Despite the shameful way in which she had behaved to him, Sir Lionel accepted the charge, eventually took his cousin's little girl away from the disagreeable relatives, and put her at Madame de Maluet's, where Mother Ellaline was educated and particularly desired her daughter to be educated. Not only did he pay for her keep at one of the most expensive schools in France (Madame's is that, and she prides herself on the fact), but gave her an allowance "far too large for a schoolgirl" in the opinion of Mrs. Senter's unknown (to me) informant.
Doesn't this account for everything that looked strange, and for all that appeared cold-hearted, almost cruel, in Sir Lionel to Ellaline, who had heard the wrong side of the story, certainly from Madame de Blanchemain—a silly woman, I fancy—and perhaps even from Madame de Maluet, whose favourite pupil Ellaline the First was?
No wonder Sir Lionel didn't write to the child, or want her to write to him, or send her photograph, or anything! And no wonder he dreaded having her society thrust on him when Madame de Maluet hinted that it was hardly decent to keep his ward at school any longer. I even understand now why, when I show the slightest sign of flirtatiousness or skittishness, he stiffens up, and draws into his shell.
I very politely let Mrs. Senter see that I appreciated her true disinterestedness in repeating to me this tragic family history; and of course she was a cat twice over to do it. At the same time, I never liked her so much in my life, because it was so splendid to have Sir Lionel not only justified (he hardly needed that with me, at this stage) but haloed. I think he has behaved like a saint on a stained-glass window, don't you?
I have interrupted my letter about places and things tremendously, to tell you the story as it was told to me; but it seemed to come in appropriately, and I wanted you to know it, so that you might begin to appreciate Sir Lionel at his true worth in case you have been doubting him a little up to now.
Everyone has gone down to dinner, I'm afraid, and I must go, too, because of the Abbey afterward, and not keeping them waiting; but perhaps, if I skip soup and fish, I may stop long enough to add that after Gloucester we went to quaint old Ross, sacred to the memory of "The Man of Ross," who was so revered that a most lovely view over the River Wye has been named for him. We had lunch there, at a hotel where I should love to stay, and then passed on, along a perfect road, down the Wye, till we came to Kerne Bridge, near Goodrich Castle. There we got out, leaving Buddha as the god in the car, and walked for half a mile along a romantic path to the ruined castle. It was one of the first built in England, and there are early Norman parts of it still intact, and incredibly strong looking, as if they meant to last another thousand years. I was so interested in it, and wish whoever it may concern would leave the castle to me in his will. I would fix up a room or two and bring you there, and we'd have that exquisite view always under our eyes. As for servants, we could employ ghosts.
The Wye is even more charming as a river and as a valley than we used to imagine when we wanted to "do" England, before it burst upon us that most of the wherewithal was used up. Nothing could be more dreamy and daintily pretty than landscape and waterscape, though here and there is a bit which might be gray and grim if the beetling rocks weren't hatted with moss and mantled with delicate green trees. Wherever there is a boulder in the river, the bright water laughs and plays round it, as if forbidding it to look stern.
The real way to see the Wye isn't by motor, but by boat, I am sure, even though that may sound treacherous to Apollo and disloyal to my petrol; but we did the best we could, and went out of our way some miles to see Symond's Yat, a queer, delightful, white village on a part of the river which is particularly divine. There's a splendid rock, and the Yat is the rock, as well as the village. Also there's a cave; but I wasn't sorry not to stop and go in, lest Mrs. Senter might seize the opportunity of telling me some other fearsome tale, less welcome than the last.
In old days it used to take a week by coach from London to Monmouth. Now, with a motor, I dare say we could do it in one long, long day, if we tried. Only it would be silly to try, because one wouldn't see anything, and would make oneself a nuisance as a "road hog" to everybody one met or passed. It was Monmouth we came to next, after "digressing" to Symond's Yat, and as it was nearly evening by that time, Sir Lionel decided to stay the night. He meant to start again in the morning; but Monmouth Castle, towering out of the river, was so fine that it was a pity to leave it unvisited, particularly as Henry V., a special hero of Sir Lionel's (mine, too!) was born there. Then we took an unplanned eight-mile run to Raglan Castle, a magnificently impressive ruin; and that is why we arrived so late to-day at Tintern.
This letter has grown like Jack's beanstalk, until I think I'd better post it on my way to dinner, instead of adding rhapsodies about moonlight in the Abbey. I won't forget to put them in though, next time I write, which will be almost immediately—if not sooner.
Your even more loving than loquacious
MRS. SENTER TO HER SISTER, MRS. BURDEN
My Dear Sis: He came, the moon saw, and I—didn't conquer!
You know what I mean? I'm sure you remember what I hoped to do at Tintern Abbey by the light of the moon; and if you are the good elder sister I think you are, I trust you prayed for my success. If you did, don't mind too much about the prayer not being answered, but try again, and give Sir Lionel "absent treatments," and all that sort of thing, because, if the moon had been properly turned on, he might have been brought to the point. For I look my best by moonlight, and have a great gift of pathos in a white light—like heroines of melodrama who always have themselves followed about by it on purpose—or else by a patch of snow. But the moon was only on at half-cock, and didn't work well, and after we had stubbed our toes on several things in dark shadows among the ruins, I just folded up my plan of campaign, and put it into my pocket until next time.
The pity of it!—when I had been at a lot of trouble to persuade Mrs. Norton that it would be damp in the Abbey, and that there exists a special kind of bat which haunts ruins and is consumed by an invincible desire to nest in the front hair. So she stopped in the hotel; and as for Miss Lethbridge, I knew I could trust Dick to look after her. But—well, it can't be helped, and the moon is growing bigger and brighter every night. I don't know whether there were any toe-stubbing incidents in the ranks of the rear-guard; but something must have happened, for mademoiselle has come home looking stricken. I'm dying to hear what's the matter, but Dick won't tell. Perhaps she swallowed a bat!
Yours (would that I could say Sir L.'s) ever lovingly,
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Tintern Abbey, Same night
After all, I'm writing again, darling mother. I do think that Dick is an unmitigated cad. I told him so, and he said it was only because I was so unkind to him, and he was determined I shouldn't "chuck" him. He is hateful! It's too horrid to be obliged to obey Dick Burden's orders, just for Ellaline's sake, when if it weren't for her I could not only tell him what I think of him, but have him sent away in disgrace. Sir Lionel would thrash him, I believe, if he knew—but it's useless to talk about that. And as Dick gracefully reminds me, the pot can't call the kettle black. I am the pot. Oh!
I was in such a happy mood when we went into the Abbey, and so delighted that we were able to be there by moonlight, dreaming as little of what would happen as Red Riding Hood did before she met the wolf.
Sir Lionel and I started together, somehow, but the minute we were in the ruins Mrs. Senter called him to ask a question about the tombs that break the soft green carpet of grass in the long aisles. Instantly Dick pounced on me, just as his aunt did in the cave the other day, and I could only have got away from him by showing that I'd rather be with Sir Lionel—which, of course, I wouldn't do.
Dick began at once accusing me of avoiding him, and keeping out of his way on purpose when he tried to speak with me alone, ever since he came back from Scotland; and I retorted flippantly: "Oh, have you only noticed that since then?"
But in a minute I wished I hadn't defied him. He said, if I wanted him to be considerate, making him angry wasn't the right way to set about it; and that, if I had been in his power before, I was a good deal deeper in now.
Still, I wasn't so very frightened, because I'm used to his threats, and I thought he was only "bluffing"; so I bluffed back, and laughed, saying that it didn't suit his style to be melodramatic.
"You make me want to shake you," he said, crossly.
"I know that," said I. And then he burst like a thunder-cloud—at least, his news did; the news he had been wanting to tell me since Bideford.
When he was in Scotland, he saw Ellaline. She had arrived with those McNamarras I told you about, and their place must be near the one where Dick's mother is visiting. He recognized her from that photograph of the school garden-party (where he saw my picture, too, you know, and was able to find out my name, and where we live in Versailles). That is, he thought he couldn't be mistaken, but made sure by inquiring, until he hit upon someone who could tell him that a Mademoiselle de Nesville had come to stay with Mrs. and Miss McNamarra. Of course, he couldn't have known that Ellaline had taken the name of de Nesville, but as he had heard that de Nesville was her mother's maiden name, it wasn't difficult for a budding Sherlock Holmes to put two and two together.
You see how much worse the position is now, both for Ellaline and me, and that the little wretch didn't exaggerate when he boasted that I'm more "in his power" than ever. What a misfortune that Ellaline should have come to Scotland—so near where we shall be, too, if we go to the Roman Wall! He has only to tell the whole thing to Sir Lionel, and say: "If you don't believe it, run up to such and such a place, and there you will see the real Ellaline Lethbridge, whom perhaps you may recognize from her likeness to your cousin, her dead French mother."
If only Ellaline were safely married! But she can't be yet, for days and days, I'm afraid. She was to have written or telegraphed me at Gloucester, if there were any chance of her soldier lover getting away sooner than last expected; but I had no word from her at all, at the Poste Restante there.
All that sounds bad enough for me, doesn't it? But there's worse to come. The wretch swears he will (as he calls it), "give the show away" to Sir Lionel to-morrow if I don't tell Sir L. myself that I have fallen in love with Dick.
I said that Sir Lionel wouldn't believe me if I did, because I'd told him at Torquay I wasn't in love with Dick. That admission slipped out, and Sherlock Holmes caught at it. "Ah, I thought you'd done something to put him off the scent!" he flashed out. "I call that downright treacherous of you; and all the more I'll hold you down to your bargain this time. I said I'd speak to-morrow unless you did what I told you to do, but now I say I'll speak this minute, if you don't promise by all that's sacred to ask him for his consent to-morrow. I'll shout to him now. One—two—three!"
"Yes, yes, I will!" I cried—because Dick had worked himself up to such a fury that I saw that he meant what he said.
"I shall know fast enough whether you keep your word or not," he growled. "And if you don't, you understand just what you have to expect."
If I hadn't given in to Ellaline! I ought to have known that nothing but trouble could come of it. Yet no—I won't wish it undone. I can't! No matter what happens, I shall never really regret what gave me the chance of meeting a man like Sir Lionel. I don't think there is another in the world. And to-morrow I am to have the honour of informing him that I'm in love with that little worm, Dick Burden. Having seen the sun, I love a flicker of phosphorus on a sulphur match.
Do write me the minute you get this, won't you? No, telegraph if you can think of anything consoling to say. Poste Restante, Chester.
Your frightened and loving
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Aberystwith, August 29th
Brightest and Best: I have a short reprieve, because Dick has had to go away again; not to his mother, this time, but to London. A telegram was forwarded to him from Gloucester, where he had left sending-on instructions; and he knocked at my door early yesterday morning (at Tintern) to say he must leave immediately by the first train. He was excited, because the telegram came from the head of a firm of well-known private detectives with whom he had been in correspondence for some time, trying to buy a junior partnership for a few hundreds left him by his grandmother. There's a chance now that he may get the partnership, only he must be on the spot, as another man is making an offer "more advantageous—in some ways." Dick is wild to get in, and regards this as the opportunity of a lifetime. Doesn't that prove the type of mind he has? Actually yearning to be in business as a detective! Well, he's had good practice lately, and I must say he has made the most of it.
"This call couldn't have come at a worse time, but I must obey it," he pronounced solemnly, while I peeped through my half-open door, in my prettiest Ellaline dressing-gown—far too nice to waste on Dick. Disgusted with life, as I was, I nearly laughed in his face, and at his face; but dared not quite, for fear of enraging him again just when he appeared to be in a comparatively lenient mood.
He had come to explain and apologize, and in his perky conceit really seemed to fancy that I might be hurt at his desertion. So when he asked if I would "bid him good-bye pleasantly, and remember to keep my promise," I had a small inspiration. I would bid him good-bye pleasantly, I bargained, provided he let me off keeping the promise until he should come back; because, I said, it would be humiliating to plead with Sir Lionel on the very day my fiance turned his back upon me in order to attend to mere business.
"You call this mere business?" sputtered Dick; and I soothed him, but persisted firmly, gently, until at last he agreed to grant the reprieve. I think his own vanity, not my eloquence, obtained the concession, because it pleased him to believe that I leaned upon him in this crisis. And of course I had to promise over again, more earnestly than ever, "not to back out, but to stick to my word."
I must still stick to it, of course (unless a wire or letter from you meanwhile suggests some miraculous, agreeable, honourable alternative); but sufficient for the day is the evil thereof—and the Dick thereof.
This day and several days to come are free from both; for my albatross can't arrange the details of its partnership, sell out some investments in order to pay the money down, and join us again before Chester. There I shall certainly hear from you; and I have such infinite faith in your dove-like serpentineness, that I let myself cling to the ragged edge of hope. Meanwhile, I shall enjoy myself as much as I possibly can, so that, at worst, I shall have more good days to remember when bad days come. For the days will be very bad indeed if I have to bear Sir Lionel's silent scorn, and still remain with him, awaiting release from Ellaline.
I felt like a different human being after Dick had gone, and would have written you at once, but he had delayed me so long that I had to finish dressing at top speed, because we were to make an earlier start than usual. There was Chepstow Castle to see (quite near, and a shame to have missed it), as well as a hundred-and-fifty-mile run to Tenby.
Chepstow was splendidly picturesque and striking; but the country through which we had to pass on the way to Tenby would not have been particularly interesting if it weren't for the legends and history with which it is as full as it is of ruined castles. It is largely coal country now, and after the lovely, winding Wye, playing hide-and-seek with its guardian hills, we might have found the road unattractive as we ran through Newport, Cardiff, Neath, Swansea, and Carmarthen. But it made all the difference in the world to know that Carmarthen was Merlin's birthplace; that stories of Arthur's exploits and knightly deeds leave golden landmarks everywhere; and that it seems quite an ordinary, reasonable thing to the people to name railway engines after Sir Lancelot. Isn't it charming of them? Yet what would Elaine, the Lily Maid of Astolat, say to such a liberty, I wonder?
We arrived in Tenby too late for anything save an impression, last evening; but it was one of those enchanting, mysterious impressions which one can only have after dusk, when each old ivied wall is purple with romance, and each lamp in a high window is a lovelight.
My first thought as we came in and found Tenby on fire with sunset, was that the place looked like a foreign town set down in England; and so of course it is, for it was founded by a band of Flemish people, who fled from persecution. The huge old city walls and quaint gates put me in mind of a glorified Boulogne, or a bit of old Dinan, under the castle. And the way the town lies, with its beautiful harbour far below, its gray rocks and broken walls by the sea, in golden sands, is like Turner's ideas of historic French fortresses. The Benedictine monks, too, who come across the gleaming stretch of water from Caldy Island in a green-and-red steam yacht, add one more foreign note. And I'm delighted to tell you that the hotel where we stayed is built upon the city wall of which nobody seems to know the date—not even the guide-books. The people we asked rather apologized for having to confess that probably it was no earlier than the twelfth century; for the twelfth century is considered crudely modern for Welsh things.
In front of my bedroom window an old lookout tower, darkly veined with ivy, stood up from the vast foundation of the stone wall; and at night I could gaze down, down, over what seemed in the moon-mist to be a mile of depth, to an almost tropical garden laid out on the wall itself. When the tide comes in and drowns the gold of the sands, the sea breaks against the buttress of rock and stone, and the hotel seems all surrounded with the wash and foam of waters, like a fortified castle of long-ago.
We ought to have stopped more than one night and part of a next day, but there is so much, so much to do; and, as I told you, Sir Lionel's thoughts are already marching on toward home. There are all the beauty spots of Wales before us; and the Lake Country, and the North by the Roman Wall, before we turn south again for Graylees. I say "we"—but you know what I mean.
The run we had to-day, coming through Cardigan to Aberystwith, has begun to show me what Wales can do in the way of beauty when she really puts her soul to it; but Sir Lionel says it is nothing to what we shall see to-morrow. What joy that I have still a to-morrow—and a day after to-morrow—empty of Dick! Do you suppose a condemned person finds his last sip of life the sweetest in the cup? I can imagine it might be so.
You'll be glad to get this, I'm sure, dearest, so I'll send it at once, with loads and loads of love from,
Your Criminal Child.
P. S. I forgot to tell you that Aberystwith isn't nearly as beautiful as Tenby, but it has a castle towering over the sea, built by no one less than Gilbert Strongbow the Cruel, who grabbed all Cardiganshire for himself, and dotted castles about everywhere—or else stole other people's, which saved trouble. I know you like to picture me wherever I am, so I must tell you at least that about Aberystwith, though describing places seems irrelevant in my present mood. I am keyed to the "top notch," and don't feel able to do anything leisurely. I do not expect to sleep to-night, and shall get up as soon as it's light, and dart down to the beach to look for amber, or carnelian, or onyx, which they say can be found here. I asked a chambermaid of the hotel, after we arrived this evening, what all the mysterious, stooping people were doing on the sands, and she said searching for amber, to bring them luck. I hope I may come across a bit—even a tiny bit. I am needing a luck-bringer.
There was another mystery which puzzled me here: droves of pretty girls, between twelve and twenty, flitting past the windows, on "the front," every few minutes; sometimes two by two, sometimes four or five together. I thought I had never seen so many young girls. There were enough for the girl population of a large city, yet here they were all crowded together in this small watering-place. But the chambermaid has swept away the mystery. It's a college, and the girls "live out" in different houses. At the other end of the town is another college for young men. That sounds entertaining, doesn't it?
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Pen-y-gwrd-Hotel, August 30th
Dear Rose-Without-a-Thorn: I didn't find the amber, but Sir Lionel found a fat little, round lump, and gave it to me; and that seems almost more lucky than finding it myself; because it may mean that something good is to come to me from him.
He was on the Aberystwith beach when I got there, though it was only half-past six. He hadn't said a word the night before, but he made up his mind then to find some amber—for me. You see, he knew the superstition about luck, and how everybody goes hunting for it.
I picked up a pretty piece of carnelian, and gave it to him in exchange, asking him "to keep it to remember me by."
"I don't want to remember you," he answered. And when, perhaps, I looked hurt, he went on: "Because I want to keep you in my life. I want you very much, if——"
But just then Mrs. Senter came behind us, and left that "if" like a key sticking in a door which couldn't be opened without one more turn. I should have liked to know what was behind the door; but I daresay there was nothing much, really.
She, too, had come to look for amber and other things. I don't know about the other things, but she didn't find the amber.
At eleven o'clock, after seeing something of the place, we slipped away toward Machynlleth, along a hilly road, which grew lovelier with each of its many twists among low mountains. Now, said Sir Lionel, we were about to see the heart of Wales; and I should soon have realized that without his telling, for as we slowed down to pass through little villages we heard the children talking Welsh—a soft, pleasant language, which I can only try to describe by saying that it sounded like whispering out loud. But that is a very Irish description!
The scenery was so gentle in its beauty that my wild, excited mood was lulled by its soft influence. The colour of landscape and sky kept the delicate tints of spring, though we are in full, rich summer; and there was none of the tropical verdure we saw near Tenby; no crimson fountains of fuchsias, no billows of blood-red roses, and fierce southern flowers. Pale honey-suckle draped the gray or whitewashed stone cottages. Rocks and crannies of walls were daintily fringed with ferns, or cushioned with the velvet of moss, and crusted with tarnished golden lichen. A modern-timbered house, rising pertly here and there, looked out of place among dwellings whose early owners quarried each stone from among their own mountains.
As we left the fairy glades of those wooded hills for rugged mountains scantily clad with ragged grass, slate-quarries tried their ugly best to blotch and spoil the scene, but owing to some strange charm of atmosphere, like a gauze veil on the stage, they could not quite succeed. By and by the gauze veil turned to rain, but rain suited the wild landscape—far better, by the way, than it suited Mrs. Senter, whose nightly hair-wavers are but a reed to lean upon in wet weather. She made some excuse to come behind with Emily and me, and before the car started again I summoned courage to ask if I might take her place, saying I loved to feel the rain.
So there I was with Sir Lionel once more; and I wondered if he thought of that night when we rushed through the storm from Tintagel to Clovelly? Soon this also bade fair to be a storm, for the rain began to tumble out of the sky, rather than fall, as if an army of people stood throwing down water by the bucketful. I revelled in it, and in the sombre scenery, where sharp rocks stood out like bones through the tattered green coats of soldier-mountains. All the world was gray or gray-green, save for a patch of purple heather here and there, like the stain of a new wound.
We were under Cadir Idris, mounting the pass high above a deep ravine; yet the blowing rain hid the mountain from our eyes as if he were the veiled prophet. The sound of the wind, which seemed to come from all quarters at once, was like the mysterious music of a great AEolian harp, as it mingled with the song of ghostly cascades that veined the dark rocks with marble. Mountain sheep sprang from crag to crag as Apollo rounded a corner and broke into their tranquil lives, now and then loosening a stone as they jumped. One good-sized rock would have bounced down on the roof of our car if Sir Lionel hadn't seen it coming, and put on such a spurt of speed that Apollo leaped ahead of the danger. But he always does see things in time. You wouldn't think sheep could have as much expression as those sheep had, when they saw us and weren't sure which way to run. Of course they needn't have run at all; but whichever way they decided, it was certain to be wrong!
I was sorry to leave that pass behind, and have its door shut after us, for we came out into a pastoral landscape, where the only wild things were the grazing black cattle. It was charming country, though; and in less than a mile we had reached a famous spot known as the Tourist Walk. The rain was pelting down harder than ever, so we could not get out and take the walk; but soon after we had abandoned it the deluge suddenly turned from lead to a thick spray of diamonds, mixed with sparkling gold-dust. Our road glittered ahead of us like a wide silver ribbon unrolled, as we sailed into the little gray town of Dolgelly on its torrent river; and beyond, in a fresh-washed radiance of sunlight, the way was one long enchantment, the sweet world of green hills and musical waters looking as young as if God had made it that day. The graceful mountains which pressed round the valley had the air of waiting each her turn to stoop and drink a life-giving draught from the river, which, as we neared Barmouth, opened to the sea, gleaming like a vast sheet of quicksilver. Further on, travelling through woods where young green trees shot up from gilded rocks, glimpses of the estuary came to us like a vision of some Italian lake.
Just before Harlech, the wild yet nymph-like beauty of the world changed to an almost startling grandeur, for the coast moved back from the sea with a noble sweep, magnificent mountains towered along the shore, and line after line of beryl waves shattered into pearl upon a beach of darkened gold.
Harlech Castle was an event in my life. I thought I had begun to take ruined castles for granted in Wales, as you do sea-shells on the shore; but Harlech is a castle that you couldn't take for granted. It was a shock at first to find that a hotel had been built in the very face of it, as if bearding it in its den; yet it is a nice hotel; and when we had lunched there agreeably, I not only forgave it for existing, but began to like and thank it for having thoughtfully placed itself on that admirable height.
From here our eyes ought to have been smitten with the sight of Snowdon; but the Grand Old Mountain was asleep, his head buried in white cloud-pillows which alone betrayed his whereabouts; so we had to be content with the castle. And I was content. To see the splendid ruin reared on its great rock, dark against sea and sky, was thrilling as a vision of an old wounded knight girding his strength for a last stand.
History says that Harlech Castle is no older than Edward I.; but story says (which is more important, because more romantic) that in the dim dawn while History still dozed, here rose the Tower of Twr Brauwen, white-bosomed sister of Bran the Blessed. Also, it came into the possession of Hawis Gadern, a great beauty and heiress, whose uncles tried to wrest it from her, but were defeated and imprisoned in the castle. Anyway, however that may be, Owen Glendower came and conquered, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, when he was forging a chain of wonderful deeds which made him the hero of Wales. Never mind if he was driven away a few years after by Prince Henry. That's another story.
The way from Harlech by Portmadoc to exquisite Pont Aberglaslyn and Beddgelert is very Arthurian; that is, it suggests pre-mediaeval backgrounds, and at every turn I caught myself expecting to come upon Camelot, unspoiled, unchanged. The high mountains still wore their invisibility masks, but the lower mountains, not too proud to show themselves to motoring mortals, grouped as graciously together as if they were lovely ladies and gay knights, turned to stone just when they had assembled to tread a minuet. And the fair Glaslyn flowed past their feet with a swing and sweep, as though the crystal flood kept time to dance music which our ears were not attuned to catch.
Quickly we flashed by more than one beautiful lake, too; a jewel hidden among mountains, found by our eyes unexpectedly, only to be lost again. And all the while Cader Idris and Snowdon drew hoods of mist over their heads, pulling them down tightly and firmly. Not once had we caught a glimpse of either mountain, though we were almost near enough to knock our noses or Apollo's bonnet against their sharp elbows; but we were too happy to care much—at least, one of us was!—and we cared even less when rain came on again. I still kept my place beside Sir Lionel, who was repentant for having made me cry over the dreadful, agonizing, too-tragic story of Gelert. I won't repeat it to you, because it's wickedly sad, and grayhound Gelert was so much nobler than most people.
Sheets of spun glass shimmered and waved before us, as we rushed on through the mountains, past the beautiful place of Gelert's grave, up toward Pen-y-gwrd. And the tinkling swish of the rain on the glass sounded to me as the Welsh names had begun to sound. I wish you could hear them spoken, for the spelling gives no idea of their pronunciation, or the pleasant, muffled music of them. But all I can tell you is, that when you come into Wales you will feel they are characteristic of the country; mysterious, sympathetic, rather secretive.
Sir Lionel was happy in the thought of Pen-y-gwrd, because some of the best memories of his boyhood are associated with that little spot in the mountain-land of Wales. He used to come, and climb with an old friend a few years older than himself, a Colonel O'Hagan, who is in Bengal now, and who—he thinks—will like me. Not much chance of our ever meeting!
Just as Sir Lionel finished quoting Charles Kingsley on Pen-y-gwrd, we drew up in front of a low gray stone building; and Kingsley's merry words rang in my ears as the door of the hotel opened. You know I can always remember a verse after having once heard it.
"There is no Inn in Snowden which is not awful dear, Excepting Pen-y-gwrd (you can't pronounce it, dear) Which standeth in the meeting of noble valleys three; One is the Vale of Gwynant, so well beloved by me; One goes to Capel Curig, and I can't mind its name; And one, it is Llanberis Pass, which all men knew the same."
Never did any gesture give a better welcome than the opening of that door! We'd been too happy to know we were cold with the chill of the mountains—half-seen shapes that hovered close, with white cascades like ghosts flitting ever across their dimness; but when a glow of firelight streamed out to greet us, suddenly we realized that we were shivering.
In the square hall, several men were talking together, men with Oxford voices and open-air faces. In their midst was one man, much older, grizzled and weather-beaten, not a gentleman in the conventional sense, yet in listening to him the others had an air of deference, as if he were a hero to the group. The four or five figures stood out like a virile, impressionist sketch in black and brown on a red background; but as we entered, welcomed by some pink-cheeked young hostess, the ruddy light danced into our eyes. The men in front of the fire moved a little as if to give place, and glances were thrown at us, while for an instant the conversation flagged. Then the group was about to return to its own interests, when suddenly, out from among the rest stepped the grizzled man. He hesitated, as if uncertain whether or no to obey an impulse, then came forward with a modest yet eager air.
"I can't be mistaken, sir, can I?" he asked. "It must be Mr. Pendragon—I beg your pardon, Sir Li——"
"Why, Penrhyn!" cried Sir Lionel, not giving him time to finish; and seizing one of the gnarled brown hands, he shook it as if he never meant to stop. Both their faces had lighted up, and were beaming with joy. The grizzled man seemed to have thrown off fifteen years in a minute, and Sir Lionel looked like a boy of twenty-two. By this time everyone was gazing—staring is too rude a word—and the other faces were beaming as well, as if the most delightful thing had happened. I am sure that Sir Lionel had forgotten the existence of us three females, and had rushed back to the bright dawn of his youth. It was the light of that dawn I saw on his face; and I found my heart beating with excitement, though I didn't know why, or what it was all about.
"By Jove, Penrhyn, to think of your being the first man to greet me on our old stamping-ground!" Sir Lionel exclaimed. "It seems too good to be true. I've been thinking about you all day, and your face is a sight for sore eyes."
"I'd rather see you, sir, than have a thousand pounds drop down on me through the ceiling," retorted the mysterious hero. (I should think so, indeed.)
They shook hands, and beamed on each other a little more, and then Sir Lionel remembered his flock. Turning to us, he introduced the grizzled man.
"This is my old friend and guide, Owen Penrhyn," said he, as if he were drawing us into the circle of a prince. "There never was a guide like him in the Welsh mountains, and never will be again. Jove! it's glorious to find him at the old business still! Though, in our day together, we didn't carry this, eh?"
Then I saw that an Alpine rope was coiled across one of the strong shoulders clad in rough tweed, and that the great stout boots were strikingly trimmed with huge bright nails.
"It's like Sir Lionel to put the praise on me," protested the dear old thing, flushing up like a boy. "Why, he was the best amateur" (he pronounced the word quaintly and I loved him for it) "I ever see, or ever expect to see. If he'd gone on as he began, he'd a' broken the noses of some of us guides. Pity he had to go to furrin' parts! And I'll be bound he never told you, ladies, of his first ascent of Twll Ddu, or how he pulled me up out of the torrent by sheer strength, when my fingers were that cold I couldn't grip the hand-holds? I'd 'a' fallen clear to the bottom of the Devil's Kitchen if't hadn't been for Mr. Pendragon, as he was then. And what d' you think, ladies, he says, when I accused him o' savin' my life?"
"What?" I begged to know, forgetting to give my elders a chance to speak first.
"'Tommy rot.' That's his very words. I've never forgot 'em. 'Tommy rot.'"
He beamed on us, and every one in the hall laughed, except perhaps Emily, who smiled doubtfully, not sure whether or no it was to her brother's credit to have remarked "Tommy rot" in such a crisis. But after that, we were all friends, we, and Owen Penrhyn, and the other men, too; for though we didn't really talk to them till dinner, I knew by their eyes that they admired Sir Lionel immensely, and wanted to know us all.
At dinner there was splendid climbing talk, and we heard further tales of Sir Lionel's prowess; among others of a great jump he had made from one rock of Trifaen to the other, with only a little square of rock to light upon, just on the edge of a sheer precipice; a record feat, according to the old guide. And while the men and we women listened, the wind outside raged so wildly that now and then it seemed as if a giant fell against the house and afterward dashed pebbles against it in his fury. Then again the wind-giant would rush by the hotel in his hundred-horse-power motor-car, tooting his horn as he went. It was nice sitting there in the comfortable dining-room, listening to the climbing stories, while the wind roared and couldn't get at us, and the whole valley was full of marching rain!
Now I am writing in my bedroom, close to a gossipy little fire, which is a delightful companion, although August has still a day to run. Mrs. Senter is having her beauty sleep, I suppose; and I should think Mrs. Norton is reading Young's "Night Thoughts." I know she takes the book about with her. The men are still in the hall downstairs, very happy, if one can judge by the laughter that breaks out often; and I am as happy as I can be with the thought of Dick probably appearing at Chester day after to-morrow night. But I won't let myself think of that too much, because it isn't certain that he will get back then, and it is certain that there will be some word from you, which may change everything. You see what faith your girl has in you! But wouldn't she be ungrateful if she hadn't?
There is one other thing which has been bothering me in odd moments, though, and I wish I had asked your advice about that, too, in the letter to be answered at Chester; but the idea hadn't occurred to me then. It suddenly sprang into my mind last night when I was lying in bed, not able to go to sleep.
Ought I to repeat to Ellaline what Mrs. Senter told me about the money? I don't mean the part about the poor child's father and mother. No one but a thorough Pig of the Universe would tell a daughter perfectly unnecessary horrors, like those; but about her not being an heiress in her own right, and depending on Sir Lionel for everything except two hundred a year?
If I were really in her place, instead of pretending to be, I should want to know, and shouldn't thank anyone for keeping the truth from me. It would be unbearable to accept generosity from a man, thinking I might be as extravagant as I liked, with my own money. But it is difficult to make up my mind, on account of the fiance. You, being French yourself, know how it is with French officers who fall in love with a girl who has no dot, or only a small one. Most of them, if poor themselves, would slap their foreheads and despair, but think it their duty to their country to forget the girl.
I'm afraid the adorable Honore is rather poor; and though no normal young man, especially a Frenchman, could help being fascinated by Ellaline if thrown in her society, many normal young men would be more ready to let themselves go, believing her to be an heiress. Perhaps Honore wouldn't have proposed if he hadn't thought Ellaline a very rich as well as a very pretty girl. Perhaps if he found out even now, at the eleventh hour, that she depends upon a person whom she has just slighted and deceived, he might desert her.
Wouldn't that be awful? Not that I think Ellaline would tell him, if I wrote to her exactly what I've heard from Mrs. Senter. Fascinating as she is, it isn't in her to be frank. I'm sure she would keep the secret until after her lover was safely her husband; but she would be upset and even more anxious about the future than she is.
I don't know what to do. And in the last letter I had from her she scolded me for continually praising Sir Lionel. She is sure I am mistaken about him, and that, if I can see any good under the dragon's scales the evil monster must have hypnotized me. She really seemed quite vexed. Maybe I shall hear from her at Chester. I hope so, as I'm rather worried because she didn't write to the last address I was able to give.
Whatever message your expected letter or telegram has for me, I will answer it at once.
Good night, dearest little Dame Wisdom, with more love than ever from
I'm so glad we are staying here all day to-morrow and to-morrow night. There are dozens of beautiful things to see; and besides, it is as safe as the inmost circle of a labyrinth from Dick, who has no clue.
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Queen's Hotel, Chester, September 1st
We've been in Chester for several hours, my Angel; and not only is there no Dick (for which heaven be praised), but no word from you, which worries me. Still, I shan't be really anxious unless on my second call at the post-office (to be made by and by) I draw a blank again. At least, I didn't draw a blank exactly when I went there before. I drew a letter from Ellaline, with vexing news. Honore de Guesclin is in a scrape. He could get leave now, and come to her, but he and some of his brother officers have been amusing themselves by learning to play bridge. Naturally, those who played best came off best, and Honore wasn't one of them. He has borrowed of a money-lender, and is in a hole, because the fellow won't let him have more, and is bothering for a settlement. Also, Honore owes some of his friends, and hasn't a penny to pay up or start on a journey. Ellaline doesn't seem to think much about the moral aspect of her Honore's affairs (you see, she knows nothing of what her mother must have suffered from her father's penchant), but she is in a great state of nerves about the delay. She has always been told it was bad luck to put off a wedding, and besides, she finds Scotland triste, and wants to be married.
You can guess to what all this is leading up! I must get money, somehow, anyhow, but a great deal, and immediately. I must send her at least four thousand francs by return of post; five thousand, if possible; but if "Monsieur le Dragon is too stingy to give more, at all events nothing less will be of the least use."
It's easy for her to dictate terms. She hasn't got to face the very upright and honourable gentleman whom, she calls the Dragon, whereas I have; and I've already shamed myself by asking for large sums at short intervals. I simply can't go to him here and "hold him up" for four thousand francs. It would be monstrous, and if he asked what I wanted to do with it (as it seems to me it would be only his duty to ask the young schoolgirl he thinks me) I should be able to find no decent excuse, as I have no expenses beyond those he pays. However, I shall have to do something desperate, I don't know yet what. He has given me some pretty things, and though I hate the thought of parting with them in such a way, as they're Ellaline's by rights, it's no more than fair she should benefit by them in the hour of her need. Poor girl! Of course there's nothing for it but she must marry the young man now, yet it seems a poor outlook, doesn't it?
She explains in a P. S. that she was too upset to write me to the last place, as she hadn't heard from Honore when she expected; but now, if the money is forthcoming all right he will start for Scotland as soon as possible after receiving it from her, and settling up. I have calculated times as well as I could, and fancy that if I can in any way send her a post-office order from Chester to-morrow, she and Honore may be able to marry in a week. Once I shouldn't have believed I could be sorry to have my "principal" arrive and take back her own part; but now, if it weren't for Dick Burden, it would actually be a temptation to me to delay Ellaline's appearance on the scene. Of course, I wouldn't be such a wicked wretch as to yield to the temptation, but I should feel it.
Ellaline promises to telegraph the moment Honore arrives, and again when they're safely married, so as to give the understudy plenty of time to scuttle off the stage, before the guardian is informed that his charge has been taken off his hands. She doesn't want to see Sir Lionel, she says, but she and Honore will write him unless, when Honore has consulted a Scottish solicitor (if that's what they're called), it's considered wiser for the lawyer himself to write. So you see, this makes it harder for me to know what to do about repeating Mrs. Senter's story. If Ellaline understood her position she would, perhaps, think it better to come with her bridegroom and throw herself at her injured guardian's feet.
What a nice world this would be if your affairs didn't get so hopelessly tangled up with other people's that you can hardly call your conscience your own! And never have I realized the niceness of the world more fully than in the last few days.
Yesterday I had a little easy climb with Sir Lionel and the old guide, and saw the glory of Llanberis Pass. To-day, on the wings of Apollo, we have flown through amazingly interesting country. It really did seem like flying, because the road surface was so like velvet stretched over elastic steel that eyesight alone told us we touched earth.
Miles aren't tyrants any more, but slaves to the mastery of good motor-cars; and any motoring Monte Cristo can fairly exclaim, "The world is mine!" (N. B. This isn't original. Sir Lionel said it at lunch.) From North Wales to Cheshire looks a long run on the map, but motors are made to live down maps; and we arrived in this astonishingly perfect old town early in the afternoon, coming by way of Capel Curig (whence we saw Snowdon crowned with a double rainbow), sweet Bettws-y-coed, or "station in the wood," and so down the river valley in a bird swoop, to noble Conway, with its castle that was once a famous Welsh fortress. Now, in piping days of peace, its towers and turrets still dominate bridge and river, and the great pile is as fine, in its way, as Carcassone. Don't you remember, it was from Conway Castle that Richard the Second started out to meet Bolingbroke?
We stopped to take photographs and buy a few small pearls from the "pearl-breeding river"; and while we gazed our fill at the mighty monument, we learned from a guardian that in old days a certain Lady Erskine hired the castle for six shillings and eightpence a year, in addition to a "dish of fish for the Queen," when her majesty chanced to pass!
At Colwyn Bay we lunched early, at a charming hotel in a garden above a sea of Mediterranean blue; and the red-roofed town along the shore reminded me of Dinard. After that, coming by Abergele and Rhuddlan to Chester, the way was no longer through a region of romance and untouched beauty. There were quarries, which politely though firmly announced their hours of blasting, and road users accommodated themselves to the rules as best they might. But there were castles on the heights, as well as quarries in the depths; and though Sir Lionel says that inhabitants of Wales never think of turning to look at such a "common object of the seashore" as a mere castle, I haven't come to that state of mind yet.
Near Rhuddlan there was a tremendous battle at the end of the seventh century, out of which so many fine songs have been made that the Welsh princes and nobles who were slain have never lost their glory. There's a castle, too (of course), but the best thing that happened for us was a gloriously straight road like a road of France, and as nobody was on it save ourselves at that moment, we did about six miles before the next moment, when others might claim a share. I believe the Holyhead road is very celebrated.
Soon we had to turn our backs upon a mystic mountain-land that ringed us in, and face the sea once more—a wide water-horizon whose line was broken with great ships steaming from all parts of the world to Liverpool.
Apollo had seemed a little faint before luncheon, because of some inner disturbance, but he was flying fast as a saint on his way to Paradise as we crossed the Dee, into England out of Wales, and sprang into Gladstone country.
When people are obliged to reach a town by rail, there must be disappointments to lovers of the picturesque, as you and I know by experience. It's like arriving at a house by the tradesmen's entrance; but with a motor one sails up to the front door through the park.
Of all the towns to which Apollo has brought us, the entrance to Chester to-day was the best. The first effect of colour left on my eyes the impression of sunset-red, warm as copper beeches. The place seemed to be lit with fading firelight, and I wondered at the soft glow everywhere, until I realized that the big buildings—the Cathedral, the great houses and the old city wall—were all made of rosy sandstone.
You can't imagine how a large town which has lived as long as Chester has, and gone on growing, could have contrived to remain so satisfyingly beautiful, or keep such an air of old-time completeness. But the secret is, I suppose, that Chester is "canny" as well as "bonny," and, being wise, she refused to throw away her precious antique garments for glaring new ones. When she had to add houses, or even shops, wherever possible she reproduced the charm and quaintness of the black and white Tudor or Stuart buildings which are Chester's intimate treasures.
Of course, I've seen little of the place yet; but after I had been to the post-office, I strolled about before coming back to the hotel, partly to recover from my disappointment in not hearing from you, partly because I was so bewitched with my first glimpse that I couldn't bear to come indoors still a stranger to the town. Hovering in front of the Cathedral (a curious building, black in its oldest parts, bright pink where it has been renovated) I saw Sir Lionel and Mrs. Norton coming. That was awkward, because I had said I wanted to "settle in" before sight-seeing, but I explained vaguely that I'd changed my mind, and was invited to go into the Cathedral with them. Perhaps it was because Emily was with us that nothing seemed very wonderful in the interior—unless the carved oak in the choir—but the cloisters are beautiful, and I liked the chapter house.
After "doing" the Cathedral, Mrs. Norton was tired, so Sir Lionel and I had a walk alone, an adventure Mrs. Senter would never have allowed if she'd guessed I was out of my room. She is a dog in the manger about walks. She hates them herself, but she won't let other people take them without her if she can help it.
We dropped Emily at the hotel, and had a delicious ramble (speaking for myself!) through the four extraordinary streets which stand for much in Chester's peculiar fame. Wandering there, it was easy to believe what the guide-books say: that nowhere in Great Britain does a town exist which so preserves the ancient character of all its architecture. I don't know if there are British relics; but the city wall and gates are Roman, part of the castle, too; and since mediaeval days nothing seems to have lost in picturesqueness. People come from all over the world to see the Rows: streets dug out below the rock-surface on which the town was originally built, having shops and even warehouses on their level, with galleries above, open fronted, stone-paved, balustraded with black oak, so that these "Rows" all look as if the houses were wide open, communicating with one another. The carved oak fronts of the houses and shops, done ingeniously with strange pargetting, and adorned with wondrous windows, are so adorably queer, with their stagey effects, that I don't wonder Chester has become a kind of Mecca for travellers from my native land, where most things are new.
When we had thus skimmed a little of the cream from the town itself, we had a walk on the old wall, while church bells, near and distant, chimed; but still I don't feel I've more than glanced at the place. To-morrow we plan to run out to Knutsford, which is Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford really, and I have begged to start early, because if we do (though naturally I don't allege this reason) we can get off before Dick arrives. Then, when we come back, we can do more sight-seeing, and maybe be out when he turns up at the hotel. After that event, unless you save me to-night with some miraculous suggestion, all pleasure will be over. And at best, I'm not looking forward with undiluted joy to to-morrow, because I must not only decide what to do for Ellaline, but do it.
While I was walking on the wall with Sir Lionel just now, gazing up at watch-towers, or down over the town, and dodging seedy amateur guides whom we nicknamed "Wallers," I kept thinking, thinking, about what to sell. The only thing Sir Lionel has given me of really great value, which could be easily disposed of, is the ruby and diamond ring. But how it would hurt me to give it up in such a sordid way! It was my birthday present from him, and it's associated in my mind with that night of moonlight in the New Forest when I first knew I cared. But I'm sorely afraid it must be the thing to go. There are several important-looking antique shops here, and I noticed, when casting my eye about, one where they make a speciality of curious and rare jewellery. I shall look at it again more carefully when I run out to the post-office, in a few minutes, and perhaps I may have courage to try and strike a bargain, so as to send the money off in the morning before Knutsford—if I get it——
An hour later.
Dearest, I've got your wire, now, having retrieved it from the Poste Restante, and I'm thankful for it—thankful that you're well, thankful that you don't blame me for anything I've done, faults committed or mistakes made. But—alas, I don't think the advice, good as it is, will be of any use to me. You see, you don't know Mrs. Senter. It would be hopeless for me to try and force her to exert authority over Dick Burden.
In the first place, she has no real authority, as apparently he has no expectations from her; and in the second place, though I'm almost sure she doesn't know the truth about me and Ellaline, she suspects that Dick has a hold over me; and after all I've submitted to from him already it would be impossible to "bluff" her into the belief that I'd dare ask Sir Lionel to send them both away. No, my dear one, there's little hope for me in that scheme. I allowed Ellaline to make my bed for me, and I must lie in it, although it has proved to be one of those nasty folding ones that will shut and swallow me up in a trap.
No, it's cowardly to whine like that. It won't be pleasant to keep my promise to Dick; but there have been worse things; and I shall probably be able to escape before long. Anyhow it will all be the same a hundred years hence. As soon as I am with you again it will be as if nothing had happened; and meanwhile I am going to keep a "stiff upper lip." It mayn't be becoming, but that won't matter, as Sir Lionel will never look at me; and you will see by my letters in future how well I am getting on.
Best love to my best loved,
SIR LIONEL PENDRAGON TO COLONEL PATRICK O'HAGAN
Keswick Hotel, September 3rd
My Dear Pat: Here we are, you see, in the "happy hunting ground" where you and I used to hunt such shy game as chimneys, needles, crevices, etc., etc.; and if I'm not as happy in it now as I ought to be, that isn't the fault of the country, which is as fair as it ever was—the fairest in England, perhaps.
It just happens, unfortunately, that I've been rubbed up the wrong way before coming to the places I'd looked forward to revisiting more than any other, except Cornwall; and if I hadn't invited dear old Penrhyn from Pen-y-gwrd to meet me here, and have a climb, I'm not sure I should have stopped. However, I have enjoyed the beauty of the run. I must have been as blind as a mole, and as earthy, if I hadn't.
Fine road from Chester to Liverpool, which city had an air of opulent magnificence seen from the ferry, as we neared her—rather like a huge, modern Venice. Lunched there, at the Adelphi, on the fat of the land, and had some trouble finding the way out of town. Liverpool welcomes the coming, but doesn't speed the parting guest; not a sign-post in sight anywhere. Bad pave till Ormskirk, when things improved, growing better and better; but no scenery to speak of until near Preston. Villages all along the line, stone-paved; struck me as being characteristic of that stern North Country which we approached. "Road too good not to mean police-traps," said I to myself; and an A. A. scout warned me that they swarmed; but luckily we were not held up. I wasn't in a temper to have taken any nonsense lying down, I'm afraid.
Ran straight through Lancaster, which was almost a pity, as John o' Gaunt's Castle is a brave old fortress, whether or no he really built the famous tower; and at the King's Arms we might have got some genuine oat-cakes, which would have given a taste of Cumberland to the strangers. As it was, the first truly characteristic things we came upon were the stout stone walls, on which we happened a little short of Kendal. Down to Windermere, a steep but beautiful run; Mrs. Senter by my side, and very enthusiastic. She seems to take an unaffected interest in scenery, with which you would hardly have credited her in old times. She was entranced by her first sight of the lake, which is not surprising, for to one who has never seen them the lakes must be a revelation.
Dick Burden, by the way, was not with us on this run, nor was he at Chester. He had business in London, which kept him longer than he expected when he left our party at Tintern. I can't say I regret him, though others may. I understand that there has been some telegraphing between him and his aunt, and that his present intention is to rejoin us at Newcastle. Rather wish he would put off his return a little longer, as it is arranged that we go out to Cragside and Bamborough Castle; and one doesn't like to abuse such delightful hospitality as we have been offered there. Dick's presence does not add to the gaiety of nations, it seems to me, and I am not keen on taking him.
I found Penrhyn waiting for me here, the good fellow, delighted at the prospect of his short visit, and to-morrow he and I will have some small climb. I shall send the car, with Young Nick to drive all who care to go, to a few of the beauty spots, while I am otherwise occupied. They must penetrate the cloistered charms of exquisite Borrodaile, and of course see Lodore, which ought to be at its best now, as there have been heavy rains. Jove! How the Cumberland names ring on the ear, like the "horns of elfland"! Helvelyn; Rydal; Ennerdale; Derwent Water; Glaramara! Aren't they all as crystal as the depths of mountain tarns, or that amethystine colour of the sky behind the clear profiles of high peaks?
I'm sorry we're too late for the Grasmere Sports; but the fact is we have lingered by the way longer than I planned for this trip; and now, as things are turning out I'm inclined to cut the end of the tour short. Graylees is practically ready for occupation, and I feel as if I ought to be there.
No! That isn't good enough for you, old chap. It's true, as far as it goes; but you have begun to read between the lines by this time, I know, and I may as well speak out. I should be an ostrich if I weren't sure that you've been saying to yourself: "Why doesn't this fellow refer to the girl he has spent so much pen and paper on? Why does he go out of his way to avoid mentioning her name?"
Well, she hasn't eloped, or done anything culpable. But there is no use concealing from you, as I have told you so much, that she has hurt me to the quick. Not that she has been unkind, or rude, or disagreeable. Quite the contrary. And that's the worst of it, for I prayed to heaven that there might be nothing of her mother in this young soul. At first, as you know, I could hardly believe the girl to be all she seemed, but soon she won me to thinking her perfection—a lily, grown by some miracle of Nature in a soil where weeds had flourished hitherto. I would have given my right hand rather than have to admit a flaw in her—that is, the one fatal flaw: slyness hidden under apparent frankness, which means an inherited tendency to deceit.
This may sound as if I had found the poor child out in a lie. But there has been no spoken lie. She has only done the sort of thing I might have expected Ellaline de Nesville's daughter to do.
I told you about the ring I bought her at Winchester, and gave her on her birthday; how prettily she received it; how she seemed to treasure it more because of the thought and the association than the intrinsic value of the ruby and the brilliants.
At Chester, the night before we left, I thought I'd try to pick up some little souvenir of the town for her, as she was delighted with the place. Of course I wanted something small, as our luggage isn't of the expanding order, so I had the idea of jewellery; a little antique pendant, or a few old paste buttons. There is a certain shop in the "Rows" where one looks for such things, and expects to find them good, if highly priced. In the window of that shop I saw displayed for sale the ring I had given to Ellaline!
The sight of it there was a blow; but I persuaded myself I might be mistaken; that it wasn't the same ring, but another, almost a duplicate. I went in and asked to look at it. The shopman mentioned that it was something quite unusually good, and had "only come in" that afternoon. Inside I found the date which I had had engraved on the ring; the date of Ellaline's birthday. I bought it back—for a good deal more than I paid in Winchester, as this chap knew his business thoroughly; but that is a detail. It was merely to satisfy a kind of sentimental vanity that I wanted to get the thing out of the window and into my own hands; for, needless to say, I don't intend to speak of the matter at all to Ellaline. It would humiliate me more than it would her, to let her see that I know what she did with her birthday present; for partly, I blame myself. I supposed that I was fairly free-handed with money, and had no idea that the girl could possibly want more than she had. Still, I told her to let me know in case she found me thoughtless, and not to hesitate to ask for anything she wanted. She could have had as much as she chose, and I would have put no questions. If I'd been surprised with the largeness of the sums, I should have believed that she had some pensioners to whom she wished to be charitable; for I had begun to believe that she could do no wrong.
As I said, there was nothing culpable in selling the ring. It was hers. She had a right to do as she liked with it. But that she should like to part with it; that she should do so, knowing I would hate it if I knew; that she should be exactly the same with me as if she hadn't done a thing which she was aware would distress me; that she hadn't the courage and frankness to come to me and say——
Oh, hang it all, I'm grumbling and complaining like an old prig! Perhaps I am one. I know Dick Burden thinks so. We'll let it go at that. I don't need to explain to you a matter which outwardly is insignificant, and is significant to me only for reasons which the past will account for to you better than my explanations.
The salt has gone out of life a bit, and I think it will do me good to get to Graylees, where I shall find a thousand things to interest me. I daresay Ellaline will be glad to settle down, though she is too polite to show it; and I'm sure Emily will.
After a look at the Roman Wall, and a sight of Bamborough, we shall run to Warwickshire with few detours or pauses.
You see, by the way, that you were wrong in thinking she could care. If there had been the least warmth in her heart for me she couldn't have sold my ring. I'm glad I didn't make a fool of myself.
Penrhyn wants to be remembered to you.
SIR LIONEL PENDRAGON TO COLONEL O'HAGAN
County Hotel, Newcastle, September 5th
My Dear Pat: You'll be surprised to get another letter from me on the tail of the last, but there have been developments in which I think you will be interested.
The sale of the ring was a mere preface to what has followed.
We arrived at Newcastle this afternoon, finding Burden already here. I didn't think the meeting between him and Ellaline particularly cordial, but appearances are deceiving where girls are concerned, as I have lately been reminded in more ways than one. About an hour ago, while I was getting off some letters and telegrams, I received a message from my ward asking if she could see me in the hotel drawing-room—the place is so full I couldn't get a private one.
I went down at once, of course, dimly (and foolishly) hoping that she wanted to "confess" about the ring. But it was quite a different confession she had to make; her desire to be engaged to Mr. Burden!
Naturally, after our last conversation on that subject, I was somewhat surprised, and on the spur of the moment was tempted to remind her that not long ago Young Nick had appeared as suitable in her eyes, as young Dick. However, I stopped in time to save myself from being both bounder and brute. I did inquire whether she were now sure of her own mind; but it was the duty of a guardian and not the malice of a disappointed man which prompted the question.
Her manner was singularly dry and businesslike, and she came as near to looking plain as it is possible for a beautiful girl to come; so love isn't always a beautifier.
"I am sure of my mind for the moment," she replied, with repulsive prudence. "I suppose a girl need never say more."
This answer and her manner puzzled me, so I ventured to ask, in a guardianly way, if she thought she were enough in love with Burden to be happy with him.
"I haven't to think about being with him at all yet," she temporized.
"You seem to have an extraordinary idea of an engagement," I said, perhaps rather sneeringly, for I felt bitter, and had never approved of her less.
"Perhaps I have," she returned, in such an odd, muffled sort of tone that I feared she was going to cry, and glanced at her sharply. But she was looking down and there were no tears visible, so that fear was relieved.
"You do, at all events, wish to be engaged to Burden?" I persisted. "Am I to understand that?"
"I have asked for your consent," she said, with a queer stiffness. And it was on my tongue to say as stiffly, "Very well: you have it. What pleases you should please me." But the words stuck in my throat, as if they'd been lumps of ice; and instead I answered, almost in spite of myself, that I couldn't give my consent unconditionally. I must have another talk with Burden, and whatever my decision might be, I would prefer that she didn't consider herself engaged until after the tour was ended.
"We'll bring it to a close as soon as possible now," I added, trying not to sound as bitter as I felt, "so as not to keep you waiting."
She made no response to this, except to give me a singular look which even now I find it impossible to understand. It was as if she had something to reproach me for, and yet as if she were more pleased than sad.
Girls are very complicated human beings, if indeed they can be classified thus—though perhaps some men's lives would be duller if they were simpler. As for my life, the less girls have to do with it when my ward is off my hands, the better.
Since the above conversation, I have been drawn into a talk with Burden. He appeared anxious to find out exactly what had passed between Ellaline and me, almost as if he suspected her of not "playing straight," but I replied, briefly, that she had asked my permission to be engaged to him, having evidently changed her mind since our last discussion on the subject. This appeared to content him more or less, although I repeated what I'd said to the girl: that I was not prepared to consent officially until I had communicated with his mother, and satisfied myself that my ward would be welcomed in the family. This he evidently thought old-fashioned and over-scrupulous, but when I admitted being both, he ceased to protest, only saying that he wished to write to his mother first. I suggested talking with his aunt, also, and he did not object to the idea, so Mrs. Senter and I have already had a short conversation concerning her nephew's love affair. She cried a little, and said that she would be "horribly alone in the world" when her "only real pal" was married, but that of course she wished for his happiness above everything, and she meant to give him a wedding present worth having, if she beggared herself for years. The poor little woman showed a great deal of heart, and I was touched. I'm afraid she's not too happy, under her air of almost flippant gaiety and "smartness," for she rather hinted that she liked some man who didn't care for her—someone she met in the East. I suppose she can't be cherishing a hidden passion for you? Rather cruel of us, accusing her of being a flirt in those days, if she were in earnest all the time, eh?
In case I "pump" her a little about this mysterious disappointment, and find it's you she's thinking of, I may turn the tables, and give you some good advice—better than you gave me. You might do worse than get leave and have another look at this pretty and agreeable lady before deciding to let her slip.
Good old Owen enjoyed his two days in Cumberland. He, too, tried his hand on advising me. Said I ought to marry. Not I!
MRS. SENTER TO HER SISTER, MRS. BURDEN
Newcastle, September Something
My Dear Sis: This is to ask a great favour of you, and you must be a pet and grant it. There's nothing I won't do for you in return, if you will.
I have just been having a most satisfactory chat with Sir L. It began in reference to Dick. Somehow or other that ingenious darling had forced Ellaline Lethbridge to ask Sir Lionel for his (Dick's) hand! I say "forced," because she is not in the least in love with him, indeed, (strange as it may seem to you) detests the ground he walks on; yet she does things that he tells her to do—things she hates like poison. This last coup of Dick's convinces me of what I've often suspected: he knows something about her past which she is deadly afraid he will tell Sir Lionel. It may be connected with that visit to Venice, when the Tyndals saw her; anyhow, whatever the secret may be, it is serious. She is obliged to bribe Dick; but she dislikes him too intensely to marry him ever—even if the way to do so were made easy; so, I reiterate, have no fear on that score.
Sir Lionel fancies himself in love with the girl, but he will get over it, even if he isn't on the way to do so already, pushed roughly onto the right road by her confessed preference for Dick. For the moment, however, I can see he is rather hard hit, though he would be mad if he dreamed I or anyone could read his august feelings. He thinks his hesitation to permit an engagement arises from conscientious scruples, but really it's because he can't bear to have any other man (or boy) making love to his girl. That's the brutal truth; and he's haggling and putting off the evil day as long as he can. He wanted to ask me what my feeling was in the matter; whether you would be pleased, and so on. Ellaline might not be rich, he explained, but she would have enough for her own wants as a married woman. He thought her husband, when she had one, ought to wish to do the rest; and though Dick considered his own prospects good, a partnership in a detective agency hardly seemed ideal.
I told him I couldn't quite answer for you, as you had always hoped your one boy might fall in love with a rich girl; but that I was sure Dick adored Ellaline. I asked if I should write to you, when Dick did; and he said, half reluctantly, perhaps I had better. Poor wretch, he was afraid I might succeed in persuading you!
I was pathetic on the subject of Dick, and our comradeship, which must be broken by the dear boy's marriage, and as Sir L. was suffering himself, he was in just the right mood to sympathize with me. I snivelled a little; and at last, emboldened by success, I allowed him to gather that there was someone I'd cared for a long, long time—someone who didn't care for me. At that he was so nice, that I liked him better than I ever thought I could; and since then I feel I really can't and shan't lose him.
No sooner had he given my hand a warm yet disappointing "kind friend" squeeze, at parting, than I routed out Dick in his own room. I promised him that I would induce you to write a nice letter about the proposed engagement to Sir Lionel if he in his turn would persuade Ellaline to put in a good word for me with Sir L., to tell him that she believed I cared for him a good deal, and was unhappy.
When I said "persuade" to Dick, I meant use his unknown power to command; for if the girl would say that to her guardian, her words would be the one stone capable of killing two birds. It would prove to him that of which I don't think he is perfectly sure at present: her love for Dick, or, at worst, her complete indifference to himself; and it would pop into his head the idea I want to put there, though I have done all it's safe to do openly toward inserting it.
I saw when I softly hinted at a hopeless affection which had spoiled years of my life, that he didn't think of himself. Somehow, he must be made to think; and now is the right time, for his heart is sore, and needs balm. He would be so sorry for me that, in the state he is in, he couldn't be hard. He would argue that, as he was bound to be unhappy anyway, he might as well try to make others happy. I feel that everything would happen exactly as I want it to happen if Ellaline Lethbridge could be depended upon to say the right thing.
Of course, there lies the danger: that she won't. But Dick boasts that she'll have to do as he tells her. It's worth risking; but he won't give the word unless he thinks that I've coaxed you 'round.
That's the favour I ask. Will you, when you get this, wire to me at once, "Writing according to your request to Sir L."? I can then show your telegram to Dick (you must address it to me at Bamborough Castle, where we are to spend a night, after staying one at Cragside) and he will put pressure to bear on Ellaline Lethbridge.
You can be absolutely certain that no harm will come of this. That Dick and she will never be married; whereas, when I am married to Sir Lionel, I'll give you a present of five hundred pounds, within the first year, to do with as you like. I'd even be willing to sign a paper to that effect.
Your anxious, yet hopeful
AUDRIE BRENDON TO HER MOTHER
Bamborough Castle, September 9th
Dear: I know you are miserable about me, but don't be it, because I'm not miserable about myself. Honour bright!
I've done the hateful deed. It was at Newcastle: and I knew I was in for it, the minute I saw Dick. He's got his partnership, and thinks he's got me. But there's many a slip 'twixt Dick Burden and Audrie Brendon.
I wouldn't tell Sir Lionel I was in love with the horrid Boy Detective, and I'm happy—or nearly happy—to say that he refused to give his consent straight out to an engagement. He told Dick the same thing; so there'll be no leaving us two alone in lovesick corners (can corners be lovesick?), or making announcements, or anything appalling of that sort.
Perhaps it was easier, speaking to Sir Lionel, because he hadn't been kind to me since the last evening in Chester—I can't think why, though I can think why I deserved unkindness. The ring was terribly on my mind; but he can't have found out about that, because the man in the shop promised he wouldn't try to sell it until next day.
I couldn't get quite what Ellaline wanted, though I sold two or three other things—all I could sell; but it came nearly to the right amount; and it went off to her in Scotland, in the form of a post-office order, that same night—assured instead of registered, as the letter was so valuable.
Sir Lionel being somewhat frigid and remote in his manner, appearing to take no more interest in me than if he were a big star and I a bit chipped off a Leonid, I delivered myself of what I had to say without great difficulty. I had a queer, numbed feeling, as though if it didn't matter to him, it didn't to me, until just at the last, when he said something that nearly made me cry. Luckily I was able to swallow the sob. It felt like a large, hot, crisp baked potato; and my heart felt like a larger, cold-boiled beet soaked in vinegar.
It's all over now, though, and I'm comparatively callous. Maybe the vinegar has pickled me internally?
Bamborough Castle, where we arrived to-day with our kind and delightful hosts of Cragside, is to be the northernmost end of the tour. On leaving, we turn southward; and would make straight for Warwickshire and Graylees, if, in an evil moment, Mrs. Norton and I hadn't for once agreed about a place that we longed to see. It is Haworth, where the Brontes lived, and Sir Lionel said that our wish should be gratified. He planned a day in Yorkshire: Ripon, Fountains Abbey, Haworth, Harrogate (not York, because Emily went there with the late Mr. Norton, and has sad marital memories); and the plan still stands. I have an idea that Sir Lionel is impatient to reach Graylees now, so after the Yorkshire field-day we will push on there; and I shall perhaps hear from Ellaline as to Honore's plans. He ought to be in Scotland by that time. I've written her to wire me at the nearest post-office to Graylees Castle, as I don't like to receive telegrams there. But I see no reason why you shouldn't send a letter to Graylees—the last letter, I hope, which need ever be addressed to me as "Miss Ellaline Lethbridge." It will seem nice to get into my own name again! Rather like putting on comfortable shoes after tight ones that made blisters. And how divine to fly to you—a distracted chicken, battered by a thunderstorm, scuttling back under its mother's downy wing!
Nevertheless, I'm not going to cheat you out of seeing England through my eyes, because my pleasure—just a little of it—is damped by Dick. I am resigned and calm, and you mustn't think me a martyr. I've told you I hate whiners, and I won't be one. Why, I ought to be thankful for the chance of such a wonderful trip, and not be cowardly enough to spoil it by a few private worries!
Cumberland is even lovelier than Wales, though I shouldn't have thought that possible. Sir Lionel went climbing with the nice Welsh guide, whom he invited to Keswick, so he wasn't with us much; and Dick being in London still, there were only Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Senter, and I to be conducted by Young Nick. It did seem odd being driven by him, and seeing his back look so inexpressive among the most ravishing scenes. I asked if he didn't think Cumberland glorious, but he said it was not like India. I suppose that was an answer?
We spun off into the mysterious enchantments of Borrodaile in gusts of rain; but the heavenly valley was the more mystic because of the showers. Huge white clouds walked ahead of us, like ghosts of pre-historic animals; and baby clouds sprawled on the mountain sides, with all their filmy legs in air.
At Lodore the water was "coming down" like a miniature Niagara. Heavy rains had filled the cup of its parent river full, and the waterfall looked as if floods of melted ivory were pouring over ebony boulders. What a lovely, rushing roar! It was like the father of all sound—as if it might have given the first suggestion of sound to a silent, new-born world.
Windermere and Derwent Water we saw, too, and each was more beautiful than the other. Also I was much excited about the Giant's Grave, near Keswick, which has kept its secret since before history began.
All the way to Carlisle the country was very fair to see, scarcely flagging in charm to the end; and Carlisle itself was packed with interest, from its old cathedral to the castle where David I. of Scotland died and Mary Queen of Scots lodged.
Now our thoughts were turned toward the Roman Wall, and I thrilled a little, despite the forbidding stiffness of Sir Lionel's disapproving back as he drove. Because of Kipling's splendid story of the Roman soldier in "Puck of Pook's Hill," I knew that for me the Great Wall (all that's left of it) would be one of the best things. Parnesius, the young centurion, told Una and Dan that "old men who have followed the Eagles since boyhood say nothing is more wonderful than the first sight of the Wall." And also that there were no real adventures south of it. It was disappointing to think that nowadays, on our way there, we couldn't expect to meet "hunters and trappers for the circuses, prodding along chained bears and muzzled wolves" for the amusement of the soldiers in the far northern camps; or that when we should come to the Wall, we'd find no helmeted men with glittering shields walking three abreast on the narrowest part, screened from Picts by a little curtain-wall at the top, as high as their necks; no roaring, gambling, cock-fighting, wolf-baiting, horse-racing soldier town on one side, and heather wastes full of hiding, arrow-shooting Picts on the other; yet I heard Sir Lionel say we could still trace the guard-houses and small towers, and see how the great camp of Cilurnum was laid out.
We had left the mountains before we came into Carlisle, but not the hills; and after one of grandiose size, which an old Northumbrian we met called "a fair stiff bank," we were on the Roman road; the long, long, straight road forging uncompromisingly, grimly up and down, ever on, scorning to turn aside for difficulties; the road where the Legions paced with the brave Roman step—"Rome's race, Rome's pace," twenty-four miles in eight hours.
Kipling illuminated the way through Haltwhistle and Chollerford to the Chesters, a private park which is a big out-of-doors museum, for it has in its midst the remains of old Cilurnum. We got out at the gates, and wandered among the ruins that have been reverently excavated; a gray and faded scene, like a kind of skeleton Pompeii with dead bones rattling; entrance gateways; ghost-haunted guard-houses; stone rings which were towers; many short, straight streets whose half-buried pavements once rang under soldiers' heels; the Forum; all the camp-city plan; a map with outlines roughly sketched in stone on faded grass. We had had our first sight of the Wall of which centurions in Britain bragged when they went back to Rome. Then it was a Living Wall; but it is very wonderful still, where its skeleton lies in state.
We had started so early from Keswick, that it wasn't two o'clock when we left the Chesters; and I was surprised when, instead of drawing up before some country inn for lunch, we skimmed through a gate only a mile or two away, and stopped under the shadowy frown of an imposing mediaeval stronghold. It was Haughton Castle, whose towers and keep are crowded with stories of the past, and the visit was to be a surprise for us. Sir Lionel knew the owner, who had asked us all to lunch, for the "dragon's" sake; and it looked quite an appropriate resting-place for a dragon of elegant leisure. It was as interesting within as without; and after luncheon they took us over the castle; best of all, down in the deep dungeon where Archie Armstrong, a chief of moss-troopers, was forgotten and starved to death by his captor, Sir Thomas Swinburne, a stout knight of Henry the Eighth's day.
There is a long story about Archie, too long to tell you here; but each castle of Northumberland (the county of castles, not of collieries) has dozens of wonderful old stories, warlike, ghostlike, tragic, and romantic. I have been reading a book about some of them, which I will bring you. It's more interesting than any novel. And King Arthur legends are scattered broadcast over Northumberland, as in Cornwall. Also the "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled" did much of their bleeding and fighting here. There's history of "every sort, to please every taste," from Celtic times on; but I'm not sure that the troublous days of the great feudal barons weren't the most passionately thrilling of all.