Not one of us said one word, except Emily, who squeaked, and cried, "Oh, Lionel! we shall all be killed and burned up!"
Of course, Sir Lionel didn't answer. I would have given anything to be in Mrs. Senter's place, sitting beside him, so that I could see his face, and guess what he meant to do. But it was decided and done in a few seconds. He took Apollo on a little farther, and then stopped as near the burning motor as he dared, so that there might be no danger of our catching fire. Before we could have counted "one, two," he had sprung from the car and was running toward the fiery chariot, with Young Nick flying after him. Dick Burden got down, too, and sauntered in their wake, but he didn't go very fast.
It was so exciting and confusing that I scarcely understood at first what was happening, but Sir Lionel tore off his coat as he ran, and flung it round the woman from the other car. She had not been on fire when she jumped out, but the grass and bushes close by the road had already begun to blaze, and her dress had caught in the flame. She was tall and big, but Sir Lionel lifted her up as if she'd been a child, and, wrapped in his coat, laid her down at a little distance on the grass, where he rolled her over, and put out the fire. Then, when she was on her feet again, panting and sobbing a little, he and the other men began stamping out the flames playing among the low bushes, lest they spread along the moor. As for the car, Sir Lionel said afterward it was hopeless trying to save her, as there were gallons and gallons of petrol to burn (it was her brakes that had got on fire, and ignited the rest), and no sand or anything of that sort to throw on. But while we were staring at the strange scene, the flames died down, having drunk up all the petrol; and whether some part of the mechanism which held the red-hot brakes in place gave way suddenly, I don't know. All I do know is, that the car quivered, moved forward, began running down the tremendous hill, faster and faster, until, with a wild bound, she disappeared from our sight over a precipice.
By this time we were all out, except Emily, hurrying down the hill, to talk to the people who had lost their car; but would you believe it, they hardly cared for their loss, now they were out of danger? It was a bride and groom, with their chauffeur, and they were Americans, staying at the Imperial, in Torquay. The bridegroom was elderly but humorous, and told us he used to hate motors and kept tortoises for pets, because he liked everything that moved slowly, all his ancestors having come from Philadelphia. But the girl he loved wouldn't marry him unless he promised to take her to England on an automobile trip. Now he hoped she had had enough, and would let him go back to tortoises again.
He said he had never enjoyed anything so much as seeing the car's red-hot skeleton jump over the precipice, where it could not hurt anyone, but would just fall quietly to pieces on the rocks.
The bride was great fun, too, and as she comes from St. Louis, it is not likely she will cultivate tortoises. When we took them all three back to Torquay with us, squashed in anyhow, she talked about running over to Paris and buying a balloon or an aeroplane! We came by way of the Buckland Chase, as it is called—private property; and an elfin glen of beauty, for mile after mile, with the Dart singing below, and the Lover's Leap so close that it seemed painfully realistic—especially after the adventure of the car which leaped into space.
Sir Lionel got his coat burnt, and his hands a little, too; but he would drive, though Young Nick might have done so as well as not.
After all we shan't get to Cornwall to-morrow! Sir Lionel says it would be a crime to leave this part of the world without going up the Dart (the "Rhine of England") in a boat, and seeing the beautiful old Butter Market at Dartmouth.
I shall send you postcards from there, if I have the chance, for it's very historic. It will be Cornwall the day after, but I shall have to wire my next address.
With all the love of
Your Moorland Princess.
P. S. You ought to have seen Emily and Mrs. Senter fussing over Sir Lionel when he burnt his hands! He hates being fussed over, and was almost cross, until our eyes happened to meet, and then we both smiled. That seemed to make him good-natured again. And he is wonderfully patient with his sister, really.
MRS. SENTER TO HER SISTER, MRS. BURDEN, AT GLEN LACHLAN, N. B.
White Hart Hotel, Launceston, Cornwall, Aug. 10th
My Dear Sis: It came off all right. My things usually do, don't they? With some women, it is only their lip-salve and face powder that come off. With me, it is plans. Luckily I inherited mamma's genius for high diplomacy, while you, alas, only came in for her rheumatism. And by the way, how are your poor dear bones? Not devilled, I hope? Do forgive the cheap wit. I am obliged to save my best things for Sir Lionel. He appreciates them highly, which is one comfort; but it is rather a strain living up to him (though I do think it will pay in the end), and in intercourse with my family I must be allowed to rest my brain. When everything is settled, one way or the other, my features, also, shall have repose. To keep young, every woman ought to go into retirement for at least one month out of the twelve, a fortnight at a time, perhaps, and do nothing but eat and sleep, see nobody, talk to nobody, think of nothing, and especially not smile. If one followed that regime religiously, with or without prayer and fasting, one need never have crow's-feet.
Of course, with you it is different. You have now decided to live for Dick, and let your waist measure look after itself; but I have larger aims and fewer years than you, dearest. My conception of self-respecting widowhood is to be as young as possible, as attractive as possible, as rich as possible, and eventually to read my title clear to (at least) a baronet, and have a castle in a good hunting county. There are difficulties in my upward way, yet I feel strongly I shall overcome them. Let my motto be, "The battle to the smart, and the situation to the pretty." Why shouldn't I triumph on both counts? The ward, to be sure, is pretty, and is in the situation; but she doesn't know her own advantages, and I'm not sure she would marry Sir Lionel if he asked her; which at present he apparently has no intention of doing, although he admires her more warmly than either Dick or I think advisable in a guardian.
Since I wrote you last, just before starting on this motor match-making venture of ours, there have been several new developments. I don't know whether you are any deeper in Dick's confidence, in this affair, than I am (though I fancy not), but I scent a mystery. Dick really has detective talent, dear Sis, and if I were you, I shouldn't oppose his setting up as a sort of art nouveau Sherlock Holmes. Whether he has found out about some schoolgirl peccadillo of Miss Lethbridge's, and is dangling it over her head, Damocles sword fashion, I can't tell, because he won't tell; though he looks offensively wise when I tease him, and I have tried in vain, on my own account, to discover. But certain it is that he is either blackmailing her in a milk-and-water way, or hypnotizing her to obey his orders.
He hinted, you know, that he could get the girl to make Sir Lionel invite us to join the motoring party; but I supposed then that she had a weakness of the heart where my dear nephew was concerned. Now, my opinion is that she dislikes, yet fears him. Not very complimentary to Dick, but he doesn't seem to mind, and is enjoying himself immensely in his own deliciously, impertinently, perky way. Somehow or other he has induced her to be more or less engaged to him, a temporary arrangement, I understand, but pleasing to him and convenient to me. What Dick gets out of it, I don't know, and don't enquire; but I get out of it the satisfaction of "shelving" the girl as a possible rival.
Sir Lionel, who (it's useless to spare your motherly vanity!) has no very warm appreciation of Dick's qualities, is disgusted with his ward for encouraging D.'s advances, and is inclined to turn to me for sympathy. In that branch I am a great success, and altogether am getting on like a house afire. What if I do have to pump up an intelligent interest in politics in general, and affairs in the Far East in particular? I am fortunately so constituted that fifteen minutes' study of the Times, washed down by early tea (taken strong), enables me to discourse brilliantly on the deepest subjects during the day; and, thank goodness, virtue is rewarded in the evening with a little bridge. If I am ever Lady Pendragon (sounds well, doesn't it?) it shall be all bridge and skittles, for me—and devil take politics, military science, history, the classics, Herbert Spencer, Robert Browning, Shakespeare, and all other boring or out-of-date things and writers (if he hasn't already taken them) on which I am now obliged to keep up a sort of Maxim-fire of conversation.
As to Dick's affairs, however, if the girl really is the heiress we thought her, I shall be only too glad to use my influence in every direction at once, to make the temporary arrangement a permanent one. But the worst of it is, I'm not at all sure that she is any sort of an heiress.
Sir Lionel intimated to me the other night, when I was tactfully tickling him with hints, that she has little except what he may choose to give her. If that be true, I fear as Mrs. Dick her dot will not be large; but it strikes me as very probable that he was only trying to put me off—or rather, to put Dick off, if Dick were fortune-hunting. I don't know whether to believe his version or not, therefore; but I did get at one fact which may help us to find out for ourselves. Dear Ellaline is a daughter of Frederic Lethbridge. It was rather a shock to hear this, for I have a vague impression that there was once a scandal, quite a ripe, juicy scandal, about a Frederic Lethbridge. Can it have been this Frederic Lethbridge, and if so, had it anything to do with money matters?
I haven't mentioned my doubts to Dick, because he really is idiotically in love with the girl, and is capable of foolishness. I intend to let him go on as he is going for the present, as he can do himself no harm, and can do me a great deal of good, by keeping his darling out of my way and Sir Lionel's thoughts. But of course, he mustn't be allowed to marry her if she has nothing of her own. Sir Lionel is rich, but not rich enough to make his ward rich enough for Dick, and keep plenty for his wife—when he gets one—if she be anything like me.
Your dear hostess, who would by this time be my hostess if I weren't otherwise engaged, knows everything and everybody. Not only that, she has done both for a considerable term of years. You remember the joke about her being torn between the desire not to exceed the age of forty-five and yet to boast a friendship with Lord Beaconsfield? Well, she can have known Frederic Lethbridge, and all about him, without being a day over forty, as that is Sir Lionel's age, and Mrs. Lethbridge was a distant relative of his.
Tell Lady MacRae that. Say that the Frederic Lethbridge you are inquiring about married a Miss de Nesville, and that there is a daughter in existence, a girl of nineteen. If Lady Mac doesn't know anything, get her to ask her friends; but do hurry up for Dick's sake, there's a dear, otherwise I shan't be able to pull the strings as you would like me to; and already my sweet nerves are jangled, out of tune. Dear Lady Mac is so adorably frank, when she has something disagreeable to say, that you'll have no difficulty in ferreting out the truth—if it's anything nasty. For most reasons I hope it isn't, as a rich girl would be a valuable bird in the hand for Dick; and I am on the spot to see his affairs as well as my own through, whatever happens.
For my part, if Sir Lionel weren't up to such a fatiguingly high level of intelligence, I believe I could fall in love with him. He may be descended from King Arthur, but he looks more like Lancelot, and I fancy might make love rather nicely, once he let himself go. Although it's long since he did any soldiering, he shows that he was a soldier, born, not made. He has improved, if anything, since we knew him in India, but I remember you used to be quite afraid of having to talk to him then, and preferred Colonel O'Hagan, whom you thought jolly and good-natured, though, somehow, I never got on with him very well. I always had the feeling he was trying to read me, and I do dislike that sort of thing in a man. It ruins human intercourse, and takes away all natural desire to flirt.
You ask me how I endure Emily Norton. Well, as I sit beside Sir Lionel in the car, I don't need to bother with her much in the daytime. She hates bridge, and thinks playing for money wrong in most circumstances, but considers it her duty to please her brother's guests; and as she never wins, anyhow, it needn't affect her conscience. I tell her that I always give my winnings to charity, and didn't think it necessary to add that, to my idea, charity should not only begin at home, but end there, unless its resources were unlimited. The poor, dull thing has that kind of self-conscious religion that sends her soul trotting every other minute to look in the glass, and see that it hasn't smudged itself. So trying! Once she asked me what I did for my soul? I longed to tell her I took cod-liver oil, or Somebody's Fruit Salt, but didn't dare, on account of Sir Lionel. And she has such a conceited way of saying, when speaking of the future: "If the Lord spares me till next year, I will do so and so." As if He were in immediate need of her, but might be induced to get on without her for a short time!
One would know, by the way she screws up her hair, that she could never have felt a temptation. But I shall not let myself be troubled much with her if I marry Sir Lionel. She can go back to her doctor and her curates, and be invited for Christmas to Graylees, which, by the way, I hope to inspect when we have finished this tour.
I am looking quite lovely in my motoring things, and enjoying myself very much, on the whole.
Devonshire I found too hot for this time of the year, but the scenery is pretty. I had no idea what a jolly little river the Dart is; and Dartmouth is rather quaint. For those who are keen on old things, I suppose the Butter Market would be interesting; but I can't really see why, because things happened in certain places hundreds of years ago, one should stand and stare at walls or windows, or fireplaces. The things must have happened somewhere! Although Charles the Second, for instance, may have been great fun to know, and one would have enjoyed flirting with him, now that he's been dead and out of reach for ages, he's of no importance to me.
We left Torquay yesterday, and arrived here in the evening, after a hilly but nice run, and lunching at Plymouth. Of course, a lot of nonsense was talked about Sir Francis Drake. One almost forgets what the old boy did, except to play bowls or something; but I have a way of seeming to know things, for which I deserve more credit than anyone (save you) would guess. When they were not jabbering about him at lunch, it was about the Mayflower, which apparently sailed from Plymouth for the purpose of supplying Americans with ancestors. I never met any Americans yet, except the kind who boast of having begun as shoeblacks, whose great-great-grand-parents didn't cross in the Mayflower. It must have been a huge ship, or else a lot of the ancestors went in the steerage, or were stewards or stowaways.
There was a ferry, getting from Devonshire into Cornwall, so of course we just missed a boat and had to wait half an hour. I was dying to go to sleep, but the others were as chirpy as possible, gabbling Cornish legends. When I say the "others," I mean Sir Lionel and Ellaline Lethbridge. I didn't know any legends, but I made up several on the spur of the moment, much more exciting than theirs, and that pleased Sir Lionel, as he is a Cornishman. Heavens, how I did take it out of myself admiring his native land when we'd got across that ferry! Said the scenery was quite different from that of Devonshire, at the first go off; and I'm not sure there weren't differences. The road coming toward Launceston really was romantic; rock-walled part of the way, with a lot of pink and yellow lichen; and again, fine open spaces with distant blue downs against a sky which looked, as I remarked to Sir Lionel, as if the gods had poured a libation of golden wine over it. Not bad, that, was it? I believe we passed an Arthurian battle-field, which naturally interested him immensely, therefore had to interest poor me! He seems to think there actually was an Arthur, and was quite pleased with me for saying that all the Cornish names of places rang with romance like fairy bells sounding from under the sea—perhaps from Atlantis. Anyhow, they're a relief after such Devonshire horrors as Meavy and Hoo Meavy, which are like the lisping of babies. Sir Lionel thought the "derivations" of such names an absorbing subject! But living in the East so long has made him quixotically patriotic.
Here and there we passed a whole villageful of white-washed cottages, with purplish-brown moss covering their roofs—rather picturesque; and some of the slate-roofed, stone houses are nice in their way, too; I suppose distinctively Cornish. Not that I care! I'm glad Graylees Castle isn't in Cornwall, which is much too far from town.
There were some mine-shafts about, to mar the scenery, toward the end of the journey, and the road surface was bad compared to what we've had. If the car weren't a very good one, we should have suffered from the bumps. Ellaline Lethbridge, by the way, said something about Cornwall which puzzled me. Suddenly she exclaimed: "Why, the atmosphere here is like Spain! Everything swims in a sea of coloured lights!" I thought she'd spent all her life at school in France, and I mentioned the impression, upon which she replied, with an air of being taken aback: "I mean, from what I have heard of Spain." Can she have had an escapade, I wonder? But that is Dick's business, not mine—at present.
There's a castle in Launceston, which has kept us over to-day, as Sir Lionel has been in these parts before, and can't rest unless we see everything he admired in his youth. I wish he hadn't seen so much, there'd be less for us to do. I hate pottering about, seeing sights in the rain, and it has been trying to rain all day. It's well enough to say that the rain rains alike on the just and the unjust, but that is not true, as some women's hair curls naturally. Ellaline's does, and mine doesn't—except the part I owe for at Truefitt's.
It's an old hotel that we're in, quite pleased to show its age; and I have made rather a beast of myself with some sort of Cornish pasty, which, it seems, is a local favourite, and spoils the peasants' teeth. Cornish cream is good, and, I understand from Sir Lionel, was invented by the Phoenicians. I suppose they drowned their sorrows in it while working in the tin mines one always associates with them.
We go to Tintagel to-morrow, and do some other Cornish things, I don't know what. But write to me at Bideford, as we shall be back in Devonshire in a few days on our way—I fancy—toward Wales. I long to hear what you or Lady Mac may have up your sleeves about the dear Ellaline's papa.
Ever your affectionate
Dick sends his love, and will write.
MRS. SENTER TO HER SISTER, MRS. BURDEN
King Arthur's Castle, Tintagel, Aug. 12th
My Dear Sis: I'm sorry I told you to write to Bideford, as we're stopping at this place several days, and I might have had your answer here. However, it's too late now, as by this time your letter is in the post, perhaps, and we may or may not leave to-morrow. I think I can be pretty sure your wire to Dick means that you'd heard from me, and that the news for him is not favourable. If he guessed that I'd been questioning you about the eligibility of his girl, frankly I doubt if he'd have swallowed the bait of your telegram. Even as it was he seemed restive, and didn't yearn to be packed off to Scotland, even for a few days. However, he'd committed himself by reading your message aloud, before he stopped to think; and when Sir Lionel and Ellaline had learned that you were ill, and wanted him, they would have been shocked if he'd refused to go. I comforted him by promising to sow strife between ward and guardian, as often and diligently as possible, until he can get back to look after his own interests, and I shall do my best to keep the promise—not for Dick's sake alone.
He was off within an hour after the telegram, a little sulky, but not too worried, as he has the faith engendered by experience in your recuperative powers. I, naturally, worry still less, as I have a clue to the mystery of your attack which Dick doesn't possess. I quite believe that by the time he reaches your side it will no longer be a bedside, but a sofaside; that you'll be able to smile, hold Dick's hand, and replace Benger's Food with slices of partridge and sips of champagne. By the way, this is the glorious Twelfth. It does seem odd and frumpish not to be in Scotland, but motoring covers a multitude of social sins. Not a word has been said about birds. Our sporting talk is of mufflers, pinions, water-cooled brakes, and chainless drives.
The Tyndals have turned up at this hotel, more gorgeous and more bored than ever, but they have taken a fancy to Ellaline Lethbridge, and I am playing it for all it's worth. It comes in handy at the moment, and I have no conscientious scruples against using millionaires for pawns. They have an impossibly luxurious motorcar. Sir Lionel thinks it vulgar, but they are pleased with it, as it's still a new toy. I have been making a nice little plan for them, which concerns Ellaline. None of them know it yet, but they will soon, and if it had been invented to please Dick (which it wasn't entirely) it couldn't suit him better. You may tell him that, if by any chance he's with you still when you get this.
My mind is busy working the plan out, so that there may be no hitch, but a few unoccupied corners of my brain are wondering what you have discovered about Miss Lethbridge's prospects and antecedents; how, if both are very undesirable, you intend to persuade Dick to let her drop. If I were you I wouldn't waste arguments. Retain him a few days if you can, though I fear the only way to do so is to have a fit. I believe that can be arranged by eating soap and frothing at the mouth, which produces a striking effect, and, though slightly disagreeable, isn't dangerous. But seriously, if he refuses to hear reason, don't worry. I am on the spot to snatch him at the last moment from the mouth of the lionness, provided she opens it wide enough to swallow him.
Your ever useful and affectionate sister,
P. S. The Tyndals have got a cousin of George's with them, a budding millionaire from Eton, who has fallen in love at sight with the Lethbridge. But even Dick can't be jealous of childhood, and it may be helpful.
Taking everything together, I am enjoying myself here, though I'm impatient to get your letter. Cornwall agrees with Sir Lionel's disposition, and he is being delightful to everyone. I think while he is in the right mood I shall repeat to him what a sad failure my marriage was, and how little I really care for gaiety; "Society my lover, solitude my husband," sort of thing. He is the kind of man to like that, and the sweet, soft air of Cornwall is conducive to credulity.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
King Arthur's Castle, Tintagel, August 12th
Most Dear and Sovran Lady: I call you that because I've just been reading Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur" (is that Old French spelling?), and because the style of address seems suitable to King Arthur's Castle—which isn't really his castle, you know, but an hotel. I thought it was the castle, though, when I first saw it standing up gray and massive on an imposing hill. I supposed it had been restored, and was rather disappointed to find it an hotel—though it's very jolly to live in, with all the latest feudal improvements and fittings, and King Arthur's Round Table in the enormous entrance-hall.
Sir Lionel wouldn't let Mrs. Senter laugh at me for thinking it the real castle, but said it was a natural mistake for a girl who had spent all her life in a French school—and how should I know the difference? I was grateful to him, for though I love to have some people laugh at me she isn't one of those people. She laughs in that sniffy way cats have.
The real castle I can see from my own feudal, castellated balcony. It is beautifully ruined; but you can go into it, and I have been. Only I want to tell you about other things first.
In my short note from Launceston, did I mention the old Norman house which belongs to cousins of Sir Lionel's? He used to visit there, and poke about in the castle, which was Godwin's and Harold's before the Conquest. But the nicest cousins are dead and the rest are away, so we could only see the outside of the house. However, we went to call at an ancient stone cottage of the colour of petrified wallflowers, to see a servant who took care of Sir Lionel when he was a child. A wonderful old wisp of a thing, with the reputation of being a witch, which wins her great respect; and she used quaint Cornish words that have come down from generation to generation, ever since the early Celts, without changing. When Sir Lionel sympathized with her about her husband's death, she said it was a grief, but he'd been a sad invalid, and a "good bit in the way of the oven" for several years.
On the way to Tintagel from Launceston we passed Slaughter Bridge, one of the many places where legend says King Arthur fought his last battle. So that was a good entrance to Arthurian country, wasn't it? Our road cut huge, rolling downs in two, and they surged up on either side, so it was rather like the passage through the Red Sea. And under a sky that hung over us like an illimitable bluebell, we saw our first Cornish mountains, Rough Tor and Brown Willy. Names of that sort make you feel at home with mountains at once, as if you'd known them all your life, and might lead them about with a string. But they are only corruptions of old Celtic names that nobody could possibly pronounce; and nearly everything seems more or less Celtic in Cornwall, especially eyes. They are beautiful gray-blue, with their black lashes as long on the lower as on the upper lid, and look as if they had been "rubbed in with a dirty finger." Now I see that Sir Lionel's eyes are Celtic. I didn't know quite how to account for them at first. He has a temper, I think, and could be severe; but he says the Cornish people are so good-hearted that if you ask them the way anywhere, they tell you the one they think you would prefer to take, whether it's really right or not. But I'm glad he is not so easy going as that.
It was exciting to wheel into a little road like a lane, marked "Tintagel"! I felt my copy of "Le Morte d'Arthur" turning in my hand, like a water-diviner's rod. We took the lane to avoid a tremendous hill, because hills give Mrs. Norton the "creeps" in her feet and back hair, and she never recovers until she has had tea. But it was a charming lane, with views by and by of wide, purple moorland, sunset-red with new heather; and the sky had turned from bluebell azure to green and rose, in a wonderful, chameleon way, which it seems that the sky has in Cornwall. I suppose it was a Celtic habit! All about us billowed a profusion of wild beauty; and though for a long time there was nothing alive in sight except a flock of bright pink sheep, my stage-managing fancy called up knights of the round table, "pricking" o'er the downs on their panoplied steeds to the rescue of fair, distressed damsels. And the bright mirrors which the fleeting rain had dropped along the road were the knights' polished shields, laid down to save the ladies from wetting the points of their jewelled slippers.
Then came my first sight of the Cornish sea, deep hyacinth, with golden sails scattered upon it, and Arthur's cliffs rising dark out of its satin sheen. Beyond, in the background, gray houses and cottages grouped together, the stone and slates worn shiny with age, like very old marble, so that they reflected glints of colour from the rose and violet sky.
By the time I was dressed for dinner it was sunset, and I went to sit on the terrace and watch the splendid cloud pageant. I seemed to be the only one of our party who had come down yet, though, to tell the whole, whole truth, I had had a sneaking idea Sir Lionel would perhaps be strolling about with a cigarette, looking nice and slim, and young, and soldierly in his dinner jacket. He is nicer to look at in that than in almost anything else, I think, as most Englishmen are.
He wasn't there, however, so I had to admire his Cornish sunset without him. And I had such fine thoughts about it, too!—at least they seemed fine to me; and if I weren't quite a congenial friend of my own it would have seemed a waste of good material to lavish them on myself alone.
I saw through the open door of the sunset, into Arthur's kingdom, where he still rules, you know, and is lord of all. The whole west was a Field-of-the-Cloth-of-Gold, and across the blaze of golden glory rode dark shapes of cloud, purple and crimson, violet and black. They were Arthur's knights tilting in tournament, while the Queen of Beauty and her attendant ladies looked on. Now and then, as I watched, a knight fell, and a horse tore away riderless, his gold-'broidered trappings floating on the wind. When this happened, out of the illumined sea would writhe a glittering dragon, or scaly heraldic beast, to prance or fly along the horizon after the vanishing charger of the fallen knight. Sometimes the rushing steed would swim to a fairy island or siren-rock that floated silver-pale on the shining water, or jutted dark out of a creamy line of breakers; and though I knew that the knights and ladies and wondrous animals were but inhabitants of Sunset Kingdom, Limited, and that the glimmering islands and jagged rocks would dissolve by and by into cloud-wreaths, they all looked as real as the long tongue of land beyond which North Devon crouched hiding. And the colour flamed so fiercely in the sky that I was half afraid the sun must be on fire.
As I sat there watching the last of the knights ride away, three people came out of the hotel and stood on the terrace. I just gave them one glance, and went back to the sunset, but somehow I got the feeling that they were looking at me, and talking about me.
Presently they began to walk up and down, and as they passed in front of my seat, they turned an interested gaze upon me. All I had known about them until then was that they were a trio: a man, a woman, and a boy, with conventional backs; but as they turned, I recognized the man and the woman.
You would never guess who they were, so I'll tell you. Do you remember the people for whom you talked Italian at Venice four years and a half ago, the day we arrived, and there was a strike, and no porters to carry anybody's luggage? Well, here they were at Tintagel! I was perfectly certain of this in an instant, and I realized why they were so interested in me. They thought they had seen me before, but perhaps were not sure.
Anyway, they walked on, and only the boy looked back. He was dressed in Eton clothes, and was exactly like all other boys, except that he had mischievous eyes and a bored mouth—almost as dangerous a combination in a boy, I should think, as a box of matches and a barrel of gunpowder.
I thought that he was probably their son, and that, as he had nothing better to do, he was wondering about me. I would have given a lot to know what they were saying, and whether Venice was in their minds or not, but I could do nothing except hope they might not place me mentally. I wouldn't get up and go in, because that would have been too cowardly; and besides, if they were staying in the hotel, I should certainly run up against them afterward.
I had just decided to face it out, and had put on a forbidding expression, when along came Sir Lionel, so I had to take off the expression and fold it away for future emergencies. He was smoking one of those cigarettes which go so well with sunsets, and he had seen the King Arthur sky-tournament from the other side of the house. He said he had not supposed I should be down so soon, but was hoping that I hadn't missed the show, wherever I was. He threw away his cigarette—which is one of his old-fashioned tricks if he sees a woman, never even waiting to know if she minds—and asked if he might sit on the seat by me. That was old-fashioned, too, wasn't it? The Dick Burdens of the world plump themselves down by girls without worrying to get permission. They think female things will be too flattered for words, by a condescending male desire to be near them.
I told you how nice Sir Lionel looks in evening clothes, didn't I? You've no idea what a perfect shape his head is; and a large lake of white shirt under a little black silk bow is particularly becoming to a clean-shaven man with a very tanned skin—though I don't know why. One would think it might have the opposite effect. And Sir Lionel does tie his necktie so nicely, with a kind of careless precision which comes right of itself, like everything he does. (You will think all this is silly, and it is; but I keep noticing things about him, and liking them, so I tell you, because I may have prejudiced you against him at first, as Ellaline prejudiced me.)
We were beginning to have a good talk about Cornwall, and quaint Cornish ways and superstitions, when out of the house came Mrs. Senter. The Venice people had just passed again, and were near the hotel door as she appeared.
"Why, Sallie and George!" she exclaimed.
And "Why, Gwen!" the Venice lady answered.
They shook hands, the boy and all, and though Sir Lionel didn't pay much attention to what was going on, I couldn't keep up our conversation. "Suppose they tell Mrs. Senter they met me in Venice!" I said to myself. "What shall I do?"
Out of one corner of my eye I saw that they did speak of me, and she threw a quick, eager glance in my direction. A minute or two later they all strolled on together, until they had come in front of our seat. There Mrs. Senter paused, and said, "Sir Lionel, these are my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Tyndal, of whom I think I must have spoken to you, and this is their cousin, Mr. Tom Tyndal. They are touring in their motor, and arrived here this afternoon, a little before us. Quite a coincidence, isn't it?" And then, as if on second thoughts, she added me to the introduction.
"Quite a coincidence," indeed! It never rains, but it pours coincidences, on any head that is developing a criminal record.
The Tyndals paid Sir Lionel compliments, and seemed to be delighted to meet him, evidently regarding him as a great celebrity, which, I suppose, he really is. Then, when they had made him sufficiently uncomfortable (compliments are to him what a sudden plague of locusts would be to most men), they turned to me.
"Surely we have met before, Miss Lethbridge?" remarked Mrs. Tyndal. And you ought to have seen how Mrs. Senter's features sharpened, as she waited for me to stammer or blush.
As far as the blush was concerned, she had her money's worth; and I only didn't stammer because I was obliged to stop and think before replying. I almost worshipped Sir Lionel when he answered for me, in a quick, positive way he has, which there seems no gainsaying. I suppose men who live in the East cultivate that, as it keeps natives from arguing and answering back.
"Impossible," said he, "unless it was at Versailles, where my ward has been at school since she was a very small child, with no holidays except at St. Cloud."
"Mightn't it have been at Paris?" obligingly suggested Mrs. Senter, determined I shouldn't be let off, if conviction of any sort were possible.
"No, I don't think it was at Paris," murmured Mrs. Tyndal, reflectively, eyeing me in the sunset light, which was turning to pure amethyst. "Now, where could it have been? I seem to associate your face with—with Italy."
Oh, my goodness! She was getting "warm" in our game of "hide the handkerchief."
"She has never been to Italy," said Sir Lionel, beginning to look rather cross, as if Mrs. Tyndal were taking liberties with his belongings—of which, you see, he thinks me one.
"Not even—Venice?" she persisted. "Oh, yes, that is it! Now I know where I seem to have seen you—at Venice. You remember, don't you, George?"
By this time sparks had lighted up in Sir Lionel's eyes, as if he were a Turk, and one of the ladies of his harem were unjustly suspected.
"It is impossible for Mr. Tyndal to remember what didn't happen," he said, dropping a lump of ice into his voice. "You saw someone who looked like her in Venice, perhaps, but not my ward."
I was almost sorry for the poor Tyndals, who meant no harm, though they had the air of being so frightfully rich and prosperous that it seemed ridiculous to pity them.
"Of course, it could only have been a resemblance," said Mr. Tyndal, with that snubby glare at Mrs. Tyndal which husbands and wives keep for each other.
"It must have been," she responded, taking up her cue; for naturally they didn't want to begin their acquaintance with a distinguished person by offending him.
These signs of docility caused Sir Lionel to relent and come down off his high horse. Whenever he has been at all haughty or impatient with his sister (whose denseness would sometimes try a saint) he is sorry in a minute, and tries to be extra nice. It was the same now in the case of the poor Tyndals, whose Etonian cousin had all the time been gazing up at him with awed adoration, as of a hero on a pedestal; and suddenly a quaint thought struck me. I remembered about the Bengalese Sir Lionel was supposed to have executed for some offence or other, and I could see him being sorry immediately afterward, tearing around trying to stick their heads on again, and saying pleasant words.
Well, he stuck the Tyndals' heads on very kindly, so that they almost forgot they'd ever been slashed off; and when Mrs. Norton came out, which she did in a few minutes, looking as if she'd washed the dust off her face with kitchen soap, we all strolled up and down together, till it was time for dinner.
Mrs. Tyndal walked with me, but not a word did she say about Venice. That subject was to be tabooed, but I'm far from sure she was convinced of her mistake, and she couldn't overcome her intense interest in my features. However, she seems good-natured, as if even to please Mrs. Senter she wouldn't care to do me a bad turn. Only, I don't think people do things from motives as a rule, do you? They just suddenly find they want to do them, and presto, the things are done! That's why the world's so exciting.
We chatted non-committally of cabbages and kings and automobiles; and I recalled tracing pneu-tracks like illusive lights and shadows before us on the damp road, as we spun into Tintagel. No doubt they were the pneus of the Tyndals.
Their table was next ours in the dining room, so close that motor-chat was tossed back and forth, and it appeared that Mr. Tyndal was as proud of his car as a cat of its mouse. Mrs. Tyndal's mice are her jewels, and she has droves of them, which she displayed at dinner. Afterward she did lace-work, which made her rings gleam beautifully, and she said she didn't particularly like doing it, but it was something to "kill time." How awful! But I suppose frightfully rich people are like that. They sometimes get fatty degeneration of the soul.
Well, nothing more happened that evening, except that the Tyndal boy and I made great friends—quite a nice boy, pining for some mischief that idle hands might do; and his cousins said that, as we were going to stop several days at Tintagel, "making it a centre," they would stop, too. Sir Lionel didn't appear overjoyed at the decision, but Mrs. Senter seemed glad. She and her sister, Mrs. Burden, have known the Tyndals for years, and are by way of being friends, yet she works off her little firework epigrams against them when their backs are turned, as she does on everybody. According to her, their principal charm for society in London is their cook; and she says the art treasures in their house are all illegitimate; near-Gobelin, not-quite-Raphaels, and so on. She makes Sir Lionel smile; but I wonder if she'd adopt this cheap method if he'd ever mentioned to her (as he has to me) that of all meannesses he despises disloyalty?
The Tyndal boy went up to bed before the rest of us, and when Sir Lionel and Mrs. Norton had been forced to play bridge with Mrs. Senter and Mr. Tyndal, I slipped away, too.
We'd lived in the hotel such a short time, and it's so big, that I counted on recognizing my room by the boots which I put outside the door when I went down to sunset and dinner. Of course, I'd forgotten my number, as I always do. I wouldn't consider myself a normal girl if I didn't.
There were the boots, not taken away yet—looking abject, as boots do in such situations—but I was pleased to see that they compared favourably in size with the gray alligator-skin and patent leather eccentricities of Mrs. Senter, reposing on an adjacent doormat. With this frivolous reflection in my mind, it didn't occur to me, as I turned the handle of the door marked by my brown footgear, that the room now appeared farther to the left, along the passage, than I had the impression of its being. I opened the door, which was not locked, walked in, felt about for the electric light, switched it on, and had sauntered over to a table in the centre of the room before I noticed anything strange. Then, to my startled vision appeared unfamiliar brushes and combs on a chest of drawers; beautiful, but manly looking silver-backed ones; and along the wall was a row of flat tweed legs, on stretchers.
For an instant I stood still, bewildered, as if I'd walked into a dream, beguiled by a false clue of boots; and during my few seconds of temporary aberration my dazed eyes fell upon a book which lay on the table. It was Sir Lionel's "Morte d'Arthur" (second volume; he's lent me the first), and in it for a marker was a glove of mine. I'd lost it at Torquay, after we had our dear, good talk, and he knew I was looking for it, all about the sitting room we had at the hotel there, yet he never said a word.
Oh, dear little French mother, you can't think what an odd feeling it gave me to see he had kept my glove, and had put it in his book! Yes, I believe you can think, too, because probably you've felt just like that yourself when you were a girl, only you never thought it convenable to describe your symptoms for your daughter's benefit. I know it was perfectly schoolgirlish of me, and I ought to have outgrown such sentimentality with my teens; but if you could see Sir Lionel, and understand the sort of man he is, you wouldn't think me so outrageous. That he—he, of all men—should care to keep anything which would remind him of an insignificant child like me! I'm afraid there came a prickly feeling in my eyelids, and I had the most idiotic desire to kiss the book, which I knew would have a nice smell of his cigarettes, because my borrowed volume has. Of course, I wouldn't have done it for anything, though, so don't think I'm worse than I am. And really, really, I don't believe I'm exactly in love. I hope I'm not so foolish. It's just a kind of infatuated fascination of a moth—not for a candle, but for a great, brilliant motor lamp. I've seen them at night dashing themselves against the glass of our Bleriots once or twice when we've been out late, and I know how hopelessly they smash their soft, silly wings. I should have been like them if I'd kissed the book; but instead, after that one look which told me the glove really was my glove, I bounced out of the room, snatching my boots up as I dashed across the threshold.
Bump! as I did so I almost telescoped with Sir Lionel who had retrieved his boots, probably from my doormat. And at the same moment came a boyish yelp from somewhere, followed by the smart slap of a door shutting. I wished it had been a smart slap of my hand on the Tyndal boy's ear, for of course the boot-changing was that little fiend's work, I guessed in a second.
So did Sir Lionel, and we both laughed—at ourselves, at each other, and everything. It seems that the Youthful Horror had changed every pair of boots along the corridor, and made the most weird combinations. I don't suppose Sir Lionel thought about the glove in the book, anyway at the time, and luckily there was nothing tell-tale in my room, in case he strayed in, except your photograph in the silver frame you gave me on my last birthday. And of course he could make nothing of that.
He had got out of playing bridge, because when Mrs. Tyndal saw he wasn't keen, she offered to take a hand, and he said he did want to write to a man in Bengal, his best friend.
We talked to each other only a few minutes, after the boot-puzzle had been put right; but would you believe it, up came Mrs. Senter, while Sir Lionel and I were bidding each other good night in front of my door? She looked as stiff and wicked as a frozen snake for an instant; then she smiled too sweetly, and said she'd come for her Spanish lace mantilla. But I almost know she had fancied that Sir Lionel might have made an excuse to get a word with me, and had flown up to find out for herself.
You can imagine, dear, that I didn't feel much like going to bed when I'd finished saying good-night, and shut my door upon the world. It seemed to me that this birthplace of Sir Lionel's ancestor, King Arthur Pendragon, was too romantic and wonderful to go tamely to sleep in. And what was my covered balcony for, if not to dream dreams and think thoughts, by moonlight?
So I switched off the electricity in my room, and went out to find that the moon (which is big and grand now) had come out, too, tearing apart a great black cloud in order to look down on Arthur-land, and see if she had any adorers. Anyway, she must have seen me, for she turned the night into silver dawn, so clear and bright that she couldn't have missed me if she tried.
I did wish for you to be with me then, and I'm ashamed to confess I wouldn't have minded Sir Lionel as a companion, because Tintagel seems so much more his than mine.
Never did I hear the sea talk poetry and legend as it does round those dark rocks of old "Dundagel." I thought as I leaned out from my balcony, a lonely, unappreciated Juliet—that the sound was like the chanting voice of an ancient bard, telling stories of the golden days to himself or to all who might care to listen. I fancied I could hear the words:
They found a naked child upon the sands Of dark Dundagel by the Cornish sea.
I could see the ruined castle, on its twin cliffs, below the hotel-castle cliff and between me and the sea; and the very meagreness of what remains seemed to increase the interest and mystery by stimulating the imagination, forcing it to create its own pictures. I "reconstructed" the castle, building it of the same stone they use now at Tintagel, and have used for the last thousand years or so; a dark stone, singularly rich with colour—pansy and wallflower colour, with splashes of green flung on to dead gray, like bright autumn leaves stirred into a heap of other leaves dim and dead. And the mortar for my masonry was the moonlight which flooded the sea and those wide downs whose divisions into fields turned them into enormous maps.
I worked myself up into such a romantic mood that I almost cried in the joy and pain of living, and expected to look back upon myself with the "utmost spurn" when I should come back to real life after a good sleep in the morning. But I didn't,—perhaps because, instead of encouraging the good sleep, I lay and listened to the wild song of the Cornish wind.
I waked early, feeling exactly the same, if not more so, and could hardly wait to get down into the ruins of the old castle. I splashed about in a cold bath, dressed as quickly as a well-groomed girl can, and then—I committed what might seem an indiscreet act if the last of the Pendragons and I did not stand toward each other in the place of guardian and ward. "Nothing is, but thinking makes it so." And Sir Lionel certainly does think we're in those positions; therefore it was all right for me to knock at his door, and ask through the keyhole if he would very, very much mind taking me to the castle?
He was dressed, and opened the door instantly. It was the one thing he would have liked to propose, said he, only he had been afraid of disturbing me so early. Wasn't that kind of him? I remembered the glove, and the thought of it was more delicious than a breakfast of Cornish cream and honey; although, of course, lurking in the background of my mind was the horrid idea that he might have accidentally picked the thing up to use as a bookmark. And another idea, gloomier even, though not so horrid, was that, even if he does like me well enough to keep things of mine, he must soon grow to hate me when he knows who I am.
He suggested coffee, but I wouldn't have it, because I was afraid Mrs. Senter might appear and want to go to the castle too. I had visions of her, hearing our voices in the corridor, and dashing out of bed to fling on her clothes; but even if she did overhear the whole conversation, I don't think she's the kind who looks her best before breakfast, if she has dressed in a hurry; and anyway, we were spared the apparition.
It was a fine scramble getting to the ruins, and when Sir Lionel had opened a door (with a key you get from a cottage close by the sea) it was quite as if he were my host, entertaining me in his ancestral home. I told him that it felt twice as interesting to be there with a true Pendragon, than with a mere king or anybody like that, and he seemed pleased.
"I hope I am a 'true' Pendragon," he said, rather thoughtfully. "One must try to be—always." He looked at me very, very kindly, as if he would have liked to say something more; but he didn't speak, and turned away his eyes to look far over the sea. It was only for a little while, though, that he was absent-minded. Sitting there on the rough, wind-blown grass which is the floor of the castle now, he told me things about the place and its history. How Dundagel meant the "Safe Castle," and how the "Arthurian believers" say it was built by the Britons in earliest Roman days; how David Bruce of Wales was entertained by the Earl of Cornwall on the very spot where we were sitting, and how the great hall, once famous, was destroyed as long ago as when Chaucer was a baby. And as he talked, the rising wind wailed and sobbed like old, old witches crying over the evil fallen on Arthur and his castle. Such an old, wise-sounding wind it was, old enough to have been blowing when Arthur was a baby, drowning the lullabies sung by his mother Igerna, "that greatest beauty in Britain."
We forgot breakfast, and stopped in the ruins a long time, until suddenly we both realized that we were desperately hungry. But instead of going up to our own hotel, we walked into the quaint village (whose real name is Trevena, though nobody calls it that) and had something to eat at a hotel where Sir Lionel used to stop occasionally when he was a boy. Afterward, we went to see the village schoolmaster, whom he knew; such a nice man, who paints pictures as well as teaches the children—and I felt guilty at being introduced as Sir Lionel's "ward." I think my conscience is like a bruised peach, pinched by many fingers to see if it's ripe, I have that guilty feeling so often! When we spoke of the schoolmaster's versatility, he laughed and said it was "nothing to his predecessor's," who used to cut the children's hair, clip horses, measure land, act as parish clerk as well as teacher, pull teeth, and beat such transgressors as had to be punished in a way less serious than prison. Doesn't that take one back to long ago? But so does everything in Tintagel—and all over Cornwall, Sir Lionel says. They have such nice old-fashioned words here! Isn't "jingle" good? It's some kind of a conveyance, exactly the opposite of a motor-car, I fancy, from the description. And I like the word "huer," too. It means a man who gives the hue and cry when the pilchards are coming in, and all the fishermen must run to the sea.
I should like to know everything about Cornwall, from the smugglers, and the famous wrestlers, to the witches—the last of whom lives near Boscastle still. But the little that travellers in motors can learn about places steeped in history, is like trying to know all about a beautiful great tree by one leaf of flying gold which falls into the automobile as it sweeps by, along the road. Still, the little one does learn is unforgettable, impressed upon the mind in a different way from the mere learning. And I suppose few people know everything about every place, even in their own countries. If they did, I'm sure they'd be prigs, and no one would want to know them!
When we got back to our hotel castle on the cliff, the Tyndals' motor was at the door, a huge, gorgeous chariot, and nothing would do but we must "try the car." Mrs. Senter had promised to go, and was putting on her hat.
The Tyndals are difficult people to resist, because if you try to make excuses they pin you down in one way or another, so that you must either do what they want or hurt their feelings; and though Sir Lionel is supposed to have been so strict in Bengal, he is quite soft-hearted in England. I think he hates going about in motors that aren't his, because he enjoys being the man at the helm, which is perhaps characteristic of him; however, the Tyndals swept all of us, except Mrs. Norton, away to Delabole to see the slate quarries, and to have the adventure of sliding down a fearfully steep incline in a tiny trolley-car—if that's the right word for it. I half expected Charon to meet me with his ferry-boat at the bottom. It wouldn't have seemed much stranger than other things in Cornwall.
All that happened yesterday. To-day we have been to Trebarwith Strand and Port Isaac, and have walked to the loneliest church I ever saw, with the gravestones in the burying ground propped by buttresses, that the wind mayn't throw them down. It is Tintagel church, though it's a good long way from the village, and the vicarage is of the fourteenth century.
Oh, and I heard a splendid legend about the ruined castle from the vicar, who is its warden! It seems, when it was built by the old princes of West Wales—very beautiful as well as strong, with walls "painted of many colours," it was placed under a powerful spell by Merlin, that it might become invisible twice in every year. How I should like to be at Tintagel at the right time, and see if the ruins would disappear from before my eyes. I believe they would; and the enchantment would take the form of a sea mist.
To-morrow we are to leave Cornwall for Bideford.
I had got as far as that, when Mrs. Senter knocked at my door, and asked if she might come in for a few minutes; so I had to say yes, and "smile full well in counterfeited glee." But I hated to be interrupted, as there was just time before dressing for dinner to finish my letter to you. Now it is after dinner, and before I go to bed, I'll tell you what has happened.
How conceited I was to suppose it possible that Sir Lionel thought me an important person! I am sure the glove episode must have been a mere accident. Serves me right!
Mrs. Senter came to tell me that they'd all been talking about the way to Bideford, and Sir Lionel said the road was so hilly, he wished we hadn't quite as many passengers in the car. Then the Tyndals asked if they might take me, because they'd made up their minds to go to Bideford too, and Sir Lionel answered that it would be a splendid way out of the difficulty if I were willing. The only trouble was, he didn't like to propose such a thing for fear of hurting my feelings; and the conversation ended, according to Mrs. Senter, by the Tyndals planning to suggest the idea to me as if it were their own, then letting the matter rest on my decision.
Mrs. Senter went on to explain that Sir Lionel didn't know she was repeating to me what had passed, but that she thought I would prefer to know. "I'm sure I should if I were in your place," she purred sweetly. "When the Tyndals invite you, of course you must do exactly as you please; but don't you think for Mrs. Norton's sake, as she's such a coward, it would be best to keep the car as light as possible, since Sir Lionel fears the roads are really bad?"
"Oh, certainly," said I, trying so hard not to blush that I must have been purple. "I shall be delighted to go with Mr. and Mrs. Tyndal, in their lovely car, and it's very nice of them to ask me."
"You won't tell Sir Lionel I interfered, will you?" she begged. "I should be quite afraid of him if he were angry."
"You needn't worry. He shan't hear anything from me," said I.
"And you do think I was right to let you know?" she implored.
"Of course," I assured her. But I was feeling hurt all the way up to my topmost hair and down to my tipmost toe. Not that I mind going with the Tyndals, but that Sir Lionel should pick me out as the bit of superfluous ballast to cast to the winds! That was what made me feel cold and old, and alone in the world. I conscientiously told myself that I was the youngest of the party, and the right one to sacrifice; but nothing was much comfort until the thought jumped into my head that maybe Mrs. Senter had fibbed. I went to dinner buoyed up by that hope, but it died young; for the Tyndals did invite me, in Sir Lionel's hearing; and when I said that I should be charmed—he smiled calmly. So far from making objections, I thought he looked quite pleased.
Poor me! I fancied in the castle ruins that he actually liked my society. But I forgot that I'd invited him to go with me. I shan't forget again. And hang the glove!
Your poor, foolish, conceited, humiliated
TELEGRAM FROM DICK BURDEN TO HIS AUNT
Glen Lachlan, August 13th, 8 o'clock A.M.
Senter, King Arthur's Castle, Tintagel, Cornwall:
Returning to-day. Hope find you still at Tintagel. Try and make Pendragon stay if he plans to leave. Find some excuse.
TELEGRAM FROM MRS. SENTER TO HER NEPHEW
Tintagel, August 13th, 9.20 A.M.
R. Burden, Glen Lachlan, N. B.
Just starting for Bideford. Can make no excuse to delay, but have done better. If you arrive Tintagel to-night will find member of party most important to you still there. Better hurry. Will leave letter explaining all.
LETTER LEFT BY MRS. SENTER AT KING ARTHUR'S CASTLE HOTEL, FOR HER NEPHEW DICK BURDEN
Dear Dick: Your wire has just come as we are starting. I've telegraphed, and will leave a few words for you in pencil. Lucky you have a resourceful relative, and that Mrs. Norton's washing didn't come till late this morning! My resourcefulness enables me to change my plans for your benefit, or rather, to make them work together for your good, in the time most women take to change their minds; while the lateness of Mrs. N.'s washing and her mild obstinacy in determining to wait for it, against her brother's wishes, provide us with a few extra minutes.
Now it suddenly appears that Young Nick hasn't enough petrol to get on as far as—anywhere. That will give us more minutes. Brown Buddha, as your adored one calls him, has crawled humbly but swiftly off to obtain a new supply. Sir Lionel, already in a vile temper for reasons which I may have time to explain, is bursting with rage to which he is too proud to give a natural outlet. He looks ready to explode, not with bombs, but with dambs. I have never heard him say a single one, during the whole of our acquaintance, but his eyes are sending out a fiery cataract of them this minute. A good thing for me he doesn't know what I know, or the fire would be turned upon me, and I should wither like "She" in her second bath.
Quickly I'll tell you what I've done, and why Sir Lionel is wild; also how I've rearranged everything and everybody at the last minute, in order to satisfy you. What a precious darling aunt you have got, to be sure, and what a lot you do owe her!
For motives of my own, I planned to transplant your sweet Ellaline from our motor-car to the motor-car of others for the day. The "others" are George and Sallie Tyndal, about whose sudden, apropos appearance I wrote your mother only yesterday; but, of course, as you're leaving to-day you'll miss the news in that letter. I thought your anxiety for your parent's health would hardly be poignant enough to keep you in Scotland long, but I didn't suppose you'd be able to tear yourself away quite so soon.
I don't doubt you wonder how it can be possible for me to have too much of dear E.'s society, but strange as that may seem, it can; and worse than that, I dislike Sir Lionel getting too much of it. I don't think it is good for him; and he's had enough of the commodity since we've been in Tintagel to produce, according to my point of view and yours, disastrous effects. I decided that drastic measures were necessary for both our sakes, and with me to decide is to act—when anything really important is at stake.
First I persuaded the Tyndals that it would be kindly to invite Miss Lethbridge to travel in their motor to Bideford, whither they also are bound. I said that Sir Lionel feared we would be rather a crowd for his car, as the roads are supposed to be bad. This flattered them, for their motor, which is somewhat more powerful than ours, is the one object for which they live at present. Besides, they were delighted at the chance of getting the girl to themselves, as they think they met her years ago in Italy, where it is alleged she has never been. Some school girl escapade, perhaps. You had better do a little catechising, later on. Meanwhile, the Tyndals yearn for the opportunity of pumping. Sir Lionel has quite fiercely prevented them from doing so, up to date. He looked ready to challenge poor George to a duel the other evening for merely suggesting that they might have met Miss Lethbridge in Venice.
To Sir L. I hinted that Ellaline was bored, now that you were gone, and that she would enjoy the change of travelling for a day with new people; that she had taken a fancy to the Tyndal boy; and I added that she had asked me privately whether I thought that Sir Lionel would object to her accepting, provided the Tyndals wanted her to go to Bideford. Naturally, when the invitation came, he did not object. You'd have laughed if you could have seen her face when he smiled with apparent benevolent delight upon the suggestion. The sight would have repaid you for many a snub, my poor love-sick swain!
That was where matters stood till your telegram came, a few minutes ago. All I hoped for was, to get rid of the dear child for one long, happy day, and to estrange her a little (partly for your sake) from her solicitous guardian. But your wire set another bee humming in my motor-bonnet. I determined to do you a good turn if I could; so I flew up, before answering you, to have a talk with the Tyndals. They were starting a few minutes after us, by my advice, and hadn't come downstairs yet. Ellaline, too, was still in her room, sulking, no doubt, and hadn't said good-bye to Sir Lionel or any of us. I know that, because my room at this hotel has been close to hers—and to his, too; so whenever a word is murmured on a doorstep I hear. No word has been murmured this morning; and E. has had her breakfast sent into her bedroom.
To the Tyndals I said that word had arrived from you, and that in confidence I would tell them that you and Miss Lethbridge are as good as engaged. At least, that you had a private understanding which would be an engagement if Sir Lionel weren't a dog in the manger. He didn't want the girl himself, I explained, yet he didn't want to give her to anyone else—short of a millionaire. You, I went on to say, had wired that you would be back this evening, and Ellaline was dying to stay and see you. Sir Lionel didn't know you were coming, I confessed, and would be angry if he did; but if they—the Tyndals—could somehow misunderstand the arrangements made overnight, and in the confusion of their minds leave Miss Lethbridge behind, it would be a great favour to everyone concerned—except Sir Lionel.
The Tyndals, who think a lot of themselves because they have more money than brains, are annoyed with Sir L. because he snapped at them about Venice; so they were rather pleased at the idea of doing him a bad turn and at the same time advancing Love's Young Dream. When I assured them it would be easy to say that they understood Ellaline had changed her mind and was going with Sir Lionel, they agreed to slip off without her about half an hour after the flight of Apollo. That is the plan, as it stands, up to date. Sir Lionel and Mrs. Norton won't know till this evening at Bideford that E. isn't with the Tyndals; and then of course I shall get George and Sallie out of his bad graces as well as I can. Meanwhile you will find her at Tintagel, and can bring her on by rail. That will be delightful for you; and as Sir Lionel is old-fashioned in some of his notions, he may be more inclined to consent to an engagement between you after the sort of journey you and she will have together. So I think all interests will have been served.
I am writing in the big hall of the hotel, and Sir Lionel is walking up and down, glaring first out of one window, and then out of another, at the rain, which is beginning to come down in drops as large as half-crowns. I only wish my half crowns, or even my shillings, were as plentiful! But perhaps they will be, some day before long—who knows? I do hope Ellaline won't take it into her head to appear at the last minute before we get off, and complicate things. Not that I won't be equal to disposing of her if she does! But no! here is Young Nick, very meek and soapy. He has got his petrol. Emily Norton reluctantly puts down a twenty-year-old volume of Blackwood which she has found in the hotel library. We are off. Good-bye—and good luck.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Tintagel, August 13th
Dearest Lodestar: I can feel you drawing me across miles of land and sea, and if only I could travel on a telepathic pass I would start this minute, Ellaline or no Ellaline. Toward her and Sir Lionel I feel as Mercutio felt toward the Montagus and Capulets: "A plague on both your houses!" Nobody seems to care what becomes of me. Why should I care what becomes of them?
Everything is too horrid and too extraordinary to-day. I got into the wrong side of bed last night, and got out again on the wrong side this morning. It happened to be the only side there was, as the bed stands against the wall in an alcove, where it can't be pulled out; and nobody could expect me to bound like a kangaroo over the foot, could they? But there are times in life when every side of everything is wrong; and this is one of those times with me—has been since dinner last night, when Sir Lionel grinned with joy at the prospect of shunting me upon the Tyndal family for a day. (When you are friends with people they smile; when you are out with them, they grin.)
Well, this morning I thought I wouldn't hurry to get down. I felt, if Mrs. Senter beamed at me from under her becoming motor-hat at starting, I should do her a mischief, and if Emily smirked inoffensively I should throw Murray in her face. As for Sir Lionel—words fail to express what I believed myself capable of doing to him. I could have stolen his car, in which he appeared to grudge me a seat, and have gone off with it into space to be a motor pirate. Whence can I have inherited these vicious tendencies? Truly, I never supposed I had them before; but you don't know yourself until people have practically accused you of taking up too much room in their old automobiles, although you're perfectly aware that you are less than eighteen inches wide at your broadest part in your thickest frock, and you thought they liked your society and kept your gloves. In that mood I wouldn't have condescended to see Apollo off if he'd been twice a god, armed with an invitation for me from Juno to a house-party on Olympus.
No sooner, however, did I hear his dear familiar purr as he swept away from the door of the hotel (my balcony is a corner one, and I could just catch the well-known c-r-r-r) when I regretted intensely that I hadn't been en evidence, looking indifferent. Suddenly, I suffered pangs of apprehension lest my stopping in my room had seemed like (what it really was) a fit of the sulks; but it was past repentance-time. Apollo was gone, Mrs. Senter doubtless sitting by Sir Lionel's side as usual, and probably commenting wittily on my silly conduct.
The Tyndals told me last night that they meant to start at ten, so I went downstairs five minutes before, too late to have to wait about, too early to be called. I expected to find them in the hall, and when they weren't there, I strolled out to see if the motor had come to the door, thinking they might be watching the loading up of their luggage. As for mine, Apollo had taken it as usual, except a pretty little fitted handbag, small and wonderfully convenient, which Sir Lionel came across in a shop and bought for me (I mean for Ellaline) at Torquay. But there wasn't a Tyndal in sight, and not so much as the smell of a motor-car, so I wandered inside and asked the handsome landlady, whom I met near King Arthur's Round Table, whether she had seen the Tyndal automobile or its owners.
"Why," said she, "they went off about ten minutes ago."
"Went off—where?" I asked blankly.
"To Bideford, I think they were going," she replied.
"That can't be, for I was to have gone with them," said I.
"Indeed?" exclaimed the landlady, polite but puzzled. "I didn't know. I thought you had gone with your own party. I was surprised to meet you here just now. I'm afraid there must have been some misunderstanding, for certainly Mr. and Mrs. Tyndal and their young cousin have really gone, because they bade me good-bye here in the hall, and said they hoped to come back some day."
She looked at me pityingly, and I felt exactly like Robinson Crusoe before he knew there was going to be a Friday; but, like him, I kept a stiff upper lip. I am happy to say I even laughed. "Well, that's very funny," said I, as if being pigeon-holed by Sir Lionel and marooned by the Tyndals was the most amusing experience in the world, and I simply delighted in it. "Of course, somebody or other will count noses and miss me after a while. Then they'll have to come back and fetch me, I suppose."
"You could go on to Bideford by rail, if you liked," the landlady informed me gratuitously. "There is a train early this afternoon, and——"
"Oh, I think I'd better wait here," I said. "If they came back and found me gone, it would be too complicated."
She agreed; but she little guessed how much more complicated it would be to take a train for anywhere without any pennies. If I had money, I would go to you, and not to Bideford. At least, that is the way I feel now; but I suppose I wouldn't, for my obligations to Ellaline haven't snapped with the strain of the situation, although just at this moment they don't seem to matter. It's only deep down in my heart that I know they do matter.
There is my scrape, dearest of women, and mamma whom I would select if I were able to choose among all eligible mothers since Eve, up to date. The situation hasn't changed in the least, to the time of writing, except that it has lasted longer, and got frayed round the edges.
I was paid for, including food and lodging, until after breakfast. It is now half-past five o'clock P.M., pouring with rain, howling with wind, and not only has nobody come back to collect me, but nobody has telephoned or telegraphed. I have eaten, or pretended to eat, a luncheon, for which I have no money to pay. I refused tea, but was so kindly urged that I had to reconsider; and the buttered toast of servitude is at this moment sticking in my throat, lodged on the sharp edge of an unuttered sob. Your poor, forlorn little daughter! What is to become of her? Will she have to go to the place of unclaimed parcels? Or will she be sold as bankrupt stock? Or will she become a kitchen-maid or "tweeny" in King Arthur's Castle? But don't worry, darling. I won't be such a beast as to post this letter till something is settled, somehow, even if I have to rob the hotel till.
There is nothing to do except write, for I can't compose my mind to read; so I will continue recording my emotions, as French criminals do when condemned to death, or lovesick ladies when they have swallowed slow poison.
5.50.—Rain worse. Wind yelling imprecations. I sit in the hall, as I can't call my room my own. New people are arriving. They look Cook-ey, but are probably Countesses. I gaze at them haughtily, and try to appear prosperous. I hope they think my mother, the Duchess, is taking a nap in our magnificent suite upstairs, while I write a letter to my godfather, the Prince, to thank him for his birthday gift of a rope of pearls which reaches to my knees.
6.15.—The landlady has just been sympathizing with me. She says there is a night train to Bideford. I have poured cold water upon the night train to Bideford, and came near pouring some hot tears on the timetable she kindly brought me.
6.25.—People are going up to dress for dinner. They are God's creatures, but I do not love them.
6.40.—The head-waiter has just fluttered up to ask if I would like a smaller table for dinner. No table would be too small for my appetite. I said——
7.10.—Darling, Sir Lionel has come back for me, alone, dripping wet, and it was all a mistake, and he did want me, and he's furious with everybody in the world except me, to whom he is perfectly adorable. And I'm afraid I adore him. And we're starting at once, when we've had a sandwich and coffee—can't wait for dinner. Everything is too nice. I'll explain as soon as I've time to write.
Your Radiant Transformation Scene,
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
The Luttrell Arms, Dunster, Aug. 18th
Duck of the Universe: Five days since I wrote, and it seems five minutes. But I did telegraph—with my last shilling; and even that would be rightfully Ellaline's, if the labourer weren't worthy of his hire.
You see, after the letter I had from her in Torquay, when she wanted money to go to Scotland with her new friends, the McNamaras, I very reluctantly screwed my courage to the asking point, and got more out of Sir Lionel. If he weren't the most generous man in the world he would have privately dubbed me "Oliver Twist" by this time. Perhaps he has! But I trust not. Anyhow, I shall get on without more requests, I hope, until the next "allowance" day comes round; or until every pin is lost and every hairpin has dropped out.
Because in the telegram I was forced to be economical, and ran only to "All well. Love" ("much" scratched out as an extravagance), I must now go back to the moment of Sir Lionel's unexpected, almost miraculous, appearance at Tintagel.
There I was in the hall, scribbling dolefully about my symptoms. "Teuf, teuf, teuf!" heard outside, between screeches of wind. In bounces Sir Lionel, wet as a merman, dripping rivulets at every step, splashing, swashing in his boots, drops dripping from his eyelashes; glares around, looking ready to bite someone's head off without salt or sauce; sees me; brightens with a watery gleam; comes toward me, rather shy and stiff, yet evidently under the influence of—emotion of some sort. I didn't know whether to expect a scolding or a blessing, so waited speechless.
"What a brute you must think me," was his first remark. I drank it as a thirsty traveller lost on the Sahara would bolt a pint of dew.
"I didn't know what to think," I replied conservatively. "But you are wet, aren't you?"
"Am I?" he asked, mildly surprised. "I hadn't noticed. I suppose I am. It's raining."
"I should think it was," said I. And then we both laughed. It is the nicest thing, to laugh with Sir Lionel! Whatever he might have done against me, I forgave him all instantly.
"Never mind whether I'm wet or dry," he went on. "Whichever I am, it won't hurt me. The only thing that has hurt was thinking of you being here—abandoned. By Jove!—I've been in a murderous mood!"
"A good thing you weren't back in Bengal," said I, mildly.
He looked at me with a sharp look. "Who has been telling you tales about me in Bengal?"
"I sometimes read newspapers," I explained.
"Schoolgirls have no business with newspapers. But hang Bengal! I want to come to an understanding with you. Is it true or is it not that you wanted to go with the Tyndals in their motor to-day?"
"I wanted to, if you wanted me to."
"I didn't. I hated the idea. But, of course, if you——"
"I didn't. I hated the idea. But I thought your motor was too full for such hilly country."
(Dearest, I longed to tell him who had said that he had said, etc., etc.; but I'd promised; and one must keep one's promises even to Cats.)
"My dear child," Sir Lionel burst out, "little girls shouldn't do too much independent thinking. It's bad for their health and their guardians' tempers. If my motor had been too full for hilly country, you wouldn't have been the Jonah to cast into the sea. Nick would have been fed to the whales. But the idea was ridiculous—ridiculous!"
I was so happy, I didn't even want to defend myself. I understood most of the mystery now. I suppose it's a compliment to a girl if a woman of the world wants to get rid of her. Anyhow, I consoled myself for hours of misery by laying that flattering unction to my soul.
If I had liked, I could have unravelled the whole tangle for Sir Lionel's still puzzled mind; but if I had done so, I should have been returning cat-claw for cat-claw; so I pretended to be "lost in it, my lord"; and, indeed, it was true that I couldn't understand why the Tyndals had failed me.
Sir Lionel explained that, just before reaching Bideford the silencer worked loose, and so got upon Mrs. Norton's nerves that Apollo was stopped in the pouring rain for Young Nick to right the wrong. As if to prove the truth of the proverb, "the more haste the less speed," in his hurry poor Buddha burnt his hand. While he was wringing it like a distracted goblin, along came the Tyndal car, which had left Tintagel about half an hour after Apollo. To Sir Lionel's amazement, no me! Questions on his part; according to him, idiotic answers on the part of the Tyndals. He had thought, of course, I was going with them. They had thought that I'd changed my mind, and gone earlier with him. Everybody confused, apologetic, repeating the same silly excuses over and over, three or four times. Nobody showing the slightest sign of having a remnant of common sense.
"By Jove! I could have cheerfully executed the lot of them—all but the boy, who seemed to have some glimmerings of sanity," grumbled Sir Lionel. "He had wanted to run up and knock at your door, to make sure you really had gone; but somebody—he began to say who, when Mrs. Tyndal stepped on his foot—forbade him to do it."
I think I can guess who the somebody was, can't you? Though I don't see what arguments she can have used to persuade the really good-natured Tyndals to abandon me.
The rest of the story is, that when Sir Lionel found I had been left behind, he said he would at once turn back and fetch me. Judging from one or two things he let slip inadvertently, I fancy he wanted Emily to come with him, but she drew the line at chaperoning in wet weather, and missing her tea. She proposed telegraphing for me to come on by rail. Sir Lionel wouldn't hear of my making such a journey unaccompanied—me, a simple little French schoolgirl who had never travelled alone in her life! Then Mrs. Senter, kind creature, volunteered to be his companion, if he must return; but Sir Lionel firmly refused the unselfish offer, saying he wouldn't for the world put her to so much unnecessary trouble. Nick he would have brought, but the unfortunate brown image was suffering so much pain from his burnt hand, that the only humane thing to do was to drive him to a doctor's—which was exactly what Sir Lionel did. Rooms were already engaged at the Royal Hotel; he dumped out Emily, Mrs. Senter, and the luggage there; left Young Nick having his hand treated; and without so much as crossing the threshold of the hotel, turned Apollo's bright bonnet toward Tintagel and me. Rain was coming down in floods. He said nothing about that, but I knew. The storm drew down twilight like the lid of a box; the road was deep in mud; everything that could happen to delay the car did happen; once Sir Lionel had to mend a tire himself, and almost wished he hadn't made Young Nick disgorge the stolen tool; he ought to have arrived at Tintagel an hour before he did; but here he was at last. And would I have a sandwich, and then start, or would I prefer to wait for dinner?
I snatched at the sandwich idea, and his eye brightened. He said he only looked wet, for everything was waterproof, and he was "right as rain"—which sounded too appropriate to be comfortable.
We ate as the Israelites of old in Passover days, figuratively with our staves in our hands; at least, I had a bag in mine, and Sir Lionel a road book, because he'd lost his way once in his haste, and didn't want to make further mistakes.
By the time we were ready to start, it was as if Merlin had woven an enchantment of invisibility, not only over the castle ruins, but over the whole landscape, which was blotted out behind a white avalanche of rain. The wind howled, mingling with the boom of the sea; and altogether it was such a bewitched, Walpurgis world that I tingled with excitement.
Sir Lionel wanted to put me inside the car, but I pleaded that I had been so lonely and sad all day, I must be close to someone now. This plea instantly broke down his determination, which had been very square-chinned and firm till I happened to think of that argument.
He knew my coat to be waterproof, because he chose it himself in London, and I tied on a perfectly sweet rain-hood, which I'd never needed before, because this was the only real storm we'd had. It is a crimson hood, and I knew I was nice in it, from the look of Sir Lionel's eyes.
This was my first night run in the car, and the first time since starting on the tour that I'd sat on the front seat by his side. Early as it was, it "made night," and Sir Lionel lit the great lamps. Instantly it was as if a curtain of darkness unrolled on either side, leaving only the road clear and pale, spouting mud, and the rain in front like a silver veil floating across black velvet. I sat close to Sir Lionel. I can't tell you how good the sense of his nearness and protection was, and how glad I felt to know that he hadn't really wanted to send me away from him. I would have given up anything—no, everything else in the world just then, for the sake of that knowledge—except, of course, your dear love. We didn't talk much, but he is one of those men to whom you don't need to talk. The silence was like that unerring kind of speech when you can't say the wrong thing if you try; and if Sir Lionel had said in the wind and darkness: "I have got to drive the car into the sea, and you and I must die together in five minutes," I should have answered: "Very well. With you I'm not afraid." And it would have been true.
The hills looked stupendous before we quite came to them; great bunchy black humps of night; but they seemed to kneel like docile elephants as we drew near, to let Apollo mount upon their backs. We passed lovely old cottages, which in the strange white light of our Bleriots looked flat, as stage scenery, against that wide-stretched "back-cloth" of inky velvet. It was like motoring in a dream—one of those dreams born before you've quite dropped asleep, while your eyes are still open. We tore through Boscastle, and on to Bude, along an empty road, with the trees flying by like torn black flags, and the rain giving a glimpse now and then of tall cliffs, as its veil blew aside. I was never so happy in my life, and when I just couldn't help saying so to Sir Lionel, what do you suppose he answered? "That's exactly what I was thinking." And then he added: "Good girl! Grand little sportswoman! I'm proud of you!"
Presently, once in a while the dazzling radiance of our lamps would die down and threaten to fail. At last it did fail altogether, and we were blotted out in the night, as if we had suddenly ceased to exist. "Carbide all used up," explained Sir Lionel. By this time we were near Hartland Point (the promontory of Hercules for the ancients) and Sir Lionel said that the best thing to do was to crawl on slowly until we should come to Clovelly. There we could leave the car at the top of the hill, go down to the village, rouse someone at a hotel, get hot coffee, and wait until dawn, when the lamps would no longer be needed.
We could distinguish nothing in the night, except a glimmer of road between dark banks, until suddenly, looking far down toward the moaning sea, we caught sight of a few lights like yellow stars which seemed to have been tossed over a precipice, and to have caught on a steep hillside, as they rolled. "That's Clovelly," said Sir Lionel. He stopped the car on a kind of natural plateau and lifted me lightly down, so that I shouldn't splash into unseen abysses of mud. Apollo would be safe there, he said, though in old days the folk of Clovelly used to be not only desperate smugglers, but wreckers, and would entice ships upon the rocks by means of lure-lights. They were very different now, and as honest and kind-hearted as any people in the world.
There was no dawn yet, but the wind had dropped a little, and the long crystal spears of rain seemed to bring with them an evanescent, ethereal glitter, reflected from unseen stars above the clouds. The trembling silver haze dimly showed us how to pick our way down a steep, narrow street of steps, over which fountains of water played and swirled. There were lights of boats in a little harbour, far, far below, and the extraordinary village of tiny white houses appeared to have tumbled down hill, like a broken string of pearls fallen from a goddess's neck.
Sir Lionel held my arm to keep me from tripping, and we descended the steps slowly, the rain that sprayed against our faces smelling salt as the sea, its briny "tang" mingling with the fragrance of honeysuckle and fuchsias. The combination, distilled by the night, was intoxicating; and if I ever smell it again, even at the other end of the world, my thoughts will run back to Sir Lionel and the fairy village of Clovelly.
Half-way down the cleft in the cliff, which is Clovelly's one street, we stopped at a house where a faint light burned sleepily. It was the New Inn, and when Sir Lionel knocked loudly, I was doubtful as to the reception we were likely to have at such an hour. But I needn't have worried—in Devon! Even if you wake people out of pleasant dreams to disagreeable realities, and demand coffee, and trail wet marks over their clean floors, they are kind and friendly. A delightful man let us in, and instead of scolding, pitied us—a great deal more than I, at any rate, needed to be pitied. He lit lights, and we saw a quaint room, whose shadows threw out unexpected gleams of polished brass, and blues and pinks of old china.
Though the calendar said August 13th, the temperature talked it down, and insisted on November, so an invitation into a clean, warm kitchen was acceptable. The nice man poked up the dying fire, put on wood and coals, and soon got a kettle of water to boiling. We should have some good hot coffee, he cheerily promised, before we could say "Jack Robinson." But when it leaked out that we had had no dinner except a sandwich at Tintagel, and nothing since, his warm Devonshire heart yearned over us; and to the hot coffee he added eggs and bacon.
While the dear things fizzled and bubbled, we were allowed to sit by the stove and toast our feet; and if anything could have smelled more heavenly than the salt rain and sweet honeysuckle out of doors, it would have been the eggs and bacon in the New Inn kitchen.
We begged to eat in the kitchen, too, and even that was permitted us, at a table spread with a clean cloth which must have been put away in a lavender cupboard. By the time the coffee, with foaming hot milk, and the sizzling eggs and bacon were ready, the early daylight was blue on the window panes. The rain had stopped with the first hint of sunrise, and in Clovelly at least (Clovelly means "shut in valley," a name not worthy of its elfin charm) the wind had gone to sleep.
I don't know how much Sir Lionel suggested paying for that breakfast, but it must have been something out of the way, for our Devonshire benefactor protested that it was far too much. He would accept the regular price, and no more. Why, we had only got him up an hour before his usual time. That was nothing. It would do him good; and he would have no extra pay.
Warm, comfortable, and refreshed, Sir Lionel and I bade our host good-bye, meaning to continue our journey to Bideford; but what we saw outside was too beautiful to turn our backs upon in that unappreciative, summary fashion. It was not sunrise yet, but was just going to be sunrise, and the world seemed to be waiting for it, hushed and expectant.
The white village glimmered in the pearly light, like a waterfall arrested in its rush down a cleft in a hill. Not having seen Clovelly, you may think that a far-fetched simile; but really it isn't. If a young cataract could be turned into a village, that would be Clovelly. The marvellous little place is absolutely unique; yet if one could liken it to anything else on earth, it might be to a corner of Mont St. Michel, or a bit of old Bellagio, going down to the sea; and certainly it is more Italian than English in atmosphere and colouring, only it is perfectly clean, as clean as a toy, or a Dutch village; so that part of the "atmosphere" isn't entirely Italian! I even saw waste-paper pots; and if that isn't like Broek in Waterland, what is? Down in the harbour, the fishing boats lay like a flock of resting birds; and as we descended the cobbled steps of the street, to go to the shore, the early morning donkeys began to come up, laden with heavy bags and panniers, just as you and I saw them in Italy, and driven by just such boys and old men as I remember there, dark-eyed, picturesque, one or two with red caps. The doors of the little low-browed houses huddled on either side opened here and there, up and down the path, giving glimpses of pretty, neat interiors; bits of old furniture, the glint of a copper kettle, a brass jug, or a bit of mended blue china. A gossipy Devonshire cat came out and begged for caresses, mewing the news of the night—such a chatty creature!—and down on the beach, we made friends with the oldest man of the village, born in 1816. He was a handsome old fellow, with pathetic, faded eyes in a tanned, ruddy face; and the queer little harbour (everything is little at Clovelly, except the inhabitants) with its rustic sort of pier, and red-sailed fishing boats, looked as if it had been designed entirely as a background for him. However, it's much more antique even than he—six hundred years old, instead of something short of a hundred, and made by the famous Carey family. We stopped there talking to the ancient sailor-man, hearing how the Clovelly fishermen go out with black nets by day in good weather, and at night with white ones, to "attract the fish." "That is trew, Miss," said he, when I laughed, thinking it a joke. I love the Devonshire way of saying "true," and other words that rhyme. Their soft voices are as gentle, as kindly, as the murmur of their own blue sea.
As we mounted the ladder-like path to the top of Clovelly, to go back to Apollo again, the sun came up out of the sea, where the blue line of water marked the edge of the world, and spilt floods of gold over it, like a tilted christening cup. We turned and stood still to watch the day born of dawn; and I feel sure that if we had come to Clovelly to spend several weeks, I could never have learned to know the place as I had divined it, in this adventure. You seem to learn more about a flower by inhaling its perfume after rain, don't you think, than by dissecting it, petal by petal? I fancy there is something like that in getting the feeling and impression of places at their best, by sudden revelations. Of course, I want to go back to Clovelly, but not with any of the Mrs. Nortons of the world. I couldn't bear to do that, after being alone there with Sir Lionel. While one's heart is thrilled by exquisite sights, and the ineffable thoughts born of them, one knows poor Emily is wondering whether the servants are looking after things properly at home; and that very knowledge is apt to slam down an iron shutter in one's soul.
It must have been about five o'clock when we took our places in the car again. We had only eleven miles' run to Bideford, and I wished them twice eleven, for surely they are among the most beautiful miles in England. No wonder people believe in fairies in this part of the world! It would be ungrateful if they didn't. As the sun climbed, the brown wood roads were inlaid with gold in wavy patterns. From our heights, now and again we caught glimpses of Clovelly, down its deep ravines. The Hobby Drive, which belongs to Clovelly Court, is almost more exquisite than Buckland Chase, on the way to Dartmoor; if you had been there with me, you would know I couldn't give it higher praise. And how I wish you had been! How I wish you could see these English woods! They have such an air of dainty gaiety, very different from Austrian or German or French forests; and though their elms and oaks and beeches are often giants, they seem dedicated to the spirit of youth. Their shadows are never black, but only a darker green, or translucent gray; and part of their charm is a nymph-like frivolousness which comes, I think, from their ruffly green dessous. Other woods have no dessous. Their ankles are mournfully bare, and their stockings dark.
In the woods of the Hobby Drive, the bracken was like elfin plumes; each stone, wrapped in moss, was a lump of silver coated with verdigris; distant cliffs seen between the trees were cut out of gray-green jade, against a sea of changing opal; and in the high minstrel-galleries of the latticed beeches a concert of birds was fluting.
Isn't Gallantry Bower a fine name? At first thought it would appear an inappropriate one, for it's a sheer cliff overlooking the sea on one side and a vast sweep of woodland on the other; but I can make it seem appropriate, by picturing some wild brave sailor making love to his sweetheart there, and telling her about the sea, her only rival in his love. No doubt it's a corruption of some old Cornish name, and I refuse to accept it as a Lover's Leap, though such a legend has grown up around it. I'm tired of Lover's Leaps.
The whole coast, as we swept round, was a vast golden sickle in the early morning light; and everything was so beautiful that the door of my heart swung wide open. No arm would have been strong enough to push it shut, not even Mrs. Senter's. Instead of feeling angry with her, as we drew near Bideford, I was grateful for the adventure she had (indirectly) given me.
The servants of the Royal Hotel were just waking up, but, of course, being Devonshire people, instead of being cross they were delightfully good-natured and smiling. I was shown to a pleasant room, and provided with a hot bath which (with nearly a whole bottle of eau de Cologne extravagantly emptied into it) made me feel as if I had had a refreshing eight hours' sleep. Already it seemed as if the night's experience had been a dream, dreamed in that sleep. But I was glad, glad it was real, and not a dream; something I had lived through, by Sir Lionel's side; a clear memory to remain like a happy island in the sea of life whatever the future weather.
I dressed slowly, not wanting even "forty winks"; and about eight o'clock Emily knocked at my door. She had been worried, she said, and not able to sleep, fearing accidents, waking now and then, to listen for the sound of a car. Poor dear, she wouldn't know Apollo's noble voice from the threepenny thrum of a motor bicycle! But she was kind and solicitous, though I think a little shocked to find my vitality in such a state of effervescence. She would have approved of me if I had been a draggled wreck; but even as it was, she felt it worth while to explain why she hadn't accompanied her brother. She would have proposed doing so, she assured me, but her neuralgia had been very trying yesterday, owing to the bad weather and east wind. She feared to be more trouble than assistance to Sir Lionel, and as he was my guardian, I was sufficiently chaperoned by him; any expert in etiquette would confirm her in that opinion, she anxiously added. Nevertheless, when I told her about our stop at Clovelly, she shook her head, and intimated that perhaps it had better not be referred to in public. I suppose by "in public," she meant before the Tyndals and Mrs. Senter.