altogether she looks a shade younger than usual: she is troubled in spirit, and inclined to find fault with the general management of things.
After all, she might as well have gone to the river this evening for what good her abstinence has done her: the poverty of our strength to conquer faith and the immutability of its decrees fills her with consternation and a fretful desire for freedom. Yet above and beyond all these vain imaginings is a gladness and a pride that her power is strong enough to draw her lover to her side in spite of all difficulties.
The bareheaded young man has come up to her by this time, and is holding out his hand: silently she lays her own in it, and colors treacherously as his fingers close on hers in a close, tender, and possessive fashion.
"I found the river too chilly," he says, smiling, "so I came on here. Having been unsuccessful all the afternoon and morning, I knew I should find you now."
This might be hieroglyphics to others, but is certainly English to her, however she may pretend otherwise; she doesn't pretend much, to do her justice.
"This is your sister?" goes on Desmond, looking at Kit, who is regarding him with an eye that is quite a "piercer."
"Yes," says Monica. "Kit, this is Mr. Desmond."
"I know that," says this enfant terrible, still fixing him with a glance of calm and searching scrutiny that is well calculated to disconcert even a bolder man. Then all at once her mind seems made up, and, coming forward, she holds out her hand, and says, "How d'ye do?" to him, with a sudden, rare sweet smile that convinces him at once of her sisterhood to Monica.
"We are friends?" he says, being attracted to the child for her own grace alone, as well as for the charm of her relationship to the pale snowdrop of a girl beside her.
"Yes. If you prove true to my Monica."
"Oh, Kit!" says Monica, deeply shocked; but Kit pays no heed, her eyes being fastened gravely upon the man before her. He is quite as grave as she is.
"If our friendship depends upon that, it will be a lasting one," he says, quietly. "My whole life is at your sister's service."
Something in his tones touches Monica: slowly she lifts her eyes until they reach his.
"I wish, I wish you would not persist in this," she says, sadly.
"But why? To think of you is my chiefest joy. Do you forbid me to be happy?"
"In the morning and the afternoon I went to the river, to look for you—in vain; after dinner I went too, still hoping against hope; and now at last that I have found you, you are unkind to me!" He speaks lightly, but his eyes are earnest. "Miss Katherine," he says appealingly to Kit, "of your grace, I pray you to befriend me."
"Monica would not go to the river this evening because she remembered an absurd promise she made to Aunt Priscilla, and because she feared to meet you there. It is the most absurd promise in the world: wait till you hear it." Whereupon Kit, who is in her element, proceeds to tell him all about Miss Priscilla's words to Monica, and Monica's answer, and her (Kit's) interpretation thereof. "She certainly didn't promise never to speak to you again," concludes she, with a nod Solomon might have envied.
Need it be said that Mr. Desmond agrees with her on all points?
"There is no use in continuing the discussion," says Monica, turning aside a little coldly. "I should not have gone to the river, anyway."
This chilling remark produces a blank indescribable, and conversation languishes: Monica betrays an interest in the horizon never before developed; Mr. Desmond regards with a moody glance the ripening harvest; and Kit, looking inward, surveys her mental resources and wonders what it is her duty to do next.
"For aught that ever I could read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth."
This much she knows; and to any one blessed with a vision sharp as hers it is very apparent now that there is a roughness somewhere. She knows too, through many works of fiction, that those in attendance on loving couples should at certain seasons see cause to absent themselves from their duty, and search for a supposititious handkerchief or sprain an unoffending ankle, or hunt diligently in hedgerows for undiscoverable flowers. Three paths therefore lie open to her; which to adopt is the question. To return to the house for a handkerchief would be a decidedly risky affair, calculated to lead up to stiff and damning cross-examination from the aunts, which might prove painful; to sprain an ankle might prove even painfuller; but to dive into the innocent hedgerow for the extraction of summer flowers, what can be more effectual and reasonable? she will do it at once.
"Oh, what lovely dog-roses!" she says, effusively, in a tone that wouldn't have deceived a baby; "I really must get some."
"Let me get them for you," says Desmond, gloomily, which she at once decides is excessively stupid of him, and she doing all she can for him too! She tries to wither him with a glance, but he is too miserable to be lightly crushed.
"No, thank you," she says; "I prefer getting them myself. Flowers are like fruit, much more enjoyable when you pick them with your own hands."
So saying, this accomplished gooseberry skips round the corner, leaving Monica and Mr. Desmond tete-a-tete.
That they enjoy their sudden isolation just at first is questionable: Monica discovers blots on the perfect horizon; and Mr. Desmond, after a full minute's pause, says, reproachfully,—
"You didn't really mean that, did you?"
"Mean what?" uncompromisingly, and without changing position.
"That even if matters had been quite—quite comfortable with us, you would not have gone to meet me at the river?"
"I don't know," in a low tone.
"Say you didn't mean it."
"I—suppose I didn't," even lower.
"Look at me, then," says Mr. Desmond.
Kit, in her high, sweet voice, is warbling that little, pretty thing about a "lover and his lass," in the next field. The words of her song, and its silly refrain of
"A hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,"
come to them across the corn and scented meadow. Monica, with her hand in his, smiles faintly.
"You hear what she sings,—'that life is but a flower:' is it wise, then, to set your heart upon——"
"I meant, an impossibility."
"Which you are not. You shall not be. I don't believe in impossibilities, to begin with; and, even if it were so, I should still prefer to be unwise."
"You are defiant," she says, lightly; but her smile is still very sad.
"I have hope. 'Affection's ground is beyond time, place, and all mortality,' as we read. I shall conquer yet; yes, even your prejudices. In the mean time, give me fair play; do not harden your heart against me."
"I wish mine was the only hard heart you had to contend against," returns she, with a faint sigh. But this remark seems to drop so carelessly from her lips that, though elated by it, he is afraid to take any open notice of it.
"I hope your aunts were not cross to you last evening on my account?" he says, anxiously.
"No. Nothing was said, more than Kit told you, except that Aunt Priscilla touched upon the point of introduction. Oh, what a fright I got then! If she had persisted in her inquiries, what would have become of me?"
"Couldn't you have——" began Mr. Desmond, and then stops abruptly. A glance at the face uplifted to his checks his half-uttered speech effectually, and renders him, besides, thoroughly ashamed of himself.
"If I had to confess there had been no introduction," goes on Monica, laughingly, "I don't know what would have been the result."
"The deluge, I suppose," returns her companion thoughtfully.
"What a pity you have an uncle at all!" says Monica, presently. "It would be all right only for him." She omits to say what would be all right, but the translation is simple.
"Oh, don't say that," entreats Desmond, who has a wholesome affection for the old gentleman above at Coole. "He is the kindest old fellow in the world. I think, if you knew him, you would be very fond of him; and I know he would adore you. In fact, he is so kind-hearted that I cannot think how all that unfortunate story about your mother ever came about. He looks to me as if he couldn't say 'Bo to a goose' where a woman was concerned and yet his manner to-night confirmed everything I heard."
"He confessed?" in a deeply interested tone.
"Well just the same thing. He seemed distressed about his own conduct in the affair, too. But his manner was odd, I thought: and he seems as much at daggers drawn with your aunts as they with him."
"That is because he is ashamed of himself. One is always hardest on those one has injured."
"But that is just it," says Mr. Desmond, in a puzzled tone. "I don't believe, honestly, he is a bit ashamed of himself. He said a good deal about his regret, but I could see he quite gloried in his crime. And, in fact, I couldn't discover the smallest trace of remorse about him."
"He must really be a very bad old man," says Monica, severely. "I am perfectly certain if he were my uncle I should not love him at all."
"Don't say that. When he is your uncle you will see that I am right, and that he is a very lovable old man, in spite of all his faults."
At this Monica blushes a little, and twirls her rings round her slender fingers in an excess of shyness, and finally, in spite of a stern pressure laid upon herself, gives way to mirth.
"What are you laughing at now?" asks he laughing too.
"At you," casting a swift but charming glance at him from under her long lashes. "You do say such funny things!"
"Did you hear there is to be an afternoon dance at the Barracks next week?" asks he presently. "I was at Clonbree on Thursday, and Cobbett told me about it."
"Who is Cobbett?"
"The captain there, you know. He was at Aghyohillbeg yesterday. Didn't you see him,—a little, half-starved looking man, with a skin the color of his hair, and both gray?"
"Oh, of course—now I remember him," says Monica, this fetching description having cleared her memory. "I thought to myself how odd he and the other man, Mr. Ryde, looked together, one as big as the other was little."
"I think there is more matter than brains about Ryde," says Desmond, contemptuously. "Do you think your aunt will let you go to this dance at Clonbree?"
"Oh, no; I am sure not. My aunts would be certain to look upon a dance in the Barracks as something too awfully dissipated."
"For one reason I should be glad you didn't go."
"Glad?" opening her eyes.
"Yes. That fellow Ryde never took his eyes off you yesterday."
"Is that a crime?"
"In my eyes, yes."
"And you would wish me to be kept a prisoner at home just because one man looked at me?"
"I don't want any one to look at you but me!" Then he comes a little closer to her and compels her, by the very strength of his regard, to let her eyes meet his. "Do you like Ryde?" he asks, somewhat imperiously. "Monica, answer me."
It is the second time he has called her by her Christian name, and a startled expression passes over her face.
"Well, he was nice to me," she says, with a studied hesitation that belongs to the first bit of coquetry she has ever practised in her life. She has tasted the sweetness of power, and, fresh as her knowledge is she estimates the advantage of it to a nicety.
"I believe a man has only to be six feet one to have every woman in the world in love with him," says Desmond, wrathfully, who is only five feet eleven.
"I am not exactly in love with Mr. Ryde," says Monica, sweetly, with averted face and a coy air, assumed for her companion's discomfiture; "but——"
"But, I was going to say, there is nothing remarkable in that, as I am not in love with any one, and hope I never shall be. I wonder where Kit can have gone to: will you get up there, Mr. Desmond, and look?" Breaking off a tiny blade of grass from the bank near her, she puts it between her pretty teeth, and slowly nibbles it with an air of utter indifference to all the world that drives Mr. Desmond nearly out of his wits.
Disdaining to take any heed of her "notice to quit," and quite determined to know the worst, he says, defiantly,—
"If you do go to this dance, may I consider myself engaged to you for the first waltz?" There is quite a frown upon his face as he says this; but it hasn't the faintest effect upon Monica. She is not at all impressed, and is, in fact enjoying herself immensely.
"If I go, which is more than improbable, I shall certainly not dance with you at all," she says, calmly, "because Aunt Priscilla will be there too, and she would not hear of my doing even a mild quadrille with a Desmond."
"I see," with a melancholy assumption of composure. "All your dances, then, are to be reserved for Ryde."
"If Mr. Ryde asks me to dance, of course I shall not refuse."
"You mean to tell me"—even the poor assumption is now gone—"that you are going to give him all and me none?"
"I shall not give any one all: how can you talk like that? But I cannot defy Aunt Priscilla. It is very unkind of you to desire it. I suppose you think I should enjoy being tormented from morning till night all about you?"
"Certainly not. I don't want you to be tormented on any account, and, above all on mine," very stiffly. "To prevent anything of the kind, I shall not go to Cobbett's dance."
"If you choose to get into a bad temper I can't help you."
"I am not in a bad temper, and even if I were I have cause. But it is not temper will prevent my going to the Barracks."
"Why should I go there to be made miserable? You can go and dance with Ryde to your heart's content, but I shall spare myself the pain of seeing you. Did you say you wanted your sister? Shall I call her now? I am sure you must want to go home."
"I don't," she says, unexpectedly; and then a little smile of conscious triumph wreathes her lips as she looks at him, standing moody and dejected before her. A word from her will transform him; and now, the day being all her own, she can afford to be generous. Even the very best of women can be cruel to their lovers.
"I don't," she says, "not yet. There is something I want to ask you first," she pauses in a tantalizing fashion, and glances from the grass she is still holding to him, and from him back to the grass again, before she speaks. "It is a question," she says then, as though reluctantly, "but you look so angry with me that I am afraid to ask it." This is the rankest hypocrisy, as he is as wax in her hands at this moment; but, though he knows it, he gives in to the sweetness of her manner, and lets his face clear.
"Ask me anything you like," he says, turning upon her now a countenance "more in sorrow than in anger."
"It isn't much," said Miss Beresford, sweetly, "only—what is your Christian name? I have been so longing to know. It is very unpleasant to be obliged to think of people by their surnames, is it not? so unfriendly!"
He is quite staggered by the excess of her geniality.
"My name is Brian," he says, devoutly hoping she will not think it hideous and so see cause to pass judgment upon it.
"Brian!" going nearer to him with half-shy eyes, and a little riante mouth that with difficulty suppresses its laughter. "How pretty! Brian," purposely lingering over it, "with an 'i' of course?"
"I'm so glad I know yours now!" says this disgraceful little coquette, with a sigh of pretended relief. "You knew mine, and that wasn't fair, you know. Besides,"—with a rapid glance that might have melted an anchorite and delivered him from the error of his ways,—"besides, I may want to call you by it some day, and then I should be at a loss."
Though by no means proof against so much friendliness, Mr. Desmond still continues to maintain an injured demeanor. Monica lays one little hand lightly on his arm.
"Won't you ask me to call you by it?" she says, with the prettiest reproach.
"Oh, Monica," says the young man, seizing her hand and pressing it against his heart, "you know your power; be merciful. Darling," drawing her still nearer to him, "I don't think you quite understand how it is with me; but, indeed, I love you with all my heart and soul."
"But in such a little time, how can it be true?" says Monica, all her gayety turning into serious wonderment.
"'Love is a thing as any spirit free,'" quotes he, tenderly. "How shall one know when the god may come? It has nothing to do with time. I have seen you,—it little matters how often,—and now I love you. Dear heart, try to love me."
There is something in his manner both gentle and earnest. Impressed by it, she whispers softly,—
"I will try."
"And you will call me Brian?"
"Oh, no!—no, indeed!—not yet," entreats she, stepping back from him as far as he will allow her.
"Very well, not yet."
"And you will go to the Barracks for this dance?"
"I will do anything on earth you ask me. You know that too well, I fear, for my peace of mind."
"And you won't be angry with me if I don't dance with you there?"
"No. I promise that, too. Ah! here is Miss Kit coming,—and without the roses,—after all."
It is true she has no roses; she has, indeed, forgotten she even pretended to want them, and has been happy while away with her song and her own thoughts.
"I think, Monica, we ought, perhaps, to be thinking of coming home," she says, apologetically, yet with quite a motherly air. Has she not been mounting guard over and humoring these two giddy young people before her?
"Yes, I think so too;" and the goodness of Kit, and something else, strike her.
"If we are asked to this dance at Clonbree, and if we go, I should like Kit to go too," she says in a soft aside to Desmond, who says, "That is all right: I settled it with Cobbett yesterday," in the same tone; and then a little more energetically, as he sees the moments flying, he goes on, "Before you go, say one thing after me. It will be a small consolation until I see you again. Say, 'Brian, good-by.'"
"Good-by, Brian," she whispers, shyly, and then she draws her hand out of his, and, turning to the studiously inattentive Kit, passes her arm through hers.
"Good-by, Mr. Desmond! I trust we may soon meet again," says the younger Miss Beresford, with rather a grand air, smiling upon him patronizingly.
"I hope so too," says Desmond, gravely, "and that next time you will graciously accord me a little more of your society."
Quite pleased with this delicate protest against her lengthened absence, Kit bows politely, and she and Monica take their homeward way.
Once Monica turns, to wave him a friendly adieu, and he can see again her soft, bare arms, her pretty baby-neck in her white dinner-gown, and her lovely, earnest eyes. Then she is gone, and her passing seems to him "like the ceasing of exquisite music," and nothing is left to him but the wailing of the rising night-wind, and the memory of a perfect girl-face that he knows will haunt him till he dies.
How Terry is put in the Dock—And how the two Misses Blake baffle expectation, and show themselves in their true colors.
Monica and Kit reach the house in breathless haste. It is far later than they imagined when lingering in happy dalliance in the flower-crowned field below, and yet not really late for a sultry summer evening. But the Misses Blake are fearful of colds, and expect all the household to be in at stated hours; and the Misses Beresford are fearful of scoldings, carrying, as they do, guilty hearts within their bosoms.
"Conscience makes cowards of us all;" and the late secret interview with Brian Desmond has lowered the tone of their courage to such an extent that they scarcely dare to breathe as they creep into their aunts' presence.
The lamps are lighting in the drawing-room as they enter, though the windows are open, and Dies pater, the all-great, is still victorious over Nox. The Misses Blake both start and look up as they come in, and show general symptoms of relief which is not reciprocated by the culprits. Mrs. Mitchell, the nurse, who has followed almost on their heels, stands in the doorway, with bayonets fixed, so to speak, seeing there is every chance of an engagement. It may be as well to remark here that Mitchell has not "got on" with the Misses Blake, having rooted opinions of her own not to be lightly laid aside. The Misses Blake's opinions have also a home in very deep soil, so that the "give-and-take" principle is not in force between them and the foreign nurse, as they term Jane Mitchell, though she was bred and born on Devonshire soil.
"Mitchell," say the Misses Blake in confidence to each other, "is not altogether what one would desire in a servant assigned to the care of children. She is not nice in many ways; there is far too much of the fine lady about her," etc.
"H'elderly ladies as 'asn't been to the h'altar," says Mrs. Mitchell in confidence to cook, "can't be supposed to know what is right and proper for motherless lambs." And so the war rages.
Just now Mrs. Mitchell is plainly on the defensive, and eyes her baby—as she still calls Kit (having nursed her)—with all the air of one prepared to rush in and rescue her by bodily force, should the worst come to the worst.
"My dear Monica, what a late hour to be abroad!" says Miss Priscilla, reproachfully. "The dew falling, too, which is most unwholesome. For you, Kit, a mere child, it is really destruction. Nurse, as you are there," regarding the bony Mitchell with distrust and disfavor, "I think it as well to let you know I do not think this is a proper time for Miss Katherine to be in the open air. It is far too late."
"It isn't late, miss. It is only nine o'clock."
"Nine o'clock! What is the woman thinking about? Nine! why, that means night?"
"Not at this time of the year, miss."
"At any time of year. With all the experience you say you have had, I wonder you do not consider it a most injurious hour for a child of Miss Katherine's age to be out of doors."
"I don't hold with making a child puny, miss. Coddling up, and that sort, only leads to consumptions and assmas, in my humble opingion."
"I must request that for the future you will show deference to our opinion, nurse; which is directly opposed to yours," says Miss Priscilla, straightening herself.
"I suppose I can manage my own young lady, miss," says Mitchell, undaunted, and now, indeed, thoroughly braced for conflict.
"I have grave doubts about that, Mitchell, and at least you should not answer me in this wise."
"If I brought my young lady safely all the way from Jerusalem, miss, I suppose I can take care of her 'ere."
"Her ear?" questions Miss Priscilla, not meaning to be rude at all.
"She means here," says Miss Penelope, in a stage whisper.
"Oh!" says Miss Priscilla, rather shocked at her mistake, which has been accepted by Mitchell as a deliberate insult. "Katherine, go upstairs with Mitchell, and change your shoes and stockings; they must be damp."
"I don't consider Mitchell at all a nice person," says Miss Priscilla, when the door had closed upon that veteran; "but still I hope I did not offend her with that last thoughtless slip of mine. But really, over here in Ireland, we are not accustomed to the extraordinary language in which Mitchell indulges at times. She seems to me to be saving up her aspirates for a hypothetical dearth of that article in the future."
Miss Priscilla is so pleased with this long word that she quite recovers her temper.
"Certainly, from Jerusalem is a long way to bring a child," says Miss Penelope, thoughtfully; and, indeed, this journey from Palestine has been, and probably always will be, Mrs. Mitchell's trump card when disputing with the mistresses of Moyne.
Miss Priscilla has walked to the window, and is now gazing in thoughtful fashion over the fast darkening landscape. Perhaps her mind is travelling that long journey to Palestine, perhaps it is still occupied with the inimical Mitchell; be that as it may, she keeps her senses well about her, and a keen eye behind her spectacles, because presently she says aloud, in a tone calculated to attract attention,—
"What is that in the meadow, creeping along beneath the ha-ha, Katherine?"—Kit has returned with dry shoes and stockings;—"come here, your eyes are sharper than mine!" which is a distinct libel upon her own orbs.
"Where?" says Kit, recognizing the crouching form of Terry with a pang of terror. Is she to be compelled to inform upon her own brother? Perish the thought!
"Over there," says Miss Priscilla, in an awful tone, pointing to where the luckless Terence is crawling home in the fond belief that he is defying all detection; whereupon Kit, with much presence of mind, looks scrutinizingly in just the opposite direction. "It is somebody carrying a gun. Good gracious! it is remarkably like Terence!"
At this Monica starts perceptibly, and lets the book she is holding fall heavily to the ground.
"Perhaps it is a poacher," says Kit, brightly, her general reading being deeply imbued with those characters.
"Perhaps," says Miss Priscilla, grimly. "Yet I feel sure it is your brother!" Then she throws wide the sash, and calls aloud to the culprit,—
"Terence! Terence, come here!"
At this, Mr. Beresford loses his presence of mind, and stands bolt upright, gun in hand: the words have come to him distinctly across the soft green grass, and fallen upon his ears with dismal distinctness. Throwing up the sponge, he shoulders the offending weapon and marches upon the foe with head erect and banners flying. Even if death is before him (meaning the confiscation of the gun), he vows to himself he will still die game.
"Really, it is Terence," says Miss Penelope, as he approaches; "but where can he have got the gun?"
"I know!" says Miss Priscilla, whereupon Monica feels positively faint.
Feeling she is growing very pale, she rises hurriedly from her seat, and, going to the lower window, so stands that her face cannot be seen.
If Terence is cross-examined, will he tell a lie about the obtaining of the gun? And if he does not, what will happen? what dreadful things will not be said and done by Aunt Priscilla? Her breath comes quickly, and with horror she finds herself devoutly hoping that Terence on this occasion will tell a lie.
By this time Terence has mounted the balcony, and is standing in a somewhat defiant attitude before his inquisitors.
"Where have you been, Terence?" began Miss Priscilla.
"And where did you get the gun, Terence?"
"You certainly had no gun yesterday, and none this morning, as far as I can judge. Now we want the truth from you, Terence, but we do not wish to coerce you. Take time, and give us an answer your heart can approve."
Such an answer is evidently difficult to be procured at a moment's notice, because Terence is still dumb.
"I am afraid your nature is not wholly free from deceit, Terence," says Miss Priscilla, sadly. "This hesitation on your part speaks volumes; and such unnecessary deceit, too. Neither your aunt Penelope nor I have any objection to your borrowing a gun if you find such a dangerous weapon needful to your happiness. But why not confide in us?"
"Is it possible she would not be really angry if she knew?" thinks Monica, breathlessly. I regret to say that both Kit and Terence take another view of Miss Blake's speech, and believe it an artful dodge to extract confession.
"I—" says Terence, to gain time, and because speech of some kind at this moment is absolutely necessary—"I didn't think——"
"Of course you didn't think, Terence, or you would not have recorded your poor aunts, in your secret thoughts, as hard-hearted and ungenerous. If you had told us openly that Mitson, the coast-guard, had lent you a gun (as I strongly suspect, and indeed felt sure from the first moment was the case), we should not have been at all angry, only naturally anxious that you should use an instrument of death with caution. But you have no confidence in us, Terence."
Intense relief fills the breasts of the three Beresfords. Remorse that the trusting nature of the old ladies should be so abused touches Monica keenly, but of the other two I must again declare with grief that they feel nothing but a sense of delivery from peril, and no contrition at all for their past suspicions.
"I thought you might be angry, aunt," says Terence. He is looking very dirty indeed, and his hands are grimy, and altogether even Monica cannot bring herself to feel proud of him. There is, too, a covert desire for laughter about him that exasperates her terribly.
"Not angry, my dear; only nervous. I hope you know how to load, and that. I remember a cousin of ours blowing off his first finger and thumb with a powder-horn."
"This is a breech-loader, auntie," says Monica, softly.
"Eh? One of those new-fangled things I have read of. Oh, well, my dear boy, I daresay there is more need for circumspection. Let me look at it. Ah! very handsome, indeed! I had no idea coast-guards were so well supplied; and yet I cling to the old guns that your grandfather used to use."
"Did you shoot anything?" asks Miss Penelope, who has grown quite interested, and regards Terence with a glance of pride.
"Only one thrush," says Terence, drawing the dilapidated corpse from his pocket, "and a sparrow, and one rabbit I fired at and wounded mortally, I know, but it got away into its hole and I lost it."
"Rabbits!" says Miss Priscilla. "Am I to understand—nay, I hope I am not to understand—that you crossed the stile into Coole?"
"There are plenty of rabbits in our own wood," says Terence; "more than I could shoot. I am glad you don't object to my having the gun, auntie."
"I don't, my dear; but I wish you had been more ingenuous with us. Why now, Terence, why do you steal along a field with your back bent as though desirous of avoiding our observation, and with your gun under your coat, as if there was a policeman or a bailiff after you?"
"I was only trying to steal upon a crow, aunt."
"Well, that may be, my dear, but there are ways of doing things. And why put your gun under your coat? I can't think such a fraudulent proceeding necessary even with a crow. Now look here, Terence," illustrating his walk and surreptitious manner of concealing his gun beneath his coat, "does this look nice?"
"If I do it like you, auntie, it looks very nice," says Terence, innocently, but with a malevolent intention.
"What a pity you missed the rabbit, Terry!" says Monica, hurriedly.
"Oh, he is dead now, I'm certain; but I should have liked to bring him home. His leg was broken, and I chased him right through the rushes down below in the furze brake at Coole."
It is too late to redeem his error. "Murder wol out, that see we day by day," says Chaucer, and now, indeed, all the fat is in the fire. The two old ladies draw back from him and turn mute eyes of grief upon each other, while Kit and Monica stare with heavy reproach upon their guilty brother.
The guilty brother returns their glance with interest, and then Miss Priscilla speaks.
"So you went into Coole, after all," she says. "Oh, Terence!"
"I couldn't help it," says Terence, wrathfully. "I wasn't going to let the rabbit go for the sake of a mere whim."
"A mere whim!" Words fail me to convey Miss Priscilla's indignation. "Are you destitute of heart, boy, that you talk thus lightly of a family insult? Oh! shame, shame!"
"I'm very sorry if I have made you unhappy," says Terence, who is really a very good boy and fond. "I didn't mean it, indeed."
But Miss Priscilla appears quite broken-hearted.
"To dream of bringing a rabbit of Coole into this house!" she says, with quite a catch in her voice that brings Miss Penelope into prominent play.
"If, when you came to the stile that leads into Moyne," she says, "you had said to yourself, 'My good aunt, who loves me so dearly, would not wish me to enter this forbidden land,' you would, I hope, have paused, and come back here. But you did not. You went recklessly on, and trod upon ground where your foot is unwelcome."
"Dear Aunt Penelope, do not talk like that," says Monica, entreatingly, slipping her arm around her.
"And this to his poor old aunts who love him so fondly!" says Miss Penelope, in so dismal a voice that the two Misses Blake break into sobs.
"It wouldn't seem so bad if he hadn't equivocated about it," says Miss Priscilla, presently. "But he purposely led us to believe that he had not set his foot on that detested land."
"He has indeed been much to blame," says Miss Penelope. "Terence, what was it it said about lying in the Bible this morning? I am afraid your chapter to-day—that awful chapter about Ananias and Sapphira—did you little good."
A growl from Terence.
"He will be more careful for the future, auntie," says Monica, interpreting the growl after her own gentle fashion. "And now you will forgive him, won't you? After all, any one, even you, might forget about forbidden lands, if you were racing after a rabbit."
The idea of the Misses Blake racing through rushes and gorse after a rabbit strikes Kit as so comical that she forgets everything, and laughs aloud. And then the Misses Blake, who are not altogether without a sense of fun, catching "the humor of it," laugh too, and, drying their eyes, give Terence to understand that he is forgiven.
Just at this moment the door is opened, and Timothy enters, bearing not only an air of mystery with him, but a large envelope.
"Why, what is this at this time of night?" says Miss Priscilla, who is plainly under the impression that, once the lamps are lighted, it is verging on midnight. She takes the envelope from Timothy, and gazes at the huge regimental crest upon it with a judicial expression.
"A sojer brought it, miss. Yes, indeed, ma'am. A-hossback he come, all the way from the Barracks at Clonbree."
Redcoats at Rossmoyne are a novelty, and are regarded by the peasantry with mixed feelings of admiration and contempt. I think the contempt is stronger with Timothy than the admiration.
"From the Barracks?" says Miss Priscilla, slowly, turning and twisting the letter between her fingers, while Monica's heart beats rapidly. It is, it must be the invitation; and what will be the result of it?
"Yes, indeed, miss. I asked him what brought him at this hour, ma'am; but he took me mighty short wid his answer, so I give up me questions."
Never having been able during fifty years to make up his mind whether his mistresses should be addressed as maidens or matrons, Timothy has compromised matters by putting a "miss" and a "ma'am" into every sentence he dedicates to them.
"Ah, an invitation from Captain Cobbett for Friday next—um—um—four to seven—um—um. All of us invited, even Kit," says Miss Priscilla, in a decidedly lively tone.
"Me! am I asked?" cries Kit, excitedly.
"Yes, indeed, you are specially mentioned. Very nice and attentive, I must say, of those young men, particularly when we have not shown them any kindness as yet. I thought that Mr. Ryde a very superior young fellow, with none of the discourteous antipathy to age that disfigures the manners of the youth of the present day. Penelope, my dear, perhaps you had better indite the answer to this. Yours is the pen of a ready writer."
"Very well," says Miss Penelope, rising slowly—Oh! so slowly! thinks Monica—and going towards the davenport.
"Is the soldier outside, Timothy?" asks Miss Priscilla.
"Yes, miss. He said he wanted a bit of writing from ye for the captain."
"It is a long ride. Take him downstairs, Timothy, and give him some beer, while Miss Penelope prepares a reply."
"Begging your pardon, miss, and with due respect to ye, ma'am, but he's that stiff in his manners, an' tight in his clothes, I doubt if he'd condescend to enter the kitchen."
"Timothy," says Miss Priscilla, with much displeasure, "you have been having hot words with this stranger. What is it all about?"
"There's times, miss, as we all knows, when a worm will turn, and though I'm not a worm, ma'am, no more am I a coward, an' a red coat don't cover more flesh than a black; an' I'm an ould man, Miss Priscilla, to be called a buffer!"
It is apparent to every one that Timothy is nearly in tears.
"A buffer?" repeats Miss Priscilla, with dignity blended with disgust: she treats the word cautiously, as one might something noxious. "What is a buffer?"
Nobody enlightens her: though perhaps Terence might, were he not busily engaged trying to suppress his laughter behind a huge Japanese fan.
"Perhaps, Timothy," says Miss Priscilla, gravely, "as we all seem in ignorance about the real meaning of this extraordinary word, you are wrong in condemning it as an insult. It may be—er—a term of endearment."
At this Terence chokes, then coughs solemnly, and finally, lowering the fan, shows himself preternaturally grave, as a set-off against all suspicions.
"I wouldn't pin my faith to that, miss, if I was you," says Ryan, respectfully, but with a touch of the fine irony which is bred and born with his class in Ireland.
"Well, but as we cannot explain this word, Timothy, and you cannot, perhaps the best thing for you to do will be to go to the originator of it and ask him what he meant by it," says Miss Penelope, with quite astonishing perspicacity for her.
"Shure I did that same, miss. 'Twas the first thing I said to him, ma'am. 'What do ye mane, ye spalpeen, ye thief o' the world,' says I, 'by miscalling a dacent man out of his name like that?' says I. I gave him all that, miss, and a dale more, though I've forgotten it be now, for the Ryans was always famous for the gift o' the gab!"
"If you said all that to the poor marine, I think you gave him considerably more than you got," says Miss Penelope, "and so you may cry peace. Go down now, Timothy, and make it up with him over your beer."
Timothy, though still grumbling in an undertone death and destruction upon the hated Sassenach, retires duteously, closing the door behind him.
"Now, Penelope," says Miss Priscilla, with an air of relief, glancing at the pens and ink, at which Monica's heart fails her. She has no doubt whatever about the answer being a refusal, but a sad feeling that she dare make no protest renders her doubly sorrowful.
"Dear me!" says Miss Penelope, leaning back in her chair with pen well poised between her fingers, and a general air of pleased recollection full upon her, "it sounds quite like old times—doesn't it?—to be invited to the Barracks at Clonbree."
"Quite," says Miss Priscilla, with an amused smile.
"You remember when the Whiteboys were so troublesome, in our dear father's time, what life the officers stationed here then, threw into the country round. Such routs! such dances! such kettle-drums! You can still recollect Mr. Browne—can you not, Priscilla?—that fashionable young man!"
"You have the best right to remember him," returns Miss Priscilla, in a meaning tone. "It would be too ungrateful of you if you did not, considering what a life you led him."
And at this the two old ladies break into hearty laughter and shake their heads reproachfully at each other.
"You know you broke his heart," says Miss Priscilla.
"Tell us about it, auntie," says Kit, eagerly, who is always sympathetic where romance is concerned; but the old ladies only laugh the more at this, and Aunt Priscilla tells her how her Aunt Penelope was a very naughty girl in her time, and created havoc in the affections of all the young men that came within her reach.
All this delights Aunt Penelope, who laughs consumedly and makes feeble protest with her hands against this testimony.
"Poor fellow!" she says, sobering down presently, and looking quite remorseful. "It is unkind to laugh when his name is mentioned. He was killed in the Indian Mutiny, long afterwards, in a most gallant charge."
"Yes, indeed," says Miss Priscilla. "Well, well, things will happen. Go on with the answer now, Penelope, as the man is waiting and it is woefully late."
Monica trembles. But Kit starts into life.
"Oh, don't refuse, Aunt Priscilla!" she cries, darting from her seat and throwing her arms round Miss Blake's neck. "Don't, now! I do so want to go, when I have got my invitation, and all."
"But——" begins Miss Priscilla; whereupon Kit, tightening her hold on her neck, with a view to staying further objection, nearly strangles her.
"No 'buts,'" she says, entreatingly; "Remember how disappointed I was about Madam O'Connor's, and be good to me now."
"Bless the child!" breaks out Miss Priscilla, having rescued her windpipe and so saved herself from instant suffocation by loosening Kit's arms, and then drawing the child down upon her knee. "What is she talking about? who is going to refuse anything? Penelope, accept at once,—at once, or I shall be squeezed to death!"
"Then you will go?" exclaims Monica, joining the group near the davenport, and turning brilliant eyes upon her aunts. "Oh, I am so glad!"
"Why, we are dying to see the inside of the Barracks again, your aunt Penelope and I, especially your aunt Penelope," says Miss Blake, with a sly glance at her sister, who is plainly expecting it, "because she has tender recollections about her last visit there."
"Oh, now, Priscilla!" says Miss Penelope, modestly, but with keen enjoyment of the joke. After which an acceptance of his kind invitation is written to Captain Cobbett, and borne to him by the destroyer of Timothy's peace.
How Monica falls a prey to the green-eyed monster—How Mr. Kelly improves the shining hours—And how Brian Desmond suffers many things at the hands of his lady-love.
For the next few days the sun is conspicuous by its absence, and Jupiter Tonans, with all his noisy train, is abroad. There is nothing but rain everywhere and at all hours, and a certain chill accompanying it, that makes one believe (with "Elia," is it not?) that "a bad summer is but winter painted green."
The light is dimmed, the winds sigh heavily, all through these days, and on the hills around, "the hooded clouds, like friars, tell their beads in drops of rain."
But on Thursday evening it clears a little,—not sufficiently to allow one to wander happily through shrubbery or garden, but enough to augur well for the morrow, when the much longed for dance at the Barracks is due.
And, indeed, when Friday dawns all nature is glorious. O'er sea and land there floats a brightness indescribable, with no fleck or flaw upon its beauty. In every nook and glade and hollow is glad sunshine, and a soft rushing breeze that bids the heart rejoice, and uplift itself in joyous praise to the Great Power who calls the heavens His Throne.
Birds are singing upon every bough, to give the day "good-morrow," and the small streamlets, swollen by past rains, are chanting loud but soft harmonies to the water-pixies, as they dash headlong towards the river down below.
"No tears Dim the sweet look that Nature wears."
but rather a smile is on leaf, and flower, and waving bracken. And on Monica, too, as, with glad eyes and parted lips, she steps lightly into the shadow of the old porch at Moyne. No sweeter presence ever honored it. Leaning against one of the pillars, she steps forward, and gazes almost gratefully at the merry sunbeams, as they creep up in homage to her feet and then go swiftly back again.
She is dressed to-day in a pale blue batiste gown, that rivals in hue the delicate azure of the skies above her. Her large black hat is a mass of Spanish lace, her long gloves are of the same sombre shade, and so are her shoes, though relieved by buckles. With that smile upon her lips, and the subdued expectation in her eyes, she looks the personification of all that is tender, pure, and lovable.
"Are you ready?" asks Kit, joining her. "The carriage is coming round."
"All but your fan: where is that?"
"Ah! true; I forgot it. It must be on my table. I——"
"No, do not stir. I will get it for you. It would be a shame to send you on any errand that might destroy your present pose, you look so like a cloud, or a thing out of one of Kate Greenaway's books."
"It is very rude to call me a thing; it is disheartening, when I believed I was looking my best," says Monica, laughing. Somehow Kit's praises always please her.
Then the carriage does come round, and they all get into it, and start for their seven-miles drive, a very slow seven miles, at the end of which they find themselves in the small town of Clonbree, mounting the steep hill that leads to the Barracks, which are placed on almost unsavory eminence,—all the narrow streets leading up to them being lined with close cabins and tiny cabins that are anything but "sweets to the sweet."
Entering the small barrack-yard and finding a door hospitably open, the Misses Blake go up a wooden staircase, and presently find themselves on the landing-place above, where they are welcomed effusively by Mr. Ryde, who is looking bigger and hotter and stouter than usual.
Captain Cobbett in the largest room—there are but two available in these rustic barracks—is trying vainly to find a comfortable corner for old Lady Rossmoyne, who is both deaf and stupid, but who, feeling it her duty to support on all occasions (both festive and otherwise) the emissaries of her queen, has accepted this invitation and is now heartily sorry for her loyalty.
She is sitting in durance vile upon a low chair, with a carpet seat and a treacherous nature, that threatens to turn upon her and double her up at any moment if she dare to give way to even the smallest amount of natural animation: so perforce the poor old woman sits still, like "patience on a monument smiling at grief," and that her own grief, too, which, of course, is harder to bear!
"So glad you've come! We were quite in despair about you; but better late than never, eh?" says Mr. Ryde to Monica, with a fat smile. There is rather much of "too solid flesh" about his face.
"I daresay," says Monica, very vaguely: she is looking anxiously round her, hoping, yet dreading to see Desmond.
In the next room can be heard the sound of music. "My Queen" is being played very prettily upon a piano by somebody. Dancing is evidently going on, and Monica, who adores it, feels her toes trembling in her shoes.
"May I have the pleasure of this?" says Mr. Ryde. "I've kept it for you all along, you know. If you tell me you have already given it away, I shall feel myself aggrieved indeed."
"Was there ever so silly a young man?" thinks Monica, and then she says aloud, "No, it is not promised," and lets him place his arm round her, and reluctantly mingles with the other dancers. To do him justice, he waltzed very well, this fat young marine, so it cannot be said that she has altogether a bad time, and she certainly feels a little glow of pleasure as she pauses presently to recover her breath.
As she does so, her eyes rest on Desmond. He, too, is dancing, and with Olga Bohun. He is whispering to his partner, who is whispering back to him in a somewhat pronounced fashion, and altogether he is looking radiantly happy, and anything but the disconsolate swain Monica has been picturing him to herself. He is smiling down at Olga, and is apparently murmuring all sorts of pretty things into her still prettier ear, because they both look quite at peace with each other and all the world.
A pang shoots through Monica's heart. He can be as happy, then, with one pretty woman as with another! She by no means, you will see, depreciates her own charms. All he wants is to have "t'other dear charmer away."
At this moment she encounters his eyes, and answers his glad stare of surprise with a little scornful lowering of her lids. After which, being fully aware that he is still watching her in hurt amazement, she turns a small, pale, but very encouraging face up to Ryde, and says, prettily,—
"You said I was late, just now. Was I?"
"Very. At least it seemed so to me," says Ryde with heavy adoration in his glance.
Feeling, rather than seeing, that Mr. Desmond has brought his fair companion to an anchor close behind her, Monica says, in a soft sweet voice,—
"I didn't mean to be late. No, indeed! I hurried all I could; but my aunts are slow to move. I was longing to be here, but they would make no haste."
"You really longed to be here?" asks he, eagerly. "Well, that was good of you! And now you have come you will be kind to me, won't you? You will give me all the dances you can spare?"
"That would be a great many," says she, laughing a little. "You might tire of me if I said yes to that. The fact is, I know nobody here, and certainly there is no one I care to dance with."
"You will have another tale to tell later on," returns he, gazing with unrepressed admiration at her charming face. "Before the avalanche of worshippers descends, promise me all the waltzes."
"Are my dances, then, so necessary to you?" with a swift upward glance.
"They are, at all events, the only ones I care for," returns he, clumsily, but heartily. "All the others will lie in the scale with duty."
"'Every subject's duty is the king's; but every subject's soul is his own,'" quotes Monica, lightly. "Why dance unless you wish it?"
"Because my soul is not my own," responds he, with a sigh. "I am bound to dance with every undanceable woman here to-day, or they will go home and revile me. You ought to be sorry for me if you aren't."
"Well, I am," says Monica; "and so you shall have every waltz on the programme."
With this she lets him take her in his arms again, and float away with her to the strains of the waltz then playing, and far away from Desmond's jealous ears.
"Well, I had no idea it was in her," says Mrs. Bohun, in a breathless sort of manner, when Monica has quite vanished. "All that was meant for you, you know; and how well she did it!"
"But why should it be meant for me? What have I done that she should so ill use me?" says Desmond, also breathless. "And you speak of her as if you admired her and she ought to be praised for her conduct when you have just heard from my own lips how devotedly I am attached to her!"
"I cannot help admiring genius when I see it," says Olga, with a gay laugh. "She made up her mind—naughty little thing!—to make you miserable a minute ago, and—she succeeded. What can compare with success! But in very truth, Brian," tapping his arm familiarly with her fan (an action Monica notes from the other side of the room), "I would see you a victor too, and in this cause. She is as worthy of you as you of her, and a fig for one's cousins and sisters and aunts, when Cupid leads the way."
She has thrown up her head, and is looking full of spirit, when young Ronayne, approaching her, says, smiling,—
"This is our dance, I think, Mrs. Bohun?"
"Is it? So far so good!" She turns again to Brian:
"'Faint heart never won fair lady,'" she says, warningly.
"I cannot accuse myself of any feebleness of that sort," says Desmond, gloomily. "As you see, it all rests with her."
"Perhaps she is afraid of the family feud," says Olga, laughing. "One hears such a lot about this Blake-Desmond affair that I feel I could take the gold medal if examined about it. There!—what nonsense! Go and speak to her, and defy those dear old ladies at Moyne."
"You were talking about that pretty Miss Beresford?" says Ronayne, as Brian moves away.
"Yes. But, sir," archly, "dare you see beauty in any woman when I am by?"
"Oh that I could see you really jealous, and of me!" returns he, half sadly, looking at her with longing eyes. "If I thought I could make your heart ache for even one short minute, I should be the happiest man alive."
"Boy, you mean! Oh, traitor! And would you have me miserable for your own gratification?"
"It would be for yours later on. For that one moment you would gain a slave forever."
"And unless I am wretched for that one moment, I cannot gain my slave?"
"You know the answer to that only too well," returns he, with so much fervor that she refuses to continue the discussion.
"Talking of jealousy," she says, lightly, with a glance at him, "it is the dream of my life to make Rossmoyne jealous,—to reduce him to absolute submission. He is so cold, so precise, so English, that it would be quite a triumph to drag him at one's chariot-wheels. Shall I be able to do it?" she turns up her charming face to his, as though in question. She is looking her very sweetest, and is tenderly aware of the fact; and, indeed, so is he.
"I suppose so," he says, in answer to her, but slowly and reproachfully.
"But I must have help," says Olga. "Some one must help me. You?—is it not?"
"I?" with strong emphasis. "What should I have to do with it?"
"Not much, yet I count upon you. Why, who do you think I am going to make him jealous about? Eh?"
"How should I know?"
"How shouldn't you? Why it is of you,—you!" with quite a delicious little laugh. "So you will have to dance round after me all day for the future until your mission is fulfilled, and try to look as if you really loved me."
"You have mistaken your man," says Ronayne, quietly: "you must get some one else to help you in this matter. It is not for me, even if I did not love you; I should scorn so low a task."
"Love is an idle word," she says, her eyes flashing.
"It may be—to some. But I tell you no man's heart is of so poor value that it can be flung hither and thither at any one's pleasure,—no, not even at the pleasure of the woman he adores. You will seek some more complaisant lover to be your dupe on this occasion. I decline the office."
"You forget how you speak, sir!" she says, proudly; yet even as she gives way to this angry speech a gleam of deepest admiration so lights her eyes that she is obliged to let her lids fall over them to cover the tell-tales beneath; her breath comes and goes quickly.
Something like relief comes to her when Lord Rossmoyne, stretching his long neck round the curtain that half shields the cushioned recess of the window where they are sitting, says, with considerable animation, for him,—
"Ah! so I have found you, Mrs. Bohun."
"You have indeed, and in good time. I am pining in prison, but you have come to deliver me."
"If I may."
"Such a dreary little spot, is it not? I don't know what could have induced me to enter it."
"Ronayne possibly," says Rossmoyne, with an unpleasant smile.
"Oh, dear, no!" contemptuously: "I came here of my own free will. We all do foolish things at times, I have not danced this last because Mr. Ronayne prefers pleasant converse. I don't. I thought you would never come to seek me. What were you doing?"
"Hunting for you, and thinking every minute an hour. These curtains"—touching them—"were jealous of you, and sought to hide you."
"Well, don't be so long next time," she says, looking up at him with a smile that a little more pressure would make tender and laying her hand on his arm.
She moves away. Ronayne, drawing his breath somewhat savagely, sits down on the sill of the window and gazes blankly into the barrack-yard below. He has still her programme in his hand, and is crumpling it unconscionably, hardly knowing what he does. But, if disturbed in mind, it is always such a comfort to smash something, be it a piece of pasteboard or one's most intimate friend.
She had forgotten her card, probably, and now it is almost useless. Ronayne's heart is full of bitterness, and he tries to swear to himself that for the future he will cleanse his heart of this coquette, who cares no more for him—nay, far less—than she does for her little toy terrier. Yet, even as these stern resolves seek vainly to root themselves in his breast, his eyes turn again to the room beyond, and make search for the siren who is his undoing. She is still, of course, with Rossmoyne, and is all smiles and pretty blushes, and is evidently both content and happy.
"I am a fool!—a madman!" he says to himself; and even as he says it his eyes light on Owen Kelly, who by chance is looking at him too.
Crossing the room, the latter (as though drawn by the melancholy eyes that have met his) soon reaches the window where Ronayne stands disconsolate.
"Why so pale and wan, fond lover?" he says gayly, but with so kindly an intonation that even the most pugnacious could not take umbrage at it.
Now, Mr. Kelly's knowledge on all matters is so clear and precise that Ronayne does not dream of deceiving him in this matter.
"Of course you will laugh at me," he says, "but somehow I don't mind your ridicule much. It means only this, that I have just found out that she cares nothing at all for me."
"She, being Mrs. Bohun? Well, my dear lad, if an elderly gentleman's experience is of any use to you, you may have it cheap. I believe she cares a great deal for you. Lookers-on see most of the game, and I would back you against Rossmoyne any day."
"You are a very good fellow," says Ulic Ronayne, "the best I know; but I understand you. You are only saying that to console me."
"I am not, in faith: I say it because I think it."
"I wish I could think it."
"Try. 'If at first you don't succeed,' you know follow out the inestimable Watts's advice, and 'try again.' There's nothing like it: it gets to be quite a game in the long run. I thank my stars," laughing, "I have never been a slave to the 'pathetic fallacy' called love; yet it has its good points, I suppose."
"It hasn't," says Ronayne, gloomily.
"You terrify me," says Mr. Kelly, "because I feel positive my day is yet to come, and with all this misery before me I feel suicidal. Don't my dear fellow! don't look like that! Give her up; go and fall in love with some little girl of your own age or even younger."
The "even" is offensive, but Ulic is too far gone in melancholy to perceive it.
"It is too late for that kind of advice," he says: "I want her, and her only. I don't know how to describe it, but——"
"There are chords," quotes his friend gravely.
"Just so," says the miserable Ronayne, quite as gravely; which so upsets the gravity of his companion that it is with difficulty he conceals his ill-timed mirth.
"What is that mutilated article in your hand?" he asks at length, when he has conquered his muscles.
"This—eh!—oh, her card, I suppose," says Ronayne, viciously. Yet even as he speaks he smooths out the crumpled card, and regards it with a dismal tenderness as being in part her.
"You're engaged to her for the next," says Mr. Kelly, looking over his shoulder: "what an unfortunate thing! If I were you," mournfully, "I should go home. Get ill. Do something."
"And so let her think I'm wasting in despair because she prefers another? No, I shan't," says Ronayne, with sudden animation. "I shall see it out with her. If she chooses to cancel this dance well and good, but I shall certainly remind her she promised it to me."
"Rash boy!" says Kelly, with a sigh. "As you refuse to hearken to the voice of common sense, and afflict yourself with a megrim, I leave you to your fate."
So saying, he turns aside, and, having gone a step or two, finds himself face to face with Miss Beresford.
"This dance is ours," he says, mendaciously, knowing well this is the first time they have met this evening.
Monica laughs: to be angry with so sad a visaged man as Owen Kelly would be a cruelty.
"I am glad of it," she says, "because I do not want to dance at all; and I think you will not mind sitting with me and talking to me for a little while."
"You remember me then?" he says, shifting his glass from one eye to the other, and telling himself she is as pretty as she is wise.
"I think so," shyly, yet with a merry glance; "you are that Master O'Kelly, of Kelly Grove, county Antrim, who is the bright and shining light of the Junior Bar."
"You do indeed know me," returns he, mildly.
"'Thy modesty's a candle to thy merit,'" quotes she, wickedly, in a low tone.
At this he smiles sadly (a luxury he rarely permits himself), and, taking up her hand, lays it on his arm.
"Come," he says, "I will sit with you, and talk with you, when, and where, and for as long as you like. The longer the greater bliss for me. The spaciousness of these halls, fair madam, as doubtless you have perceived, gives wide scope for choice of seats. In which secluded bower will it please you to efface yourself?"
Monica glances from one small room to the landing-place, and from the landing-place to the other small room beyond, and naturally hesitates.
"There is another stairs besides the one we ascended," says Mr. Kelly. "I saw it when first I came: would you like to see it too?"
"I should indeed," says Monica, grateful for the hint, and, going with him, suddenly becomes aware of a staircase, leading goodness knows whither, upon the third step of which she seats herself, after a rapid glance around and upwards that tells her nothing, so mysterious are the workings of a barracks.
Mr. Kelly seats himself beside her.
"I suppose it is my mission to amuse you," he says, calmly, "as I dare not make love to you."
"Why not?" says Monica, quite as calmly.
"For one thing, you would not listen to me; and for another, I don't want my head broken."
Monica smiles, more because it is her duty to than for any other reason, because after the smile comes a sigh.
"I know few knights would tilt a lance for me," she says; and Kelly, glancing at her, feels a quick desire rise within him to restore sunshine to her perfect face.
"One knight should be enough for any one, even the fairest ladye in the land," he says.
"True; but what is to be for her who has none?" asks she, pathos in her eyes, but a smile upon her lips.
"She must be a very perverse maiden who has that story to tell," returns he; and then, seeing she has turned her face away from him, he goes on quietly,—
"You know every one here, of course."
"Indeed, no. The very names of most are unknown to me. Tell me about them, if you will."
"About that girl over there, for instance?" pointing to a dingy-looking girl in the distance, whose face is as like a button as it well can be, and whose general appearance may be expressed by the word "unclean."
"That is Miss Luker," says Kelly. "Filthy Lucre is, I believe, the name she usually goes by, on account of her obvious unpalatableness (my own word, you will notice), and her overwhelming affection for coin small and great."
"She looks very untidy," says Monica.
"She does, indeed. She is, too, an inveterate chatterbox. She might give any fellow odds and beat him; I don't believe myself there is so much as one comma in her composition."
"Poor girl! What an exertion it must be to her!"
"Musn't it? Especially nowadays, when one never goes for much, real hard work of any kind being such a bore. That's her mother beside her. She is always beside her. Fat little woman, d'ye see?"
"Yes, a nice motherly-looking little woman she seems to be."
"Horribly motherly! She has a birthday for every month in the year!"
"How?" says Monica, opening her eyes.
"I don't so much allude to her own natal day (which by this time I should say is obscure) as to her children's. They came to her at all seasons, from January to December. There are fourteen of them."
"Oh, it can't be possible! Poor, poor soul!" says Monica, feeling quite depressed.
"She isn't poor; she is very well off," says Mr. Kelly, obtusely. "Much better than she deserves. So don't grieve for her. She glories in her crime. Well, it's 'a poor heart that never rejoices,' you know: so I suppose she is right. There's Miss Fitzgerald: do you admire her?"
"I am sure I ought," says Monica, simply; "but I don't."
"You have the courage of your opinions. Every one down here admires her tremendously. I agree with you, you know, but then," softly, "I am nobody!"
"Perhaps you think I am jealous," says Monica. "But indeed I am not."
"What a baby you are!" says Mr. Kelly. "Who could suppose you jealous of Bella Fitzgerald? 'Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere,' and I shouldn't think the fair Bella would have much motion if put in comparison with you. She always calls 'a spade a spade, and Branson's Essence of Coffee,' etc. In fact, she is material."
"That means she has common sense. Why call her 'material'?"
"Never mind. It is quite immaterial," says Mr. Kelly, tranquilly, after which silence reigns triumphantly for a moment or two, until a new figure presents itself on a small platform below them.
"Ah! there is Desmond," says Kelly. "He looks," innocently, "as if he was looking for somebody."
"I hope he will find her," remarks Miss Beresford, with some acerbity and a most unnecessary amount of color.
"Perhaps he is looking for me," says Mr. Kelly, naively.
"Perhaps so," dryly.
"At all events, whoever it is, she, or he, or it, seems difficult of discovery. Did you ever see so woebegone a countenance as his?"
"I think he looks quite happy enough," says Monica, without sympathy.
Kelly lets his languid gaze rest on her for a moment.
"What has Desmond done to you?" he says at last, slowly.
"Done?" haughtily. "Nothing. What could he do?"
"Nothing, I suppose,—as you say. By the bye, I have not seen you dancing with him this afternoon."
"How is that?"
It is an indisputable fact that some people may say with impunity what other people dare not say under pain of excommunication. Owen Kelly, as a rule, says what he likes to women without rebuke, and, what is more, without incurring their displeasure.
"How is what?"
"I thought that day at Aghyohillbeg that you and Desmond were great friends."
"Friends! when we have only seen each other two or three times. Is friendship the growth of an hour?"
"No. But something else is." He looks at her almost cheerfully as he says this. "But neither you nor I, Miss Beresford, have anything to do with that flimsy passion."
"Is there such a thing?" says Monica, wistfully, whereupon Mr. Kelly says to himself, "Now, what on earth has that fellow been doing to her?" but aloud he says, in his usual subdued tones,—
"I don't know, I'm sure, but they say so, and perhaps they, whoever they may be, are right. If so, I think it is a dangerous subject to discuss with you. Let us skip it, and go on. You haven't told me why you are not dancing with Desmond."
"Why should I dance with Mr. Desmond?"
"Because it is not always easy to have a refusal ready, perhaps, or——He has asked you?"
She would have given a good deal at this instant to be able to answer "No;" but the remembrance of how he pleaded with her for one waltz that evening at the end of the Moyne meadow comes between her and her desire. So she says, "Yes," instead.
"And you would none of him?"
"It isn't my part to ask why," says Kelly, with quite a miserable air; "but still I cannot help wondering how any one can dislike Desmond."
No answer. Miss Beresford is looking straight before her, but her color is distinctly higher, and there is a determination about her not to be cajoled into speech, that is unmistakable. Having studied her for a little, Mr. Kelly goes on,—
"I never know whether it is Desmond's expression or manner that is so charming, therefore I conclude it is both. Have you noticed what a peculiarly lovable way he has with him? But of course not, as, somehow he has the misfortune to jar upon you. Yet very few hate him. You see, you are that excellent thing, an exception."
"I do not hate him," says Monica; and, having thus unlocked her lips against her inclination, she feels Owen Kelly of Kelly's Grove has won the game; but she bears him no ill will for all that. "It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul!"
"No! well, hate is a bitter word, and an unmannerly. I am sorry, then, that you dislike him."
"Not even that."
"You mean, you regard him with indifference!"
"Yes, exactly that," says Monica, with slow deliberation.
"I am sorry for it. He is a man upon whom both men and women smile,—a rare thing,—a very favorite of Fortune."
"She is fickle."
"She may well be dubbed so, indeed, if she deserts him at his sorest need. But as yet she is faithful, as she ought to be, to the kindest, the sincerest fellow upon earth."
As this repetition, and the fine sneer that accompanies it, escape her, she becomes aware that Desmond himself has come to the foot of the stairs, and is gazing at her reproachfully.
"Here is fickle Fortune's favorite literally at our feet," says Owen Kelly; and, before Monica can say anything, Brian has mounted the two steps that lie between him and her, and is at her side.
"If I may not dance with you, may I at least talk to you for a moment or two?" he says, hurriedly.
"Certainly," with cold surprise.
"I don't think three of us could sit together comfortably on this one step," says Mr. Kelly, with a thoughtful glance at its dimensions,—"not even if we squeezed up to each other ever so much; and I am afraid," mournfully, "Miss Beresford might not like that, either. Would you, Miss Beresford?"
"Not much," says Monica. "But why need you stir? Mr. Desmond has asked at the most for two moments; they will go quickly by: in fact," unkindly, "I should think they are already gone."
"And yet he has not begun his 'talk.' Make haste Desmond. Time, tide, and Miss Beresford wait for no man. Hurry! we are all on the tiptoe of expectation." As Mr. Kelly says all this in a breath, he encourages Desmond generously to "come on" by a wave of his hand; whereupon Brian, who is not in his sweetest mood, directs a glance at him that ought to annihilate any ordinary man, but is thrown away upon Kelly, who is fire-proof.
"Some other time, then, as I disturb you now," says Brian, haughtily, addressing himself pointedly to Monica.
"By no means," says his whilom friend, rising. "Take my place for your two moments,—not a second longer, remember! I feel with grief that Miss Beresford will probably hail the exchange of partners with rapture. 'Talk,' says Bacon, 'is but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love;' and as she would not let me discourse on any topics tenderer than the solar system and the Channel Tunnel, I have no doubt she has found it very slow. Now, you will be the—er—other thing quite!"
With this speech, so full of embarrassing possibilities, he bows to Monica, smiles at the gloomy Desmond, and finally withdraws himself gracefully from their view. Not without achieving his end, however: they both heartily wish him back again even while he is going.
"What have I done?" asks Desmond, abruptly, turning to Monica, who is gazing in a rapt fashion at her large black fan.
"Don't answer me like that, Monica. I have offended you. I can see that. But how? Every moment of this wretched afternoon, until you came, I spent wondering when you would arrive. And yet when at last I did see you, you would vouchsafe me neither smile nor glance. In fact, you looked as if you hated me!"
"Every moment?" sardonically.
"Even those spent with Mrs. Bohun?" To save her life she could not call her "Olga" now.
"With her?" staring in some surprise at his inquisitor. "Well, it certainly wasn't quite so bad—the waiting, I mean—then. Though still, with my mind full of you, I was——"
"You were indeed!" interrupting him hastily, with a contemptuous smile.
"Certainly I was," the surprise growing deeper.
"I wonder you are not ashamed to sit there and confess it," says Miss Beresford, suddenly, with a wrathful flash in her eyes. "I shall know how to believe you again. To say one thing to me one day, and another thing to another person another day, and——" Here she finds a difficulty in winding up this extraordinary speech, so she says, hurriedly, "It is horrible!"
"What is horrible?" bewildered.
But she pays no heed to his question, thinking it doubtless beneath her.
"At least," she says, with fine scorn, "you needn't be untruthful."
"Do you know," says Mr. Desmond, desperately, "you are making the most wonderful remarks I ever heard in my life? There is no beginning to them, and I'm dreadfully afraid there will be no ending."
"No doubt," scornfully, "you are afraid."
"If I allow I am," says Desmond, humbly, "will it induce you to explain?"
"You want no explanation," indignantly. "You know very well what you confessed a while ago,—that—that—'you were'! There!"
"Flirting with Olga Bohun!"
"You did. You know you did. Oh, what perfidy! Only a moment since you declared it openly, shamelessly; and now you deny it! Why I wouldn't have believed it, even of you. How can you pretend to forget it?"
But that there are tears born of real emotion in her great eyes, Mr. Desmond would assuredly believe she is making a vast joke at his expense, so innocent is he of any offence.
"If by some unfortunate method," he says, calmly, "you have metamorphosed any speech of mine into a declaration relative to a flirtation with Mrs. Bohun, you have done an uncommonly clever thing. You have turned a lie into truth. I never said even one spoony word to Olga Bohun in all my life."
"Then why," in a still much-aggrieved tone, but with strong symptoms of relenting, "did you say you were?"
"I don't remember saying it at all," says poor Mr. Desmond, who has forgotten all about his interrupted remark.
"Then what were you saying to Olga just as I came in?"
"Oh! that!"—brightening into a remembrance of the past by the greatest good luck, or the quarrel might have proved a final one (which would have been a sad pity, as so many right good ones followed it). "You stopped me just now when I was going to tell you about it. When you came this evening I was dancing with Olga, and talking to her of you. It was some small consolation."
"But you were smiling at her," says Monica, faltering, "and whispering to her—whispering!"
"Of you. You believe me? Monica, look at me. Do you know I really think that——"
But this valuable thought is forever lost. Glancing at his companion, he sees a change come over the spirit of her face. Her eyes brighten, but not with pleasurable anticipation. Quite the reverse. She lays her hand suddenly upon his arm, and gazes into the landing-place beneath.
"There is Aunt Priscilla!" she says, in an awestruck tone. "She has just come out of that room. She is, I know,"—a guilty conscience making a coward of her,—"looking for me. She may come here! Go, Go!"
"But I can't leave you here alone."
"Yes, you can; you can, indeed. Only try it. Mr. Desmond, please go." This she says so anxiously that he at once decides (though with reluctance) there is nothing left him but to obey.
And, after all, Aunt Priscilla never looks up those stairs, but passes by them, dimly lit as they are, as though they had never been built; and Desmond, unknowing of this, goes sadly into the dancing-room, ostensibly in search of Kelly, but with his mind so full of his cross little love that he does not see him, although he is within a yard of him at one time.
Now, Mr. Kelly, when he quitted the fateful staircase, had turned to his right, with a view to getting some friend to lounge against a doorway with him, but, failing in this quest, had entered the dancing-room, and edged round it by degree,—not so much from a desire for motion as because he was elbowed ever onwards by tired dancers who sought the friendly support of the walls.
Reaching at length a certain corner, he determines to make his own of it and defend it against all assailants, be they men or Amazons.
It is a charming corner, and almost impregnable; it is for this very reason also almost unescapable, as he learns to his cost later on. However, he comes to anchor here, and looks around him.
He is quite enjoying himself, and is making private comments on his friends that I have no doubt would be rapturously received by them could they only hear them, when he wakes to the fact that two people have come to a standstill just before him. They are engaged in not only an animated but an amicable discussion, and are laughing gayly: as laughter is even more distinguishable in a crowd than the voice when in repose, Mr. Kelly is attracted by theirs, and to his astonishment discovers that his near neighbors are the deadly enemies of an hour agone,—i. e., Mrs. Bohun and Ulic Ronayne.
No faintest trace of spleen is to be discovered in their tones. All is once more sunshine. Past storms are forgotten. They have evidently been carrying on their discussion for a considerable time whilst dancing, because it is only the very end of it that is reserved for Mr. Kelly's delectation. He, poor man, is hemmed in on every side, and finds to his horror he cannot make his escape. This being so, he resigns himself with a grim sense of irony to the position allotted him by fate, and being a careful man, makes up his mind, too, to derive what amusement from it that he can.
"So you see everything depends upon judgment," says the fair widow, fanning herself languidly, but smiling archly.
"A good deal, certainly."
"Everything, I say. Determination to succeed, and the power to do it, are strong in themselves; but judgment tempers all things. And how few possess all three!"
"I, at least, am grateful for that. If every one was endowed with those three irresistible forces, I should have a bad chance. I should be but one among so many. Then it could only be decided by brute force."
"What could?" asks she, turning a fair but amazed face up to his.
"Oh, nothing!" returns he, with some confusion. "Only some silly thought of my own private brain,—not the part I was devoting to your argument. Forgive me. You were saying——"
"That there is a tremendous amount of feebleness in most natures. The real clever thing is to be able to see when an opportunity for good arises, and then to grasp it. Most people can't see it, you know."
"Others can!" says Mr. Ronayne. As he speaks he passes his arm round her pretty waist and smiles saucily into her eyes.
"What!" exclaims she, smiling in turn, "am I an opportunity, then?"
"The sweetest one I know, and so I seize it," says the audacious youth; while Mr. Kelly, behind, feels as if he was going to sink into the ground.
"You don't understand what the word means, you silly boy," says the widow, laughing gayly.
"Don't I! I only wish I might parse and spell it with you," says Ronayne, his spirits rising; at which answer, I regret to say, pretty Mrs. Bohun laughs again merrily, and suffers him to lead her away into the dancing-circle without a rebuke, leaving Mr. Kelly limp with fear of discovery.
Now, his imprisonment being at an end, he leaves his corner, and, braving the anger of the dancing people, walks straight through their midst to the door beyond, ready to endure anything rather than the eavesdropping, however innocent, of a moment past.
Filled therefore with courage, he sallies forth, and on the landing outside encounters the two Misses Blake clothed for departure, with Monica and Kit beside them. Terence is still bidding adieu to Miss Fitzgerald whose tall charms have worked a way into his youthful affections.
Desmond is standing at a little distance from this group; Mr. Ryde is in the midst of it. He is expostulating with Monica about the cruelty of her early departure, in a tone that savors of tenderness and rouses in Mr. Desmond's breast a hearty desire to kick him. Then Mr. Ryde carries on his expostulations to where Aunt Priscilla is standing; and Brian tries vainly to gain a last glance from Monica, if only to see whether the treaty of peace between them—interrupted a while ago—has been really signed or not.
But Monica, either through wilfulness or ignorance of his near locality, or perhaps fear of Miss Priscilla, refuses to meet his longing eyes. For my part, I believe in the wilfulness.
Kit, who is always like the cockles of ancient fame, "alive O," sees his disconsolate face, his earnest, unrequited glance, and Monica's assumed or real indifference, and feels sad at heart for him. Deliberately, and with a sweet, grave smile, she holds out to him her small hand, and, regardless of consequences, gives his a hearty squeeze. Most thankfully he acknowledges this courtesy; whereupon, of her still further charity, she bestows upon him a glance from her dark eyes that speaks volumes and assures him he has in her a friend at court.
Then all is over. The two Misses Blake go slowly and with caution down the steep staircase, Monica and Mr. Ryde (who grows more devoted every minute) following, Terence and Kit bringing up the rear.
During the drive home the Misses Blake (who have thoroughly enjoyed themselves) are both pleasant and talkative. As the old horses jog steadily along the twilit road, they converse in quite a lively fashion of all they have heard and noticed, and laugh demurely over many a small joke.
Kit of course, is in raptures. Her first party and such a success! She had danced one set of quadrilles and one polka! two whole dances! Ye gods, was there ever so happy a child! She chatters, and laughs, and rallies everybody so gayly that the old aunts are fain to die of merriment.
Yet Monica, who might—an' she chose—have had two partners for every dance, is strangely silent and depressed. No word escapes her: she leans back with her pretty tired head pressed close against the cushions. Perchance little Kit notices all this; because when any one addresses Monica she makes answer for her in the most careless manner possible, and by her sharp wit turns the attention of all from the sister she adores; yet in her heart she is angry with Monica.
Once only during this homeward drive something occurs to disturb the serenity of the Misses Blake. Kit, in one of her merry sallies, has touched upon Miss Fitzgerald; whereupon Aunt Priscilla, mindful of that late and lingering adieu of Terence, says, suddenly,—
"And how do you like Miss Fitzgerald, Terence?"
"She's delightful, aunt!" says the stricken Terence, enthusiastically. "Perfectly enchanting! You never met so nice a girl!"
"Oh, yes! I think I have, Terence," says Miss Priscilla, freezingly. "I am, indeed, sure I have."
"There's something about her right down fetching," says Mr. Beresford, giving himself airs. "Something—er—there, but difficult to describe."
"A 'je ne sais quoi young man,'" quotes the younger Miss Beresford, with a sneer. "She's tall enough to be one, at any rate. She is a horrid girl I think."
"You're jealous," says Terence, contemptuously. "Because you know you will never be half as good to look at."
"If I thought that," says Kit, growing very red, "I'd commit suicide."
"Tut! You are too silly a child to be argued with," says Terence, in a tone that is not to be borne.
Kit, rising in her seat, prepares for battle, and is indeed about to hurl a scathing rebuke upon him, when Miss Priscilla interrupts her.
"What is this great charm you see in Miss Fitzgerald, Terence?" she asks slowly.
"That is just what I cannot describe, aunt."
"I should think you couldn't, indeed!" puts in Kit, wrathfully.
"But, as I said before, she is delightful."
"She may be," says Priscilla, the most damning doubt in her tone. "She may be, my dear. Forbid that I should deny it! But there are some delightful people, Terence, that are not good for us."
Somehow, after this, conversation dwindles until it is gone. Terence sulks; Monica moons; Kit ponders; the Miss Blake snooze: and so at last home is reached.
How Kit sees a Vision, and being exhorted thereto by it, pleads a certain cause with great success.
It is ten o'clock, and as lovely a night as ever overhung the earth. The moon is at its fullest, the wind has fallen, all is calm as heaven itself, through which Dictynna's unclouded grandeur rolls.
The Misses Blake, fatigued by their unusual dissipation, ordered an early rout an hour agone, whereby bedroom candlesticks were in demand at nine or half-past nine o'clock.
Now, in Monica's room Kit is standing by the open window gazing in rapt admiration at the dew spangled garden beneath. Like diamonds glitter the grass and the flowers beneath the kiss of the grass and the queen of night.
Moonbeams are playing in the roses, and nestling in the lilies, and rocking to and fro upon the bosom of the stream.
There is a peace unspeakable on all around. One holds one's breath and feels a longing painful in its intensity as one drinks in the beauty of the earth and sky. 'Twere heaven to be assured of love on such a night as this.
Stars make the vault above so fine that all the world, me-thinks, should be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun. There is a rush of feeling in the air,—a promise of better things to come,—of hope, of glad desire, of sweet love perfected!
"How lovely a night it is!" says Kit, leaning far out of the window, and gazing westward. She is at heart a born artist, with a mind, indeed, too full of strange, weird thoughts at times to augur well for the happiness of her future. Like many of her Irish race, she is dreamy, poetical,—intense at one moment, gay, wild impulsive the next.
"See what a flood of light there is on everything!" she says. "'Bathed in moonlight,' what a good thought was that. Monica, when I am as old as you, in a very few short years I shall be a poet."
"No, you won't, darling: you will be a musician. See what fairies lie beneath your fingers even now when you touch the piano or violin; be content, then, with your great gift, which most surely is yours. And to me, indeed, it seems a grander thing to thrill and enchain and draw to your feet all hearts by the power of harmony that dwells within you, than by the divine gift of song that poets have."
"But their songs are harmony," says the child, turning quickly to her.
"Ay, the interpretation of it, but you have its very breath. No; search the world over, and you will find nothing so powerful to affect the souls of all as music."
"Well some day I shall want to do something," says Kit, vaguely; and then she turns to the window again, and lets her mind wander and lose itself in a mute sonata to the fair Isis throned above.
"It draws me," she says, presently, rising slowly and addressing Monica, but always with her gaze fixed upon the sleeping garden down below. "It is so bright,—so clear."
"The moonlight. I must," restlessly, "go down into it for a little moment, or I shall not sleep through longing for it."
"But the doors are closed, my dearest, and Aunt Priscilla is in bed, and so are the servants."
"So much the better. I can draw the bolts myself without being questioned. You said just now," gayly, "I have a fairy beneath my fingers. I think I have a moon-fairy in my heart, because I love it so."
"Stay here with me, then, and worship it sensibly from my window."
"What! do you look for sense in 'moon-struck madness'? No; I shall go down to my scented garden. I have a fancy I cannot conquer to walk into that tiny flame-white path of moonlight over there near the hedge. Do you see it?"
"Yes. Well, go, if Titania calls you, but soon return, and bring me a lily,—I, too, have a fancy, you see,—a tall lily, fresh with dew and moonshine."
"You shall have the tallest, the prettiest I can find," says Kit from the doorway, where she stands framed unknowingly, looking such a slender, ethereal creature, with eyes too large for her small face, that Monica, with a sudden pang of fear, goes swiftly up to her, and, pressing her to her heart, holds her so for a moment.
"I know what you are thinking now," says Kit, with another laugh,—"that I shall die early."
"Yes. Isn't it strange? I can read most people's thoughts. But be happy about me. I look fragile, I know, but I shall not die until I am quite a respectable age. Not a hideous age, you will understand, but with my hair and my teeth intact. One keeps one's hair until forty, doesn't one?"
"I don't know. I'm not forty," says Monica. "But hurry, hurry out of the garden, because the dew is falling."
Down the dark staircase, through the darker halls, into the brilliant moonlight, goes Kit. The wind, soft as satin, plays about her pretty brows and nestles through her hair, rewarding itself thus for its enforced quiet of an hour ago. Revelling in the freedom she has gained, Kit enters the garden and looks lovingly around upon her companions,—the flowers.
Who would sleep when beauty such as this is flung broadcast upon the earth, waiting for man to feast his slothful eyes upon it?
Lingeringly, tenderly, Kit passes by each slumbering blossom, or gazes into each drowsy bell, until the moonlit patch of grass she had pointed out to Monica is at last reached. Here she stands in shadow, glancing with coy delight at the fairyland beyond. Then she plunges into it, and looks a veritable fairy herself, slim, and tall, and beautiful, and more than worthy of the wand she lacks.
Walking straight up her silver path, she goes to where the lilies grow, in a bed close by the hedge. But, before she comes to them, she notes in the hedge itself a wild convolvulus, and just a little beyond it a wild dog-rose, parent of all roses. She stays to pluck them, and then—
"Kit," says a voice subdued and low, but so distinct as to sound almost in her ear.
She starts, and then looks eagerly around her, but nothing can she see. Was it a human voice, or a call from that old land that held great Zeus for its king? A message from Olympus it well might be, on such a night as this, when all things breathe of old enchantment and of mystic lore. Almost she fears yet hopes to see a sylvan deity peep out at her from the escalonia yonder, or from the white-flowered, sweetly-perfumed syringa in that distant corner,—Pan the musical, perhaps, with his sweet pipes, or a yet more stately god, the beautiful Apollo, with his golden lyre. Oh for the chance of hearing such godlike music, with only she herself and the pale Diana for an audience!
Perchance the gods have, indeed, been good to her, and sent her a special messenger on this yellow night. Fear forgotten, in the ecstasy of this hope, the strange child stands erect, and waits with eager longing for a second summons.
And it comes, but alas! in a fatally earthly tone that ruins her fond hope forever.
"Kit, it is I. Listen to me," says some one, and then a hole in the hedge is cleared, and Mr. Desmond, stepping through it, enters the moonlit patch, flushed but shamelessly unembarrassed.
Kit, pale with disappointment, regards him silently with no gentle glance.
"And to think," she says, at length, with slow scorn, looking him up and down with measureless contempt,—"to think I was mad enough to believe for one long moment that you might be Apollo, and that your voice was a cry from Parnassus!"
At which, I regret to say, Mr. Desmond gives way to most unseemly mirth. "I never dreamed I should attain to such glory," he says. "I feel like 'the rapt one of the godlike forehead.'"
"You may," says the younger Miss Beresford, who has awakened from the dim dusk of "faerie lands forlorn" to the clearer light of earth. "You may," witheringly, "feel like it, but you certainly don't look like it."
"I am not complete, I know that," says Mr. Desmond still full of unholy enjoyment. "I lack 'bright Apollo's lute strung with his hair;' but if you will wait a moment I will run back to Coole and get the nearest thing to it."
He turns as if to fulfil his words, but Kit stops him.
"Don't go," she says, laughing gayly, now herself. "Even the very original lute would not transform you into a god. Stay if you want to. After all, now I am again in my senses, I daresay you are as good to talk to as a heathen deity."
"Oh, no," says Mr. Desmond, humbly. "They always thundered when they spoke: so think how imposing and convincing their arguments must have been!"
"Horrid, I should think," says Kit. "And now tell me what brought you here?"
This is abrupt, but, taking her in her own mood, Desmond answers, bluntly,—
"She told you to come?"
"No. But I want to see her."
"She has gone to her room."
"Make her leave it again. Tell her I cannot rest until I see her; tell her anything; only bring her to me for even one short moment."
"But it is some time since I left her: perhaps she is in bed."
"But not asleep yet, surely. She loves you, Kit: induce her, then, to come to her window, that I may even catch a glimpse of her, if I may not speak with her. But she cannot be in bed; it is so early," says Mr. Desmond, desperately.
"Well," says Kit, relenting, and striving to forget the blank occasioned by the substitution of an ordinary Desmond for an extraordinary deity, "I'll see what can be done."
"You will," eagerly, "really?"
"Yes, really. I will stand your friend," say Kit, solemnly, feeling now that, even if the old gods have denied her an intimate acquaintance with them, still they have devoted her to the service of Cupid, and have secretly commanded her to help on the machinations of his naughty little highness.
"Then will you tell her I want to see her—here, now—for only a bare second if she so wills it? Will you tell her this from me? Dear Kit, sweet Kit, I entreat you to do this."
"Oh! how sweet I am when you want me to do something for you!" says she, with a little smile. "There! I can see through you as clearly as though you were crystal; but I like you all the same. You must have some good in you to fall in love with my Monica."
"Others can fall in love with her, too," returns he, with moody jealousy.
"Ah, yes! I saw that," says Kit, lifting her hands excitedly.
"Who could fail to see it? Who could fail to love her?" says Desmond, sadly. Then, being in such very poor case, and looking sorrowfully for comfort from any source, however small, he says, nervously,—
"Kit, answer me truthfully—you have sworn to be my friend: tell me, then, which do you count the better man,—him, or me?"
But that a sense of honor forbids him to pry into his love's secret thoughts, he would have asked whom she counted the better man.
"You," says Kit, calmly. "I have no doubt about it. I hate fat men, and—and so does Monica. I have heard her say so, over and over again."
"Oh, Kit! what a dear little girl you are!" says Mr. Desmond, with grateful fervor.
"Well, I'm glad you like me," says Kit, "because"—frankly—"I like you. It was very good of you to lend that gun to Terry; I haven't forgotten that, though, goodness knows, I only hope he won't do himself to death with it" (she delights in old-world phrases such as this); "and I like you, too, for loving Monica. Isn't she—" laying her hand upon his arm, and looking trustfully into his eyes,—"isn't she pretty?"
"She is like an angel," says Desmond, feeling all his heart go out to the fragile, ethereal-looking child before him, as he listens to her praises of her sister.
"Or a saint, perhaps. Monica is a saintly name. Was she not the mother of St. Augustine?" says Kit, quickly. After the old gods, passion for the saints, and their lilies and roses and fiery trials, animates her childish bosom. "Oh! and that reminded me," she says: "she told me to bring her in a lily, fresh with dew,—one of those lilies over there in that dark corner. Do you see them,—tall and white?"
"I see. Let me pick one for her. Here, take it to her, and," laying his lips upon it, "this with it."
"I will. And now let me run in and try my utmost to persuade her to come out here. But," doubtfully, as she remembers how Monica refused with studied coldness to meet his parting glance at the Barracks a few hours ago, "do not be too sure of her coming. She may refuse, you know. She is peculiar in many ways, and she thinks herself bound in honor to Aunt Priscilla not to look at you. But stay here, just in this spot, and think all the time that I am doing my very best for you."
Her little face is so earnest as she says all this, so fearful that he may have to endure disappointment, that he is greatly touched. Pushing back her hair from her forehead with both hands, he lays a light but loving kiss upon her brow.
"Go, my best friend. I trust all to you," he says, after which the slender sprite springs away from him, and, entering the shadows beyond, is soon lost to him.
Reaching the house, she mounts the stairs with swift but silent footsteps, and, after a nervous hesitation before the door of her aunt Priscilla's room, finds herself once again face to face with Monica.