Rupert had anticipated being attacked upon this subject, and had fully prepared himself to defend the peculiar position it was his interest to maintain. To encourage a meeting between his brother and the old lady (to whom the present position of affairs was a grievous offence) did not, certainly, enter into his plan of action; but Tanty had put the question in an unexpected and slightly awkward shape, and for a second or two he hesitated before replying.
"I fear," said he then, gliding into the subject with his usual easy fluency, "that you will be disappointed if you have been reckoning upon an interview with Adrian, my dear aunt. The hermit will not be drawn from his shell on any pretext."
"What," cried Tanty, while her withered cheek flushed, "do you mean to tell me that my nephew, Sir Adrian Landale, will decline to come a few hundred yards to see his old aunt—his mother's own sister—who has come three hundred miles, at seventy years of age, to see him in his own house—in his own house?" repeated the irate old lady, rattling the spoon with much emphasis against her cup. "If you mean this, Rupert, it is an insult to me which I shall never forget—never."
She rose from her seat as she concluded, shaking with the tremulous anger of age.
"For God's sake, Tanty," cried Rupert, throwing into his voice all the generous warmth he was capable of simulating, "do not hold me responsible for Adrian in this matter. His strange vagaries are not of my suggesting, heaven knows."
"Well, nephew," said Miss O'Donoghue, loftily, "if you will kindly send the letter I am about to write to your brother, by a safe messenger, immediately, I shall believe that it is your wish to treat me with proper respect, whatever may be Adrian's subsequent behaviour."
Mr. Landale's countenance assumed an expression of very genuine distress; this was just the one proof of dutiful attachment that he was loth to bestow upon his cherished aunt.
"I see how it is," he exclaimed earnestly, coming up to the old lady, and laying his hand gently upon her arm, "you entirely misunderstand the situation. I am not a free agent in this matter. I cannot do what you ask; I am bound by pledge. Adrian is, undoubtedly, more than—peculiar on certain points, and, really, I dare not, if I would, thwart him."
"Oh!" cried Tanty, shooting off the ejaculation as from a pop-gun. Then, shaking herself free of Rupert's touch, she sat down abruptly in her chair again, and began fanning herself with her handkerchief. Not even in her interchange of amenities with Mrs. Hambledon, had Molly seen her display so much indignation.
"You want me to believe he is mad, I suppose?" she snapped, at last.
"Dear me! No, no, no!" responded the other, in his airy way. "I did not mean to go so far as that; but—well, there are very painful matters, and hitherto I have avoided all discussion upon them, even with Sophia. My affection for Adrian——"
"Fiddlesticks!" interrupted Tanty. "You meant something, I suppose; either the man's mad, or he is not. And I, for one, don't believe a word of it. The worst sign about him, that I can see, is the blind confidence the poor fellow seems to put in you."
Here Molly, who had been listening to the discussion "with all her ears"—anything connected with the mysterious personality of the absent head of the house was beginning to have a special fascination for her—gave an irrepressible little note of laughter.
Rupert looked up at her quickly, and their eyes met.
"Hold your tongue, Miss," cried Miss O'Donoghue, sharply; aware that she had gone too far in her last remark, and glad to relieve her oppression in another direction, "how dare you laugh? Sophia, this is a terrible thing your brother wants me to believe—may I ask what your opinion is? Though I'll not deny I don't think that will be worth much."
Sophia glanced helplessly at Rupert, but he was far too carefully possessed of himself to affect to perceive her embarrassment.
"Come, come," cried Miss O'Donoghue, whose eyes nothing escaped, "you need not look at Rupert, you can answer for yourself, I suppose—you are not absolutely a drivelling idiot—all the Landales are not ripening for lunatic asylums—collect your wits, Sophia, I know you have not got any, but you have enough to be able to give a plain answer to a plain question, I suppose. Do you think your brother mad, child?"
"God forbid," murmured Sophia, at the very extremity of those wits of which Miss O'Donoghue had so poor an opinion. "Oh, no, dear aunt, not mad, of course, not in the least mad."
Then, gathering from a restless movement of Rupert's that she was not upon the right tack she faltered, floundered wildly, and finally drew forth the inevitable pocket-handkerchief, to add feelingly if irrelevantly from its folds, "And indeed if I thought such a calamity had really fallen upon us—and of course there are symptoms, no doubt there are symptoms...."
"What are his symptoms—has he tried to murder any of you, hey?"
"Oh, my dear aunt! No, indeed, dear Adrian is gentleness itself."
"Does he bite? Does he gibber? Oh, away with you, Sophia! I am sure I cannot wonder at the poor fellow wanting to live on a rock, between you and Rupert. I am sure the periwinkles and the gulls must be pleasant company compared to you. That alone would show, I should think, that he knows right well what he is about. Mad indeed! There never was any madness among the O'Donoghues except your poor uncle Michael, who got a box on the ear from a windmill—and he wasn't an O'Donoghue at all! You will be kind enough, nephew, to have delivered to Sir Adrian, no later than to-day, the letter which I shall this moment indite to him."
"Perhaps," said Rupert, "if you will only favour me with your attention for a few minutes first, aunt, and allow me to narrate to you the circumstances of my brother's return here, and of his subsequent self-exile, you will see fit to change your opinion, both as regards him and myself."
A self-controlled nature will in the long run, rightly or wrongly, always assume the ascendency over an excitable one. The moderateness of Rupert's words, the coolness of his manner, here brought Tanty rapidly down from her pinnacle of passion.
Certainly, she said, she was not only ready, but anxious to hear all that Rupert could have to say for himself; and, smoothing down her black satin apron with a shaking hand, the old lady prepared to listen with as much judicial dignity as her flustered state allowed her to assume. Rupert drew his chair opposite to hers and leant his elbow on the table, and fixed his bright, hard eyes upon her.
"You remember, of course," he began after a moment's pause, "how at the time of my poor father's death, Adrian was reported to have lost his life in the Vendee war—though without authoritative confirmation—at the same time as the fair and unhappy Countesse de Savenaye, to whose fortune he had so chivalrously devoted himself."
Tanty bowed her head in solemn assent; but Molly, watching with the most acute attention, felt her face blaze at the indefinable shade of mockery she thought to catch upon the speaker's curling lip.
"It was," continued he, "the constant strain, the long months of watching in vain for tidings, that told upon my father, rather than the actual grief of loss. When he died, the responsibilities of the headship of the house devolved naturally upon me, the only male representative left, seemingly, to undertake them. The months went by; to the most sanguine the belief in Adrian's death became inevitable. Our hopes died slowly, but they died at last; we mourned for him," here Rupert cast down his eyes till the thick black lashes which were one of his beauties swept his cheek; his tone was perfect in its simple gravity. "At length, urged thereto by all the family, if I remember rightly by yourself as well, dear aunt, I assumed the title as well as the position which seemed mine by right. I was very young at the time, but I do not think that either then, or during the ten years that followed, I unworthily filled my brother's place."
There was a proud ring of sincerity in the last words, and the old lady knew that they were true; that during the years of his absolute power as well as of his present more restricted mastership, Rupert's management of the estate was unimpeachable.
"Certainly not, my dear Rupert," she said in softer tones than she had hitherto used to him, "no one would dream of suggesting such a thing—pray go on."
"And so," pursued the nephew, with a short laugh, relapsing into that light tone of banter which was his most natural mode of expression; "when, one fine day, a hired coach clattered up Sir Rupert Landale's avenue and deposited upon his porch a tattered mariner who announced himself, in melancholy tones that would have befitted the ghost no doubt many took him for, as the rightful Sir Adrian, erroneously supposed defunct, I confess that it required a little persuasion to make me recognise my long-lost brother—and yet there could be no doubt of it. The missing heir had come to his own again; the dead had come back to life. Well, we killed the fatted calf, and all the rest of it—but I need not inflict upon you the narrative of our rejoicing."
"Faith, no," said Tanty, drily, "I can see it with half an eye."
"You know, too, I believe, the series of extraordinary adventures, or misadventures, which had kept him roaming on the high seas while we at home set up tablets to his memory and 'wore our blacks' as people here call it, and cultivated a chastened resignation. There was a good deal of correspondence going on at the time between Pulwick and Bunratty, if I remember aright, and you heard all about Adrian's divers attempts to land in England, about his fight with the King's men, his crack on the head and final impressment. At least you heard as much as we could gather ourselves. Adrian is not what one would call a garrulous person at the best of times. It was really with the greatest difficulty that we managed to extract enough out of him to piece together a coherent tale."
"Well, well," quoth Tanty, with impatience, "you are glib enough for two anyhow, my dear! All this does not tell me how Adrian came to live on a lighthouse, and why you put him down as a lunatic."
"Not as a lunatic," corrected Rupert, gently, "merely as slightly eccentric on certain points. Though, indeed, if you had seen him during those first months after his return, I think even you with your optimistic spirit would have feared, as we did, that he was falling into melancholia. Thank heaven he is better now. But, dear me, what we went through! I declare I expected every morning to be informed that Sir Adrian's corpse had been found hanging from his bedpost or discovered in a jelly at the bottom of the bluffs. And, indeed, when at length he disappeared for three days, after he had been last observed mooning along the coast, there was a terrible panic lest he should have sought a congenial and soothing end in the embraces of the quicksands.... It turned out, however, that he had merely strolled over to Scarthey—where, as you know, my father established a beacon and installed a keeper to warn boats off our shoals—and, finding the place to his liking, had remained there, regardless of our feelings."
"Tut, tut!" said Tanty; but whether in reproof of Rupert's flippant language or of her elder nephew's erratic behaviour, it would have been difficult to determine.
"Of course," went on Rupert, smoothly, "I had resolved, after a decent period, to remove my lares and penates from a house where I was no longer master and to establish myself, with my small patrimony (I believe I ought to call it matrimony, as we younger children benefit by our O'Donoghue mother) in an independent establishment. But when I first broached the subject, Adrian was so vastly distressed, expressed himself so well satisfied with my management of the estate and begged me so earnestly to consider Pulwick as my home, vowing that he himself would never marry, and that all he looked forward to in life was to see me wedded and with future heirs to the name springing around me, that it would have been actual unkindness to resist. Moreover, as you can imagine, Adrian is not exactly a man of business, and his spasmodic interferences in the control of the property being already then of a very injudicious nature, I confess that, having nursed it myself for eleven years with some success, I dreaded to think what it would become under his auspices. And so I agreed to remain. But the position increased in difficulty. Adrian's moroseness seemed to grow upon him; he showed an exaggerated horror of company; either flying from visitors as from the pest, and shutting himself up in his own apartments, or (on the few disastrous occasions when my persuasions induced him to show himself to some old family friends) entertaining them with such unusual sentiments concerning social laws, the magistracy, the government, his Majesty the King himself, that the most extraordinary reports about him soon spread over the whole county. This was about the time—as you may remember—of my own marriage."
Here an alteration crept into Mr. Landale's voice, and Molly looked at him curiously, while Miss Sophia gave vent to an audible sniff.
"To be sure," said Tanty, hastily. Comfortably egotistic old ladies have an instinctive dislike to painful topics. And that Rupert's sorrow for his young wife had been, if self-centred and reserved, of an intense and prolonged nature was known to all the family.
The widower himself had no intention of dilating upon it. His wife's name he never mentioned, and no one could guess, heavily as the blow was known to have fallen upon him, the seething bitterness that her loss had left in his soul, nor imagine how different a man he might have been if that one strong affection of his life had been spared to soften it.
"Adrian fled from the wedding festivities, as you may remember, for you were our honoured guest at the time, and greatly displeased at his absence," he resumed, after a few seconds of darkling reflection. "None of us knew where he had flown to, for he did not evidently consider his owl's nest sufficiently remote; but we had his fraternal blessing to sustain us. And after that he continued to make periodical disappearances to his retreat, stopping away each time longer and longer. One fine day he sent workmen to the island with directions to repair certain rooms in the keep, and he began to transfer thereto furniture, his books and his organ. A dilapidated little French prisoner next appeared on the scene (whom my brother had extracted from the Tower of Liverpool, which was then crammed with such gentry), and finally we were informed that, with this worthy companion, Sir Adrian Landale was determined to take up his abode altogether at Scarthey, undertaking the duties of the recently defunct light-keeper. So off he went, and there he is still. He has extracted from us a solemn promise that his privacy is to be absolutely respected, and that no communications, or, above all, visits are to be made to him. Occasionally, when we least expect it, he descends upon us from his tower, upsets all my accounts, makes the most absurd concessions to the tenants, rides round the estate with his eyes on the ground and disappears again. Et voila, my dear aunt, how we stand."
"Well, nephew," said Miss O'Donoghue, "I am much obliged to you, I am sure, for putting me au courant of the family affairs. It is all very sad—very sad and very deplorable; but——"
But Mr. Landale was quite aware that Tanty was not yet convinced to the desired extent. He therefore here interrupted her to play his last card—that ace he had up his sleeve, in careful preparation for this trial of skill with his keen-witted relative, and to the suitable production of which he had been all along leading.
Rising from his chair with slow, deliberate movement, he proceeded, as if following his own train of thought, without noticing that Miss O'Donoghue was intent on speech herself:
"You have not seen him, I believe, since he was quite a lad. You would have some difficulty in recognising him, though he bears, like the rest of us, what you call the unmistakable Landale stamp. His portrait is here, by the way—duly installed in its correct position. That," with a laugh, "was one of his freaks. It was his duty to keep up the family traditions, he said—and there you will approve of him, no doubt; but hardly, perhaps, of the manner in which he has had that laudable intention carried out. My own portrait was, of course, deposed (like the original)," added Mr. Landale, with something of a sneer; "and now hangs meekly in some bedroom or other—in that, if I mistake not, at present hallowed by my fair cousins' presence. Well, it is good for the soul of man to be humbled, as we are taught to believe from our earliest years!"
Tanty was fumbling for her eye-glasses. She was glad to hear that Adrian had remembered some of his obligations (she observed, sententiously, as she hauled herself stiffly out of her chair to approach the chimney-piece); it was certainly a sign that he was more mindful of his duties as head of the house than one would expect from a person hardly responsible, such as Rupert had represented him to be, and ...
Here, the glasses being adjusted and focussed upon the portrait, Miss O'Donoghue halted abruptly with a dropping jaw.
"There is a curious inscription underneath the escutcheon," said Mr. Landale composedly, "which latter, by the way, you may notice is the only one in the line which has no room for an impaled coat (Adrian's way of indicating not only that he is single, but means to remain such); Adrian composed it himself and indeed attached a marked importance to it. Let me read it for you, dear Tanty, the picture hangs a little high and those curveting letters are hard to decipher. It runs thus:
Sir Adrian William Hugh Landale, Lord of Pulwick and Scarthey in the County Palatine of Lancaster, eighth Baronet, born March 12th, 1775. Succeeded to the title and estate on the 10th February 1799, whilst abroad. Iniquitously pressed into the King's service on the day of his return home, January 2nd, 1801. Twice flogged for alleged insubordination, and only released at last by the help of a friend after five years of slavery. Died [Here a space for the date.] It is a record with a vengeance, is it not? Notice my brother's determination to die unmarried and to retire, once for all, from all or any of the possible honours connected with his position!"
They had all clustered in front of the picture; even Madeleine roused from her sweet day-dreams to some show of curiosity; Miss Landale's bosom, heaving with such sighs as to make the tombstone rise and fall like a ship upon a stormy sea; Molly with an eagerness she did not attempt to hide; and Miss O'Donoghue still speechless with horror and indignation.
Mr. Landale had gauged his aunt's temperament correctly enough. To one whose ruling passion was pride of family, this mockery of a consecrated family custom, this heirloom destined to carry down a record of degradation into future generations, was an insult to the name only to be explained to her first indignation by deliberate malice—or insanity.
And from the breezy background of blue sky and sea, contrasting as strangely with the dark solemnity of the other portraits as did the figure itself in its incongruous sailor dress, the face of the eighth baronet looked down in melancholy gravity upon the group gathered in judgment upon him.
"Disgraceful! Positively disgraceful!" at length cried the last representative of the O'Donoghues of Bunratty, in scandalised tones. "My dear Rupert, you should have a curtain put up, that this exhibition of folly—of madness, I hardly know what to call it—be not exposed to every casual visitor. Dear me, dear me, that I should live to see any of my kin deliberately throw discredit on his family, if indeed the poor fellow is responsible! Rupert, my good soul, can you ascribe any reason for this terrible state of affairs ... that blow on the head?"
"In part perhaps," said Mr. Landale. "And yet there have been other causes at work. If I could have a private word in your ear," glancing meaningly over his shoulder at the two young girls who were both listening, though with very different expressions of interest and favour, "I could give you my opinion more fully."
"Go away now, my dear creatures," hereupon said Miss O'Donoghue, promptly addressing her nieces. "It is a fine morning, and you will lose your roses if you don't get the air. I don't care if it has begun to rain, miss! Go and have a game of battledore and shuttlecock then. Young people must have exercise. Well, my dear Rupert, well!"—when Molly, with a pettish "battledore and shuttlecock indeed!" had taken her sister by the arm and left the room.
"Well, my dear aunt, the fact is, I believe my unhappy brother has never recovered from—from his passion for Cecile de Savenaye, that early love affair, so suddenly and tragically terminated—well, it seems to have turned his brain!"
"Pooh, pooh! why that was twenty years ago. Don't tell me it is in a man to be so constant."
"In no sane man perhaps; but then, you know, Tanty, that is just the point.... Remember the circumstances. He loved her madly; he followed her, lived near her for months and she was drowned before his eyes, I believe. I never heard, of course, any details of that strange period of his life, but we can imagine." This was a difficult, vague, subject to deal with, and Mr. Landale wisely passed on. "Moreover, his behaviour when in this house on his return at first has left me no doubt. I watched him closely. He was for ever haunting those rooms which she had inhabited. When he found her miniature in the drawing-room he went first as white as death, then he took it in his hand and stood gazing at it (I am not exaggerating) for a whole hour without moving; and, finally, he carried it off, and I know he used to talk to it in his room. And now, even if I had not given my poor brother my word of honour never to disturb his chosen solitude, I should have felt it a heavy responsibility to promote a meeting which would inevitably bring back past memories in a troublous manner upon him. In fact, were he to come across the children of his dead love—above all Molly, who must be startlingly like her mother—what might the result be? I hardly like to contemplate it. The human brain is a very delicately balanced organ, my dear aunt, and once it gets ever so slightly out of order one cannot be too careful to avoid risk."
He finished his say with an expressive gesture of the hand. Miss O'Donoghue remained for a moment plunged in reflection, during which the cloud upon her countenance gradually lifted.
"It is a strange thing," she said at last, "but constancy seems to run in the family. There is no denying that. Here is Sophia, a ridiculous spectacle—and you yourself, my dear Rupert.... And now poor Adrian, too, and his case of mere calf-love, as one would have thought."
"A calf may grow into a fine bull, you know," returned Mr. Landale, who had winced at his aunt's allusion to himself and now spoke in the most unemotional tone he could assume, "especially if it is well fostered in its youth."
"And I suppose," said Miss O'Donoghue, with a faint smile, "you think I ought to know all about bulls." She again put up her glasses to survey the portrait with critical deliberation; after which, recommending him once more strenuously to have a curtain erected, she observed, that it would break her heart to look at it one moment longer and requested to be conducted from the room.
Mr. Landale could not draw any positive conclusion from his aunt's manner of receiving his confidence, nor determine whether she had altogether grasped the whole meaning of what he had intended delicately to convey to her concerning his brother's past as well as present position; but he had said as much as prudence counselled.
THE DISTANT LIGHT
In spite of their first petulant or dolorous anticipation, and of the contrast between the even tenor of country life and the constant stream of amusement which young people of fashion can find in a place like Bath, the two girls discovered that time glided pleasantly enough over them at Pulwick.
Instead of the gloomy northern stronghold their novel-fed imagination had pictured (the more dismally as their sudden removal from town gaieties savoured distantly of punishment at the hand of their irate aunt), they found themselves delivered over into a bright, admirably-ordered house, replete with things of beauty, comfortable to the extremity of luxury; and allowed in this place of safety to enjoy almost unrestricted liberty.
The latter privilege was especially precious, as the sisters at that time had engrossing thoughts of their own they wished to pursue, and found more interest in solitary roamings through the wide estate than in the company of the hosts.
On the fifth day Miss O'Donoghue took her departure. Her own travelling coach had rumbled down the avenue, bearing her and her woman away, in its polished yellow embrace, her flat trunk strapped behind, and the good-natured old face nodding out of the window, till Molly and Madeleine, standing (a little disconsolate) upon the porch to watch her departure, could distinguish even the hooked nose no longer. Mr. Landale, upon his mettled grey, a gallant figure, as Molly herself was forced to admit, in his boots and buckskins, had cantered in the dust alongside, intent upon escorting his aged relative to the second stage of her journey.
That night, almost for the first time since their arrival, there was no company at dinner, and the young guests understood that the household would now fall back into its ordinary routine.
But without the small flutter of seeing strangers, or Tanty's lively conversation, the social intercourse soon waned into exceeding dulness, and at an early hour Miss Molly rose and withdrew to her room, pretexting a headache, for which Mr. Landale, with his usual high courtesy, affected deep concern.
As she was slowly ascending the great oaken staircase, she crossed Moggie, the gatekeeper's daughter, who in her character of foster-sister to one of the guests had been specially allotted to them as attendant, during the remainder of their visit to Pulwick.
Molly thought that the girl eyed her hesitatingly, as if she wished to speak:
"Well, Moggie?" she asked, stopping on her way.
"Oh, please, miss," said the buxom lass, blushing and dropping a curtsey, "Renny Potter, please, miss, is up at our lodge to-night, he don't care to come to the 'ouse so much, miss. But when he heard about you, miss, you could have knocked him down with a feather he was so surprised and that excited, miss, we have never seen him so. And he's so set on being allowed to see ye both!"
Molly as yet failed to connect any memories of interest with the possessor of the patronymic mentioned, but the next phrase mentioned aroused her attention.
"He is Sir Adrian's servant, now, miss, and goes back yonder to the island, that is where the master lives, to-morrow morning. But he would be so happy to see the young ladies before he goes, if the liberty were forgiven, he says. He was servant to the Madam your mother, miss.
"Well, Moggie," answered Miss Molly, smiling, "if that is all that is required to make Renny Potter happy, it is very easily done. Tell Renny Potter: to-morrow morning." And she proceeded on her way pondering, while the successful emissary pattered down to the lodge in high glee to gather her reward in her sweetheart's company.
* * * * *
When later on Madeleine joined her sister, she found her standing by the deep recessed window, the curtains of which were drawn back, resting her head on her hand against the wainscot, and gazing abroad into the night.
She approached, and passing her hand round Molly's waist looked out also.
"Again at your window?"
"It is a beautiful night, and the view very lovely," said Molly. And indeed the moon was riding high in a deep blue starry heaven, and shimmered on the strip of distant sea visible from the windows.
"Yes, but yesterday the night was not fine, and nothing was to be seen but blackness; and it was the same the day before, and yet you stared out of this window, as you have every night since our coming. It is strange to see you so. What is it, why don't you tell me?"
"Madeleine," said Molly, suddenly, after a lengthy pause, "I am simply haunted by that light over yonder, the Light of Scarthey. There is a mystery about those ruins, on which I keep meditating all day long. I want to know more. It draws me. I would give anything to be able, now, to set sail and land there all unknown to any one, and see what manner of life is led where that light is burning."
But Madeleine merely gave a pout of little interest. "What do you think you would find? A half-witted middle-aged man, mooning among a litter of books, with an old woman, and a little Frenchman to look after him. Why, Mr. Landale himself takes no trouble to conceal that his poor brother is an almost hopeless lunatic."
"Mr. Landale—" Molly began, with much contempt; but she interrupted herself, and went on simply, "Mr. Landale is a very fine gentleman, with very superior manners. He speaks like a printed book—but for all that I would like to know."
Madeleine laughed. "The demon of curiosity has a hold of you, Molly; remember the fable they made us repeat: De loin c'est quelque chose, et de pres ce n'est rien. Now you shall go straight into your bed, and not take cold."
And Miss Madeleine, after authoritatively closing the curtains, kissed her sister, and was about to commence immediate disrobing, when she caught sight of the shagreen-covered book, lying open on the table.
"So your headache was your diary—how I should like to have a peep."
"I daresay!" said Molly, sarcastically, and then sat down and, pen in hand, began to re-read her night's entry, now and then casting a tantalising glance over her shoulder at her sister. The lines, in the flowing convent hand, ran thus:
"Aunt O'Donoghue left us this morning, and so here we are, planted in Pulwick; and she has achieved her plan, fully. But what is odd is that neither Madeleine nor I seem to mind it, now. What has come over Madeleine is her secret, and she keeps it close; but that I should like being here is strange indeed.
"And yet, every day something happens to make me feel connected with Pulwick—something more, I mean, than the mere fact that we were born here. So many of the older people greet me, at first, as if they knew me—they all say I am so like 'the Madam;' they don't see the same likeness in Madeleine for all her grand air. There was Mrs. Mearson, the gatekeeper, was struck in amazement. And the old housekeeper, whenever she has an opportunity tries to entertain me about the beautiful foreign lady and the grand times they had at Pulwick when she was here, and 'Sir Tummas' was still alive.
"But, though we are made to feel that we are more than ordinary guests, it is not on account of Mr. Landale, but on account of Sir Adrian—the Master, as they call him, whom we never see, and whom his brother would make out to be mad. Why is he so anxious that Sir Adrian should not know that Aunt Rose has brought us here? He seemed willing enough to please her, and yet nothing that she could say of her wish could induce him even to send a messenger over to the rock. And now we may be here all these two months and never even have caught a sight of the Master. I wonder if he is still like that portrait—whether he bears that face still as he now sits, all alone, brooding as his brother says, up in those ruined chambers, while the light burns calm and bright in the tower! What can this man of his have to say to me?"
Molly dotted her last forgotten "i," blotted it, closed and carefully locked the book. Then, rising, she danced over to her sister, and forced her into a pirouette.
"And now," she cried gaily, "our dear old Tanty is pulling on her nightcap and weeping over her posset in the stuffy room at Lancaster regretting me; and I should be detesting her with all my energies for leaving me behind her, were it not that, just at present, I actually find Pulwick more interesting than Bath."
Madeleine lifted her heavy-lidded eyes a little wonderingly to her sister's face, as she paused in her gyration.
"What fly stings thee now?" she inquired in French.
"You do not tell me about your wounds, my dear, those wounds which little Dan Cupid has made upon your tender heart, with his naughty little arrow, and which give you such sweet pain, apparently, that you revel in the throes all day long. And yet, I am a good child; you shall guess. If you guess aright, I shall tell you. So now begin."
They stood before the fire, and the leaping tongues of light played upon their white garments, Madeleine's nightgear scarcely more treacherously tell-tale of her slender woman's loveliness than the evening robe that clung so closely to the vigorous grace of Molly's lithe young figure.
The elder, whose face bore a blush distinct from the reflected glow of the embers, fell to guessing, as commanded, a little wildly:
"You begin to find the beau cousin Rupert a little more interesting than you anticipated."
"Bah," cried Molly, with a stamp of her sandalled foot, "it is not possible to guess worse! He is more insufferable to me, hour by hour."
"I think him kind and pleasant," returned Madeleine simply.
"Ah, because he makes sweet eyes at you, I suppose—yet no—I express myself badly—he could not make anything sweet out of those hard, hard eyes of his, but he is very—what they call here in England—attentive to you. And he looks at you and ponders you over when you little think it—you poor innocent—lost in your dream of ... Smith! There, I will not tease you. Guess again."
"You are pleased to remain here because you are a true weather-cock—because you like one thing one day another the next—because the country peace and quiet is soothing to you after the folly and noise of the great world of Bath and Dublin, and reminds you refreshingly, as it does me, of our happy convent days." The glimmer of a dainty malice lurked in the apparent candour of Madeleine's grave blue eyes, and from thence spread into her pretty smile at the sight of Molly's disdainful lip, "Well then, I give it up. You have some mischief on foot, of that at least I am sure."
"No mischief—a work of righteousness rather. Sister Madeleine, you heard all that that gallant gentleman you think so highly of—your cousin Rupert, my dear" (it was a little way of Molly's to throw the responsibility of anything she did not like, even to an obnoxious relationship, upon another person's shoulders), "narrated of his brother Sir Adrian, and how he persuaded Tanty that he was, as you said just now, a hopeless madman—"
"But yes—he does mad things," said the elder twin, a little wonderingly.
"Well, Madeleine, it is a vile lie. I am convinced of it."
"But, my darling——"
"Look here, Madeleine, there is something behind it all. I attacked that creature, that rag, you cannot call her a woman, that female cousin of yours, Sophia, and I pressed her hard too, but she could not give me a single instance about Sir Adrian that is really the least like insanity; and last night, when the young fool who escorted me to dinner, Coventry his name was, told me that every one says Sir Adrian is shut up on the island and that his French servant is really his keeper, and that it was a shame Rupert was not the eldest brother, I quite saw the sort of story Master Rupert likes to spread—don't interrupt, please! When you were wool-gathering over the fire last night (in the lively and companionable way, permit me to remark in parenthesis, that you have adopted of late), and you thought I was with Tanty, I had marched off with my flat candlestick to the picture gallery to have a good look at the so-called lunatic. I dragged over a chair and lit the candles in the candelabra each side of the chimney-piece, and then standing on my perch still, I held up my own torch and I saw the sailor really well. I think he has a beautiful face and that he is no more mad than I am. But he looks so sad, so sad! I longed to make those closed lips part and tell me their secret. And, as I was looking and dreaming, my dear, just as you might, I heard a little noise, and there was Rupert, only a few yards off, surveying me with such an angry gaze—Ugh!" (with a shiver) "I hate such ways. He came in upon me with soft steps like some animal. Look at his portrait there, Madeleine!—Stay! I shall hold up the light as I did last night to Sir Adrian—see, it flickers and glimmers and makes him seem as if he were alive—oh, I wish he were not hanging in front of our beds, staring out at us with those eyes! You think them very fine, I daresay, that is because his lashes are as thick and dark as a woman's—but the look in them, my dear—do you know what it reminds me of? Of the beautiful, cruel greyhound we saw at the coursing at that place near Bunratty (you remember, just before they started the hare), when he stood for a moment motionless, looking out across the plain. I can never forget the expression of those yellow-circled eyes. And, when I see Rupert look at you as if he were fixing something in the far distance, it gives me just the feeling of horror and sickness I had then. (You remember how dreadful it was?) Rupert makes me think of a greyhound, altogether he is so lithe and so clean-cut, and so full of eagerness, a sort of trembling eagerness underneath his seeming quiet, and I think he could be cruel."
Molly paused with an unusually grave and reflective look; Madeleine yawned a little, not at all impressed.
"How you exaggerate!" she said. "Well what happened when he came in and caught you? The poor man! I suppose, he thought you were setting the house on fire."
"My dear, I turned as red as a poppy and began blowing out all my illumination, feeling dreadfully guilty, and then he helped me off my chair with such an air of politeness that I could have struck him with pleasure, but I soon gathered my wits again. And, vexed with myself for being a ninny, I just dropped him a little curtsey and said, 'I've been examining my mad cousin.' 'Well, and what do you think of him?' he asked me, smiling (his abominable smile!). But I can keep my thoughts to myself as well as other people. 'I think he is very handsome,' I answered, and then I wagged my head and added, 'Poor fellow,' just as if I thought he was really mad. 'Poor fellow!' said cousin Rupert, still with his smile. Whereupon we interchanged good-nights, and he ceremoniously reconducted me to my door. What was he spying after me for, like that? My dear, your cousin has a bad conscience.—But I can spy too—I have been questioning the servants to-day, and some of the people on the estate."
"Come, don't be so shocked. It was diplomatically, of course, but I am determined to find out the truth. Well, so far from looking upon Sir Adrian as a lunatic, they all adore him, it seems to me. He comes here periodically—once every three months or so—and it is like the King's Justices, you know—St. Louis of France—he redresses all wrongs, and listens to grievances and gives alms and counsel, and every one can come with his story, down to the poorest wretch on the estate, and they certainly gave me to understand that they would fare pretty hardly under Mr. Landale if it were not for that mild beneficent restraining influence in his tower yonder. It is very romantic, do you know (you like romance, Madeleine). I wonder if Sir Adrian will come over while we are here. Oh, I hope, I hope he will. I shall never rest till I have seen him."
"Silly child," said Madeleine, "and so that is the reason you are glad to remain here?"
"Even so, my dear," answered the other, skipped into the big four-post bed, carefully ascertained and selected the softest pillow, and then, smiling sweetly at her sister from under a frame of dark curls, let her white lids drop over the lustre of her eyes and so intimated she desired to sleep.
THE TOWER OF LIVERPOOL: MASTER AND MAN
A prison is a house of care, A place where none can thrive, A Touchstone True to try a friend, A Grave for man alive. Sometimes a place of right, Sometimes a place of wrong, Sometimes a place of rogues and thieves, And honest men among.
It was soon after sunrise—at that time of year an hour not exorbitantly early—when Molly awoke from a tangle of fantastic dreams in which the haunting figure of her waking thoughts, the hermit of Scarthey, appeared to her in varied shapes; as an awe-inspiring, saintly ascetic with long, white hair; as a young, beautiful, imprisoned prince; even as a ragged imbecile staring vacantly at a lantern, somewhere in a dismal sea-cave.
The last vision was uppermost in her mind when she opened her eyes; and the girl, under the impression of so disgusting a disillusion, remained for a while pondering and yawning, before making up her mind to exchange warmth and featherbed for her appointment without.
But the shafts of light growing through the chinks in the shutters ever brighter and more full of dancing motes, decided her.
"A beautiful morning, Madeleine," she said, leaning over and pulling one of the long fair strands upon her neighbour's pillow with sisterly authority. "Get up, lazy-bones, and come and have a walk with me before breakfast."
The sleeping sister awoke, smiled with her usual exquisite serenity of temper, and politely refused. Molly insisted, threatened, coaxed, but to no avail. Madeleine was luxuriously comfortable, and was not to be disturbed either mentally or bodily; and Molly, aware of the resisting power of will hidden under that soft exterior, at length petulantly desisted; and wrapped up in furs, with hands plunged deep into the recesses of a gigantic muff, soon sallied forth herself alone into the park.
Half-way down the avenue she met blue-eyed Moggie with round face shining out of the sharp, exhilarating atmosphere like a small sun. The damsel was overcome with blushes and rapture at her young mistress's unexpected promptitude in carrying out her promise, and ran back to warn her sweetheart of that lady's approach.
* * * * *
As Molly drew near the keeper's lodge—a sort of Doric temple, quaintly standing in the middle of a hedge-enclosed garden, and half-buried under thickly-clustering, interlacing creepers—from the side of the enormous nest of evergreen foliage there emerged, in a state of high excitement strenuously subdued, a short, square-built man (none other than Rene L'Apotre), whilst between the boughs of the garden-hedge peeped forth the bashful, ruddy face of the lady of his fancy, eager to watch the interview.
Rene ran forward, then stopped a few paces away, hat in hand, scraping and bowing in the throes of an overwhelming emotion that strove hard with humility.
"Ah, Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle!" he ejaculated between spells of amazed staring, and seemed unable to bring forth another word.
"And so you have known my mother, Rene," said Miss Molly (in her native tongue) with a smile.
At the sound of the voice and of the French words, Rene's face grew pale under its bronze, and the tears he had so strongly combated, glistened in his eyes.
"If I had not heard last night," he said at length, "that these ladies had come back—it was Moggie Mearson who told me, who was foster sister to you, or was it Mademoiselle your sister? and proud she is of it—if I had not known that the young ladies were here again, when I saw Mademoiselle I would have thought that my lady herself had returned to us (may the good God have her soul!). Ah, to think that I should ever see her again in the light of the sun!"
He stopped, suffocated with the sob that his respect would not allow him to utter.
But Molly, who had had other objects in view when she rose from her couch this cold, windy morning, than to present an objective to a serving-man's emotion, now thought the situation had lasted long enough for her enjoyment and determined to put an end to it.
"Eh bien, Rene," she said gaily, "or should I call you Monsieur Potter? which, by the way, is a droll name for a Frenchman, I am very glad to see that you are pleased to see me. If you would care to have some talk with me you may attend me if you like. But I freeze standing here," stamping her feet one after the other on the hard ground. "I must absolutely walk; and you may put on your hat again, please; for it is very cold for you too," she added, snuggling into her muff and under her fur tippet.
The man obeyed after another of his quaint salutes, and as Molly started forward, followed her respectfully, a pace in rear.
"I daresay you will not be sorry to have a little talk with a compatriot in your own tongue, all English as you may have grown," said the young lady presently; "and as Moggie has told me that you were in my mother's service, there is a whole volume of things which, I believe, you alone can relate to me. You shall tell me all that, one day. But what seems to me the most curious, first of all, is your presence here. We ourselves are only at Pulwick by chance."
"Mademoiselle," said Rene in an earnest voice, "if you knew the whole story, you would soon understand that, since it was not to be, that I should remain the humble servitor of Monseigneur le Comte de Savenaye, Mademoiselle's father, or of Madame, who followed him to heaven, notwithstanding all our efforts to preserve her, it is but natural that I should attach myself (since he would allow it) to my present master."
"Mr. Landale?" asked Molly, affecting ignorance.
"No, Mademoiselle," cried the Frenchman, hotly. "My master is Sir Adrian. Had Mr. Landale remained the lord of this place, I should have been left to die in my prison—or at least have remained there until this spring, for it seems there is peace again, and the Tower of Liverpool is empty now."
"Voyons, voyons, conte moi cela, Rene," said Molly, turning her face, beautifully glowing from the caress of the keen air, eagerly to her companion. And he, nothing loth to let loose a naturally garrulous tongue in such company, and on such a theme, started off upon a long story illustrated by rapid gesticulation.
"I will tell you," cried he, and plunged into explanation with more energy than coherence, "it was like this:
"I had been already two years in that prison; we were some hundreds of prisoners, and it was a cruel place. A cruel place, Mademoiselle, almost as bad as that where we were shut up, my master and I together, years before, at La Rochelle—and that I will tell you, if you wish, afterwards.
"I had been taken by the marine conscription, when their Republic became the French Empire. And a sailor I was then (just, as I heard later, as Sir Adrian also was at the time; but that I did not know, you understand), for they took all those that lived on the coast. Now I had only served with the ship six months, when she was taken by the English, and, as I say, we were sent to the prison in Liverpool, where we found so many others, who had been already there for years. When I heard it was Liverpool, I knew it was a place near Pulwick, and I at once thought of Mr. Landale, not him, of course, they now call Mr. Landale, but him who had followed my mistress, Madame your mother, to help to fight the Republicans in the old time. And I thought I was saved: I knew he would get me out if it was possible to get any one out. For, you see, I thought his honour was home again, after we had been beaten, and there was no more to be done for my lady. We had contrived to find an English ship to take him home, and he had gone back, as I thought, Mademoiselle. Well, a prisoner becomes cunning, and besides, I had been in prison before; I managed to make up a letter, and as I knew already some English, I ended by persuading a man to carry it to Pulwick for me. It was a long way, and I had no money, but I made bold to assure him that Mr. Landale—oh, no! not this one," Rene interrupted himself again with a gesture eloquent of resentful scorn, "but my master; I assured the man that he would receive recompence from him. You see, Mademoiselle, I knew his heart was so good, that he would not allow your mother's servant to rot in the tower.... But days afterwards the man came back. Oh, he was angry! terribly angry with me, and said he should pay me out—And so he did, but it is useless to tell you how. He had been to Pulwick, he said, and had seen Mr. Landale. Mr. Landale never knew anything of any French prisoner, and refused to give any money to the messenger. Ah, Mademoiselle, it was very sad! I had not signed my letter for fear of its getting into wrong hands, but I spoke of many things which I knew he could not have forgotten, and now I thought that he would not trouble his mind about such a wretch as Rene—triple brute that I was to conceive such thoughts, I should have deserved to remain there for ever!... I did remain, Mademoiselle, more than three years; many and many died. As for me, I am hard, but I thought I should never never walk free again; nor would I, Mademoiselle, these seven years, but for him."
"He came, then?" said the girl with sympathetic enthusiasm. She was listening with attention, carried away by the speaker's earnestness, and knew instinctively to whom the "him," and the "he" referred.
"He came," said Rene with much emphasis. "Of course he came—the moment he knew." And after a moment of half-smiling meditation he pursued:
"It was one May-day, and there was some sun; and there was a smell of spring in the air which we felt even in that dirty place. Ah, how I remember me of it all! I was sitting against the wall in the courtyard with two others who were Bretons, like you and me, Mademoiselle, shifting with the sun now and then, for you must know a prisoner loves the sun above all; and there, we only had it a few hours in the day, even when it did shine. I was carving some stick-heads, and bread-plates in wood—the only thing I could do to put a little more than bread, into our own platters," with a grin, "and whistling, whistling, for if you can't be gay, it is best to play at it.... Well, that day into our courtyard there was shown a tall man—and I knew him at once, though he was different enough in his fine coat, and hat and boots, from the time when I had last seen him, when he was like me, in rags and with a woollen cap on his head, and no stockings under his shoes—I knew him at once! And when I saw him I stood still, with my mouth round, but not whistling more. My blood went phizz, phizz, all over my body, and suddenly something said in my head: 'Rene, he has come to look for you.' He was searching for some one, for he went round with the guardian looking into each man's face, and giving money to all who begged—and seeing that, they all got up, and surrounded him, and he gave them each a piece. But I could not get up; it was as if some one had cut out my knees and my elbows. And that was how he saw me the sooner. He noticed I remained there, looking at him like a dog, saying nothing. When he saw me, he stood a moment quite quiet; and without pretending anything he came to me and looked down smiling.—'But if I am not mistaken I know this man,' he said to the guardian, pretending to be astonished. 'Why, this is Rene L'Apotre? Who would have thought of seeing you here, Rene L'Apotre?' says he. And then he smiled again, as much as to say, 'You see I have come at last, Rene.' And once more, as if to explain: 'I have only lately come back to England,' in a gentle way, all full of meaning.... I don't know what took me, but I cried like an infant, in my cap. And the guardian and some of the others laughed, but when I looked up again, his eyes shone also. He looked so good, so kind, Mademoiselle, that it was as if I understood in words all he meant, but thought better not to say at the time. Then he spoke to the guardian, who shook his head doubtfully. And after saying, 'Have good courage, Rene L'Apotre,' and giving me the rest of his money, he went away—but I knew I was not forgotten, and I was so happy that the black, black walls were no more black. And I sang, not for pretence this time, ah no! and I spent all my money in buying a dinner for those at our end of the prison, and we even had wine! You may be sure we drank to his happiness."
Here the man, carried away by his feelings, seized his hat and waved it in the air. Then, ashamed of his ebullition, halted and glanced diffidently at the young lady. But Molly only smiled in encouragement.
"Well, and then?" she asked.
"Well, Mademoiselle," he resumed, "it was long before I saw him again; but I kept good courage, as I was told. One day, at last, the guardian came to fetch me and took me to the governor's cabinet; and my master was there—I was told that my release had been obtained, though not without trouble, and that Sir Adrian Landale, of Pulwick Priory, had gone warranty for me that I should not use my liberty to the prejudice of His Majesty, the King of England, and that I was to be grateful to Sir Adrian. I almost laughed at him, Mademoiselle. Oh! he took care to advise me to be grateful!" And here Rene paused ironically, but there was a quiver on his lips. "Ah, he little knew, Monsieur the Governor, that when my master had taken me to an inn, and the door was closed over the private room, he who had looked so grand and careless before the governor, took me by both hands and then, in his fine clothes, embraced me—me the dirty prisoner—just as he did when he left me in the old days, and was as poor and ragged as I was! And let me weep there on his breast, for I had to weep or my heart would have broken. But I wander, Mademoiselle, you only wanted to know how I came to be in his service still. That is how it was; as I tell you."
Molly was moved by this artless account of fidelity and gratitude, and as she walked on in attentive silence, Rene went on:
"It was then his honour made me know how, only by accident, and months after his own return, he chanced to hear of the letter that some one had sent to Mr. Landale from the Tower of Liverpool, and that Mr. Landale had said he knew nothing of any French prisoner and had thought it great impudence indeed. And how he—my master—had suddenly thought (though my letter had been destroyed) that it might be from me, the servant of my lady your mother, and his old companion in arms (for his honour will always call me so). He could not sleep, he told me, till he had found out. He started for Liverpool that very night. And, having discovered that it was me, Mademoiselle, he never rested till he had obtained my liberty."
* * * * *
Walking slowly in the winter sunshine, the one talking volubly, the other intently listening, the odd pair had reached a rising knoll in the park where, under the shelter of a cluster of firs, stood a row of carved stone seats that had once been sedillas in the dismantled Priory Church.
From this secluded spot could be obtained the most superb view of the whole country-side. At the end of the green, gently-sloping stretch of pasture-land, which extended, broken only by irregular clusters of trees, down to the low cliffs forming the boundary of the strand, lay the wide expanse of brown sand, with its streamlets and salt pools scintillating under the morning sun.
Further in the western horizon, a crescent of deep blue sea, sharply defined under a lighter blue sky and fringed landwards with a straggling border of foam, advanced slowly to the daily conquest of the golden bay. In the midst of that frame the eye was irresistibly drawn, as to the chief object in the picture, to the distant rock of Scarthey—a green patch, with the jagged red outline of the ruins clear cut against the sky.
Since this point of view in the park had been made known to her, on the first day when she was piloted through the grounds, Molly had more than once found her way to the sedillas, yielding to the fascination of the mysterious island, and in order to indulge in the fancies suggested by its ever-changing aspect.
At the fall of day the red glow of the sinking sun would glint through the dismantled windows; and against the flaming sky the ruins would stand out black and grim, suggesting nought but abandonment and desolation until suddenly, as the gloom gathered upon the bay, the light of the lamp springing to the beacon tower, would reverse the impression and bring to mind a picture of faithful and patient watching.
When the sun was still in the ascendant, the island would be green and fresh to the gaze, evoking no dismal impression; and as the rays glanced back from the two or three glazed windows, and from the roofed beacon-tower, the little estate wore a look of solid security and privacy in spite of its crumbling walls, which was almost as tantalising to her romantic curiosity.
It was with ulterior motives, therefore, that she had again wended her way to the knoll this sunny, breezy morning. She now sat down and let her eyes wander over the wide panorama, whilst Rene stood at a humble distance, looking with eyes of delight from her to the distant abode of his master.
"And now you live with Sir Adrian, in that little isle yonder," said she, at length. "How came it that you never sought to go back to your country?"
"There was the war then, Mademoiselle, and it was difficult to return."
"But there has been peace these six months," insisted Molly.
"Yes, Mademoiselle, though I only learned it yesterday. But then, bah! What is that? His honour needs me. I have stopped with him seven years, and my faith, I shall stop with him for ever."
There was a long silence.
"Does any one know," asked Molly, at length, with a vague air of addressing the trees, mindful, as she spoke, of the manner in which Mr. Landale had practically dismissed her and her sister at a certain point of his version of his brother's history, "why Sir Adrian has shut himself up in that place instead of living at the Hall all this time?"
A certain dignity seemed to come over the servant's squat figure. He hesitated for a moment, and then said very simply, his honest eyes fixed upon the girl's face: "I am only his humble servant, Mademoiselle, and it is enough for me that it is his pleasure to live alone."
"You are indeed faithful," said Molly, with a little generous flush of shame at this peasant's delicacy compared to her own curiosity. And, after another pause, she added, pensively: "But tell me, does Sir Adrian never leave his solitude? I confess I should like to meet one who had known my mother, who could talk of her to me."
Rene looked at the young girl with a wistful countenance, as though the question had embarked him on a new train of thought. But he answered evasively: "His honour comes rarely to Pulwick—rarely."
Molly, with a little movement of pique, rose abruptly from her seat. But quickly changing her mood again she turned round as she was about to depart, and smiling: "Thank you, Rene," she said, and held out her dainty hand, which he, blushing, engulfed in his great paw, "I am going in, I am dreadfully hungry. We shall be here two months or more, and I shall want to see you again ... if you come back to Pulwick."
She walked quickly away towards the house. Rene followed the retreating figure with a meditative look, so long as he could keep her in sight, then turned his gaze to the island and there stood lost in a deep muse, regardless of the fact that his sweetheart, Moggie, was awaiting a parting interview at the lodge, and that the tide that would wait for no man was swelling under his boat upon the beach.
* * * * *
A sudden resolution was formed in Molly's mind as the immediate result of this conversation, and she framed her behaviour that morning solely with a view to its furtherance.
Breakfast was over when, glowing from her morning walk, she entered the dining-room; but, regardless of Mr. Landale's pointedly elaborate courtesy in insisting upon a fresh repast being brought to her, his sarcastically overacted solicitude, intended to point out what a deal of avoidable trouble she gave to the household, Molly remained perfectly gracious, and ate the good things, plaintively set before her by Miss Landale, with the most perfect appetite and good humour.
She expatiated in terms of enthusiasm on the beauty of the estate and the delight of her morning exploration, and concluded this condescending account of her doings (in which the meeting with Rene did not figure) with a request that Mr. Landale should put horses at the disposal of herself and her sister for a riding excursion that very afternoon. And with determined energy she carried the point, declaring, despite his prognostications of coming bad weather, that the sunshine would last the day.
In this wise was brought about the eventful ride which cost the life of Lucifer, and introduced such heart-stirring phantasmagories into the even tenor of Sir Adrian Landale's seclusion.
* * * * *
That evening the news rapidly spread throughout Pulwick that the cruel sands of the bay had secured yet another victim.
In an almost fainting condition, speechless with horror, and hardly able yet to realise to the full her own anguish, Madeleine was conducted by the terrified groom, through the howling wind and drenching rain, back to the Priory.
And there, between the fearful outcries of Miss Landale, and the deep frowning gravity of her brother, the man stammered out his tale.—How the young lady when the rain first began, had insisted, notwithstanding his remonstrances, upon taking the causeway to the island, and how it was actually by force that he prevented the other lady from following so soon as she understood the danger into which her sister was running.
There was no use, he had thought (explained the man, half apologetically), for two more to throw away their lives, just for no good, that way. And so they had sat on their horses and watched in terror, as well as they could through the torrents of rain. They had seen in the distance Lucifer break from the young lady's control, and swerve from the advancing sea. And then had come the great gust that blew the rain and the sand in their faces and set their horses dancing; and, when they could see again, all traces of horse and rider had disappeared, and there lay nothing before them but the advancing tide, though the island and its tower were still just visible through the storm.
No amount of cross-examination could elicit any further information. The girl's impulse seemed to have been quite sudden, and she had only laughed back at the groom over her shoulder upon his earnest shout of warning, though she had probably expected them to follow her. And as there could be no doubt about the calamity which had ensued, and no possible rescue even of the body, he had returned home at once to bring the disastrous news.
Madeleine had been carried completely unconscious to her bed, but presently Miss Sophia was summoned to her side as the girl showed signs of returning animation, and Rupert was left alone.
He fell to pacing the room, lost in a labyrinth of complicated and far-reaching reflections.
Beyond doubt he was shocked and distressed by the sudden and horrible disaster; and yet as an undercurrent to these first natural thoughts, there ran presently a distinct notion that he would have felt the grievousness of it more keenly had Madeleine perished in that cruel manner and her sister survived to bring the tale home.
The antagonism which his cousin, in all the insolence of her young beauty and vigorous self-esteem, had shown for him had been mutual. He had instinctively felt that she was an enemy, and more than that—a danger to him. This danger was now removed from his path, and by no intervention or even desire of his own.
The calamity which had struck the remaining sister into such prostration would make her rich indeed; by anticipation one of the great heiresses in England.
"Sorrow," thought Mr. Landale, and his lip curled disdainfully, "a girl's sorrow, at least, is a passing thing. Wealth is an everlasting benefit."
Madeleine was a desirable woman upon all counts, even pecuniary considerations apart, or would be to one who had a heart to give—and even if the heart was dead...?
Altogether the sum of his meditations was assuming a not unpleasing aspect; and the undercurrent in time assumed almost the nature of self-congratulation. Even the ordeal which was yet to come when he would have to face Miss O'Donoghue and render an account of his short trust, could not weigh the balance down on the wrong side.
And yet a terrible ordeal it would be; women are so unreasonable, and Aunt Rose so much more so even than the average woman. Still it had to be done; the sooner the better; if possible while the storm lasted and while roaring waters kept all ill news upon land and the interloping heir on his island.
And thus that very evening, whilst Madeleine sobbed on her pillow and Molly was snugly enjoying the warm hospitality of Scarthey, a mounted messenger departed from the Priory to overtake Miss O'Donoghue on the road to Bath and acquaint her with the terrible fatality that had befallen her darling and favourite.
UNDER THE LIGHT
DECEMBER 16TH.—Again I separate your green boards, my diary. No one has opened you; for your key, now a little rusty, still hangs upon my watch—my poor watch whose heart has ceased to beat, who, unlike its mistress, has not survived the ordeal by sand and water! What is better, no one has attempted to force your secrets from you; which, since it appears that it had been agreed that Molly de Savenaye was dead and buried in Scarthey sands, speaks well for all concerned. But she is not dead. She is very much alive; and very happy to be so.
This will indeed be an adventure worth reading, in the days to come; and it must be recounted—though were I to live to a hundred years I do not think I could ever forget it. Tanty Rose (she has not yet stopped scolding everybody for the fright she has had) is in the next room with Madeleine, who, poor dear, has been made quite ill by this prank of mine; but since after the distress caused by her Molly's death she has had the joy of finding her Molly alive again, things are balanced, I take it; and all being well that ends well, the whole affair is pleasant to remember. It has been actually as interesting as I expected—now that I think it over—even more.
Of all the many pictures that I fancied, not one was at all like the reality—and this reality I could not have rested till I had found. It was Rene's account decided me. I laid my plans very neatly to pay the recluse a little visit, and plead necessity for the intrusion. My machinations would have been perfect if they had not caused Madeleine and poor old Tanty unnecessary grief.
But now that I know the truth, I cannot distinctly remember what it was that I did expect to find on that island.
If it had not been that I had already gone through more excitement than I bargained for to reach that mysterious rock, how exciting I should have found it to wander up to unknown ruins, to knock at the closed doors of an enchanted castle, ascend unknown stairs and engage in devious unknown passages—all the while on the tiptoe of expectation!
But when I dragged myself giddy and faint from the boiling breakers and scrambled upon the desolate island under the rain that beat me like the lashes of a whip, pushing against a wind that bellowed and rushed as though determined to thrust me back to the waters I had cheated of their prey, my only thoughts were for succour and shelter.
Such warm shelter, such loving welcome, it was of course impossible that I could for a moment have anticipated!
Conceive, my dear diary, the feelings of a poor, semi-drowned wanderer, shivering with cold, with feet torn by cruel stones, who suddenly emerges from howl and turmoil into a warm, quiet room to be received as a long and eagerly expected guest, whose advent brings happiness, whose presence is a highly prized favour; in fact not as one who has to explain her intrusion, but as one who in the situation holds the upper hand herself.
And this was my welcome from him whose absence from Pulwick was more haunting than any presence I can think of!
Of course I knew him at once. Even had I not expected to see him—had I not come to seek him in fact—I should have known him at once from the portrait whose melancholy, wide-open eyes had followed me about the gallery. But I had not dreamed to see him so little altered. Now, apart from the dress, if he is in any way changed from the picture, it is in a look of greater youth and less sombreness. The portrait is handsome, but the original is better.
Had it not been so, I imagine I might have felt vastly different when I was seized and enfolded and—kissed! As it was I cannot remember that, even at the moment of this extraordinary proceeding, I was otherwise than pleased, nor that the dark hints of Mr. Landale concerning Sir Adrian's madness returned to disturb my mind in the least.
And yet I found myself enveloped in great strong arms out of which I could not have extricated myself by the most frantic efforts—although the folding was soft and tender—and I loved that impression. Why? I cannot say.
His words of love were not addressed to me; from his exclamation I knew that the real and present Molly was not the true object of his sudden ecstasy.
And yet I am glad that this is the first man who has been able to kiss Molly de Savenaye. It is quite incomprehensible; I ought to be indignant.
Now the whole secret of my reception is plain to see, and it is pathetic; Sir Adrian Landale was in love with my mother; when she was an unprotected widow he followed her to our own country; if she had not died soon after, he would have married her.
What a true knight must this Sir Adrian be, to keep so fresh for twenty years the remembrance of his boyish love that when I came in upon him to look at him with her eyes, it was to find him pondering upon her, and to fill his soul with the rapturous thought that his love had come back to him. Though I was aware that all this fervour was not addressed to me, there was something very gratifying in being so like one who could inspire such long-lived passion.—Yes, it was unexpectedly pleasant and comforting to be so received. And the tender care, the thoughtful solicitude next bestowed on the limp and dishevelled waif of the sea by my beau tenebreux were unmistakably meant for Molly and no one else, whatever his first imaginings may have been, and they were quite as interesting to receive.
The half-hour I spent, cosily ensconced by his hands, and waited upon by his queer household, was perhaps the best I have ever known. He stood by the fireplace, looking down from his great height, with a wondering smile upon me. I declare that the loving kindness of his eyes, which he has wide, grey, and beautiful, warmed me as much as the pyramid of logs he had set burning on the hearth!
I took a good reckoning of the man, from under the gigantic collar, in which, I felt, my head rested like a little egg at the bottom of a warm nest. "And so," I thought, "here is the Light-keeper of Scarthey Island!" And I was obliged to confess that he was a more romantic-looking person than even in my wildest dreams I had pictured to myself—that in fact I had found out for the first time the man really approved of.
And I congratulated myself on my own cleverness—for it was evident that, just as I had suspected from Rene's reticent manner, even by him our existence at Pulwick had not been mentioned to "the master."
And as Mr. Landale was quite determined to avail himself of his brother's sauvagerie not to let him know anything about us, on his side, but for me we might have remained at and departed from Pulwick unknown to the head of the house! And what a pity that would have been!
Now, why did not Mr. Landale wish his brother to know? Did he think (as indeed has happened) that the Light-keeper would take too kindly to the Savenaye children? Or to one of them? If so, he will be bien attrappe, for there is no doubt that my sudden and dramatic arrival upon his especial domain has made an impression on him that no meeting prepared and discussed beforehand could have produced.
Adrian Landale may have been in love with our beautiful mamma in his boyish days, but now, Sir Adrian, the man is in love with the beautiful Molly!
That is positive.
I was a long time before I could go to sleep in the tower; it was too perfect to be in bed in such a place, safe and happy in the midst of the rage I could hear outside; to have seen the unknown, to have found him such as he is—to be under the Light!
What would have happened if my cousin had really been mad (and Rene his keeper, as that stupid country-side wit suggested in my ear the other night at dinner)? It would have been still more of an adventure of course, but not one which even "Murthering Moll the Second" can regret. Or if he had been a dirty, untidy hermit, as Madeleine thought? That would have spoilt all.
Thus in the owl's nest, as Mr. Landale (spiteful creature!) called it to Tanty, there lives not owl any more than lunatic. A polished gentleman, with white, exquisite hands, who, when he is discovered by the most unexpected of visitors, is shaven as smooth as Rupert himself; has the most unexceptionable of snowy linen and old-fashioned, it is true, but most well-fitting clothes.
As for the entertainment for the said casual visitor, not even Pulwick with all its resources (where housekeeping, between the fussy brother and the docile sister is a complicated science) could have produced more real comfort.
In the morning, when I woke late (it was broad daylight), feeling as if I had been beaten and passed through a mangle, for there was not an inch of my poor body that was not sore, I had not turned round and so given sign of life, before I heard a whisper outside my door; then comes a sturdy knock and in walks old Margery, still dignified as a queen's housekeeper, bearing a bowl of warm frothy milk.
And this being gratefully drunk by me, she gravely inquires, in her queer provincial accent, how I am this morn; and then goes to report to some anxious inquirer (whom?—I can easily guess) that with the exception of my cut foot I am very well.
Presently she returns and lights a blazing fire. Then in come my dress and linen and my one shoe, all cleaned, dried and mended, only my poor habit is so torn and so stiff that I have to put up with Margery's best striped skirt in lieu of it, till she has time to mend and wash it. As it is she must have been at work all night upon these repairs for me.
Again she goes out—for another consultation, I suppose—and comes back to find me half clad, hopping about the room; this time she has got nice white linen bandages and with them ties up my little foot, partly for the cuts, partly for want of a sandal, till it is twice the size of its companion. But I can walk on it.
Then my strange handmaid—who by the way is a droll, grumbling old soul, and orders me about as if she were still my nurse—dresses me and combs my hair, which will not yet awhile be rid of all its sand. And so, in due course, Molly emerges from her bower, as well tended almost as she might have been at Bath, except that Margery's striped skirt is a deal too short for her and she displays a little more of one very nice ankle and one gouty foot than fashion warrants.
And in this manner the guest goes to meet her host in the great room.
He was walking up and down as if impatiently expecting me, and when I hobbled in, he came forward with a smile on his face which, once more, I thought beautiful.
"God be praised!" he said, taking both my hands and kissing one of them, with his fine air of gallantry which was all the more delightful on account of his evident earnestness, "you seem none the worse for this terrible adventure. I dreaded this morning to hear that you were in a fever. You know," he added so seriously that I had to smile, "you might easily have had a fever from this yesterday's work; and what should we have done without doctor and medicines!"
"You have a good surgeon, at least," said I laughing and pointing at my swaddled extremity. He laughed too at the enmitouflage. "I tried to explain how it was to be done," he said, "but I think I could have managed it more neatly myself."
Then he helped me to the arm-chair, and Rene came in, and, after a profound bow (which did not preclude much staring and smiling at me afterwards), laid, on a dazzling tablecloth, a most tempting breakfast, explaining the while, in his odd English, "The bread is stale, for we bake only twice a month. But there are some cakes hot from the fire, some eggs, new laid last evening, some fresh milk, some tea. It was a happy thing I arrived yesterday for there was no more tea. The butter wants, but Mistress Margery will have some made to-morrow, so that the demoiselle will not leave without having tasted our Scarthey butter."
All the while Sir Adrian looked on with a sort of dreamy smile—a happy smile!
"Poor Rene!" he said, when the man had left the room, "one would think that you have brought to him almost as much joy as to me."
I wondered what Mr. Landale would have said had he through some magic glass been able to see this little feast. I never enjoyed a meal more. As for my host, he hardly touched anything, but, I could see, was all absorbed in the delight of looking at me; and this he showed quite openly in the most child-like manner.
Not one of the many fine gentlemen it has been my fate to meet in my six months' apprenticeship to the "great world," not cousin Rupert himself with all his elaborate politeness (and Rupert has de grandes manieres, as Tanty says), could have played the host with a more exquisite courtesy, and more true hospitality. So I thought, at least. Now and again, it is true, while his eyes were fixed on me, I would see how the soul behind them was away, far in the past, and then at a word, even at a movement, back it would come to me, with the tenderest softening I have ever seen upon a human face.
* * * * *
It was only at the end of breakfast that he suddenly adverted to the previous day.
"Of course," he said, hesitatingly, but keeping a frank gaze on mine, "you must have thought me demented when—when you first entered, yesterday."
Now, I had anticipated this apology as inevitable, and I was prepared to put him at his ease.
"I——? Not at all," I said quite gravely; and, seeing the puzzled expression that came upon his face, I hastened to add in lower tones: "I know I am very like my mother, and it was her name you called out upon seeing me." And then I stopped, as if that had explained everything.
He looked at me with a wondering air, and fell again into a muse. After a while he said, with his great simplicity which seems somehow in him the last touch of the most perfect breeding: "Yes, such an apparition was enough to unhinge any one's mind for the moment. You never knew her, child, and therefore never mourned her death. But we—that is, Rene and I, who tried so hard to save her—though it is so long ago, we have not forgotten."
It was then I asked him to tell me about the mother I had never known. At first it was as if he could not; he fell into a great silence, through which I could feel the working of his old sorrow. So then I said to him quickly, for I feared he thought me an indiscreet trespasser upon sacred ground, that he must remember my right to know more than the vague accounts I had been given of my mother's history.
"No one will tell me of her," I said. "It is hard, for I am her own daughter."
"It is wrong," he said very gently; "you ought to know, for you are indeed, most verily, her own daughter."
And then by fragments he tried to tell me a little of her beauty, her loving heart, her faithfulness and bravery. At first it was with great tripping sighs as if the words hurt him, but by and by it came easier, and with his eyes fixed wistfully on me he took me, as it were, by his side through all their marvellous adventures.
And thus I heard the stirring story of the "Savenaye band," and I felt prouder of my race than I had ever been before. Hitherto, being a Savenaye only meant the pride our aunt tried to instil into us of being undeniably biennees and connected with numbers of great families. But the tale of the deeds mine had done for the King's cause, and especially the achievements of my own mother in starting such an expedition after my father's death, and following its fortunes to the bitter end, made my blood tingle with a new emotion.
Little wonder that Sir Adrian should have devoted his life to her service. How madly enthralled I should have been, being a man, and free and strong, by the presence of a woman such as my mother. I, too, would have prostrated myself to worship her image returning to life—and I am that living, living portrait!
When he came to the story of her death, he hesitated and finally stopped. It must have been horrible. I could see it in his eyes, and I dared not press him.
Now, I suppose I am the only one in the world, besides Rene, who knows this man as he is. And I am proud of it.
And it is for this constancy, which no vulgar soul of them can understand, that Rupert and his class have dubbed the gallant gentleman a madman. It fills me with scorn of them. I do not yet know what love is, therefore of course I cannot fathom its grief; but this much I know—that if I loved and yet could not reach as high as ever love may reach both in joy and sorrow, I should despise myself. I, too, would draw the utmost from life that life can give.
He never even hinted at his love for my mother; speaking of himself throughout as Rene might, as of her humble devoted servant merely. And then the question began to gnaw at me. "Did she love him?" and somehow, I felt as if I could not rest till I knew; and I had it on my lips twenty times to cry out to him: "I know you loved her: oh! tell me, did she love you?" And yet I dared no more have done so, and overstepped the barrier of his gentle, reticent dignity, than I could have thrust the lighthouse tower down; and I could not think, either, whether I should be glad to hear that she had loved him, or that she had not. Not even here, alone with myself, can I answer that question.
But though I respect him because he is as I have found him, and understand how rare a personality it takes to achieve such refinement of faithfulness, it seems to me, that to teach this constant lover to forget the past in the present, would be something worth living for—something worthy of me!
Molly!—What is the meaning of this? You have never before put that thought in words, even to yourself! But let me be frank, or else what is the use of this diary?
Looking back to those delightful three days, did not the thought come to me, if not the words? Well, well, it is better, sometimes, I believe, to let oneself drift, than to try and guide the boat; and I must hurry back to Scarthey or I shall never have told my story....
How swiftly time had flown by us! I sitting in the arm-chair, with the old dog's muzzle on my lap, and Sir Adrian standing by his great chimney; the clock struck twelve, in the midst of the long silence, and I had thought that barely an hour had passed.
I got up, and, seeing me limp in my attempt to walk, Sir Adrian gave me his arm; and so we went round the great room bras dessus, bras dessous, and it already seemed quite natural to feel like an intimate friend in that queer dwelling.
We paused a long time in silence by the window, the tempest wind was still raging, but the sky was clear, and all round us was a wonderful sight; the sea, as far as eyes could reach, white with foam, lashed and tossing in frenzy round the rock on which we stood so safely, and rising in long jets of spray, which now and then dashed as far as our window; and when I looked down nearer, I could see the little stunted trees, bending backwards and forwards under the blast, and an odd idea came to my mind:—they looked to me when they caught my sight, as though they were bowing deep, hurriedly and frantically greeting me among them.
I glanced up at my silent companion, the true knight, and found his wide grey eyes fixed upon me with the same expression that was already familiar to me, which I had especially noted as he told me his long tale of olden times.
This time I felt the look go to my heart. And then the thought first came to my mind, all unformed, but still sweet.
I don't know exactly why, but in answer to his sad look, I smiled at him, without a word, upon which he suddenly grew pale. After a while he gave a sigh, and, as he drew my arm again through his, I fancy his hand trembled a little.
When he had taken me back to my chair, he walked to and fro in silence, looking at me ever and anon.
A long time we passed thus, without speaking; but it seemed as if our thoughts were intermixing in harmony in the midst of our silence. And then the spell was broken by Rene, who never came in without making me his great scrape, trying hard not to beam too obtrusively in the delight that evidently overtakes him whenever he sets eyes on me.
It was after a prolonged talk between him and the master, I fancy, concerning the means of attending fitly upon my noble and delicate person, that Sir Adrian, brought back, evidently, to the consideration of present affairs, began to be exercised about the best means of whiling away my time. When he hinted at the difficulty, I very soon disposed of it.
I told him I had never been so happy in my life before—that the hours went all too quickly—I told him there was so much he and Rene had yet to tell me of their wonderful adventures, that I thought I should have to carry them back to Pulwick with me. At the mention of Pulwick his brow darkened, and Rene turned away to cough into his hand, and I saw that I had gone too fast. (N.B.—Pulwick is evidently a sore subject; I am sure I am not surprised. I can conceive how Rupert and Sophia would drive a man of Sir Adrian's sensitiveness nearly to desperation. Yet I have brought Sir Adrian back to Pulwick, in spite of all. Is not that a feather in my cap?)
But to return; I next made Rene laugh aloud and Sir Adrian give his indulgent smile—such as a father might give to his child—by adding that when I was bored I would soon let them know. "I always do," I said, "for I consider that a duty to myself."
"God knows," said this strange man then, half smiling, "I would we could keep you here for ever."
It was almost a declaration, but his eyes were far off—it was not addressed to me.
I soon found that the recollection of all the extraordinary incidents Sir Adrian had lived through, is one neither of pride nor pleasure to him, but, all the same, never has anything in books seemed to me so stirring, as the tale of relentless fate, of ever-recurring battles and struggles and misfortunes told by the man who, still in the strength of life, has now chosen to forego everything that might for the remainder of his days have compensated him.
Willing as he was to humour me, however, and disproportionately anxious to amuse me, it was little more than the dry bones of his history, I was able to obtain from him.
With Rene's help, however, and my own lively imagination I have been able to piece together a very wonderful skeleton, from these same dry bones, and, moreover, endow it with flesh and blood and life.
Rene was very willing to descant upon his master's exploits, as far as he knew them: "Whew, Mademoiselle should have seen him fight!" he would say, "a lion, Mademoiselle, a real lion!"
And then I would contrast the reposeful, somewhat immobile countenance, the dreaming eye, the almost womanly softness of his smile, with the picture, and find the contrast piquant in the extreme.
Concerning his present home Sir Adrian was more willing to speak—I had told him how the light on the little island had fascinated me from the distance, and all the surmises I had made about it.
"And so, it was in order to see what sort of dungeon they kept the madman in," he said, laughing quietly, "that you pushed the reconnaissance, which nearly sent you into the jaws of death!"
I was so struck, at first, by his speaking of himself as the reputed "madman" that I could not answer. To think of him as serenely contemptuous of the world's imputation—and an imputation so galling as this one of being irresponsible for his actions—and deliberately continuing his even way without taking the trouble to refute it, has given me an insight into his nature, that fills me with admiration, and yet, at the same time, with a sort of longing to see him reinstated in his proper place, and casting out those slandering interlopers.
But, as he was waiting to be answered, I had to collect my thoughts and admit, not without a little bashfulness, that my first account of my exploit had contained a slight prevarication.
In all he has to say about his little Scarthey domain, about the existence he has made for himself there, I cannot help noticing with what affection he speaks of Rene. Rene, according to Sir Adrian, is everything and everywhere; a perfect familiar genius; he is counsellor as well as valet, plays his master's game of chess as well as shaves him, can tune his organ, and manage his boat, and cast his nets, for he is fisherman as well as gardener; he is the steward of this wonderful little estate, and its stock of one pony, one cow, and twelve hens; he tends the light, and can cook a dinner a great deal better than his great rival, old Margery.
Of this last accomplishment we had good proof in the shape of various dainties that appeared at our dinner. For when I exclaimed in astonishment, the master said, well pleased, and pointing to the attentive major-domo: "This is Rene's way of spoiling me. But now he has surpassed himself to celebrate so unique an occasion."
And Rene's face was all one grin of rapture. I observe that on occasions his eyes wander quite tenderly from me to his master.
Shall I ever enjoy dinners again like those in that old ruined tower! Or hours like those during which I listened to tales of peril and adventure, or to the music that pealed forth from the distant corner, when Sir Adrian sat down to his organ and made it speak the wordless language of the soul: that language that made me at times shiver with a mad yearning for life, more life; at times soothed my heart with a caress of infinite softness.
How is it that our organ-songs at the convent never moved me in this fashion?
Ah! those will be days to remember; all the more for being certain that they will not be forgotten by him. Yes, those days have brought some light into his melancholy life.
Even Rene knows that. "Oh, my lady," said he to me as he was leaving the island yesterday. "You have come like the good fairy, you have brought back the joy of life to his honour: I have not heard him really laugh—before this year passed I did not believe he knew any more how to laugh—what you can call laugh!"
It is quite true. I had made some droll remark about Tanty and Cousin Sophia, and when he laughed he looked like a young man.
He was quick enough in grasping at a pretext for keeping me yet another day. Yesterday the wind having suddenly abated in the night, there was quite a bevy of little fishing-boats sailing merrily away. And the causeway at low water was quite visible. As we looked out I know the same idea came to both our minds, though there was no word between us. At last it was I who spoke. "The crossing is quite safe," said I. And I added, as he answered nothing, "I almost wish now it was not. How quick the time has gone by, here!"
His countenance when I looked up was darker. He kept his eyes fixed in the distance. At last he said in a low voice:
"Yes, I suppose it is high time you should go back."
"I am sure I don't wish it," I said quite frankly—he is not the sort of man with whom one would ever think of minauderie, "but Madeleine will be miserable about me."
"And so you would really care to stop here," said he, with a smile of wonder on his face, "if it were not for that reason?"
"Naturally I would," said I. "I feel already as cosy as a tame cat here. And if it were not for Madeleine, poor little Madeleine, who must be breaking her heart!—But then how can I go back?—I have no wraps and only one shoe?"
His face had cleared again. He was walking up and down in his usual way, whilst I hopped back, with more limping than was at all necessary, to my favourite arm-chair.
"True, true," he said, as if speaking to himself, "you cannot walk, with one shoe and a bandaged foot. And your clothes are too thin for the roundabout sea journey in this cold wind. This is what we shall do, child," he went on, coming up to me with a sage expression that struggled with his evident eager desire. "Rene shall go off, as soon as the tide permits, carrying the good news of your safety to your sister, and bring back some warm things for you to wear to-morrow morning, and I shall write to Rupert to send a carriage, to wait for you on the strand."
And so, pleased like two children who have found a means of securing a further holiday, we wrote both our letters. I wonder whether it occurred to Sir Adrian, as it did to me, that, if we had been so very anxious that I should be restored to the care of Pulwick with the briefest delay, I might have gone with Rene that same day, wrapped up in a certain cloak which had done good warming service already; and that, as Rene had constructed with his cunning hands a sufficient if not very pretty sandal for my damaged foot out of some old piece of felt, I might have walked from the beach to the fishing village; and that there, no doubt, a cart or a donkey might have conveyed me home in triumph.
Perhaps it did not occur to him; and certainly I had no desire to suggest it on my side.
Thus, soon after mid-day, Master Rene departed alone. And Sir Adrian and I, both very glad of our reprieve, watched, leaning side by side upon the window-sill, the brave little craft glide away on the still ruffled waters, until, when it had grown very small in the distance, we saw the sail lowered and knew Rene had reached mainland.
And that was perhaps the best day of the three. Rene having been unexpectedly despatched, we had to help to do everything ourselves with old Margery, who is rather feeble. The sky was clear and beautiful; and, followed gravely by Jem the dog, we went round the little outer domain. I fed the hens, and Sir Adrian carried the pail when Margery had milked the cow; we paid a visit in his wide paddock to the pony, who trotted up to his master whinnying with pleasure. We looked at the waters rushing past like a mill race on the further side of the island, as the tide was rising, and he explained to me that it was this rush which makes the neighbourhood of Scarthey so dangerous to unwary crafts; we went down into the sea-caves which penetrate deep under the ruins.—They say that in olden days there was a passage under the rocky causeway that led as far as the old Priory, but all traces of it have been effaced.
Then, later on, Sir Adrian showed me in detail his library.
"I was made to be a man of books," he said, when I wondered at the number he had accumulated around him—there must be thousands, "a man of study, not of action. And you know how fate has treated me. These have been my one consolation of late years."
And it marvelled me to think that one who had achieved so many manly deeds, should love musty old tiresome things so much. He really turned them over quite reverentially. I myself do not think much of books as companions.
When I made that little confession he smiled rather sadly, and said that one like me never would lack the suitable companions of youth and happiness; but that a creature of his unfortunate disposition could find, in these long rows of folded leaves, the society of the best and the loftiest minds, not of our age, but of all ages, and, what was more, could find them ready for intercourse and at their best humour, just in those hours when he himself was fit and disposed for such intercourse—and this without dread of inflicting his own misery and dulness upon them.