"We never had those struggles. We had enough to do to live at all in our dear old home days, except that my brother always taught Sunday classes. But anyway, this is very amusing. Those young people's characters come out so much. Ah, Gerald, what is it?"
For Gerald was coming up to the verandah with a very pretty, dark- eyed, modest-looking girl in a sailor hat, who shrank back as he said-
"I am come to ask for some luncheon for my-my Mona. She has had nothing to eat all day, and we still have the grand recognition scene to come."
At which the girl blushed so furiously that the notion crossed Geraldine that he must have been flirting with the poor little tobacconist's daughter; but Lady Merrifield was exclaiming that he too had had nothing to eat, and General Mohun came forth to draw them into the dining-room, where he helped Ludmilla to cold lamb, salad, etc., and she sat down at Gerald's signal, very timidly, so that she gave the idea of only partaking because she was afraid to refuse.
Gerald ate hurriedly and nervously, and drank claret cup. He said they were getting on famously, his uncle's chief strength being expended in drawing out the voice of the buccaneer captain, and mitigating the boatswain. Where were the little boys? Happily disposed of. Little Felix had gone through his part, and then Fergus had carried him and Adrian off together to Clipstone to see his animals, antediluvian and otherwise.
Then in rushed Gillian, followed by Dolores.
"Oh, mother!" cried Gillian, "there's a fresh instalment of pots and pans come in, such horrid things some of them! There's a statue in terra-cotta, half as large as life, of the Dirty Boy. Geraldine, do pray come and see what can be done with him. Kalliope is in utter despair, for they come from Craydon's, and to offend them would be fatal."
"Kalliope and the Dirty Boy," said Mrs. Grinstead, laughing. "A dreadful conjunction; I must go and see if it is possible to establish the line between the sublime and the ridiculous."
"Shall I ask your nephew's leave to let you go," said Lady Merrifield, "after all the orders I have received?"
"Oh, no-" she began, but Gerald had jumped up.
"I'll steer you over the drawbridge, Cherie, if go you must. Yes,"- to the young ladies-"I appreciate your needs. Nobody has the same faculty in her fingers as this aunt of mine. Come along, Mona, it is Mrs. Henderson's stall, you know."
Ludmilla came, chiefly because she was afraid to be left, and Lady Merrifield could not but come too, meeting on the way Anna, come to implore help in arranging the Dirty Boy, before Captain Henderson knocked his head off, as he was much disposed to do.
Gillian had bounded on before with a handful of sandwiches, but Dolores tarried behind, having let the General help her to the leg of a chicken, which she seemed in no haste to dissect. Her uncle went off on some other call before she had finished, eating and drinking with the bitter sauce of reflection on the fleeting nature of young men's attentions and even confidences, and how easily everything was overthrown at sight of a pretty face, especially in the half-and-half class. She had only just come out into the verandah, wearily to return to the preparations, which had lost whatever taste they had for her, when she saw Gerald Underwood springing over the partition wall. Her impulse was to escape him, but it was too late; he came eagerly up to her, saying-
"She is safe with Mrs. Henderson. I am to go back for her when our duet comes on."
Dolores did not want to lower herself by showing jealousy or offence, but she could not help turning decidedly away, saying-
"I am wanted."
"Are you? I wanted to tell you why I am so interested in her. Dolores, can you hear me now?-she is my sister."
"Your sister!" in utter amaze.
"Every one says they see it in the colour of our eyes."
"Every one"-she seemed able to do nothing but repeat his words.
"Well, my uncle Lancelot, and-and my mother. No one else knows yet. They want to spare my aunt till this concern is over."
"But how can it be?"
"It is a horrid business altogether!" he said, taking her down to the unfrequented parts of the lower end of the garden, where they could walk up and down hidden by the bushes and shrubs. "You knew that my father was an artist and musician, who fled from over patronage."
"I think I have heard so."
"He married a singing-woman, and she grew tired of him, and of me, deserted and divorced him in Chicago, when I was ten months old. He was the dearest, most devoted of fathers, till he and I were devoured by the Indians. If they had completed their operations on my scalp, it would have been all the better for me. Instead of which Travis picked me up, brought me home, and they made me as much of an heir of all the traditions as nature would permit, all ignoring that not only was my father Bohemian ingrain, but that my mother was-in short-one of the gipsies of civilization. They never expected to hear of her again, but behold, the rapturous discovery has taken place. She recognised Lance, the only one of the family she had ever seen before, and then the voice of blood-more truly the voice of s. d.- exerted itself."
"How was it she did not find you out before?"
"My father seems to have concealed his full name; I remember his being called Tom Wood. She married in her own line after casting him off, and this pretty little thing is her child-the only tolerable part of it."
"But she cannot have any claim on you," said Dolores, with a more shocked look and tone than the words conveyed.
"Not she-in reason; but the worst of it is, Dolores, that the wretched woman avers that she deceived my father, and had an old rascally tyrant of an Italian husband, who might have been alive when she married."
Dolores stood still and looked at him with her eyes opened in horror.
"Yes, you may well say Gerald. 'Tis the only name I have a right to if this is true."
"But you are still yourself," and she held out her hand.
He did not take it, however, only saying-
"You know what this means?"
"Of course I do, but that does not alter you-yourself in yourself."
"If you say that, Dolores, it will only alter me to make me-more- more myself."
She held out her hand again, and this time he did take it and press it, but he started, dropped it, and said-
"It is not fair."
"Oh yes, it is. I know what it means," she repeated, "and it makes no difference," and this time it was she who took his hand.
"It means that unless this marriage is disproved, or the man's death proved, I am an outcast, dependent on myself, instead of the curled darling the Grinsteads-blessings on them!-have brought me up."
"I don't know whether I don't like you better so," exclaimed she, looking into his clear eyes and fine open face, full of resolution, not of shame.
"While you say so-" He broke off. "Yes, thus I can bear it better. The estate is almost an oppression to me. The Bohemian nature is in me, I suppose. I had rather carve out life for myself than have the landlord business loaded on my shoulders. Clement and Lance will make the model parson and squire far better than I. 'The Inspector's Tour' was a success-between that and the Underwood music there's no fear but I shall get an independent career."
"Oh! that is noble! You will be much more than your old self-as you said."
"The breaking of Cherie's heart is all that I care about," said he. "To her I was comfort, almost compensation for those brothers. I don't know how-" He paused. "We'll let her alone till all this is over; so, Dolores, not one word to any one."
"No, no, no!" she exclaimed. "I will-I will be true to you through everything, Gerald; I will wait till you have seen your way, and be proud of you through all."
"Then I can bear it-I have my incentive," he said. "First, you see, I must try to rescue my sister. I do not think it will be hard, for the maternal heart seems to be denied to that woman. Then proofs must be sought, and according as they are found or not-"
Loud calls of "Gerald" and "Mr. Underwood" began to resound. He finished-
"Must be the future."
"Our future," repeated Dolores.
CHAPTER XX. FRENCH LEAVE
She came, she is gone, we have met, And meet perhaps never again.-COWPER.
The evening of that day was a scene of welcomes, dinners, and confusion. The Rotherwoods had arrived that evening at the Cliff Hotel just in time for dinner, of which they considerately partook where they were, to save Jane Mohun trouble; but all four of the party came the instant it was over to hear and see all that was going on, and were fervently received by Gillian and Mysie, who were sleeping at their aunt's to be ready for the morrow, and in spite of all fatigue, had legs wherewith to walk Lord Ivinghoe and Lady Phyllis round the stalls, now closed up by canvas and guarded by police. Phyllis was only mournful not to have assisted in the preparations, and heard all the fun that Mrs. Grinstead had made. But over the wall of Carrara a sight was seen for which no one was prepared-no other than Maura White's pretty classical face!
"Yes," she said, "how could I be away from such an occasion? I made Uncle White bring me to London-he had business there, you know-and then I descended on Kalliope, and wasn't she surprised! But I have a lovely Italian dress!"
Kalliope Henderson looked more alarmed than gratified on the whole. She knew that there had been no idea of Maura's coming till after it had been known that the Rotherwoods were to open the bazaar, and "made Uncle White" was so unlike their former relations that all were startled, Gillian asking in a tone of reproof how Aunt Adeline spared Maura.
"Oh, we shall be back at Gastein in less than a week. I could not miss such an occasion."
"I only had her telegram half-an-hour ago," said Kalliope, in an apologetic tone; and Lord Ivinghoe was to be dimly seen handing Maura over the fence. Moonlight gardens and moonlight sea! What was to be done? And Ivinghoe, who had begun life by being as exclusive as the Marchioness herself! "People take the bit between their teeth nowadays," as Jane observed to Lady Rotherwood when the news reached her, and neither said, though each felt, that Adeline would not have promoted this expedition, even for the child whom she and Mr. White had conspired to spoil. Each was secretly afraid of the attraction for Ivinghoe.
At St. Andrew's Rock there was a glad meeting with the Travis Underwoods, who had disposed of themselves at the Marine Hotel, while they came up with a select party of three Vanderkists to spend the evening with Clement, Geraldine, and Lancelot, not to mention Adrian, who had been allowed to sit up to dinner to see his sisters, and was almost devoured by them. His growth, and the improved looks of both his uncle and aunt, so delighted Marilda, that Lancelot declared the Rockquay people would do well to have them photographed "Then" and "Now," as an advertisement of the place! But he was not without dread of the effect of the disclosure that had yet to be made, though Gerald had apparently forgotten all about it as he sat chaffing Emilia Vanderkist about the hospital, whither she was really going for a year; Sophy about the engineer who had surveyed the Penbeacon intended works, and Francie about her Miranda-Mona in strange hands.
The Vanderkists all began life as very pretty little girls, but showed more or less of the Hollander ancestry as they grow up. Only Franceska, content with her Dutch name, had shot up into a beautiful figure, together with the fine features and complexion of the Underwood twins, and the profuse golden flax hair of her aunt Angela, so that she took them all by surprise in the pretty dress presented by Cousin Marilda, and chosen by Emilia. Sophy was round and short, as nearly plain as one with the family likeness could be, but bright and joyous, and very proud of her young sister. It was a merry evening.
In fact, Lance himself was so much carried away by the spirit of the thing, and so anxious about the performance, that he made all the rest, including Clement, join in singing Autolycus's song, which was to precede the procession, to a new setting of his own, before they dispersed.
But Lance was beginning to dress in the morning when a knock came to his door.
"A note from Mr. Flight, please, sir."
The note was-"Circus and Schnetterlings gone off in the night! Shop closed! Must performance be given up?"
The town was all over red and blue posters! But Lance felt a wild hope for the future, and a not ill-founded one for the present. He rushed into his clothes, first pencilling a note-
"Never say die. L. 0. U."
Then he hurried off, and sent up a message to Miss Franceska Vanderkist, to come and speak to him, and he walked up and down the sitting-room where breakfast was being spread, like a panther, humming Prospero's songs, or murmuring vituperations, till Franceska appeared, a perfect picture of loveliness in her morning youthful freshness.
"Francie, there's no help for it. You must take Mona! She has absconded!"
"Yes, gone off in the night; left us lamenting."
"The horrible girl!"
"Probably not her fault, poor thing! But that's neither here nor there. I wish it was!"
"But I thought-"
"It is past thinking now, my dear. Here we are, pledged. Can't draw back, and you are the only being who can save us! You know the part."
"Yes, in a way."
"You did it with me at home."
"Oh yes; but, Uncle Lance, it would be too dreadful before all these people."
"Never mind the people. Be Mona, and only think of Alaster and Angus."
"But what would mamma say, or Aunt Wilmet? And Uncle Clem?" each in a more awe-stricken voice.
"I'll tackle them."
"I know I shall be frightened and fail, and that will be worse."
"No, it won't, and you won't. Look here, Francie, this is not a self-willed freak for our own amusement. The keeping up the Church schools here depends upon what we can raise. I hate bazaars. I hate to have to obtain help for the Church through these people's idle amusement, but you and I have not two or three thousands to give away to a strange place in a lump; but we have our voices. 'Such as I have give I thee,' and this ridiculous entertainment may bring in fifty or maybe a hundred. I don't feel it right to let it collapse for the sake of our own dislikes."
"Very well, Uncle Lance, I'll do as you tell me."
"That's the way to do it, my dear. At least, when you make ready, recollect, not that you are facing a multitude, but that you are saving a child's Christian faith; when you prepare, that you have to do with nobody but Gerald and me; when it comes to 'One, two, three, and away,' mind nothing but your music and your cue."
"But the dress, uncle?"
"The dress is all safe at the pavilion. You must come up and rehearse as soon as you have eaten your breakfast. Oh, you don't know where. Well, one of us will come and fetch you. Good girl, Francie! Keep up your heart. By the bye, which is Fernan's dressing-room? I must prepare him."
That question was answered, for Sir Ferdinand's door into the corridor was opened.
"Lance! I thought I heard your voice."
"Yes, here's a pretty kettle of fish! Our Miranda has absconded, poor child. Happy thing you brought down Francie; nobody else could take the part at such short notice. You must pacify Marilda, silence scruples, say it is her duty to Church, country, and family. Can't stop!"
"Lance, explain-do! Music-mad as usual!" cried Sir Ferdinand, pursuing him down-stairs in despair.
"I must be music-mad; the only chance of keeping sane just now. There's an awful predicament! Can't go into it now, but you shall hear all when this is over."
Wherewith Lance was lost to view, and presently burst into St. Kenelm's Vicarage, to the relief of poor Mr. Flight, who had tried to solace himself with those three words as best he might.
"All right. My niece, Franceska Vanderkist, who took the part before, and who has a very good soprano, will do it better as to voice, if not so well as to acting, as the Little Butterfly."
"Is she here?"
"Yes, by good luck. I shall have her up to the pavilion to rehearse her for the afternoon."
"Mr. Underwood, no words can say what we owe you. You are the saving of our Church education."
Lance laughed at the magniloquent thanks, and asked how the intimation had been received.
It appeared that on the previous evening O'Leary had come to him, and, in swaggering fashion, had demanded twenty pounds as payment for his step-daughter's performance at the masque. Mr. Flight had replied that she had freely promised her services gratuitously for the benefit of the object in view. At this the man had scoffed, talked big about her value and the meanness of parsons, and threatened to withdraw her. Rather weakly the clergyman had said the question should be considered, but that he could do nothing without the committee, and O'Leary had departed, uttering abuse.
This morning "Sweetie Bob," the errand-boy, had arrived crying, with tidings that the shop and house were shut up; nobody answered his knock; Mother Butterfly had "cut" in the night, gone off, he believed, with the circus, and Miss Lydia too; and there was two-and- ninepence owing to him, besides his-his-his character!
He knew that Mother Butterfly had gone to the magistrates' meeting the day before, and paid her fine of twenty-five pounds, and he also believed that she had paid up her rent, and sold her shop to a neighbouring pastry-cook, but he had never expected her to depart in this sudden way, and then he began to shed fresh tears over his two- and-ninepence and his character.
Mr. Flight began to reassure him, with promises to speak for him as an honest lad, while Lance bethought himself of the old organist's description of that wandering star, "Without home, without country, without morals, without religion, without anything," and recollected with a shudder that turning-point in his life when Edgar had made him show off his musical talent, and when Felix had been sharp with him, and the office of the 'Pursuivant' looked shabby, dull, and dreary.
Nothing more could be done, except to make bold assurances to Mr. Flight that Mona's place should be supplied, and then to hurry home, meeting on his way a policeman, who told him that the circus was certainly gone away, and promised to let him know whither.
He was glad to find that Gerald had not come down-stairs, having overslept himself in the morning after a wakeful night. He was dressing when his uncle knocked at his door.
"Here is a shock, Gerald! I hope it is chiefly to our masque. These people have absconded, and carried off our poor little Mona."
"What? Absconded? My sister! I must be after them instantly," cried Gerald, wildly snatching at his coat.
"What good would that do? you can't carry her off vi et armis."
"Send the police."
"No possibility. The fine is paid, the rent and all. They have gone, it seems, with the circus."
"Ah! Depend upon it that fellow has paid the fine, and bought the poor child into slavery with it. Carried her off in spite of our demurring, and the Vicar's prosecution. I must save her. I'll go after and outbid."
"No hurry, Gerald. A circus is not such a microscopical object but that it can be easily traced. A policeman has promised to find out where, and meanwhile we must attend to our present undertaking."
Gerald strode up and down the room in a fiery fit of impatience and indignation, muttering furious things, quite transformed from the listless, ironical youth hitherto known to his family.
"Come," Lancelot said, "our first duty is to do justice to our part; Francie Vanderkist will take Mona."
"Hang Mona! you care for nothing on earth but your fiddling and songs."
"I do not see that being frantic will make any difference to the situation. All in our power is being done. Meanwhile, we must attend to what we have undertaken."
Gerald rushed about a little more, but finally listened to his uncle's representation that the engrossing employment was good to prevent the peril of disturbing the two whom they were so anxious to spare. Fely came running up with a message that Aunt Cherie and Anna had been sent for to see about the decorations of the art stall, and that they would have to eat their breakfast without them.
Appetite for breakfast was lacking, but Lance forced himself to swallow, as one aware of the consequences of fasting for agitation's sake, and he nearly crammed Gerald; so that Adrian and Fely laughed, and he excused himself by declaring that he wanted his turkey-cock to gobble and not pipe. For which bit of pleasantry he encountered a glare from Gerald's Hungarian eyes. He was afraid on one side to lose sight of his nephew, on the other he did not feel equal to encounter a scolding from Marilda, so he sent Adrian and Fely down to the Marine Hotel to fetch Franceska, while he stole a moment or two for greeting Clement, who was much better, and only wanted more conversation than he durst give him.
CHAPTER XXI. THE MASQUE
Your honour's players, hearing your amendment, Are come to play a pleasant comedy. Taming of the Shrew.
Poor Franceska! First she encountered Cousin Marilda's wonder and displeasure, and the declaration that Uncle Lance went absolutely crazy over his musical mania. She had seen it before in poor Edgar, and knew what it came to. She wanted to telegraph at once to Alda to ask her consent or refusal to Franceska's appearance; but Sir Ferdinand stopped this on the ground that the circumstances could not be explained, and told her to content herself with Clement's opinion.
This she sent Sophy and Emilia to ascertain, before she would let them and the boys escort Francie to her destination. Clement, not yet up, had to hold a lit de justice, and pronounce that Uncle Lance was to be fully trusted to ask nothing unbecoming or unnecessary, and that Francie would have nothing to do with any one except him and Gerald.
"Besides," said Emilia, as they walked up, "nobody will find it out. The posters are all over the town, 'Mona, Miss Ludmilla Schnetterling.'"
So the sisters were received with a murmur on their delay. The pretty dress prepared for Mona was found to be too small for the tall shapely Franceska, and Sophy undertook to alter it, while poor Francie's troubles began.
Whether it was that Uncle Lance and Gerald were in a secret state of turmoil, or that their requirements were a good deal higher than for the Vale Leston audience, or perhaps that she had no inheritance of actress traditions, they certainly were a great deal sharper with her than they had been ever before or with Ludmilla.
Gerald derided her efforts sarcastically, and Uncle Lance found fault good-humouredly but seriously, and she was nearly in tears by eleven o'clock, when the procession was to take place. She was quite surprised when Lance turned to her and said-
"Thank you, my dear, you are doing capitally. I shall be proud of my daughter Mona."
Quite in spirits again, she was sewn by Sophy into her still unfinished dress, her beautiful light golden flax tresses were snooded, her Highland scarf pinned on her shoulder, and she hurried to her uncle, now be-robed and be-wigged, with Gerald in full Highland garb, looking very much disgusted, especially when her uncle said-
"Well done, Francie. You'll cut that poor little thing out in looks and voice, if not in acting."
"Oh, uncle, I sang so horridly."
"You can do better if you try; I wish there was time to train you. We'll do the 'logs duet' once more after this tomfoolery. Ha! Captain Armytage. You are an awful pirate, and no mistake. Where did you get that splendid horse-pistol?"
"From my native home, as well as my sword; but I wrote to Willingham for the rest. This will be an uncommonly pretty march-past. The girls look so well, and all out of doors too."
This was decidedly a great advantage, the trees, grass, and blue sky lending a great grace to the scene. The procession started from the garden entrance of the hotel, headed by the town band in uniform, and the fire brigade likewise, very proud of themselves, especially the little terrier whom nothing would detach from one of the firemen. Then came the four seasons belonging to the flower stall, appropriately decked with flowers, the Italian peasants with flat veils, bright aprons, and white sleeves, Maura White's beauty conspicuous in the midst, but with unnecessary nods and becks. Then came the "mediaeval" damsels in ruffs and high hats, the Highland maidens, with Valetta and Primrose giggling unmanageably; and Aunt Jane's troop of the various costumes of charity children, from the green frocks, long mittens, and tall white caps, and the Jemima Placid flat hats and long waists, down to the red cloaks, poke straw bonnets, and blue frocks of the Lady Bountiful age. These were followed by the merry fairies and elves; then by the buccaneers and the captive prisoners; and the rear was brought up by MacProspero, as Lord Rotherwood called him, with his niece on his arm and his nephew by his side.
When the central stall, or bothie, in the Carrara grounds was reached, after passing in full state and order over two of the bridges, the procession halted before a group of the Rotherwood family, Sir Jasper and Lady Merrifield, Lady Flight, and other local grandees, with the clergy, who had declined to walk in procession. There the performers spread themselves out, singing Autolycus's song, led of course by MacProspero; Lady Rotherwood, with as much dignity as the occasion permitted, declared the bazaar open, and the Marquis hoped every one was going to ruin themselves in the cause of Christian education.
The first idea of "every one" was luncheon, except that Lance laid hands on his unfortunate Angus and Mona for their duet, in the midst of which Lord Rotherwood made a raid on them.
"There! I'm sure Prospero never was so cruel as to starve what's- his-name! Come in and have some food-it is just by."
They found themselves in a dining-room, in the presence of Lady Rotherwood, her son and daughter, and a sprinkling of Merrifields and actors, in full swing of joyous chatter; Mysie and Lady Phyllis telling all that was specially to be admired, and Lord Rotherwood teasing them about the prices, and their wicked extortions in the name of goodness, Gillian snubbing poor Captain Armytage in his splendid buccaneer dress, Ivinghoe making himself agreeable to Franceska, whose heightened carnation tints made her doubly lovely through her shyness. Gerald and Dolores in the less lively vicinity of the Marchioness carrying on a low-toned conversation, which, however, enabled Gerald to sustain nature with food better than he had done at breakfast.
It did not last long. The sellers had to rush off to relieve those who had begun the sale, and the performance was to commence at three o'clock, so that the final preparations had to be hurried through.
Geraldine had made the tour of the stalls on the arm of Anna, to admire them in their first freshness, and put finishing touches wherever solicited. The Rocca Marina conservatories were in rare glory, orchids in weird beauty, lovely lilies of all hues, fabulously exquisite ipomoeas, all that heart could wish. Before them a fountain played in the midst of blue, pink, and white lotus lilies, and in a flower-decked house the Seasons dispensed pot-flowers, bouquets, and button-holes; the Miss Simmondses and their friends with simpering graces, that made Geraldine glad to escape and leave them to the young men who were strolling up. At Carrara was the stall in which she was chiefly interested, and which had been arranged with a certain likeness to Italian gardens, the statues and other devices disposed among flowers; the Dirty Boy judiciously veiled by the Puzzle Monkey, and the front of the summer-house prolonged by pillars, sham but artistic. Jasper was zealously photographing group after group, handing his performances over to his assistant for printing off. Kalliope looked in her costume most beautiful and dignified. Her sister, grown to almost equal beauty, was hurrying off to see the masque, flushed and eager, while Gillian and one or two others were assisting in sales that would be rather slack till after the performance. Here Geraldine purchased only a couple of Mouse-traps, leaving further choice to be made after the stranger purchasers. Here Sir Jasper and General Mohun came up, and gave her a good deal of curious information about Bernard's bevy of figures in Indian costumes; and having the offer of such a strong arm as the General's, she dispensed with Anna, who was really wanted to help with the very popular photographs.
They passed the refreshments, at present chiefly haunted by Mrs. Edgar's boys, ready to eat at any time of day; they looked civilly at the Varley Elizabethans, and found Lady Merrifield in the midst o her bothie, made charming with fresh green branches and purple heather, imported by the Vanderkists.
"That's Penbeacon ling. I know that red tint in the mauve," said Geraldine; "I'll give you half-a-crown, if your decorations can spare that spiring spray!" And she put it in her bosom, after touching it with her lips. "You have a bower for the Lady of the Lake," she added.
"I'm afraid I'm only Roderick Dhu's mother," laughed Lady Merrifield; "but I shall have more ladies when the masque is done. Now I have only Mysie."
"And oh!" cried Mysie, "please set up the nurse in the nursery gardens right. Wilfred knocked her over, and she won't stand right for me."
"Perverse woman. There! No, I shall not buy anything now, I shall wait for Primrose and the refuse. How pretty it does all look! Ah, Mr. Brownlow," as she shook hands with the curate.
"I left my brother John at your house," he said; "I persuaded him to run down this morning with my mother and see our doings, and he was glad of the opportunity of looking in upon the Vicar."
"How very kind of him. We were wishing to know what he thought!"
"No doubt he will be here presently. My mother is at the masque. There was not a seat for us, so I took him down to St. Andrew's Rock."
"Not a seat! The five-shilling seats?"
"Not the fraction of one. Numbers standing outside! Pity there can't be a second performance."
"Four hundred seats! That's a hundred pounds! We shall beat the School-board yet!"
So, with the General politely expressing that there was no saying what Rockquay owed to the hearty co-operation of such birds of passage as herself and her brothers, she travelled on to the charity stall, which Miss Mohun had quaintly dressed in the likeness of an old-fashioned school, with big alphabet and samplers, flourished copies, and a stuffed figure of a 'cont-rare-y' naughty boy, with a magnificent fool's cap. She herself sat behind it, the very image of the Shenstone school-mistress, with wide white cap, black poke- bonnet, crossed kerchief, red cloak, and formidable rod; and her myrmidons were in costume to match. It was very attractive, and took every one by surprise, but Geraldine had had enough by this time, and listened to Miss Mohun's invitation and entreaty that she would preside over tea-cups for the weary, in the drawing-room. The privacy of the houses had been secured by ropes extending from the stalls to the rails of the garden, and Geraldine was conducted by her two generals to the verandah, where they installed her, and lingered, as was usual with her squires, always won by her spirited talk, till messages came to each of them from below that some grandee was come, who must be talked to and entertained.
Already, however, Armine Brownlow had brought up his brother, the doctor-John or Jock, an old friend-over, first Clement's district and then his bed.
"Well, Mrs. Grinstead, I can compliment you much on your brother. He is very materially better, and his heart is recovering tone."
"I am very glad and thankful! I only wish you had seen him last week. He was better then, but he had a worry about our little nephew, which threw him back."
"So he told me. The more quiescent and amused you can keep him, the more chance of a fair recovery there will be. I am glad he thinks of dining with the party to-night."
"I am glad he still thinks. I had to come away early, when he had still left it doubtful."
"I encouraged the idea with all my might."
"Do you think he will be able to go back to his parish?"
"Most assuredly not while every worry tells on him in this manner. You must, if possible, take him abroad for the winter, before he begins to think about it."
"He has leave of absence for a year."
"Dating from Easter, I think. Keep him in warm climates as long as you can. Find some country to interest him without over-fatigue, and you will, I hope, be able to bring him home fit to consider the matter."
"That is all you promise?"
"All I dare-not even to promise-but to let you hope for."
An interruption came; one of the young ladies had had her skirt trodden on, and wanted it to be stitched up. Then came Jane Mohun to deposit a handkerchief which some one had dropped. "I can stay a moment," she said; "no one will come to buy till the masque is ended. Oh, this red cloak will be the death of me!"
"You look highly respectable without it."
"I shall only put it on for the coup d'oeil at first. Oh, Geraldine, what is to be done with that horrid little Maura?"
"The pretty little Greek girl-Mrs. Henderson's sister?"
"Oh! it is not Mrs. Henderson's fault, nor my sister Ada's either, except that the little wretch must have come round her. I know Ada meant to stay away on that very account."
"Ivinghoe's, to be sure! Oh! I forgot. You are so much one of us that I did not remember that you did not know how the foolish boy was attracted-no, that's too strong a word-but she thought he was, when they were here to open Rotherwood Park. He did flirt, and Victoria- his mother, I mean-did not like it at all. She would never have come this time, but that I assured her that Maura was safe at Gastein!"
"Is it so very undesirable?"
"My dear! Their father was old White's brother, a stone-mason. He was raised from the ranks, but his wife was a Greek peasant-and if you had seen her, when the Merrifield children called her the Queen of the White Ants! Ivinghoe is naturally as stiff and formal as his mother, I am not much afraid for him, except that no one knows what that fever will make of a young man, and I don't want him to get his father into a scrape. There, I have exhaled it to you, and there is a crowd as if the masque was done with."
It was, and the four hundred auditors were beginning to throng about the stalls, strays coming up from time to time, and reporting with absolute enthusiasm on the music and acting. Marilda was one of these.
"Well, Cherry, I saw no great harm in it after all, and Francie looked sweetly pretty, just as poor Alda did when she first came to us. Lance must make his own excuses to Alda. But Gerald looked horridly ill! He sang very well, but he had such red spots on his cheeks! I'd get Clement's doctor to sound him. Lord Rotherwood was quite complimentary. Now I must go and buy something-I hear there is the Dirty Boy-I think I shall get it for Fernan's new baths and wash-houses. Then isn't there something of yours, Cherry?"
"Not to compete with the Dirty Boy."
"Ah! now you are laughing at me, Cherry. Quite right, I am glad to hear you do it again."
The next visitor was Lance.
"Oh, Cherry, how cool you look! Give me a cup of tea-not refreshment-stall tea. That's right. Little Francie is a perfect gem-looks and voice-not acting-no time for that. Heigh-ho!"
"Somewhere about after that Merrifield niece with the doleful name, I fancy. He did very well when it came to the scratch."
"Have you seen Dr. Brownlow? He has been to see Clement."
"That's first-rate! Where shall I find him?"
"Somewhere about, according to your lucid direction, I suppose."
"What does he think of old Tina?"
Geraldine told him, and was rather surprised, when he whistled as though perplexed, and as Fergus rushed in, glorious with the news that Sir Ferdinand had bought his collection of specimens for the Bexley museum, he rose up, looking perturbed, to find Dr. Brownlow.
Next came Gillian with news that the Dirty Boy was sold to Lady Travis Underwood.
"And mayn't I stay a moment or two?" said she. "Now the masque is over, that Captain Armytage is besetting me again."
"Poor Captain Armytage."
"Why do you pity him? He is going to join his ship, the Sparrow Hawk, next week, and that ought to content him."
"Ships do not always fill a man's heart."
"Then they ought. I don't like it," she added, in a petulant tone. "I have so much to learn and to do, I don't want to be tormented about a tiresome man."
"Well, he will be out of your way to-morrow."
"Geraldine, that is a horrid tone."
"If you choose to put meaning in it, I cannot help it."
"And that horrid little Maura! She is in the most awful flutter, standing on tiptoe, and craning out her foolish little neck. I know it is all after Ivinghoe, and he never has come to our counter! Kalliope has been trying to keep her in order, but I'm sure the Queen of the White Ants must have been just like that when she got poor Captain White to marry her. Kalliope is so much vexed, I can see. She never meant to have her here. And Aunt Ada stayed away on purpose."
"Has she seen much of him?"
"Hardly anything; but he did admire her, and she never was like Kalliope. But what would Aunt Ada do? Oh dear! there's that man! He has no business at Aunt Jane's charity stall. I shall go and tell him so."
Geraldine had her little private laugh before Adrian came up to her with a great ship in his arms-
"Take care of this, Aunt Cherry. She is going to sail on the Ewe. I bought her with the sovereign Uncle Fernan gave me."
Geraldine gave the ship her due admiration, and asked after the masque.
"Oh, that went off pretty well. I wouldn't have been Fely! All the ladies went and said 'Pretty dear!' when he sang his song about the bat's back.
Disgusting! But then he has not been a fellow at school, so he made his bow and looked as if he didn't mind it."
"Francie looked perfectly stunning. Everybody said so, and she sang- well, she sang better than she did at home; but she was in an awful funk, though I kept on looking at her, and shouting bravo to encourage her; and she must have heard my voice, for I was just in front."
"I hope she was encouraged."
"But she is very stupid. I wanted to take her round to all the stalls, and show her what to buy with the five Jubilee sovereigns Uncle Fernan gave her, for you know she has never been anywhere, or seen anything. I thought she would like it, and besides, all our fellows say they never saw such an awfully pretty girl, and they can't believe all that hair is her own-she had it all down her back, you know-so I told them I would let them have a pull to try."
"Poor Francie! She declined, I suppose?"
"Well, there was that ridiculous swell, Fergus's cousin, Ivinghoe, and he has taken her off to see the stupid flowers in the conservatory. I told Sophy I wondered she permitted such flirting, but of course Francie knew no better."
"Oh! and you couldn't stop it?"
"Not I, though I called her over and over again to look at things, but Lord Ivinghoe always hung about and gave one no peace. So I just told Sophy to look after her, and came off to tell you. Oh my! here is old Miss Mohun coming up. I shall be off. I want some chocolate creams. Mrs. Simmonds has got some splendid ones."
Miss Mohun was coming, in fact.
"Well, Geraldine, the masque was a great success. People beg to have it repeated, so many could not get in. And it is worth at least a hundred pounds to us. People whose opinion is worth having were quite struck. They say your brother really ought to have been a great composer and singer."
"I think he might have been if he had not given up his real passion to come to the help of my dear eldest brother. And he is really happier as he is."
"I knew there was conquest in his face. And that dear little elf of a boy-what a voice! So bright and so arch too. Then the Miranda- she took all by surprise. I believe half the spectators took her for the Little Butterfly."
"Ah, the poor Little Butterfly is flown. There was nothing for it but to make Francie act, as she had taken the part once before."
"Her acting was no great things, they say-ladylike, but frightened. Her voice is lovely, and as to her looks-people rave about them. Tell me, she is not Lady Travis Underwood's daughter?"
"Oh no; she is Anna's sister, Adrian's sister."
"So I told Lady Rotherwood, I was sure it was so."
"The Travis Underwoods have no children, but they adopted Emilia when I took Anna, and they have brought three Vanderkists to this affair. Francie has never been from home before, it is all quite new to her." Then recollecting what Adrian had repeated, she thought it fair to add, "My sister was left very badly off, and all these eight girls will have nothing of their own."
"Well, I don't suppose anything will come of it. I hope it will put no folly into her head; but at any rate it effaces that poor silly little Maura. I hope too, as you say your niece is so innocent, it will do her no harm."
"I don't suppose any possibilities have occurred to the child."
Lord Rotherwood here came on the scene.
"Jenny, there's an offer for your boy in the fool's cap, and Mysie doubts if she ought to let him go. Well, Mrs. Grinstead, I think you have the best of it. Lookers on, etc."
"Looking on has always been my trade."
"You heard the rehearsal of the masque, I believe, but you did not hear that charming Mona?"
"No; she had to take the part suddenly. Her uncle had to tyrannize over her, to save the whole thing."
"We are much indebted to him, and to her," said Lord Rotherwood courteously. "She looked as if she hated it all in the first scene, though she warmed up afterwards. I must say I liked her the better for her shyness."
"Her little brother thinks she recovered in consequence of his applause," said Geraldine, smiling.
"Ah! I saw him. And heard. A little square fellow-very sturdy."
"Yes, the Dutchman comes out in him, and he has droll similitudes, very curious in one who never saw his father, nor any but his Underwood relations."
"So much the better for him perhaps; I have, and ought to have, great faith in uncles' breeding. I am glad to meet Sir Ferdinand Travis Underwood. I have often come across him about London good works."
"Yes, he is an excellent man."
"Not wholly English is he, judging by the depth of colour in those eyes?"
"No; his mother was a Mexican, partly Indian. We used to call him the Cacique;" and Geraldine had the pleasure of telling his story to an earnest listener, but interruption came in the shape of Sir Ferdinand himself who announced that he had hired a steam-yacht wherein to view the regatta, and begged Lord Rotherwood to join the party.
This was impossible, as the Marquis was due at an agricultural dinner at Clarebridge, but in return, in the openness of his heart, he invited the Travis Underwoods to their dinner that evening at the hotel, where the Merrifields and the Underwoods were already engaged, little boys and all.
"Thank you, my lord, but we are too large a party. We have three Vanderkist girls with us, and Anna and her brother are to join them to be with their sister."
"Never mind, never mind. The great hall will have room for all."
Still Fernan demurred, knowing that Marilda had ordered dinner at the Quay Hotel, and that even liberal payment would not atone for missing the feasting of the millionaires; so the matter was compounded by his promise to bring all his party, who were not ready for bed, up to spend the evening.
And Geraldine perceived from Lady Rotherwood's ceremonious politeness that she did not like it at all, though she never said so even to Lady Merrifield.
However, it was a very bright evening. Gerald had sung himself into spirits, and then found Dolores, and retreated into the depths of the garden with her, explaining to her all about his sister, and declaring that his first object must be to rescue her; and then, unless his name was cleared, and he had to resume all his obligations, the new life would be open to him, and he had no fear of not succeeding as a journalist, or if not, a musical career was possible to him, as Dolores had now the opportunity of fully perceiving. His sweet voice had indeed filled her with double enthusiasm. She had her plan for lecturing, and that very morning she had received from her father permission to enter a ladies' college, and the wherewithal. She would qualify herself for lecturing by the time he had fixed his career; and they built their airy castles, not on earth, but on railroads and cycles, and revelled on them as happily as is common to lovers, whether in castle or in cottage. Certainly if the prospect held out to her had been Vale Leston Priory, it would not have had the same zest; and when in the evening they joined the dinner-party, there was a wonderful look of purpose and of brightness on both their faces. And Emilia, who had been looking for him all the afternoon to tell him, "Gerald, I am really going to be a nurse," only got for answer an absent "Indeed!"
"Yes, at St. Roque's."
"I hope I shall never be a patient there," he said, in his half- mocking tone. "You'll look jolly in the cap and apron."
"I'm to be there all the time they are in America, and-"
"Well, I wonder you don't go and study the institutions."
His eye was wandering, and he sprang forward to give Dolores a flower that she had dropped.
Lancelot, knowing what was before Gerald, and having always regarded Vale Leston with something of the honours of Paradise, could not understand that joyous look of life, so unlike Gerald's usual weary, passive expression. He himself felt something of the depression that was apt to follow on musical enjoyment; he saw all the failures decidedly enough not to be gratified with the compliments he met on all sides, and "he bitterly thought on the morrow," when he saw how Clement was getting animated over a discussion on Church matters, and how Geraldine was enjoying herself. And as to that pretty Franceska, who had blossomed into the flower of the flock, he foresaw heart- break for her when he watched the Marchioness's countenance on hearing that her son had accepted Sir Ferdinand's invitation to cruise to-morrow in the yacht.
Vainly was Ivinghoe reminded of the agricultural dinner. He was only too glad to escape it, and besides, he thought he could be there in time.
Nevertheless, the present was delightful, and after dinner the young people all went off to the great assembly-room, whence Anna came back to coax Uncle Lance to play for them. All the elders jumped up from their several discussions. Even Lady Rotherwood moved on, looking as benign as her feelings would permit. Jane squeezed Geraldine's arm, exceedingly amused. Lance struck up, by request, an old-fashioned country dance; Lord Rotherwood insisted that "Lily" should dance with him, as the remnant of forty good years ago or more, and with Sir Roger de Coverley the day ended.
Poor little Maura, making an excuse to wander about the gardens in the moonlight, saw the golden locks shining through the open windows, and Lord Ivinghoe standing over them, went home, and cried herself to sleep over the fickleness of the nobility, when she had better have cried over her own unjustified romance, excited by a few kindly speeches and a cup of tea.
And Emilia! What was Gerald's one laughing turn with her, compared with his long talk with Dolores in the moonlight?
CHAPTER XXII. THE REGATTA
She saw a forget-me-not in the grass, Gilly-flower, gentle rosemary, Ah! why did the lady that little flower pass, While the dews fell over the mulberry-tree? KENEALY.
Such of the party as were not wanted for the second day of the bazaar, and were not afraid of mal de mer, had accepted the yachting invitation, except the three elders at St. Andrew's Rock. Even Adrian and Felix were suffered to go, under Sophy's charge, on the promise to go nowhere without express permission, and not to be troublesome to any one.
"Sophy can say, 'Now, boys,' as effectively as Wilmet," said Geraldine, when she met Lance, who had been to the quay to see them off.
"She did not say so to much advantage with her own boys," said Clement.
"We weren't Harewoods," returned Lance, "and John never could bear to see a tight hand over them; but there's good in them that will come out some day."
Clement gave an emphatic "Humph!" as he sat down to the second breakfast after Anna had gone to the cliff to resume her toils.
"Who are gone?" asked Geraldine.
"Poor Marilda, smilingly declaring she shall be in misery in the cabin all the time, Fernan, and four Vanderkists, General Mohun, Sir Jasper, and some of his progeny; but others stay to help Miss Mohun finish up the sales."
"Does Lord Ivinghoe go?"
"Oh yes, he came rushing down just in time. Francie was looking like a morning rose off the cloister at Vale Leston."
"I am sorry they have another day of it. I don't see how it can come to good," said Geraldine.
"Perhaps her roses may fade at sea," said Clement, "and disenchantment may ensue."
"At least I hope Alda may not hear of it, or she will be in an agony of expectation as long as hope lasts. Gerald is gone, of course?"
"Oh yes!" said Lance, who had had a farewell from him with the words, "Get it over while I am out of the way, and tell them I don't mind."
Cursory and incomprehensible, but conclusive; and Lance, who minded enough to have lost sleep and gained a headache, marvelled over young men's lightness and buoyancy. He had seen Dr. Brownlow, and arranged that there should be a call, as a friend, in due time after the communication, in case it should hurt Clement, and when Geraldine observed merrily that now they were quit of all the young ones they could feel like old times, he was quite grieved to disturb her pleasure.
Clement, however, began by taking out a letter and saying-
"Here is a remarkable missive left for me yesterday-'If the Rev. Underwood wishes to hear of something to his advantage, he should communicate with Mr. O'L., care of Mr. John Bast, van proprietor, Whitechapel.' An impostor?" said he.
"I am afraid not," said Lance. "Clement, I fear there is no doubt that she is that singing Hungarian woman who was the ruin of Edgar's life."
"Gerald's mother!" exclaimed Geraldine.
"But she is gone! She gave up all rights. She can't claim anything. Has she worried him?"
"Yes, poor boy! She has declared that she had actually a living husband at the time she married our poor Edgar."
Of course both broke out into exclamations that it was impossible, and Lance had to tell them of his interview with the woman at Gerald's entreaty. They were neither of them so overcome by the disclosure as he had feared during his long delay.
"I believe it is only an attempt at extortion," said Clement.
"Very cruel," said Geraldine. "How-how did my poor boy bear it all this time?"
"He was very much knocked down at first, quite overwhelmed, but less by the loss than by the shame, and the imputation on his father."
"It was no fault of dear Edgar's."
"No, indeed. I am glad Fernan is here to go over again what Edgar told him. We may be quite satisfied so far."
"And is it needful to take it up?" asked Geraldine wistfully. "If we don't believe it, the horrid story would get quashed."
"No, Cherry," said Clement. "If you think it over you will see that we must investigate. I should be relieved indeed to let it alone, but it would not be fair towards Lance there and his boys."
Lance made a strange noise of horror and deprecation, then added-
"I don't believe Gerald would consent to let it alone."
"No, now he knows, of course. He is a right-minded, generous boy," said Geraldine. "I was wrong. Did you say he was very much upset?"
"Just at first, when he came to me at night. I was obliged to dragoon him, and myself too, to throw it off enough to be able to get through our performance yesterday. How thankful I am to the regatta that it is not our duty to the country to go through it again to-day! However, he seems to have rebounded a good deal. He was about all the latter part of the day with Miss Mohun."
"I saw him dancing and laughing with some of them."
"And he parted from me very cheerfully, telling me to assure you 'he did not mind,' whatever that may mean."
"He knows that nothing can disturb our love for him, Edgar's little comfort, passed on to bear us up," said Cherry tearfully. "Oh yes, I know what he meant-Felix's delight, my darling always."
"It strikes me," said Lance, "that if he can save his sister-"
"Oh, the cigar-girl! Only by that mother's side."
"That is true, but she is his half-sister, and he is evidently much drawn towards her. She is a nice little thing, and I believe he made much of her on the rehearsal day. I saw they got on much better together, and I think she was aware of the relationship."
"Yes, it is quite right of him," said Geraldine, "but she will be a drag on him all his life. Now what ought we to do? Shall you answer this letter to the care of the van-man, Clem?"
"I shall think, and wait till I have seen Gerald and Travis. This letter is evidently written simply in the hope of raising money from me, not in any friendly spirit."
"Certainly not," said Lance. "Having failed to black-mail Gerald, and discovered that you are the heir, they begin on you, but not from any gratitude to you. Sweetie Bob, as they call the ex-errand-boy, gives a fine account of their denunciations of the tall parson who brought the bobbies down on them."
Lance felt much reassured by Clement's tone, and all the more when he had seen Dr. Brownlow, who made a thorough examination, and came to the conclusion that Clement had recovered tone, so that the shock, whatever it was, that his brother dreaded had done no present damage, but that he was by no means fit for any strain of work or exertion, should be kept from anxiety as much as possible, and had better spend the winter in a warm climate. It was not likely-Jock Brownlow said it with grief and pain-that he would ever be able to return to the charge of St. Matthew's, but as he had a year's holiday, there was no need to enter on that subject yet, and in a quiet country place, with a curate, he might live to the age of man in tolerable health if he took care of himself, or his sister took care of him for some time to come.
So much relieved was Lance that he recollected that he had laid in no stock of presents for those at home, and went up to profit by the second day's reductions, when he secured Geraldine's portrait of Davy Blake for his wife, and a statuette of St. Cecilia for Dr. May, some charming water-colours for Robina and Ethel, besides various lesser delights for the small fry, his own and the flock at Vale Leston, besides a cushion for Alda's sofa. John Inglesant had been bought by a connoisseur by special commission. He heard at every stall triumphant accounts of the grand outlay of the Travis Underwoods and Rotherwoods, and just the contrary of Mrs. Pettifer, whom he encountered going about in search of bargains, and heard haggling for a handsome table-cover, because it was quite aesthetic, and would not do except in a large house, so of course it had not sold.
The Mouse-traps had been a great success, and there were very few left of them. They really owed as much to Lance as did the play, for he had not only printed them at as small a cost as possible, but had edited, pruned, and got them into shape more than any of the young lady authors suspected. The interpretation of handwriting had likewise succeeded in obtaining many clients, and a large pile of silver coins. Anna, who was hovering near, was delighted to show him that her sister Sophy's writing had been declared to indicate homely tastes, an affectionate disposition, great perspicuity of perception, much force of character; and Franceska's, scarcely yet formed, showed that she was affectionate, romantic, and, of all things in the world, fond of horses and of boating. Emilia's was held as a great blunder, for she was said to have an eye devoted to temporal advantages, also volatile, yet of great determination, triumphing over every obstacle, and in much danger of self-deception.
"The triumph at least is true," said Anna, "now she has her way about the nursing."
"Has she? I did not know it."
"Yes, she is to try it for a year, while Cousins Fernan and Marilda go out to their farm in the Rocky Mountains."
Just then there was a little commotion, and a report came up that a boat had been run down and some one drowned. Somebody said, "One of those acting last night-a buccaneer." Somebody else, "A naval man." Then it was "The Buccaneer Captain," and Mrs. Pettifer was exclaiming, "Poor Captain Armytage! He was in our theatricals, I remember, but they thought him rather high. But he was a fine young man! Poor Captain Armytage!"
Lance had sufficient interests in those at sea to be anxious, and turned his steps to the gates to ascertain the facts, when he was overtaken by Gillian, with a hat hastily thrown over her snooded hair and Highland garb, hurrying along, and looking very white.
"Mr. Underwood! Oh! did you hear who it was?"
"No certainty. I was going down to find out. You," as he saw her purpose, "had better not come. There will be a great crowd. I will come back and tell you."
"Oh no, I must. This is the short way."
Her hands trembled so that she could hardly undo the private fastening of Miss Mohun's garden, and she began to dash down the cliff steps. Just at the turn, where the stair-way was narrowest, Lance heard her exclaim, and saw that she had met face to face no other than Captain Armytage himself.
"Oh! is it?" and she so tottered on the rocky step that the hand he had put out in greeting became a support, and a tender one, as Lance said (perhaps with a little malice)-
"We heard that the Buccaneer Captain had come to grief."
"I?" he laughed; and Gillian shook herself up, asking-
"Weren't you run down?" seeing even as she spoke that not a drop of wet was traceable.
"Me! What! did you think I was going to peril my life in a 'long- shore concern like this?" said he, with a merry laugh, betraying infinite pleasure.
"But did nothing happen? Nobody drowned?" she asked, half disappointed.
"Not a mouse! A little chap, one of the fairies yesterday, tumbled off the sea-wall where he had no business to be, but he swam like a cork. We threw him a rope and hauled him up."
Wherewith he gave his arm to Gillian, who was still trembling, and clasped it so warmly that Lance thought it expedient to pass them as soon as possible and continue his journey on the staircase, giving a low whistle of amusement, and pausing to look out on the beautiful blue bay, crowded with the white sails of yachts and pleasure-boats, with brilliant festoons of little flags, and here and there the feather of steam from a launch. He could look, for he was feeling lighter of heart now that the communication was over.
Perhaps Lance would have been edified could he have heard the colloquy-
"Gillian! you do care for me after all?"
Gillian tried to take her arm away and to say, "Common humanity," but she did not get the words out.
"No, no!" he said. "Confess that if it had been that fisher-boy, you would not be here now!" and he kept tight the arm that she was going to take away. Her face was in a flame.
"Well, well; and if-if it wasn't, you need not make such a fuss about it."
"Not when it is the first ray of hope you have afforded me, for the only joy of my life?"
"I never meant to afford-"
"But you could not help."
"Oh, don't! I never meant it. Oh dear! I never meant to be worried about troublesome things like this till I had got older, and learnt a great deal more; and now you want to upset it all. It is very-very disagreeable."
"But you need not be upset!" poor Ernley Armytage pleaded. "Remember, I am going away for three years. May I not take hope with me?"
"Well," again she said, "I do like you-I mean, I don't mind you as much as most people; you have done something, and you have some sense."
His look of rapture at these very moderate words quite overpowered her, and the tears welled up into her eyes, while she made a sudden change of tone.
"There, there-of course it is all right. I'm a nasty creature, and if you like me, it is more than I deserve, only, whatever you do, don't make me cry. I've got all the horrid dolls and pen-wipers, and bags and rags to get rid of."
"May I talk to your mother?"
"Oh yes, if you can catch her. She will be ever so much more good to you than I; and I only hope she will warn you what a Tartar I am."
Wherewith Gillian threw off her hat, swung open the gate, and dashed like a hunted hare up to her mother's stall, where in truth she had been wanted, since only two helpers had remained to assist in the cheapening and final disposal of the remnants. Lady Merrifield read something in those wild eyes and cheeks burning, but the exigencies of the moment obliged her to hold her peace, and apply herself to estimating the half-price of the cushions and table-cloths she rejoiced to see departing, as well as to preserve wits enough not to let Gillian sell the Indian screen for two shillings and sixpence, under the impression that this was the half of five pounds. Mysie was the only one who kept her senses fairly undisturbed, and could balance between her duty to the schools and her desire to gratify a child, happy in that she never saw more than one thing at a time. Valetta and Primrose were yachting, so that the distraction was less, and Captain Armytage lingered round, taking messages, and looking in wistful earnestness for some one to be disengaged. Yet there was something in his eyes that spoke of the calmness of an attained object, and Miss Mohun, who had sold off all her remaining frocks and pinafores at a valuation to Marilda for some institution, and was free to help her sister, saw in a moment that his mind was settled.
Yet speech was scarcely possible till the clearance was finally effected by a Dutch auction, when Captain Armytage distinguished himself unexpectedly as auctioneer, and made an end even of the last sachet, though it smelt so strongly of lip-salve that he declared that a bearer must be paid to take it away. But the purchaser was a big sailor, who evidently thought it an elegant gift for his sweetheart.
By the time it was gone the yachters had come home. Captain Armytage seized on Sir Jasper, who already know his purpose, and wished him success, though withheld from saying a word to urge the suit by Lady Merrifield's assurances, that to hurry Gillian's decision would be fatal to success, and that a reproof for petulance would be worse. She did not know whether to wish for the engagement or not; Gillian was her very dear and sufficient companion, more completely so than Mysie, who was far less clever; and she had sometimes doubted whether common domestic life beginning early was for the girl's happiness and full development; but she knew that her husband would scout these doubts as nonsense, and both really liked Ernley Armytage, and had heard nothing but what was to his advantage in every way, when they had been in his own county, and had seen his neighbours and his family. However, she could only keep quiet, and let her heart rise in a continual aspiration at every silent moment for her child's guidance.
Before she had had her moment of speech with either, she heard her husband calling Gillian, and she knew that he was the one person with whom his daughter never hid her true self in petulance or sarcasm. So Gillian met him in the General's sitting-room, gasping as she turned the handle of the door. He set a chair for her, and spoke gravely.
"My dear," he said, "I find you have gained the heart of a good man."
"I am sure I never meant it," half whispered Gillian.
"What is that-you never meant it? I never supposed you capable of such an unladylike design. You mean that you were taken by surprise?"
"No; I did see what he was at," and she hung her head.
"You guessed his intentions?"
"Yes, papa; but I didn't want-"
"Try to explain yourself," said Sir Jasper as she broke off.
"I—I did wish to go on improving myself and being useful. Surely it was not wrong, papa. Don't you see, I did not want to let myself be worried into letting myself go out, and spoiling all my happiness and improvement and work, and getting to care for somebody else?"
"But you have consented."
"Well, when I was frightened for him I found I did care, and he got hold of me, and made me allow that I did; and now I suppose nobody will give me any peace."
"Stay, Gillian-keep yourself from this impatient mood. I think I understand your unwillingness to overthrow old associations and admit a new overmastering feeling."
"That's just it, papa," said Gillian, looking up. "I can't bear that overmastering feeling, nor the being told every one must come to it. It seems such folly."
"Folly that Eve was given to be a helpmeet, and as the bride, the Church to her Bridegroom? Look high enough, Gillian, and the popular chatter will not confuse your mind. You own that you really love him."
"Oh, papa, not half so much as mamma, or Mysie, or Jasper, but-but I think I might."
"Is that all, Gillian? No one would coerce you. Shall I send him away, and tell him not to think of it? Remember, it is a serious thing-nay, an unworthy thing to trifle with a right-minded man."
Gillian sat clasping the elbow of her chair, her dark eyes fixed. At last she said-
"Papa, I do feel a sort of trust in him, a sort of feeling as if my life and all goodness and all that would be safe with him; and I couldn't bear him to go quite away and hear no more of him, only I do wish it wouldn't happen now; and if there is a fuss about it, I shall get cross and savage, and be as nasty as possible, I know I shall."
"You can't exercise enough self-command to remember what is due-I would say kind and considerate-to a man who has loved you through all your petulance and discouragement, and now is going to a life not without peril for three years? Suppose a mishap, Gillian-how would you feel as to your treatment of him on this last evening?"
"Oh, papa! if you talk in that way I must, I must," and she burst into tears.
Sir Jasper bent over her and gave her a kiss-a kiss that from him was something to remember. It was late, and summonses to a hurried meal were ringing through Beechcroft Cottage, where the Clipstone party waited to see the illuminations.
Talk was eager between the sellers and the sailors as Valetta described the two parties, the fate of the Indian screen, and the misconduct of Cockneys in their launches were discussed by many a voice, but Gillian was unwontedly silent. Her mother had no time for more than a kiss before the shouts of Wilfred, Fergus, and Primrose warned them that the illuminations were beginning. She could only catch Mysie, and beg her to keep the younger ones away from Gillian and the Captain. Mysie opened her brown eyes wide and said-
"Oh!" Then, "Is it really?"
"Really, my dear, and remember that it is his last evening!"
"Oh!" said Mysie again. "I never thought it of Gill! May I tell Valetta?"
"Better not, my dear, if it can be helped."
A screaming for Gill was heard, and Mysie hastened to answer it. Lady Merrifield was too much tired to do anything but sit in the garden with Miss Mohun and look out at the ships, glittering with festoons of coloured lamps, reflected in the sea, but the young people went further afield, out on the cliff path to Rotherwood Park. The populace were mainly collected on the quay, and this formed a more select promenade, though by no means absolute solitude. Sir Jasper really did keep guard over the path along which Gillian allowed her Captain to conduct her, not exactly knowing which way they were going, and quite away from the bay and all its attractions.
She heard him out without any of the sharp, impatient answers in which her maiden coyness was wont to disguise itself, as he told her of his hopes and plans for the time when his three years of the Mediterranean should be over.
"And you see you can go on studying all the time, if you must be so clever."
"I think one ought to make the most of oneself, just as you want to rise in your profession! No, indeed, I could not bear you if you wanted me to sit down and idle, or to dawdle yourself."
"Don't grow too clever for me."
"Mother always says that a real man has stuff in him that is quite different from cleverness, and yet I could not bear to give that up. I am so glad you don't mind."
"Mind! I mind nothing but to know you are caring for me. And you will write to me?"
"I shan't know what to say. You will tell of volcanoes, and Athens, and Constantinople, and Egypt, and the Holy Land, and I shall have nothing to say but who lectures in college."
"Little you know what that will be to me."
It was a curious sensation all the time to Gillian, with a dawning sense that was hardly yet love-she was afraid of that-but of something good and brave and worthy that had become hers. She had felt something analogous when the big deer-hound at Stokesley came and put his head upon her lap. But the hound showed himself grateful for caresses, and so did her present giant when the road grew rough, and she let him draw her arm into his and talk to her.
It was the parting, for he had to go to London and to his own family the next day early. Gillian spoke not a word all through the dark drive to Clipstone, but when the party emerged into the light her eyes were full of tears. Lady Merrifield followed her to her room, and her words half choked were-
"Mamma, I never knew what a great, solemn, holy thing it is. Will you look me out a prayer to help me to get worthy?"
CHAPTER XXIII. ILLUMINATIONS
'Twas in the summer-time so sweet, When hearts and flowers are both in season, That who, of all the world should meet, In "twilight eve," but Love and Reason. T. MOORE.
That moon and sparkling lights did not shine alone for Gerald and Dolores. There were multitudes on the cliffs and the beach, and Sir Ferdinand and Lady Travis Underwood with their party had come to an irregular sort of dinner-supper at St. Andrew's Rock. With them, or rather before them, came Mr. Bramshaw, the engineer, who sent in his card to Mr. Clement Underwood, and entered with a leathern bag, betraying the designs on Penbeacon.
Not that these were more than an introduction. Indeed, under the present circumstances, a definite answer was impossible; but there was another question, namely, that which regarded Sophia Vanderkist. She had indeed long been of age, but of course her suitor could not but look to her former guardian for consent and influence. He was a very bearded man, pleasant-spoken and gentlemanlike, and Lancelot had prepared his brother by saying that he knew all about the family, and they were highly respectable solicitors at Minsterham, one son a master in the school at Stoneborough. So Clement listened favourably, liked the young man, and though his fortunes at present depended on his work, and Lady Vanderkist was no friend to his suit, gave him fair encouragement, and invited him to join the meal, though the party was already likely to be too numerous for the dining-room.
That mattered the less when all the young and noisy ones could be placed, to their great delight, under the verandah outside, where they could talk and laugh to their utmost content, without incommoding Uncle Clement, or being awed by Cousin Fernan's black beard and Cacique-like gravity. How they discussed and made fun over the humours of the bazaar; nor was Gerald's wit the slackest, nor his mirth the most lagging. He was very far from depressed now that the first shock was over. He knew himself to be as much loved or better than ever by those whose affection he valued, and he was sure of Dolores' heart as he had never yet been. The latent Bohemianism in his nature woke with the prospect of having his own way to make, and being free from the responsibilities of an estate, and his chivalry was excited by the pleasure of protecting his little half-sister, in pursuit of whom he intended to go.
So, light-hearted enough to amaze the elders who knew the secret, he jumped up to go with the rest of the party to the cliff walk, where the brilliant ships could best be seen. Lance, though his headache was, as Geraldine said, visible on his brow, declared that night air and sea-breeze were the best remedy, and went in charge of the two boys, lest his dainty Ariel should make an excursion over the rocks; and the four young ladies were escorted by Gerald and the engineer.
The elders were much too tired for further adventures, and Geraldine and Marilda were too intimate to feel bound to talk. Only a few words dropped now and then about Emilia and her hospital, where she was to be left for a year, while Fernan with Marilda visited his American establishments, and on their return would decide whether she would return, or whether they would take Franceska, or a younger one, in her stead. The desertion put Marilda out of heart, and she sighed what a pity it was that the girl would not listen to young Brown.
Meanwhile, Clement was making Ferdinand go over with him Edgar's words about his marriage. They had all been written down immediately after his death, and had been given to Felix with the certificates of the marriage and birth and of the divorce, and they were now no doubt with other documents and deeds in the strong-box at Vale Leston Priory. Fernan could only repeat the words which had been burnt in on his memory, and promise to hunt up the evidence of the form and manner of the dissolution of the marriage at Chicago. Like Clement himself, he very much doubted whether the allegation would not break down in some important point, but he wished Gerald to be assured that if the worst came to the worst, he would never be left destitute, since that first meeting-the baptism, and the receiving him from the dying father-amounted to an adoption sacred in his eyes.
Then, seeing how worn-out Clement looked, he abetted Sibby and Geraldine, in shutting their patient safe up in his bedroom, not to be "mislested" any more that night, said Sibby. So he missed the rush of the return. First came the two sober sisters, Anna and Emilia, only sorry that Aunt Cherry had not seen the lovely sea, the exquisite twinkle of silvered waves as the moon rose, and then the outburst of coloured lights, taking many forms, and the brilliant fireworks darting to and fro, describing curves, bursting and scattering their sparks. Emilia had, however, begun by the anxious question-
"Nan, what is it with Gerald?"
"I don't quite know. I suspect Dolores has somehow teased him, though it is not like her."
"Then there is something in it?"
"I can't help believing so, but I don't believe it has come to anything."
"And is she not a most disagreeable girl! Those black eyebrows do look so sullen and thunderous."
"Oh no, Emmie, I thought so at first, but she can't help her eyebrows; and when you come to know her there is a vast deal in her- thought, and originality, and purpose. I am sure it has been good for Gerald. He has seemed more definite and in earnest lately, less as if he were playing with everything, with all views all round."
"But his spirits are so odd!-so merry and then so grave."
"That is only during these last few days, and I fancy there must be some hitch-perhaps about Dolores' father, and we are all in such haste."
Emilia did not pursue the subject. She had never indulged in the folly of expecting any signs of actual love from her cousin. She had always known that the family regarded any closer bond as impossible; but she had been always used to be his chief confidante, and she missed his attention, but she would not own this even to herself, go she talked of her hospital schemes with much zest, and how she should spend her outings at a favourite sisterhood.
"For," said she, "I am tired of luxury."
It had been a delightful walk to Anna, with her companion sister, discussing Adrian, or Emily's plans, or Sophy's prospects. They had come home the sooner, for Emily had to pack, as she was to spend a little while with her mother at Vale Leston. Where was Franceska? They were somewhat dismayed not to find her, but it was one of the nights when everybody loses everybody, and no doubt she was with Uncle Lance, or with Sophy, or Gerald.
No such thing. Here was Uncle Lance with his two boys in varying kinds of delight, Adrian pronouncing that "it was very jolly, the most ripping sight he ever saw," then eating voraciously, with his eyes half shut, and tumbling off to bed "like a veritable Dutchman," said Lance, who had his own son in a very different mood, with glowing cheeks, sparkling eyes, appetite gone for very excitement, as he sprang about and waved his hands to describe the beautiful course of the rockets, and the fall of the stars from the Roman candles.
"Oh, such as I never-never saw! How shall I get Pearl and Audrey to get even a notion of it? Grandpapa will guess in a moment! Oh, and the sea, all shine with a path of-of glory! Oh, daddy, there are things more beautiful than anybody could ever dream of!"
"Go and dream then, my sprite. Try to be as still as you can, even if you do go on feeling the yacht, and seeing the sparks when you shut your eyes. For you see my head is bad, and I do want a chance of sleep."
"Poor daddy! I'll try, even if the music goes on in my head. Good- night."
"That will keep him quieter than anything," said Lance; "but I would not give much for the chance of his not seeing the dawn."
"Or you either, I fear," said Geraldine. "Have you slept since the discovery?"
"I shall make my sleep up at home, now I have had the whole out. Who comes now?"
It was Sophy, with her look of
"Gentle wishes long subdued, Subdued and cherished long."
Mr. Bramshaw had brought her to the door, and no doubt she and he had had a quiet, restful time of patient planning; but the not finding Francie soon filled her with great alarm and self-reproach for having let herself be drawn away from the party, when all had stood together on Miss Mohun's lawn. She wanted to start off at once in search of her sister, and was hardly pacified by finding that Gerald was still to come. Then, however, Gerald did come, and alone. He said he had just seen the Clipstone party off. No, he had not seen Francie there; but he added, rather as if recovering from a bewilderment, as Sophy was asking him to come out with her again, "Oh, never fear. Lord Ivinghoe was there somewhere!"
"I thought he was gone."
"No, he said the yacht got in too late for the train. Never mind, Sophy, depend upon it she is all right."
None of the ladies present felt equally pleased, but in a minute or two more in came a creature, bright, lovely, and flushed, with two starry eyes, gleaming like the blue lights on the ships.
"Oh, Cousin Marilda, have I kept you waiting? I am so sorry!"
"Where have you been?"
"Only on the cliff walk. Lord Ivinghoe took me to see the place where his father had the accident, and we watched the fireworks from there. Oh, it was so nice, and still more beautiful when the strange lights were out and the people gone, and only the lovely quiet moon shining on the sea, and a path of light from Venus."
"I should think so," muttered Gerald, and Marilda began-
"Pretty well, miss."
"I am very sorry to bo so late," began Francie, and Geraldine caught an opportunity while shawling Marilda to say-
"Dear, good Marilda, I implore you to say nothing to put it into her head or Alda's. I don't think any harm is done yet, but it can't be anything. It can't come to good, and it would only be unhappiness to them all."
"Oh, ah! well, I'll try. But what a chance it would be, and how happy it would make poor Alda!"
"It can't be. The boy's mother would never let him look at her! Don't, don't, don't!"
"Well, I'll try not." She kissed her fondly.
Gerald's walk had been with Dolores of course, a quiet, grave, earnest talk and walk, making them feel how much they belonged to one another, and building schemes in which they were to learn the nature of the poor and hard-worked, by veritably belonging to them, and being thus able to be of real benefit. In truth, neither of them, in their brave youthfulness, really regretted Vale Leston, and the responsibilities; and, as Gerald declared, he would give it up tomorrow gladly if he could save his name and his father's from shame, but, alas! the things went together.
Dolores wished to write fully to her father, and that Gerald should do the same, but she did not wish to have the matter discussed in the family at once, before his answer came, and Gerald had agreed to silence, as indeed they would not call themselves engaged till that time. Indeed, Dolores said there was so much excitement about Captain Armytage that no one was thinking of her.
CHAPTER XXIV. COUNSELS OF PATIENCE
He either fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small, Who fears to put it to the touch, To win or lose it all.
If Sibby hoped to keep her "long boy" from being "mislested," she was mistaken. He knew too well what was to come, and when she knocked at his door with his cup of tea, he came to it half dressed, to her extreme indignation, calling for his shaving water.
"Now, Master Clem, if you would only be insinsed enough to keep to your bed, you might have Miss Sophy to speak to you there, if nothing else will serve you."
"Is she there?"
"In coorse, and Miss Francie too. What should they do else, after colloguing with their young men all night? Ah, 'tis a proud woman poor Miss Alda would be if she could have seen the young lord! And the real beauty is Miss Francie, such as my own babbies were before her, bless them!"
"Stop," cried Clement in consternation. "It is only a bit of passing admiration. Don't say a word about it to the others."
"As if I would demane myself to the like of them! Me that has been forty-seven years with you and yours, and had every one of you in my arms the first thing, except the blessed eldest that is gone to a better place."
"Would that he were here now!" sighed Clement, almost as he had sighed that first morning of his loss. "Where are those girls?"
"Rampaging over the house with Sir Adrian, and his packing of all his rubbish, enough to break the heart of a coal-heaver! I'd not let them in to bother their aunt, and Mr. Gerald is asleep like a blessed baby."
"Oh! it is down to the sea he is with that child that looks as if he was made of air, and lived on live larks! And Master Lance, he's no better-eats like a sparrow, and sits up half the night writing for his paper."
Clement got rid of Sibby at last, but he was hardly out of his room before Sophy descended on him, anxious and blushing, though he could give her much sympathy and kindly hope of his influence, only he had to preach patience. It had been no hasty fancy, but there had long been growing esteem and affection, and he could assure her of all the aid the family could give with her mother, though Penbeacon works would be a very insecure foundation for hope.
"I think Gerald would consent," said Sophy, "and he will soon be of age."
Clement could only say "Humph!"
"One thing I hope is not wrong," said Sophy, "but I do trust that no one will tell mother about Lord Ivinghoe. It is not jealousy, I hope, but I cannot see that there is anything in it, only the very sound would set mother more against Philip than ever."
"You do not suppose that Francie is-is touched?"
"No," said Sophy, gravely as an elder, "she is such a child. She was very much pleased and entertained, and went on chattering, till I begged her to let us say our prayers in peace. We never talk after that, and she went to sleep directly, and was smiling when she woke, but I do not fancy she will dwell on it, or fancy there is more to come, unless some one puts it into her head."
It was sagely said, and Clement knew pretty well who was the one person from whom Sophy had fears. Poor Alda, improved and altered as she was, if such a hope occurred to her, would she be able to help imparting it to her daughter and looking out for the fulfilment?
Loud calls for Sophy rang through the house, and Clement had only time to add-
"Patience, dear child, and submission. They not only win the day, but are the best preparation for it when it is won."
That family of girls had grown up to be a care to one who had trusted that his calling would be a shield from worldly concerns; but he accepted it as providential, and as a trust imposed on him as certainly as Felix had felt the headship of the orphaned house.
He was rejoiced to find on coming down-stairs that Lance had decided on giving another day to family counsels, sending off little Felix with his cousins, who would drop him at the junction to Stoneborough, whence he would be proud to travel alone. Clement took another resolution, in virtue of which he knocked at his sister's door before she went down.
"Cherry," said he, "would it be inconvenient to keep Francie here just for the present?"
"Not at all; it would be only too pleasant for Anna now that she loses her brother. But why?"
"I want to hinder her from hearing the conclusions that her mother may draw from the diversions of yesterday."
"I see. It might soon be,
'He cometh not, she said.'"
"And Sophy will keep her counsel as to those moonlight wanderings. When were they to go?"
"By the 11.30 train. Marilda is coming up first."
So the plan was propounded. Franceska was only too much charmed to stay in what had indeed been an enchanted coast to her, and Sophy was sure that mamma would not mind; so the matter was settled, and the explanatory notes written.
The party set off, with each little boy hugging a ship in full sail, and the two young sisters were disposed of by a walk to Clipstone to talk over their adventures. Mrs. Grinstead felt certain of the good manners and reticence prevailing there to prevent any banter about Lord Ivinghoe, and she secured the matter further by a hint to Anna.
However, Miss Mohun was announced almost as they left the house. She too was full of the bazaar, which seemed so long ago to her hearers, but with the result of which she was exceedingly delighted. The voluntary schools were secured for the present, and the gratitude of the Church folk was unbounded, especially to the Vale Leston family, who had contributed so greatly to the success of the whole.
Jane too had watched the evening manoeuvres, and perceived, with her sharp eyes, all that was avowed and not avowed under that rising moon. The pair of whom she had first to speak were "Ivanhoe and Rowena," as she called them, and she was glad to find that the "fair Saxon" had grown up at Vale Leston, educated by her aunt and sister, and imbibing no outside habits or impressions.
"Poor child," said Jane, "she looks like a flower; one is sorry it should be meddled with."
"So did my sister Stella, and there, contrary to all our fears, the course of true love did run smooth."
"If it depended entirely on Rotherwood himself, I think it would," said Jane, "but-" She paused and went on, "Ivinghoe is, I fear, really volage, and he is the mark of a good many London mammas."
"Is it true about Mrs. Henderson's sister?"
"There's nothing in it. I believe he danced with her a few times, and the silly little thing put her own construction on it, but her sister made her confess that he had never said a word to her, nor made love in any sense. Indeed, my sister Adeline would never have consented to her coming here if she had believed in it, but Maura has a Greek nature and turns the Whites round her fingers. Well, I hope all will go well with your pretty Franceska. I should not like her lovely bloom to be faded by Ivinghoe. He is Rotherwood's own boy, though rather a prig, and a man in London. Oh, you know what that means!"
"We have done notre possible to keep our interpretation from the poor child, or any hint of it from reaching her mother."
"That's right. Poor Rowena, I hope the spark will be blown out, or remain only a pleasant recollection. As to little Maura, she had her lesson when she was reduced to hanging on Captain Henderson's other arm! She is off to-day to meet Mr. White in London. That purpose has been served."
"And have you not a nearer interest?"
"Oh, Gillian! Well, Captain Armytage did get hold of her, in what we must now call the Lover's Walk! Yes, she has yielded, to her father's great satisfaction and perhaps to her mother's, for she will be more comfortable in looking forward to a commonplace life for her than in the dread of modern aberrations. But Gillian is very funny, very much ashamed of having given in, and perfectly determined to go to her college and finish her education, which she may as well do while the Sparrow Hawk is at sea. He is off to-day, and she says she is very glad to be rid of him. She sat down at once to her dynamite, as Primrose calls it, having bound over Mysie and Valetta never to mention the subject! I tell them that to obey in silence is the way to serve the poor man best."
Miss Mohun was interrupted by the announcement of Lady Flight and Mr. Flight, who came equally eager with delight and gratitude to thank the House of Underwood for the triumph. The rest of the clergy of Rockquay and half the ladies might be expected, and in despair at last of a "lucid interval," Geraldine ordered the carriage for a long drive into the country, so as to escape all visitors. Even then, they could not got up the hill without being stopped four or five times to receive the thanks and compliments which nearly drove Gerald crazy, so much did he want to hear what his family had to say to his plans, that he had actually consented to partake of a dowager-drive in a landau!
He and his uncle had discovered from the police in the course of the morning that Ludmilla and her mother had not gone with the circus, but had been seen embarking in the Alice Jane, a vessel bound for London. His idea had been to hurry thither and endeavour to search out his half-sister, and rescue her; but Lance had assured him not only that it would probably be a vain quest, but that there would be full time to meet the Alice Jane by land before she could get there by sea.
To this he had yielded, but not so readily to the representation that the wisest way would be to keep out of sight; but to let Lance, as a less interested party, go and interview the van proprietor, whose direction had been sent to Clement, try to see O'Leary, and do his best to bargain for Ludmilla's release, a matter on which all were decided, whatever might be the upshot of the question respecting Gerald. To leave a poor girl to circus training, even if there were no interest in her, would have been shocking to right-minded people; but when it was such a circus as O'Leary's, and the maiden was so good, sweet, and modest as Lida, the thought would have been intolerable even without the connection with Gerald, who had been much taken with all he had seen of her.
"That is fixed, even if we have to bid high for our Mona," said Lance.
"By all means," said Geraldine. "It will be another question what will be good for her when we have got her."
"I will take care of that!" said Gerald.
"Next," Lance went on, "we must see what proofs, or if there be any, of this person's story. I expect one of you will have to pay well for them, but I had better take a lawyer with me."
Clement named the solicitor who had the charge of the Vanderkist affairs.
"Better than Staples, or Bramshaw & Anderson. Yes, it would be best to have no previous knowledge of the family, and no neighbourly acquaintance. Moreover, I am not exactly an interested party, so I may be better attended to."
"Still I very much doubt, even if you do get any statement from the woman, whether it can be depended upon without verification," said Clement.
"From the registers, if there are any at these places?"
"Exactly, and there must be personal inquiry. The first husband, Gian Benista, will have to be hunted down, dead or alive."
"Yes; and another thing," said Lance, "if the Italian marriage were before the revolution in Sicily, I expect the ecclesiastical ceremony would be valid, but after that, the civil marriage would be required."